The Layer (Cabra Playground), 1936 – 1993

A number of weeks ago I was sitting in the club house on a Sunday evening having a drink. Richard and Peter Cameron originally from 8 Bannow Rd arrived into the club and I joined them for a chat.

I had not seen Richard in 25 years and as he was a neighbour of our family for years on Bannow Rd so we entered into memories of times past in Cabra. Our conversation turned to the club and the site where it is now based, ‘the playground’ or as we knew it, ‘The Layer’.

I spent most of my early years from 1963 to the early 1970′s playing and hanging around the Layer. The long summer days and evenings playing seven a side matches, to the sports days of the long jump in the sand pit, or a game of handball in the three alleys at the back of the Layer near the railway line.

On a Sunday, after the toss school at the old turf depo, there would be major handball matches between the older fellas for money or other items. Mattie Swan from the top of Bannow Road was the king of the ally at that time in the mid sixties and they lined up to beat him.

The person in my time that looked after the playground was a women name Mrs. Sheridan, whom I think came from Finglas and she used to travel by bike. In those days the playground was full of children from old Cabra and from Bannow and Carnlough Road. At times it could be a rough place and you got streetwise very quick.

The Layer was divided into the girls and the boys sections with a small area for the toddlers. Overall great times were had in enjoyment and sport in the Layer.

In the course of our conversation Richard spoke of his own childhood spent in the layer in the early 50′s. In the course of our conversation he produced five photographs of himself and other children playing in the Layer at that time. He spoke about a man named Mr. O’Connor, who was one of the main administrators in Richards’s time.

He told me there was a major reunion which he attended out twenty years ago and a presentation was given to Mr. O’Connor. Richard was a very good soccer player, having played for local club Grange Utd. He played professional football with Drumcondra in the early sixties.

Richards’s two uncles played for Sligo Rovers in the early 1950′s. Having an interest in the local history of the area I asked him could I copy them. He dually agreed and as you can see they are really good photos. The next morning I decided to do a bit of research into how the playground came about in Cabra.

After a few hours research I came across a 16 page paper which was written by Margaret Kernan when she was a guest researcher at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands. Margaret has documented alot of facts and information on the origins of playgrounds in Dublin which included Cabra Playgrounds.

Margaret Kernan documented that after the Tan and Civil wars, concerns were expressed about the large numbers of unsupervised children playing on the street of Dublin in 1920′s and 1930′s. A number of concerned citizens from the Civic Institute of Ireland and the Women’s National Association organized a play conference in the summer of 1930 to consider what could be done to facilitate playgrounds for the children of Dublin.

The conference decided to establish ten playgrounds around the city with the aim of training the children in civic behaviour. The children catered for would be boys and girl’s aged between four and fourteen and the playgrounds would be opened after schools and during school holidays.

The first action they took was to write to the manager of Dublin Corporation for a list of ten sites which could be used for playgrounds. The Corporation agreed to provide the sites and equipment and provide the maintenance. The Civic Institute would be responsible for the management and supervise the day to day running of the playground through trained full time play leaders.

The committee then made a public appeal for money in the national newspapers. On the 12th of September 1933, the first playground was open at Broadstone with one supervisor and a number of voluntary helpers.  Due to the success of Broadstone, between 1933 and 1939 nine new playgrounds were opened. Three playgrounds in Cabra were opened on the 6th of March 1936.

One playground for very young children in Ventry Park, and separate playgrounds for boys and girls on Fassaugh Avenue.  Of the ten playgrounds, Cabra was the only one outside the inner city. The equipment supplied by Dublin Corporation included swings, see-saws, jungle gyms and a ocean-wave.

Seasonal street games like hop-scotch, marbles, tops, snatch the beacon, rats and rabbits were widely used as well as organized games of football, handball, rounders, padder tennis, basketball and cricket.  In the Cabra playground there were vegetables plots in the girls section which started in the late thirties and were still going strong up until the late sixties.

In the annual report of 1945-46 there is a mention of 24 garden plots. The seeds were supplied free by Messers Drummond & Co and each summer and there was a competition for the best plot.

Over the last eight decades “The Layer” has been a great place for thousands of children from the Cabra area. During the late 1960′s and early 70′s numbers using the playgrounds dropped dramatically as society was about to go through massive change.

The television arrived so less children used the playgrounds. The Civics Institute handed over the management of the playgrounds to the Parks section of the corporation due to the reduced usage in 1971. In the 1970′s alot of vandalism happened to the Cabra playground. In 1976 Dublin Corporation decided to undertake a critical review of playgrounds.

After a number of years of discussing the issues of Cabra playgrounds, the corporation decided to knock down all the old buildings at Fassaugh Avenue and build a main new building near the railings beside the road which would be situated on the large soccer pitch.

The girls section was turned into a small park and the new main building was completed in 1982. A number of community groups used the building up until 1985 but because of cut backs these facilities was closed down by the Corporation despite major protest by local residents in 1985.

The local soccer teams were given the use of the facility and through the local T.D Tony Gregory a new all weather tar Macadam pitch and flood lights were installed. This went well until 1990 when an upsurge in vandalism and antisocial activity again turned the layer into a waste ground, despite the great efforts of local people and the local soccer clubs.

Naomh Fionnbarra GAA Club had the lease for the old Legion of Mary house, in Ventry Park since 1978. The club had applied to build a club house on the site but the Corporation refused planning permission.

Following ongoing meetings and promises, the Corporation came back to the club with the offer of the land on one part of the old playground on a 100 year least in 1993. This was on condition that the club gave up the lease of the Legion of Mary house land, which they wanted to build 6 houses. After a number of meetings with club members an agreements was made with the Corporation. The club took hold of the boys section of the playground in 1993.

It took club members three months to secure it. After six months, planning permission was sought for a new gym and bar facilities. Three members of the club put their houses up as collateral to borrow €200,000 and this money was used to build the new club house and gym.

With the support of the people of the area, the club has gone from strength to strength. A new gym and sportscentre was built in 1998 and a new all weather flood light pitch was built on the girls part of the playground in 2000.  In 1995 a Gaelscoil was started by the club with six children, now there are 240 children attending and being educated through the medium of Irish.

A large number of community groups use the clubs facility such as the local bowels club, local order of Malta, after school club, local soccer teams, weight watchers and dance groups. The club fields 22 teams from three to sixty years old.  There are over 2,000 social members and the club runs an after school club and a restaurant on Sundays for the community of Cabra.

The playground today looks a lot different than a few decades ago but the service is still the same as that envisaged by the ideas of the Civics Institute of Ireland. Service to the community and its people is what Naomh Fionnbarra GAA club is all about.

Over the decades many people have their own memories of the Layer. Many a star in football and life learned their ABC there and great credit must go to all the volunteers and people who made it happen. Great thanks must also go to two Corporation officials, Tom Mitchell and Grace McGuire, who had great vision and who were one of the main movers in the club moving to the Layer, thank you.

The club has won over eight championships in GAA Hurling, GAA Football, and Camogie since moving there. There are many a ghost who play there by night and day as ‘ring a ring a rose’  is belted out or the ‘old tin polish can’  full of earth is heard rattling over the concrete, a part of Dublin that is well gone but still lives in Cabra peoples memories.

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