'North Georgian mile' bursting with potential for development of city centre
There is a point on one corner of Parnell Square North, just at the foot of Findlater’s Abbey Presbyterian Church, where there is a sense of how the Georgian square was intended to look. The corner is elevated just enough to see over the clutter of the Rotunda Hospital, to Parnell Square East and West.
To the left, towards O’Connell Street, most of the east side is original, bar the first four or five houses which are reproductions from the 1970s.
The park in the centre of the square, now dominated by 20th century extensions to the Rotunda, was built before the hospital as “pleasure gardens” for Dublin’s fashionable set.
The long-term plan is that maternity services will be relocated to the Mater hospital and the gardens restored to public use. In the meantime, other parts of the square are crying out to be given a purpose.
Fairly good nick
Coláiste Mhuire, a former Christian Brothers school, occupies almost half of Parnell Square North and has been empty for several years. The buildings were handed over to the State as part of the redress scheme for survivors of institutional abuse, and are “in fairly good nick” following recent work to the roof, according to Graham Hickey, conservation research officer with the Dublin Civic Trust. They would make an ideal location for a new city library, he says.
“With the Hugh Lane Gallery and the writers’ museum just next door, a city library would consolidate cultural uses on the square. This is central to the whole success of Upper O’Connell Street which requires the cultural draw of Parnell Square.”
Parnell Square is bursting with potential for the development of the city centre, but it suffers from one major drawback: it’s on the northside.
“The south Georgian core always gets the focus, of tourism, of commercial use,” says Hickey. “It’s the area people think about when they think of Georgian Dublin. As a result, the Georgian heritage of the north city has been terribly neglected.
“Parnell Square West is a dumping ground for buses which completely obscure the houses. There is a lack of control over the public realm, lines of rocket bollards, clutter, things you wouldn’t see in any other 18th-century conservation area.”
For Hickey, the square’s neglect is typified by number 41, in the middle of the terrace built from 1758 to 1773. “This is one of the most notorious buildings in the Georgian core. It is boarded up at the back, the front door is persistently covered in graffiti. It devalues all the surrounding houses. This . . . would never be permitted on Merrion Square.”
Around the corner, North Frederick Street is one of the main routes from Dublin Airport to the city centre and continues directly on to O’Connell Street. Most of the 11 windows on the front of number 30 are broken. The front door is sealed with a sheet of plate metal.
Both houses are cases of historical buildings whose future is at risk, but only the North Frederick Street house is on the derelict sites register. In fact, only 36 buildings in the city are on the register, though many more would qualify.
Dublin City Council could not deal with the number of buildings which are derelict or at risk of becoming so. The planning enforcement section only has six officers.