Tuesday 20 February 2018

Are the Docklands suitable for raising children? Resident Ruth O'Connor explores

Ruth O'Connor's son Rohan skating on the banks of the River Liffey
Ruth O'Connor's son Rohan skating on the banks of the River Liffey
Ruth with Rohan (6) and Lúí (10) at a Docklands Easter Egg Hunt
This apartment at Grand Canal Dock benefits from a huge sheltered terrace accessed by the living accommodation and two bedrooms and looking right onto the water
Accommodation of 764 square feet includes a hall, open plan living room and dining room, a separate kitchen and an ensuite bathroom off the master bedroom as well as the main bathroom. The floors are made of hardwood and it includes a car parking space.
69 Grand Canal Wharf: This one time show apartment and penthouse set off South Dock Road at the south east corner of the Grand Canal Basin is at the quieter less developed end. It has access to a communal roof garden as well as a decent sized sheltered terrace overlooking Grand Canal Basin and Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.
55 Dock Mill: Recently renovated, a fourth floor home with 990 sq ft of accommodation which includes an open plan living room, dining room and kitchen, which opens to a balcony. There are three bedrooms, the master ensuite and a family bathroom.
The exterior of 55 Dock Mill
View to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Ruth O'Connor

Myself and my partner Sam bought a three-bedroom second floor duplex apartment beside Grand Canal Square nine years ago and we live there with our two sons Lúí (10) and Rohan (6).

We are lucky that our block has an enclosed playground outside. While small, it gives the kids a relatively safe place to play, which is important in an area that sees heavy traffic.

One of the drawbacks of the area is that there's a definite lack of green space and, while Ringsend Park and Pearse Square are a walk away, we have waited too many years for the so-called Chocolate Park to come to fruition.

Still, once you are out on the Liffey-side the views are great, especially in the evenings when the buildings of the city are silhouetted against the setting sun. It's a great spot for children to play 'I spy' or pop your head into the marvellous renovated Diving Bell. We seek out nature either by planting up our small balcony with flowers and tomatoes in the summer or marvelling at the resident cormorants. Friends who live here have circumvented the lack of a garden by obtaining a plot in the allotments in Ringsend Park.

View to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
View to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

My children go to a co-ed school in Sandymount which is friendly, supportive and a wonderfully creative educational environment. It was a conscious decision to take them away from the city for school and, at just 17 minutes walk away via the locks at Ringsend, it provides an opportunity to tap into a more suburban lifestyle and a bit of peace and quiet that is not available in the city centre.

For swimming, it's the Clayton Hotel on Macken Street or Sportsco on South Lotts Road. My eldest son recently participated in a Dragon Boat Regatta on the Dock while other kids do kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding at Surf Dock.

Libraries at Pearse Street and Ringsend are just 10 minutes walk in either direction and have frequent events for children. Those seeking to get their youngsters active will find Clanna Gael Fontenoy GAA club in Irishtown a passionate place to start. There's also soccer, tennis and martial arts within easy reach.

The First Port of Dublin Sea Scouts relaunched in the past two years and is providing a wonderful facility, while there is another Scout troupe in the area as well as Girl's Brigade and Brigíns. For creative kids the National Performing Arts School (NPAS) provides a welcome and open environment in which to learn drama, musical theatre, ballet and so much more and is currently based at the Lír while they await their new premises. The Royal Irish Academy of Music is just a walk away on Westland Row.

While food shopping in Fresh or Donnybrook Fair on Grand Canal Square will crank up the cost of your weekly shop, the nearest supermarkets are Aldi or Lidl in East Wall or Tesco in Sandymount, which are reasonable. Lotts & Co offer a really great selection of food and wines and St Andrew's community centre on Pearse Street has a market on Saturdays with organic vegetables, cheeses, artisan chocolates, fish and meat.

Our favourite restaurant for a grown-ups' meal is Charlotte Quay. Herbstreet is great for brunch - try their fish tacos, pancake stacks and chicken wings. Try Il Valentino for fresh baked bread and sweet treats and get your coffee in The Art of Coffee or Lolly & Cooks. Having just returned from Milan, I can attest that the pizza in Basil on the Ringsend Road is pretty damn close to the real thing. The Marker Hotel is great for a quick business meeting or to take in the views from the roof terrace.

Apartment living has it's challenges and your life becomes more public living in such high density with no outside private space.

In the beginning I did worry about safety but as children are very adaptable they know not to climb up on the balcony or sit on windowsills. We never go onto the roof. The water on either side of us was an issue when they were toddlers. At the start I wondered why there were no barriers but, again, the kids have just got used to it and know that they don't scoot, cycle or run near the water.

You can't stay indoors to work or relax when your younger kids want to play outside, so a lot of time is spent in common areas or parks but there is no shortage of choice in Dublin with the Phoenix Park, Iveagh Gardens or St Stephen's Green just a jaunt away. While not having a garden has its disadvantages it has conversely given us the opportunity to get to know our neighbours.

The parking is exorbitant and the clampers trawl the streets just waiting for their next victim. You'll need to consider whether you need a car or want to pay extra for a car space.

And in apartments there is not always the same option to expand or change your living space as your family grows.

While the kids may not have the same freedom as children in the countryside or in a suburban housing estate, I feel that living at Grand Canal Square provides the best of both worlds - its city centre location means they've easy access to things such as the Science Gallery or Makeshop that are rare treats for most kids, while the proximity to the suburbs of Ringsend and Sandymount means that they can tap into a more suburban vibe.

With businesses such as Airbnb, Google, Facebook and Accenture in the area I hope my kids will realise that there is enormous choice out there when it comes to the world of work.

Sure there are compromises to be made in terms of privacy, space and perhaps even freedom, but I hope by exploring the options to grow and learn in the area, that living in the Dublin Docklands provides my children with opportunities that they may not have living elsewhere.

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