Set in Dublin’s notorious Ballymun property, Ross McDonnell’s new photobook tells a tale of rebellion

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“I set out in years past to capture something wild and untamed that I sensed was disappearing from Irish society – the sad part is that it came real. ”

Joyrider , the first photobook by Ross McDonnell, recounts the six years the Irish photographer spent telling life in Ballymun, a good infamous housing estate in the outskirts of Dublin. From 2005 to 2011, this individual captured an unique period within the estate’s history, characterised simply by youth resistance and rebellion. Amidst a backdrop of negative media attention plus rampant social issues, the particular protagonists of McDonnell’s book – the boys associated with Ballymun – present the familiar tale of loads of hedonism as an antidote in order to boredom and neglect. These people race, climb and crash their way through the book’s pages, selling drugs, burning cars, and pulling down doors and windows as they go.

This particular feeling of ‘flight’ is certainly integral to Joyrider clarifies McDonnell, who sought to produce a duality of transgression and transcendence within the narrative. During those days, “wanton acts of violence” and vandalism had been commonplace in Ballymun. The residents were resentful of the estate’s poor implementation in the 1960s, and were enraged by its proposed demolition. Relocated from their inner-city houses, they were left stranded on the periphery of Dublin, not even close to amenities and any feeling of culture. Nevertheless, they made the estate their home, and now the government was acquiring it away from them. The boys watched on seeing that Ireland entered a period of unprecedented economic prosperity –  colloquially referred to as the Celtic Tiger – and they grew to become the focus of yet another ‘regeneration’ project, nearly 50 years after the one that had led to Ballymun’s conception.  

© Ross Mcdonnell.

Halloween, he ventured in and met the particular boys who would eventually become the subjects of his story. “The redevelopment of Ballymun, which the photos dovetail with, was Europe’s biggest urban regeneration scheme, ” states McDonnell. “The area had been radically altered as I has been working there. ” This period of unrest and changeover is palpable in the images, which show the smashed windows and broken doors of long-since abandoned condominiums. Ballymun appears as a playground, a no-man’s land. These people both claim it and reject it, and each act of daredevilry is a “middle finger raised to the State and its misguided social experiments”. The chapters of crazy hedonism that we see through the book are the boys’ repetitive attempts to author their own destinies, to push back against a government that generates their plight, ignores it, and then uses it as a way to their own ends.

© Ross Mcdonnell.

© Ross Mcdonnell.

© Ross Mcdonnell.

© Ross Mcdonnell.

This sentiment is captured with the series’ most powerful images. A go of graffiti on a corrugated wall reveals a message which has lost none of its efficiency a decade later: ‘Don’t Be Using Us To Get New Houses’. This photograph gets to the guts of “the narrative behind Ballymun and its regeneration”, which McDonnell says is about “people in power telling people today in the community what they want their lives to look like”. In this respect, Joyrider is timeless, its story is universal, and its protagonists can be found in every city all over the world.

© Ross Mcdonnell.

Daniel Milroy Maher

Daniel Milroy Maher is really a London-based writer and editor specialising in photographic journalism. His work has been released by The New York Times, Magnum Photos, Paper Journal, GUP Magazine, and VICE, amongst others. He also co-founded GO SWIMMING Magazine, an annual art and photography publication.

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