No tears as `heartbreak' Rahoon flattened and residents are handsomely re-housed

 

Oh Rahoon, who made you to break the hearts of young girls with pregnant dreams of an end terrace, Crisp white clothes lines and hire purchase personalities?

You don't care if her children crawl into her curved spine, distort her thinking.

You put Valium on a velvet cushion in the form of a juicy red apple, Rahoon, why are you so cruel to young husbands, hooked on your butter voucher bribes,

If you crumbled, would it take three days, or would the ground swallow you up, payment for your sins?

Like many who stopped to watch the wrecking ball at work in driving wind throughout last week, poet Rita Ann Higgins feels little sorrow for the demolition of Galway's notorious Rahoon flats. She spent four years of her life there from 1977, when such complexes were still considered to be the 20th-century answer to people's housing problems. Ode To Rahoon is her response.

The architects had "shoebox vision", she comments now. "It was a sort of `live horse and you'll get grass' scenario, and they contributed in their oppressive stifling effect to ghettoising a community." It was a totally inadequate solution to the housing crisis of the day.

Built in 1972, the 276 units of three-bed, two-bed and one-bed apartments had no lifts, shared entrances and communal heating which could not be controlled individually.

"This was a great place to be at one stage," Mr Noel Quigley, Galway Corporation's acting clerk of works, said last week, as he watched the work on site. "I spent the best 18 years of my life with Rahoon." It was Mr Quigley who was called out at all hours of day and night when there was trouble. "I feel a little sad, because there were some great people living here."

The politicians, rarely seen when needed, were present in force for the site clearing, as the walls of mass concrete collapsed with each gentle swing of the ball and chain. The Minister of State for the Environment, Mr Bobby Molloy, was in office when the western's city's "Sarcelles" was constructed at a time when Galway had nothing like the housing land shortages and high prices of today.

"They were actually very well designed and well insulated," Mr Quigley argues. "There was central heating and hot water 24 hours a day, and they were as good as any three-bed house of the time. But the day of a shared entrance to four apartments is definitely gone."

Already, the residents re-housed in the first phase of demolition several months ago are settling into their new homes within a few hundred yards of the site. The re-housing, funded at £15 million by the Department of the Environment, is a unique partnership between Galway Corporation and the private sector, says the Galway City Manager, Mr Joe Gavin.

"About three years ago, Galway Corporation prepared a plan for total refurbishment, but a survey showed that this wouldn't solve the problems" Mr Gavin says. "We hadn't the land, but decided to go to the private market and invite proposals. As a result, we selected TBD Developments Ltd. The replacement of all the apartments will cost only £3,000 a unit more than the original refurbishment estimates."

The partnership involves the southside flats being given to the developer for possible conversion to private use, while the northside flats are being demolished and replaced by new housing. Most of the 276 units are being built by the developer to the corporation's specification. A shortfall of 70 houses will be built by the corporation at Circular Road.

Only 15 families remain on the north side, and they will have been moved by next week, according to Mr Gavin. The effect will be to regenerate the Westside area, with a mix of private and public housing bordering on the upmarket residential area of Taylor's Hill.

The new houses are the last word in luxury, according to the acting city clerk, Mr Quigley. "They are centrally heated and double-glazed, and people will have their own back gardens for the first time."

Rats on the stairs, rubbish turfed out on the grass, fires on the stairways - Mrs Patricia Murphy, a separated mother of four who moved in the past week to a four-bedroom two-storey house in the new Droim Chaoin estate, is glad to leave that sort of life behind.

"We lived there for 3 1/2 years and I'm glad to be out. There was nowhere for the kids to play because there was an awful lot of drinking going out that frightened them." Her youngest fell on an old bed, dumped outside, and had to get three stitches.

"I don't think anyone is sad to see them go," Mr Martin Greaney, a former resident, says. Originally from the midlands, he and his wife, Josephine, and four children have moved into a four-bedroom house in Carn Ard estate. "Yes, the flat was comfortable inside. But all we had for fresh air was a balcony. There was a playground, but I never let the kids out to it.

"The Irish are not a nation of a flat-dwellers," Mr Greaney says. "Somewhere along the line, most of us have lived in the country, and we are not used to being packed on top of each other."