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There’s something grotesque about council’s plan to destroy historic horse yard for hotel

Una Mullally: Generation after generation kept horses in the Liberties, yet council seems to have no regard for this culture

In 2016, a Norwegian musician, Kristen Vollset, was on a road trip in Ireland when she crashed her van into a wall in the Liberties in Dublin. A horse walked through the hole in the wall with a few boys alongside. One of them offered her a lift on his cart, “Suddenly we were flying down Cork Street with a horse and two-wheeler.”

In that moment Vollset decided this was going to become part of her life. She bought a horse, and moved it into a stable in Molyneaux Yard, and stayed there for 2½ years: “I’ve never been so inspired in my life.”

In 2017, when I happened to be out of the country for a while, myself and my partner gave our home to the Dublin Theatre Festival for visiting artists to stay in – a more economical solution for them than renting places in the capital in the midst of a rental crisis. The following year, in one of those world-shrinking coincidences, I ended up on artist development residency with the person who’d stayed in our home, the Canadian artist Maiko Yamamoto. The first thing she said about Stoneybatter was how special it was to see horses in the neighbourhood. One Sunday morning, she walked out of our local corner shop, Bruno’s, and was greeted by a horse on a stroll. This, she said, was magic.

Generation after generation kept horses in the area, yet there seems to be no regard for this culture at a council level

On October 12th, Marion Bergin’s short film, Saoirse, about horse culture in Dublin, particularly around what used to be O’Devaney Gardens in Dublin 7, will be broadcast on the website, The Nowness. It is an astonishingly beautiful portrait of people, animals and streets, all of which are inextricably linked.


The people in the film express not just what horses give them in terms of purpose, but also what they offered an alternative to. “Without these horses I wouldn’t be here to tell you this story,” one man says. Bergin returned to Dublin in 2018 after living in London for 15 years, and “wanted to make a short film to mark my repatriation”, she said.

Mundane or magical

Sometimes it takes an outside – or returning – perspective to bring into focus the wealth of our surroundings, to really see the depth of beauty in the everyday, and to appreciate that what may be mundane to us is magical to others.

Yet right now, at Molyneux Yard in Dublin’s Liberties, plans are in train to erase a bastion of Dublin’s horse culture. Four of the seven horse yards on “the Lane” at Molyneux Yard have been shut down by Dublin City Council. Planning has been granted for an eight-storey hotel at Vicar Street, despite opposition from the local community.

Remarkably, the council has also given planning permission for another hotel right next to the Vicar Street development. That development will see the demolition of the horse yards. In the Liberties specifically, horse culture is linked to the beginnings of the Guinness brewery. Generation after generation kept horses in the area, yet there seems to be no regard for this culture at a council level.

This part of the Liberties is also, by the council’s own admission, an architectural conservation area. In a document published by the council in 2009, it said, “these route-ways form one of the last tangible links to the study area’s post-medieval origins – providing a system of pedestrian routes permeating city blocks and giving access to backland areas, as well as delineating historic plot boundaries. Two of the more intimate alley examples can be seen at Molyneaux Yard and Swan Alley.”

So what are we at? Even on a superficial level, if the city is so intent on luring tourists, then what are those tourists actually going to be looking at when they get here, if in the short-term all we’re doing is building accommodation for visitors? Tourists come to Dublin and to Ireland for our culture and scenery, and that’s from landscape to streetscape.

Street texture

Our culture is in the sound of the city, in the horse hooves and street traders. It’s in the smell of the city, the hops and the Liffey. It’s in the texture of the streets, the cobblestones and Georgian brick. It is in that intrinsic sense we have when we go to ancient places, the shift in energy and of the senses, when you know you’re somewhere different, not homogenous or interchangeable with any other capital. Ours is unique, but those idiosyncrasies and identifying factors are being sanded away in a process that pretends to be benign and “progressive” but is actually brutal and regressive.

Old traditions and ways of life merge with new communities and new generations to form the buzz and cycle of a city in motion

The cavalier nature with which the Liberties has been treated in recent years by planners and developers is depressing. Of all areas of the city, the Liberties is what makes Dublin unique. There is something grotesque about displacing such a longstanding community with hotel rooms and Insta-tenements.

Cities evolve. Old traditions and ways of life merge with new communities and new generations to form the buzz and cycle of a city in motion. The insistence on throwing up more hotels and luxury student accommodation in Dublin’s inner city is a destructive force that serves no one who calls the city home.

You can always build, but urban culture does not drop down from developers, it emerges from the streets. It is nobody’s to commodify, and it’s certainly nobody’s to erase. It’s precious, it’s complex, and it’s what we should be protecting.