Lessons can be learned from master plan for Dublin’s Moore Street

FEEL free to insert your own ‘Dublin is terrible, Cork is Nirvana’ anecdote around here — I know I have on several occasions.

The competition between the two cities is usually an enjoyable sideshow, a bonding agent when Dublin and Cork people meet up abroad or in Tipperary.

However, there are always lessons to be learned. On Saturday March 12 an exhibition opens in the Nano Nagle Center in Cork on the Moore Street historic area urban master plan.

I spoke to Seán Antóin Ó Muirí, a design principal at Fuinneamh Workshop and a lecturer at the Cork Center for Architectural Education, who will give a talk in the center on the project this Saturday.

Historic context

We started by putting Moore Street in its historic context. Of course, it is tied in the public mind to one of the key events in Irish history: the 1916 Rising.

“There were Cork people involved in the Rising,” said Ó Muirí. “In the GPO and in Moore Street in particular.

“Skibbereen man Gearóid O’Sullivan, a first cousin of Michael Collins; Tracton man Diarmuid Lynch; and Collins himself.

When the GPO was being bombed by the British, Pearse decided they’d evacuate towards the northwest, into the markets area of ​​Dublin

“Michael Collins and Seán Treacy were among those leading the charge, so there was a strong Cork connection, though many counties were represented. It was an all-Ireland affair really.”

So Moore Street is an area of ​​huge historic significance, which should be preserved by the State in memory of a turning point in our history.

Unfortunately…

“Over the last 25 years or so different developers have tried to push through a commercial development of the site, but the Save Moore Street campaign was founded by Patrick Cooney and James Connolly Heron, a great-grandson of James Connolly.

“They’ve fought different developers through the planning process and the High Court to preserve the historic area.

“What was originally proposed was knocking the terrace and building over the old laneways.”

Moore Street is an area of ​​huge historic significance, which should be preserved by the State in memory of a turning point in our history.

“What they have also come up with [is] the Moore Street Preservation Trust, which assembled a design team to see what could be done for the area if it could be restored.

“They’ve looked at developing a historic 1916 quarter — not just to preserve the history but also to ensure its economic survival. It would have living accommodation in apartments and houses and people ‘living above the shop’, and also a preschool, small-business incubation units, community buildings with a public function, and also artisan units.

“A broad mix so that side by side you could have the commercial and the historic and the living area.”

Template for regeneration

This is an interesting development. All too often the retort to those wishing to preserve historic sites is that their plans are sterile or unrealistic. However, the Moore Street project is a template for regeneration.

“There are parts of the city which can be very quiet after five, and to rejuvenate those areas there needs to be 24-hour activity almost.

“That’s a big part of the conversation around dereliction in Ireland, where there aren’t people living in towns, where they aren’t living over the shop. You have nobody in an area after 5 o’clock and that can lead to antisocial behaviour.

If it were just a historic area with museums that would have just one specific function but when it’s multilayered the area can adapt and integrate

“The markets have been there for hundreds of years and need to survive, so the ambition is to integrate those, the historic area, and an area where people can live. Those small businesses are crucial because it’s clear now when people go to cities they want an experience because shopping has shifted online so much — so people want to go a butcher or a bike shop where they can engage with other people. Because of that you need a living area.”

There’s a less organic example of redevelopment not too far away from Moore Street, Ó Muirí adds.

“The Ilac Centre, which many people will know, was built when the laneways and courtyards and small squares in that area were knocked out.

“Those would have given real life to that part of the city, but in the late ’70s they were knocked and wiped out.

“The Moore Street plan aims to reinstate that kind of local DNA and to preserve it and keep it. That part of Dublin is built on laneways, courtyards and archways, and we’re keen on tying into the local materials — cobblestones, brick, granite — to keep the sensitivity to the area across materials and aesthetic and history.”

Reactivating an area

Is it particularly apt that the exhibition and lecture are to take place somewhere in Cork that has been repurposed and integrated sensitively within its community?

“Absolutely, there’s a particular resonance in having this in the Nano Nagle Centre.

“It’s really reactivated the area along with the Douglas Street Business Association — there have been activities on the street; there are small shops, bars, and restaurants; a population living on the street; the center itself; the school of architecture as a cultural anchor which brings people in throughout the year… You have a footfall.

“For any place to succeed you need footfall, and the Nano Nagle Center has repurposed buildings, seen the benefits in doing so, and activated that.

“The success of the center is that it’s an oasis in the city — with a lovely garden, cafe, museum — so it’s reactivated that part of the city. The building itself has brought people out of town to Douglas Street, making that part of the city a destination.”

Are other places in Cork ripe for that kind of makeover?

In the Shandon area the old Butter Market and Firkin Crane, while there are activities there, offer opportunities for more and more activities

“That applies in other areas as well, like Barrack Street, there are opportunities in North Main Street… those would help in other areas. There have been a lot of conversations about dereliction in Ireland recently, driven by Frank O’Connor and Jude Sherry, and having people living above the shop would help on the double.”

“First, you’d have that kind of passive surveillance where antisocial issues are observed and called out, but second, those occupied buildings would be maintained. If a slate came loose it’d be replaced. Otherwise the slate goes, then the roof falls in, then the building becomes unstable, and it becomes a question of knocking the building.

“That means you’re losing unique historic buildings. When you go abroad those are the places you want to visit — they’re unique places, full of character that you won’t get in out-of-town locations.

“You visit the historic parts of cities and that’s just as true of Cork as it is of Dublin.”

  • Seán Antóin Ó Muirí will deliver a talk on the Moore Street historic area urban master plan, with an introduction to the Easter Rising by Patrick Cooney of the Moore Street Trust, at 2pm on Saturday in the Nano Nagle Centre. The exhibition runs from March 12-26.
  • Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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