As a recent transplant to Dublin 8, my orientation programme has included walking the suburban streets, brushing up on local history and even a stint working in one of its most venerated institutions, IMMA. Encompassing Dublin’s old weaving district, the Liberties, as well as the brewing site for our most famous export, the boundaries of Dublin 8 represent industry and art as well as generations of Dublin families rubbing shoulders with imports from the suburbs and beyond. It was during this quest to better understand my environs that I happened upon “Dublin 8”, the matter-of-factly titled Facebook page run by Des Mullally. Mullally has been cultivating a community within a community over the past few years, posting local news, nostalgic photos and short pieces on the history of the area. The posts have provided a sounding board for locals and blow-ins alike to talk bulldozing and rebuilding, their personal memories and connections as well as providing the odd encouraging amendment to Des himself.
My curiosity was piqued about what leads a person to build an online community like this and whether it’s possible to bridge the gap between the world online and off so I met a very soft-spoken and reserved Des to probe him personally.
What led you to setting up the Facebook page in the first place?
I think it was 2011. At the time, somebody gave me a digital camera as a gift. The last time I had had a camera was when you would go to the chemist and develop the pictures. I was taking lots of photographs to practice and I didn’t know what to do with them, I had the idea to put them on Facebook just so I could see them myself but I didn’t want to be clogging up my page with photographs, so it came to me that I could group them altogether on a page called “Dublin 8”. I would walk around my neighbourhood looking for interesting things and find out if there was a story behind them. I’ve become more and more interested in things I see about the place and once I find out one story it usually leads to another story. Once I saw that people were clicking on the links and photographs it gave me more motivation to keep it up. I work in a public library in Clondalkin. In my job I would, from time to time, have some dealings with local history societies. I have a natural interest in history.
Where do you live in the area?
I grew up in Knocklyon, Dublin 16 but I moved in Dolphin’s Barn in 2003 so I’ve been there for 13 years. It looked like an area that had seen better days, there was a lot of dereliction but it was an area that had changed a lot and was still changing. I live across the road from the Coombe Hospital in an old estate called Emerald Square which was built in 1888. Its claim to fame is that in 1916 Eamon Ceannt mobilised his troops on that street before they marched to the South Dublin Union – now St. James’ Hospital – which was one of the main battlefields in the Rising. So it’s been there since then and it has hardly changed since that time.
Dublin 8 would have changed a lot since you moved in, what have you noticed in that time?
When I moved to Emerald Square, which is off Cork Street, Cork Street was one of the most desolate and derelict spaces in Dublin. It’s a main street, it’s got four lanes of traffic and cars coming up and down but you passed by abandoned shops and buildings the whole way and it still looks a bit like that now, but about half of it is new buildings. There’s a mixture of old and new, lots of people living in high-rise apartments but then the older people who have lived there for generations. On my street there’s a good example of that, people whose parents lived there and their grandparents lived there. There are extended families living within the same street. I have three kinds of neighbours, people who have been there for generations, people like me who have moved in from the suburbs and then non-Irish people.
How connected do you feel to to the community in your area?
I kind of think that the community has been destroyed in a lot of ways. It is difficult to connect with people in Dublin 8. Me, as someone who moved in, if I’m socialising I’ll go to town instead of going to a local place. Even if I’m actively looking for things to do in the area I don’t find many community events happening in the neighbourhood.
Where were you finding the stories?
I would be fairly well read on the history of Dublin. I’ve been interested in this area since the Dublin Millennium in 1988 when I was in school and there was a huge revival in history. A lot of books were being published on the oldest streets in Dublin and the oldest houses and I just had it in my head since then. I’ve kept reading about it since then. It was an itch I didn’t realise I had *[to scratch]* until I started it. Once you find out one little snippet of information it usually leads you somewhere else and now with the internet sure you can find anything.
There’s a good book called Come Here to Me that’s full of little stories, it’s almost like the book version of my page in lots of ways. There are a few websites and blogs and things that I go to, Built Dublin, Ghost Signs of Dublin that looks at the signs that are still up for businesses that have since closed, Growing up in the Liberties, which is a Facebook page. I would follow the Facebook pages of IMMA and the cathedrals, Dublinia and the flea market. I use them as starting points I suppose.
When did you realise the page was doing something for people?
There was one particular post that I put up that went huge. There used to be an ice rink in Dolphin’s Barn that I can remember from when I was in school in the ’80s. It must have brought back a lot of memories for people in the area because I found a picture of it and put it up and a thousand people liked it in the first day or something. The page had been going about a year when I put that up and it was the one thing that really sparked it off and encouraged me to find more things to put up.
What have you learnt about the type of people who visit your page?
I do find a lot of them are interested in whether I make a slight error, because people will tell me! Or if I’m missing some information, someone will send it to me. I’m not the only one who’s interested in this, there are lots of people who care about the area and notice when things change and are interested to hear what other people feel about it.
How many fans do you have and have you ever thought about doing a physical event like a meet-up? Do you ever see people on the streets that you know from the page?
It’s over 3,000. It has been suggested to me that I do a book so that’s in the back of my head. I’d never thought of a meet-up, I’d never considered that but now it’s put into my head…I tried to find out the population of Dublin 8, which is difficult enough to find but I think it’s 39,000. That’s the best guess I could get by looking at the census because it’s not counted by postal districts, it’s counted in different areas. I have more than 3,000 following the page so it’s something like 8% of people in the area follow the page. So I must be passing by people all the time, but no one knows it’s me because I never put my name on it. I think I have more fun with it when people don’t know, I’m freer to say whatever I want.
Do you ever get people commenting negatively on what you post?
Whatever opinions I express are usually in favour of Dublin 8. I don’t criticise the people of Dublin 8. I might criticise the City Council, or an architect or someone who has done something to the place but I wouldn’t be criticising the people who follow the page. I don’t get much negative comment, I might have gotten one or two over the years but I think one I got was on a post about Bridgefoot Street. The people there are campaigning to have a park put on a derelict site. Somebody from UCD did a study on “the ugliest spots in Dublin” and this was mentioned as the ugliest. This was because it’s got traffic, it’s got derelict buildings, it’s got no open spaces and no trees…it was rational criteria for why it qualified as the ugliest space. People took that emotionally that their area had been identified that way. The person who did that survey, by the way, was from Dublin 8 actually and he was saying, “Now hang on, I’m just telling the powers that be that these are the areas that need tidied up”. It wasn’t a criticism of the people it was of the authorities that let this happen. When I put up that post I had someone comment like “Ah, come on if you put a park there it’ll just be full of junkies”, but that was just one negative comment in a series of much more positive things. Most of the people who comment are more or less agreeing with me.
What do you think Dublin 8 will look like in 10 years?
Well, areas in Dublin go in cycles, they change from being fashionable to unfashionable and I think Dublin 8 has endured a long cycle of being unfashionable. I can imagine it becoming much more fashionable. What’s happening in Newmarket is a good example, if you see the amount of new buildings and the amount of restoration that’s being done and the amount of creativity. While the area might look very depressed there’s a bit of activity and people will soon realise just how convenient it is to the city and what a great place it is to live. So, I would be very positive of the future of the neighbourhood. There is plenty to see here. I grew up in the suburbs which I thought was extremely boring compared to where I live now. It’s full of stories, it’s full of community and even though it has been unfashionable I think you can definitely see positive changes.
Des’ top 3 places to visit in Dublin 8
“I work in a library and Marsh’s Library is the oldest library in Ireland and it’s a hidden gem. A lot of people don’t know about it.”
Old City Wall, Cook Street
“On Cook Street where the line of the old city wall is, they’ve reconstructed the wall in two different sections and one section shows you what it would have looked like in Norman times and the other side of the street shows you what it would have looked like in Viking times.
The Vikings would have just thrown a whole heap of rocks together to create a barrier whereas the Normans constructed it out of stone and it looks like the side of a castle, it’s very nicely done.”
John’s Lane Church
“John’s Lane Church on Thomas Street is a magnificent building, an absolute treasure that’s gorgeous to look at. It’s from about 1840 or 1850 and the architect’s name is Pugin who would have been an important architect in Britain at the time.”
Words: Emily Carson
Photos: Killian Broderick