'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyage’ is a work in progress, commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and due to be completed in the autumn of 2008. The following tale represents research I have undertaken for the project which may or may not be used in the final book.
Many East Wallers lived in cottages built and owned by the companies who employed them. Men worked hard and drank harder while the women raised large families and scrubbed the home floorboards spotless every morning. But if life was difficult, the people were generally robust and jaunty. Music was a ritual, and sport an institution. As early as 1904, the four young Grace brothers of Caledon Road were to be found playing handball against the side-wall of Brennan’s shop on Church Road. A later icon of this sport was Seamus O’Hanlon of Church Road who went on to found the Irish Amateur Handball Association. The St Laurence O’Toole GAA Club had a massive following. Despite the pre-eminence of the GAA, there were two local soccer clubs, Strandville and St Barnabas, who played in Fairview Park. These would later inspire the rivalry plot in O’Casey’s ‘The Silver Tassie’. Before the Great War, the well-to-do sailed their yachts along East Wall Road. The James Long Challenge Cup, based at the Wharf, was a popular excuse for local shipbuilders to showcase their latest yachts. The Wharf Road Sailing Club continued to orchestrate yacht races off East Wall Road as late as 1927 but the sea was already starting to fade out of view as more lands were reclaimed and more factories built.
The East Wall landscape remained largely unchanged until the Rev DH Hall began building new semi-detached houses in the area after the First World War. By then most of the community were working class Catholics although Canon Hall was careful to ensure his houses were built on an ecumenical basis. In the 1930s, Dublin Corporation followed suit and deliberately established an inner city area in the East Wall, starting at Russell Avenue. The area was still considered part of the countryside at this time. Many of the new Corporation houses were occupied by former tenement dwellers from Pearse Street. The newcomers were known as Runner-In's. In the 1920s and 1930s, East Wall children were either educated at St Laurence O’Toole’s School in North Wall, or at the Wharf School on the East Wall Road. In 1939, East Wall got its own school when St Joseph’s National School opened on St Mary’s Road.
Even today, East Wall is known to operate as something of an independent Republic. As the 20th century wore on, dwindling employment opportunities and the physical barriers of the ever busy East Wall Road and East Road amplified the sense of isolation that had been inherent since the laying of the railway tracks in Victorian times. For the whole community - indigenous East Wallers and the Runner-In's alike - the big squeeze was never far away. Up until the 1960s, the view from East Wall Road took in Dublin Bay spreading out to Fairview and Clontarf. Then the road was developed by portside businesses and the view vanished. The local Protestant community must have felt particularly glum when St Barnabas's Church was demolished and replaced by a carwash. Nonetheless, during the 1960s and 1970s, East Wall was still pulsating with the noise of flour mills, printing works, timber yards, granaries, coal yards, warehouses, dockyards and railways. The biggest employer was the British & Irish Steam Packet Company, commonly known as B&I. Rathborne Candles, Wiggins Teape, Cahill's Printers and Collen Brothers Construction also had a significant local presence.