Point in Time: Lucan back at the ’90s
IT WAS all happening in Lucan in the 1990s as the country hobbled from a period of bleak recession into the warm glow of the Celtic Tiger era.
That scenic region nestled in the heart of the Liffey Valley, whether for reasons positive or negative, quickly began to experience a level of unprecedented growth that quickly followed the sharp economic upturn.
While the population of the area had risen by a mere 1300 throughout the tumultuous ‘80s, it began to rocket thereafter with the number of inhabitants more than tripling from 15,000 to near 50,000 throughout the 25 years, stretching from 1991 to 2016.
“Lucan was the fastest growing urban area in Europe at one stage during the Celtic Tiger era”, recalled Joe Byrne, former Chairperson and current Treasurer of Lucan Planning Council.
“There were more houses being built in Lucan than in any other part of Ireland or indeed than in any major city in the EU at that time,” he explained.
Certainly the scene for such a dramatic growth had been set with the construction of the N4 and the arrival of Intel to nearby Leixlip as the 1990s approached.
Splitting the Lucan area in two, the N4 proved a much-needed valve for the local village which was certainly not equipped to deal with the high volume of traffic passing through to the west from Dublin.
And with the coming of Intel in 1989, the prospect of employment in a community that had been steadily divested of its traditional milling industry with the closure of Hills Woollen Mills in 1988 and Shackleton’s Flour Mill a decade later, the region experienced a subsequent surge in numbers.
New estates began to spring up, particularly in Lucan South, but as had happened in other areas of the greater Dublin area around that period, the amenities that should have been developed in parallel were very slow in arriving, if they even did at all.
Indeed while the Lucan/Clondalkin region had been earmarked for a new town centre in the Balgaddy area in accordance with the plan for greater Dublin as envisaged by professor of town planning Myles Wright back in the 1960s, no such centre ever materialised.
The re-zoning of lands in the neighbouring Quarryvale area in the early ‘90s that had sparked accusations of corruption in planning circles and saw the issue sucked in among remit of the Mahon Tribunal, a 14-year-long public inquiry, nevertheless, paved the way for the construction of Liffey Valley Shopping Centre in 1998.
While that development, by the sheer nature of its location on the periphery of Quarryvale, could never really hope to serve as a town centre, it went a long way to nailing the lid shut on any hopes of Balgaddy ever providing such.
Instead, what the people of that area were promised around that period was a new 60,000 seater stadium, initially proposed by Liffey Valley developer Owen O’Callaghan that could have become home to the ‘Dublin Dons’ or Wimbledon FC – a serious Premier League force at the time.
But such a prospect dissipated in the face of opposition from the FAI and Wimbledon fans themselves, and, instead of a glittering new football stadium, Balgaddy was to be later bestowed with sub-standard housing units devoid of any adequate amenities.
For the rapidly growing South Lucan in the 1990s, the likelihood of the area securing a town center on the border with Clondalkin was crippled also by the prevailing attitude of developers to the demographics of that region at the time according to Cllr Guss O’Connell.
“There was the belief that north Clondalkin, which had very high levels of unemployment at the time, was not a good place to find people interested in retail other than the weekly shopping,” he said.
“They were also calculating that in south Lucan, while it was settling down, people would be paying their mortgages, so they didn’t see that area as being very lucrative from a commercial point of view.
“We were pushing for it [a town centre] precisely because it would help to alleviate some of the unemployment and would create a sense of community for the people of north Clondalkin and south Lucan.
“The re-zoning of Quarryvale was part and parcel of quite a number of other re-zonings across Dublin at that time.
“That paved the way for Liffey Valley and it was the death knell for Balgaddy.
“At the time the County Council had both sites for a town centre and ironically neither have ended up as a town centre.
“In the meantime, something which wasn’t foreseen, was Adamstown coming on board and you’ve around 10,000 new housing units there and now you have Clonburris coming forward with about 12,000.
“That’s very significant and so you say to yourself, ‘Where now is the town centre for those?’ It’s certainly not going to be Liffey Valley,” Cllr O’Connell stressed
While the proponents of the Myles Wright Regional Plan for Dublin may have shipped a defeat on the Balgaddy front, they could point to more success when it came to the battle for the preservation of the Liffey Valley in the 1990s – an issue very important to so many in Lucan and the surrounding areas.
Aided by the establishment, in 1991, of the Lucan Planning Council, which campaigned alongside the Liffey Valley Alliance, opposition to various developments proposed for the Valley gained serious momentum in the 1990s.
“Myles Wright had spelt out very clearly that the Liffey Valley landscape should be protected as a ‘Green Lung’ for the new town of Lucan/Clondalkin, so we fought hammer and tongs for it,” said Joe Byrne.
“The developers and the politicians seemed to be calling the shots at the time. That’s the way it seemed to be going.
“It was to be all about just building houses and profits for the builders and the loss would be the environment, the character and the beauty of Lucan.
“The Lucan Planning Council was started up by people who were concerned by the way planning had been going for Lucan and among our biggest successes was the government purchase of the St Catherine’s lands and Lucan Demesne in the mid-’90s.
“St Catherine’s on the northside of the river, is under the control of Fingal Council and serves both Lucan and Leixlip.
“On the other side of the river there’s Lucan Demesne and that’s part of what is now the Italian Embassy grounds.
“That land both sides of the river was put up for auction in the 1990s.
“We got on to the government to buy this land as a park because we didn’t have any park other than Griffeen and that was only half the size of what it is now.
“We wanted to protect the environment of Lucan and in particular protect the Liffey Valley, not just a pathway along the river as developers would want, but the entire valley because it’s unique and we wanted the whole thing all protected as part of the ‘Green Lung’ that Myles Wright had proposed.
“To our great surprise they went out and they bought that land, including the whole of St Catherine’s and Lucan Demesne. You’re talking about 180 acres of land on both sides of the river.
“In time that was opened up and it really is a magnificent walk along the river. You can walk from Lucan right into Leixlip.
“What makes Lucan such a special place is the fact that it’s located right in the heart of the Liffey Valley.
“Lucan is in the centre of probably the most scenic part of the Liffey Valley and that’s why we’re so keen about protection on both sides of the river, the landscape along that.
“There’s thousands of acres of land as you go back to build houses on, but not in that valley along the river, no way.
“We would have lost one of our greatest attractions, the Liffey Valley. Give me a city anywhere that has, on its doorstep, a landscape like that.
“When you think of all the visitors that come to Dublin who have never heard of the Liffey Valley. They go down the country and there’s no mention of the Liffey Valley.
“Only in recent times is it beginning to be mentioned a bit. But if that was promoted, the potential for the hotels, the guesthouses and that out here would be fantastic.
“People come to Dublin in their thousands and if you even get a fraction of them to come out here where there’s so much to see it would be great.
“There’s also another strip of land in Lucan called St Edmundsbury and that’s something the local people here feel very strongly about.
“That land was owned by St Patrick’s Hospital up to about 15 years ago. The Council tried to get that re-zoned back in the 1990s as part of South Dublin County Council’s plan for a large housing development and we fought that one as well hammer and tongs. The local people all came out strongly against it.
“We lobbied and we defeated the attempt to have it re-zoned by just one vote back in 1998,” he remembered.
Up until the 1950s, Lucan had sat within the parish of Clondalkin before becoming one in its own right and one which today, is itself, largely made up of three parishes namely that of St Patrick’s in Esker, the Devine Mercy in Lucan South and the old parish of St Mary’s.
The layout of the village of Lucan has remained pretty much unaltered when compared with some of the oldest maps of the region stretching back to the 18th century.
But, in retaining that charm that has undoubtedly made it another of the region’s fine attractions, Lucan Village is not likely to ever prove capable of serving as a town centre for an area pushing on 60,000 inhabitants.
Indeed as Lucan continues to expand south of the Liffey, South Dublin County Council has found itself on the backfoot, retro-fitting amenities for new communities there in an effort to create some form of focal point.
“Ballyowen is itself developing the basis of its own centre for that particular area and it seems to me that you’re going to have to have the development of a town centre in that end of Adamstown,” predicted Byrne.
“Adamstown came along and they had planned to build about 10,000 housing units there, but during the recession they decided to take away four or five high-rise apartment blocks and reduce the numbers to about 8,200.
“I would say less than half of that has been built there, so there’s at least as much more to go.
“Lucan is an attractive village and business down there is quite good, but those new areas like Adamstown will certainly need their own town centre,” he insisted.
For Cllr O’Connell, such an undertaking has been greatly hindered by poor planning and part of that legacy has been the development of an inadequate road network serving the region.
“The N4 took the current route which is dividing Palmerstown and Lucan in two,” he said.
“The other road network on the outer ring road running from, say Kingswood right across to Lucan and joining the N4 – that itself is a congested piece of structure that is a nuisance to the residential area on both sides of it.
“We have wall-to-wall housing and if you look at South Lucan you have that outer ring road running up through the middle of it. All those roads in South Lucan were designed in a very narrow and unsupportive manner for the new residents there.
“To get out of Lucan in the morning either by bus or private car is a headache and that’s part of the heritage of bad planning.
“The outer ring road was funded from levies by the local authority, South Dublin County Council because, at the time, we wanted to open up Grange Castle and that’s a huge success.
“You have Grange Castle as an industrial zone in the middle of Clondalkin and Lucan and it’s close enough to where the town centre was intended to be in Balgaddy.
“It’s very environmentally friendly, so it’s not your typical industrial estate. It’s a much more futuristic one.
“The other thing that has hindered that sense of living in an area that is well planned is the Newcastle Road.
“That passes through Adamstown, through Finnstown, into Lucan and out on to the N4, but because development has been allowed to happen on both sides of it for most of that distance, the possibility of increasing that into a four-lane highway is impossible without moving houses.
“What’s more, the road network around Liffey Valley Shopping Centre is very inadequate and they’ve already lost one planning application for extending it because of the road network.
“When it was built, a condition in the first build was that they would put in a new junction on the N4, but that’s totally inadequate.
“On the lead in to that, you have a roundabout on the Fonthill Road and that whole road is too narrow and very badly designed and, of course, you have the Fonthill Retail Park off it as well. So all that area has suffered badly,” he pointed out.
Even in Lucan Village itself, heavy traffic remains an issue with local historian and Chairman of the Lucan Festival, Joe Byrne (not to be confused with his namesake on the Lucan Planning Council) pointing out “There’s an absolute need for another bridge across the Liffey to take traffic away from the village,” said Joe.
“All you have now is traffic coming from Leixlip, Clondalkin, Maynooth and, if you think about it, that bridge that’s there was opened in 1813 for horse-drawn carriages, and look at what it’s doing now.
“That’s the largest single-span stone bridge in Ireland, so there is an absolute need for a new bridge and that appears to be on the long finger,” he stressed.
Still, for all the problems Lucan has inherited from mass housing and an inadequate road network in place to support such growth, LPC Treasurer Joe Byrne overall remains upbeat regarding how the community has developed since that pivotal period for the region in the 1990s.
“Over the last 20 years the developments in Lucan have been largely positive. There have been some negatives too, but Lucan is a vibrant place,” he said.
“Like many other parts of Dublin, Lucan has changed from being made up of just Irish people to now having every nationality and every religion you can think of. It has become a real cosmopolitan town and a very evolving area.
“We have a fine new library, there’s a big community centre there and what’s under construction is a new state-of-the-art swimming pool.
“We have loads of new primary and secondary schools. We have three Irish language schools, two primary and one secondary and you have a non-denomination school, the Educate Together School.
“Lucan, for a small place, has four different denomination churches going back to the early 1800s.
“There was the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist and they’re still here.
“And there’s a new organisation there to protect old churches and cemeteries and heritage sites that we have in the area, call the Society for Old Lucan.”
For Lucan, like other areas of the greater Dublin region in the wake of the 1960s, when change came, it was swift and profound.
From a small village in the 1940s that accommodated fewer that a 1,000 people, many of whom were dependent on the local milling industry, Lucan was opened up to the rest to the country with the coming of a national roadway, and, to the wider world, with the arrival of multi nationals on its doorstep.
While the village itself has retained much of its historical character and the Liffey Valley largely protected from the threat of encroachment by developers, particularly in the 1990s, the landscape south of the river has been altered immensely with the construction of thousands of new housing units.
Mirroring what had occurred in nearby Tallaght in the 1970s and ‘80s, the rise in the number of inhabitants in Lucan in the ‘90s was breath-taking, and was bound to prove a headache for councillors and town planners, back-pedalling in the face of developers, hankering to make the most of rocketing real estate prices that came with the Celtic Tiger.
Largely because of that, Lucan has become home to an additional 40,000 people since the early ‘90s, a home rich in natural beauty but, for many, particularly in Lucan South, shorn of that central focal point to which the people of those communties can gravitate.