College Green to become 'great square'


The Government wants to redevelop Dublin’s College Green to put it on a par with the great squares of Venice, London and New York

The proposal forms part of plans to prevent Bank of Ireland selling off its historic branch on College Green, so the building can be turned into “Dublin’s Smithsonian” in time for the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan is proposing the former Irish parliament building be used to house parts of the national art collection, a world literature centre, a national genealogy centre, a papers archive and a “digital media lab for cultural materials”, according to a departmental document seen by The Irish Times.

It claims College Green has “the potential to become a cultural and iconic counterpoint to the great city centre nuclei and city squares of the world – the Piazza San Marco in Venice; Trafalgar Square in London; the Place de la Concorde in Paris; Times Square in New York (without the crassness); St Peter’s and the Piazza Savona in Rome; Piazza del Campo in Siena; Covent Gardens in London; Hotel de Ville in Paris; Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid; Federation Square in Melbourne; Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the Grand Place in Brussels. A natural gravitation point on the verge of Europe.

“The Minister proposes the building be placed immediately beyond disposal by Bank of Ireland, given its historic importance and centrality to the Irish nation,” the proposals state.

Mr Deenihan approached the bank in May to seek the acquisition of the building for a literary centre. The bank rejected his approaches, saying College Green was a busy branch and central to its operations.

Despite this rebuff, the Minister is still seeking to acquire the building and has further developed his original proposal. The document, drawn up last month, proposes an Irish version of the Smithsonian in Washington DC, the largest museum in the world. It proposes the bank continue to occupy and maintain the site “pending its cultural animation”.

The return of the building to State ownership would provide an appropriate way of marking the centenary of the 1916 Rising, he suggests.

“A dated return of the College Green building to the Irish people is a tangible and real response to the voices of history.” Mr Deenihan suggests the complex could be renamed along the lines of the Kennedy Centre in the US, for example, by calling it the O’Connell Centre for the Arts.