RECKONINGS

A STORY ABOUT PLACE, CONNECTION AND CONFLICT

 

From Foreword:

There are several threads to the story told here. Ideas around neighbourhood and place are central. I was raised in Ballyfermot, at the time, a newly-built public housing estate on the edge of Dublin. The experience has always been important, and its memory endures.

street

   I know from others I have spoken to that many reflections about Ballyfermot vary from sentimental, nostalgic reminiscence to deep anxiety about having partaken in, or witnessed troubled family, community or school events. My experience was mixed, but satisfactory. I feel relieved that at the time my parents were rearing a young family of seven children they had good housing with affordable rent and tenure, and that they did not experience the trauma of precarious housing that is so widespread among their contemporary counterparts.

   I also feel privileged for having been reared and formed in a housing estate whose physical features, space and contours were so graphically urban. The crowded street experience was our living playground and was deeply relational. Our young lives were also regularly enriched through ventures to other, greener places, especially to the Phoenix Park, and a few miles further to the Strawberry Beds, along the Liffey Valley.  

   Often, if a journey takes me nearby, I detour down my street and relive the sensation. As I drive through the streets where I played, past my own house, up to the built playground - now re-modelled with a modern layout - I reflect on the happy times spent there, as a child. As a young adult I worked in the playground as a playleader, and rediscovered childhood.

   I try to make sense of these experiences  - good and bad - in terms of their continued influence, and in seeking assurance that things go on, the wheels go round, bringing new perspectives, and reflect that at its core, life is embedded in relationships that commence around place, and continue through a search for identity, and purpose.

cowboys

   Deep down I know that place and space have considerable long-term impacts. I also experienced this sense of place when I experienced other places and particularly when I worked as a community social worker in Dublin's south inner city between 1980-1985. There, I also felt a strong association with place and with its people, including with some who also similarly experienced that deep feeling of neighbourhood and place.

   Through my work in the south inner city, I experienced and witnessed conflict. It was the place where Ireland’s 1980’s heroin crisis first emerged, where drug dealing on corners, stairways and balconies became commonplace, gradually undermining and eventually replacing children’s outdoor play, football and chasing games.

   In my work, young adults, young parents, shared their experiences of multiple traumas, some random, some relatively fixed within their family or social situation, and some exacerbated by their resort to drug use or other activities.

   It was the place where residents’ fury eventually erupted as they organized themselves against drug dealers and evicted from their place those who refused to stop.

   There was conflict about ownership of the residents’ actions: were they the self-organised activities of local residents, or driven by insidious political activism?

   There was conflict about the health response, generally regarded as a catastrophic policy failure.

The flats

   These conflicts reflected several strands in the attitudes of many external actors towards public housing estates, attitudes that resonate across my experiences of growing up in Ballyfermot and working in the inner city. Through the church, the religious run schools, political structures, political opportunism, and the various bodies that ran health and social services, there was an embedded disdain towards the working class and its people.

   Today that disdain is reflected in the commonly quoted phrase about public housing that we ‘cannot go back to the mistakes of the past’, made it often appears, not as an attempt to own or transform policy failures, which might be justified, but more as a disparagement, an unwarranted besmirching of public housing, and of those who live there.

   Place and settings are hugely important in shaping personal and social lives. They can be stable, with a sense of permanency, but they are also regularly disrupted by external events, and influences. Many people spend a lot of their lives re-discovering place, overcoming trauma and conflict, and developing connection to both old and new places. Through these journeys, these transitions, both physical and emotional, they build relationships, they fashion identity, they discover meaning, and they seek resolution to life’s challenges. This is a story about the early stage of one such journey.

Reckonings (previously with working title of Over Your Shoulder) is virtually complete and I’m currently looking for a publisher with the hope of publishing in 2019. Sign up to stay informed here. 

 

 

Gentl© Barry Cullen 2018