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Photographer's Note

Pictured here are the decaying remains of Belcamp College in Balgriffin, North Dublin.

The college was founded in 1893 and the complex was created around the stately mansion of Belcamp House.

Belcamp House itself is visible here in the picture, and is the 3 story brown building with the curved façade. It was designed by James Hoban, architect of the White House in Washinton DC and was itself the location of an oval office, a precursor to its better known American cousin. The house was built in the 1770's for Sir Edward Newenham and was a place that saw much Irish history. On the grounds of the house stands the Washington Memorial, a small castle beside the artifical lake built in honor of George Washington. Newenham built this in 1778 and it was the only monument to Washington built during his lifetime.

In 1893, the Oblate fathers founded the Catholic college as a boarding school, and this saw the construction of the large dormitories and halls which are the red brick buildings to the left. In more recent times, these were sub divided into modern classrooms when the school no longer had borders. To the right of the house itself you can see the boarded up remains of the college chapel. At one time, this chapel housed a priceless marble alter and six pairs of extremely valuable Harry Clarke stained glass windows.

The pile of rubble in front of the red brick building to the left of the image is all that remains of the newest part of the school, a single story complex constructed in the 1960's.

Due to dwindling numbers of new students, in 2004 the 208 acre property was sold by the Oblate fathers to Gannon Homes for 105 milion euro. This purchase consisted of 8000 square meters of buildings (some listed) and all 208 acres of land, 110 acres of which was zoned for redevelopment. Even though it was sold in 2004, student attending were allowed to remain on to complete all of their exams, and the last students left in 2009 at which point the school closed its doors forever.

The site was never developed due to the ecnomic downturn and Gannons loans of 1 billion euro were taken on by NAMA.
This meant that the complex came to be owned by NAMA, the state owned National Asset Management Agency, formed to deal with the many toxic property related debts of Irelands building boom and bust.

Over the following years, the building fell into a serious state of disrepair, and despite the intentions of security stationed here, it became a target for vandals. Every sash window in the Georgian mansion was broken, the oak floorboards ripped up. Its marble fireplaces were removed and stolen, and its elegant brass fittings and lights were taken. Holes were smashed in the doors and walls and copper piping was ripped out. Eventually those who would see this beautiful place destroyed got their own way.

Locals who watched the proceeds of what happened here likened it to an asylum, with hoodlums driving stolen cars around the grounds, riding horses through the corridors while waving weapons and smashing the building to pieces. The entire site became a major no go area. To note I use the word hoodlums purely to be in line with site etiquette, my own choice of words would be much more extreme than this.

In April 2011, the decay of the college and the house came to a head when the entire complex was burnt to the ground. The night sky around this area was lit up as a number of fire engines battled for hours to control the blaze. The fire caused the roof of the house to collapse and totally destoyed the mansion and the iconic oval room. The red brick former dorm of the school was entirely gutted. Since then, the house has become nothing more than a charred ruin.

Ironically, those who destroyed this place were free to do as they wished. Today, those who have a genuine interest in the history here are very unwelcome.

Thankfully in the weeks leading up to its destruction, the priceless windows and alter were removed from the church and given to the National Museum of Ireland for safe keeping. The future of this house however is less certain, and many people are calling for it to be rebuilt to its previous glory. Many say that NAMA should be held accountable for the destruction here and forced to pay for the repairs.

I know this shot is not a particularly good photo, but its as close as I could get to the place due to it being very much fenced off and closed to visitors. Its a place I wanted to post for a while, as it has a personal connection for me.

This is where I went to school. I played snooker on the second floor of the great mansion. I swam and fished in the lake here as a child, and attended mass in the chapel while marvelling at the colors of the Harry Clarke Windows. The furrowed ground in the foreground here were once GAA and football pitches where my friends and I would play sports. Now that land is leased from NAMA by local farmers, and crops are grown. I hear that 2012 provided a particularly successful potato harvest.

I spent many a sunny afternoon in class here wishing to be anywhere else!

Its amazing how badly some historic sites in Ireland are treated and Belcamp College is just another in a long line of important buildings that were allowed to be destroyed. Sadly, with Irelands finances still in a state of chaos, it seems unlikely that this historic place will be saved.

And for those who like ghosts, Belcamp was home to no less than three terrifying tales! There was the tale of the young son of Newenham, who drowned in the artificial lake soon after its completion, and whose ghost was said to haunt the house and grounds. There was the tale of the gardener who was found beheaded by his own saw in the forest, and there was the legend of the Banshee who supposedly haunted the woods here. Interestingly, there were a number of occasions where local homes in the surrounding residential estates were destroyed by fires, and the owners swore they saw the bansee present as their homes burned. Perhaps she was a sign of things to come!

No doubt, legends created to scare the students who started fresh here, but I remember many nights walking through the grounds when a mist rose two or three feet from the ground, and all those legends seemed very believable.

Thanks for looking.

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Additional Photos by Noel Byrne (Noel_Byrne) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2581 W: 12 N: 6161] (21544)
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