There were as many as 15 burnt-out cars lying around the neighbourhood at one stage, says 23-year-old Cherry Orchard local Anto Howe.
“Place was wrecked,” he says.
“We didn’t care,” says his brother Johnny, 30, as he rolls a cigarette. The pair are sat by the window of the youth centre FamiliBase in Ballyfermot last Wednesday evening.
Johnny Howe is talking about late 2015. The relationships between Gardaí and some of the younger locals had become tense.
Some threw rocks at Garda vehicles as they drove down cul-de-sacs. Gardaí were impounding horses owned by some of the locals.
Then 16-year-old Warren Kenny died on Christmas morning when his scrambler collided with another. It was a turning point for many.
Some youngsters started to band together and work with local councillors and gardaí to repair relations – and to try secure a safe space to keep their horses.
“It’s for the kids,” says Johnny Howe. “Teach them how to treat horses right.”
When Gardaí impounded local horses, it could cost piles to get them back, says 22-year-old Ger Cahill.
Sometimes as much as €1,200, he says – and if horses went unclaimed for three weeks, they could be slaughtered.
Says Johnny Howe: “You put all your money into your horse. Then bang! They’d impound it.”
“It was bad,” says Cahill, who adds that, along with the Howes, he was among the worst offenders back then.
Around that time, Brendan Cummins of FamiliBase started to ask local young lads what they felt they could change about their area.
Some suggested a safe space for scramblers, but instead they opted to press ahead with the project that is now called Horse Power.
Since 2015, Cummins has worked with Cahill and the Howes to try to get a proper stable for the 128 horses currently living around Cherry Orchard. They got €10,000 from the council’s local discretionary fund, the pot of money that local councillors get to decide how to spend.
Cummins, Cahill and the Howes visited equine centres around the country, scouting out how they were set up. They’ve since identified a nearby site owned by the council that they’re hoping to get their hands on.
“We have it earmarked,” says Cummins. “But the council might not.”
Dublin City Council hasn’t yet replied to media queries about a site for the stables.
Sulkies and Saddles
Horse ownership is central to local culture, says Johnny Howe. “Since before Cherry Orchard there have been horses.”
When Howe was a boy he would trek 60 miles on horseback from Ballyfermot to Sally’s Gap in Co. Wicklow with Cahill’s grandfather, who started a pony club for the area.
People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin says horses have always been used to deliver goods, too. “Ballyfermot was a huge neighbourhood for fruit and veg delivery,” she says.
For nearly three years since local efforts began, De Nortúin has been pushing the council to allocate land for proper stables. “The council throw an awful lot of hoops at you,” she says.
Cummins and a local committee of horse-owning young men have detailed proposals for the stables which would promote horse welfare and education. FamiliBase have agreed to govern it.
“But we need a piece of land allocated,” says Cummins. “The money for the build is there.”
Says People Before Profit’s de Nortúin: “They’ve worked so hard. They’ve pulled everything together. They’ve gone out into the community.”
Urban horse ownership is still popular, says de Nortúin. The council needs “to just step up and accept that”.
There’s less anti-social behaviour in Cherry Orchard since the “worst offenders” like himself, Johnny and Cahill changed tack and stepped up, says Anto Howe.
“We’re just constantly trying to get somewhere for the horses,” he says.
As well as pushing for a stables, they also had to change the local narrative by approaching the Gardaí and admitting the damage that they’d caused.
But the Gardaí “were tormenting young fellas” too, he says. That involved low-level harassment, including stop and searches.
“And young fellas were tormenting them,” says Cummins.
Young guys often tore parts off parked cars in Cherry Orchard and could make between €100 and €200 a day by selling off the scrap metal, says Johnny. “We didn’t care.”
As they talk outside FamiliBase, a young lad driving a horse and cart rounds Blackditch Road.
“I understand people getting upset that there are horses everywhere,” says Cahill .”They’ve to live with it. But we live here too and there’s absolutely nothing for us.”