I may have had a somewhat rose tinted view of the Ballybough area when starting the ground survey – based its fantastical history. The day started on a rocky note as I dodged showers, got caught in Tall Ships traffic and my bus wouldn’t go past O’Connell Street. Though miraculously I was only showered with rain on three occasions throughout the day – good going! By the end of the day, I was certainly seeing Ballybough more clearly.
History of Ballybough
Ballybough has a rather infamous history as an area of ill repute where thieves and smugglers ran riot in the 18th century. There is a terrific piece of radio on the changing face of Fairview series in which Denis McIntyre illustrates its chequered past. Ballybough Bridge – now called Luke Kelly bridge used to be the city boundary and a large gate was locked at night in an effort to keep undesirables out – though by the sound of it – many of them lived just inside the gate.
The area was known as Mud Island before East Wall was reclaimed from the sea. Those mud flats acted as the perfect hiding place for smuggled goods and passing ships’ workers would siphon off cargo to be sold in the black market. Of course the authorities were wise to this but it was only the most courageous of law enforcement officials who would venture on to this patch of land and the ensuing conflicts led to many bloody scenes. A corpse on the street was not thought to be much to speak of, infact there was a gallows on Ballybough Bridge where the corpses of those hanged were allowed to remain for several days to deter would be thieves.
The Suicide Plot
At the end of Ballybough Road at the intersection with Clonliffe Road was The Suicide Plot – an unconsecrated graveyard set aside for undesirables and mostly for those who had committed suicide – thought to be a great sin in those days. Local belief is that when buried, the corpses were staked through the heart to prevent their tormented souls from troubling the inhabitants of the area. Whether this is true or not – the Suicide Plot is known to have been a large influence on Bram Stoker in the creation of his infamous novel Dracula as he spent hours wandering the grounds. Unfortunately – the site is today garnished by three large advertising boards and not a single mention of its rather illustrious history. Locals are trying to have this site commemorated and the boards removed but as we all know the wheels of commerce grind faster than those of philanthropy.
Development of Ballybough
This was an area that saw its fair share of the the rising and was heavily damaged by the 1940’s bombings. It is understandable that there has been some loss of original cottage style buildings but thankfully the loss is not as great as you would imagine. The most notable casualty is that of the Ballybough Cottages themselves, the entire street has disappeared and is now the site of a large high rise council housing estate. Closer to the city side again several streets of original cottages were cleared to make way for the Croke Villas council development. This development is now in the process of being cleared of its inhabitants and has been bought by the GAA for redevelopment after many years of near dereliction. It is amazing to think that the surrounding beautiful and original houses have survived centuries yet these council developments are so disposable that they last mere decades.
Further down towards the East Wall end of Ballybough I began to encounter some unpleasantness that has certainly made me consider how I go about surveying. At first it was just young kids hassling me which was all just banter and I simply walked away hoping that they wouldn’t follow. Unfortunately when I was surveying Bayview Avenue a lovely man stopped me to point out that there was a tyre raid going on at the end of the street and to stay back from it. One young fellow had scaled the roof of the local tyre garage and was flinging tyres out to the waiting group of about 20 kids who then rolled them away to their hiding place in preparation for bonfire night.
Not content with just stealing the tyres some were also damaging a nearby Volkswagen Golf – jumping on the bonnet, opening the doors and destroying the interiors. This was in full daylight, just off a busy thoroughfare – I was entirely unprepared for it. Many of the occupants of the really lovely Bayview Avenue were out and frustrated as this was the third day in a row with this behaviour. Repeated calls to the emergency services proved fruitless, it always took them at least a half an hour to arrive and the kids knew this. In fact the man who stopped me called the guards while I was with him and was very upset about how disrespectfully he was treated by the guard on the phone. Eventually he was told a car would be there ‘in rotation’.
I took a different route down on to the North Wall Road to access Newcomen Court and came across several of the very young kids rolling their tyres across the road – stopping busy traffic by rolling their tyres out onto the road dangerously. My heart was in my mouth as the motorists were not aware of what was going on and some of these kids were about the same size as their tyres! Having crossed the street successfully they were stopped by a lady outside the entrance to Newcomen Court and asked ‘Who gave yez those’, I thought – they are in for it now! The young fella who answered was entirely guileless and simply stated ‘We robbed em!’ and then looked on with wide eyes to see what the consequence of his admission would be. I continued on my way but about five minutes later on my way back, I saw the same lady carrying one of the better tyres – presumably for her own car and sending the kids on their merry way with their booty.
Though the damage to the car was mindless and horrible, what struck me most was how a century may have passed but that the antics and situation were exactly what I would have imagined in the tenements. The kids were pure rogues going about their old tradition as the song goes ‘the only way they know how, that’s just a little bit more than the law will allow’.
I certainly don’t condone anti-social behaviour but the story could be told in any of Kevin c Kearn’s excellent tales of the Tenements from the early part of the 1900’s and I would have found it charming. Having said that, I definitely feel that I could do with a partner when surveying East Wall, just for peace of mind!
For the record – as I rambled back up the North Strand Road about a half hour later to survey the Springarden area cottages, the guards had indeed turned up and were walking around the damaged car but the kids… you guessed it… were nowhere to be found.
Like a rose, most of Ballybough is very charming but be careful of those thorns. The next few weeks will be the full survey of the infamously enduring Ballybough area.