Drug abuse affects tourism at Liberties landmark

A stray syringe found at St Audeons

A stray syringe found at St Audeon’s

The legend of Darkey Kelly, the 40 steps to hell and one of Dublin’s oldest medieval landmarks are in serious danger of being forgotten about by the city’s main tour operators.

St Audoen’s church and park on Cook Street is the oldest remaining medieval parish church in Dublin and is also home to one of the capital’s remaining city walls, yet decreasing church services and a less visible Garda presence has led to many syringes, empty cans and anti-septic wipe wrappers littered all over the Church of Ireland grounds.

Situated nearby the church are the 40 steps to hell and the building that was an 18th century brothel owned by the madam of the area, Darkey Kelly.

Bobby Ness, a summer tour guide of the Liberties, explains why this part of Dublin should be visited by tourists, but why it can’t be.

“Shortly after I finished up my tours for the summer, I brought a German pal of mine to St Audoen’s. I wanted to show and explain to him what it was all about, but when we got there, there were about 7 down-and-outs there, drinking cans.

“They were having a laugh, but we just moved quickly along”, conveyed Ness.

The magnificent architecture of St Audoen’s is reason enough to attract tourists. Ness explained the medieval happenings that make the place and its surrounding area so interesting: “Darkey Kelly was a madam’ who ran a brothel around there and apparently had a child for the town sheriff. The sheriff, worried about the repercussions, accused her of being a witch and she was stoned to death, outside St Audoen’s church.

“A lot of homeless people lived in the tunnels around there and they used to rob passers-by, so it then became known as ‘Dublin’s Hell’. The older generation of women still walk the long way around the church to superstitiously avoid the 40 steps.”

Well known historian and tour guide for Fáilte Ireland, Pat Liddy illustrated the severity of the situation, by saying it’s a no go zone for tour operators at the moment, contradicting the response of the Department of Tourism.

“St Audoen’s is an important site in Dublin and is located on two of Failte Ireland’s tourism routes through the capital. Failte Ireland has consulted with tour operator Pat Liddy, who confirmed that the church is still his itinerary”, said Monica Quinn of the Department of Tourism.

Liddy however, had a different view: “It’s usually closed to tourism nowadays because of all the needles found around there, unfortunately. I could potentially bring about 10,000 people around there next year, but can’t because of the anti-social behaviour.”

Liddy has said that he is working with Dublin City Council (DCC) to find a way of combating this issue, yet the DCC maintain that because the church is on private grounds, they have no responsibility or authority to tend to its decay.

With the Gardaí not recruiting at the moment and therefore no replacements coming in for the many members that are being ushered into retirement, the presence around the area is diminishing.

Kevin Street Garda Station takes responsibility for the area, yet can only provide one Garda from each of its five units to cover the Christ Church area, along with Cork Street, Wicklow Street, Thomas Street, Meath Street and Patrick Street.

Beat patrols are conducted around the vicinity, which a Garda spokesperson maintains are “regular, by foot and mountain bike”. However upon visiting the site on two successive days for a sustained period, the apparent Garda patrol was non-existent.

Inspector Karen Barker of Kevin Street insists the Gardaí are working with DCC to stop people getting into the habit of going there.

“The difficulty is how enclosed it is. We’ve got more patrols around the church and that’s a short term answer. In the long term we’re looking at opening it up and are working with the council to remove the trees and bushes surrounding the area,” said Inspector Barker.

Sinn Féin Councillor for the area, Criona Ní Dhálaigh says it’s a serious problem, which was brought up at the most recent local policing forum.

“I think it’d be a good idea to get a crime prevention officer in to see how best to redesign St Audoen’s Park, so that it becomes too open for drug abusers to go there,” said Ní Dhálaigh.

“It’s not just the fact that it’s a problem. It’s a growing problem. We’ve had reports of people drinking and intimidating passers-by, drug taking and I’ve even had someone say they saw drug dealing around there.

“If that’s the case, we’ve got an even more serious issue, because if drugs are sold around there, it will attract even more people”, she said.

“We need a waste management team sent down there, with their specialist protective clothing to clean up the drug paraphernalia”, she added.

Ní Dhálaigh was also scathing of Fáilte Ireland’s laid back attitude towards the situation, especially with the plans they have in place. “They’re pumping millions into a brand new tourist office beside City Hall, yet less than five minutes away there is a beautiful medieval church that tourists can’t get into because of safety issues. It’s a crying shame.”

St Audoen’s National School directly faces the back of the church, an area where witnesses have encountered drug-abusers in the act, a concern for the councillor and parents alike. However, representatives at the national school have not yet commented on the situation.

Ní Dhalaigh insists that the public need to continually complain to an Gardaí Síochána to get more resources, while Inspector Barker indicated she would get in touch with the Office of Public Works (OPW) to find out whether cleaning up around the church grounds is under their jurisdiction.

However, with the area in such decay, and causing a major problem for Gardaí, one must wonder how and why nobody seems to know who’s responsible for its upkeep.


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