On North Great George’s Street on a recent Friday, Tom Kiernan opens the pastel blue door of his ivy-covered Georgian home.
Inside the house, the high-ceilinged rooms are decked out with 18th-century furniture. Detailed coving surrounds the interior doors, windows, and fireplaces. Period portraits line the stairs.
Kiernan, a retired architect, is passionate about 18th-century architecture, so in the 1970s he bought the Georgian house and raised his family there, he says.
“In the 18th century this was a private estate,” says Kiernan, pointing up towards the top of the street. “None of these houses were built – this was a tree-lined avenue leading up to it.”
Around 1760, the owners got permission to sell plots to people to build houses, he says, they laid out a road and all of the houses on the street were built between 1770 and 1820, says Keirnan, who is the treasurer of the North Great George’s Street Preservation Society.
“The street is defined as a conservation area and the houses are protected structures,” says Kiernan. But the mews at the back of the homes, which would have been the stables and perhaps servants quarters of the original Georgian homes are not protected.
Last week local councillors at the Central Area Committee agreed that North Great George’s Street should be designated an Architectural Conservation Area.
“That means that the planning authority will have to consider the effect that other development will have on the protected structures,” says Kiernan.
But for him and some of his neighbours the new protection comes a little late. A seven-storey co-living development has already been granted planning permission to be built in plots that were originally part of those Georgian homes.
Kiernan points to houses across the street. Some of the fanlights (ornate windows in the shape of a fan) are the originals, he says, dating back to the 1700s.
Some people replaced the originals to make them bigger to let more light into the hall, he says.
The Georgian houses on the north side of Dublin are often better preserved than those on the south side; as some of those who lived in them didn’t have the money to follow the latest trends, he says. Wealthy owners remodelled their homes more regularly, thereby losing the original features.
In the early 20th century, most of the homes on North Great George’s Street were owned by middle-class professionals, like doctors and solicitors, he says: “Throughout the 19th century and even up to 1940 it was a fairly good address”.
Later though the city centre fell out of favour with the professional classes who decided to raise their families in the suburbs, he says.
Architectural Conservation Area
Last Tuesday, 8 September, local area councillors received a report proposing to change the Dublin City Development Plan to designate North Great George’s Street and several surrounding streets, as an Architectural Conservation Area
The conservation area will include Rutland Place, Hill Street and Gardiner Place as well as parts of Parnell Street and parts of Temple Street, said Paraic Fallon, a Senior Planner with Dublin City Council.
The council will put the plans out for consultation in October and then it should come before the meeting of the full council in December, said Fallon.
Mountjoy Square is already an architectural conservation area and Parnell Square should soon be designated as one too, he says.
By linking these areas up the council is “protecting the architectural character of the most significant historic precincts on the north side of the inner-city,” says Fallon.
The local councillors backed the proposals.
Labour Councillor Joe Costello welcomed the linking up of the three areas: “We are creating an architectural and cultural quarter in that part of the north inner-city, which would be really welcome,” he said.
The council is working on preparing a document for the mews buildings so that owners and developers know what type of development will be considered acceptable, said Fallon the Dublin City Council planner.
Tom McKeown, chairman of the North Great George’s Street Preservation Society says the protections are too late in respect of a major planning application, which in his view will be detrimental to some of the protected structures on the street.
The mews of the old Georgian homes, originally contained the stables and possibly servants quarters attached to the house but over time the ownership of the mews often became separated from the main house, says Kiernan.
On the southside, in Rathmines, houses that are more recent, have their mews’ protected, says McKeown. “No one cares about the north side,” he says. “That is the feeling you get.”
At 39-42 Hill Street and 36a North Great George’s Street there are plans approved for a co-living complex which is seven storeys at the highest point.
According to the plans, which got the nod from both the council and An Bord Pleanála last year - the complex will have 129 bed spaces, shared kitchens, rooftop gardens and co-working spaces.
The development is being partly built on what was the original mews of the Georgian houses, says McKeown and will be accessible from North Great George’s Street.
Local objections include concerns that the new development is too high, is out of line with the character of the area and will block the light downstairs in some of the protected buildings.
Keirnan the architect and local resident, says that a four-storey building would be acceptable in line with the others on Hill Street.
New developments “shouldn’t dominate the protected structures,” says Kiernan. “The protected structures should dominate them in terms of architectural conception and protecting the setting.”
A spokesperson for the developer Mm Capital said that the company has “extensively engaged with Dublin City Council on our development on Hill Street to ensure it conforms with all national guidelines.”
The concerns raised by locals at both the initial planning application and at the appeals stage were rejected by both planning authorities, he says.
Locals are bringing a judicial review of that planning decision, says McKeown.
Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála “took into consideration all pertinent points raised to ensure the development aligns with national policy and has due regard to local considerations,” he says.
In July 2020 the developer Mm Capital, put in another planning application to increase the size of that building to cater for an additional 21 persons, bringing the total up to 150.
Local objections included raising whether co-living is viable since Covid-19.
There is also the issue of co-living, itself, says McKeown. That will add to a feeling of transience that is already pronounced in the north inner-city, he says.
He would rather see family homes. “We want something that stabilizes the area a bit,” says McKeown.
[Correction: This article was updated 16 September 2020 at 10.25 am to correct that Mm capital put in another application to increase the size of the building to cater to 21 persons. We apologise for the error.]