Heritage and ecological concerns of the Old School House, Clonsilla back in the public domain

by Rose Barrett
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Locals and elected representatives devastated as new owners acquire the site

Earlier this week saw the site of the Old School House spearheaded into the public domain once again when construction machinery moved in on the site. Whilst the school house is on the RPS (Record of Protected Structures), it is located on a strip of privately owned land, which appears to have changed ownership in recent weeks, much to the disappointment and consternation of the locals who were hoping that Fingal County Council would acquire the site for community purposes.:

Santiago Capital reportedly had reached agreement for purchase with a new owner and gave the latter access to the site, albeit rumours still circulated that the site had not been fully signed over by last weekend. As yet, the new owners have not been confirmed.

A spokesperson for Fingal County Council said: “Fingal County Council did express interest in acquiring the property; however, it appears the owners have gone an alternative route.” This is a bitter blow to the community and local representatives who had hoped the protected building would become the central focal point of Clonsilla going forward.

Many resilient local residents, along with Cllr Tania Doyle (Ind for Ongar) and Cllr John Walsh (Lab for Blanchardstown-Castleknock) entered the site and challenged the drivers and developer’s ecologist as to why works were ongoing, when it was widely known there were badger setts on the site.

“A large digger was ploughing its way through the ground, thus administering further destruction of the site’s unique foliage. When the developer’s ecologist was questioned, the response we received was vague and unspecific, which itself gives rise for growing concern,” said Cllr Doyle.

“The developer has a responsibility to maintain their sites in good order; however, this site is unique from an ecological standpoint and to unilaterally bulldoze shrubbery adjacent to badger setts which may have young inside is quite simply ecological devastation. Sadly, legislation is weak and ambiguous regarding the protection criteria pertaining to badger setts. The lands have recently changed ownership but it appears that a common thread of destruction prevails regardless.”

Cllr Walsh stated: “It just beggars’ belief that further destructive works started on this sensitive ecological site beside the Old School House this week, at a time when a legal case is already before the courts over the destruction of foliage and natural habitats on the site in November 2022 (under previous ownership. This case was taken by National Parks and Wildlife Service on the basis that intentional destruction of a badger sett had occurred.

Cllr Walsh photographed above with Cllr Tania Doyle on the site last week, added: “I pointed out to the developer’s representatives that there is at least one known badger sett on this site which is legally protected. It’s impossible to see how the use of a large digger ripping up foliage on the site is compatible with protecting wildlife and biodiversity. I complained to the NPWS about the latest works and asked them to protect this priceless natural resource.” The NPWS confirmed that that heavy machinery was not to be used within an exclusion zone of 50 metres around the badger settings.

Walsh also commented: ‘This work also shows complete disregard for residents in the Village Porterstown and Lambourn who have to put up with more disruptive works on their doorstep. I had a report from residents that work was going on in the middle of the night last Tuesday, which is totally unacceptable and should be stopped immediately.”

Friday, March 1 last saw the enforcement of the Nesting Season law, when it is illegal Under the Wildlife Act, to cut, burn or otherwise destroy vegetation including hedges between March and August 31.

Cllr Walsh added: ‘It incredibly disappointing that Fingal Council was unable to purchase the Old School House. A major problem is that the proposal for an ecological corridor along the Canal was rejected by a small majority of councillors in February 2023, which leaves the area close to the canal open to destructive works like this. If this was a special area of conservation or protected area, these works would require consent from the NPWS.”

For Sinead Reid who has lived in the Lambourn Estate (built in 1978 ) for the past 11 years, she and other residents were alarmed at last week’s machinery on site.

“I’m on the Planning Committee for Lambourn, set up with all the planning and development that has engulfed the area.  There’s a large site beside Applegreen, a four storey-apartment block almost completed.  The same developer owns the site of the Lodge next to Lidl. It’s so sad to the see the state of the Lodge now, it’s still standing but there’s a lot of anti-social behaviour going on there, and recent fires has caused serious damage to the building.

“From the perspective of Lambourn, the Lodge doesn’t affect us as much as the Old School House but it is a concern for residents that Fingal have not protected it, nor the residents, our neighbours in Portersgate. We were so hopeful that FCC would buy it as the site runs parallel to The Village and Lambourn.  It is a protected structure. There was a SHD application for the site, which overpowered the Royal Canal, The Village and Lambourn. As it’s a highly sensitive landscape,  it was rejected by An Bórd PLeanala which felt it should be a proposed natural heritage area and as such, it was premature to grant permission, without further ecological assessment.”

While local residents felt last week’s works were in defiance of the planning process – permission must be achieved first by FCC and/or ABP – the owner could legitimately enter the site and carry out certain works, providing it is not encroaching on the area within 50m of the badger setts.

Ms Reid stated: “The planning process would entail a full ecological appreciation of the area, and the importance of the Old School House in terms of local heritage.

“We are confused as lay people with little knowledge of the planning process but how can a developer go in to clear the site when there is no active planning permission granted with no recognition of the Bord’s requirement, i.e of a full ecological assessment. There is no planning notice displayed on either the site nor on FCC’s planning website. We are really in the dark here.

“The Clonsilla Framework is currently open, it closes on Monday, March 4. We are being advised that the consultation process does not include the Old Schoolhouse, as this will warrant a separate consultation later in the year. So again, we are worried that planning permission will go through before we have as residents an opportunity to express our opinions regarding the old school site.”

The TT’s had proposed the building  as the most evident Civic /central focus of Clonsilla in its proposals for Clonsilla Framework as it would link to our heritage trail.

For local Christine Moore of Clonsilla & Porterstown Heritage Society, “The Old School House was the national school in Clonsilla, for 109 years.  Built in 1853, it was termed the “school of spite”, because of its distinctive appearance.  Legend has it that the school was built to spite the Luttrells, who wouldn’t give land for a school to be built on – the three storeys meant they could see it from the castle.  In truth, the school was built as a show of strength by the Catholics, who walked out of the previous mixed school, after alleged slurs by the Protestant patronage. Three storeys high, the school had two floors for schooling and the basement was accommodation for the master.  Manys a local in Clonsilla, over a certain age, still remember the “3 Rs” in Clonsilla National School!

The school house and its site are a huge under-utilised asset to the village of Clonsilla. Despite the huge amount of building in the environs of Clonsilla Village, there is no community centre, no coffee shop, no venue suitable for arts & culture, no civic plaza, no playground, no community garden, no centre point to a village, which has seen huge development without amenities.  There’s not even a suitable place to put up the Christmas tree!  

The school house would be the perfect hub for Clonsilla Village.  Just imagine its potential as a meeting place, a chance to have a cuppa or bite to eat, host an exhibition or a play, enable the community to gather together.  The schoolhouse is also situated right beside the Royal Canal and along the proposed Royal Canal Greenway.  It’s a natural stopping point along the greenway and would encourage more commerce to the village.  It’s also on the National Famine Way and along a national waterway.  In addition, the Deep Sinking, a unique stretch of the Royal Canal, is adjacent to the schoolhouse so, collectively, the tourist potential of the site is really high.  

“Despite it being a protected structure, it has been left to rot for years and Fingal Co Council should have issued a CPO on it long ago. Now, as yet another developer moves in, it is really tough watching this opportunity being wasted.”

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