Search icon


03rd Jul 2019

Co-living space called The Orphanage an eye-popping insult to those living in a housing crisis

Carl Kinsella


It’s a hard-knock life for us.

An old Dun Laoghaire orphanage has been done up and is now on the rental market as a co-living space, going by the name The Orphanage.

The name has been castigated as painfully ironic at a time when more than 10,000 Irish people are homeless and tens of thousands more struggle to afford living anywhere at all.

Indeed, a name like The Orphanage is so brazen for a society in a housing crisis that you almost have to laugh.

Current owners of the property have leaned into the strange name choice, with one spokesperson telling the Irish Times: “When you are there, it will become your adopted home.” They would not otherwise comment on the name.

And you know what? Fair play. It might seem like rubbing it in, but why pretend this situation is anything other than the cruel, cold, hard mess it is?

If anything, they should be leaning harder into the orphanage aesthetic.

The spokesperson said the name acknowledges the building’s “history” – and there’s a lot you can do with an orphanage theme. Your co-tenants should be a ragtag band of Dickensian pickpockets, led by a charismatic old criminal, who spontaneously burst into song. You should all scrub the floors together until they shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.

Historiclly, the property was “opened as an orphanage in about 1859 by a Mrs Smyly.” That’s a bad omen, for starters. Mrs Smyly sounds like one of those ironic nicknames – like huge lads that are called “Tiny.”

In this case it would be that she’s called Mrs Smyly because she never smiles, or because she has no teeth, or no lips, which would fit pretty well with the idea of a lady who is operating an orphanage in Ireland shortly after the end of the famine. Like a Stephen King character. Anyway, welcome to 2019.

But there’s nothing to worry about in this particular orphanage.

Co-living spaces are an exciting new option for young people – according to Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy – and there is no denying that stories about orphans are always exciting.

Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Batman, everything by Jacqueline Wilson. Orphans actually pretty much dominate the entire young adult fiction and musical genres. They are great singers, and often very resourceful.

Clip via The Orphanage

And why stop at orphanages? I’m looking forward to new lettings with names like “The Workhouse,” The Soup Queue” and “The Coffin Ship.” As Ireland hurtles back into the darkness of its history, into the days of overcrowded tenement housing and mass emigration, why not really own it?

But what we must note is this: The Orphanage is by no means an orphanage.

According to its letting advertisement, the accommodation includes a king-size bed, ample storage, en-suite with underfloor heating and power shower, workspace, high-speed WiFi, private living space with 4K Smart TV, and Saorview. Significantly better than the conditions of your average 19th century orphanage. But it would want to, seeing as it costs €1,500 per month.

And this is the real heart of the issue.

The reality of the various co-living developments that have been proposed is that they have no bearing on the housing crisis other than to exacerbate it. They are not a viable option for anyone currently affected by the housing crisis. If you cannot afford to rent or buy in Dublin right now, co-living arrangements will not save you.

An apartment in The Orphanage costs between €1,200 and €1,500 per month. Similar proposals by Bartra Capital would go for €1,300 per month – though their first co-living proposal was rejected by An Bórd Pleanála. They are explicitly aimed at high-earning professionals who work for tech companies and who are unlikely to be in the country for a very long time. They are simply another option for the people who can already afford Dublin’s exorbitant prices.

The Orphanage is a joke being played on a public that is crying out for affordable housing, or our 10,000 homeless people – the kind of people who literally had to avail of orphanages, workhouses and coffin ships back before it all became a big joke for yuppies and tech workers.

Remember that when Murphy trots out his next soundbite about how excited we should all be to live together, sleeping side-by-side in Communal Resting Tanks or whatever innovative new form of painful existence Fine Gael come up with next.

It is the people of Ireland who have been orphaned by a housing policy designed to generate profits for landlords and developers, leaving families on the streets and young professionals with no choice but to emigrate.

Soot on our faces, like chimney-sweeps and urchins, holding our bowls out like Oliver Twist asking for more from a workmaster who has no intention of giving us even an extra mouthful of gruel.

LISTEN: You Must Be Jokin’ with Aideen McQueen – Faith healers, Coolock craic and Gigging as Gaeilge