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Atop the old Royal City of Dublin Hospital, a large and ornate Victorian red-brick building, the roof slates have begun to slip.
If that continues, rainwater and pigeons will get in, says architect John Dorman, and within a couple of years the building would likely suffer significant deterioration.
“Any old building, once the doors are closed and it’s not occupied, it starts to deteriorate from that point on,” he says.
And this old hospital building on Baggot Street is particularly fine, he says.
It has “flourishes and swags and a lot of decorative elements”, says Dorman, and the buff terracotta elements came from Ruabon in Wales and orange-red brick from nearby Harold’s Cross.
A spokesperson for the HSE, which owns the building, said “The maintenance department are in the process of securing the slates on the roof.”
Residents in a local group have wanted to do more to tidy up how it looks though, and have an idea for what the building could be used for in a future life.
The Royal City of Dublin Hospital was first built in 1832, says Dorman, the architect.
It expanded over the years, including in the late 1890s, when the Earl of Pembroke funded another round of expansion and restoration that made it what it looks like today, he says.
The architect was Albert Edward Murray, who came from a family of successful architects from Armagh and lived in Clyde Road in Ballsbridge.
Murray also designed lots of well-known buildings in Dublin, including the Dylan Hotel on Eastmoreland Place and the building that the Hodges Figgis bookshop occupies on Dawson Street.
The three buildings are similar in style, but the hospital on Baggot Street is Murray’s “pièce de résistance”, says Dorman.
It boasts three Dutch-style gables, floral motifs and figurines, he says. The chimney stacks are “very striking”, and “add to that whole drama”.
Many of the buildings along Baggot Street are Victorian in style and ornate.
But the hospital is particularly beautiful, set back from the road with“sweeping granite steps up to the entrance”, says Dorman. “It is decorative and exuberant.”
The yellow-orange brick came from the Mount Argus Tile and Brickworks in Harold’s Cross, he says.
What Could It Become?
The hospital has long closed. But the building was still used as a primary care centre and for several other services until recently, says the HSE spokesperson, and has been empty since late 2019.
In September 2019, Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey asked the HSE about its plans for the hospital building.
The HSE wrote back to say it planned to sell the site and lease back part of the building from the new owners for a primary-care centre.
In September 2020, Lacey called on the HSE to either bring the building back into use or let someone else take it on, to stop it from becoming derelict.
“Property owners have duties as well as rights,” says Lacey.
The HSE put the building up for sale through Savills in 2015, with a rough price tag of €14 million. But it didn’t sell.
Until recently, there were some services still using the building, but it is fully vacant now, says the HSE spokesperson.
The HSE plans to build a primary-care centre on the canal side of the site and “to put the remainder of the site and the old building on the market for sale”, says the spokesperson.
The building will not be transferred to the Land Development Agency, they said.
The Pembroke Road Association is worried about the building falling into disuse, says Siobhan Cuffe, its chairperson. “It’s looking very grungy and hasn’t been cared for in years.”
A few years ago, the association offered to put in little pocket parks on either side of the entrance, to spruce it up – but they couldn’t get permission, says Cuffe.
A HSE spokesperson said that was not allowed due to health and safety. Cuffe says it’s now just a “huge, big, decaying building”.
The Pembroke Road Association thinks the building should be used as a museum of Dublin city, she says. It has proposed that during the ongoing consultation for the new city development plan.
There isn’t a museum dedicated to the 1,200-year history of Dublin. “We have such a deep culture and history we ought to celebrate it,” she says.
Dorman says he would like the building fully restored for a use that benefits the community. “It would be amazing to have public housing in some form.”
“There is a lot of love for this building, maybe it’s skin deep but I personally wouldn’t like to see it go out of state hands,” he says.
Any old building can be renovated, says Dorman. But that work becomes more complicated and expensive if the building is allowed to deteriorate.
If that happens and then it is sold to a private company, the engineer’s report might recommend only maintaining the facade at the front of the building, he says.
He finds that form of restoration shallow. “It’s representative of our ideals,” says Dorman.
Along the quays and throughout the city centre, many of the buildings are only restored on the surface.
“Dublin is a graveyard of buildings that were let slide,” he says. “You lose the whole essence of those old buildings.”
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 9.30am to correct the source of the materials, the bricks and terracota elements. Apologies for the error.]