Black and white in Ballymun
Eoghan Keogh teaches religion to the Sixth Year in Belvedere. As he explained “a faith that does justice”, he looked for aspects of Dublin that bring a sense of injustice. Following a newspaper report on the regeneration project in Dolphin House, Ballymun, he discussed the possible effects on the residents of a slowdown or cancellation of the project. He told of his own experiences as a member of Magis (formerly Sli Eile) which had an office in the Shangan Flats in Ballymun. The students suggested visiting the place, meeting a community worker, and seeing for themselves. To show how lack of resources could affect a community that is ignored, Eoghan sought help from Sean Meehan, a former colleague, and arranged to visit Ballymun with fifteen students. One of them, Darryl Lynch , reported: On 19th October Mr Keogh led 15 students on a visit to Ballymun. Social justice is a key component of Mr Keogh’s class and of the Jesuit ethos. As a staunch Southsider, I was not familiar with this neck of the woods, so even the journey itself was an experience! Ballymun carries a stigma – it is considered a rough part of Dublin. This turned our outing from a light-hearted bus journey to a palpable level of calmness upon arrival. The first sight of the tower blocks surprised me. Throughout my life, I had heard many stories and seen some films centred on the flats, but nothing could prepare me for the real thing.
Of all the questions in my head, the most pressing was “are people still living here?” Half the flats were boarded up, so it was a genuine, not a snobbish question. I did not believe that in Ireland today some people are still forced to live in conditions where a lift is not always maintained. It reflects not so much on the community of Ballymun as on those in charge of its regeneration, and their lack of forward thinking. When we entered the complex and saw the graffiti-laden stairs, and the lift which I realized was not always working, I felt angry. Who or what is responsible for these conditions? Not so much the people who live there, but rather the sheer lack of respect on the part of government and associated bodies. When I imagined a mother trying to haul a buggy up a vast flight of stairs, what hit me was the ignorance of a government that is happy to accept these conditions for its citizens.
Before we reached the flat to meet Sean Meehan, I glimpsed a completely different view of Ballymun. I took a second to step onto the balcony, to be greeted by the most beautiful and diverse view of Dublin. It stretches from the contemporary industrial structures of the docklands, to the serene picturesque presence of the Wicklow mountains. Sean explained to us some of the work of JUST (Jesuit University Support and Training) in Ballymun, giving individual tuition to the first generation of Ballymun locals to tackle third-level courses. My visit to Ballymun was a significant aspect of my religious studies. It highlighted for me that there are still injustices in Ireland today. However, organizations such as JUST showed me that even though the government may not care about Ballymun, people there are still working hard to serve their community.