Culture desk

A Councillor Seeks Ideas for What to Do with Bernard Shaw's Birthplace

It looks like Fáilte Ireland are willing to part ways with 33 Synge Street.

The birthplace of playwright George Bernard Shaw, it closed as a museum in 2012 and has remained shut ever since.

Last June, Labour Councillor Mary Freehill proposed that the council make a move to take over the premises.

If Fáilte Ireland had no use for it, she argued, then the council could make something of the former museum.

“It’s part of our heritage,” she said at the time. “Dublin has the UNESCO City of Literature [designation] and for the city of Dublin to let George Bernard Shaw’s house go would not be acceptable.”

Councillor Rebecca Moynihan, a Labour colleague of Freehill’s, and chair of the council’s Arts, Culture and Recreation Strategic Policy Committee, agreed.

After consultation with Fáilte Ireland, Moynihan says they’re now willing to hand over Shaw’s birthplace to Dublin City Council.

But, says Moynihan, the council need ideas about what should be done with the space.

An Open Call

Moynihan suggests tying Shaw’s birthplace in with Dublin’s UNESCO designation.

“I think a historical house such as that could be used as something active for the City of Literature,” says Moynihan. “I think that’s the best use for it.”

But what exactly that means for the Portobello terraced home is unclear. Moynihan says she’s working with council officials on their end of things, but she wants input from Dubliners too.

“One of the things that’s stipulated when it was handed over to the state was that it would be a cultural-use building,” she says.

Last year, Labour’s Freehill suggested that 33 Synge Street should become a writer-in-residence space. That’s still an option, says Moynihan.

But all suggestions are welcome, she says.

“Could it be an event centre for cultural events? Could there be a writers-in-residence programme?” says Moynihan. “What do people think the potential of something like this could be for the city?”

A Space For…

Bernadette Greenan, general manager of the Irish Writers Centre on Parnell Square, says she and her team would like to see a writer’s residency based there.

Or the building could be used more generally “to support both Irish writers and attract an international literary community to Dublin”, said Greenan, by email.

Studio and writing space is always needed in the city, so something that would help working writers in that way could be good, she said.

Simon O’Connor, curator of the Little Museum of Dublin, put forward the idea of a “house museum”.

It’s easy to dismiss that idea, but look at the Benjamin Franklin museum in London, he said. “Interestingly, the story of Franklin is actually told through theatre. So people get to visit the house, but they get to visit it through the medium of theatre.”

O’Connor says a version of this could work for Shaw’s birthplace, with something that drew on its connection to the theatre and playwriting.

“I think it would be great to see it as a place where new theatre actually gets written and produced,” he said.

Ultimately, Shaw was a playwright, first and foremost, and a Dubliner, says O’Connor. “I think the challenge with the space will be to do something that exemplifies Shaw, his characteristics and what he was connected to.”

If you’ve got an idea for Shaw’s birthplace, let us know through the form below, and we’ll pass it on.

Cónal Thomas portrait
Cónal Thomas

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach him at cthomas@dubinq.com

 

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