Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Destruction Of Dublin As A Great European City (1988)

I found this article in The Canberra Times, dated March 17th, 1988. It's a state of Dublin piece related to that year's "Millennium" celebrations. That year Dublin went Viking mad, we had 50ps galore and this single was released. It refers to the then Lord Mayor Of Dublin Carmencita Hederman and the writer Frank McDonald. McDonald has been a long time advocate for more considered planning of our urban environment and is the author of books such as The Construction Of Dublin and Chaos At The Crossroads. The article also includes a contribution from Senator David Norris , erstwhile Irish Presidential candidate, most recently notable for the Fannygate imbroglio. The article was written by Carol Craig. I'm happy to report that number 26 Fishamble Street is still extant. Despite the passage of a quarter century many of the issues raised in this piece still resonate, hence my posting it here. Since this article didn't come replete with too many images I've found some Dublin 1988 images to augment this post.

Getting the year wrong is the not the worst thing facing Dublin's millennium celebrations. Among the razzmatazz and the genuine outpouring of affection is a chorus of voices crying that what was once one of Europe's most beautiful capitals is fast losing the right to claim that it is even a shadow of its former self.

Dublin's Lord Mayor, Alderman Carmencita Hederman, underlined the point this month when she awarded the first of the "Millennium Medals" to those who tried, and failed, to save the site of the thousand-year-old heart of the city, the first Viking settlement at Wood Quay.

Some who have already made the millennium tour comment that the fabric of the historic city centre is badly frayed, but add, thank God, traditional Dublin warmth is still alive and talking in the pubs.

Irish journalist Frank MacDonald, author of the book The Destruction of Dublin, says "We don't really have a city to celebrate. A total of 160 acres in the centre of Dublin are derelict, in addition to a host of tumble down buildings and vacant and potentially vacant buildings. The inner city has essentially been abandoned. The population of the inner city has been halved in the last 25 years."

City Manager Frank Feely was a guest at the millennium medal ceremony. As the city's chief bureaucrat, Feely is frequently blamed for the activities of the city's road engineers. According to Ireland's respected conservation group, An Taisce, road widening is now the single biggest cause of the destruction of the city's historic buildings.

At the beginning of the year, Lord Mayor Hederman led the city council to defeat a highly unpopular scheme to run a six-lane ring road past Dublin's second oldest cathedral. However, the 800-year-old St. Patrick's is still going to have to endure four lanes almost at its front door if the engineers have their way.

It is not that Feely, a large man with charm and a sense of humour, has no concern for the city. It was his idea to hold the millennium celebration in the first place.

"I saw it has having three threads, literature, history, culture, stimulating interesting in Dublin and something harder to put your finger on, something abstract. To inspire confidence, a bit of pride."

Having missed the chance to celebrate the founding of the city, now put at 841 AD, and having almost a decade to go before the 1000-year anniversary of the granting of the first city charter, Feely suggested celebrating the year in which an Irish king defeated the Viking king of Dublin and forced each household to pay him tribute of an ounce of gold.

Historians have now pointed out that because of a change in the calendar this actually happened 999 years ago. Commenting on the mistake, Irish Senator David Norris said, "like all these things there is an element of fiction, no city ever started on a particular day. I rather like the idea of celebrating the one year in which nothing happened." Norris adds, the central idea is to "harness the energy for the good of the city."

Feely claims the corporation is doing that, pointing to the construction of badly needed pedestrian malls, the revamping of the shop fronts on Dublin's main thoroughfare and the planting of thousands of trees. But, warns An Taisce, too much attention to these could cover up the real problem of the city - the fact that there are a number of historic areas still under threat.

An Taisce's spokesperson for Dublin, Ian Lumley, puts a warren of narrow streets leading from the south side of the River Liffey in the centre of the city at the top of the list. Called Temple Bar after its main street, a modern map of the area is almost the same as the one from the 18th century shown on the back of the Irish £10 note. The buildings are a mix, houses built in the 1700s, turned into shops in the eighteen hundreds, a few early 20th-century factories thrown in. Many of the streets are still cobbled and the sidewalks still made of granite blocks.

In the past five years it has become the closest thing Dublin has to New York's Greenwich Village or a Parisian Left Banks. Rents are cheap and, says Christine Bond, chairman of the board at Temple Bar Studios, the only low rent studio space for artists in the city, "It is a place where lots of younger people could get in and get something going."

The area was scheduled for road widening but plans have changed. Now the threat is the fact that the government transportation company which owns 8 per cent of the buildings in the area is being urged by the central government to sell them off to deal with the cash crisis caused by Ireland's huge national debt. Agents for large developers are already looking over the area.

On the edge of Temple Bar is one of the oldest houses in the city. Number 26 Fishamble Street probably dates from the early 1700s. Its owners, the Casey family who have had the house for at least 190  years, received one of the "Millennium Medals" for maintaining their house against the odds. Last year it almost fell down when the corporation demolished a house next door it claimed was unsafe, apparently destabilising number 26 in the process.

Commenting on the corporation action, Mrs Enda Casey said, "Really and truly it is maddening what they have done to the city." Frank MacDonald thinks the attitude towards the preservation is a "cultural problem". Dublin's golden age was the 18th century. Dublin Georgian architecture is largely domestic rather than monumental. It is houses, shops, pubs. It was built largely for the enjoyment of the British-linked Protestant rulers of Ireland while the majority of Catholic Irish lived in hovels and slums. For many Irish the buildings of the period are a symbol of the colonial past. "It is tied up with the idea of 800 years of oppression and the like. The Georgian heritage wasn't really seen as Irish despite the fact that it was all built in Ireland by Irish workmen."
By the early 20th century many of the old Georgian buildings had become slums. "For years since [Irish playwright] Sean O'Casey's time the perception of the inner city was that it was just a slum. The idea has been that people, for the good of their health, need to be cleared out of it."
Describing the situation at the end of English rule, Feely refers to "rich town houses being turned into tenements."

"It made us into the disgrace of Europe in terms of disease and infant mortality," he said. "It made housing a top priority. The first thing you've got to do in any city is give people the basis of living."
The argument between the corporation and conservationists is how much of the basis comes from history and heritage. Frank MacDonald says he has seen students in tears over what is now happening in the city.
"I think there is a sense that the younger generation of this city feel they have been robbed of something very precious - the possibility of living in a great European city," he said..
Senator Norris, who has almost single-handedly saved an entire Georgian street and who believes Dublin can return to something of its former glory, hopes the millennium celebrations may have an effect: "The 360 odd days of 1988 will be used to change attitudes, to go into the next decade with something of hope rather than pessimism."

1 comment:

  1. What fun to find someone still reads these things & yes the issues resonate, Frank is still posting about them and I hope some are still fighting.