Many locals are optimistic about the council’s draft plans to fix up Dolphin’s Barn village, says Cathy Scuffil.
Unveiled by Dublin City Council officials recently, the plans include – at the moment – measures meant to make the neighbourhood more pedestrian friendly, with more seating and smoother new pavements.
They also include the creation of a small park, with a café, a little plaza, the planting of more trees, and the installation of more cycle parking.
The council has “pulled out all the stops on this one”, says Scuffil, a local historian with the council and member of the Back of the Pipes Residents Association, who grew up in Dolphin’s Barn.
“They have really made an effort to address the key issues of the Barn, and with a little bit of tweaking, to make it work for us locals, I think this could be fantastic,” she says.
Back in the 1960s, Dolphin’s Barn was very different, Scuffil says. “It was a bustling village that is the only way you could describe it.”
Her parents seemed to know almost everyone in the area, she recalls: “I used to dread going down with my mother, every shop you went into you would be there for half an hour.”
There was a fishmongers, a hardware store, a newsagent, a greengrocer and multiple hairdressers. There was also a shop that seemed to sell everything else, she says.
“You could get anything you wanted there, from a needle to an anchor, and it only opened for a couple of hours,” Scuffil says. A couple of hours, at 11 o’clock at night.
She remembers going into that shop late at night to use the payphone to ring cousins in Wales. “You had to wind it up to get it to work,” she says.
In time, though, the area went into decline and the streets became pockmarked with dereliction.
Scuffil partly blames the council, then called Dublin Corporation, for the decline of the area. It decided to widen Cork Street, she says, but couldn’t decide which side they’d knock down buildings on to make room.
So when a business closed, others were reluctant to move in, as they didn’t know whether the council was going to use a compulsory-purchase order to buy the building and knock it down. “So, everything was derelict on both sides or left as big open spaces,” she says.
In 1975, the Crumlin Shopping Centre opened, and many shoppers went there instead – so, in time, more local businesses closed.
Despite the decline in the appearance of Dolphin’s Barn though, the community spirit has “survived against all odds”, says Scuffil.
It’s the kind of community where people know and look out for each other, she says. “The funerals around there are still huge.”
“The aim of the [council’s renewal] project is to create an enhanced public realm,” said Mike Haslam, the architect behind the new plans, when he addressed the South Central Area Committee of Dublin City Council in mid-January.
There are a few issues with the layout of Dolphin’s Barn at the moment, Haslam said: there’s a lack of space for walkers, a lack of green space and seating, a need for designated parking and bicycle parking, and traffic issues.
The council’s plans envisage a small park with a new café opposite the church. It would encompass the area that is currently a little garden with a high cross, and the “linear park” to the south of that.
At the end of that new park, would be a new “gateway building”, the purpose of which is, as yet, undecided.
There is a need for more designated parking, improved loading bays and new bicycle parking, said Haslam. So the plans include a little plaza in front of Ziggy’s hairdresser and Boles chemist, containing a sculpture made out of Dolphin’s Barn brick, and some vehicle and bicycle parking.
Granite benches, possibly also using the yellowy Dolphin’s Barn brick are in the plans, which would “reintroduce Dolphin’s Barn brick into the language of the area”, said Haslam.
The plans include planting trees on both South Circular Road going out towards Rialto, and also on Dolphin’s Barn Street. Trees, benches, and bike stands will all discourage people from parking on the footpaths, and the number of designated parking spaces will be increased, says Haslam.
The council also plans to widen the footpaths in parts, and add granite curbs to them, to match improvements in nearby Rialto.
Dolphin’s Barn village was supposed to have been improved at the same time as Rialto village says Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh, but the council ran out of money halfway through the programme.
The council’s shopfront-improvement scheme – whereby the council splits the cost of better shop signage with retailers – will be rolled out in the area in the next few months too, said David Healy, an administrative officer with the council.
Councillors for the area welcomed the plans. “Residents are over the moon,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Ray McAdam.
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan said she wants to see dereliction in Dolphin’s Barn tackled as a priority. Like Scuffil, she remembers a time when it was a thriving community. “It was a vibrant village,” she says. “It has fallen into total dereliction.”
Moynihan raised the issue of the ongoing dereliction of a site on the corner of Dolphin’s Barn Street, which the council sold to developer Hollybrook Ltd, on the condition that it would be brought back into use quickly.
The council’s management have now instructed the law department to request that that site be returned to council possession, said Healy.
Locals are pleased with the council’s plans for the village, but would like to see a couple of tweaks to it, says Scuffil.
Some are worried about the idea of removing the railings around the garden with the high cross, she says. It has been well-maintained while fenced off, and the community have been able to get the keys to open it up for organised events, including Bloomsday on the Barn and the lighting of the Christmas tree.
If a café goes there, will the area be taken over by its outside furniture, or will locals still have the use of it? she wonders.
Pharmacist John Boles says he’d welcome the planned improvements, but wants to make sure someone’s going to sweep up the leaves from the new trees planned for outside his chemists shop, so elderly people (and others) don’t slip on them.
He’d also like to see a bus stop outside of the Spar again, as there was in the past. Scuffil says Boles is not alone in this.
“We would love to get the bus stop back,” she says. She recalls that it was popular because people used to get out there to connect with buses going to the north side.
Some residents also want a lay-by there for cars to pull into, Scuffil says. The local post office is in the Spar, and older people who may not be able to walk very far will be driven there to collect their pensions, she says.
That lay-by is “a no-brainer”, she says.