(IRISH INDEPENDENT, September 11th, 2015)
There will have been both wry smiles and gnashing of teeth out Dun Laoghaire way when the the DLR Lexicon library, to give it its official title, won best culture and best public building at the RIAI Irish Architecture Awards in June for architects Carr Cotter & Naessens.
“Our very own Titanic” is how journalist and broadcaster Joe Jackson described the controversial edifice in the Irish Times in February last year. “Mention the library – at gatherings from the dole queue to a dinner party in Killiney, then watch sparks fly,” he wrote.
Something as big and bold as this 38-metre high, four-storey €36 million baby was bound to have them spluttering into their G and Ts in the Royal St George Yacht Club or cursing into their pints in the 40 Foot pub (recently taken over by Wetherspoons) on nearby Marine Road.
But then even the best of them have had their critics.
“This high and skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant ungainly skeleton upon a base that looks built to carry a colossal monument of Cyclops, but which just peters out into a ridiculous thin shape like a factory chimney” fulminated famous French writer Guy de Maupassant as work on the Eiffel Tower neared an end. Massive public approval, however, greeted that particular landmark when the World’s Fair of 1889, for which it has been erected, opened its doors.
The outside of Dun Laoghaire’s new library and culture centre might have divided opinion, but inside, its reading rooms, children’s library, 100-seater performance space, municipal gallery and cafe have been almost universally lauded. The boundary between its upper and lower levels has also provided a platform for Andrew O’Connor’s tripartite Christ the King sculpture, which has been magnificently restored.
When a town has been around as long as this seaside haven 12km south of Dublin city, named after the Dun, or stone fort, built here for high king Laoire in the 5th century, it will have embraced many changes.
While known for its Victorian seafront and period homes, it is also a mèlange of the old and new – and the elegant and the dilapidated.
Its smart extensively refurbished seafront and monuments such as the Victoria Fountain (erected in 1900 after Queen Victoria’s visit) opposite the beautiful Venetian-style Town Hall, and the George IV monument (commemorating the British monarch’s 1821 visit, after which the town was renamed Kingstown, until 1920) are at odds with its crumbling main George’s Street (named after the king) thoroughfare.
Walk from the main gate of the Victorian gem that is the People’s Park, at the eastern end, back down to York Road, at the other end of the town, and you will encounter many abandoned premises. Parking fees and scarcity of spaces have long been a bugbear of local traders and they have also been hit hard by the Dundrum shopping centre.
This and the closing of the Stena Line ferry service from the town to Wales have hurt, but Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Council have been investing heavily in major capital projects, including the new library, improvements to the People’s Park, the covering of the historic Metals pathway and other streetscape improvements. The Business Improvement District Task Force has also been working to bring new businesses to the town centre.
Future plans for the old Dun Laoghaire Baths site near the iconic East Pier will also come before the council this year, and the long mooted “Urban Beach”, at the East Pier, and floating river barge with heated, treated seawater, also await the green light
The promotion of Dún Laoghaire as a destination for cruise liners has also been promoted by the council.
Dun Laoghaire is the county’s administrative centre, with its own theatre (the Pavilion), 12-screen cinema complex, maritime museum, two shopping centres (the functional Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre, on Marine Road, and Bloomfield, on Convent Lane) and an excellent public transport system (DART stops at either end of the town and frequent buses).
An important yachting centre with four clubs and facilities for all water sports, it is well served by hotels (like the splendid and iconic Royal Marine), pubs and restaurants. The Irish National Sailing School and Club is based at the foot of the West Pier; the Sailing in Dublin Club is on Coal Harbour; the Royal Irish Yacht Club between the Commissioners for Irish Lights and the marina entrance; the Royal St George YC is opposite the Pavilion centre; and the National Yacht Club is closest to the East Pier.
The area to the north of the West Pier at Salthill Beach sees much windsurfing activity.
The decision to build a harbour in what was until 1817 a small fishing village came about as entry into the River Liffey was becoming more and more difficult, with ships having to wait days before they could berth and offload their cargo. The amount of shipwrecks was also enormous.
In 1815-1817, quarrying started on nearby Dalkey Hill to supply granite for the new harbour pier, as well as for the construction of the South Bull Wall and as flagstone for Dublin streets. The abandoned quarry is a now very important facility for Dublin climbers.
This now thriving port prompted the building of a railway to link the southside of Dublin to the city, transforming the fishing village into a prosperous town.
The five gold anchor-rated harbour (over 500 berths) is a bustling gateway for yachts and pleasure boats.
The People’s Park comes alive every Sunday as market vendors offer Japanese, Croation, Lebanese, Italian, French, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Pakistani, Polish, Palestinian and Czech food produce, not to mention Irish jewellery, crafts, books and original art.
Another great addition to the park is the arrival of a branch of the Fallon and Byrne restaurant and food hall to its historic pavilion building.
Other well-known restaurants are Hartleys on Harbour Road and Italian restaurant and pizzeria Toscana, on Windsor Terrace. This comes highly recommended by food writer Lucinda O’Sullivan, as does the Gourmet Food Parlour, at 7 Cumberland Street, with its signature posh sandwiches.
The new Pavilion Theatre stands on the site of the old Pavilion which offered generations of locals everything from ballet to firework displays.
The East Pier is famous as a walking location. Turn left as you leave Dun Laoghaire DART station, and amble down the pier (stopping off first for an ice-cream at the ever-popular Teddy’s). There are lots of lovely details to enjoy, such as an old weather station, and a old wrought-iron Victorian bandstand.
At the end of the pier is a delightful little cluster of buildings: a high protective wall, the lighthouse, old maintenance buildings from the Admiralty or Irish lights commission, and the squat little lighthouse keeper’s cottage.
Not far away is the Martello Tower at Sandycove, immortalised by Joyce through his famous opening lines of Ulysses: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
Near the tower is the famous 40-Foot open-sea bathing area enjoyed by Dubliners for more than 250 years The name actually comes from a regiment or military company previously based there: “the 40th regiment of Foot”.
Dun Laoghaire DART station or any of the buses serving Dun Laoghaire (7, 7a, 8, 45a, 46a, 59, 75, and 111). Sandycove and Glasthule and Salthill and Monkstown DART stations also serve the area.
The main Primary School in Dún Laoghaire is the Dominican Convent (mixed) on Convent Road. Holy Family National School is located in Monkstown Farm, and Monkstown Educate Together National School is on Kill Avenue in Dun Laoghaire. There is also St Joseph’s National School on Tivoli Road (mixed)
Dún Laoghaire has seen several of its secondary schools close in the past two decades, due to population shifts to outlying areas, although the fee paying CBC Monkstown, which relocated from Eblana, continues. There is also the Presentation Brothers on Glasthule Road. Dún Laoghaire Further Education Institute offers extensive recognised FETAC qualification courses at 17 Cumberland Street. The Dun Laoghaire School of Music is at 130A Lower Georges Street
As regards pubs, the Purty Kitchen, around since 1728, is still good enough to be voted Dublin’s best gastropub 2013-2014, by the Restaurant Association of Ireland. Gilbert and Wright, on Georges Street, with its brick fireplaces and cosy alcoves is also popular, as is Dunphys, on Lower Georges Street, with its traditional Victorian style still mercifully intact. McLoughlin’s on Upper Georges Street, has a great trad night on Thursday.
According to Michelle Kealy of Lisney, while demand is always solid, “We have to be realistic with our asking prices. The market fell by about 10% on last year, although we are up maybe 5% in the last few weeks, so we are at around the same figures achieved as this time last year.”
At the higher end of the market, it is quite common to fetch over the €1million for period properties on Royal Terrace, Carlisle Terrace or Northumberland Avenue. and Clarinda Park East and West. The average here is in the high €800,000s, and also in nearby Crossthwaithe Park.
At the middle end, 81 Patrick Street, a three-bed cottage, achieved its €545,000 asking price. According to Rowena Quinn of Hunters, three-bed properties on Monkstown Road, Lower Corrig Road and Tivoli Road a four-bed semi with room for extension would fetch up to €850,000.
At the lower end, a three-bed 818 sq ft mid-terrace property on Pottery Road, went for €365,000 recently. On Thomastown Road, behind Killiney Shopping Centre, a four-bed semi would go for around €475,000.
Quillsen Dun Laoghaire is seeking €525,000 for the three-bedroom semi at 76 Highthorn Park; DNG Dun Laoghaire want €750,000 for the five-bedroomed detached 30 Sefton, Rochestown Avenue; and Lisney has 6 bedrooms (283 sq.m.)the six-bedroom, 283 sq m 32 Northumberland Avenue on offer for €885,000
- Close proximity and excellent transport links to Dublin City and beyond
- Iconic East pier walk and yachts bobbing with gently tinkling mastheads
- Elegant Victorian terraces
- Parking is costly and limited
- Closed up businesses on main thoroughfare
- Planned cuts and changes to bus routes