Anyone who believes that grassroots activism doesn't help a housing crisis might ponder the story of the Reverend David Henry Hall, a Church of Ireland minister who showed how just how much of a difference a determined individual can make with rallied support from the community.
Rev Hall was appointed to St Barnabas Parish in East Wall Dublin in 1918, the last year of the Great War, also the year in which the Great Flu landed in Ireland with returning troops. The war killed between 35,000 and 50,000 Irish and the flu, by the time it had finished, killed 23,000 more. There was cholera and TB. Dublin's tenements, some of which had been collapsing, had been compared to Calcutta's. Often 100 people lived in one house with one toilet (as per the 1911 Census for 14 Henrietta Street).
Tenement families could reasonably expect to lose one, if not two of their children before they had grown. The annual death rate in St Barnabas Parish in 1918 was 46 in every thousand, or close to one in 20 in that year. On taking up the job in his parish, Hall went on the rounds and on his first day he found 84 children living in just one house at 10 Commons Street. What was worse for the reverend was that there were empty buildings and waste ground all around in the parish. It sounds like a familiar story to us today. Faced with such squalor, Hall decided there and then that there was only one solution: to build more houses. And he got on the job straight away. It wasn't easy at a time when Europe was devastated, unemployment heading north in Dublin and political unrest was erupting.
The historian Turtle Bunbury who researched this inspiring story tells it thus: "In the autumn of 1919, Canon Hall acquired a site of about 3½ acres (c. 1.4 ha) in his parish at a cost of £700 freehold. In January 1920, he established the St Barnabas Public Utility Society, the first operative public utility society in Ireland. This voluntary organisation was formed in response to the Housing (Ireland) Act of 1919 by which local authorities and voluntary associations were offered substantial grants to build houses, particularly where those houses were for the working class. Under the terms of the Housing Act, the British Government was prepared to lend 75pc of the capital if the builder raised 25pc first. This was to be done by raising loan stock and issuing shares. Canon Hall took his quest to the pulpit and raised the first £1,000 from his parishioners, giving a particular nod to '67 gallant ladies who invested in the scheme'."
The houses were designed and "economically planned" in consultation with a panel of women, likely the first time this had been done in Ireland. Among their requests? A bath in each house. On June 24, 1921 St Barnabas Gardens, a cul-de-sac of 10 semi-detached houses was launched on a one-acre site with the Anglo Irish War at full pelt. The first 10 families were housed.
The work went on with other houses, street by street. Bunbury notes how some society ladies contributed somewhat in accordance with their stations: "Lady Ardilaun was to present three tennis courts, a 'pavilion' and a piano for the enjoyment of the tenants."
The houses were owned by the society but offered a form of tenant purchase which ensured that these artisans (they were mainly skilled workers experiencing housing poverty) could, in time, become full owners. Bunbury notes that while Hall may have been a Protestant, all denominations were present among the shareholders and tenants: "Of the first 36 families who occupied the houses, 15 were Protestant and 21 Roman Catholic."
By 1926, Hall's Society built 176 new homes - at Seaview Avenue, Crescent Gardens, Leinster Avenue, Faith Road, Hope Road, Stoney Road and East Wall Road. Bunbury notes out that in that same period, Dublin Corporation built just 162 - 100 years after Canon Hall took to his mission, and plus ca change. In 1929, the housing hero of the Docklands was moved to leafy Glenageary, where he worked until his death on February 27, 1940. His society outlived him and the last houses in his St Barnabas Scheme were bought out in the 1960s.
Would the Building Pastor, as he was known, have ever thought that Dublin would be seeing housing inaction by the authorities 100 years later? With families once again housed in one room accommodation, this time in hotels? And would he have believed that one of his three-bedroom emergency homes, at 4 Strangford Road East off East Wall Road, would be offered for sale at €450,000?
Today East Wall is a centrally located busy neighbourhood and among the surviving old school dockland locations to remain low rise.
It is an established residential community with great personality and often attracts the attention of IFSC workers in search of a proximate location to the office. No 4 Strangford Road would be particularly convenient for those who regularly use the Port Tunnel or the East Link Bridge - each a five-minute drive from the house. Meantime Facebook has just moved into its shiny new offices here.
The house is being brought to market by agent Owen Reilly, and was recently extended and renovated. Following a significant rear extension, the accommodation now includes an L-shaped open plan living room, kitchen and dining room on the ground floor. This has a large floor to ceiling sliding glass door allowing access to the rear garden. The kitchen area has a Smeg gas cooker range, an extractor fan, a Liebherr side by side fridge and freezer, a dishwasher and a washing machine. There's a pantry, a utility room and a bathroom. One of the bedrooms is downstairs to the front of the house.
On the first floor are two double bedrooms, and a family bathroom. The master bedroom has its original fireplace and wardrobe closet still intact and bedroom two also has its St Barnabas fireplace. And like all of these remarkable homes, it comes with a the promise of a very special Hall attached.
See 3d walkthrough for this home on Daft.ie and turtlebunbury.com