A housing crisis exploded in Dublin in the late 1960s and 1970s, highlighting the poor living conditions then widespread – the result of overcrowding, urban decay and the destructive impact of commuter traffic on inner city life. No longer willing to tolerate such conditions, local communities formed housing and tenants’ associations to engage in self-help and focus public and official attention on the problem through protests, including the blocking of streets.
Perhaps the best known of these community groups was the Liberties Residents’ Association, not least because among its members were several prominent journalists, including Elgy Gillespie of The Irish Times. A report in that paper on April 30, 1976, quoted the group’s chairman, Larry Dillon: “[Put] houses before roads… A dual carriageway has (already) turned High Street into a racetrack during the day and a dead street at night.”
The Liberties group concerned itself not only with the physical problems of the area but also with the social and cultural needs of the community. One of its key acts of urban resistance was to commission a study to challenge proposals in the 1967 Draft Development Plan. They were opposed to flats – the five-storey maisonette slab blocks that were the Corporation’s staple solution since the late 1950s, the latest versions of the type increasingly brutish and destructive of the urban fabric – and wanted public housing, like the traditional artisan squares in the locality.
Writing in Dublin: A City in Crisis, published by the RIAI in 1975, James Pike explained that the Liberties study began by examining Brabazon Square, a 19th-century housing development west of Meath Street. “The analysis showed that if we retain the best of the existing elements (their human scale and ideal environment for the creation of sub-communities within the Liberties) and make up the amenity shortcomings, we can construct two- and three-storey houses and four-storey maisonettes at high density, while still retaining adequate open space and provision for car parking.”
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