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High Commendation

Towards a Common Ground for Play: Examining the History of Play and Playgrounds in Dublin’s Liberties

Part 2 Dissertation 2014
Ekaterina Tikhoniouk
University College Dublin | Ireland
“The children are out in force in Dublin’s streets. The skipping ropes and marbles have come out of their winter storage, the hop-scotch courses and home-made swings abound… Children have played in the streets since streets began, on mud and sand surfaces, on cobbles and rough stones, on cement and tarmacadam.”
-Maev Kennedy, Irish Times, 1968

In the 1950s and 60s, the street acted as a common ground for children’s play.

Surviving photographs, especially those taken by Nevill Johnson in 1952-53, show droves of children playing together in the streets and laneways of Dublin, swinging from lamp-posts, playing card games in the gutter, or boldly exploring Smithfield or St. Stephen’s Green on their own.

In the sixty years since Johnson’s photographs, the streets have filled with traffic, the pavements have become narrower and busier, and children increasingly segregated from the adult world and into playgrounds.

The 2004 Irish National Play Policy describes how “changes in the built environment have resulted in a decreasingly child friendly environment, with less open spaces in which to play and explore,” and according to the Central Statistics Office, the mobility of the child continues to decrease over the years.

The central hypothesis of this dissertation is that that there were numerous tangible benefits to the type of ‘free’ street-play that was prevalent throughout the postwar era in Dublin, and that these benefits could be applied or adapted to the present-day situation and thus improve the shrinking ‘play-ground’ of Dublin.

The methodology of the dissertation was to analyse historical play behaviours during the 1950’s and 60’s, focusing primarily on the Liberties area of Dublin. These play behaviours, as described by photographs, published oral history accounts and interviews with residents of the Liberties, were analysed under the headings of the ‘important criteria of free play’- such as such as spatial mobility, risk, observation of adults and positive interaction with adults, and intermixing between children of different ages- in order to seek clues on how to improve present-day problems emerging from the disappearance of ‘free’ play and to work towards a common ground for play in Dublin.

Ekaterina Tikhoniouk

Miriam Fitzpatrick
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