Squat Culture: Grangegorman
(this article was originally written on May 10th)
Dublin’s current housing crisis is one that seems to make little sense. The price of rent is rising dramatically with every passing year, leading to a surge in the homeless population. The 2011 census stated there were over 2,375 homeless people in Dublin at the time although that number has likely gone up over time. Figures released by Dublin City Council last year showed 168 people were forced to sleep rough on the 11th of November. At the same time, we are living in a time which is seeing record numbers of abandoned, vacant and otherwise unused buildings throughout Dublin. Paradoxes like this help to explain why squatting has become a popular solution to this housing problem.
Until earlier this year, not many people had heard of the Grangegorman Squat. However, On March 23rd, after a failed attempt by a private security company to evict the people living there, it gained the attention of the Irish media. The High Court ordered the residents, some of whom had been there since August 2013, to vacate the premises by May 4th. With this date having come and gone the future of the space is uncertain, but the last few weeks have really given the people of Grangegorman an opportunity to show why places like this are so important for Dublin. As well as being a home to over 30 people, Grangegorman is also an exciting and vibrant social and cultural area in the centre of Dublin that showed the potential that these vacant spaces around the city could have if used correctly.
One of the first things you see when entering Grangegorman is a number of vegetable patches. About a dozen or so of the residents have taken on the responsibility of growing a number of herbs and vegetables, including basil, green beans, carrots and even squashes. This project is not only practical and cost-effective, but also adds a lot of life and colour to what would otherwise be a dull and unused part of the grounds. This philosophy of not letting space go to waste can be seen throughout Grangegorman with pretty much every area serving sort of function. Some of the residents are currently in the process of creating a woodwork workshop inside the largest warehouse on the grounds. Having already proven themselves quite capable and creative with the work they’ve done restoring parts of Grangegorman, it will be interesting to see what comes out of this project.
As well as the gardens, the workshop and the residences, there’s also the “Headspace Gallery”, a gallery which features works in a variety of mediums by residents and friends of Grangegorman. Headspace also exhibits some impressive graffiti, and from time to time, hosts spoken word events for Dublin’s writers, poets and rappers. Other, larger, more open spaces on the grounds also allow for talks, workshops, cinema screenings and facilities like a circus workshop, teaching everything from juggling and poi to aerial silk acrobatics. These open spaces also cater for types of performance rarely seen in Dublin city like the monthly “Words in the Warehouse” events.
Words in the Warehouse has been taking place on a near-monthly basis since November 2014, quickly gaining popularity and becoming an ideal platform for some of Dublin’s more offbeat artists to showcase their work. On Saturday the 25th of April, the last ever Words in the Warehouse event took place in the Grangegorman Squat. The doors opened at 8pm to an already impressive turnout. As the night went on, the warehouse continued filling up with far more people than anyone had anticipated, or as one performer put it “a fuck-ton of people” – and a couple of dogs. The vast warehouse was filled with armchairs, couches, stools, mattresses, blankets, cushions, carpets, tables and all sorts of other makeshift seating. A walkway marked only by candles cut through the centre of the crowd, leading to the stage which was itself lit by hundreds of candles – the only lighting in the warehouse. Towards the back of the warehouse, a cocktail bar was set up which offered drinks in exchange for a small donation. Throughout the night sage smudge sticks were burned and passed around, a technique used by many ancient cultures around the world to purify spaces. All these small touches did an excellent job of giving what could otherwise have been a dark, cold night in an abandoned warehouse a much more homely and welcoming feel.
The range of topics covered in the pieces varied wildly. There were emotionally charged poems about the upcoming referendum, women’s rights and the squat itself. There were more light-hearted poems about being around people on MDMA, going to festivals and – one of the highlights of the night – an ingrown boob hair. As well as the poetry, there were also a number of other spoken word pieces, from passionate rants about the banking collapse to an absurd comedy pieces about cats on the Millennium Bridge, and a beautiful performance piece where a ghost married a giant wolf.
The night also featured a number of impressive musical acts. Violins, harmoniums and acoustic guitars featured heavily. There were American folk ballads like “Katie Cruel” and traditional instrumental pieces like “The Gypsy Princess”, as well as an incredible amount of original pieces. One of the highlights of the night were Twin Headed Wolf, two sisters from Clare who play what they describe as “harmony-ridden, experimental, scrapyard folk”. Their music made use of a number of unconventional instruments including a saw, an upside down bike and a waterphone (look it up – It’s pretty much the soundtrack to every suspenseful scene in every horror movie you’ve ever seen). The strange assortments of instruments were a perfect fit to an unconventional night like this. Combined with the dual harmonies, they gave a somewhat sinister, but still hauntingly beautiful atmosphere to the event. The night ended with a performance by Landless, whose ethereal, four-part harmonies were a beautiful and gentle end to the final Words in the Warehouse. Anyone who said they didn’t have goosebumps in that one second between their final song ending and the crowd beginning to cheer is lying.
Another positive for the future of Dublin squatting is the recent opening of The Barricade Inn, in Nearys Hotel on Parnell street, which has now been abandoned for over 10 years. The Barricade Inn describes itself as an “autonomous social centre and info-shop” and aims to create and foster a culture “that values and encompasses a diversity of cultures while rejecting the imposed dominant one, and that is based on freedom, mutual aid, voluntary association and respect.” This space opening in what could be the final days of the Grangegorman squat is promising for the unique culture social spaces like this bred. The Barricade Inn will provide a number of resources to the community including “Practical Squatters Workshops” twice weekly, and it’s “Bad Books Library”. As well as this it will also host a number of live musical events, the first of which, its “Dirty Folk and Crepe Speakeasy” took place on the 28th of April.
With May 4th having come and gone and the residents still in their homes, the future of the Grangegorman squat is still unclear. Even if the residents are removed, there is no clear indication of what will become of the property, and whether or not it will return to being an unused, vacant space. The Grangegorman community have gained the support of many people in the area and around the country as well as many international squatters groups. They remain positive that their case hasn’t been lost. Looking at the amount of work done on the grounds over the last two years, it’s clear that these are hardworking, determined and incredibly creative people who will do everything they can to keep their home.
Words: Shane Murphy