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Thursday 29 September 2016

When the media moves on, these heroes of the inner city will still be toiling

Laura Larkin

Published 04/06/2016 | 02:30

Training horticulturist Marie Staunton with Peter Comerford and Edward Cleary at the Pat Murphy Community Garden run by The Larkin Unemployed Centre on North Strand Road Photo: Steve Humphreys
Training horticulturist Marie Staunton with Peter Comerford and Edward Cleary at the Pat Murphy Community Garden run by The Larkin Unemployed Centre on North Strand Road Photo: Steve Humphreys

Nobody wants to know until there's a shooting. It is a common refrain in the north inner city when reporters come knocking, and, largely, they're right.

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The spotlight falls on the area when gang violence flares up - but nobody is watching when the community, which has been ravaged by violence and drugs for decades, dusts itself off and continues building on years of work to improve the area.

Work that is designed to ensure that the next time a feud erupts the gangs will find the number of 'foot soldiers' on the ground willing to pick up a gun is smaller and smaller.

When the cameras turn away, the dozens of volunteers and community workers continue organising football teams, boxing clubs, youth groups or social activities for elderly people.

It's no easy task against a backdrop of shrinking resources, but the end result will be worth it - this is the mantra of these heroes of Dublin's north inner city.

Richie Fox set up the Ballybough Boxing Club in 2014 and hopes to soon expand the building where they train so he can add extra members. Around 30 fighters aged between nine and 25 train three times a week.

Coaches including Noel Fitzgerald and Richie Fox with the boxers of Ballybough Boxing Club Photo: Caroline Quinn
Coaches including Noel Fitzgerald and Richie Fox with the boxers of Ballybough Boxing Club Photo: Caroline Quinn

"It gives them an outlet for their anger," Richie said. "What we try to do is give a bit of stability and show them how to respect other people, as well as a bit of work ethic.

"We show them that life is not easy but that doesn't mean you give up and boxing is the same, you only get out of it what you put in so we try and instil that in them.

"Otherwise they are only playing around in the streets and you know what that leads to."

Sports clubs play a big part in the inner city. In Sherrif Youth Club a team of volunteers struggle to keep the doors open, but reap the rewards for doing so.

A cabinet in the foyer is crowded with trophies. Jerseys of past players who went on to play in the League of Ireland and further afield line the walls.

For Hugo Richardson, who handles the club's PR, many of the achievements won in his area over the past number of years were wiped out when the recession hit.

"Before the boom around the north inner city you'd see burnt-out cars. You don't see many burnt-out cars there now because of the simple reason they've moved onto drugs. But before the boom, when Johnny was sitting on a burnt-out car in the morning, and his little brother saw him on the way to school, he wanted to be like Johnny," he said.

"Then the boom came along and Johnny was working as an apprentice and the little brother saw him with his toolbox and wanted to be like him.

Eugene ‘Hugo’ Richardson (PRO), Paul Ryan (schoolboy secretary) and Johnny Scurry (transport manager) outside Sheriff Youth Club Photo: Steve Humphreys
Eugene ‘Hugo’ Richardson (PRO), Paul Ryan (schoolboy secretary) and Johnny Scurry (transport manager) outside Sheriff Youth Club Photo: Steve Humphreys

"Then the crash happened and the fella that had his apprenticeship ended up back on the corner. His younger brother now today is still looking at him on the corner and he wants to be like that when he grows up.

"A lot of hard work went down the drain."

His view is reflected by several people working and volunteering in the area.

For Anne Flannery, the education co-ordinator in the Larkin Unemployment Centre, education and opportunity must be made available in the area. Tackling the notion that men work rather than learn is also key to helping the community move forward and break the cycle of low educational attainment, she observed.

The Larkin Unemployment Centre runs various courses in childcare, computers and horticulture. Their garden, an oasis of calm off the North Strand Road, is a training ground for local men.

"Programmes like this give men the opportunity to experience achievement and positivity - the building blocks for moving on. If you can achieve it in one area, it resonates in other aspects of their life," Anne said.

It's not an abstract aspiration - the men who are working on the garden or building flower boxes for a community centre on Lower Rutland Street talk about their big plans for when their time in the centre finishes. One man talks about travelling the world, another about the fact that he is nearing 50 and going on to college - something he never would have thought possible a few years ago.

The sense of community in the north inner city has almost become a cliche.

But the idea that people look after each other is borne out in practical solutions - someone to watch your kids when you need it, someone to organise day trips when you might be under pressure financially, or someone to organise food packs to help feed you or your family.

For all its problems, the north inner city is still a place where people can leave their doors unlocked all day.

As one local woman observed, that alone still "says a lot".

Irish Independent

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