Sunday 23 October 2016

Mum's the word: Never underestimate the importance of community

An inclusive neighbourhood really is a priceless setting for a happy childhood

Child have a way of bringing communities together
Child have a way of bringing communities together

There’s been a lot of talk about community in recent weeks: the gay community, the LGBT community, the rural community.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, community means different things, from “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” to “a particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants”.

Being honest, the word had very little resonance for me until my 30s. I didn’t grow up in a small village, I didn’t go to school in my locality and I wasn’t a member of any club or organisation beyond an unhappy foray into the Girl Guides.

I did play sports at school, but my athletic endeavours were solo acts: running competitively and attending cross-country events are lone pursuits that don’t buy you the security and support of teammates.

I may have grown up in a nice neighbourhood, but, ultimately, I don’t think suburban south county Dublin in the 1980s would have topped many community spirit polls.

Buying or renting a house or apartment, one might automatically assume you’ll become a valued member of your new neighbourhood, but property doesn’t necessarily grant you access to the local community. Location stands for nothing without real social intercourse.

Having your child join the local school, sports club or crèche undeniably opens the door to a sense of belonging in your neighbourhood, but, ultimately, community is nothing without people.

A southsider for 30 years, I defected to the northside in 2004, having married a guy from Howth. I’m from Leopardstown and somehow we ended up somewhere between the two, living off Griffith Avenue with Marino on our doorstep.

There was always light-hearted banter between my husband and I about which side of the city was better and when we bought our first home in Marino I was a little apprehensive.

I knew Cork city better than this side of my hometown and wondered if I’d ever get to grips with the geography. (To this day I call Killester Raheny.)

We moved in, settled down and occasionally talked about how we’d move back to the southside some day, once we’d outgrown this house (translation: saved more money).

Ten years on, and three (northside) kids later, space seems pretty tight in our modest home. I’m constantly scouring the property pages, mostly falling for homes way out of my budget, but my focus has gradually changed from the southside back to Dublin 3 and 9.

Having spent a decade in Marino I’ve developed a serious affection for the place. That’s not to say I wouldn’t love living back in Sandymount again (somewhere we used to rent), but there’s something about this historic neighbourhood that’s made me re-evaluate my ideals.

Having kids in the local school, watching my son train with GAA champs, St Vincent’s, and taking him to his Beaver meetings at the local scout den has only served to consolidate my ties with the neighbourhood my kids call home.

Nothing brought it home to me more closely than last Sunday’s Community Games. At the 42nd Marino Community Games, it was heartening to turn up at Croydon Green and find dozens of familiar faces, adults and kids, gathered to compete and have fun together.

I must have known 100 people: everywhere I turned I saw parents and neighbours, people I met through the kids’ schools, my daughter’s Montessori, the local Beaver troop, Clontarf Rugby Club, and Vinnies, the GAA Club, that is, in many ways, the beating heart of Marino.

All around I chatted to people, many I now call friends, many whose kids are teammates of my son, many who help out at school or volunteer at the places my children now feel a part of.

Looking around, as we all cheered on each others’ kids, I got a sense that this must be what village life is like, where everyone has a connection to everyone else.

When Vinnies were in the 2014 All-Ireland Club Championship I watched, teary-eyed, as the neighbourhood marched en masse to Croke Park.

Commentators remarked that the phenomenal community support was the kind one expected from a country team, but not a city club.

It doesn’t take a winning team to galvanise a community, just a bunch of good people pulling together to create a positive environment of belonging and inclusivity for anyone that wants to buy into the ideal.

I love that we’ve found that here in Marino and am loathe to uproot my family from this wonderful community we call home.

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