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05 Jul 2022

Trip Through Time: A new use for an interesting Dundalk building

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Trip Through Time: A new use for an interesting Dundalk building

Walking along the Rampart Road very recently I was pleasantly surprised to note that there will shortly be a new occupancy for the interesting square building located just past the Fire Station in ground that used be known as 'Bishops' Fields'.

This old name did not refer to any religious figure but the Bishop family of Dublin Street who once ran the largest dairy business in the district.

There are other lands further up the Rampart Road which were also known by this name but how this particular building came to be constructed in this area is interesting enough in itself because I am reliably informed that it is not a 'listed structure' for preservation under the Planning Acts.

Not many Dundalk people may realise that it was built by the Clark's (Ireland) footwear industry from Quay Street nearly ten years after they had begun work on their New Forest factory complex on the land they had, mostly, acquired from the Young Ireland Company when they took over the old Athletic Grounds.

Other properties they had acquired at the time had included fields which had, interestingly, belonged to Paddy Clarke, publican of Jocelyn Street, as well as the Bishop fields and, perhaps, even part of the Redemptorist lands behind where the Fire Station is built.

The square concrete building to which I am referring was built just over fifty years ago and was notably different from the rest of the Clark's factory complex.

I do not know who the architect was but I am told that it can be referred to as 'mid-century international style'. It was quite unusual for a building in Dundalk of the period and, for this reason alone perhaps, deserves 'listed' status.

There is a reference to it in the Dundalk Democrat of the middle of June 1971 in which it is reported - 'Clarks Ireland, Ltd., moved their 150 office staff into their new Administrative Centre at the ramparts from the company's former offices at Quay Street.

The new office block and warehouse at the Ramparts cost a quarter of million pounds to construct and equip.'

The square building was very well landscaped and, I am told although I cannot remember, had an artificial pool in its courtyard.

The tress, mostly acers (maples), planted around it have also matured well over half a century of growth and make for a picturesque setting at the present time of year.

The Clarks' staff remained in the building until the company closed its Dundalk factories in January 1985 with the loss of nearly 400 jobs in Town. The old office block then lay idle for a number of years but there have been several very interesting occupancies of it over the past forty years.

I am not sure of the exact sequence but know that it was used for a time in the manufacture of computer keyboards, then was used by the Dundalk Institute of Technology for lectures and, finally in recent years, by the Grace Foundation, as a religious patronised school.

Its most interesting use, however, was that it it served as a Courthouse, with two courtrooms and offices, for about five years in the 1990s until 2003, while the Courthouse at The Square was being renovated. Both Circuit and District Court proceedings were conducted in it.

The sign for the new use for the building is an attractive one, with a colourful logo depicting the ancient dolman at Ballymascalon.

It is to be named Coláiste Dhún Dealgán but I had never heard previously of such an institution as a 'Gaelcoláiste' and presumed that it was some sort of a third-level educational institute.

Then I came across an article written by Margaret Roddy of the Argus newspaper with whom I had worked and for whom I have the highest regard.

She writes that it is a post-primary school which will open its doors to first year students in September of next year. She further explains that it is under the patronage of An Foras Pátrúnachta which already has established a similar college called

'Ghlór na Mára' in Balbriggan which already has almost 500 students.
The new Dundalk school, as well the usual secondary school subjects, will give instruction in foreign languages and art courses.

There are already several excellent Irish language based schools in Dundalk and I am sure that the new college will contribute much to the local educational scene.

Back in the day when I went to secondary school the Irish language was not the most popular of subject in local schools because of the compulsory nature of the manner in which our native language was taught and because it was used to secure jobs for those who were fluent in its use.

However, with that 'compulsion' long departed there is now much more relaxed approach to its teaching and many more people must be happy to accept the Gaelic language as part of our heritage.

I would like to be included among the many Dundalk folk who will wish the new college every success!

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