Learning from the design of migrant landscapes in Irish urban settlements
The creation of cultural clusters is a common feature of migrant histories globally, yet the design of migrant settlements in Ireland is a topic often unacknowledged or under discussed. Taking the Ballyhaunis mosque complex as an example, this article seeks to better understand the role architecture can play in expressing a unique migrant identity.
Ballyhaunis mosque. Photography by Rawan Kamal
Comprising a main commercial street, St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and residential quarters, on the surface Ballyhaunis's appearance is similar to comparable Irish towns. However, beyond the main street, one is confronted by complex cultural and architectural expressions.
As part of an effort to create a replica of ‘home’ in recipient cities, migrants tend to create cultural heritage clusters. Generally, these consist of residential quarters, factories, and commercial shopfronts, with their form influenced by factors including class, dietary laws, transport availability, and proximity to work and religious spaces . This concept is not new, with migrants being actively engaged in forming and transforming the built environment across time. Hence, we must consider how we understand and make visible migrant histories and cultures within modern urban landscapes.
During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, a significant number of migrants settled across Co. Mayo, resulting in high levels of ethnic diversity . This was affirmed in the 2016 Census, with Ballyhaunis recording the highest population of non-Irish nationals in an Irish town, making up 39.5% of its population . Historically, the Midland Great Western Railway, arriving in Co. Mayo in 1860, enabled this, connecting towns such as Ballyhaunis with a direct route to Dublin and surrounding urban settlements. As a result, these town’s became the county’s major commercial hubs . Comprising a main commercial street, St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and residential quarters, on the surface Ballyhaunis's appearance is similar to comparable Irish towns. However, beyond the main street, one is confronted by complex cultural and architectural expressions. As a result, the town reveals urban, spatial, and cultural diversity, stimulating research into migration and architecture.
Described by the local community as “The houses behind the wall”, the area behind Clare Road has housed Pakistani migrants since the 1970s . This cultural and religious group have established the most evident spatial impact, forming a distinctive migrant cluster with a strong Islamic character. Architecturally, the development of the migrant cluster engages both sides of Clare Road. On one side, a high and continuous brick wall with vertical corrugated sheets spans more than 318m, delineating the territory of Dawns Meat Factory, the workplace for many Pakistani migrants. This is mirrored on the other by a heavy hedge and vast parking space, which ultimately obscures the small Pakistani neighbourhood behind. In this, migrant workers and their families reside and are able to perform the five daily Islamic prayers, privately, within the enclosed space. Considering the requirement for privacy, one can suggest the location of the factory and the need for proximity as playing a pivotal role in the selection of the site for the residential quarter . The housing units, which comprise four detached units, five semi-detached units, four terraced houses, and eight bungalows, can be accessed via Mosque Street off Clare Road . As is typical across many workers’ dwellings, primitive means of construction were harnessed, ultimately leading to properties with low architectural value. Gas cylinders and enormous ground water tanks attached to the rear, along with deteriorating paint, are evidence of this. In contrast, a large opulent multi-storey mansion takes a central position within the quarter. The architecture denotes a difference grounded in affluence. This structure and the migrant houses were constructed by the Pakistani-British proprietor of the adjacent factory.
At the community level sits the Ballyhaunis mosque, built in 1987. The uniform plan, bulbous dome, and architectural elements recall the Indo-Islamic tradition of Mughal architecture, specifically the architectural style of seventeenth century mosques in Asia . Dark-green and white walls denote the mosque’s outer edge, with the colours a subtle homage to Pakistan’s national flag. Located at a focal point, along the main axis of the estate, the Ballyhaunis mosque draws attention away from the housing’s diametric differences. As such, the mosque captures the identity of the migrant community, and perhaps represents the strongest and most striking architectural element in the traditional Catholic landscape of Ballyhaunis.
This case study highlights a unique and significant example of a landscape in rural Ireland that was crafted by immigrants. Beyond the mosque’s architecture, the surrounding block walls, densely planted entrance, and isolated community services reflect a distinct urban culture and present a form which is culturally consistent with Islamic values. While only one example, the Ballyhaunis mosque complex should be noted as a significant migrant landscape, one that exhibits the role architecture can play in expressing a unique migrant identity.
Located at a focal point, along the main axis of the estate, the Ballyhaunis mosque draws attention away from the housing’s diametric differences. As such, the mosque captures the identity of the migrant community, and perhaps represents the strongest and most striking architectural element in the traditional Catholic landscape of Ballyhaunis.
Present Tense is an article series aimed at uncovering perspectives and opinions from experts in their respective fields on the key issues/opportunities facing Ireland's built environment. For all enquiries and potential contributors, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Present Tense is supported by the Arts Council through the Architecture Project Award Round 2 2022.
1. P. Knox and S. Pinch, Urban Social Geography: An Introduction, 6th ed. Essex, Pearson Education Limited, 2010, pp. 172-173.
8. E.Koch, Mughal Architecture, Oxford University Press, 2002.
Rawan Kamal is a doctoral candidate at University College Dublin. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Khartoum and a Master of Urban and Building Conservation from University College Dublin. She practised as an architect and designer in Sudan. During her time at Paul Arnold Architects, she worked on various conservation and research projects in Ireland. Her research interests include migrants’ histories and their influence on both historic and contemporary spatial environments, conservation theory, historic urban landscapes, and intangible cultural heritage. In addition, exploring strategies and means for the inclusion of immaterial and tangible migrant cultures within the legislative framework of host cities.