Community Doesn’t Mean Parish

Let’s talk about Balgaddy in West Dublin, specifically The Balgaddy Community Garden.

The garden was started by local volunteers on derelict land in October 2010. Since then, residents have worked to develop the approximately one acre space into a hive of horticultural activity which is used regularly by residents as well as a range of local groups including Tidy Towns, “Sweet Peas”( 6 – 12 year old gardeners), a wood craft crew and Junior Park Rangers. 

The garden has proved to be a priceless local amenity in an estate which primarily comprises social housing in an area with a large number of lone parent and ethnically diverse families. The garden has become the hub, the fulcrum of the community.  As Lorraine Hennessy, a community activist and founding member of the Balgaddy Working Together Group puts it; “The community garden was the only place where everybody could come and everybody got to meet each other. It was the first focal point for breaking down the barriers within the community, within the different estates and people from different backgrounds and different interests”.

Balgaddy Community Garden

But the garden is under threat. In 2013 a letter to residents from the local Pastoral Council of the Catholic Church stated that, as part of a fundraising drive for a new Parish Centre , the land on which the community garden sits “will be leased on a short term basis to provide much-needed funds”. Locals understand that the garden is to become a car park. In June of this year things took a turn for the worse when representatives of the Pastoral Council padlocked and chained the entrances and dug up a section of the garden to erect a sign. Fr. Eamon P. Bourke of the Pastoral Council stated that , “Even though there is no obligation on the parish community to do so, we have provided facilities that are the responsibility of South Dublin County Council. These facilities have been enjoyed by many, many people over the years and are we now to be demonised for such generosity?”

Residents strongly dispute this version of events citing an agreement to redevelop a temporary building (The Bush Centre) for community facilities that they had with developers,  SDCC and South Lucan Parish which was reneged upon. The Church of the Divine Mercy was opened in September 2000 and the Parochial House built on land earmarked for community facilities. 
It is worth highlighting the clear mention the priest makes of “parish community” as opposed to what you might think could adequately be described as  “community”. The implication of the distinction is clear and unambiguous. Gardens and community initiatives like this are the key to unlocking and unleashing everything  that we have been talking about, everything horticulture has to give. All of it wholesome, positive and worthwhile. It’s worth taking a moment to absorb the wider message being transmitted here  – that they are still here, those who still believe that they have the constituency and therefore the mandate and entitlement to hijack that which benefits the wider community in favour of their strand of the community. That there is even a question about getting behind initiatives like this boggles the mind.

 The list of positives is a long and familiar one; immersion for kids, multi generational access and participation and for those with disabilities and limited mobility, therapy, relaxation, play,education and goal driven learning, social inclusion, community building. What we have here is a  meeting of two countries,  one in which some would seek to have the wider community subservient to the parish community. There are certain parts of the country in which the Church could justifiably still lay claim to being the pivot point of the community; Glenamaddy yes, Balgaddy no. In certain parts of the country progressive and broad needs- based initiatives like this will foster civic spirit and nurture community faster than decades of the Rosary.

Community not parish, spirituality not religion, inclusion not exclusion. In urban Ireland in 2015 these are dangerous ideas?  Jaysus wept.   

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