When We Were Kings and Queens of the Road: Una Mullally

Across the Greens of a Concrete Suburb

Walking to and from school as a child in the late 1980s and early 1990s was always about a succession of shortcuts. This journey began by crossing the park behind Super Valu in Deansgrange, a place of spring chestnut trees, winter frost, and autumn swallows. Then, up Kill Lane, cutting right, another shortcut through a green, before the estates of Foxrock were navigated, with their glossy green hedges planted for privacy. 

When I think of this journey now, I realise that the only traffic we really encountered was at Deansgrange crossroads. The method of crossing one lane at a time instead of running the width of it diagonally was an instruction ringing in my ears every time I waited for the green man.  

By the time I reached the gates of St Patrick’s National School, Hollypark, it had been some time since I’d felt the whizz of cars, now crawling down the ridged concrete roads of the surrounding residential streets, to drop off pupils. 

On the way home, there were some key stops, primarily the two newsagents on Foxrock Avenue, where decisions over which sweets to buy with whatever shrapnel was pooled, were painstaking and sometimes fraught. What I remember mostly is the greenery; the trees planted in paths, those green bushes again, the occasional blossom, the freshly mown grass of the occasional greens that broke up the estates. 

Along the way, gossip would be shared; about the latest friendship drama or whoever got in trouble with a teacher that day (usually me). Myself and my friends and my brother and his friends would talk about football, music, television shows, toys and holidays. I realise now these journeys by foot offered a moment for processing, an overlooked social environment where we could walk in safety and with purpose.

Una remembers when Deansgrange was a safer place for children, pedestrians and cyclists
(Photo: Robert Burns)

When I wasn’t going straight home, or to a neighbour’s house, the final stop was almost always Deansgrange Library. With both of my parents working, this is where I spent so much of my time after school as a child, first exploring the children’s section of books, before gradually making my way into the adult section. It was a place of abundance and quiet, a site of focus and learning. It’s here I began to expand my reading, sitting on the small chairs, or on the coarse carpeting, occasionally fiddling with the little trapdoors that opened up to reveal plug sockets. It’s here I worked my way through the encyclopaedias, did my homework, and researched the topics of school projects.

These routes to and from school we took never felt unsafe. There were fewer cars then, and an expectation that walking to and from school was a controlled environment. What strikes me today, is how little about that route has changed. There are so few cycle paths in Deansgrange, I wonder how on earth children are meant to cycle safely. Cars have long been prioritised in the area, despite their impact on the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. When I see kids walking home now, they’re still standing at those same crossroads, still waiting on the lights to change, still probably weighing up the same risky diagonal sprint. What a difference it would make if at least a portion of these road were provided to cyclists and pedestrians. 

Una Mullally is a writer from Deansgrange in Dublin. She writes a weekly column for the Irish Times about politics, Irish society, and Dublin.

On behalf of the Museum of Childhood Ireland and Robert Burns, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of our wonderful participants for their time and their stories. We are thrilled to be presenting this project and we hope you will enjoy following along with us in the coming weeks.

Have a story on this topic and want to get involved? Contact us on our social media sites, or email us at cbrowne@museumofchildhood.ie – we would love to hear from you!

By Chloe Browne

Chloe Browne is an Irish writer, curator and Art Historian, with a keen interest in objects and social history.