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HandsOffDublin

The cover of Hands Off Dublin, a collaboration between campaigner Deirdre Kelly and photographer Pat Langan

Deirdre Kelly was only 61 years of age at the time of her passing in 2000, but by then she had done so much. In the words of Dublin’s finest historian, David Dickson, she “became the most fearless community activist – on the streets, in the courts and with her polemical Hands Off Dublin.”

Author, activist and conservationist, she was to the fore of the battle for Dublin, founding the Dublin Civic Group and instrumental in bringing about the Dublin Crisis Conference in 1986. Together with the work of others like Uinseann MacEoin and Frank McDonald, she helped to shine a light on poor planning and the threat to the heritage of the city. She was centrally involved in the campaign to save Hume Street from demolition, which first brought her to public prominence.

Crucially, Kelly (earlier Deirdre McMahon), MacEoin and others were important in changing the image of heritage activism in the city, concerned as much with the proper provision of houses and facilities for Dublin in the present as with saving the past.

In June 1963, the writer Barbara Page lamented those who she felt were concerned only with the Georgian past:

My work takes me frequently into the slums and tenements of Dublin, and although I love the city I feel often depressed and dispirited at the end of the day. I listen to the fine talk of the Georgian Society and read the pleas to save our Georgian Architecture. I climb the stairs, four and five storeys, of Georgian tenements…to rooms unfitted for modern living. There are times when I wish I could make the Gerogian admirers live in these hovels.

No such criticisms could be levelled against an activist of Deirde Kelly’s standing.

The Battle for Hume Street:

Hume Street, and the occupation of a number of endangered buildings by architectural students and conservation activists, drew significant national and even international attention onto the threats facing Dublin’s Georgian heritage.

A significant catalyst for public debate had come earlier, in August 1957, with the demolition of two Georgin houses on Kildare Place, next to the National Museum of Ireland. Campaigners, including Uinseann MacEoin and Seán Ó Faoláin, had argued that these houses had importance in helping to tell the story of the city, and positioned them in an Irish context:

We believe that the architecture of Dublin in this period – the period of Grattan’s Parliament – is one of the country’s chief treasures and to the educated traveller one of its principal attractions. These houses have no particular historical associations: they form a part of a great heritage which was allowed to go to waste in the last century, which, if every effort is not made in the present, will be dissipated. The preservation of a few historical buildings do not keep a city’s character: it is the total effect of houses such as these which made Dublin unique.

The campaigners lost, but the Irish Georgian Society would emerge. Frank McDonald, in his study The Destruction of Dublin, quotes one Government Minister as stating “I was actually glad to see them go. They stood for everything I hate.” The IGS, as McDonald writes, was born “with the twin aims of awakening public interest in Ireland’s heritage of Georgian architecture and spearheading a campaign for its preservation.”

Hume Street played out differently from Kildare Place. Moving beyond words of condemnation into action, the site was occupied in an attempt to stop its destruction. Visiting it in January 1970, journalist Mary Kenny described Deirdre McMahon as leading the occupation:

The architectural students occupying the house at No.1 Hume Street operte in a rigidly democratic manner and proclaim not to hve any specific leader. but a yougn woman, Deirdre McMahon, is clearly emerging as a spearheading force in the movement… Miss McMahon, a first year archaelology student at UCD, is Dublin-born and bred (from Leeson Street). She is lively, merry and extremely resourceful. She is full of purpose bout the project of saving Dublin, but she is clever enough to avoid sounding a hotheaded extrmist.

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Irish Press image of the occupation.

Hume Street had been brewing for some time,with the Green Property Company acquriing property there from 1966. In December 1969, when the first demolition began, concerned students and others moved in, occupying the site. This was in the aftermath of the destruction of similar Georgian houses for the premises of the Electricity Supply Board, and feeling was running high. Sam Stephenson, the architect of the ESB offices, took a dim view of the Hume Street occupation, insisting that the protestors should “stop bleating on about all of Georgian Dublin being preserved for posterity – posterity might not want it.”

Reflecting on the Hume Street occupation, Deirdre remembered “we used to have school parties coming in, people came from Belfast and places like that to visit us. We spent a lot of time showing people around.” The occupation lasted several months, and had some curiuous moments, like the arrivial of a Christmas hamper for the students from Charles Haughey.

Things turned ugly in June 1970,when private security arrived to remove the students occupying the building in the dead of night. The violence was serious, condemned as the “strong-arm methods of a private army employed by property speculators”. Gardaí, not for the first or last time, watched on as private security removed protestors from a building. Widespread condemnation followed,and a protest that evening would be addressed by Mary Robinson, Noel Browne and others.

Hume Street was a noble defeat, but a victory in a sense that it demonstrated the broad support for conservation campaigns in the city, a perfect rebuff to the idiody of Minister for Local Government Kevin Boland, who had denoucned the protestors as “a consortium of belted earls and their ladies and left-wing intellectuals.”

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Deirdre Kelly at Christchurch Cathedral.

The Living City Group and the Dublin Crisis Conference:

Beyond Hume Street, Deirdre involved herself in a number of important 1970s campaigns in the city with the Living City Group, and published City Views, which shone a light on poor planning in the city and threats to heritage. The group was founded by Niall Montgomery, Aidan Kelly (her husband, and the business partner of architect Uinseann MacEoin in MacEoin Kelly Architects) and herself, but quickly formed an active and commited membership.

Some of the language around Kelly in the press was typical of its time, described in the Irish Independent in 1976 as “housewife who leads war on the planners”, but despite such language she seized upon any and every opportunity offered to put forward her argument:

She does not like the Living City Group being referred to as a conservation group, because this term deals mainly with buildings, whereas their greatest concern is with people and protecting them in their small communities. It’s the threat to these communities with which Mrs. Kelly is concerned at present. The threat, she says, is contained in the Draft Development Plan for the city.

Kelly’s impassioned plea for a new approach to planning, Hands Off Dublin! , highlighted all that was wrong in the Corporation’s Draft Development Plan, in the words of one reviewer, “people before traffic, homes for them near their jobs and property speculators way behind in the list of what Dublin needs is what this book is all about.” With Pat Langan’s brilliant photography, she demonstrated the destructive impact road widenings would have on inner-city Dublin communities, communities she always insisted wanted to live in the city. Cleverly,she and Pat took a busload of local politicans and journalists around Dublin, visiting places mentioned in their study and highlighting the potential negative impact of changes on communities. At the heart of Kelly’s argument for Dublin was for the centre of Dublin to be embraced as “the living heart of a capital city.”

One of Kelly’s greatest moments – in conjuction with other longstanding voices for the city – was the Dublin Crisis Conference, which drew up a Citizens’ Alternative Programme for Dublin. Drawing up a 16-point Citizen Alternaive Programme, the iniative won the support of organisations as diverse as the Architectural Association of Ireland, Dublin Council of Trade Unions, Students Against the Destruction of Dublin, the Liberties Association and the Concerned Parents. There is still much of merit and wisdom within the programme. It drew attention to the need for improved public transport, highlighted the decay of Dublin’s docklands (insisting that it was vital the land there “is developed as a diverse and humane environment in the context of a community planning framework which is compatible with the needs of existing residents”) and opposed road widening schemes which threatened the fabric of the capital.

Beyond her work as an activist, Kelly also produced a brilliant local history Four Roads to Dublin: The History of Rathmines, Ranelagh and Leeson Street, published by O’Brien Press. As with many of her contemperaries – Uinseann MacEoin, Frank McDonald, Máirín de Burca (of the Dublin Housing Action Campaign) – she fought plenty of battles, lost a few and won others. Still, she shifted views, and opened up improtant discussions on the direction in which Dublin was heading. She is commemorated today with a memorial in Ranelagh, where a plaque reminds us to think about the streets we walk down as living streets:

Wherever one walks, one is conscious that these are living streets, steeped not just in their own history but woven into the history of Dublin. Writers and musicians, unionists and nationalists, scientists, poets and artists lived and still do – in the houses which line these streets.

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A place to sit and reflect, Deirdre Kelly’s Ranelagh memorial (Image: Dublin City Architects Blog)

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With the departure of the British Army from Inchicore’s Richmond Barracks and the birth of the Irish Free State, the barracks was renamed in honour of Tom Keogh. One of the ‘Twelve Apostles’ and a trusted member of The Squad, the assasination team within the IRA’s Dublin Brigade assembled by Michael Collins, Keogh had played an active and important role in the Irish revolution. Killed in September 1922 during the subsequent Civil War, the naming of the barracks was a form of commemoration, but the military life of the barracks was short following the birth of the state.

Only weeks into 1922, the press were pondering if former British barracks could be utilised for housing. The Irish Independent wrote:

The buildings of the married quarters in most of the barracks might be utilised for housing families and relieving congestion while a proper housing scheme is being put into operation. The sites also offer scope for industrial establishments, and for such the buildings could be used without much remodelling.

By 1924, working class Dublin families were living in what was now known as Keogh Square. Four years later, it was reported that “248 families now are housed in the barrack building…and 218 families in houses recently built on a thirteen-acre field adjoining.” Given the history of the site, those who lived there became known as ‘Barrackers’.

History has not been kind to Keogh Square. In 1969, as the St. Michael’s Estate scheme prepared to open in its place, the demolition of the old homes of Keogh Square was described as “sounding the death kneel for the old world and symbolising the new decade of progress.”

The scheme is remembered today as a place which had a tremendous sense of community, but which was also among the most deprived working class housing schemes in the country. Initally, the converted barracks space had been considered decent with regards public housing, but conditions worsened as the scheme grew. The Dublin Tenants Association in 1918 had deplored Dublin Corporation for builing what they termed “neo-slums” in the place of the old across the city, but Keogh Square was different. When initally converted, each flat contained its own toilet, a large living space and a kitchen. Still, things gradually were left to decline. Local resident Nora Szechy, in her memoir of growing up in 1940s Inchicore, recounted that “it was a converted soldiers barracks to give housing to the poor. It was a dark, dilapidated tenement, which smelt of poverty and decay.”

Conditions in Keogh Square were regularly discussed in the press in the decades following independence. In April 1933, there was widespread coverage of the refusal of tenants to pay rent in protest at conditions, with residents organising themselves into the Keogh Square Residents Association. In 1957, Frank Sherwin T.D went as far as to say, over-dramatically, the conditions were “a kind of concentration camp if you like”,language only matched by the Irish Press, who described it as “a warren of decayed houses, human despair, a seeming example of man’s inhumanity to man.”

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The opening of St. Michael’s Estate, 1970.

Keogh Square made it to the late 1960s, a time of considerable change in public housing in Dublin. For many, the seven Ballymun towers, named in honour of the executed 1916 leaders, are the enduring memory of that time,but change was apace across Dublin. St. Michael’s Estate was an impressive scheme in scale, as four eight-storey towers and seven four-storey blocks would replace what had stood before.

The new buildings were architecturally striking,designed by Arthur Swift and Partners. Still, as occurred on the otherside of the Liffey with the Ballymun scheme, there were critics who maintained services were inadequate. In her excellent recent study, Housing, Architecture and the Edge Condition: Dublin is building, 1935 – 1975, architectural historian Ellen Rowley quotes one 1960s voice as stating that “in Ireland, by and large, the struggle has not been to create neighbourhoods but merely to build homes. This is roughly parallel to producing automobiles without building hard surface roads.” Just as in Ballymun, the St Michael’s Estate housing scheme – and Keogh Barracks before it – is now a memory. The excellent Richmond Barracks museum and exhibition space includes reconstructed homes from both Keogh Square and St Michael’s Estate.

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Architectural Survey, 1971. Digitsed by brandnewretro.

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Aerial view of the former St Michael’s Estate. Dublin City Council.

Dazzling Dublin New Wave/Post-Punk band The Atrix are set to release their long awaited anthology. The boxset (available in vinyl and CD) of remastered tracks from the 1979-81 period also includes a 24 page booklet designed by Niall McCormack containing a reflective history of the group by journalist Declan Lynch, song lyrics and photographs.

The relaunch takes place on Thursday 19th September in the Sugar Club. There will be a short comedy set from Kevin McAleer; a poetry reading by Paula Meehan; a roundtable discussion of the Dublin music scene of that era (line up TBC) and a live performance from the band featuring original members Dick Conroy (bass) and Hughie Friel (drums). Tickets (€15) are available here.

The Atrix relaunch poster

Dublin in the late 1970s and early 1980s produced some amazing musical talent and this new release will bring The Atrix’s music to a younger audience of music fans and collectors. The band deserve their place in the top table of local acts alongside The Blades, The Boomtown Rats, The Radiators and U2.

For more on the band, see our previous posts on their singles; ‘A Sense of Ireland’ 1980 festival in London and footage from a 1982 gig in The Top Hat.

Links:

Website – https://www.theatrix.ie/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/theatrixdublin
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pg/theatrixofficial/

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JSA Architects image of ALDI Terenure, incorporating the old DUTC tram terminus on left and right into the modern design. (Image Credit: JSA)

Before Nelson’s Pillar trams slowed, shunted, changed trolley started from Blackrock, Kingstown and Dalkey, Clonskea, Rathgar and Terenure, Palmerston Park and upper Rathmines, Sandymount Green, Rathmines, Ringsend, and Sandymount Tower, Harold’s Cross.

The hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company’s timekeeper bawled them off:
– Rathgar and Terenure!
-Come on, Sandymount Green!

While forever immortalised in Ulysses, there are still remnants of the Dublin United Tramways Company to be found around Dublin city today, including the former premises of the DUTC on Marlborough Street, which the name of the company in the stonework still.

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1914 image of trams in Terenure. Notice The Eagle House on the left, still going strong today. (Image: National Library of Ireland)

At Terenure,the old and the new meet in a curious way, with historic features of the DUTC tram terminus incorporated into the ALDI development. Not being from the area, but living nearby, stepping inside the ALDI and looking at its surroundings gave me a sense there was a longer history to the site than a supermarket. At the nearby The Eagle House pub, the location where Joyce’s mother was born, pictures on the wall show the local streetscape at a time when trams were a part of life there, the familair red triangle of the No. 15 which serviced Terenure and its environs. Today, Terenure is serviced by the 15 route of Dublin Bus, a nod towards the historic tram route.

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The 15 tram for Terenure in Rathmines.

The Terenure tram depot opened in February 1872, at a time when horses were still utilised by the DUTC. As Joseph V. O’Brien notes, the introduction of electric trams into the city at the very end of the ninteenth century was considered “one of Dublin’s minor glories”, and while critics felt the minimum fare was too high (twice that of Glasgow, a city of considerably more industry), electric trams were widely praised. By January 1900, most of DUTC’s system had moved to the electronic system. It was to be a system which lasted less than a half century. The DUTC made it to the mid 1940s, when – under the banner of ‘progress’ – the tram system in Dublin ground to a halt, with the exception of the Hill of Howth tram which would carry into the subsequent decade. The final tram to pull into Terenure did so on 31 August 1948. Dozens of miles of tram track would dissappear in subsequent decades from Dublin. In time, the city would lay down tramlines once more, but many parts of Dublin once serviced by the DUTC don’t see trams today.

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Liffey Street commemorative plaque to Hector Grey, unveiled in1988.

Passing through Upper Liffey Street recently, I was surprised to see the transformation of the street, with the demolition of a row of buildings that included the site of one of Hector Grey’s Dublin shops. This is to accommodate the construction of another hotel in Dublin, this time a 310 room budget hotel.

Born Alexander Scott in 1904, the name Hector Grey was borrowed from an Australian jockey,an interesting character in his own right who had been banned from horse racing on more than one occasion. Having married Annabelle, a Dubliner from the dockside, he moved to Dublin in the hungry 1920s. Any Dublin memoir from the second half of the twentieth century which fails to mention Hector is incomplete. Journalist Gene Kerrigan captures him best:

He was a big, heavy man, balding, glasses, a strong Scots accent after decades in Ireland, a distinct voice honed on years of street selling. “I’m not asking for three pounds or two pounds! I’m not even asking for a pound!” and we knew he was going to bring the asking price down to ten shillings and the adults considered the wisdom of making a purchase. Yes, it was reasonable value at ten shillings, but did they really need it?

While Hector’s former shop is no more, a small plaque on Liffey Street by the Ha’penny Bridge marks the location where he began trading. Grey’s empire would expand in time to include shops in Liffey Street, Mary Street and the Crumlin Shopping Centre. At the time of his death, an obituary noted that “even when he was a millionaire he came back to this bank of the Liffey to sell from a box anything from Korean umbrellas to Penang penknives.”

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Evening Herald, November 1976.

Beside the Ha’penny Bridge, Hector ran a sort of auction, offering the goods to those willing to pay the highest price. The key to Grey’s success was exploring foreign markets for materials to sell here, as “by exploring the cheap markets of the East he brought many consumer goods to within the reach of the underprivileged.” The form of selling shifted when Hector opened his stores, which became a sort of Aladdin’s Cave offering just about everything you could imagine at knockdown prices. The empire grew to employ more than a hundred people,from John Kearney and Ernie Fields who helped Hector at the Ha’penny Bridge to Joe Flaherty, who became the retail manager of a growing empire. In 1977, the Irish Press noted Grey sold something in the region of a million pounds worth of toys each Christmas.

Recently ,I asked on Twitter for any recollections of Grey and his empire of shops. The thread produced some excellent and personal responses. From Mary Buckley, on the magic of the place:

Kids’ paradise. Crammed with small metal toys in bright colours with movable parts. No computer chips or screens for us then. A clockwork train was the stuff of dreams. Hector made xmas for families with little money that wanted to give their kids nice gifts

Historian Terry Fagan recounted:

Lots of memories of Hector Grey. I remember my father worked on the docks, the boat that came into Dublin Port at Christmas time loaded with toys for Hector Grey & other shops was called “The Blue Funnel” my father & other Dockers got toy’s for their children

Hector died in 1985, and the fact a plaque was unveiled only three years later in his honour says something about his standing in Dublin, a ‘street character’ in his own lifetime. The family continued the business into subsequent years. Long after closing, the name of Hector Grey remained on Liffey Street, as documented by the brilliant builtdublin.com.


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Remembering Seán Treacy

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The unveiling of a plaque to Seán Treacy at the Republican Outfitters, Talbot Street (Irish Press, 1937)

While the focus of many people in Dublin is firmly on the coming challenge of Kerry in the All Ireland Football Final, tomorrow will see a showdown of a different kind, when Tipperary and Kilkenny take to the field of Croke Park.

Those in Dublin at noon should take a stroll down Talbot Street, where a tradition plays out every time Tipperary reach the final. Gathering in honour of Seán Treacy, hundreds will pay their respects at the spot where he was killed before making their way on to Croke Park.

Treacy, born in West Tipperary in 1895, had been a participant in the Soloheadbeg Ambush of January 1919, often considered to be the beginning of the War of Independence, though there had been fatalities on both sides in the years following the Easter Rising and before that ambush. Dan Breen recounted:

…we took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. [Seán] Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces … The only regret that we had following the ambush was that there were only two policemen in it, instead of the six we had expected.

Living in a Dublin safehouse in October 1920, Treacy was caught in a firefight on Talbot Street with Gilbert Price, part of a British Secret Service surveillance team monitoring the Republican Outfitters and seeking wanted men in the capital. The bodies of both Price and Treacy were photographed lying in the street, and while the conflict was primarily being fought in rural terrain, it was a reminder that a war of espionage was being fought on the streets of the capital too. Treacy became one of the most commemorated figures in the aftermath of the conflict. Desmond Ryan, 1916 veteran and later historian of the revolution, wrote on his anniversary that:

Twenty years after his death, his very name is sufficient to dissipate many dark clouds of disappointment and disillusion among those who knew him, to bridge Civil War differences, to dispel the questionings and weariness with which many regard the aftermath of the recent wars of Ireland.

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Memorial card for Seán Treacy

Gathering to honour Treacy at the spot where he died is a tradition now among Tipp fans, one of few commemorative rituals in Ireland which seems to grow with time rather than diminish. Where once flowers were quietly left, now the national anthem is sung, as well as a ballad in honour of Treacy and a decade of the rosary. In 2016, one participant told the Irish Independent that “I don’t think it makes a difference on the game but it represents us and where we come from.” For those of Tipperary blood in the capital too, it is an important celebration of identity.

Video of the 2014 ceremony:

The sign of the Zodiac

A visitor to Bruxelles today couldn’t help but notice the rich musical pedigree of the pub, with framed memorabilia honouring the connection of the establishment to Phil Lynott, whose statue takes pride of place in Harry Street outside the pub.

Bruxelles has layers of history to it however, beginning life as The Grafton Mooney in the 1880s. The unusual Victorian design of the pub was the work of architect J.J O’Callaghan, who has left a rich architectural legacy across the island of Ireland.

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J.J O’Callaghan’s Harry Street design (Dublin City Library and Archive collection)

In 1947, The Grafton Mooney was rebranded The Zodiac Bar, described in the press as the “newest and quaintest cocktail bar in Dublin”. By then, cocktails were very much in fashion, panicking some. In the words of one temperance association that same year:

Due to modern influence, human respect and lack of moral courage, many of our young people are cultivating the cocktail habit, imagining that it charmed away the possible evil consequences of strong drink. Gin was gin, whether it was taken in the ‘Lady in Pink’ or the ‘Lady in Green’

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1947 advertisement for The Zodiac.

At a time when ladies were increasingly accepted in Dublin’s public houses,cocktail focused bars like The Zodiac were opening in the city. More peculiar about the bar than serving cocktails was the iconography of the bar, bedecked with unusual tiled designs “showing the ancient signs of the Zodiac”,which remain behind the main bar today, shown here by DublinTown.

The novelty of cocktail bars (the Evening Herald wrote of the “frivolous, flighty, feather-brained creatures often encountered in American social life” who hung around such establishments) passed of course, and in time the Zodiac was a regular boozer, both like and different from McDaid’s across the street. In the 1970s, at the time of Ireland joining the European Economic Community, the public house was once again rebranded, this time taking the name Bruxelles. The flags of the EEC member states would adorn the walls, as well as tiled features showing the EEC flag, but the zodiac symbols remain for those who look hard enough.

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