Playing in the Rare Oul’ TimesPlaytime Latest

20/10/2007 – Playing in the Rare Oul’ Times

A fascinating trip down memory lane recently opened the door to an intriguing insight into play provision in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th Century. During the Open Day event organised by the Irish Architecture Foundation - - there were interesting tours of the old Iveagh Play Centre on Bull Alley.

When the centre first opened in 1915, a time of phenomenal poverty in Dublin, it catered for 900 children providing after-school care for three to 14 year olds. The ethos behind the provision was a ‘social improvement scheme’ and as such essentially educational. Local charity groups would actively seek out families most in need and the children would come and learn a range of skills such as sewing for the girls and woodwork for the boys. Healthy exercise was also part of the routine involving row upon row of children skipping or jumping up and down waving their arms around. Singing and drama were also taught. The highlight of the day was most likely the mandatory bun and cup of cocoa every child received. This particular treat inspired the local name for the centre – The Bano, from Beano meaning feast.

The centre closed in the late seventies due to a decrease in the amount of children attending and the building is now used by the Liberties Community College. But a lovely old film from 1954 gives some idea of how things were, at least mid-way through the century. It begins with three little boys charging along Patrick Street, winging their way through the gates of the big outdoor play area at the back of the centre. An army of children are tearing around having a ball; playing on a metal climbing frame, spinning around on a roundabout and generally left to their own devices to play freely and happily. Although there may be more, only two adults can be seen, standing to the side, smiling. No one interferes with the children’s play. Later on in the film there is footage of the children taking outdoor Irish dancing classes and other forms of highly organised exercise. There is also footage of indoor activities which involve the girls busy ironing and sewing and the boys doing woodwork and even swimming.  But again when it comes to play time the children hurtle up and down a fine big wooden slide, uninhibited by any adult control.

Back outside again and one of the more amazing facilities at that time sees a bunch of smaller children sat wallowing in a large sand pit, digging and patting with wooden spoons, squishing and shaping with their bare hands, wriggling their little toes through the soft grittiness looking delighted.

Bring back the sand pit!