Barcelona has the Magic Fountain, Rome has the Trevi. Dublin has the Floozy in the Jacuzzi and a host of disused relics.
The city has a chequered past with its fountains and water features. The last few decades have seen many switched off or poorly maintained. Allowed to crack and decay, the fountains now function as curious monuments to a time when Dublin City Council showed more interest in them.
One of our readers, though, is interested in their fate. “Dublin has so few [fountains] and the ones we have are in bits,” he wrote in. Why?
Fountains: Heyday and Decline
Gary Branigan, author of Fountains of Dublin, has chronicled the history of Dublin’s water features and they were, he notes, once widely used.
“The high point of the public fountain appears to have been in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when clean drinking water was hard to come by,” he says. “The high level of alcoholism within the city led many philanthropists to raise funds for the construction of drinking fountains for the health of the populace and also to encourage sobriety.”
While no longer functioning as fountains, a number of these monuments still stand today.
Constructed in 1791, the Rutland Memorial on Merrion Square was restored in 2010, yet the water feature at its base was never brought back.
The Sheahan Memorial, erected in 1905 to commemorate Constable Patrick Sheahan, who died while on duty, was recently moved from its location on Burgh Quay. Its water feature remains out of service.
Similarly, the James Street fountain, erected in 1790, and the Gate Theatre basin have become receptacles for cigarette butts, leaves and other assorted rubbish.
The Anna Livia feature was moved from its location on O’Connell Street to make way for the Spire. It was placed at the other end of the city in 2001, in Croppies Acre Memorial Park, where it still functions today.
The fountain at the base of the Davis statue on Dame Street remains one the few fully functioning water features in the city, when it hasn’t fallen victim to the Fairy liquid brigade.
It’s important to note that many of the features still functioning today, particularly those in parks, are under the care of the Office of Public Works. It says it maintains nine fountains around the city.
In contrast, the many disused monuments one sees are under the care of the city fathers.
Dublin City Council, despite several inquiries, did not respond to queries about why so many of its water features are in disrepair, how much was spent in 2015 on fountain maintenance, and who is responsible for their upkeep.
There’s a low priority, says Branigan, “given to street furniture and art that require maintenance and upkeep, particularly those which suffer from vandalism often”.
But another reason might have to do with the cost.
A Costly Feature?
David Frazer, of Dave’s Gardening in Tallaght, says that fountain and water-feature mechanisms are simple.
“There isn’t any difficulty with them,” he says. “They’re self-contained and basically you just buy a decent pump, fill it [the feature] full of water, and, as long as it’s maintained, there shouldn’t be any trouble.”
The same applies to both large and small features. As long as no fish inhabit the fountain or feature, Frazer suggests that a bit of bleach will do the trick to keep them clean. If the pump breaks, it just needs to be replaced. Pumps can cost from €100 up to €4,000-5,000, Frazer says.
“If it’s submersed, they’ve a lot of work to get at it,” he says. “But normally, when they’re fitting them in the first place, they should be fitting the better ones that they don’t have any trouble with.”
Niall Power, of N.J. Power & Co. in Ballymount installed the mechanism on the Anna Livia feature. He similarly asserts that after initial construction, there’s little to do in terms of expense.
“It depends on the feature, but the pump would be an insignificant part of it,” he says. “It’s not major surgery. The setup initially would be the biggest part: getting the electrics to it, the plumbing to it, but after that’s done, the only moving part is a pump.”
However, Power does point out that during a recession, water features and fountains weren’t people’s top priority.
“There is a little bit of maintenance to it,” says Power. “But we would have seen over the last few years, when things were a bit tougher, because it’s a luxury item, people would be more interested in getting their gates and their lifts fixed.”
It’s not just the antique fountains in the city that aren’t working.
In 2005, the council fitted a water feature on South King Street, which is not currently in use.
In 2007, the Martha Schwartz-designed Grand Canal Square was completed. It originally included a large water feature, a triangular cascade, but that was removed last summer for “works”.
At the time, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority told Schwartz the “works” were expected to take about four weeks. But months have passed.
It’s unclear why the water feature has never been put back. The architect’s firm said they hadn’t heard anything more about it.
Robert Gallagher of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority said he couldn’t answer questions about what had happened to the fountain, how much to cost to install, and whether it was going to come back.
“The Dublin Docklands Development Authority is currently involved in legal proceedings relating to the removed fountain at Grand Canal Square and in light of this fact, I cannot give you the details as yet, until the matter before the court is resolved,” he said in an email.
In the area last Thursday, a number of office workers said they didn’t know what had happened. Some said that children often clambered atop the feature, and that the water had rarely been switched on in recent years.
Pressing the Issue
The large monuments aside, drinking fountains are also by no means prominent in Dublin.
“Traditionally, the drinking fountains would have a clean source of water and which also had filters incorporated into the mechanism,” says historian Branigan. “While very few of the drinking fountains in the city work these days, there would be no reason why a connection to the main water supply couldn’t provide a clean supply of drinking water.”
You might expect that that would appeal to the city’s joggers, who would prefer not to have to lug around water bottles on long runs.
But you don’t really hear runners talking about the lack of drinking-water fountains, said Ash Senyk, who runs a sports store in Temple Bar. “It’s expected that there are none.”
Green Party city councillor Claire Byrne plans to raise the fountains issue at a local area committee meeting on Wednesday 2 March. She plans to ask why they’re disused and whether there any plans to get them spouting water again.
It’s likely, though, that she’ll be told there’s “a budgetary issue”, she says.
With additional reporting by Lois Kapila.