Seomra Spraoi

Dublin's Autonomous Social Centre

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Totally Seomra Spraoi

WE’RE MOVING!!!! Watch this space for updates…

Here’s a nice piece written about Seomra Spraoi and published in Totally Dublin magazine, May 2007.


Playing with the future in Seomra Spraoi

Words: Jane Ruffino / Pictures: Maria de la Iglesia

Sunday afternoon, and the Seomra Spraoi (Irish for ‘room of play’) is living up to its name. There’s Brazilian music, capoeira, sunshine and palpable cameraderie. Polish anarchists occupy the couch, eating lunch before their scheduled meeting, and visiting French activist Sebastien browses the Forgotten Zine Archive in the corner. Collective members’ toddlers (it’s also Kids’ Day, even though children are generally welcome at daytime events or evening meetings) bang toy instruments or have used their infant charms to commandeer bongos. But the effect of the cacophony is a harmonious one. Seomra Spraoi began in late 2004, a collective brought together to provide an informal space for artists, activists, and just about anyone sympathetic to its DIY and pro-equality ethos.

I’m sitting on the floor chatting with Marianne. The music is lively, but we can still hear each other. “I hope the neighbours don’t complain,” she says. One of the problems with the Seomra Spraoi is that while most European social centres occupy entire buildings, Dublin’s has only a single room in a partly residential building. Noise isn’t the only issue. It’s also a constant struggle to maintain the sense that this is a community space, and not a service. Says Marianne, “We’re brought up in a world where everything is a service. Here if you mess the place up it’s other people around you who have to clean it up. People also still think there’s some overlord or something, some unknown force that says what’s ok and not ok, what is possible to do in the space and what isn’t.”

It is the people who define the space, and everyone I talk to emphasises the value of the informality that feeds its creative and social potential. Marianne gets inspired, “When new projects come together because of it or even people just meet and hang out and talk to each other.”

It isn’t only a space, but a physical place allows its purpose to extend beyond the largely word-of-mouth network of people who simultaneously benefit from and contribute to its operation. “In a city with few common spaces, we wanted to replicate the autonomous social centres in Europe,” says collective member William Hederman, who also lectures at DCU.

The pan-European trend for autonomous spaces grew out of a tradition of squatting, more common on the continent, where the productive use of abandoned spaces is often tolerated, if not legally provided for. In Dublin, it was more practical to rent: Irish property law means that a squatted space is by necessity a secretive one, and thus defeats the purpose of a centre that, as William emphasises, wants to “reach out of the activist ghetto and into communities.”

The rent is paid through fundraisers, donations and standing orders to the group’s credit union account. It may be only one room, but it is an oasis of practical idealism in a city full of greedy chrome bars and ham-fisted panini peddlers, where developers and the government happily conflate ‘society’ with ‘Irish economy’.

“We always wanted a non-commercial place for people to be, where you can go and sit and read a book without having to pay for the privilege, “says Marianne, “We wanted a place that would be a focal point for activity, politics, art, music, whatever.”

The Seomra began its search for a home in 2004, occasionally using the St Nicholas of Myra Hall before finding temporary shelter in the boisterously painted Middle Abbey Street dwelling of an artist from August 2005 until early 2006. In August of last year, they began renting this space on Ormond Quay, which they quickly made their own.

Every day is different. Monday evenings, the Radical Anarcha-Feminist Group (RAG) meets to discuss issues or work on the magazine it publishes, and Tuesday the space is used by Dublin Shell to Sea. Although the very nature of a collectively run space is a form of political action, it isn’t all explicit radical politics. There are also informal social gatherings, sometimes loosely themed, such as this afternoon’s Brazilian Day, or make-and-do coffee mornings, where you can come and work on your own creative projects. In addition to the zine archive, it houses the Revolt Video Collective, and you can also come on Saturdays or Sunday afternoon (the only days it is possible to have the centre open) and curl up in the corner with a volume from the Bad Books Community Library.

There’s no official joining process. “In fact if you start showing up on Thursdays at meetings and helping out you are one of the collective,” asserts Marianne. “New people always bring fresh enthusiasm and new ideas, which is great.”

From his involvement with Electronic Resistance, an organisation of politically-active producers and DJs, Fergal Scully was inspired to step up his involvement about four months ago. “Everyone was very welcoming. You really can come along and contribute as much as anyone else from the word go. The group accepts how little or how much you can contribute at any time, so you never feel like what you’re doing is a chore.”

Marianne is concerned but optimistic. “I was, and still am, always worried that it won’t work. It’s constant, it’s never finished. Maybe that’s what keeps us going, it never gets boring. We still think of the space we have as a stepping stone to a bigger better more accessible and workable Seomra.”

What would it look like in an ideal world? “[It] would be huge and have ground floor access so people could just walk in off the street without ringing the bell. It would be wheelchair accessible. It would have an outdoor area, room for a bike workshop and the libraries, a kitchen area, a large meeting room, space where bands could practice and play gigs, a dark room for photo developing and screen printing, I could go on and on. It would be in the city centre, the area we’re in now is great, and the rent would be affordable.”

For now, at least, the Seomra has a home, but even this is temporary, a pity in a city where, as William points out, there are millions of square metres of empty space, mostly in private hands. Look at almost any city block, and you will notice a boom in activity, but look more closely and you will see terraces peppered with vacant or semi-abandoned buildings in even the most exclusive neighbourhoods.

Productive use of these spaces could provide a home for community activities, bring neighbourhoods to life in ways that wouldn’t be dominated by commercial interests. Ironically, though, the use of these spaces, even if only temporary, threatens not the preservation of buildings, but the dereliction that allows an otherwise historic structure to be demolished to make way for shiny minimalist luxury. In New York, it was the ‘broken window theory’ that allowed ‘decaying’ neighbourhoods to be gentrified (which brought its own problems of socio-economic exclusion), but Dublin has redefined it: to a developer hoping to demolish a building, each broken window might symbolise another step closer to its future as an ‘exclusive development’.

The Seomra’s floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the Liffey is both a physical one onto a city hurried and worried by economic booms and potential busts, and a metaphorical one, into the kind of city the new Dublin could be. And there is an atmosphere of possibility, that with wider support and a more concerted vision, things might actually get better.

This building, like most of Ormond Quay, was developed in the 18th century as part of the Jervis estate, built to house the prosperous middle classes, fuelled by profits from trade as well as large-scale rural enclosure, where common lands were consumed by private landlords eager for landscape gardens and arable fields. It seems fitting, then, that it is one of these Georgian buildings that houses the Seomra, where it is a ‘room of play’ as well as one of rest and relief.

The roots of popular resistance stretch back much further than modern activism, and as I’m lounging on the sun-warmed carpet like a cat in repose, I can’t help but think of the 18th-century English protest rhyme:

They hang the man and flog the woman,
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose,
That steals the common from the goose.

Contemporary collectives aren’t about a romanticised past (and indeed, the historical reality of the ‘commons’ was hardly egalitarian), they occupy a hopeful present, making their immediate surroundings more amenable to change. “When you see what can be achieved in this way and how easy and enjoyable it can be, it makes you try and bring this to other parts of your life,” says Fergal.

After my afternoon’s bask, I leave and walk down the puke-stained quays, past lifestyle shops in Georgian buildings ten-generations deep in conspicuous consumption, but I feel buttressed, my cynicism at least temporarily replaced with a defiant optimism. It might fade by morning, but right now, it’s Sunday afternoon and I’m actually smiling.

Postscript: after this article was written, eviction papers were served on the occupants of Seomra Spraoi. If you know of a suitable premises or can help with a donation, please contact

See also:

Call out for help, get involved!!

Public meeting Thursday, May 3rd, 8pm at the Seomra

The Dublin social centre, Seomra Spraoi, will be homeless again from May 23rd. The social centre has been located on Lower Ormond Quay since August 2006, but is currently seeking a new home, as the owner of the building is planning to sell up.

The collective that set up and runs the centre — also called Seomra Spraoi — is calling on all the people and groups who have used the space to help keep the project going. A public meeting on Thursday (May 3rd) at 8pm will include a slide show and short talk about social centres and the history of Seomra Spraoi and an open discussion about how you can get involved at this critical stage.

“Our 10-month residency on the quays has seen the project really grow and involve lots more people and a real diversity of events and activities,” said a Seomra Spraoi regular, gazing wistfully out over the Liffey from the huge first-floor window. “We’ll sure miss this view.”

“Literally thousands of people have passed through this place since last August. By now there is something on nearly every day — gigs, craft workshops, screenings, meetings, children’s events, exhibitions. At the last count, more than 20 different groups were using the place for meetings or other events.”

It’s not too late to organise an event. In fact, the collective is trying to put on as many events as possible in its final weeks at Ormond Quay. See contact details below.

Seomra Spraoi expects to have to pay a bigger rent on whatever space it moves into next. You can help by taking out a standing order (see below) or organising a benefit gig or making a donation at the Seomra. Groups who have used the space and hope to use the next space are encouraged to make a regular donation of whatever they can afford, preferably by standing order.

Watch out for more background about the project soon on Indymedia.

What you can do

  • Look out for spaces to rent in Dublin city centre.
  • Let Seomra Spraoi know if you have storage space.
  • Come to our public meeting on Thursday, May 3rd, at 8pm at 6 Lower Ormond Quay.
  • Come to our regular meetings every Thursday at 7.30pm (not this week).
  • Take out a standing order (to be posted here in a minute).

How to contact Seomra Spraoi

Book an event

Saturday July 16th Public Meeting: Autonomous Social Centre for Dublin

St Nicholas of Myra Hall, Francis Street, Dublin, 2pm–3:30pm

Dublin is on the verge of having an autonomous social centre, set up and run by a collective called Seomra Spraoi, which formed last year. A public meeting this Saturday will update on progress and take on board people’s views on what the centre can be used for and how it will be run. It’s not too late for you as a individual or group to become part of the project (indeed it will never be too late to come on board, but now is when you are needed).

Seomra Spraoi is a collective seeking to establish an autonomous social centre in Dublin. Lots of individuals and groups are on board. There is a credit union account with money in it. Fundraisers have been happening. Folks have been meeting weekly for quite some time. For more background see the link below.

Now, keep the following under your hat: as things stand, we should be making a definite announcement on Saturday about a space in the north inner city which will be taken up in early August!

By the way, “public meeting” does not mean you coming along to listen to the heads who are involved already: it’s about everyone who comes along sitting around in a circle and making decisions together.

Nicholas of Myra Hall is on the corner of Francis Street and a small street called Carman’s Hall. Coming from Thomas Street, about two thirds the way along, you’ll see a grand piano hanging off a building on the left: turn right there and it’s on the right.

Map to St Nicholas' Hall
Map to St. Nicholas’ Hall
G8 report back
There will be a half hour break from 3:30pm to 4pm, followed by a report back meeting from the G8 summit in Scotland.
Bring some food to share (Seomra Spraoi will not be cooking this time).
School’s outside!
If the weather is still fine, we can have the meeting in the playground outside.

Related Link:

Seomra Spraoi: Social Centre Gig Brazil night with film and music

Catch up and contribute

This Friday, the 28th, starting at 8pm, St. Nicholas of Myra Parish Hall, Carman’s Hall.

There will be a film followed by live Brazilian music and food.

The venue is the St. Nicholas of Myra Parish Hall, Carman’s Hall (a street running between Francis Street and Meath Street). Admission free or donation. For more information contact 0872861238. All welcome.

Map to St Nicholas' Hall
Map to St Nicholas’ Hall

Film: Raw-Farming: Documentary on Brazilian women’s organic farming movement (courtesy of LASC, details here).

The Idea

Today in Ireland there is virtually nowhere indoors for people to congregate that isn’t a pub or overpriced café.

Many readers will be aware of the success of autonomous social centres in other European cities, independent of local authority, church, business or other controlling body. These spaces have provided a focal point for many of the social movements in the West, where public spaces have been eaten away by consumerism, property speculation and the culture of the car.

They celebrate collective cooperation and diversity and have numerous day-to-day uses: community drop-in centre, inexpensive cafe, political meeting space, library, gig venue, arts centre, and internet cafe, to name a few.

Several attempts were made in Dublin in the past couple of years to set up autonomous centres in buildings that had been derelict for years, but these have been evicted by the City Council or by “heavies” employed by the owners. Clearly the Council would prefer to see buildings remain derelict rather than put to any use.

Seomra Spraoi is the provisional name of a collective which has come together to create a social centre space in Dublin.


In early December there was huge response to the call for a gathering to initiate an Autonomous Social Centre in Dublin over a hundred people came and watched films about centres across Europe and chatted over vegetarian food served afterwards, then on the 21st of December we had a well attended gig in the Voodoo Lounge, where fans of both punk and dance were entertained and more funds were raised, how long before we can use/raise that money towards a building is the question.

After the Xmas break we had another meeting in the first week of January to see how far we got with research on the finance and structure of the proposed social centre. We have expanded on our wishlist of functions for the centre and now we have to start making these a reality under one roof. As we organise we coming across the very factors which have made it necessary to take this ambitious project on, small borrowed rooms, restrictions on their use, no consistent place for people to know where we are.

We have been talking to people involved in social centres and how they go about it and making contacts with them and remembering our own experiences on our travels to spaces around Europe and elsewhere. We are still refining the question of what do we want and how do we make it happen within the restriction of doing it the legal way, (Insurance, finance, legal form etc.).

Next we will be concentrating on the search for a location, raising more money and getting more people involved. We are looking for more people or groups who think they could help with the project in any way or possible co-host events of the type that one day may be held in the centre.

To get in contact us mail or subscribe to the mailing list at

More musings on social centres in Ireland…

generously seasoned with quotes from European examples

(by Darren)

The Seomra Spraoi event in Dublin at the weekend was great. There were really lots of people talking (& itching to get started) on Irish/Dublin spaces…

Thinking about it on the train I wrote this article…

I reckon a really important premise for starting a social centre is that you’re doing it ‘d.i.y.’ (Do-it-yourselves & for yourselves). If you’re setting up a space for anyone else it’ll probably be a thankless task…

Always when people start their own activities they start with the things they really need. Sometimes a place to come together sometimes it’s a place for their kids sometimes it’s a place for practising with bands but I think people mostly make what they need. That’s also the positive thing of squatting a space you don’t have to wait for someone else to tell you what it can be — you can project your own ideas.
Binnenpret: A/dam

I don’t think it’s our role as ‘activist communities’ to provide social space (or other services) to ‘wider society’. That’s not to say that our actions & spaces cannot have an impact outside of our own political & social circles.

I think people are beginning to see the need for creating our own informal places were we can meet or where people can be attracted who aren’t directly in our social circles. It’s like a form of outreach about anarchist politics, community organising, & environmental politics. Without this kind of space people often don’t get to know about that stuff & we’re not very good a lot of the time of communicating. So this is a nice way of getting to know new people.
Aspire: Leeds

I think a problematic assumption in Ireland is that people setting up a social space owe ‘you’ something. For instance ‘you’ may believe the Magpie squat in Dublin ‘did little to advance squatting/political ideology’, but I don’t remember them making any announcements or promises saying they would. (Anyway I disagree with this assessment I know at least 2 squats in Belfast & many more around the country that were pretty much directly inspired by the Magpie House).

Even in countries with long term squatted social spaces; 9 times out of ten a new squat is a short (albeit passionate) affair. People keep opening more & learn from every experience, & occasionally they last a long time.

I thought Disco Disco was a very successful action even though we only had the squat for 25 hours. Everyone went through the process of gathering the information which I might add was 10 times harder than doing any squatting action here as here there’s 35 years of history behind us.

I think that’s the only difference between squatting here & squatting in Ireland is 35 years. Once the crew there get going there’ll be no stopping them now they have the experience & knowledge.
Amsterdam Squatter & Disco Disco Veteran

I don’t think we need to get too embroiled in debate over we should be making legal or squatted spaces, they are certainly not mutually exclusive (& it’s not as though we’d only wanna see one social centre in Dublin). For instance in Amsterdam legalised spaces hold ‘squatting info hours’ where people can come along & get info & advice & practical help with squatting.

Giros/Warzone Centre was a rented space that existed in Belfast for 18 years, which essentially managed to pull off a lot of cool stuff, & spending 5 years of my life (hey & I’m not jaded!) organising activities there I never found the legal aspects of the place very constraining. In the end Giro’s closed because we didn’t feel like doing it anymore. (‘The Man’ never bothered us much).

I don’t think it comes down to whether it’s a squat or a legal space. The things that are important are the people involved & what they do. If we’re doing good stuff it doesn’t matter that we’re legal even if we’re working within the system we’re still doing good stuff.
Sumac Centre: Nottingham

In the end context is everything…
& We can always play with spaces until we find something that works for us in the places we live. We probably won’t get it ‘right’ first time. (We’ll probably never get it ‘right’ – who wants to be ‘right’ anyway?)

& I guess it also comes down to whatever floats your boat…
If breaking locks gets you wet & filling funding applications doesn’t you’re probably looking at a squat. If your not keen on being knocked around the head by some of our friendly boys in blue or having an exposé in the Irish Star, maybe you should think about a legal space…

I’ll end with some words of advice for different social spaces…

It’s important to have a good group to be sure that people are really involved to have good interaction with the local people that’s very important it’s a social place it’s the kind of place to build the social links we’ve lost in the society.
Canmasdeu: Barcelona

International networking can be useful to share experience & share knowledge.

As far as meetings go if you try to use facilitators use structured meetings just so when emotions run high there’s a way to deal with it. Because it’s quite common when pressure mounts these group decision-making processes become very dysfunctional. So it’s good to have a facilitator who can steer a group towards decisions rather than fall apart in quarrels & arguments. I think that’s one of the most important things about working with other people in a non-hierarchical setting.
Film Academy: Amsterdam

If you’re gonna embark on the crazy adventure that is setting up a social centre you mustn’t underestimate how much work it is. We never realised how much work it would be to get the building up & running some people said if they realised how much work it was they might not have done it & they were at the very limit of their capacity. You need to have a crew of people who are not just excited about it but also have the time & energy to dedicate to the place.
Sumac Centre: Nottingham

If people are interested in doing it don’t exclude them the more people squatting the better. Be inclusive.

Don’t be afraid to do it take risks. Nothing is achieved without taking risks. After the first couple of squats are established go public start organising things have info-cafés on site. Only squat things owned by the government.

Just squat things everywhere, not to be centralised it’s easy for people to think outside Dublin there’s nothing — just bog. But people in Cork are ready to go for it. Go squatting in the countryside all these people that have gone to America or have died & left behind farms reclaim the streets reclaim the city. Just keep going.
Amsterdam/Disco Disco crew

Seomra Spraoi: Social Centre Orgainising Meeting

There will be a meeting tomorrow evening, Thursday 9th of December 2004 in the Ecological and Environmental Non Governmental Organisations (EENGO) office, 10a Camden Street at 7pm. This office is located upstairs above a shop called Bounty Stores. Just buzz on the button that says EENGO.

The purpose of the meeting is to further discuss the possibilities of starting a social centre in Dublin city.

To date there have been a number of meetings and there was a video screening on the issue held last Friday, December the 3rd.

There have yet been no solid decisions made. All involved have agreed that a space is needed in the city for groups and individuals that wish to organise in an autonomous way. A number of excellent suggestions have been made as to what such a place could be used for eg. occassional cafe, library, meetings, art, printing, music, workshops…

There are lots of people interested in getting involved. There are lots of ideas and there is a desperate need for this type of centre. Now what is needed is that we organise, plan and realise the dream!!