“Christ!” cries the middle-aged man, nearly forced off the footpath on Manor Street.
Engulfed by dozens of pigeons, he navigates his way through the flock, and as he makes his way down towards Stoneybatter village, the birds disperse to the rooftops.
Twenty-six pigeons fly up and perch on one terraced house. Across the road, 21 more sit on another. There are 22 on the roof next door, and 18 more pigeons share space on the rooftops of terraced houses even nearer the village.
And 20 pigeons are settled on the derelict old shop, beside the home of the young veterinarian Lara Garnermann. “I remember at one stage there were just two,” she says.
For the past six years or so, these pigeons have been one of Stoneybatter’s oddities, to the chagrin of some proud villagers.
The Morning Feed
Against clear, blue Sunday-morning skies, the pigeons rise then nosedive towards the footpath where fresh feed has been placed.
A hundred or so wings flap furiously, swarming the footpath.
An elderly woman, dog in tow, delicately rounds the flock. She looks concerned, her bichon fries seemed indifferent.
A few moments later, the pigeons retreat to the rooftops once more.
On Sunday, as residents stroll through, it becomes clear that Stoneybatter’s pigeons are divisive.
Some people don’t mind them, considering them a village quirk, and think it’s best to leave well enough alone. Others seem distressed.
Further up Manor Street lives Audrey Gray, an elderly woman, who wants the pigeons gone. “Nothing will be done unless somebody will get such a fright, run out onto the road and be killed,” says Gray, calming her barking dog Milly.
Of course, it’s not an insignificant amount of pigeons for such a small area. There’s roughly 100 pigeons at any one time, perched on various houses.
“A hundred?” says Gray. “There must be about 400 out there.”
Former Labour TD Joe Costello who lives parallel to Manor Street, on Aughrim Street, is similarly irked by the avian legions.
“It comes up at nearly every town meeting,” says Costello. “People are concerned about it. The concern is that they’ve grown from a small operation, if you like, to quite a large frontage onto the street.”
“They take over a couple of terraces of houses, both on that side of the street, and then on the other side of the street,” he says. “It’s not good and it’s not healthy.”
Six Years On
For the Garnermanns it started with sparrows, several of which chirp by the bird feeder dangling from their front garden’s fuchsia bush.
And when two pigeons arrived one day, about six years ago, Lara and her mother, Jas, thought it best to feed them too.
Inside their house on Manor Street, books on psychoanalysis line the shelves, while their elderly cat, Zip, sleepily soaks up sun on the windowsill.
By now, the pigeons know when to visit the Garnermanns. “We put out food before going to bed. So then they come first thing in the morning,” says Lara Garnermann. “And then they get another feed around one or so.”
After studying veterinarian medicine in University College Dublin, Garnermann volunteered with a stray-dog shelter in Punjab in northern India, near where Jas was born.
One aspect of her education that stuck was how to tend to sick birds. “If you find a sick pigeon, the first thing you do is keep them warm,” she says. “Then you can rehydrate them and then you feed them.”
Sat beside a derelict shop on Manor Street, the Garnermanns’ home has become known locally as the Pigeon House. At times, people even drop seemingly sick pigeons in to Lara, who nurses them back to health.
As she sees it, locals need an attitude change towards pigeons, which are more often seen as pests than pets. “They need food too, and they’re not doing anything wrong,” she says.
In the winter months, less light means longer sleeps for Lara. In summer, she rises around five or six in the morning to feed the early birds.
When her father William, an architect, and mother Jas, a psychiatrist, visit Lara – who lives with her brother on Manor Street – they help chuck the bucket each day, filled with fresh grain for the pigeons.
“It’s like a whirlwind,” says Lara. “You won’t usually find just one or two pigeons on their own. They wait for the rest. Or sometimes, if there’s one pigeon, I’ll feed them food and he’ll go off and tell the others.”
At the windowsill, Zip rises slowly, slopes over to her food bowl, and eats. Outside, the pigeons return for a visit.
To Feed or Not
They swoop to the pavement behind their gate from the rooftops.
They swirl and peck, flutter, and fly off just as quick. A mother and child wait on the footpath for the pigeons to depart.
After many years, the abandoned old shop adjoining the Garnermanns’ house is finally up for sale, the sign already caked with streaky droppings.
Further along, towards the North Circular Road, Audrey Gray has managed to calm Milly down.
“You’d like to see the place clean, simple as that,” she says, pointing towards the rooftops. “I don’t think anyone likes the pigeons. I mean, people going by on the bus can see the blooming pigeons. Now, I wouldn’t kill anything, to be honest with you.”
That’s a relief.
But Gray, who helped plant Stoneybatter’s flower displays over the years, says she thinks village pride is not what it used to be. “Now, with the way I am now, I can’t carry water or be doing anything like that,” she says. “So the flowers are nearly as dead as myself.”
While the pigeon issue comes up at every village meeting there’s little that can be done, says Costello, of Aughrim Street.
“They’re becoming a community within the area,” he says of the pigeons. “They’re living here and they’re increasing all the time. There’s a time and a place for everything, but not in the middle of a busy street or village like Stoneybatter.”
Because the pigeons are fed on private property, there’s nothing Dublin City Council can do, according to a council spokesperson.
“It’s lovely to have birds around,” says Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe. “But I think the numbers are a cause for concern. There are public health issues arising from so many pigeons in the one place.”
Perhaps, suggests Cuffe, the Garnermanns could consider feeding the pigeons less?
“Actually, a large pigeon has just appeared on the wall outside Arbour Hill,” he says. “They never come around here! They obviously know we’re talking about them.”
In pink pyjamas, long black hair down to her waist, Lara Garnermann chucks the bucket of feed outside onto her home’s landing once more.
As before, there’s brief chaos on Manor Street, as the battering of wings drowns out the noise of afternoon traffic.
Yes, some locals complain about the pigeons, says Garnermann. “We try to be friendly, obviously, but I think it’s just more the idea of the pigeons than what they actually do. They seem to have a lot of misconceptions about birds.”
Across the road, perched on terraced houses, the pigeons have returned for their post-feed rest. “Once they’ve had enough to eat they go off,” says Garnermann. “They’re really sweet.”