nomadic stories

Dublin’s Ghost Estates

Abandoned houses in Balgriffin

I know it has been a while, so I will try a fresh start with something quite interesting, yet slightly upsetting. I am going to introduce you to two of Dublin’s ghost estates, shocking reminders of the “celtic tiger” era, the Irish economic craze that abruptly ended in 2009.

I captured these morbidly picturesque views this summer on a cycle between Dublin and Portmarnock, just about ten kilometres North of the capital’s city centre. Castlemoyne Balgriffin is one of the many estates in Ireland built and left unfinished when the developer went bust in 2009. Even finished property remained largely abandoned due to the isolated location with no access to public services or transport.

Of course this is no news and on top of that a delicate and painful subject to many house owners and mortgage holders. So why posting these pictures now? Well, it was announced yesterday that the government will pay for the demolition of the worst ghost estates across Ireland. According to the Sunday times, “Housing minister Jan O’Sullivan has drawn up a hit list of 40 unfinished estates at which site clearance will begin in 2014. More developments will be added where it is clear houses can never be sold on the open market.” Affected areas are believed to be concentrated in the western and midland counties of Leitrim, Roscommon, Longford, Cavan and Offaly.

And once again tax payers are cleaning up the mess that investors and developers (of which many were banks) have left behind… Even more disturbing is the fact that these “luxurious family homes” on the country side got planning permission as quickly as they will be demolished again!

Castlemoyne, Balgriffin Road Dublin 17From above the different building stages of Castlemoyne housing estate are clearly visible.

Abandoned housing estate Balgriffin Abandoned housing estate BalgriffinConstruction stopped after foundation works, or ground floor construction respectively

Abandoned housing estate Balgriffin“Luxurious 5 Bedroom Family Homes” – A bill board reminds of glorious celtic tiger promises.

Abandoned housing estate Balgriffin Abandoned housing estate BalgriffinA fence right across the road marks the transition between finished and unfinished. Whether homes are occupied or not is a lot harder to detect. Gardens are neatly kept in shape but stickers on the inside of windows reveal the truth. The street below was entirely vacant, however the rest of the estate is partly occupied.


Construction fence becomes permanentConstruction fence becomes permanentA construction fence close by that became permanent.

Another eye sore not far away from above ghost estate is Priory Hall. This newly finished complex in Northern Donaghmede had been declared a fire hazard in 2011 and was hence evacuated. House owners were set on the street without compensation as the developer went bankrupt. “Those residents, unable to move back into houses they still had to pay for, have spent nearly a year in legal limbo, high-profile casualties of the corruption and recklessness of the Irish boom in the 2000s.” “Temporarily staying in housing provided by the Dublin City Council, its residents were still required to keep up mortgage payments on their deteriorating apartments. Meanwhile, the council, which was ordered by a court to take responsibility for the tenants and has already spent more than $2 million housing them, had gone back to court to avoid paying any more. (The New York Times) It cost the life of a mortgage holder who tragically committed suicide this year, in order for authorities to agree to pay their rent for another 12 months and banks involved “to release owner-occupiers from their mortgages and offer them new loans to buy homes elsewhere.” (Irish Times)

Prior Hall

Prior HallPrior Hall


Dublin – A Summer’s Tale

granby park preparations

It’s almost as if this exceptionally warm and long-lasting summer has finally freed Dublin from its state of shock, caused by the sudden recession back in 2009. Not only rating agencies attest economical uplift this year, also the social and cultural life of the capital experiences a revival  – or could I say reinvention? There is one spot in town, where prevailing self-flagellation has been replaced by action, creativity and power: a vacant site on Dominick Street Lower, in the heart of the city.

Since over a year dozens of volunteers have been frantically working to realize Granby Park, a temporary Pop-Up garden by the arts collective Upstart, “a place of creativity, nature, imagination, play and beauty for everyone. For four weeks, there will be free arts events, outdoor cinema & theatre performances, live music, educational activities and a pop-up café open to the public.” (source: Granby Park website)

Post-crisis city production

Creating Granby Park on this inner city urban wasteland feels like a statement to me, an attempt of people to finally take part in shaping the city after a long history of paternalism and more recently – the dictate of the market in Ireland. This project is therefore more than just another example of trendy European bottom-up urbanism and will – despite its temporariness – surely have a strong impact on urban culture and community engagement in Dublin.

So if you want to be part of something special, come along! Help with the final spurt of the build up today, volunteer as a park steward, visit one of the many amazing public events, offer your skills at trade school or simply celebrate community, team work, reconciliation, creativity and – the new Irish Summer…

The park is open to public from August 22nd to September 22nd 2013, Monday to Friday 8am – 7pm, Saturday & Sunday 10am – 7pm at Dominick Street Lower, Dublin 1

Granby park beforeThe site before the build up, just a few weeks ago!

Granby Park Site 18.08.2013Granby Park this Sunday….

Granby Park Site 21.08.2013… and today!

shoe art

granby park amphitheatre build upConstruction work on the pallet amphitheatre went on until late tonight..

polytunnel build upPolytunnel construction

planter construction for Granby ParkVolunteers making tree planters from pallets

amphitheatre build up teens teens Teens from Dublin and Belfast are building the amphitheatre as part of a reconciliation project

building a nest preparing the siteThe grass has been manually “transplanted” from a neighbouring vacant site!

site management watering plant donations to Granby ParkWatering plant donations

art at Granby Parkfence painting at Dominick Street LowerLocal volunteers painting the fence

Granby Park guerilla gardening on exchecker streetDiscrete advertising – a lovely herald for Granby park spotted on Exchequer Street today. knitting pile knitting for Granby Parkknitters at Granby ParkFence knitting action…

neighbours painting Dominick Flats  The good vibes spill over: Tenants painting their walls at Dominick Flats!

polytunnel art  Granby Park poster on Parnell Street

Face to Face

damp smile

Not only is Dublin a city of human scale but also of human face. Yes, FACE – you heard right. I can’t help the feeling that Ireland’s capital partly owes its familiarity and friendliness to those many houses that watch over you, laugh with you, cry with you and sing with you… This exceptional quantity of expressions in the city scape is fostered by the low-rise policy of the council which has unintentionally set the base for a variety of facade emos.

It is commonly known that evolution has enabled us to extract information about sex, age, and intentions from facial expressions. Scientific studies have also shown that we analyse artificial structures, such as cars in the exact same way. This insight has provided an extremely useful marketing tool to the car industry that can use the Evolutionary-based emotional design to attract certain target groups. Translating this to the building sector, It would be interesting to find out how architectural “faces” influence the psyche of the urbanite, his relationship and bonding with the city and how the architect could work with this knowledge. Anybody knows more about the topic? Below some of my favourite Dublin faces (whom I secretly greet when I pass)…

Hat House

singing houses on arbour hilltwinkling house on arbour hill  hungry house

cute house in temple bar

Urban Village

Cottages in Stoneybatter

Stoneybatter with its unique small-scale housing typologies is probably one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Dublin. In fact, I don’t know any other capital where single story dwellings have survived the pressure of rising land prices to such large extent. Strolling through the windy viking-named lanes you can almost imagine being in an old fishing village. The scale of the cottages and terraced houses evoke the intimacy and familiar atmosphere of a small town and despite the tranquility there is always a chance to have a chit-chat with one or the other “born-and-raised”. You might find someone watering plants, flowers carefully placed in one of the obsolete iron boot scrapers accompanying each entrance, or an old man waving from his doorstep as you pass by.

Cottages in Stoneybatter flower pot in boots craper relict flower pots in boots craper relicts     terraced houses Oxmantown Road

The absence of green does not compromise the charm of the area in any way. To the contrary – Without trees the beautiful simplicity of these former workers residences comes into its own much more and I am not surprised when I learn that Stoneybatter has already served as a backdrop for various movies such as Educating Rita (1983), Michael Collins (1996), Angela’s Ashes (1999) and even a Spice Girls music video..!

stepping brick detail at Oxmantown Road

Above a nice steplike brick detail in Oxmantown Road, named after the Ostmen or Austmenn (men of the East) as the Vikings called themselves. At the time of the Norman invasion during the late 12th century, they were exiled to the north of the Liffey (Stoneybatter) where they founded the hamlet of Ostmenstown later to become Oxmantown. (Source: wikipedia)

Imagining Dublin Nr.1


What to do with the many blind fire walls in Dublin, these sad reminders of recent Irish history – building boom, -bubble and -stop? Looking out onto one from my new home got me started with this little exercise that might just be the first of a series.

after 1


Chicken and Chairs

pallet workshop

The Chocolate Factory roof farm off Parnell Street, with its beautiful views over Dublin and the snow-capped Wicklow Mountains is a surreal place. Shielded from the noise of the city, this new test site for urban farming in the centre of Dublin provides an unexpectedly peaceful retreat, not only for a dozen happy chicken but also for nature loving city dwellers who are preparing the roof for the first growing season this year. The result of todays hands-on workshop was a bench with flowerpot armrests.

  pallet workshop

roof farm in speroof farm in spe

The Chocolate FactoryThe elegant old warehouse building on King’s Inn Street has been rediscovered by the Chocolate Factory community offering studio spaces for design art, music, dance and photography.

Dublin Flats

Flats on Dominick Street Lower (back facade)

Making use of first sunny days this year I went out and about to photograph my probably favourite architectural typology in Dublin, the inner city council flats, social housing of the late fifties and sixties. Unlike in Germany or the Netherlands these dwellings are woven into the existing inner city fabric as opposed to accumulate in large districts along its borders. Although they mostly fail to connect with the surroundings and refuse to define public and private spaces, these modernist free-standing blocks have some sort of elegance about them: Their complex composition of living units, a ground floor apartment with two duplex apartments on top, sculpt the facade with access balconies and balcony ribbons on alternating floors. The building’s cylindrical stair towers connect the access balconies and special features such as the wing-shaped roof and beautiful mosaiques lining the balconies decorate the early examples of this typology.

Flats on Dominick Street Lower (street facade)Nice brick detail on Kevin Barry House facadeKevin Barry HouseKevin Barry HouseKevin Street FlatsMosaique on Kevin St. LowerGable and external round staircase  - Flats on Kevin St. Lower

William Street North Flats William Street North Flats

Horses out on bail

a gardaí and a horse seller exchanging hats for the press.

It was more by chance that I happened to walk by Smithfield horse fair today and only afterwards did I read about the new regulation: In January this year by-laws were passed to limit the controversial horse market to twice a year, one in March (today) and one in September, with tightened regulations for trading licences, under age participants and animal welfare. Without knowing it, I might  have taken some pictures of historical value last year – Is this the end of the urban cowboy?

This fundamental change in regulations probably explains the hype around the market today. I’ve never seen so many photographers and journalists around. Even a film team was present to shoot a movie. It seems the market has more and more evolved to a public festivity or touristic event (probably the only chance for survival after the shootings last year). According to RTÉ, a new sub-committee comprising horse owners, councillors, DSPCA (Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and local interests will look at ways of promoting the fair, and many things seem to be happening already: There was a band playing Irish traditional music today, a photography exhibition about the horse market in one of the empty shop buildings looking out onto the square and even a library on wheels was present.

At the same time the amount of security must have tripled in comparison to last year. Not only Gardaí (Irish police) but also civic defence were observing the fair, which is completely fenced off since 2012. Checkpoints were put up on all the major crossings in the district, to check horse licences and legitimation of vendors.

I think this restriction as opposed to complete closure is a good opportunity to take a closer look at the value and potential of the market now. Exhibitions as the one today are a nice way to accompany and inform about the fair in the future. However I fear the market has bought its new legitimation for the sake of its peculiar spontaneous character that was quite unique in this part of the world! Although tourists might help to promote its existence I would hate Smithfield Horse Fair to become a show event with souvenir stands.

examination of a horse for sale meat scandal critizism in smithfield cinderellalibrary busexhibition with photographs by Frank Robinson and Jarlath RIce


Amsterdam or Dublin?

First week in Ireland and I am still haunted by the Netherlands. It seems not only the Chinese are interested in historic Dutch canal house architecture. I discovered this curious eclectic housing block named La Rochelle (!) on Lamb Alley, Christchurch, Dublin.

La Rochelle

The historicised “Dutch” gables sit on a rustic Irish looking stone wall that covers a parking garage. A strange symbiosis. But to be fair – the detailing of the “Dutch” facade is not bad, even the masonry looks authentic. The architects were clever enough to use a Flemish bond as opposed to a stretcher, the most common treacherous mistake of hitoricised architecture.

La Rochelle Dublin

birdview ©Google

Zoomed in on Google maps though, the back facade appears pretty standard and seems to have difficulties to meet the pitched roofs. Unfortunately I couldn’t find out more about the building as my internet search only resulted in flight offers between La Rochelle (France) and Dublin..

Burning my Nubbel

Burning the Nubbel

“It’s all over now!” they sing and timing couldn’t have been better really. Two weeks ago I left the Netherlands and with them an era of my life. I arrived in Cologne just in time for the end of carnival where I was able to witness this peculiar event, the public execution of a Nubbel.

Nubbel is a Kölsch (from Cologne) term describing a thing or person that doesn’t deserve or cannot be given any further illustration – “someone” or “something”. A name, Kölsch people give to a straw man, who is pinned up on the pub’s doors at the beginning of carnival representing the period of celebrations. Usually he is carried to the grave by midnight on Shrove Tuesday accompanied with candlelight and mourning carnival revellers. Then a so-called indictment is presented, mostly in vernacular, and often rhymed. The accuser is a carnival “Jeck”, who has disguised himself as a priest (splashing “holy” water around with a toilet brush). Initially the crowd defends the Nubbel, but at the end it is convinced of his guilt and demands revenge. The indictment culminates in rhetorical questions such as “Who is to blame that we spend all our money on drinks? Who is to blame that we cheated on our wife/husband?”. The howling crowd responds to the speaker: “The Nubbel!!”, “It’s the Nubbel’s fault!” and finally “He shall burn! Burn the Nubbel!”. And so they do.
According to popular belief, all sins and transgressions committed during the carnival are burnt with the Nubbel. After the combustion spectators pair up to jump over the fire to “cleanse” themselves.

Jump over the fire

Observing the procedure from secure distance, I burnt my inner Nubbel that night. Good bye Rotterdam, hello Dublin – let a new era begin…


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