Davis Now Lectures

Davis Now Lectures

Weekly Podcast Now Available


The RTÉ Radio 1 DAVIS NOW LECTURES podcast presents new or previously broadcast commissioned lectures on timely subjects from Ireland's finest scholars, thinkers and artists. The inspiration for the podcast is the iconic RTÉ THOMAS DAVIS lectures which for over half a century since 1953 featured newly written radio talks on a host of subjects. Listen and subscribe here, or search 'Davis Now Lectures' in your podcast app.

Companion blog to Róise Goan's lecture: 'Irish Theatre Performance and the evolving presence of home in Irish theatre' recorded on location in the kitchen at Glebe House and Gallery, Donegal, Ireland.

Róise Goan's lecture on the home in Irish theatre focuses at first on the "images and stories that helped shape our understanding of ourselves," very notably from the time of the nascent Irish State and into the second half of the 20th century.

As the kitchen and its hearth were centre of the Irish home, they were centre stage in the plays of legendary Irish playwrights, from the danger and heightened realism of John Millington Synge to the dark and visceral satire of Martin McDonagh.  

And in observing a transition in Irish theatre from onstage hearth and home to no stage at all, in tandem with the seismic shift in Irish life, Róise hits upon the recurring question of this lecture series – how do we make home?

Róise points to the uncertainty among newer generations of ever being able to have security of home. She points to the exclusion of many in our urban and rural areas, thanks to an increasingly unequal society, and the isolation it has created.

It is for these reasons, she says, that younger, less-advantaged generations value experiences over assets. Whereby shared experiences provide more shelter and security than bricks and mortar – where shared experiences and interests create communities, rather than shared amenities and streets.

Likewise in the theatre, an original or powerful shared experience between audience members, or even between audience and performers, stands in for the familiar settings of a traditional stage. Moreover, experience is paramount in the 'liveness’ of contemporary site-specific performance – such as Draíocht’s HOME project – and is the antithesis of our ‘on demand’ digital entertainment consumption culture.

Róise’s talk also highlights the other important aspect of what home is – and is not. As many of the plays referenced in the lecture portray, home is the place where religious and moral doctrine, family or social tensions, love and memory are "sometimes let in and sometimes kept out".

We must ask how the nature of ‘home’ interplays with these formative and transformative forces in our lives and our society. And we can observe that Irish theatre still not only bears witness to this interplay, but also seeks to participate in it.

Perhaps the most fundamental way in which it performs this function also reflects the ongoing struggle in ‘making home’ in Ireland – which is today so marred by necessity and discomfort. Theatre becomes the necessary mirror to show us ourselves as were truly are, which brings a discomfort of its own, pushing us to examine who we are and what we value.






Druid Rural touring: https://www.druid.ie/productions/waiting-for-godot-2016

Companion blog to Professor Michelle Norris' lecture 'Unmaking Home: Making homes for shelter or for investment?’

Professor Norris’ lecture ‘Unmaking Home: 'Homes for Shelter or Homes for Investment’ is a timely addition to public discourse as we approach the next general election. A concise history of housing policy, it’s a digest of Ireland’s changing circumstances and attitudes, and the decision-making that led to our present impasse.

As we see daily reported in the national media, the mood of the country now is an angry one. As predicted, housing has become the linchpin issue of the coming election, and parties are clambering to assure the electorate their policies will be the ones to resolve the crisis.

Some dispute that there is a housing crisis, namely Callaun Capital who released a report late last year decrying an ‘accommodation crisis’ instead and citing a failure of supply in nursing home beds, affordable student digs and other lodgings, but not in houses. According to the report, there were 2,500 more housing units built in the year to March 2019 than were sold.

It also refuted the oft repeated charge of land hoarding and instead pointed to the lengthy process of gaining approval and delivering building projects, particularly in the social housing sector  – a point which was echoed by audience members from Limerick Co Council at the recording of Professor Norris’ lecture in Moyross. A problem caused, in part, by the loss of local authority personnel during austerity. A problem facing the myriad proposed affordable housing schemes, which will invariably be compounded by the lack of manpower and skills to deliver them.

Media commentary and Twitter posts are quick to distil this complex issue down to simple cause and effect explanations – usually with a view to laying blame at the door of one government or other. But as Professor Norris’ lecture shows this issue is anything but simple.

Audience member Professor Des McCafferty from the Department of Geography in Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, pointed to the fact that Ireland has transitioned from a 50:50 urban and rural model – which could provide affordable self-builds readily – to a predominantly urban population (approx. two thirds). As this trend continues and intensifies demand in urban areas, and as our aging population lives longer and more people live singly for a variety of reasons, can the family home with a front and back garden described by Dr Ellen Rowley (Episode 2) remain a realistic aspiration for one and all?

Each political party contesting our coming election has laid out its manifesto, outlining detailed plans for the provision of affordable housing and assistance to buy. Each has been scrutinised for feasibility and almost all have had their funding proposition challenged – as each party seeks to avoid offending any great faction of the electorate with the promise of financial burden.

Would any party facing our voters have the confidence in our collective will to revisit the proposed Land Value Tax of 2010? Would Irish landlords be agreeable to rent increase restrictions in the mode of Switzerland, whereby rents can only legally be increased in line with actual costs?

What Professor Norris’ lecture, and to some extent Dr Rowley’s lecture, have demonstrated, is that the decision-making around housing in Ireland is very much dependent on the attitudes of voters. Rather than looking to any one Government or housing minister for action, should we not first ask ourselves what are we willing to pay for and what are we willing to sacrifice in order to create the fair and equitable Ireland we say we want?

CAPTION: Green Street, Ballybricken in Waterford City, the first council housing scheme built in Ireland.

Photography by Leo Murphy.


Norris, M (2018), Financing the Golden Age of Irish Social Housing, 1932-1956 (and the dark ages which followed). UCD Geary Institute for Public Policy Working Paper.  Available to download from:  http://hdl.handle.net/10197/10597

Norris M, Hayden A  (2018), The Future of Council Housing:  An analysis of the financial sustainability of local authority provided social housing, Dublin: Community Foundation.  Available to download from:https://www.communityfoundation.ie/images/uploads/research-reports/The_Future_Of_Council_Housing_(Norris_Hayden).pdf

Norris, M (2016) Property, Family and the Irish Welfare State, London: Palgrave.

Norris M, Fahey T (2011), From asset based welfare to welfare housing? The changing function of social housing in Ireland, Housing Studies, 26(3):459-469.  Available to download from: http://hdl.handle.net/10197/2971

About Professor Michelle Norris

Professor Norris is currently working on research on reducing homelessness among young people leaving state care, commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

She recently completed a study of LGBTQI+  homeless youth in Ireland in collaboration with colleague Dr Aideen Quilty, also from UCD School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, commissioned by the homelessness charity Focus Ireland.

In 2018-2019, Michelle participated in an expert group on the provision of accommodation for Travellers, the report from which is available at https://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/2019_july_expert_review_group_traveller_accommodation-final_reportrt_00.pdf 

In 2016, she was appointed by an Taoiseach as an independent member of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) (nesc.ie) which advises the Irish government on economic, environmental and social policy. 

In 2012 and again in 2017, she was appointed by the Minister for Housing as chair of the Housing Finance Agency (hfa.ie). The Agency raises finance on international markets which it lends on to local authorities and housing associations for the provision of housing to low income households.

In 2018, Michelle was appointed by the Minister for Housing to the interim board of the Land Development Agency (lda.ie).  The Land Development Agency (LDA) is a commercial State-sponsored body that has been created to coordinate land within State control for more optimal uses where appropriate, with a focus on the provision of new homes.

Companion Blog to Dr Ellen Rowley's talk 'Clearing Hovels and Building Homes'

In the first lecture of 'Making Home' Dr Rowley's architectural history of Irish housing reveals as much about the culture and mindset we occupy in the provision of homes as it does about the physical evolution of our built environment. It is an interesting observation that the cottage, replaced by the standalone bungalow on its own property, was a symbol of the 'everyday' and the 'ordinary'. That it was viewed as the archetypal Irish homestead – a view which evolved in tandem with a prejudicial view of other types of dwelling.

As Ireland made the leap from a pre-industrial, rural land ruled by a colonial power to a self-determined modern State, its conception of the home clung to this archetype – and has clung to variations on it to this day.

Collective housing was not embraced in Ireland as a means to accommodate intensified housing demand in urban areas. This is in sharp contrast to other countries, such as Austria where a public housing scheme has successfully provided affordable apartments for rent for almost a century.

In response to a housing crisis in Vienna in the early 1900s, Vienna Public Housing opened the Karl-Marx-Court containing approximately 1,400 apartments. The city has consistently added to the social housing stock over time so that today around two-thirds of Viennese residents live in these publicly-owned apartments, paying affordable rents linked to incomes.

In addition to this being a socio-economic structure that insulates renters in Vienna from the vagaries of the market, it is also one that appealed and found acceptance with Viennese citizens.

From the 1930s through the 19070s, flat complexes in Ireland were built and regarded with almost universal apprehension and approbation. Their construction was a necessary evil in the slum clearance projects of the 1930s onwards, whereupon Ireland's urban poor were shifted en masse from the city centres to the suburbs.

The Ballymun Flats – which were finally demolished in 2005 – might be considered the patron saint of such developments, having acquired the status nationally as a symbol of deprivation and 'otherness'. "Ballymun Estate in North Dublin is the green-field site turned mass housing edge-city which was originally conceived of as the heal-all solution to the housing crisis of 1963. Comprising 3,021 dwellings of multi-storey mixed type blocks and two-storey houses, the original scheme was built from 1965-69, and was planned to provide a low density decentralised community in the model of a self-sufficient post-war British New Town" (Rowley, 2014).

"This was the most ambitious mass-housing endeavour in the history of the state and signalled many "firsts", notably the dominance of flat units (2,596 in total) and the incorporation of tower blocks" (Rowley, 2014). In spite of the flats' generous and state-of-the-art design, the development was a failure, due largely to the fact that community amenities required to make it a success did not materialise for a generation. In addition, "subsequent housing policy initiating tenant purchase encouraged the more upwardly-mobile inhabitants to move out during the 1980s" (Rowley, 2014).

The flats were replaced under the Ballymun Regeneration Project, commenced in 1997, with 2,000 new homes – with plans more recently to add a further 2,000 homes including a large proportion of houses for sale. As Dr Rowley wrote in her 2014 case study, "Nostalgia for the traditional urban street has dictated the scale and fabric of this rehabilitation of Ballymun." Considering Ireland's present home ownership rate of 82 per cent, according to Dublin City Council's deputy chief executive Brendan Kenny in The Irish Times last year, Ireland's mindset around housing has changed little since the turn of the last century. While at the same time, RTE reported last December, the Irish Government recorded over 10,514 people in emergency accommodation in October 2019 - some 6,688 adults, 1,733 families and 3,826 children. As we face into a general election in the very near future, and housing looms large among the issues that will be levelled at canvassers on the doorstep, will Ireland's voters reflect any differently on the subject than they have for the last century? Can Ireland conceive of a change in culture and the built environment of its rural and urban landscapes so that all present and future residents can find their home in this country?

Further Reading: Ellen Rowley, 'Ballymun - A Case Study' in Rolf Loeber, Hugh Campbell, Livia Hurley, John Montague and Ellen Rowley (eds.), Architecture 1600 - 2000, Volume IV, Art + Architecture of Ireland series (Yale, RIA, 2014), pp. 415-41

Cubitts Haden Sisk, Ballymun Housing Project (NBA, Dublin, 1966); J. Montague, 'The architecture of Ballymun' in Memories, milestones and new horizons: reflections on the regeneration of Ballymun, edited by A. McCrann (Belfast, 2008), 45-76;

Sinead Power, "The Development of the Ballymun Housing Scheme, Dublin 1965-1969" in Irish Geography (33, 2000), p. 199 -122;

Robert Somerville-Woodward, Ballymun, A History. Volumes 1 + 2 c. 1600 -1997 (Dublin: BRL, 2002) Department of Local Government, Building Construction Engineering (annual, 1954-58); P. J. Meghen, Housing in Ireland (Dublin, 1963); M. Bannon (ed.), The Emergence of Irish Planning 1880 – 1920 (Dublin, 1985);

E. Conroy, "No Rest for Twenty Years. H.G. Simms and the problem of slum clearance in Dublin" (M.Sc.Arch thesis, UCD, 1997); R. McManus, Dublin 1910 – 1940, Shaping the City and Suburbs (Dublin, 2000); J. Crowley et al., Atlas of Cork City (Cork, 2005); E. Fitzpatrick, J. Kelly (eds.), Domestic Life in Ireland. Proceedings of Royal Irish Academy (Dublin, 2011)

H. Simms, "Municipal Housing Activities in Dublin" in Centenary Conference Handbook Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (Dublin, 1939); N. Moffett, "Low-Cost Urban Housing" in Architectural Design (Vol. Xvii, July 1947); P. J. Meghen, Housing in Ireland (Dublin, 1963); M. Glendinning and S. Muthesius, Tower Block. Modern Public Housing in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (New Haven, 1994); E. Conroy, "No Rest for Twenty Years. H.G. Simms and the problem of slum clearance in Dublin" (M.Sc.Arch thesis, UCD, 1997); E. Rowley, "An Introduction to the History of the Dublin Corporation Flat Block" in Irish Architectural Archive/ Dublin City Council, Dublin Flats: Photographs of Dublin Social Housing by Willem Heeffer (Dublin, 2011)

Conroy, Eddie, "No Rest for Twenty Years. H.G. Simms and the problem of slum clearance in Dublin", unpublished M.Sc.Arch thesis, School of Architecture, UCD, 1997 Read, listen or watch Dr Ellen Rowley discussing housing, architecture and history:

READ: Ellen is the lead researcher, writer and editor on the ground-breaking project, MORE THAN CONCRETE BLOCKS which examines Dublin's C20th buildings. There are a lot of different housing models to look at in these very affordable and readable books. See a short taster of the book here: https://www.petermaybury.com › more-than-concrete-blocks-volume-2-1940-72 The series is commissioned by Dublin City Council Heritage Office and co-funded by the Heritage Council of Ireland:https://www.heritagecouncil.ie/news/news-features/more-than-concrete-blocks-vol-2-1940-1972-dublin-citys-twentieth-century-buildings-and-their-stories More Than Concrete Blocks – volume 1, 1900 – 1940 was finished in 2016 and volume 2, 1940 – 1972 was finished in 2019.

They are for sale here and in all good Irish book shops: https://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/2019/more-than-concrete-blocks-vol-ii-194072/ Read the Irish Times review of the project: 'UGLY, DATED DUBLIN – Learning to love our Concrete Jungle': https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/ugly-dated-dublin-learning-to-love-our-concrete-jungle-1.3770789

WATCH + LISTEN: Join Ellen and Dr Ruth McManus in their 2018 discussion of the legacy of Herbert Simms, former housing architect for Dublin Corporation (1932-48) in this video by Enda O'Dowd and accompanying article by Olivia Kelly for the Irish Times https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/remembering-herbert-simms-the-man-who-rebuilt-dublin-1.3447370

WATCH: See Ellen Rowley cycle around her neighbourhood in Dublin's North East Inner city in 2013 looking at some historic flat blocks, in this short film by Paddy Cahill, 'Cycling with Ellen': 

READ: Read Ellen's new housing history to learn more about the choices of housing types from the 1930s, Housing, Architecture and the Edge Condition (Routledge, 2019): https://books.google.ie/books/about/Housing_Architecture_and_the_Edge_Condit.html?id=FuRxswEACAAJ&redir_esc=y

VISIT: Visit 14 Henrietta Street, museum of Dublin urban life and housing, to enjoy the STREET PLAY and TENEMENTS TO SUBURBS films, developed and written by Dr. Ellen Rowley : https://14henriettastreet.ie/info/about-us/ You'll recognise some of the stories and the patterns in this amazing place, developed by the Heritage Office of Dublin City Council with Ellen and conserved by Shaffrey Architects. Read more about Ellen's role, for the Irish Research Council here: http://research.ie/what-we-do/loveirishresearch/blog/cultural-heritage-architectures-storybook/



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