O'Connell Street...the story of the street and its buildings - Transcript

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The following is the transcript of a talk given by Klaus Unger and Stephen Kane in Rathmines Library on 23 August 2016.


Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode, architects Klaus Unger and Stephen Kane present a history of Dublin City's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street, formerly named Sackville Street. Hear about the unique design features of some of its landmark buildings and the stories behind them and find out more about the influence of the Wide Street Commission, Lord Gardiner, and renowned architects Edward Lovett Pearce, Richard Cassels, James Gandon and Francis Johnston.
Recorded in front of a live audience at Rathmines Library on 23 August 2016 as part of the Libraries' Heritage Week Programme.


So ladies and gentlemen, can I just give up a warning notice in a way, we’re not historian, for any historians who are here. We are retired architects. And I recommend a lovely book by David Dixon on Dublin, Making of a Capital City for those who want to take a more detailed view of the development of Dublin. I’m going to give a very brief introductory background to the origins of O’Connell Street as it evolved from the kind of tangle of medieval Dublin, and Stephen’s going to take us through the journey of its development from there on.

O’Connell Street has been the occasion of momentous events throughout the 20th century. And we’ve got an aerial view of what we are talking about, principally O’Connell Street and O’Connell Bridge there. And that’s the aerial of the actual architectural conservation area, that features centrally O’Connell Street. But it has as I said been the occasion of momentous events throughout the 20th century, which starts here with Collins funeral in 1922. Then the world heavyweight boxing bout, boxing seems to be a thing nowadays in 1923, which was interesting because this occurred as a result of it being refused in London, England and because it black and white. And the white man, the Irish man in fact won the bout at the time of the day. The next one is the Eucharistic Congress, 1932. Then we’re showing Kennedy’s appearance in 1963. And thereafter, Patrick’s Day events which have occurred every year and every Patrick’s Day, bringing thousands and thousands and thousands of people to O’Connell Street.

And apart from the most significant event of the 20th century, which was the Easter Rising, O’Connell Street has enjoyed all kinds of events, such as we’ve shown with these huge crowds of people attending. So the 20th century is a momentous time in the story of O’Connell Street. I have a personal interest in advancing that period, because I was born at the top end of O’Connell Street at the end of the first half of the 20th century. So that puts me very much in the frame.

I’m going to start the story with a look at, this is the cover of the Book of Dublin, which is the official handbook published by the Corporation of Dublin in 1929, which said that the main features of modern Dublin may be said to date back to an act of the Irish parliament in 1757, appointing commissioners for making a wide and convenient street from Essex Bridge to the Castle of Dublin. I would like to suggest however, that the evolution of Dublin as a European capital city began perhaps 100 years earlier, when on the 27th of July 1662, the Duke of Ormond landed in Dublin, having been sent by King Charles II to take charge of governance of Ireland. And that this was the day which Maurice Craig in his tome, Dublin 1660 to 1860 refers to the occasion of that date being the day when renaissance came to Ireland.

Maurice Craig is a more for whom I had great respect as an architectural historian and just as a kind of a slight digress, he was renowned as an architectural historian, conservative in nature, naturally. But he wrote a wonderful letter to the Taoiseach in 1953, which I valued greatly, because I was engaged in work in Dublin Castle at the time. And he wrote that letter in support of a proposal which had been made by Raymond McGrath, the chief architect in OPW in 1946, and years afterwards, which was the design of a large crescent shaped development at the back of Dublin Castle housing the whole of the Irish civil service, which from memory was going to be built for something less than two million pounds at that time. It was a very brave, wonderful letter and I’m just mentioning this because despite the fact that he was an architectural historian, he was also very much promoting the idea of contemporary design in conjunction with respect for the historical precincts and locations. Needless to say, Maurice’s intervention didn’t work and Raymond’s scheme was never built, except for one part, the Companies Office is the only part of that crescent development that was ever in fact created.

Back again to the Duke of Ormond, who having come to Dublin after a number of years in exile on the continent, was concerned to create a peaceful environment for principally the Protestant, and if possible Catholic communities within the pale, and considered as Maurice says in his book, that “the noblest outward sign of peace in life would be the creation of public works”. And so he set about instigating works by the commencement of development of the City Quays, Phoenix Park, and most notably the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. It’s also worth noting that the population of Dublin at this time in the mid 17th century was less than 10,000 people. And although Dublin was a city with a Royal Charter in the centre of civil and military authority in Ireland, other towns were exercising a bit of competition for primacy, like Armagh, which was the ecclesiastical centre, Drogheda and Kilkenny and so on. The note about the population is interesting because as we’ll see, it jumps enormously in the subsequent years. As Maurice Craig advises in his book, “By 1700 it has gone from less than 10,000 up to 75,000, by 1750 to 150,000 and by 1850 to a quarter of a million”.

We have on the screen here Steve’s map, 1610 which shows the kind of layout of Dublin at the time. And just to note over here on the right, is Trinity College. Way over on the right. And Dublin Castle is number 23 there. So that’s Trinity and that’s Dublin Castle here. And if O’Connell Street, which isn’t yet even thought about were there, if you kind of relate it to Trinity College, it will be somewhere over here. So you can see that the whole of the city is over towards its foundation as the Ath Cliath and the Linn Dubh, which was in this area here with the Poddle is westward. And it hasn’t gravitated as it is today towards the east, more east. Just something I think is worth thinking about, if we reflect on the conditions of the times, that’s in the early 1600’s and in the subsequent later centuries, something that I noted I think is rather important, and as an architect, engineer one would consider this important, that the whole life’s condition was pretty grim from our perspective, from the 21st century perspective. And something that I picked up from Muiris de Buitléir’s book which is worth mentioning, that the invention of public sewers systems hadn’t been created until late Victorian times. So if you can imagine what life must have been like for everybody. It was pretty grim. Water was brought into the city from the Dodder, or later on in the 19th century, from the canals. Human waste was accumulating in the yards and streets with presumably open sewers running into the Liffey. And this really resulted in a city up until the late Victorian period which as Muiris states in his book, is a “city of filth and stench, with typhoid and cholera rife”. So that’s the condition in which life existed for most people.

The next important step after the Duke of Ormond I think occurs in the 18th century, in 1711 when a decision to reclaim land from the sea in the estuary area over here, east, centre and east, was taken and this resulted in the creation of the North and South Lotts. The beneficiary of much of this reclaimed land was the Earl of Drogheda, that’s the Moore family, Moore Street. And the Earl of Drogheda, he sold lots of this reclaimed land to the most important figure of the development of the 18th century of Dublin who is Luke Gardiner. And I’m just going to read a little extract by Merlo Kelly from this “Portraits of the City” publication, which was a publication of papers presented at an international conference which OPW hosted together with UCD, looking at the cultural significance of place and sense of place and so on.

“Dublin underwent considerable change in the late 18th century, comprising of dramatic eastward expansion and the establishment of a complex urban framework, which forms the basis of cityscape today. The former Gardiner estate encompass much of the north city and was developed by a family with grand ambition and foresight. The creation of the north Georgian core involving sophisticated urban design strategies, negotiated land transfers and the collaboration of builders and craftsmen, driven by the Gardiner family and by the Wide Streets Commission. The first Luke Gardiner was a self made man of obscure origins, who began life as a foot man in Leixlip Castle, but in marrying the niece of the second Viscount Mountjoy, became connected to the peerage. He went on to become a member of parliament, Surveyor General of the Customs, Privy Counsellor and Deputy Vice Treasurer of Ireland. He was a successful banker and soon turned his attentions to the acquisition of land for development. Through shrewd investment, he acquired land parcels incrementally, and quickly emerged as a significant player in the development of the north city centre. The gradual process of buying land in stages meant that developments in the estate tended to be disparate and interrupted. Though this disjointed urban condition remained for much of the 18th century, his grandson, the second Luke Gardiner, henceforth referred to as Gardiner, he was the man that they regarded as Gardiner, focused on linking elements within the estate and making sense of the fragmented quality that was associated with the emerging north Georgian city”.

The second Gardiner, that’s the grandson was a really important, he seems to have been an incredible guy. He had a wonderful upbringing and childhood. He wasn’t like his father, he didn’t come from humble. The grandfather did all the hard work and his father before him. And he served as a member of parliament for Dublin from 1773 until he was created a Baron in 1789. He was appointed to the Irish Privy Council and Colonel of the Dublin Militia. He was given the title Viscount Mountjoy in 1795. In addition to his role as a private landowner and developer, he was an active member of the Wide Streets Commission at a critical time, when they held responsibility for development within private estates. And I think Stephen this is where I pass the baton over to you.


This is a 1610 map. One bridge over the Liffey, (13.57 inaudible) and south of the Liffey where people lived in medieval conditions. A full century later, this map shows not a big geographical change, but there is significantly development on the north side of the river, where the work done in Ormond’s time was protecting the buildings from the river flooding, and also retaining land towards the east side at Oxmanstown corner with the North Lotts and south of that called the South Lotts, where development was to take place. That map is 1714, and Dublin had changed dramatically, but the population had changed dramatically. 70,000 people now lived in Dublin in 1714. And then 1728, (14.36 inaudible) map and you can see for the first time, O’Connell Street called Drogheda Street is now on the map. This is part of the reclaiming of land which had occurred in the beginning of the 18th century. This land had been transferred to (14.52 inaudible) Desmond from Drogheda to the Moore family and acquired by Gardiner himself.

Gardiner was an ambitious man. There was no development by Dublin City Council or Corporations in those times, so these estates took over and they developed properties themselves in parts of Dublin. This was the beginning of the move from the inner city on the west side of Dublin to the east side of Dublin to a renaissance city, attempt to begin that process in Dublin.

This is Henrietta Street in Dublin, which has the beginning in 1720’s. And Edward Lovett Pearce, Ireland’s great architect developed this. Gardiner was also involved in the development of Gardiner Street as well, Henrietta Street and Bolton Street, and that part of north central Dublin, effectively. These were the classic houses at the time, the first in Ireland of townhouses and maybe the first, perhaps in most European countries.

This is number 9 Henrietta Street, designed by Edward Lovett Pierce, a great beautiful house from the 1720’s. This is Pearce himself, and Pearce was the architect for the Parliament building 1729, which was the first parliament building anywhere in the world which had an upper and lower house built. So Dublin was the first to have a parliament building like this. This was gradually moving again towards east development. There was no parliament building in Dublin. The parliament was now meeting much more often in Dublin than previously. Previously the parliament only met when the Viceroy was here or the Lord Lieutenant was here, they met very irregularly. But suddenly now with the new building things have changed dramatically. And when that happened there was demand for property in this new east part of Dublin.

And suddenly we see here from the rough map of 1756, this was the first development of, can you see there Sackville Street. This is the beginning of the development. This started in 1749 and went on for about 20 years. And about 400 houses were built in this part of Sackville Street. This is purely the block form, it’s the beginning of loose development. Gardiner had acquired that property from Henry Street as far as what’s now called Parnell Street. And he ideally wanted to develop the whole lot round as far the river, but he didn’t own the property south of Sackville Street that’s there now. That just shows the block format of Sackville Street. Look at the top of Sackville Street, you’ll see the Rotunda Hospital, designed by Cassels. Cassels was involved with Gardiner in the development of Sackville Street. Here you can see the individual plots of Sackville. The plots would vary in size, there were big houses and small houses. But the depth was 200. The street itself was 150 feet wide and in the centre of the terraced street was a mall. It was initially called Gardiner’s mall. This was an amenity area and outside of that there was a carriageway for access to the houses. It was a private estate, what we have today, gated estates we have in this country these days. It was a very privileged area for the nobility. But the problem for this was that this was now started in 1750’s, parliament was open in 1738. And we see at the bottom of the river, a number of ships are going somewhere and they’re going up towards Customs House. But there’s no bridge connecting the Parliament building, can you see that?


And there’s nothing from there across.


So if the parliamentarians were going from the house in Upper Sackville Street to get to Parliament, they had to go around to the west of the city, across the bridge at Essex Bridge and then towards the Parliament. This was a long route. Clearly the idea of linking these things together, to create more demand on the east of the city was extremely important for developers like Gardiner.

This was the Customs House in 1707, you can see the ships coming up the river towards that old Customs House. And they paid their taxes there. The building itself had problems with foundations, it was in serious condition. And also the big ships couldn’t get up the river easily, so suddenly demand became greater to build the new Customs House, and that meant getting a bridge built linking Sackville Street with the Parliament Building, crucially important for the development in that part of Dublin and making Dublin a renaissance city.

This here shows the mall of Upper Sackville Street, and you see this very gracious street. And the thing about this sketch here shows the buildings were of varying heights and varying sizes. It wasn’t a uniform city like say Bath is. It’s very much unique character of Dublin had developed, similar today to a Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square where the heights are very different and at variance with each other. And also the houses are very different in widths and so on. But the overall feeling of grandeur is here amenity. Maurice Craig called this an “elongated square” because it was very, very private. And in the centre of the mall the people who lived there could meet, discuss the gossip and boast about their houses inside. These houses were very important to these people, because they wanted to show off the interiors of the house particularly. Externally they were very ordinary looking in many ways, but inside they were full of beautiful decorative plasterwork, collections of paintings and so on and so on. And part of that was the boast they had with each other on the way to Parliament. And this was this lovely amenity and the very same with the much later houses that were built in Merrion Square and indeed in Fitzwilliam Square.

And this is what they looked like. This is Upper Sackville Street. They looked very ordinary looking houses. You can see they were different, there were two bay sizes, there were three bay sizes and there were four bay sizes, depending on the kind of money you had, and what kind of structure you have as well. But if you look at number 42 here towards the middle of the slide, this house was designed by Richard Cassels who was assistant to Lovett Pearce, and ultimately became Surveyor General himself in this country, in the city. And he was the architect for this house here.


That’s this one here.


And today, it’s the only house that’s still extant in Dublin, number 42 (21.12 inaudible). It looks like a very ordinary house, but collectively the whole thing was much more important than a string of individual houses. And you can see renovations took place round the entrance doorway, the Portland stone and the details round the door itself, the elegance of that. So all the elegance is put at the front door, the impression of importance, the impression of elegance, that’s still there today in Dublin to enjoy.

So the first phase of Sackville Street was now completed. And one of the things that Gardiner wanted to do was to have an end and beginning to life. At the top of Sackville Street, if you close off that vista with a Portland window Cassels encouraged them to use the Rotunda to close off Sackville Street. He was against that idea because he wanted to ultimately develop the whole street north ways further on beyond Parnell Street itself. That was his idea, and then link up similarly at (22.11 inaudible) towards the O’Connell Bridge area, Sackville area itself. So ultimately then, Cassels located the building here away from Sackville itself.

And then the Wide Streets Commission came along with Atkins in 1777. But these people were extraordinarily important people in Dublin as Klaus said earlier. They had huge powers, huge influence and they also had a considerable amounts of money to spend. They could compulsorily take over properties and they left an extraordinarily great legacy in this city, including Sackville Street. They would have built Dame Street, North Westmoreland Street and so on, these are wonderful streets to have in Dublin. But also they wanted to continue on the Sackville Street. Because Gardiner’s son was now a Commissioner, an important person as well. And so Sackville Street was completed in around the 1770’s. and the bridge was built in late 1780’s. But for the second part of Sackville Street, two architects were involved in the Lower part of Sackville Street. These were White and Gandon. White laid out the street and the complex to unify the street together before the GPO was built and before Nelson’s Pillar was built. And then Gandon designed the elevation studies for the buildings themselves, because they were now going to become shops at ground level. Very different than the Upper part of Sackville Street. And also at this time, the mall that Gardiner had designed and built was taken away and removed completely. And once the street became an important street overall, the amenity value of the street for people to discourse and meet and gossip disappeared because of that. It became a very important street, a very lovely street but something was lacking in that because of the great work that Gardiner had done back towards the middle of the 18th century.

And this shows the extent of the street, this is the pillar shown here and also the GPO. It shows the width of the street as continuous street from north to south, one continuous whole. But the street has now changed in character, as I’ve said we’ve now become a shopping street. And there’s a gradual disconnect between the Upper and Lower Sackville Street. And then suddenly in 1801 the Act of Union, the speed changed dramatically. Because it meant that people living on the Upper level of Sackville Street sold off and moved elsewhere. But two things happened to make the street I think considerably better. This was the Nelson’s Pillar. After the victory of the British over the French and Nelson’s victories, Dublin people collected money themselves to honour Nelson’s victory. And they built this column, this statue. And they had Francis Johnston, the great architect design it for them and locate for them too. A very important location on the streetscape. And also they had the GPO built in about 1815 or so. This magnificent public building, the first real public building on Sackville Street. And this added to the street enormously. It conferred a special urban quality the street hadn’t got previously. This was dramatic, and the day of importing or locating the portico right over the pavement, impose itself on the street as a gathering point, was a really wonderful idea of Johnston to do that. So it gave the street a civic importance as a street. It lost a lot by removing the mall, but became a different kind of street altogether.

And this is what it looked like. You can see it’s a very wide street. There’s no sense of gathering, no sense of community there. No sense of involvement. But there is a sense of this huge big street, impressive street. And if you look closely at this one here you will see that now suddenly the pavement is very, very narrow. The place where you could discourse and chat and talk was very, very small. This street looked great but people need to use the street sensibly. And they were getting impeded now with chariots and horses and all the rest of it. And there’s a guy on a horse here talking to the people on the sidewalk as he’s going along on his horse. And you can see there going all over the place with their horses and carts, all different directions at one time. So there’s a lack of discipline, the street looked well, but discipline was not going well on the street. Just note the paving was close to where they were walking. There was no paving on the street, the main street wasn’t like that all. It was a beaten down dirt track.

And this is the GPO today, it’s a very strained building. It’s a lovely, lovely building, very strained. And given the street is imposing civic quality which confers the importance of the street, but inside the building it was very beautifully and heavily decorated. This event took place in 1853, a significant event for O’Connell Street’s future. This was the Great Exhibition of Dublin of 1853. It was located in Leinster Lawn in Dublin. And a million visited this site between March and September of 1853. And they’re mostly from overseas, and these people came with a lot of money to spend. And if people in O’Connell Street were prepared for this invasion of people with money, they were put on their best behaviour and decked out with best possible goods for sale. And this shows O’Connell Street now in 1853. Studying it, there’s a new department store built, probably the first in Europe. The shops are now appearing at ground level, further down the street than before. The street is losing its character somewhat, the height of this department store, much higher than anywhere else, a different scale than everything else too. But somehow, it was acceptable because it’s close, almost opposite the GPO building. But you can see the certain vibrancy, the street is now a commercial street in Dublin. And that changed dramatically and increased dramatically as the 19th century wore on.

These are elevations showing the street of early 1850’s, this is Lower Sackville Street. Showing the array of shops is quite amazing which was available in Dublin for these rich people to come to Dublin to spend their money, build an exhibition. All kind of shops, all kind of goods. This is Lower Sackville Street. And you can see in the bottom picture, you can see some of the shop fronts which would have been designed by Gandon, from his early studies back 60 years earlier. Again Lower Sackville Street, full of shops, very commercial street now. Very different from Upper Sackville Street.

And this is Upper Sackville Street itself where the change isn’t as dramatic. There are still houses there and still people living there, there’s occasional businesses like a gas fitter here in one house here. But it is predominantly still the same houses, with minor modifications and people living in these houses, back in 1850.

This one here is interesting because at the top right hand corner, very right near where the Rotunda Hospital is, there’s a Mr. Geoghegan a live-in draper to her majesty, no less, that’s Queen Victoria. On the bottom part at the far side of the street, was simply very changes still in early 1850’s. That was to change dramatically in the late 19th century in O’Connell Street.

This kind of happened before Victoriana took over on O’Connell Street, where individual buildings became much more important than the overall street. This was the Dublin Vet Company restaurant that made bread here. In fact Joyce refers to this in his book Ulysses and he has Bloom looking in the window and gazing inside at people who were having a cup of coffee, a cup of tea inside and commenting what they were eating at as well. This building was destroyed in 1916, it was never replaced. Some say thankfully. And then there were hotels appearing on O’Connell Street too, back in the late 18th century. The whole rise of the commercial part of the street taking over gradually, and domestic housing moving gradually away from O’Connell Street.

And then because of the enormous success of the commercial part of O’Connell Street, there were 10,000 carts crossing over the bridge every single day back and forward. 10,000 carts, extraordinary number of carts crossing over the carriages. And that caused a man to build a new bridge over O’Connell Street. Shopkeepers in the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, over the river I should say. And they contacted one guy, Richard Turner of Botanic Gardens fame. It was a single span building, cast iron building. It was designed so that high tide ships and boats could go up underneath the bridge. Very different than the present bridge in O’Connell Street. It was laid on the table of the Corporation about 20 years and they decided eventually not to build it. And they simple just built an extension of the Gandon bridge in about 1880, a bridge made wider and that’s what happened. The bridge became a full bridge back in the 1880’s. And O’Connell Street then had this kind of impact, bring it more and more towards the south side and bringing the ward visually and easier towards the south side. And its connection with Westmoreland Street and its connection with the (31.42 inaudible).

Then this happened in 1916. And this city centre was certainly reduced to rubble after the 1916. And there were consequences for the street, serious consequences for the street at that time.

This map shows Sackville Street and all the ground totally destroyed. They were bombed and burned down. There was very little left, the west side was particularly badly hit in 1916. The east side was badly disturbed in 1922. But in 1916, this was happening. And the effect of that was quite dramatic, because people who worked in these shops and worked all over Dublin were now out of a job. The people who owned the businesses were now out of business and they weren’t paying any rates to Dublin Corporation. The insurance companies didn’t pay up any money because it was an act of war, and there was chaos for a long time after the 1916 Rising. And Asquith, the Prime Minister came over to Dublin to look at the political situation that was going on in Dublin politically. But I’m sure when he came here at that time, he got an earful from the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, from the Council of the Dublin Corporation about the payment, who’s going to pay for the city? And the Irish Builder magazine, they said that the rebuilding of Sackville Street presented a “unique and unexpected opportunity for Irish architects to the great needs involved”.

What Dublin Corporation had on its plate at this time already presented to them was a plan for Dublin. This was the (inaudible 33.36) plan for Dublin. This was a radical plan, and it moved the city now back towards the west again. And you can see that this plan.


This is O’Connell Street there and the whole thing is shifting over, so that this becomes the centre now. This is Dublin Castle here.


This town was based on the (inaudible 34.00) in Paris. It was centralising the Parliament, railway stations and public buildings in the centre, linking north and south together. It was a great plan, and along with visitors from all over the city coming towards the centre. For every space there was a Abercrombie plan. But that plan took a lot of organisation, a lot of time, a lot of money to gather. And the people had no mood for those kind of (34.22 inaudible) approaches to planning. So the Corporation sought powers to help the rebuilding be paid for, and exactly what should be built.

This shows them the Abercrombie plan. On the top of O’Connell Street, the Parnell monument. This was what Gardiner had in mind for his development.


As a vista, up here.


The vista closed off for reaching Sackville Street back in the 1750’s of having a vista contained in a public building.


The Gate Theatre here, and this the Rotunda.


You can see this was an Abercrombie idea, but very much based on what Gardiner had proposed. So the Corporation sought powers for an ambitious and prudent plan which all buildings would have to conform. They applied for government grants. But Dublin Castle and Westminster objected to British taxpayers funding the rebuilding of a beautified Sackville Street. And the Dublin Property Owners Association even, they resisted attempts to add any expense to the beautification and rebuilding of O’Connell Street. However, the Westminster parliament passed an act called the Dublin Reconstruction and Emergency Provision Act of 1916. This act compelled all rebuilding to submit to Dublin Corporation elevations and plans and the city architect was empowered to acquire reasonable alterations to proposals if unsuitable to the amenity of the street. The Corporation could loan money for the rebuilding and compel purchasing of sites if required. And 1.8 million pounds was given by Westminster towards the rebuilding. Now that was considerably added to as things went on. Meanwhile the RIAI, which is the Royal Institute of British Architects which we both know, they wrote to the Home Secretary, this is what confuses me. They wrote to the Home Secretary over in Westminster and they were urging builders to observe uniformity, harmony and symmetry for the reconstruction of O’Connell Street.

Now the city architect was a man called Horace O’Rourke and he produced a number of drawings and sketches for O’Connell Street. And he wanted O’Connell Street built in a neo classical style. And this is Lower O’Connell Street, which is the most successful part of it. And he laid down guidelines for height restrictions, parapet heights, corners and for set back at roof level, and also that materials would be of brick, would be stone and limestone. This was a most successful elevation. Alas, all streets were not like this. But this is a very successful and very harmonious part of the street in Dublin. And that’s still there today, very much respected and very much enjoyed. And the bottom part may be pretty vulgar, but the top part is a really elegant piece of work. When you see the old bread company’s shop is now gone, you see the road is set back at a distance, but playing the role in a quieter fashion than was happening in the late Victorian period.

T. J. Byrne as principal architect in the OPW insisted that all public buildings be rebuilt and refurbished exactly as they were. This was a building, the Metropole, which was rebuilt.

That’s now the march from the 70s and it’s now Penneys shop nowadays. But there was a lot of good work done on that reconstruction on O’Connell Street. A lot of it was not demolished again in 1922, but nonetheless the efforts were outstanding.

When the GPO was being rebuilt, the footprint for Francis Johnston’s building was considerably added to. It became a much, much bigger building when Johnston designed it himself, with what the government required at that stage. The GPO was open again in 1929 by Cosgrave.

And then we come on to the 1990’s. In the 1960’s particularly, O’Connell Street undergone more change. There’s more demand for office building and change was happening rapidly, with the economy getting better and better. And then Nelson’s Pillar was blown up and this image from the early 80’s shows like the highway of travel going across O’Connell Street. It had lost its way with the development in (38.50 inaudible). Even trees seem inappropriate in Dublin at that stage, inappropriate tree planting. You can see here from the 80s, the west side of O’Connell Street, inappropriate (39.01 inaudible) took place and the very top right hand side, an office building there, that was where Gilbey’s shop was. And Gilbey’s was designed by the Dean family, Sir Thomas Dean, and that was demolished in the 1960’s like way from this commercial building. So a lot of damage was done to O’Connell Street and the Corporation  to their great credit fought back to examine O’Connell Street again.

I think the model the Corporation were using was the model of the Champs Elysee in Paris, that was the approach to having a boulevard again, which would be time for walking, reflection and enjoyment. This is Paris here. That kind of gentleness, time and space, not rushing anywhere anymore. It’s time to enjoy the street and enjoy being there.

Again, a further image of Paris, the sense of contentment almost, of being there on the street. It’s like a day out to enjoy being there. It wasn’t the case that O’Connell Street in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

And this is what O’Connell Street, part of the plan the Corporation came up with. They made recommendation, then they were quite narrow to begin with. The widening of the pavements and the central mall be installed in O’Connell Street. Traffic lanes to be reduced to two on both sides. A new Luas station would be built. A plaza built outside the GPO, a civic space effectively. Steps of planting around that plaza and then a suitably new paving. All the monuments, all the pieces of sculpture were all cleaned up and there was a spire, the new competition for a replacement was done and that was constructed as well. And the street was now beginning to fight back, it was becoming a better place. But it’s only the beginning of that fight back with a street that’s so much part of our history and the story of the Irish people.

This map here shows the sculpture on O’Connell Street. And if you go down O’Connell Street these days, I’d ask you to take time and reflect and look at these beautiful sculptures we have on O’Connell Street.  They are all pre 13 and have been restored. Sculpture comes into its own when things slow down and you can enjoy them and see them better, the great parks have done that effectively in Chapelizod. You slow down and you enjoy the city, enjoy the street and you enjoy being there. And that’s what this attempt by Dublin Corporation are doing, to make it a better place for all of us, and celebrate our Irishness, I suppose as well.

So that’s back where we started, and you might want to say a few words.


Well just to book end things as we finish off because to reflect again on, go back again to the good Duke of Ormond and his interest in public works and investment in public works. As Stephen has pointed out the Corporation’s very meritorious development of the paving and the tree planting with Ian Ritchie’s spire has helped in considerable measure to improve the character of the street, than the pictures that we saw what it was like in the 80’s. I too had some involvement in the feasibility study looking at the possibility of putting a new national theatre, the Abbey Theatre in O’Connell Street on the site of the Carlton cinema at one time. It’s not going to happen now. But I do feel fairly strongly that the kind of public investment in a public work, in a public venture like that would underwrite the sustainability of the street into the future and allow it then to develop its commercial activities, its entertainment activities and so on, and give a vibrancy, but a vibrancy together with a civic dignity, that I think was portrayed in the 19th century, with the development of the GPO and Nelson’s Pillar at the time.

So that would be our view as previous public service architects, that there is scope for public investment in the main street of our capital city. That’s it. (Recording ends here)

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