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Clonsillaheritage.ie & Muiris O'Cearbhaill
THE MORNING LEAD

Clonsilla: 'I don't want the next generation to only know this place for being housing estates'

The Journal spoke to local residents in Clonsilla in Dublin 15 last week to hear what their community needs.

As part of our election coverage, we’ve sent some of our journalists back to their hometowns to report on the issues concerning the people who live there.

Muiris O’Cearbhaill from Dublin 15 visited Clonsilla to see what issues are top of people’s minds – and what people want to see happen after this election.

NESTLED BESIDE THE border with Co Meath, on the edge of Dublin 15, sits Clonsilla – a village that needs an identity.

Despite being rich in history – for over one hundred years the area housed horse studs owned by the British elite and, later, was (crucially) the birthplace of WWE superstar Sheamus – the boundaries of Clonsilla have changed very little in that time.

On a visit to Clonsilla last week ahead of the local elections, the same issue came up again and again: the infrastructure in the village didn’t make it feel like a village and instead pushed people away from the area.

“There’s too much of the same thing,” one resident said about the types of businesses. “A lot of it is because there’s no centre. It’s just one, big, long road.”

Approximately 60,000 people live in the Clonsilla area – but you wouldn’t know it. The village is, and has been for years, considered a ‘commuter town’ and the majority of workers are in professional and administrative roles elsewhere in the city.

Large numbers of commuters use the train station to get into Dublin city centre in around 30 minutes, or towards Longford in the opposite direction. 

Since the pandemic, a large amount of people have chosen to work from home and there has been a rise in the number of workers who drive to work in that time too, despite hundreds of train and bus services running each day.

Compared to the sprawl in Ongar – the next village over – the housing estates and other developments in Clonsilla have mainly been infill developments.

This means the boundaries of Clonsilla village have largely remained the same, while Ongar has seen thousands of homes being built across its open green fields.

Some of the newest housing developments in the village have been built on the few remaining pieces of land facing the Clonsilla Road – such as, approximately six new homes opposite the popular Clonsilla Inn pub and a modern apartment block in a small patch of land beside the local petrol station.

IMG_3144 Approximately six new homes which were recently constructed in the centre of the village. Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal / The Journal

Despite Fingal County Council pouring hundreds of thousands of euro into services, such as a brand new community park, community gardens, two halls for local group meetings and a handful of local businesses in the village, there is little sense of community. 

Locals play Gaelic games for teams in the next parish over, join clubs in the neighbouring towns and use the purpose-built community centres in newer developments that had more space to build on.

Ongar is home to many of these new developments. The neighbouring town was sold off field-by-field to developers over the last two decades and has since been populated by people from all over the world.

The main street of Ongar village reflects this diversity and is lined with shops that sell good from all over the world. On a visit last week, The Journal witnessed these shops full of customers and staff from all backgrounds purchasing and selling products.

That same sense of diversity is seen in the political posters that have been posted in the weeks running up to the elections.

Posters of candidates from all parties and backgrounds have joined long-standing candidates – such as Fine Gael’s Kieran Dennison, Labour’s John Walsh, Fianna Fáil’s Howard Mahony and Independent Tania Doyle – to contest seats.

IMG_3158 A new block of apartments that have been constructed in the Village. Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal / The Journal

In Ongar village, a large community centre accommodates 45 different weekly events and hosts more than 100,000 people a year through everyday activities and annual family-fun days.

Many from Clonsilla are members of the Ongar Chasers Basketball Club, attend dance classes at the Ongar community centre and go to school in one of the four primary and two secondary schools in the area.

At the centre last week, the supervisor of the centre told The Journal that the demand for its services has grown with the community after it opened in 2011. He said that people from all backgrounds come to use Ongar Community Centre every day.

Ongar-Community-Centre Ongar Community Centre shares its building with St Benedict's National School. Fingal County Council Fingal County Council

“For example, on a Monday we have taekwondo from six o’clock, then at six a local Indian family group come in and use half the hall, and they’ve a trainer to train their kids badminton,” the supervisor said.

“Then at seven o’clock we have a group called Sports Club 15, they’re the Special Olympics team. They come in from seven to eight o’clock for their girls, and eight to nine [o'clock] with their boys. And then from nine to ten o’clock we have the Ongar Chasers Basektball club.”

The same sense of community is not felt in Clonsilla as the village relies on the services from other parishes and towns.

Additionally, the historic parish boundaries of the village essentially split the area in half and cut some families out of school-catchment areas – despite their homes facing the building.

One local business owner told The Journal that while they do have a loyal customer base, it is mainly made up of legacy customers who have been using their services for nearly two decades, and rarely newly-arrived residents.

They added that with areas such as Blanchardstown and Ongar so close, there is too much competition in the area and they have had to branch out the business to two other locations in order to generate a sustainable revenue.

Stephen Gray, of the Clonsilla and Porterstown Heritage Society (CPHS), said if better village infrastructure was added, such as outdoor seating areas, colourful buildings and more spaces for local businesses, it would attract more residents to stay in the community.

Gray said: “There’s a huge opportunity here to make a village feel like in Malahide, or even Blanchardstown Village or Swords, where there’s colourful buildings, a nice streetscape, there’s street furniture. Really creating a centre for the place where people can be.

“Rather than Clonsilla being a destination to commute out of everyday, make it a destination to be in.”

This suggestion was echoed during a consultation scheme for Fingal’s Clonsilla Framework Plan, which sought to “manage and influence village-centre improvement” in the area and identify future opportunities.

 

IMG_3145 A quiet Clonsilla Village yesterday afternoon. Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal / The Journal

One resident said in their submission: “At the moment, Clonsilla is more of a drive-through than an actual village.

“There is no centre to the village, no gathering spots, no cafés and no parking to underpin them. There are a few takeaways, a pub and a Spar along the main road. The population is increasing rapidly and the facilities which should be in place for an rising population are not in place

The business owner who spoke to The Journal said: “You don’t want to spend your weekends in Clonsilla. There’s nothing to draw people to the area.”

A recently-established Clonsilla Tidy Towns group has tried to bring a sense of community to the village but, in their submission, they also list the lack of outdoor seating, cafés and how some of the amenities are not suitable for everyone.

Developers plan to extend the area outward, into a nearby area known as Kellystown. But some locals argue that there is much that needs to be done in Clonsilla and the surrounding areas before the construction of a new community begins.

Residents fear that a new Kellystown development would remove any hope of Clonsilla ever gaining an identity of its own.

Gray: “They’ve all these plans to build up Kellystown, and that’s going to be a large development.

“But the Old School House has the potential, under the ownership of Fingal County Council to be a focal point for Clonsilla. For old inhabitants, new inhabitants, people that have yet to come here.”

Gray added that if that the Old School House could be renovated it into a community and heritage centre, it could boost the sense of community in the area.

The Old School House dates back to the mid-19th century, around 1850, and used to be the first site of Porterstown National School, Clonsilla National School and later the first St. Mochta’s’ National School.

There are many local folklore stories of the building, such as there once being a secret Gaelscoil in the basement during British occupation, but since the construction of new facilities in the mid-1900s, the building has remained dormont.

This idea to turn the building into a local history and community centre, which has been suggested by local councillors for years, has fallen on deaf ears.

Recently, the current owner listed the property and the land for over €3.5 million on Daft.ie after the council failed to purchase it in 2021.

IMG_3150 The Old School House located on Porterstown Rd, Clonsilla. Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal / The Journal

The plan to purchase it was backed by former Sinn Féin councillor and the current TD for the area, Paul Donnelly, Labour councillor John Walsh and Independent councillor Tania Doyle.

Walsh, in leaflets sent out to locals in recent weeks, highlighted that he was disappointed that the council was unable to purchase it, in the end. Donnelly had previously written to the CEO of the council, pleading the case for its purchase.

“Fingal County Council should have acquired The Old School House land which is steeped in history and had land with its own ecological biodiversity but instead it lies now desecrated,” says one submission to the consultation.

“It should have been purchased and used as a centre for the local community.”

IMG_3147 The Old School House has been left abandoned for many years. Locals want the council to use it as a heritage centre. Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal Muiris O'Cearbhaill / The Journal / The Journal

In his submission, Walsh said that Fingal County Council needed to “redouble” its efforts to buy the building so that it can be redeveloped into a “community centre and museum focusing on the local history of Clonsilla”.

Gray said that, compared to villages such as Malahide, Swords or even Blanchardstown – a seven minute drive from Clonsilla – the area pushes people away and forces them to commute elsewhere, rather than attracting them to stay.

He added that the heritage group are trying to attract people to take part in their annual events, such as their local heritage event in September, so that more of the community understand the history of the village.

“Right now, the next generation will only know this place for being housing estates.”

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