Heritage protection

 

The fate of Airfield house and farm in south Co Dublin demonstrates in microcosm the very real challenges facing our society in seeking to balance infrastructural development with the need to retain the treasures of the past.

And as an oasis of calm in deepest suburbia, Airfield is just such a treasure, brought into sharper relief by its proximity to that temple of modernity, the newly-opened Dundrum Town Centre.

Airfield is a unique time capsule, open to the public and providing a taste of bygone times when Dublin was a conglomeration of clearly-defined villages complete with their own character and characters. Chief among them were Airfield's owners Naomi and Letitia Overend. The sisters dressed in near-Edwardian costume into their nineties, travelled in a 1927 Rolls Royce (which they serviced themselves, having travelled to the factory for training), and raised Jersey cattle they named after characters in Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Letitia died in 1977 and Naomi in 1993 and, in accordance with their wishes, the ownership of the estate passed to a trust set up by them to keep the property intact for the benefit of the people of Dublin.

Notwithstanding the sale of many of the contents of the house in 1995, Airfield remains a precious institution, embracing a farm and gardens, a restaurant, entertainment and educational programmes and arts and craft courses.

The estate was embroiled in controversy last year when the trust proposed the sale of three acres for residential development with the intention, it said, of providing permanent security for the remaining 30 acres. The plan was put on hold in the face of public opposition. Now, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is proposing a new road, taking in part of the boundary of the estate, to ensure Dundrum Town Centre is served by two junctions on the M50. Public consultation begins this week but opponents contend that the scheme will undermine the tranquillity of the southeastern end of the farm and, more worryingly, enhance the prospect of residential development there.

It is inconceivable that Airfield, as a whole, could be the subject of such development but this public jewel is at risk of being damaged by a process of attrition around its fringes. Neighbouring apartment blocks have already destroyed the view of the Dublin hills once enjoyed by "Miss Naomi" and "Miss Tot". Additional development - including the new link road - should not be allowed to tarnish it further nor to set another unhappy precedent for the treatment of our invaluable heritage.