Bulldozers are coming to Ballymun in the year 2000. One by one the seven high-rise towers (named after the executed leaders of the 1916 Rising), nineteen eight-storey spine blocks and ten four-storey blocks will be brought to the ground. The £250 million redevelopment project announced by the government in March 1997 will be under way.
In late 1998, the flats are still there. Life is going on, more than thirty years after the first residents moved in. Some of the flats stand empty. Others, like the one on the first floor of the first spine block on Sillogue Road, have been converted to provide much-needed offices and meeting spaces for the wide variety of community groups that have come together over the years.
St Pappin’s Ladies’ Club is Ballymun’s longest-running community group. Founded in 1966 by the late Dorothy Taylor, it has been meeting, despite four forced changes of venue, every Monday night since then. In the early days the club provided members with a well-deserved break away from husbands and young children. They produced variety shows and pantomimes, organised children’s events, raised funds for the needy in Africa and offered support to those closer to home. Now the women are grandmothers and can look back on over thirty years of shared experiences . At a meeting on Sillogue Road in early November, I asked them to talk about their earliest memories of moving to Ballymun. The interview began quite formally with each woman telling her story in tum. Soon, however, it developed into a lively conversation as one memory triggered another.
Janice Broe: I came out in one of the first lettings out here. We had no paths, no gardens, no roads. There was absolutely nothing only mud. We had a little road down to the shops. You had to go down there to do your shopping-on a country road with no lights. If you went out at night, your husband had to go down and meet you off the bus at the end. Going to the school, the kids went to St Pappin’s, up a mucky country lane, and they always insisted on walking along the bank, getting themselves muddy to the eyeballs. The houses were painted white inside, with black tile floors. Which were beautiful for about ten minutes every day until the kids came in. We had built-in presses. I never had built-in presses in my life. Or my mother hadn’t had built-in presses.
I was thrilled. Because I had waited. I was offered Coolock a few times and I said no because I’d been out to the [Ballymun] site. I’d actually been across the site-muck and everything. There were six pilot houses put up and I had got as near to them as I could with two kids and a buggy. I had even went across a ditch to get a look at them because that’s what I wanted. They were so different. I held out, and we got one eventually.
Betty Fennell: When I came out first, it was to an apartment on the fourth floor. I’m here thirty-one years now. I was born and reared in Pearse House. We came out in October. When we got up to our flat it was something like in another world, it was absolutely terrific. Everything. The heating. The lino was on the floor. All you had to do was move your furniture in. There was hot water all the time’. Very seldom that went off in the early days. It was only when the strike happened 0anuary 1968], I remember borrowing heaters from wherever we could get them because when the heating goes off and the weather is bad, the flats are stone cold.
Annie Crean: My first impression of Ballymun was that it was a new lease of life for me. I lived in a house in Finglas and I hated it. I detested it. I was afraid to come and look at the houses in Ballymun in case I wouldn’t get one. Eventually we applied to the Corporation. There was three children, my husband and myself. We looked for it on the grounds that it would be nearer to my husband’s work. We were paying maximum rent for the house in Finglas and it was 33 shillings. When the Corporation informed us that we had been allotted a house in Balcurris Gardens, we had to go in for the interview. You had to have a steady job and a permanent position. When we were going in we looked at each other and we said, look, how high are we going to go on rent and we decided we’d go to three pound. When we sat down, he told us the rent would be three pound, six and nine pence. My husband said what do you think and l looked at him and he said okay.
I remember we moved in the 3rd of March, Friday, and it was teeming that day. My brother and my husband were bringing the furniture in and every time they brought something in I was running after them, cleaning up these black tiles. We upended a box in the kitchen and they went out to the chipper and we sat in the kitchen eating our fish and chips with a cup of tea and I looked out and I said this, this is sshhh…
I was an old woman when I moved here. I was only in my thirties. About thirty-two or something like that, and I feel younger now than I did then.
Kathleen Manning: Disaster, when I was moving out here. This truck was· bringing us out and it broke down at St Michael’s school with all the furniture. We had to get a horse and cart. Then they lost the top off my washing machine. Such a time, I’ll never forget it. All my husband wanted to see was-what do you call that fellow?Muhammad Ali. He was on the telly. Mr Fox came in from next door and rigged it up for us-crowds of us around it.
Marian Redmond: I moved into this spine we’re sitting in now, to the top floor. End of July. I remember the night 1 moved in the lift was broke. All my furniture had to be carried upstairs and I needn’t tell you the man that moved me wasn’t very happy.
Anyone with a baby, with a pram, was given a pram shed down below, which meant you didn’t have to drag your pram up and down. But the pram sheds were broken into and if you had anything worthwhile… So we all wised up to that and nobody used them. We brought the pram up to the apartments-I always called them the flats.
Well, I must confess I was never very happy in my flat.
No. I hated being up on the top floor. I hated dragging the pram up and down every time I had to go out because the lifts were never working. Never. Right from the start. Teething problems with the new lifts and what have you. So I hated going out and I hated coming back. I was forever haunting the Corporation for a house. I had happy times in the flat but I was never contented in it.
Eventually after eight years I got Poppintree but I do remember neither Sean or Ann, my two youngest, ever ever went out to play until they went to school. I was terrified to let them down. I just wouldn’t let them down. They were just as miserable as I was, I suppose, until we got the house.
Most of us who were in the flats around the eight years got the houses. Some moved to Finglas but I didn’t want to leave the area. I wanted to stay in Ballymun. I didn’t want to disrupt the kids again. I hung out and I eventually got Poppintree. I must say that I did settle then, I really did settle. Like that I joined the ladies’ club and I loved it and we had good times in it. No, I never regret coming to Ballymun and I wouldn’t leave it.
Sylvia Walsh: I moved in the beginning of September 1966 from Clontarf-a two-bedroom flat, which was very small, and I had three very small children. When I got the house I was really very surprised first because I couldn’t believe I got it. This was the best thing that had happened to me. The hot water and so much space as well like that.’, In a matter of just a week or two, my friend Janice moved in, and the people next door and we became great friends. And we still are. They were very neighbourly, the people that moved in.
There’d be rows of cars coming in every Sunday. The crowds of people that would come to see the houses was unbelievable. From all over Dublin.
Janice Broe (interjecting): They used to come into the square. They’d come in and they’d turn around. They’d stop there and they’d have to reverse to get back out again. And we’d be having our dinner. We hadn’t net curtains. We had no money for that type of thing at that stage.
Sylvia Walsh: They’d be staring right in your window!
Janice Broea: And they’d have to back back and go out again. And this steady stream was going all day long. Every Saturday and Sunday. That went on for months.
Betty Fennell: I was stuck in the lift one Sunday for twenty minutes and when the fire brigade came out to get us out there was the three Flynn boys who lived underneath me-they were going to play football-and there was four other people in the lift and myself. As we were getting out of the lift the fire brigade man was taking our names and addresses, to know where we lived. Only the three Flynn boys and meself lived on the block. The other people were out just sightseeing. They’d gone up on the lift. I said, serves them right anyway!
(The above is an extract of an interview with St Pappin’s Ladies’ Club. Nellie Byrne, Marie Dempsey and Lilly Hanley also participated.)