What is it about the odd couple of tall chimneys in Dublin Bay that has evoked such an overwhelming public wish to see them preserved? The not-quite-twin stacks of the Poolbeg power station are now as redundant as the station itself and the ESB has said it’s reviewing their future, with demolition as one of the options under consideration. As soon as this prospect was mentioned, however, there was an immediate outcry in social media demanding that the chimneys should be preserved as major, even “iconic”, Dublin landmarks.
The partially red-and-white striped chimneys, standing more than 200 metres tall, are the tallest structures in the city, easily eclipsing the Spire. Built in 1971, the first stack was joined in 1976 by a slightly taller and thinner second chimney, making a rough pair. They stand out against the generally flat background as “markers” for Dublin, whether one is travelling by sea or in the air. Many people campaigning to save them make the point that it’s the sight of the two stacks - though redundant since 2010 - which tells them that they’re nearly home. One can almost feel the emotion.
Dublin has lost many landmarks in the past - the Theatre Royal, demolished in 1962 to make way for the unmitigated horror of Hawkins House; Nelson’s Pillar, blown up by the IRA in 1966; the Imco building on Merrion Road, as fine a piece of art deco as one could find anywhere, replaced in the mid-1970s by a nondescript office block with floors as big as football fields, and the old Gasometer on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, which was dismantled in 1994 to make way for the wholesale redevelopment of Dublin’s Docklands. But a line has been drawn in relation to the Poolbeg stacks.
If they are to be added to Dublin’s list of protected structures, as now seems likely, the city must assume responsibility for their future. An international ideas competition seems the best way of finding an appropriate solution, backed up by an endowment to cover the long-term cost of maintaining these landmarks.