There is something very eery about looking at the shell of a partially demolished building. It’s a stark reminder of the fragility and transient nature of absolutely everything. We take buildings for granted and assume they will be around forever.
Driving through my old stomping ground of Stillorgan recently I saw the old bowling alley being demolished. I had to pull over and let all the memories flood back.
Even though I’m originally from Stillorgan, this is my first post on my old hood on this blog. In some ways, I’m guilty of not really doing Stillorgan justice. I assumed that history happened elsewhere, in pretty coastal towns and villages like Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire and Dalkey. Stillorgan is a salubrious suburb, but somewhat sleepy and uneventful. It doesn’t have any real village character left.
But I was wrong. Like everywhere else, Stillorgan is steeped in history. The name is a Danish or Anglo Norman corruption of Teach Lorcáin, ‘the house or church of Lorcan (Laurence)’, possibly signifying St. Laurence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin, who Kilmacud parish church is named after.
Stillorgan is best known as a suburb of modern firsts. The first shopping centre in Ireland. One of the first branches of McDonald’s outside the city centre, and the first bowling alley in Ireland, which even predated the shopping centre across the road.
Stillorgan Bowling Centre, as this advertisement describes it, opened in 1963. The Sixties were a time of enormous economic growth in Ireland, when Dublin rapidly expanded into its then semi-rural hinterlands.
The Stillorgan Bowl was an instant hit. Generations of people went bowling to celebrate a birthday, or just shoot the breeze with their pals and have some fun.
Bruce Springsteen visited Stillorgan bowl twice, which was rebranded as Stillorgan Leisureplex. In 2012, Springsteen reportedly booked out the whole building for his band and crew. The Boss enjoyed it so much that he returned after playing Croke Park in 2016.
At one stage the bowling alley was open 24 hours a day. The café specialised in an enormous all-day full Irish breakfast, served with chips, beans and a large mug of tea, making it a popular stop-off to refuel for cab drivers, truckers, and all manners of revellers and night owls.
In recent times the site itself became the subject of a highly acrimonious ownership dispute. Planning permission was eventually granted for 232 apartments in blocks of up to eight storeys. The larger Blakes site across the load is also earmarked for development, which was a popular family restaurant for years and formerly traded as the Swiss Chalet before 1982.
The Stillorgan Bowl’s eventual closure and demolition is sad news. It was part of the social fabric of the area, along with Nimble Fingers, Blakes, Beaufield Mews (also gone), Kilmacud Crokes, Baumanns and the Galloping Green pub.
In Imaginary Cities, a wonderful work of creative non-fiction, Darran Anderson explores the past, present and future of urban and suburban development.
“All cities contain their eventual ruins,” Anderson writes. “So too do lives. And in the long scheme of things, ruins are the best we can hope for. They are traces at least, marks on oblivion. We may not be able to defeat death but we can hope to temporarily elude the second death, the one that erases evidence that we every really existed to begin with. This urge is one of the fundamental drives of art. It is, in part, why we build.”