A 'win-win situation' as Travellers design their own homes


AT FIRST glance, Castlebrook looks like any other small housing estate. Neat red-brick houses, immaculate lawns and colourful plants.

There are subtle differences though.

The seven houses are not separated by walls or fences; the windows are bigger to let in more natural light, and the interiors are open-plan.

There is another major difference. Castlebrook, at Tay Lane on the outskirts of Newcastle, Co Dublin, is a development planned by Travellers for Travellers.

It is home to four generations of the extended McDonagh family, living in seven houses.

It was developed by the Clúid Housing Association, in partnership with South Dublin County Council and with the involvement of the McDonagh family at every stage.

However, the development was a long time coming. The idea started with Tony McDonagh, the oldest son in the McDonagh family, 12 years ago.

He felt that Travellers were being provided with accommodation that did not suit their needs. The sites they were given turned into ghettos and anti-Traveller prejudices were confirmed. He believed it would be better for everyone if Travellers had a say in planning their homes.

He previously lived in Traveller accommodation in Clondalkin, which had steel toilets and sinks and no plaster on the walls.

“Would you build that type of accommodation in a house for a person in the settled community?” he asked.

His sister, Cathleen McDonagh, said the new homes were a “win- win situation for all involved”.

“We were able to suggest small changes that meant the development became reflective of our Traveller culture. Without a shadow of a doubt, I believe this approach is something that should be replicated for all Traveller housing projects throughout Ireland.”

The family asked that the houses should have no boundary walls at the front. The open-plan kitchen and living area is similar to the living area in a caravan, while the bigger windows reflect the outdoor and open-space nature of the Traveller heritage.

While family matriarch Brigid McDonagh (72) has lived in houses in England, this is the first time she’s lived in a house in Ireland. “It’s very nice, it couldn’t be better,” she said. “The young people sooners [prefer] houses now. It’s better for the childer.”

Although the estate is not close to other houses, Castlebrook attracted many objections from local people. Mr McDonagh said the family asked to meet locals when the estate was being planned, but their offer was never taken up.

He hoped that bridges could be built between the communities. “You don’t need to be on top of people for bridge-building, but you’ve just got to accept people living beside you and respect their privacy as they respect yours.”

Simon Brooke, chairman of Clúid, which now manages the rented houses, said the fears of local people were groundless as there had been no problems since the McDonaghs moved in.

He said he hoped the model would be taken up by others.

“This is not a panacea, it’s not a solution to all the issues concerning Traveller accommodation but it works for the McDonagh family, and it would work for many other families as well.”

He knew of one other family that was interested in such a development “and I would be very surprised if we didn’t hear from others”.

The cost of each house was €370,070, about 5 per cent more than the average cost of Traveller accommodation, but Clúid said the extra cost was incurred by improvements to the sewerage scheme which were sought by local people.