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The Campaign to make Belgrave Square a Public Square.

Before any public announcement was made some residents suspected in 1973 that the Square was to be sold. Rumours abounded – the square was to be given to a football Club associated with Ben Briscoe T.D.; a past pupil of Diocesan School was going to buy the pavilion and live there…

The Belgrave Residents’ Association

The residents of Belgrave Square and the surrounding area in the 1970’s were much more interested in the fate of the square than those of the 1890’s. Does this reflect the fact that there were more owner occupiers?  Dr. Roy Johnston, a resident of Belgrave Road, decided it was necessary for the local community to act. He put leaflets in all the houses in the area and called a public meeting in 1973.[i] About 50 people attended the first meeting on October 8th in the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society premises in the old National School on Rathmines Road. The Belgrave Square Residents’ Association (Rathmines-Ranelagh) was founded ‘to represent the interests of the residents of the square and also the nearby roads.’

One of the principal objectives was ‘the opening of Belgrave Square under municipal control (with due respect to the rights of the Diocesan School) with access to playing fields and tennis courts for the young people of the area.’[ii]

A constitution was drawn up and a committee was formed which included one representative from each of the  roads in the area surrounding the Square – Annesley Park, Belgrave Road, Belgrave Square, Castlewood Avenue, Cambridge Road, Charleston Avenue, Charleston Road, Kensington Villas, Killeen Road, Mountpleasant Avenue, Moyne Road, and Oakley Road. Membership was open to all including flat dwellers, a point that Dr. Johnston felt was of crucial importance, as they would be far more concerned about the fate of the square than absentee landlords, of whom there were many at that time. Local representatives and officials of Dublin Corporation were invited to attend meetings. The local representatives elected in June 1974 were Mr Gerard Brady and Mr Sean Moore of Fianna Fail, Mr Peter Kelly of Fine Gael, Mr. Ruairi Quinn of Labour and Mrs Carmencita Hederman, a Community Candidate. 

The association drew up a manifesto and wrote to Dublin Corporation expressing the wish of the members of the association that the Corporation should negotiate the purchase of the square. In April 1974 it was noted that the association had received a copy of a reply from the City Manager to Mr. Kelly T.D. They also wrote to the Principal of the High School but at the 7th October 1974 meeting it was noted that a reply had been received regarding Belgrave Square but ‘it was agreed that nothing further could be done on this subject at present’.  At the following meeting a letter from Mr. Skelly, Planning Officer, Dublin Corporation concerning Belgrave Square, dated 28th October 1974, was read and it was noted that the Corporation were in touch with the solicitors acting for the owners of Belgrave Square. However, at the 8th December meeting, Ms Hederman reported that the Corporation had misunderstood the original offer of the square and thought that it was being offered for free! Following this, Councillor Ruairi Quinn proposed that the Corporation should be asked to acquire the square compulsorily. The association however felt they would prefer ‘things to move in a friendly fashion’ and they requested a meeting with all the local Councillors to explain their point of view.

Nonetheless, a few weeks later, the Annual General Meeting on March 25th 1975 debated a motion to call on the Corporation

to begin preparation of a Compulsory Purchase Order as a step in the negotiation of a lease on behalf of the municipality with the present owners of  Belgrave Square. [iii]

 

In the ensuing discussion in which Councillors Quinn, Kelly and Moore took part, deep concern was expressed about the future of the square, the conditon of which was disimproving all the time. The consensus of opinion was that a diplomatic approach should be maintained and that a CPO should be avoided. As a result the motion was amended to read:

To call upon the Corporation to re-open immediately consultations towards the negotiation of a lease 

This motion was passed by 21 votes to 4.[iv]

On May 12th 1975, the association was informed that Lisney’s, the auctioneers, would be in contact with Mr D. Byrne, a Corporation official, at an early date with a view to discussing the acquisition of the Square.

An advertisement appeared on Fri 13th June offering  Belgrave Square  for sale by public tender.[v] It must have seemed to the members of the association that their campaigning had been in vain but the June meeting, far from despairing, drew up a decisive plan of action. It was decided to write to T.D’s and councillors, to the press and other interested parties and to send a petition to Dr. Buchanan the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin about selling  the square. A public meeting was held at  Belgrave Square  North at 10a.m. on  Saturday, June 28th, and a table was set up and thousands of people signed a petition. 

At the next meeting on 7th July 1975 there was a report from the members of a deputation who had visited Dr. Buchanan. He agreed with them about the desirability of the Corporation taking over the  square and said he would like to see it sold to the Corporation at less than market price.  Some unease was expressed at the meeting that press reports of this meeting with Dr Buchanan had been misleading and did not fairly represent the position of the Archbishop. It was feared that the campaign was being hijacked by certain groups who were making their support public and members felt strongly that the association was not and should not be political.

It was decided to present the thousands of signatures collected on June 28th to Mr James Tully T.D., Minister for local Government, at Leinster House. On Wednesday July 9th a deputation consisting of Mr Dermot Hughes, Mr. John O’Neill, Mrs. Eibhlin Glenn and Mrs. Heagney went to the Dail. Councillors Ruairi Quinn and Sean Moore T.D. were present also.  Members of the association demonstrated outside Leinster House. More...

 Acquisition by Dublin Corporation

[i] Conversation with Dr Roy Johnston of Rathgar,  Feb 10th 2009

[ii] Minutes of the Belgrave Residents’ Association Meeting currently held by Mr E Ó Cuív an officer of the association

[iii] Minutes of Belgrave Square Residents’ Association meeting March 25th 1975

[iv] Minutes of Belgrave Square Residents’ Association meeting March 25th 1975

[v] Irish Times June 13th 1975 pg 24

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