Postcode snobbery screams 'location, location, location'
For many Dublin residents avoiding having the 'wrong' address has become something of an obsession, writes Shane Hegarty
It was proof of something many people have suspected for some time. Without moving an inch, houses and their residents are being transported from one place to another. Entire towns are disappearing from the address book and swathes of the city suburbs are vanishing from estate agents' books.
This week, people in Earlsfort, Lucan, discovered they had almost had an address of Earlsfort, Clondalkin. On Wednesday the builder Séamus Ross told the Mahon tribunal he had paid former Fianna Fáil TD, Liam Lawlor more than €40,000 in 1996 to get the postal address of his new housing estate changed from Clondalkin to Lucan. Apparently this would add value to the houses when he went to sell them.
It typified what seems to be a growing trend in address-swapping, either on the part of estate agents keen to put a positive slant on things or of residents who believe that a postal address is a badge of social status.
When postal codes were first introduced in the 1960s, there was little idea that they would cause divisions, other than administrative ones. There have always been those who cling to a postcode like a prized possession. When the growth of Dublin in the 1980s meant that parts of Harold's Cross and Terenure were to be re-designated as Dublin 12 (from Dublin 6), so incensed were some of the locals that they lobbied against the change and were eventually rewarded with the all-new postcode of Dublin 6W (west). Yet, even now, there are people who, in protest, refuse to add the all-important "W", unconcerned that it can mean a day's delay in receiving their post.
A similar situation exists for some residents of the parts of Rathfarnham that once nestled snugly in Dublin 14 before suffering the indignity of being labelled Dublin 16. Some still refuse to accept the new address, again deciding that late post is a small price to pay to avoid social embarrassment.
An Post is well used to approaches from communities looking either for a return to an old postcode or fearful that they will be sent to another.
"People hear rumours of a big estate being built in their area," explains head of communications John Foley, "and they fear that the area will be overloaded and their postal code pushed into another." In west Dublin, where so much development has taken place, there is a particular fear of being shunted into Dublin 22 (Neilstown, Ronanstown) or 24 (Tallaght, Jobstown).
According to An Post, there have been cases of developers claiming that houses are in a particular postcode before waiting for An Post to confirm otherwise.
"Our interest is not in property prices," says Foley. "Our business is addresses and we decide on postal districts from what's most efficient for our delivery service and not what is to people's tastes."
It is in the property brochures that the map seems particularly vague. David Cantwell, of estate agents Hooke & McDonald, insists that people are not mugs. "You won't fool a buyer. Property has always been about location, pure and simple and you're only annoying the punter if you try and deceive them. OK, some do sometimes try it, but it doesn't work."
Yet, houses in the Tallaght area are increasingly sold under the more generic label of Dublin 24. Mulhuddart introduces itself as Blanchardstown. Ballybrack often masquerades as being Killiney. Castleknock has suffocated Carpenterstown. Parts of Ballymun have gradually found themselves labelled as Glasnevin North, although that is a part of the world where the residents of Ballymun Avenue petitioned successfully to shed themselves of that supposedly uncouth address. They now reside, on the same road, in the same houses and with the same neighbours, still in Ballymun but on the more palatable Glasnevin Avenue.
It seems to be a particularly Dublin phenomenon. A Cork estate agent insists there is "no identity crisis here. We know where we are and we know what we've got."
Dublin, though, has begun to engage in border disputes with other counties. Clonee is verifiably in Co Meath, but new houses there are currently being described as "Clonee, Dublin 15". The small print reveals that they are actually in Clonsilla. Whatever else results from this, it could cause havoc with GAA affiliations.
It's nothing new. In 1986, a visiting academic, Hervé Varenne - a professor at New York's Columbia University - noted that new houses being built on the edge of Ballinteer had been given a geographical makeover.
"The location is given as Dundrum," he wrote, "thus revealing that those who accuse the buyers of snobbery have the same opinion of these buyers as the developer; to talk of Dundrum in this context is probably to try and conjure the image of a quaint little village on the southside. To talk of Ballinteer might either draw a blank, or be associated with the mass development of identical houses . . . or, worst of all, make potential buyers think of Tallaght, unemployment and lowering property values."
The shifting sands are a result of both market economics and old-fashioned social one-upmanship. In the sprawling, interconnecting suburbs, an address can mark a notional class divide that the actual boundaries stubbornly refuse to do.
On Thursday's Liveline, on RTÉ Radio One, one caller told of how he lived in a house in which people would give out different addresses, depending on their sensitivities.
Of course, it may also be a hangover from a time when an address might genuinely matter to one's job prospects. Ironically, the boom meant that qualifications rose above address, and the practice of massaging an address or putting a relative's rather than your own is not nearly so common as it was 10 years ago.
However, when post code snobbery starts with the President, then Clondalkin never stood a chance. Áras an Uachtaráin might be on the north side of the Liffey, but it carries a south side postcode (Dublin 8). Perhaps it was felt important in the event of the State needing to make a quick sale.