In his classic work The Destruction of Dublin, published in 1985 and now like gold dust to stumble upon, the journalist Frank McDonald quoted a powerful piece penned by a writer in The Observer newspaper. Writing in 1979, the journalist said
Suddenly Dublin has become a shabby city – shabby because its centre is peppered with crude concrete structures, flashy mirror-glass facades and other inappropriate schemes which have no connection at all with the spirit of the place.
Certainly there is much in the city today from this period which some still regard as architectural crimes against Dublin. Some controversial plans from the time however never made it to fruition, and one example is the proposed Central Bus Station in the heart of Temple Bar. This huge development, which would have seen construction projects undertaken on both sides of the River Liffey, was one of the most divisive proposals in terms of city planning in Dublin in the 1970s and 80s.
Temple Bar, by the nineteenth century, was fulfilling a role for Dublin as a manufacturing and industrial centre for the city. Indeed, in the living memory of the city today many can remember Temple Bar as a district of factories and warehouses, although urban decay became a factor in the district throughout the twentieth century. The idea of constructing a central bus station in this district had long been considered, owing primarily to the areas location, bordering some of Dublin’s prime retail districts. By the 1970s the state-run Coras Iompair Eireann was purchasing property in the area with one-eye to future redevelopment, while simultaneously renting out these properties at low-cost. This is perhaps the single most important transformative moment for Temple Bar, and as Paul Knox has noted:
Paradoxically, this triggered a process of revitalization. Activities which could afford only low rents on short leases moved into the district. These included artists’ studios, galleries, recording and rehearsal studies, pubs and cafes, second-hand clothes shops, small boutiques, bookshops and record stores, as well as a number of voluntary organisations. Together with the districts architectural character, the youth culture attracted by the districts new commercial tenants brought a neobohemian atmosphere to Temple Bar…
In 1977, the following proposal for a Central Bus Station was put forward. Designed by Skidmore Owings & Merrill LLP, this development would span the River Liffey, with development on Ormond Quay designed to complement that in Temple Bar. Looking at Dame Street and Wellington Quay on the map, the sheer scale of this proposal is apparent. It was planned that a tunnel under the Liffey would join both sites, and it was also planned to incorporate the DART into the site.
A feel of the changing nature of the district can be captured in a 1984 article written by Maurice Haugh for The Irish Times. This once dying part of Dublin had come alive he noted, stating that “It’s a happy uncongested area whose natural character has been preserved from the developers’ touch, and has only been exploited recently.”
The picture Haugh painted was of a vibrant, liberal area. He wrote of the Hirschfeld Centre, an openly gay community centre at the heart of Temple Bar, describing its disco as “one of the liveliest and musically up to date in town. Records are imported directly from London and, as a rule, are played months before they hit the radio and charts.” This centre had opened in 1979, and contained among other things a social centre, cinema and meeting place for Dublin’s LGBT community.
Some of the artistic endeavours of the time are still to be seen in the area today, for example the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, which emerged in 1983 when a disused shirt factory was rented from CIE by Jenny Haughton and given to a collective of artists. As the history of the Temple Bar Gallery and Studios notes:
The early 20th-century industrial building, which extended through a block from Temple Bar to the Liffey quays, provided the framework of spaces for artists to work in, although the conditions were problematic and at times hazardous. The activities of the artists – studios, exhibition space, cafe, sculptor’s annex – influenced the atmosphere of Temple Bar in the 1980’s, establishing the area’s reputation as a cultural hub and contributing to its regeneration as Dublin’s Cultural Quarter.
No journalist campaigned as strongly for the area as Frank McDonald, a constant opponent of bad planning in Dublin. McDonald reported on Council meetings on the matter, and gave space to alternative voices, such as An Táisce, who believed the area had a future if properly preserved and encouraged. In 1986 he noted that a decade is a long time in city planning, as:
Ten years later, all of this looks like so much pie-in-the-sky. In the first instance, the commercial property market in Dublin is in a state of almost total collapse, with the demand for new office space, not to mention shopping and residential- down to not much more than zero. And secondly, the lynch-pin of CIE’s scheme – the underground central station for DART – is looking more and more like a pipe-dream.
It was not until July 1987 that CIE’s plans for the district were well and truly destroyed, with elected Councillors voting for the preservation and redevelopment of the area. By this stage the issue had become a mainstream debate, with Charlie Haughey vowing before the upcoming election that he would “not let CIE near” Temple Bar. By the early 1990s, the area enjoyed a sort of ‘official backing’, with Temple Bar Properties established with strong government funding, and the aim of organising the development of the area.Eric Zuelow notes in his history of tourism in Ireland since independence that £2 million was spent on the area in 1993 alone, with much of this money drawn from European Union development funds.
Many (including this writer) would argue that the area has drifted far from its cultural and offbeat qualities in the years of protest. Yet while the Hard Rock Cafe, McDonalds and others may have moved in, it should be remembered that some of those who championed the cause of Temple Bar over 20 years ago still call it home.