Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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St Andrew’s Resource Centre, Pearse Street

From 'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageby Turtle Bunbury (MPG, 2008).


One of the more notable Victorian buildings on Pearse Street is a former Catholic primary school that is now headquarters of the influential St Andrew’s Resource Centre. With its’ yellow and red-brick façade, the two-storey building could feasibly serve as a location for ‘The Tudors’. Completed in 1897 and designed by William Hague, it was built to look after some 1,200 children of the Docklands at the behest of Father O’Malley, PP. In 1909, Countess Markievicz and Bulmer Hobson co-founded Fianna Éireann, a para-military organisation that instructed teenage boys in the use of firearms. Eight St. Andrew’s boys were selected as the first recruits. The Fianna boys would play an important role in 1916, carrying messages and firearms to rebel strongholds across the city in what, according to the school’s roll books for Easter Week 1916, they rather fetchingly described as the ‘Poets’ Rebellion’.


The school continued to operate until the 1970s when local depopulation forced its closure. Fortunately it acquired an exceptional new owner in the form of the pioneering Westland Row & City Quay Social Service Council. In 1960, there were approximately 22,500 families living in the two parishes. By 1970, the massive slum clearances of inner city Dublin meant the total population of the area had plummeted to less than 6,000. Those left behind were mainly too old to move, with a high percentage dependent on social welfare. ‘It was very traumatic’, recalls Betty Ashe, who was born on Pearse Street. ‘The community just disappeared. And that was happening all over Dublin’.


‘We couldn’t just watch it go on declining’, says Betty. ‘We had to fight back’. In 1971, a group of community activists established the Social Service Council in premises given by Trinity College on Westland Row. From here they provided the service of a social worker and a community worker, seconded from the Health Board. They also operated a day-care centre for the elderly and an Adult Education Programme. (AEP) In 1985, they acquired a lease from the Archdiocese to develop the old boy’s school into the Community Resource Centre. Today, some 30 senior citizens arrive at the Resource Centre every day for a bite to eat, a bit of banter and the occasional crack at winning a game of Bingo. The AEP has since proved so successful that many ‘Second Chance’ adults have subsequently acquired mainstream degrees as teachers, nurses, nutritionists and social workers.


They also set up a Job Centre which sought to provide work for the large numbers of unskilled workers left in the parish after the clearances. In 1987, they started the South Docks Festival, inviting all the businesses in the area to become a Friend of the Festival for £25 (€32). This Obama-style money-raising campaign provided a tremendous boost and greatly increased contact between the Job Centre and the various Friends. In the early days, local businesses tended to be small and middle-sized firms - architects, engineers and such like. When the Docklands Authority arrived on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, there was a marked shift towards big business. The Job Centre urged those on file to seize the opportunity to better their education and go for the high-end jobs. The SDF is now in its 21st year and Betty Ashe has just about lost count of the number of people whom they have secured jobs for in that time. The can-do attitude at St Andrew’s has been vital. ‘The Holy Spirit was watching down upon us’, concedes Betty. ‘But there’s a way around most things’.


During the 1980s, the Centre was instrumental in establishing the Grand Canal Trust which sought to bridge the gaps between the public sector, the private sector and the local community. The GCT’s objective was to lobby local politicians and attract investment to the area. The body provided considerable inspiration to the Social Agenda of the Docklands Master Plan, published in 1997. Betty Ashe’s adeptness earned her a place on the Council of the new Dublin Docklands Development Authority. That same year, the Authority acquired the 25-acre Gasworks site and the redevelopment began speedily. Suddenly things were beginning to play in the favour of the Pearse Street community.


‘The changes have been dramatic’, says Betty of the eleven years that have passed since then. ‘But most people are agreed they’re for the better’. One of the Centre’s greatest challenges has been to ensure there is integration between the old residents, the new dwellers and the businesses scattered across the cityscape. ‘The people who have lived here for generations wanted to know what was happening around them’, says Betty. Another concept was the Docklands Business Forum, a sort of Chamber of Commerce, at which the community are invited to hear the various businesses explain just what it is they actually do. Education has also been pivotal to the success of social regeneration program.


Today, the old school corridors are lined with black and white photographs of life in the old days. One wall is given to photos of the great theatres, picture houses and ballrooms of the inner city, the Queen’s, the Hippodrome, the Metropole. The classrooms have been converted into function rooms and are frequently used by government departments for discussions of green papers and budget estimates, as well as the local polling booth. Downstairs, the cradle-to-grave Resource Centre now also boasts a childcare centre, a youth centre, a computer training centre and a cyber café where ‘silver surfers’ like 86-year-old Betty Dempsey can stay in email contact with relatives overseas. The Resource Centre employs 250 people, which includes 90 on FAS-inspired community schemes. They have been careful to preserve the traditions and tales of the past through their heritage booklets. An on-going oral history campaign, spear-headed by the Centre and Trinity College Professor Ciaran Brady, will provide an insight into how the regeneration programme has impacted the lives of local people.




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