The recent occupation of Moore Street brought to memory past struggles to save buildings and locations of historic interest in Dublin. The ghosts of Wood Quay and Fitzwilliam Street’s Georgian Mile sit on the minds of those involved in the campaign to save the terrace and rightly so; a blatant disregard for history and public interest has often been a feature of redevelopment in Dublin with countless significant sites permitted to intentionally fall into disrepair and dereliction and many more to disappear from our streetscape forever.
Mindful of this over the last couple of weeks, and in reading Frederick O’Dwyer’s excellent “Lost Dublin” I started to think about not only what we’ve lost architecturally and historically but what might have been in this city had history played out a little differently. We’ve already covered the rather ambitious original plans to build Hugh Lane Gallery across the Liffey and the stunning landscape of Abercrombie’s “Dublin of the Future” but what of other plans that for whatever reason fell by the wayside? Think the U2 Tower and the Liffey Cable Car but step back a few decades/ centuries…
Prior to the construction of the North Wall, the East Wall and the Great South Wall, the Liffey meandered as it liked from source to sea. The construction of these walls and the reclamation of land they afforded, along with the construction of quay walls changed the landscape of Dublin to resemble much what we see today. 17th Century Dublin, as a result looked very different to the Dublin of today with the Liffey’s muddy banks allowed to find their natural course. Consequently, Merrion Square sat considerably closer to the banks of the Liffey than it does now, and in 1685 was the site for an audacious plan to replicate the Tilbury ‘Citadel’ Fort located on the Thames. The fort was originally planned in 1672 by ‘His Majesty’s Chief Engineer’ Sir Bernard de Gomme to sit closer to Ringsend, but on his death, a man named ‘Honest Tom’ Phillips proposed the location covering large parts of Merrion Square, Mount Street and Fitzwilliam Sqaure.
According to Frank Hopkins’ ‘Deadbeats, Dossers and Decent Skins’, “had it been built, the fort would have covered an area of thirty acres and would have been capable of accomodating seven hundred officers and soldiers.” The fort was to be brick built, faced with stone and encompass ramparts, ravelins, a curtain wall and overhanging bastions. The prohibitive cost of over £130, 000 along with a cessation of hostilities between the English and the Dutch caused the idea to be shelved.
Merrion Square was also the site for a proposed Cathedral in the nineteen thirties. As late as 1934 the then Archbishop Byrne is quoted as saying “Merrion Square has been acquired as a site for the Cathedral and on Merrion Square, please God, the Cathedral will be built.” The park had been purchased from the Pembroke Estate four years earlier for the sum of £100, 000. Of course the Cathedral was never built on the site and in 1974 the land was transferred to Dublin Corporation for use as a public park. The Pro Cathedral on Marlborough Street which had been altered and extended in preparation for the Eucharistic Congress remained the main Catholic cathedral in the city. (more…)