This is no occupation for old men – to twist what Yeats said.

Wouldn’t mind but I’m not even that ancient. Climbing up all these flights of scaffolding. Then the scaffolding gives way to ladders. Ladders for a couple more floors. So the sweat is breaking out when we get up here: this windswept top floor with stunning views – if it was safe to stop watching your footing and look out on the city and the Liffey flowing into Dublin Bay.

Eoin Redmond

We’re down on the North Wall, near the 3Arena. Commanding these stunning views is a nine storey building – not counting the two underground floors – that will, on completion, offer some 33,000 square metres of premium office space. All around is a hive of activity. And I’m not just talking about the building we’re standing on. Looking over at the south side of the city there are 43 cranes visible.

It was quiet for long enough. Then two years ago it just kicked off again. It’s not quite back to the madness but we are getting there

Back in the boom days some witless wonder said all you had to do was count the cranes to get a rough idea of the percentage growth of the country’s economy: a tiger in the national tank. But now we know that riding a tiger is a reckless pursuit, one that ends in tears. There was a name emblazoned on that tiger, of course: Anglo Irish Bank. Those bold boys of Irish banking were just about to move to bigger, better offices, ones that suited their image. And then bang. The tiger was shot. The whole eco-system went to rack and ruin and the shell of the Anglo building stood there as an ugly reminder of the folly of financial hubris.

The building has recently been finished, the identity of its new tenant adding a touch of irony as the old Anglo building is now the new home of the Irish Central Bank. And we’re on their next door neighbour’s roof.

Wexford man Eoin Redmond is site foreman with construction company Walls at the Dublin Landings development. He says we are not yet back at tiger levels of development. But we’re getting close. “It was quiet for long enough. Then two years ago it just kicked off again. It’s not quite back to the madness but we are getting there.” It was bizarre that numerous derelict sites across the city kicked into action in what seemed like the same week. “It was like someone turned on a tap. But I suppose it came with the banks starting to lend again,” he says, adding “Also there is a lot of foreign investment coming into the country.”

Foreign funds buying up NAMA properties for bargain rates has not been without its controversies and critics, of course. Eoin points out the fact that there are jobs again. “I know there are two sides to it – the vulture funds and whatever – but if you look at the amount of people that are getting employed out of it.” There are 150 people working around us, he says, then points over to the south side of the city. “Look around, there’s construction workers out there under each of those 43 cranes.” Unlike the last boom, Eoin says a lot of his workers this time round are Romanian, not Polish. “Very hard working, very easy to get on with, very easy to deal with. I could not speak highly enough of what I know of people from Romania. The Romanians are maybe the Irish of 30/40 years ago when the Irish went to England,” he says.

I suppose you need to be young and you need to be fit to get up the ladders and then the concentration level has to be second to none. Your peripheral vision, your hand/eye coordination all need to be sharp and focussed

Given the site’s position at the mouth of the Liffey, Eoin says they have been blessed with a mild winter. “We had that storm Doris and we had to close the site completely. When a big storm like that comes blowin’ in, it’s time to say ‘go home lads’ – it’s not worth taking the chance.” The cranes, hovering above us, are the ‘heartbeat’ of the job. And you need some nerve and a cool head to be an operator. “You see them in the wind when they are lifting and the cranes are swaying.” There’s a certain wind speed above which they can’t lift. “So often they have to stop and wait it out up in the cabin.”

The drivers on site are in their 30s and 40s. So it’s a young man’s game? “I suppose you need to be young and you need to be fit to get up the ladders and then the concentration level has to be second to none. Your peripheral vision, your hand/eye coordination all need to be sharp and focussed. You’re driving those machines all day long and there is basically people’s lives depending on you.” The biggest crane on site is 85m high and it takes the operator almost half an hour to get up to his cabin. Asked if they take bottles with them in case nature calls, Eoin says there is one relief guy that circulates around giving the operators a break.

When the site hits its peak, there should be 400 people working using 27.5 thousand cubic metres of concrete. “Divide that by 7.5 to tell you how many lorry loads,” we’re told. With all these people and all this activity, what about accidents? “We’ve done 200,000 hrs without a reportable accident,” Eoin tells me with pride. Certainly you notice health and safety immediately. You cannot get on site without a pass so we had to be escorted in. Then it was all boots, hard hat, hi-vis, glasses and gloves.

There is risk but you put so many safety preventive measures in place that you try to minimise it, horseplay just does not have a place anymore

“There is risk but you put so many safety preventive measures in place that you try to minimise it.” He says some of the older generation moan that the ‘fun’ has gone out of the job due to all the health and safety measures. “But it wasn’t really fun, it was risk-taking, taking chances, gambling with the possibility of people getting injured. That does not have a place on a modern construction site, “ Eoin says. “Horseplay just does not have a place anymore,” he reiterates.

Looking across at the new Central Bank, Eoin says it’s good to see the building finished and functioning. It served its time as a national act of architectural penance for long enough. “That Anglo building was kind of a symbolic reminder of the recession, and it was left lying there as an eyesore,” he says. Now it symbolizes that there’s life again. “And it’s great to see the cranes back on the skyline,” he says. It helps all aspects of the economy.

Image courtesy of Dave Dowling

“Take the shops around here – you go down the Spar and there’s a queue at 10.30 in the morning.” he says. Breakfast rolls? “The diets don’t seem to change,” he laughs. There again when you are doing a gruelling manual job all day long, you can easily burn off a breakfast roll.

Although work maybe picking up again, Eoin says that since the recession he sees very few local apprentices. “You don’t see young block layers or plasterers, you may see some plumbers or electricians. But the heavier manual jobs, people are just not doing them,” he says. It seems as societies get richer fewer people are interested in manual labour.
“You can earn your money a lot more comfortably sitting behind a computer than in the trades,” Eoin says. “But then you’re not out on a day like this. Horses for courses, but I know I could not see myself doing anything else apart from the building game.” And with that someone needs the foreman’s attention. So it’s time to hit the ladders for the climb back down.

Kevin Barrington is a poet, multimedia artist and a regular on the open mic scene around town. Kevin is also an award winning advertising copywriter and blogger. He gets his adrenalin from cycling around town or out to the 40ft for a swim.

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