The Pride of Donnybrook

The Pride of Donnybrook

She still says “committ-ee” with a broad Kerry accent, but Esther McGrath is the heart and soul of the Beech Hill Community in Donnybrook. Originally from Waterville in the Kingdom, Esther married a local man and settled twenty years ago in what began life as a council estate beside the Dodder in Dublin 4.

Rightly or wrongly, Beech Hill originally had one of those reputations for being “difficult” or “rough”. Nowadays there is a huge mix of tenants and owner-occupiers in the estate. Its proximity to the city has made it popular with landlords and buyers alike. The newer and older residents seem to gel pretty well, and some of what makes the estate such a friendly and integrated community is down to people like Esther.

Seven years ago with some other residents, she set up a ‘Donnybrook Neighbours’ group. At times they work closely with the parish of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, in visiting elderly people in the area, organising shopping runs where people of limited mobility are brought to church and on shopping trips.

The system is regular and well-organised, people can depend on it. It means that few of the area’s older people who welcome social interaction and help with weekly travel are left without it.

Friendships are built up and valuable stories and histories are exchanged, meaning the younger residents can find out more about where they live. It has led to a more integrated and happier community for all generations.

This year at the beginning of July, Esther and her committee organised a ‘Donnybrook Fair Week’ – the name taken from the traditional agricultural fair in the area that was phased out around 1850. There were activities every day, from football for the kids to bingo, a treasure hunt and even a Duck Race on the Dodder. There was great participation from residents and the plan is to do it all again next year.

Another neighbourhood project that has been a success is the community garden. Up and running for the past three years, there has been a huge focus on getting the local children involved in planting and maintenance, which happens once a month. The garden was a finalist in a Community Gardens competition two years ago. As well as getting some funding from Dublin City Council, the neighbours group have a raffle every Christmas to add to the garden fund and to buy a shed and tools.

What has been achieved in Beech Hill could be replicated anywhere in the city or country – like Margaret Mead wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Pictured left: Esther McGrath.
Below: the garden.
Both photos by Ruth Kennedy.

By Ruth Kennedy