The Central Library: it’s a northside thing

Plan to relocate library to the Coláiste Mhuire site on the north side of Parnell Square, joining the Hugh Lane gallery and the Dublin Writers’ Museum to form a ‘cultural cluster’

 

Parnell Square would have looked more like Dublin’s other Georgian squares had Bartholomew Mosse not managed to buy the southern end of it for his Lying-In Hospital (opened in 1757 and known since as the Rotunda), raising funds from pleasure gardens and subscriptions.

The latest plan to relocate the city’s Central Library to the Coláiste Mhuire site on the north side of the square, joining the Hugh Lane gallery and the Dublin Writers’ Museum to form a “cultural cluster”, is potentially the biggest boost for this area in more than 200 years.

That philantropy is again involved has a certain symmetry. US investors Kennedy Wilson, who have been snapping up commercial properties in Dublin at bargain prices, are putting up €2.5 million – although the drive to raise a further €60 million is surely daunting.

Protected structures
The Coláiste Mhuire buildings, all protected structures, would be renovated, with a substantial library – indicatively shown as a circular building – inserted into their backlands. Two other Georgian houses that fronted the former National Ballroom are also in the mix.

Dublin City Council had been seeking a new site for the Central Library for years. There were great hopes for the former Ambassdor cinema, but agreement could not be reached with its owners, who included Pádraig Ó hUiginn, former secretary of the taoiseach’s department.

Ambassador
In the end, an architectural survey of the Ambassador (once the Rotunda’s Assembly Rooms) concluded that it could not be made to fit the proposed new use without extensive alterations to its 18th century fabric. Coláiste Mhuire then came into the picture.

Suggestions that the Central Library might be relocated to the old Parliament House on College Green were not followed up by the council, and city manager John Tierney never met Bank of Ireland chief executive Richie Boucher to discuss the possibility of a handover.

The perception in the Civic Offices was that its future was being considered by Minister for Arts and Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, who had all sorts of plans for College Green but later admitted that getting control of the old Parliament House was no longer on the agenda.

In any case, having been housed in the upper reaches of the Ilac shopping centre on Parnell Street since 1981, the Central Library came to be regarded as a “north side thing” and relocating it to College Green would have been seen by some as an act of “asset-stripping”.