Call for ancient Dublin site to be saved

 

Dublin City Council is being urged to acquire the site of a medieval castle and graveyard in Ballyfermot that is in danger of being destroyed to make way for an apartment complex.

The privately-owned site, at Raheen Park, has been described by the city archaeologist, Dr Ruth Johnson, as "a medieval settlement complex of high status" and "the only historic monument in the entire area of Ballyfermot".

The owner of the site has had a number of planning applications turned down.

However, residents believe it is only a matter of time before a development gets the go-ahead - unless, the local authority steps in to acquire the site.

Dublin Lord Mayor Michael Conaghan has backed calls for the creation of a "heritage garden" at the park, otherwise known as "The Lawns".

Mr Conaghan said the city council was spending more than €20 million on a leisure and sports complex in a northern section of the park, adding: "We can't invest that sort of money and then ignore the heritage value of the area."

The site is home to the remains of Ballyfermot Castle, which has been loosely dated to the 15th century.

Described as a two- or three-storey crenellated tower house, with adjoining turret, it functioned as a school for several decades until its demolition about 150 years ago.

A medieval church, dating from the 13th century and dedicated to St Laurence, also stood on the site.

Once linked to the Knights Templars in Kilmainham, the church was still in use a century ago, along with a neighbouring graveyard.

A visitor in 1912 described how the "road up the steep hill leads to the old church and graveyard of Ballyfermot, near which formerly stood a castle . . . Between the house and road is a curious brick wall, built in a series of curves, and stated to have at one time formed portion of the enclosure of an orchard belonging to the castle."

The eerie landscape provided inspiration for the novelist Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-73), a resident of nearby Chapelizod whose horror books influenced fellow Dubliner Bram Stoker.

Le Fanu, who has a road named after him next to the park, was said to have used the setting of St Laurence's for The House by the Churchyard (1863).

While the church subsequently fell into ruin, many of the gravestones still stood until the late 1970s when they were either removed or buried by the local authority to protect them from vandalism.

The last remaining building on the site - a farmhouse dating from the late 18th century - was recently torn down amid concerns about drug users congregating in the area.

The ruins of the castle are protected under the National Monuments Act, 1994, while the area has been designated as an archaeological zone under the 1999 Dublin City Development Plan.

Nonetheless, the owner, Mr Derek Kelly, has made a series of applications to develop the site, most recently proposing a four-storey apartment complex and car park.

Attempts to contact Mr Kelly for comment proved unsuccessful. However, his architect, Kim Dreyer, said it had been acknowledged by the Council that there was "no heritage value above ground level." An archaeological consultant hired by the developer also found that no historical building relating to Ballyfermot Castle fell within the proposed development site, said Mr Dreyer.

However, Margaret Redmond, Raheen Park, said: "It's a heritage site. People were buried there and it should be treated with respect. We still have people coming back looking for plots of relatives."

Mr Conaghan said he would be putting a motion calling for a land swap with the developer at next month's meeting of the council.