Dublin council puts Unicorn restaurant demolition plan on hold

Council has ‘serious concerns’ over height, scale and massing of six-storey development

Dublin City Council has put on hold plans by Aviva to demolish a building that houses the fabled Unicorn restaurant on Dublin's Merrion Row to make way for rental apartments and a new restaurant.

This follows city council planners telling Aviva that it has “serious concerns” relating to the height, scale and massing of the six-storey proposed development.

As a result, the council has requested Aviva to reduce the height, scale and mass of the building planned for Merrion Row and Merrion Court.

The council states that a four-storey building may be more appropriate.


The plan by Aviva Life & Pensions Ireland DAC involves the construction of a restaurant at ground-floor level and 24 apartments for short-term use.

A planning report lodged on behalf of Aviva states that the plan will provide an appropriate mix of high-quality short-term let accommodation and retail/restaurant use.


The report states that the proposal provides continuity to the existing restaurant use at the location.

The council put the plan on hold after objections including ones from the South Georgian Core Residents Association, Hugo's restaurant and Boston College Ireland.

The association told the council that a new building with unsupervised short-term lets “in this neighbourhood with its surrounding pubs and night-life risks its deterioration into a Honky-Tonk, Temple Bar type location”.

It also stated that the Unicorn Restaurant for many years “has been a landmark” and the applicant “should acknowledge this unique feature and at least seek to replicate this in a redevelopment”.

Gina Murphy operates Hugo's Restaurant opposite the proposed development and told the council of the negative impact of the loss of sunlight on her restaurant if the six-storey Aviva scheme is permitted.

Ms Murphy told the council that with the height of the proposed development “I would lose the direct sunlight on the front of the restaurant and therefore a large proportion of my revenue in good weather”.

She stated: “My business cannot afford this to happen . . . Customers do not want to sit in a darkened room during the day.”

Former environment editor of The Irish Times Frank McDonald has also objected to the plan.

Cultural memory

Mr McDonald claims that the proposal “would virtually obliterate a historic – and probably unique – mews lane to make way for a tourism led project of 24 short-let apartments”.

Mr McDonald pointed out that the Italian Unicorn restaurant has operated at Merrion Row since 1938.

Mr McDonald stated that the Unicorn “has been part of the landscape and cultural memory of Dublin, patronised by a diverse and loyal clientele that included politicians, civil servants, lawyers, architects, artists, writers and business people”.

The author has told the city council that “the loss of a long established restaurant as the Unicorn and of the historic and unique mews lane in which it is located, would also be a serious blow to the cultural landscape of Dublin”.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times