The well-known Tenters housing scheme marks its centenary in 2022, being one of the first major projects undertaken by the new Irish Free State
Situated in Dublin’s Liberties on the southside of Dublin, the Fairbrother’s Fields Housing Scheme, now known as part of the wider “Tenters” area, is bordered by the South Circular Road, Cork Street and Donore Avenue. This year, 2022, marks its Centenary. It was the first Tenant Purchase housing project to be undertaken by the new Irish Free State and was built specifically for the working class of Dublin.
In the 18th century, the area now occupied by housing was the centre of a busy and productive industrial area. Previously, these lands had been used as tenter-fields. Tenters were large wooden structures upon which locally produced cloth was stretched out on tenterhooks to dry in the open air (hence the phrase ‘to be on tenterhooks’). And so the area came to be known as the “Tenters”. Meanwhile the Fairbrother surname has links going back for centuries in the immediate area. The name Fairbrother is found among the area’s Quaker community who established in the area in the 17thC, and who became heavily involved in the weaving and cloth making trade in the area.
The 22 acre Fairbrother’s Fields site was chosen by the Corporation of Dublin as far back as 1912, with twelve years passing before full completion of the housing scheme. In addition to the many administrative and political barriers that stood in the way of progress, several historical events happened within this timeframe which also contributed to the delay in completion. These included, the First World War, the Easter Rising, the Irish Civil War and the War of Independence. Despite these barriers with their associated delays, the battle to build while hard fought, was finally won. Construction started in 1922 with the final house completed in 1924.
The layout and style of the development was different from its predecessors. Perhaps because it was so delayed, and therefore mistakes from previous schemes had been noted, the scheme was much amended. But after numerous revised designs it was eventually decided that a plan loosely based on the Garden Suburb idea be accepted. Density was reduced from previous proposals and all houses now had small to medium front gardens with the addition of either a back garden or yard to the rear.
Another welcome foresight of the City Architect and Town Planner when planning this fine housing scheme more than a century ago, was the provision of what is today’s much loved and coveted green space, Oscar Square Park or “Playground” as the City Architects called it then. From early morning until darkness descends it is hardly without someone inside, either tending to children, walking a dog or just enjoying the birds singing in the trees above their heads. It is not a massive space and is accessed by gates on all four corners. While it was built originally on flat ground, the reason for the increased height today, is because the park was used to house an underground air raid shelter during the Second World War. Upon learning of its hidden history this news instils a sense of excitement in children and adults alike with much guessing as to which corner the entrance was located!
While originally built to relieve the hardships of those living in the deplorable conditions that was inner city living in the early 20th century, the Tenters’ community has not only survived the last 100 years, but it has also hugely thrived. Today, this neighbourhood has developed into a most sought after area in which to reside.
What is also noted when speaking with hopeful young couples walking through the area on fine summer evenings, is that the feeling of community is tangible. These couples are doing today what others like them did nearly one hundred years ago, wishing and hoping that they will one day be successful in their attempt to obtain a house here.
To mark the centenary, a Tenters100 Centenary Commemorative committee has been set up to organize and run a Calendar of Events for 2022. The first event took place on February 1st last, with the planting of a Commemorative Tree in Oscar Square Park. Keep an eye out for more event. To find out more or to contact the committee check out the Tenters100 Facebook page or email directly firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author Maria O’Reilly is a 4th generation resident of The Tenters and chairperson of Tenters100.