“THE TREATMENT OF THE TRAVELLING COMMUNITY IN IRELAND IS A NATIONAL SCANDAL”
The proposed extension of the Spring Lane halting site on the northside of Cork has exacerbated tensions between the settled and Travelling communities. A visit to the site reveals that years of political neglect has resulted in substandard living conditions and mounting social problems. IN
the city of Cork, decades of inequality divide the south and north sides of the river. Once you cross Christy Ring Bridge and head northwards, the city begins to lose its colours. By the time you reach Blackpool, buildings are looking noticeably shabbier. Faces grow more tired. Smiles are contrived.
Could this be an illusion? Our prejudices projected onto a place that we know to be – and to feel – neglected?
Maybe to an extent. But there are moments when you sense that the general dilapidation can be felt – and sometimes even smelt – in the air itself.
“Life is but a dream,” graffiti on a peeled wall in Blackpool reads. Here and there, I get a thick smell of something like tomato soup, that seems to belong to a different time.
A bit further up and to the east, in Ballyvolane, Travellers’ mobile homes spread, single-storey, across the halting site on Spring
Lane, close to the grounds of Glen Rovers hurling club. Some Cork people refer to the halting site as a ‘shanty town’, or a third-world country that’s been planted not very far at all from the centre of Cork city.
Most locals don’t want to talk about it, but there’s no getting away from the hard reality. This is an area that’s been plagued with poverty, deprivation and poor living conditions, and their almost inevitable corollaries: discrimination and petty crime. Sometimes the crime is far from petty.
Political geography defines this as the constituency of Cork NorthCentral. It stretches to several small towns and villages, including Blarney, Glanmire and Whitechurch.
Closer to the city, Mayfield, Ballyvolane, Blackpool, Knocknaheeny (home of Apple), Gurranabraher and Churchfield also fall under the umbrella.
It would be deeply wrong to stigmatise people from these sprawling, mainly working class areas. It has produced greatness. Roy Keane grew up in Mayfield. The Cork hurling captain Kieran ‘Fraggy’ Murphy was from the area too. Mark Carroll, one of
Ireland’s outstanding 5,000-metre runners, grew up in Knockaheeny. But the stigma exists: young people on this side of the river have been known to put down a southside address on their CVs, when they are looking for work.
The Mayfield area has been in the news recently. In January, a vicious attack took place in the Dunard Estate, which involved a man, Keith Greaney, being dragged from bed, beaten with an exhaust pipe, attacked with a machete, doused with petrol and set on fire. His injuries were described as ‘life-changing’.
There is no hospital on the northside of Cork city. But there is a small medical centre in Blackpool, housed in the neighbourhood’s brick Community Centre building. Nearby, Blackpool’s only preschool, Múin, faces an uncertain future as developers Compass Homes Ltd hope to knock it down to build 42 apartments.
“The proposed development will make a significant contribution to meeting local housing need, and it should be noted that there will be a substantial element of social housing,” a statement from the company reads.
Fair enough as far as it goes, but staff at Múin ask, “What about the child-care crisis?”
Marissa Buckley, a patient, ever-smiling dance and drama teacher, who manages Múin, says there are many empty, old buildings in Blackpool that can be used for housing. Why demolish this one?
Múin, she says, is unique. In the afternoons, the northside crèche turns into a stage school for teens, “keeping them off the streets” – sheltering them from an increasingly toxic heroin emergency by teaching them ballet and acting.
Last year, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was warned that Cork was on the brink of a heroin epidemic. Today, that prediction rings truer than ever. I chat to Alan, a skinny teenager from Churchfield, who describes life in the northside as being inseparable from ‘horses and heroin’.
“That’s it,” he says, laughing.
In Knocknaheeny, an industrial underbelly, Apple’s campus stands inured and indifferent to its surroundings.
Locals think the authorities close their eyes to the problems affecting the Norries. But this past year, a northside problem grew exponentially, grabbing national headlines, and prompting Cork City Council to intervene.