Tucked away in Dublin’s north inner city wasteland lay one of the finest examples of a post-Tiger urban dwelling. For over two years the abandoned site served as a rent-free sanctuary for artists, eco warriors and drifters. Then, one morning, the owners came knocking.
The Grangegorman squat was located in Dublin’s north inner city, at the rear of Smithfield market square and backing onto the building site of the planned Dublin Institute of Technology.
The site was considerably large, taking in a number of abandoned terraced houses on the main Grangegorman Road, extending back to three converted office buildings, five warehouses, a main courtyard and two smaller yards.
Back in 2008, the site had been earmarked for a Ä100 million residential, retail and office scheme with 164 apartments. But plans fell through after the economic crash and planning permission expired. In the following months the site lay abandoned.
Up until recently, the site was occcupied by a group of 30, mostly young people, who decided not to pay soaring Dublin rents.
The squat ran for about two years. Street artist Emily Nayhree was there from the start until it ended a few weeks ago.
How did the squat come about?
Myself and a couple of girlfriends were looking for a place, just for the girls, where we could set up a couple of studios. Then one of lads said that he had found a place with three attached houses that were all empty and he was moving into one.
What sort of people squat?
Some people just want a free place to live. Some people want a roof over their heads so they can pursue their career or creativity and some people do it for political reasons. A lot of different reasons. What a lot of people don’t realise is that it’s not always about breaking into a house. In a lot of these places the doors and windows are open, they’re just left to rot. Meanwhile, there are people homeless on the streets.
What was your plan when you moved in?
I’d been throwing an idea for a couple of years of having a creative space that was alcohol and drug free. Me and most of my friends were hanging around the festival, rave and art circuit in Dublin for a while and a lot of it does focus on either getting wasted or getting drunk. We were sort of tired of it and had come out the other side. In my head it was like this has to happen. We called it headspace. A place you could go to do your art and creativity. Headspace meaning the space was free from intoxicants, a place you could go and not be interrupted. So the the focus was just on the art. We also set up a recording studio and rehearsal rooms.
Did the squat influence your own work?
I half do and half don’t like calling it a ‘squat’, in one way its ‘home’. With me, everything I see and everything I do influences my work. The freedom of it was a big influence on my work. For my exhibition, Transcendence, I was able to paint the floors and walls. No other gallery that I rented in town would have let me do that. So, it made me braver and a bit more happy with my creativity. It also meant that I didn’t have to produce for money, I didn’t have to follow the path of artistic prostitution. It’s nice to be able to create and then hand it out. If people love it it’s coming from the heart. You get it? Take it, give me money. If you don’t have money, take it anyway.
What are your plans now?
My plans have always been to get off the grid, find a field, a build a house and studio from muck and straw … because you can.
Do you think the Grangegorman ‘squat’ will have a legacy?
When there was an attempt to evict us we became news and we got a lot of visitors and we were able to use it as a bit of a showcase. It became a nice educational experience. People could see, firstly, that this could be done in Dublin and, secondly, it could be done for more or less nothing. It made people happy and gave them hope. It’s all about holding space. If you hold space you can open it up and let people come in – great things happen. We did something interesting and special.