Last Friday, weeds had grown out from under the front doors of the three-storey red-brick building at 2 and 3 Mark’s Alley West.
The windows facing out onto the street were covered by white plastic sheets, obscuring the derelict interiors.
Between the two front doors, a notice read that on 26 January, Peninsula Suite Holdings Ltd applied for permission to demolish the two houses and a mews next door.
In their place, it wants to build a five-storey aparthotel, with the top floor set back, the application says.
The new development would cover the Mark’s Alley site, and also that of 92 and 93 Francis Street, where a building was torn down in March 2021.
The buildings at 2 and 3 Mark’s Alley West are dilapidated houses, the application says. According to an architectural heritage impact assessment, they are in a poor state of repair, having not been used for years.
“As a result necessary repairs to the structure, which, under normal circumstances would be carried out, were left undone resulting in damage to both the exterior and interior,” the statement says.
But the structure shouldn’t be knocked, says local historian Kieran Doyle O’Brien. “Obviously they have deteriorated to some extent.” But, still, they should be renovated and reused, he says.
While they are not protected structures, he says he thinks they do have historic value as former tenement buildings. “From a social history point of view, these are interesting buildings, because they are part of the story of the efforts to address the slum housing in Dublin.”
Peninsula Suite Holdings could not be reached for comment.
Doyle O’Brien has what he would call an amateur interest in Dublin’s social history.
He was fascinated by tenement blocks such as the Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street and the Nicholas Street Flats, the latter which were designed by Charles James McCarthy, the city architect between 1893 and 1921.
As he began to pay closer attention to the structures of numbers 2 and 3 Mark’s Alley West, he noticed similarities in their designs and those under McCarthy, he says. “I thought, they’re kind of similar to what the Corporation did there on Nicholas Street.”
The 1862 edition of Thom’s Almanac and Official Directory gave some credence to this thought, listing number 2 Mark’s Alley West as tenements, while number 3 was a “drysalter”, a shop dealing in chemicals.
Kieran Rose, a retired council planner, says that based on his own inquiries, he believes the building could date back to the mid-19th century, and with both 2 and 3 potentially converted into tenements.
Similar to the Iveagh Trust buildings, designed by the London architectural firm Joseph and Smithem, Rose says, these tenements were unusual in that they were not originally Dublin Corporation buildings.
“They are possibly an interesting example of a private developer doing this type of housing in Dublin, which is almost unique,” Rose says.
Doyle O’Brien says he went through census data from the early 20th century. Neither building had any residents in 1901. But by 1911, number 2 was housing four families, while number three had five.
Rose says that neither he nor any historic assessment had been able to find an exact date for their construction.
Knocking Them Down
Peninsula Suite Holdings Ltd is the just the latest owner to seek permission to knock the buildings.
In December 2004, developer Eamonn Walsh sought permission to demolish 1-3 Mark’s Alley West and 90-93 Francis Street and build a five-story development with 38 apartments.
Included among the buildings proposed for demolition was 93 Francis Street, a protected structure. In 2005, Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála both refused permission for these plans.
The following year, Shaffrey Associates Architects drew up a report for Dublin City Council, to demonstrate an acceptable way of developing the sites, which were in considerable disrepair.
That 2006 study of 90-93 Francis Street and 2-3 Mark’s Alley West said that the retention of the Mark’s Alley West “is not considered essential in protecting the overall architectural integrity of the site”.
“Nonetheless, the building envelopes appear to be in fair condition structurally and the building would be capable of restoration,” says the 2006 report.
Almost sixteen years later, on 11 January 2021, Plunkett Homes Limited applied to demolish 92 and 93 Francis Street, and 1 Mark’s Alley West for an aparthotel.
The council refused permission for both 92 and 93, both listed on the derelict registry. But, the council’s Dangerous Buildings section ordered the owner to carry out “minimal taking down/making-safe works.”
In March 2021, the Francis Street buildings were levelled. The developer appealed the refusal of their planning permission to An Bord Pleanála, which in August granted it permission to go ahead.
On 26 January this year, Peninsula Suite Holdings Ltd submitted a new proposal to knock down 1-3 Mark’s Alley, and construct an aparthotel on its site and that of 92-93 Francis Street, comprising 37 suites, a ground-floor community space or cafe, and a basement ancillary space.
An architectural heritage impact assessment in the application said the Mark’s Alley buildings were in a poor state of repair, with damaged brickwork, and decaying floors and joists, and water damage.
It also said that no features of architectural or historic merit remained in the buildings. “[T]hose that might have existed have been removed including fireplaces, the stair of no 3, doors, architraves, etc.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine says that the building on Mark’s Alley West has value to the social history of the Liberties.
“I’m into protecting and conserving what we’ve got, and not allowing developers to run roughshod over our built heritage,” she says.
Rose, the former city planner, says the loss of the buildings is unacceptable in a housing crisis. “The building has been allowed to fall into some disrepair. But it’s certainly repairable. It’s not falling down.”
Renovating the building would be the more environmental choice, he says, pointing to the Dublin City Development Plan, 2022–2028, which says that historic buildings in the city remain underutilised and vacant, and that “the greenest building is one … that is already built”.
Doyle O’Brien, the local historian, says that while he wouldn’t necessarily advocate for their protection, their historic value should be seriously considered.
“People respond to the physical presence of a building, rather than some report in a dusty drawer,” he says. “The whole sense of the Liberties is being lost, in terms of it being swamped by just this generic type of building we’re seeing now.”