In Ballymun, Making Connections Across Generations with Photos and Coddle

“No Age Gap,” says Chloe Willliams, sounding excited. “We came up with a name for it.”

Six weeks on from the the launch in the Mansion House, young people and elders gathered on Saturday in Ballymun Youthreach for a photo exhibition.

They were also there to celebrate the end of the programme aimed at strengthening intergenerational connectedness.

The room buzzed with chatter and laughter – the conversation swelling at times to become as loud as a pub in the late evening.

“They were telling us stories about how they remember Ballymun,” says Williams, of her older counterparts in the programme. “It isn’t over, they are going to come back and have a dinner next week and teach us more things.”

“When they first came in, I was thinking, Are they going to be grumpy?” says Craig Keeley, a young man with sandy reddish hair, who is studying woodwork.

“But when you start get to know them they are good craic, the humour. They are worse than me,” he says.

The project has not only created a sense of community that spans the generations and benefited the participants, says Joe Reid, who teaches woodwork.

Young people have said it’s inspired them to visit their own grandparents more too, he says.

The programme wasn’t all fun and games though. It got serious when it came to the competition for the best coddle.

“It got very competitive,” says Keeley. “People arguing about whether it is better to make a white coddle or a brown coddle.”

He didn’t know how to make the dish beforehand, he says. Expert Kay Cullan taught him – even though she wasn’t on his team, he says.

“Our coddle was the best,” says Cullan. It won the competition. “The next coddle was the packet of stuff, but it was good as well.”

For Jessica Geoghegan, also on the winning team, the coddle competition was the highlight of the programme, she says.

She declined to try one of the other teams’ effort, though. They’d put black pudding in it, she says, pulling a face.

Connectedness

Geoghegan says she also didn’t expect the elders to be as outgoing and fun as they were. “You get to know them properly,” she says. “They all live close by so we will see them around.”

For her part, Kay Cullan was pleasantly surprised by how respectful the young people were. “Their manners were so good it was hard to believe,” she says. “They only want to be given a chance and I do hope they will get careers out of it.”

She is tired of hearing bad stories about Ballymun – it’s a fabulous community, she says.

“But who built up Ballymun? Who made things happen?” Cullan asks Trina O’Connor, the criminologist who organised the programme.

O’Connor is sat across the table, eating a cocktail sausage.

“Oh the community, they made everything happen themselves,” says O’Connor. She was born in Ballymun in the 1970s, and there was a housing crisis on then too, she says.

“I was born in Ballymun, in the flats. Actually, my family were homeless. They were squatting in the flats,” she says. “And I was christened in Ballymun church.”

“It was the women,” says Cullan. “The heart of Ballymun was always the women. They were the main ones to get out there and they created every resource in the community.”

O’Connor agrees. Men were usually out working back then, or some of them might have been in the pub, she says. Either way, the women had to make things happen for the kids and in the community.

There were times of high unemployment, says Cullan. She remembers people importing condoms illegally from the north and selling them from the makeshift shops in Ballymun.

Both herself and her husband worked hard – him in a laundry and her in a factory that printed foreign currency, she says. “You didn’t have as much freedom.”

“It is a long time ago,” she says. “We struggled, oh we struggled. But we reared the boys the way we were reared and the boys didn’t want for anything.”

Inspired by Photos

The six-week programme included preparing for the photography exhibition.

The older citizens brought in photos of Ballymun in the old days and some of their families. The younger participants applied filters to improve the quality of some of the older snaps. They got them blown up, and Reid’s woodwork class made the frames.

Inspired by the photos, they all began to exchange stories. “I’m learning loads from the older people as well,” says Lee Cassin, a woodwork student, as he shows the Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe, a Fiánna Fail councillor, around.

An elderly woman named Lilly didn’t have a photo of her whole family together, and her husband Lar had passed away. So Lilly’s daughter superimposed a photo of Lar into a family photo for her.

“I sharpened up the quality, we got the photo blown up and made the frame,” says Nicole Lynch.

Lilly has another photo also with her siblings that was taken when she was around 16, she says.

There are lots of photos of friends and family and ones taken in the Ballymun flats.

McAuliffe asks if Cassin has met the elders outside of the programme. Cassin says he has – that he’s been talking to them on the street and in shops.

“Sometimes, even though you aren’t doing anything wrong, if you are gathering on the corner the older people might feel a bit intimidated,” says McAuliffe. “But then by them knowing two or three of yis, then they are able to say hello.”

So just knowing the young people can change the dynamic and makes people feel safer in their community, he says.

Later McAuliffe, dressed in a Christmas jumper, gives a short speech to congratulate all the participants. “The idea of intergenerational learning, there is probably nothing new in it,” he says.

He recalls another programme in Ballymun years ago that got young people to help older people with their shopping.

Earlier in the night, those gathered had done an exercise, passing around a ball of wool to create multiple links.

“At the end of it we had a big web and that is what the community of Ballymun is,” says McAuliffe. “When this programme is gone, you still have the connections.”

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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