Charlemont Street, a once predominately working class neighbourhood, had seen some drastic changes down through the years. At one time they were host to some of the worst tenement slums in Dublin. Revolutionary socialist republican, James Connolly, lived here for a short while. And Charlotte Street, recently paved over by an office block, was an ancient road connected to Charlemont Street that led directly to the Battle of Rathmines in 1649, in later years it housed many working class families.
In what has become to be known as the ‘Millionaires Quarter,’ Harcourt Street, Adelaide Road, Iveagh Court, and Charlemont Street, all fall within what is now a well-established section of big business and corporate elite. Central Bank has one of its offices here, and many other financial enterprises also occupy the district. There are two Luas stations situated within a two minute walk in either direction from Charlemont Street, and a Star Bucks sits neatly around the corner. The Hilton Hotel overlooks the canal, surrounded on either side by new massive office blocks. And all of them are within a stone’s throw away from one another in this playground for the rich, hence its alias – ‘Millionaires Quarter.’
In recent years Charlemont Street had become a hub of activity for rich outsiders keen to invest some of their fortune in our prime land. What soon followed was the usurpation and anguish of a local indigenous working class community, as soon as the rich outsiders began to turn the place on its head, and the gentrification process started to take hold.
Observing the gentrification process in Charlemont Street, one will find how large-scale property speculation in the land, and buildings around the area, are quickly being turned into profitable investment opportunities for rich outsiders, and entrepreneurial property developers. It can be observed in the destruction of the existing working class homes, which in turn, are transformed into private-apartments, coupled with the arrival onto the scene of the middle-classes who are accompanied by an influx of soaring high prices in rent; an endemic consequence that usually follow the migratory path of the well-to-do. The whole social structure of the area is completely changed; prices are driven up; and people are forced to move from their homes.
The manifestation of Private Public Partnership deals had enabled regeneration projects to push through neoliberal urban policies in the area. The PPP’s were designed to maximise profits for real estate capitalists, and had hardly anything at all to do with decent housing, or area regeneration, for the locals. In 2008, developer McNamara was giving the green light to ‘regenerate’ Tom Kelly Flats, St. Ulthans, and Ffrench Mullen under this new arrangement. Almost immediately, people were dispersed from their homes, as the buildings started to come down around them.
Not even the spectacular crash of MacNamara‘s PPP deal in 2008 was enough to halt such mindless destruction. In the aftermath, Dublin City Council (DCC) continued to wreak havoc upon the neighbourhood by laying ruin to our homes. Utilising the tactic of deliberate dereliction, they let the place fall asunder in an attempt to depopulate, and extinguish, the remaining traces of working class life from the area.
In the early 90’s, property developer Sean Reilly (one of the Anglo ten), of Alcove Properties, paid just under £4m for a one-acre plot at the top of Harcourt Street and Charlemont Street. It wasn’t long before Reilly set up shop and commenced work on over 100 new private apartments and a major new office block.
The promise by Reilly, at the time, of a higher standard of living for the entire area was extolled by the mighty notion of job growth being brought in on a wave of middle class production, and in turn, would see the transformation of our underdeveloped and backward little neighbourhood into a more attractive place where new businesses could grow and flourish, and help develop the local economy, with the entire population greatly benefiting from the spoils of capital . . . however, as we soon discovered, nothing could have been further from the truth.
As soon as the offices were completed, all the job vacancies were quickly filled in by non-residents. The new workforce were put to work in their 9-5 jobs; some stacking shelves for a minimum wage in the shops below. The attraction of working a 9-5 for minimum wage in the shops was lost on most here, however, all most wanted was a job with a decent living wage. No new opportunities presented themselves on any scale of the imagination for the locals, who now found themselves living in a completely different environment under an alien social structure.
A year has passed already since two more block of flats were pulled down to the ground, curtesy of Reilly and DCC, and all we have to show for it is a lousy carpark in its place; a potential developer; and a wrecked community; with the last remnants of the working-class being slowly but surely socially cleansed from the area to make way for private property, and the bohemian lifestyle of middle-class hipsters; a desperate situation for Charlemont’s Working Class!
But there is hope . . .
In Charlemont Street there sits a tree. What’s most noticeable about this tree is its size in stature compared to all the other trees around it of the same kind. Standing around four times smaller than its neighbouring siblings, this tree has suffered the worst conditions because of its small size. Down through the years many children have clambered effortlessly up its trunk, swinging from its branches in the air, pulling at its leaves and knocking off its bright red berries to the ground below.
But unlike all the other trees, this one was a little bit more special. Despite having nearly all of its branches broken, and all of its leaves and berries stripped bare. Despite being the only tree in the vicinity to have had to struggle tremendously against the odds. Despite all the hardship it suffered, and endured . . . each year without fail, the little tree would act in a way signalling in the end of the harsh winter months; ushering in a new cycle of life and hope; at the beginning of every Spring; the little tree; the smallest of them all . . . was always first to bloom.
So there you see, we need to remember too, although at times we can appear to be small and up against great odds, and how we too have suffered, just like the little tree had suffered, tremendous hardship down through the years at having the very things we cherish stripped bare, right down to the basic essentials, there is always a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
And we too, like the little tree, have our roots running strong and deep, all the way to the centre of the earth, and we will continue to grow strong and build up our own form, going on to discard all class contradictions that prohibit us from governing ourselves, and determining how we live by the mouth of the ruling-class.
Spreading out our branches in all directions, we will reach into the four corners of the city, and beyond; connecting with the disaffected and dissenting voices, and joining forces to finally topple once and for all—the old forms of social exclusion and injustice; ushering in a new beginning under a paradigm that unites us all.