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The walls of the three-storey early Georgian house on the roadside at 34 Main Street in Chapelizod bulge out towards the street, and are wrapped these days in three belts of scaffolding.
It needs immediate action, says Peter Marriott, who is chairperson of the Chapelizod Old Village Association (COVA). “It’s been left neglected for long enough.”
The house was built around 1740, in front of the medieval bell tower of Saint Laurence’s Church.
In 1863, author J. Sheridan Le Fanu, who as a child lived nearby, published the book The House by the Churchyard, set in and around a house said to have been modelled on 34 Main Street.
The building is important to the village, says Mildred Healy, another member of COVA. “Even in spite of its literary connections. It’s an example of a building of that era. For the whole of the city really, it shouldn’t be left.”
Says Healy: “We’ve been fighting and fighting about this for years.”
In November, An Taisce put 34 Main Street on its 2021 list of most-at-risk buildings in Ireland, which it gathers each year to draw attention to important buildings that lie in a state of disrepair.
“It should be beautifully conserved, yet it’s been vacant and deteriorating for decades,” says Kevin Duff, spokesperson for An Taisce, the architectural heritage group.
Gregoire Zakrzewski, an architect and member of COVA, says that while he hasn’t inspected 34 Main Street, it’s decline is clear from the outside.
“Through the left-hand window, you can see the floor’s collapsed,” he says.
“Some walls are now bulging. If you look at the front wall, and the side gable wall, they’re bowing out,” he says.
Duff, of An Taisce, says that once historic buildings become vacant, they deteriorate quickly and it becomes more and more expensive to put them right again.
Number 34 is on Dublin City Council’s Record of Protected Structures. Protected status means a building costs more to improve, which could be a disincentive, says Duff.
“But if a historic building is not a protected structure and has been vacant for a number of years, it’s likely to be demolished,” he says. “So on balance, it’s better a building has statutory protection.”
The council’s dangerous buildings section, which monitors perceived dangerous buildings in Dublin, inspected the site on Tuesday, as well as on 24 November 2021, and 15 December 2020, said a council spokesperson.
“The DB Inspectors noted ‘nothing Dangerous’ at this time,” they said. “Responsibility for safety, security and maintenance of any building/ property, as always, remains with the owners of the premises.”
In November 2008, Noel and Raymond Egan applied for planning permission to refurbish the building and add a new three-storey extension to the north-west, creating six apartments.
While Dublin City Council granted the permission with conditions, the Chapelizod Old Village Association appealed that to An Bord Pleanála, which then refused permission, show planning documents.
A conservation assessment submitted as part of the planning process said that of the new building next to the site: “This would be in a modern idiom that would be designed to complement the historic building.”
COVA sent in an observation to the plans in 2008, saying the extension would dominate both No. 34 and Saint Laurence’s Church. “The curtilage of two listed buildings will be destroyed resulting in loss of amenity and sense of place to the people of Chapelizod,” they said.
Peter Kavanagh, chairperson of Chapelizod Tidy Towns, says he stands by it still. “If they had built what they had proposed, it would have been completely horrible.”
“There’s no doubt about it,” he says. “We achieved over the last 20 years the reinstatement of the visual frontage of all of those buildings along Main Street.”
The conservation assessment written in August 2007 says there was already an urgent need to conserve the building back then.
“It is shown that there has been substantial water penetration into the building over a time and that there is extensive rot,” it says.
As of 15 November 2021, 34 Main Street wasn’t listed on the council’s derelict site register.
Duff of An Taisce says it should be. “Being on the register would at least empower the city council to fine the owner for allowing the building to remain derelict.”
If a site is on the register, the council can demand that the owners restore it to a non-derelict condition within a certain time, or pay an annual fine of 7 percent of the building’s market value. The council could also purchase the property by agreement or by compulsory purchase order (CPO).
A site is considered derelict if it “detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land in the neighbourhood” whether they are in a “ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition,” or in a neglected condition, or just covered in rubbish and waste, says the council’s website.
The council’s derelict sites section has an active file on 34 Main Street, said a spokesperson on Tuesday.
But putting a site on the derelict sites register isn’t an end in itself, they said. “Sites can, and do, remain on the Register for quite some time despite the imposition of a levy and interest and will continue to deteriorate.”
Number 34 Main Street is a protected structure. “It’s preservation is a priority,” said the spokesperson.
In cases like this, the council’s derelict sites section works closely with its conservation section “whose remit is the protection of the architectural heritage of the city through the exercise of powers contained in planning legislation”, said the spokesperson.
“The situation is being monitored by the City Council’s Building-at-Risk Officer,” they said. “There has been ongoing and positive engagement with the owner regarding the carrying out of improvement works, some of which have been carried out already.”
Given there are improvement works going on, the site isn’t added to the register, they said.
Kavanagh, of Chapelizod Tidy Towns, says he’s not sure who owns it at the moment. There’s no registered owner on the Property Registration Authority’s website landdirect.ie.
Mel Reynolds, an architect and housing commentator, says the local authority should get in contact with an owner to find out why a site is derelict but it can sometimes be hard to find out the owner of the vacant or derelict site.
“That’s why a register of land would be really useful because you’d have all the owners there,” he says.
Back on Main Street
Kavanagh says that Main Street in Chapelizod has more derelict buildings than just number 34.
And there used to be a lot more until an owner was encouraged by locals to auction the buildings, he says. The new owners improved the buildings, he says, rather than changing them.
A new café at 30 Main Street, and the reinstatement of the old look of the buildings, improved the village, he says.
Now more should be done for the remaining derelict buildings, he says. “Let’s preserve the village as best we can.”
“The owners should be given the opportunity to decide to sell them, CPO them – or just fine them for non-use,” he says.
“There should be no room in this city to allow derelict buildings to be just lying around the place when there’s so many people looking for accommodation. It’s absolutely ridiculous, shameful, it’s shameful,” he says.
“And there’s so much of it. It’s not just in Chapelizod,” he says.