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'Some people wanted to stay in the Ballymun flats and would go back now if they could'

Joseph Plunkett Tower is the last of the seven Ballymun flats standing and today work began on its demolition.

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Updated at 10:50pm

DEMOLITION WORK ON the last remaining Ballymun tower began today, signalling the end of an era for many Dublin people.

Whether you once lived in the flats or you just remember them in the city skyline, the Ballymun flats are iconic in Dublin.

TheJournal.ie paid a visit to the site today. The demolition team were there and ready to get started. Walking past the site, an elderly man who has lived in the area for over 40 years said it was a momentous day.

I’ve lived here for over 40 years, they’ve always been here. But it is a good thing they’re going. Although, people used to always know where Ballymun was by those towers. Now I don’t know how they’ll get here. It is a sad day.

BALLYMUN COMPLEX AREA HOUSING ESTATES Source: Rollingnews.ie

The Ballymun flats were first built in the 1960s.

In order to tackle Dublin’s housing issues, seven Ballymun Towers were built on the outskirts of the city between 1966-69.

BALLYMUN TOWERS COMPLEX AREA HOUSING ESTATES Source: Rollingnews.ie

BALLYMUN TOWERS COMPLEX AREA HOUSING ESTATES Source: Rollingnews.ie

The towers were initially built for social housing and named after the executed 1916 rebels. Each tower was 15 storeys tall and contained over 90 flats.

The last one standing, Joseph Plunkett Tower, was built in 1967. It has been abandoned since 2013, when its last resident left.

Despite its problems, the people of Ballymun who were born and reared in the blocks hold many fond memories and are proud of their community.

It’s difficult to imagine, but before their construction, Ballymun was just a small village surrounded by farmland.

FullSizeRender (9) Geraldine Bermigham Source: Christina Finn/TheJournal.ie

Geraldine Bermingham, who works in the cafe in the civic centre across the road from Joseph Plunkett Tower says she has lived in the area since she was four years old.

There used to be nothing but farms here before the flats. When I first moved here there were cows in fields.

Community spirit 

She said it is sad to see the last one go, but said the community spirit left the area when the first  flats were knocked down.

I think it was better when all the flats were here – there was more of a community spirit.
The people around would do anything for you. I mean my neighbours are the same neighbours for the last 40 years. People look out for each other here, but I don’t think there is that community spirit any more. I think everyone is isolated.

Bermingham said the families that were moved out of the flats were relocated in areas further away, which did damage to the locality.

Your neighbours were your neighbours when you lived in the flats. You could knock in for a bit of sugar, couple of tea bags. I think all that is gone now as the houses they were moved to are that bit more private. There were four or five people on the one landing, so if you were there for 40 years you knew them for the last 40 years, they were like your family. I’d never live anywhere else though.

Shuttered up shops

A few steps from Joseph Plunkett Tower is the Ballymun Shopping Centre – once a place bustling with business, the complex is now empty, full of shuttered up shops and it’s eerily quiet.

FullSizeRender (12) Source: Christina Finn/TheJournal.ie

Linda Sherraod works in the local St Vincent’s de Paul shop. She has lived in the area for years and says she remembers Ballymun before the flats were built.

FullSizeRender (11) Linda Sherraod Source: Christina Finn/TheJournal.ie

When they were going up it was a massive deal. My sister lived in the fourth storey across the way and they used to have them lovely inside. Then she got one of the houses. It was hard for her when she moved out in the beginning. The flats were brilliant years ago. It was handy when the weather was nice you could dry your clothes out. It was very hard when people had to move out of the flats. Some people wanted to stay and some would go back into them now if they could. They miss the flats.

She said she thought it was a shame for the final tower to be knocked down, saying there are families in the area that need a place to stay.

I think they should have kept that tower and used it to house the homeless. There are a lot of families living in a hotel just across the road there. Think of it. There are over 90 flats in that tower.

FullSizeRender (15) Source: Christina Finn/TheJournal.ie

Crossing the road with her shopping is Rosaleen Coffey, an elderly woman returning from town.

A lot has changed in the area. The way I look at it now, if people had been able to put some people into it, like the homeless, it would have been a great achievement, but I do know there was something wrong with the whole project, so they had to take it down.
There is a great community here, but I am the type that kind of keeps to themselves. It was a tight-knit community. I loved my flat while I was in it, then I moved over to the house. If I could have took my house over with me, I would have took it, because it was nice. We had good neighbours.

Coffey said there is a different feeling in a house than in a flat.

There was never any trouble, it was quiet. It will be a big change so I wonder what they are going to do with. We’ve no shops here, there is nothing, only a Supervalu and Centra. Whatever they do, I don’t think it will be in my time.

One common thread from people we chatted to is that the demolition of the flats sucked the life out of the community.

Promises of regeneration 

The promises of regeneration never fully materialised and the lack of resources and services in the area is impacting on the people.

“I am here 30 years myself,” says Bernie, who works in the shopping centre.

It’s sad day. People know Ballymun from the towers. It is the end of an era. But the community feel is gone. There used to be a nice coffee shop here where people would meet and chat and now it’s gone. I had a man here last week that was just stopped here in his wheelchair. I asked him if he was alright and we got chatting. Then all of a sudden he started crying. He started chatting about his wife and how she had died. It was sad. My daughter used to work in that coffee shop and she lost her job, people used to gather, have a cup of tea, but now there’s nowhere to go. That man probably just wanted to talk to someone.

That is something Bermingham agreed with. “There is nothing out here, no schools, no churches,” she said.

There is not even a bus to bring the old people to the Omni. There is nothing. Regeneration is a load of crap, this building is half empty.
When I was a kid that shopping centre was buzzing, there was loads of shops – butchers, Penneys, shoe shops, everything. There’s not even a local pub, now that The Towers is gone.

FullSizeRender (10) Source: Christina Finn/TheJournal.ie

Local taxi man Joseph Maxwell said the flats would have been great had they not been left to “wrack and ruin”.

There was a great community here, but lots of it seems to have gone. It has changed big time. Underneath the flats there were little units. In each one was a club – children’s clubs, men’s clubs, pigeon clubs, darts clubs, all along the blocks. When all those flats were pulled down all those clubs were gone as there was no where for them to go – all the community spirit went with it.
The government promised that regeneration would be finished, but it never was.

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The demolition of Joespeh Plunkett Tower could take weeks as a long-reach hydraulic ‘nibbler’ is being used to hack away at the tower until it is no more.

Maxwell says: “You used to see the towers as you flew in to Dublin Airport. Times are changing and they’ll be there no more now. It’s a shame.”


Source: Donal Moloney/Vimeo

First published at 9:15pm

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