In many ways this series of photographs by Ross McDonnell is an historical document. Ballymun, a by word for lawlessness, drug abuse and violence, is no more. However, in this ‘Joyrider’ series McDonnell gives us a sense of what once was, a visceral portrait of what happens when an insensitive, senseless Government tries to hide systemic social problems behind bad city planning.
The Ballymun flats were built in the 1960s by the Irish Government in an effort to rehouse those living in the inner city slums of Dublin. The area had no infrastructure, basic amenities or shops and jobs were impossible to come by. What came next was inevitable. Those growing up in the flats – with no real prospect of a decent future – succumbed to burning cars, dealing drugs and doing whatever it took to earn money, status, place.
Into this anarchy came Ross McDonnell. In late 2006, during the madness of Halloween he was shooting a burning car when a kid in a tracksuit approached him;
Here mister, you want to see something mental?”
Ross followed, led into a derelict building known as The Block that local teenagers had transformed into an post apocalyptic city. From that moment on McDonnell hung out with the group documenting their lives and the thrills they got off on as he says himself:
These pictures document the transition from anti-social behavior to criminality, from childhood to adulthood without a ‘youth’ in between
What became apparent to him over the following years was the sense of community he found in Ballymun, a community spirit that we as a nation had lost in the Celtic Tiger era when everyone lost their minds on credit:
I felt that one of the consequences of the huge changes brought about by the Celtic Tiger was a loss of some of the things that defined us as Irish, one of these things was our sense of community spirit, that notion that we were all in it together.
These pictures reflect that community as well as the madness of youth, of joyriding, burning cars, dealing drugs, dodging the cops, looking for a thrill. Many of those he photographed ended up in gangs, in prison or dead. ‘Joyrider’ is a powerful piece of reportage, it takes us on a journey through the Irish underclass and shows up the injustices that still perpetuate in our society, the blame carried on the shoulders of the victims rather than those in power who have chosen to brush the problems under the carpet, away from prying eyes. These images serve to illustrate how far we still have to go before we can say we’re a community of people who care and look after one another, a people who are seeking to create a better and more just society for our children.