June 8th, 1988

Fri, Jun 8, 2012, 01:00

FROM THE ARCHIVES:The pedestrianisation of Grafton street was reviewed by Frank McDonald on its completion in 1988.

FOR MUCH of the past year, Grafton Street has resembled a battleground, with long trenches dug and barricades erected as if Dublin Corporation and the public utilities were preparing to fight the first World War all over again, taking no prisoners.

But now that the work is almost finished and Grafton Street has been transformed into an elegant pedestrian precinct, few could dispute that it was worth waiting – and suffering – for. Indeed, you can almost hear people humming Noel Purcell’s lines about it being a wonderland, with magic in the air.

Incredibly, it is now almost 17 years since Grafton Street was first closed to traffic, in an “experiment” which came to an abrupt end after just three months. Five years ago, the street was again restored to pedestrians, but it has taken that long for the Corporation to get around to paving it properly – under constant prodding from Dublin’s biggest ratepayers, the City Centre Business Association.

It may not quite succeed in bringing back the long-lost elegance depicted in the fine de siècle photographs of the Lawrence Collection. But there can be no doubt that enlightened investment by the public authorities generates a new air of confidence, and this can be seen in Grafton Street in the upgrading of business premises and the addition of several fine shop fronts even in the past few months – though it is rather unfortunate that the completion of the paving scheme has coincided with the demolition of two buildings damaged by fire last year, leaving a gaping hole at the end of Duke Street.

The paving scheme is radically different to the dreary job done in Henry Street, with its concrete bricks in two almost- indistinguishable shades of grey, though both were designed by the same architect – Colm Garvey, of the Corporation’s civic and amenities department. In what some will see as further proof of favouritism for the south side of the city, no expense was spared (well over half-a-million pounds, in fact) on getting Grafton Street right – and it shows. The emphasis is on quality materials – such as clay brick and granite – and the overall result manages to combine warmth, vitality and a certain Continental-style sophistication. The sunshine helps, of course. [. . .] There was – perhaps, still is – a school of thought within the Corporation’s traffic department which held that pedestrianisation was an aberration, a popular fad that would pass in time, like the bell-bottom jeans. What proved decisive for the re-paving of Grafton Street was the late Metropolitan Streets Commission’s report strongly recommending a wall-to-wall treatment and the fact that this was accepted by the city manager, Frank Feely, who was himself a member of the commission – though his conversion to the idea came too late to prevent the engineers having their way with Lemon Street and Duke Lane.