The St. Paul’s playing fields comprise 15 acres to the east of St. Paul’s College on Sybil Hill in Raheny. They originally formed part of the St. Anne’s estate, established by the Guinness family in the early 1800’s and acquired by Dublin City Council in the 1930’s by Compulsory Purchase Order.
On acquisition of the estate, Dublin City Council set aside part of the land as social housing and the remainder as park land. In this part of the city, it is widely believed that the Council intended to build over the entire estate but the Guinness family insisted that part of the lands be retained in parkland for the people of Dublin. And so St. Anne’s Park, the largest enclosed park in the stewardship of Dublin City Council, was born.
In the 1940’s, the Vincentian Fathers bought a property on Sybil Hill Road, adjacent to St. Anne’s, and opened their school. The school grew and the Vincentian’s found that they needed space for games and sports activities. At that time, Dublin City Council wanted to extend Vernon Avenue towards the Howth Road and an effective land swap was arranged whereby the Vincentians got 15 acres of playing fields in the park for a nominal sum and the City Council were able to connect Vernon Avenue with the Howth Road via Sybil Hill. Dublin Corporation records from that date, held in Pearse Street Library, outline this transfer.
These 15 acres of playing fields, which form one side of the avenue running through the centre of the park, remained open to the park from that time until 2001 when the Vincentians, citing insurance reasons, applied for and were granted planning to erect a fence around their fields.
Aside from the school’s own sporting needs, the lands were heavily used by Clontarf GAA, Clontarf Soccer and Clontarf Rugby clubs, especially for juvenile games and training and these clubs continue to use these lands today. Saturday and Sunday mornings see hundreds of children and adults training and playing on these fields.
Elsewhere in the city, in 2013, a religious order took a successful case against Dublin City Council which resulted in a review of Z15 zoning in the city. The reviewed Z15 zoning was applied to St. Paul’s College. The objective of Z15 is to protect and provide for institutional and community uses and the 2013 change involved the inclusion of the following clause
ZONING OBJECTIVE Z15:
ATM, Buildings for the health, safety and welfare of the public, Childcare facility, Community facility, Cultural/recreational building and uses, Education, Medical and related consultants, Open space, Place of public worship, Public service installation, Residential institution.
Open for Consideration Uses
Bed and breakfast, Car park ancillary to main use, Conference Centre, Funeral Home, Guesthouse, Hostel, Hotel, Municipal Golf Course, Residential, Student accommodation, Training.
That same year, the Vincentian Fathers entered a series of discussion with the Parks Department of Dublin City Council regarding the future of the playing fields. This fact is recorded in a document called ‘Community Infrastructure Statement‘ lodged by Crekav Landbank Investments in support of their planning application:
Community Infrastructure Statement.
“Since March 2013, representatives of the Vincentian order have met on several occasions with the management of Dublin City Council Parks and community services department to establish the principle of connecting the school into the St. Anne’s park context in which it is located”
In 2015, the local community were informed that the 15 acres had been sold to a developer for a reported €25,000,000. The reason given for the sale was that the school no longer need these playing fields. At this time, the Vincentian Fathers assured the community they would be investing a substantial part of this sum back into their school, including a significant portion towards the provision of new sporting facilities. They insisted that the sale of the land was complete and added that the investment in the school would go ahead regardless of the outcome of the residential planning application.
However, this land lies squarely in the heart of a public park, surrounded on three sides by park land. On its southern boundary, it forms part of the mile long Main Avenue, an historic gem and architectural set piece. Three storey houses will overlook the main avenue here for almost a quarter of a kilometre. On the eastern boundary, it overlooks the Millennium Arboretum. Houses here will be seen from as far away as the tennis courts – per the developers photo montage of the view. On the Northern boundary, the site borders public pitches. The 6 storey apartment blocks here will look out over the St. Anne’s housing estate, where they will be utterly without context.
We are extremely concerned about the knock-on, long term impact that this development will have on St. Anne’s Park, including damage to flora and fauna, loss of visual amenity and loss of that tranquility which is unique to St. Anne’s and treasured by citizens far and wide. As a direct result of this development, open lands within St. Anne’s have been put at risk as both St. Paul’s college and the various clubs who will be displaced from the St. Paul’s pitches try to establish new playing facilities within the park. Recent developments at the Tennis Courts suggest that these new facilities could include fenced in all-weather pitches running along the Main Avenue.
This is an opportunistic development and its long term implications for the public and the park have not been, and possibly cannot be properly assessed at this time. These 15 acres form part of an important historic estate which should be preserved from encroaching development and sensitively developed for the continued enjoyment of future generations of Dubliners.
Photos below show Annie Lee Guinness Tower Bridge, the Boating Lake and one of the many tree lined Bridle Paths which criss cross St. Anne’s and enabled the original residents of the estate to travel to the village or to their church without being out in the weather.