A new report, commissioned by NUI Galway’s Institute for Lifecourse and Society, has shed new light on on the Doughiska area.
The ‘3-Cities’ Project – launched by Katherine Zappone, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs – investigated experiences and transitions in people’s lives in six city neighbourhoods carefully selected from Dublin, Limerick and Galway – with the focus in Galway on Doughiska and the Claddagh.
Doughiska – taking in the greater Ardaun, Roscam and Doughiska (ARD) area met a number of the criteria set out, including being a new suburban development, having a strong representation of new migrant/ethnic minority communities, as well as having a low neighbourhood level of socio-economic status.
The report on Doughiska centred on a number of issues relevant to the east city suburb – drawing on the areas rapid change, diversity, integration, neighbourhood belonging and safety and security.
Much was made of the fact that 47 per cent of residents in Doughiska are foreign nationals – compared to just 17 per cent of the city as a whole.
Also evident from the report, and particularly from the older generation’s responses, was the speed at which the community has changed – from what was “originally a rural community on the fringe of Galway city is a newly built, developing and exceptionally diverse neighbourhood situated on the most eastern part of the city”.
Information was collated over a three-year period – and drew on the experiences of local residents by means of focus groups, interviews and collaborative forums.
The report details how this once rural area hastily transformed into the bustling city suburb that it is today – framed in the responses of the older groups involved as they reflect on the changes they have witnessed in the space of just a few short years.
The population of Doughiska is termed a “layered population” made up of the older residents who lived there prior to its development, foreign national residents who come from a variety of different backgrounds and Irish residents who have moved to the neighbourhood since its development.
An older male respondent summed up the changes they had witnessed in recent times.
“That time back, there was just a shop there at the corner. You had no Dunnes Stores, you had no Lidl, no Aldi, no Sean Bhaile, there was all green fields around it. The farmer sold it and then it was sold on again to Galway City Council where Sean Bhaile [housing estate] is now,” he recalled.
Diversity was one of the strongest themes to emerge from the research and much was made of the efforts in the community to unify the different cultures and ethnic backgrounds – as well as highlighting “the complex realities of bringing together in a single neighbourhood so many different cultural groups, with different expectations and preferences”.
With diversity comes integration and evidence available to the researchers pointed to low levels of interaction between different cultural and ethnic groups outside specific structures such as schools and community centres.
“I still cannot see integration of the communities. I still cannot see that. I still can see Africans moving with Africans, Polish moving with Polish, just like that. I still cannot see integration,” commented one older male.
Another issue flagged in this area was English proficiency and its compounding of problems of integration.
“There are challenges, you have to be very open and you have to be very accepting of people . . . some people wouldn’t be talking to African people because they don’t understand them, but that would be older people maybe. But there are challenges definitely to keeping the whole community integrated,” said one older female respondent.
There was praise reserved for the attendance of non-Catholic residents at Doughiska Catholic Church as a means of integrating with other neighbourhood members – as well as for the ARD Family Resource centre and the mechanism it provides for community interaction.
Neighbourhood belonging, a theme said to be “fundamentally connected to themes of change and integration,” was another important aspect of the investigation.
Some of the respondents believed that the rapid transition of the area altered their sense of belonging – with a tendency amongst the older generation to link belonging to an individual’s place of origin.
Some of the younger people involved commented that finding a sense of belonging was difficult for them.
“I am pretty confused like, I want to be fully Irish but then I know I’m not and this is who I am and I can’t change it,” said a young Polish female.
“There was a time you knew your neighbour, not anymore”
A lack of familiarity and not “knowing your neighbour” has added to a general sense of insecurity and safety concerns in the Doughiska area – according to NUI Galway’s 3-Cities Project.
While it was acknowledged by almost all in the community that it is a safe neighbourhood, there were a number of “perceived factors” that were contributing to feelings of insecurity.
One older male spoke about how feelings of distrust stem from unfamiliarity with those living around you and changes in the way that people interact.
“It’s a very mixed community now. There was a time you knew your neighbour; you don’t know your neighbour anymore. You don’t communicate, you don’t bother each other. It’s got more privatised if you like. Don’t mix, nothing, you just do your own thing whatever you do whether it’s right or wrong.” he said.
“You don’t have that anymore, who is your neighbour? It could be Polish, it could be Lithuanian, it could be Nigerian, it could be anything, but that’s all you know, end of story. Where is the trust? If you can’t trust someone you have nothing,” he continued.
Reports of teenage gangs of “10 or 12 guys walking around” as well as a lot of drinking have added to the general sense of fear about using the woods.
The behaviour of a few has contributed to fear amongst older people, younger people and people with disabilities. Children explained that stories of horses being burned alive and people going missing have discouraged them from using the facility.
It was reported that the case of the Merlin Woods highlighted the example of how the built environment could contribute to a sense of vulnerability and fear as well as decreased participation in the neighbourhood amongst disabled people.
One person with a disability claimed that they would fear going into the woods on their own.
“I wouldn’t go on my own now. It’s getting bad, I would never go at night time because people are getting attacked, you know,” he said. “It’s okay in the evening but at night time I never go anywhere. See down there they were supposed to fix the light and the light is not fixed down there.”
The report suggested that street lighting, so-called ‘ghost estates’ and the Merlin Woods were all adding to a sense of insecurity in the area.
The Merlin Woods were regarded as a great asset to the community, but it was asserted that a stronger Garda presence would be needed for people to feel safer walking through the woods alone.
You can contact Stephen Corrigan, the Galway City Tribune’s Communities Reporter at email@example.com