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Dartmouth Square dispute features in finale of land documentary

“The Irish lose any sense they have when it comes to land,” is one of the many theories offered.

park Source: TG4/Crá sa Chré

One of the great Irish myths was that there was a particularly unique bond when it came to the family. But you can be absolutely sure that what might rupture those bonds are disputes over land.”

- Diarmuid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History.

But TG4′s documentary The Field or ‘Crá sa Chré’, has been examining what exactly makes the Irish - as legal correspondent Orla O’Donnell says – “lose any sense they have” when it comes to land.

In the final episode of the six-part series which airs tonight, the series focuses on cases between neighbours where the land between them moved them to legal action.

One of the cases featured in tonight’s episode is a fight between the owner of a Dublin park and the neighbours surrounding that park for how it should be used.

cra sa chré Source: TG4/Crá sa Chré

When Noel O’Gara, a businessman from Athlone, succeeded in purchasing a two-acre park in Dartmouth Square for €10 million, he must’ve thought he’d a great bargain.

“It was a public park. The nuns from Loreto on the Green used it as a PE place, and they gave it to the council about 22 years before Noel O’Gara got it,” says a former resident of Dartmouth, Peter O’Brien.

When the lease lapsed, Noel O’Gara seized the opportunity and bought the square, but he didn’t do anything with it immediately.

“And then, on the first day of summer holidays, the square suddenly had locks on it, and nobody knew why.”

gates Source: TG4/Crá sa Chré

“It started there – this dark energy comes into the square.”

The neighbours and residents of the area, decided to document what began to happen to the square from that moment on – now the park, which is still locked up, is seen to be overgrown, graffiti drawn on its stone pillars, and rubbish strewn in certain areas.

“We’ve been living here for quite some time, the park was very much part of that experience and it’s been a mess for the past two and a half years since Noel O’Gara bought it and closed it down,” says another resident.

On the other side of the debate is Noel O’Gara himself.

Cra sa Chre Noel O'Gara (chequered shirt), explains his side to presenter Pilib Mac Cathmhaoil. Source: TG4/Crá sa Chré

Speaking to presenter Pilib Mac Cathmhaoil, O’Gara said that his plan was to turn the piece of land into a car park, but was blocked by legal action taken by the residents.

“It made me realise that the way the planning laws have perverted and distorted the property business in Ireland.”

So he started using the park for other uses – a tile market, among other things.

Councillor Ruairi McGinley disagrees, saying that it is up to public representatives to ensure that places like this park are maintained on behalf of the residents.

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The council offered him 100,000 for the park, but O’Gara refused, saying “even as a car park it’s worth a couple of hundred million”.

In the end, O’Gara’s business went into receivership, the council bought the park back, and residents began a clean-up operation.

When asked if he enjoyed the cat and mouse game with the council, O’Gara says he did, and that he doesn’t regret buying the park – going so far as to suggest that he still owns the park.

McGinley and O’Brien dispute that claim, with the former saying that the only person who doesn’t understand that the council owns the land is Noel O’Gara.

Crá sa Chré

Film Director Jim Sheridan attempted to explain the obsession for land by saying that “…the famine produced the element of land being so important and people being so irrational over it”.

Alan Titley, Emeritus Professor of modern Irish at University College Cork, gives an answer closer to Patrick Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger when he said:

People invest something of themselves in the land, that it’s tied to them. And the worse that gets, then the game can get very dirty indeed.

While perhaps the most extreme insight of all, is this dialogue from the stubborn Bull McCabe of john B Keane’s The Field:

Bull McCabe: There’s another law, stronger than the common law.
Father Doran: What’s that?
Bull McCabe: The law of the land.

TG4′s The Field/ Crá sa Chré airs a repeat of the series’ final episode this Sunday at 9.

Source: Park Films/YouTube

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