Walk around Edinburgh’s Georgian squares after dark, and you’ll see lights in many of the houses. That’s because the Scottish capital’s New Town was never abandoned by its middle class, in the way Georgian Dublin was from the late 19th century onwards.
By the 1960s, most of the southside Georgian core had been converted to office use, with rear gardens used for car parking. Merrion Square is devoid of life after dark because so few people live there.
In 1996, Fianna Fáil pledged to introduce tax incentives to restore Dublin’s Georgian houses for residential use, saying that they would be “ideal for family living”. Once in power, the party did nothing about it.
During the property bubble, houses in Merrion Square changed hands for €7 million or more, making residential conversions impossible. But earlier this year, two houses in the square were offered for sale at €2 million apiece. In November 2011 a house at the corner of the square was sold for €485,000.
At that rate, conversion to residential becomes economically attractive. It has been done before; numerous houses on North Great George’s Street have been converted to family homes or apartments.
Georgian houses are far from ideal as offices. They are much more suitable for their original purpose of residential use.
If not family homes, these tall, elegant houses could be converted into apartments. It may be possible to provide external lifts, such as the unobtrusive one behind the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square.