At the moment, the former TU Dublin Conservatory of Music and Drama in Rathmines is home to a school.

A sign outside the grand red-brick building, which neighbours the library on Lower Rathmines Road, has welcomed passersby to Harcourt Terrace Educate Together National School since August 2021.

But that’s just temporary. The school’s lease wraps up after two years.

Labour Councillor Mary Freehill says this presents an opportunity to transform Rathmines. She wants to see who uses which building shuffled around, she says.

The TU Dublin premises could be turned into classrooms for the Rathmines College of Further Education, which is currently across the street in the old town hall.

And that could pave the way for a dormant concert hall in the town hall to be restored and brought back into use, she says. “There are many different groups in the area who could use it, like the Rathgar and Rathmines Musical Society.”

“In order to make it happen, we need to get the TU Dublin building, because we’d be able to free up space in the town hall,” she says.

Putting the Plan in Motion

On 13 February, Freehill and Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey tabled a motion at a meeting of councillors for the council’s South East Area, aimed at making this reshuffle happen.

The motion called on Dublin City Council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, to seek a meeting with the chief executive of the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB), which has a lease on the old town hall.

The goals: secure the restoration of the former concert hall, the conservation of the clock tower of the old town hall, and the acquisition of the former TU Dublin premises, to provide extra rooms for Rathmines College.

The Department of Education currently owns the conservatory. It bought it in 2019, a TU Dublin spokesperson says.

To get the building, the CDETB is going to need help from the council, said Freehill.

“The only way we could actually have that concert hall in Rathmines – and given that we don’t have one public hall in Rathmines – would be in fact, if the classrooms that are currently occupying it could move to TUD across the road,” she said.

It could all be done at relatively low cost, said Lacey. “It is consistent with government policy, travel policy, the 15-minute urban village policy. It is consistent with everything.”

“This is a win, win, win, win, win situation for everybody, at no loss,” Lacey said, before concluding by saying a council report will be requested for the next committee meeting.

A press spokesperson for Dublin City Council said Keegan will make contact with the CDETB chief executive to discuss the issues raised by councillors.

Colin Heeney, a spokesperson for the City of Dublin Education and Training Board says its properties are managed as part of its estate strategy.

“Any increase in City of Dublin ETBs [further education and training] provision capacity needs to be aligned to its overall [further education and training] strategy and the funding it receives for this purpose.”

Reshuffling Rathmines

Constructed in 1895, the Rathmines town hall building is owned by Dublin City Council, and is currently on a 100-year lease to the CDETB, says Mary Freehill.

The lease is due to end in 2030, according to a Rathmines Local Action Plan from 2009.

In 1897, the concert hall, built to hold 2,000 people, staged its first public event, a performance of Handel’s Messiah, according to Séamas Ó Maitiú’s book Rathmines Township, 1847–1930.

The hall was used for a variety of purposes, says Senator Michael McDowell, a supporter of the longstanding effort to reopen the venue. “It was amazing. It was used for huge meetings, political meetings. For concerts. It was used as a cinema. It was a major local institution.”

Since the 1950s, however, public events ceased in the hall, says McDowell. “The gallery is still intact, the stage is still intact.”

Bringing it back into use seems to be entirely reasonable, says Lacey, the Labour councillor. “Restoring a theatre in a huge catchment area, which people can walk to is just sensible in terms of less traffic, and with Rathmines becoming more and more of a permanent residential area.”

Locals had been supportive of the concert hall’s reopening for years, the 2009 Local Action Plan found.

The challenge, however, is that five classrooms with wood and plaster partitions, and a temporary ceiling occupy a space just below the seating area and stage.

An elaborate air extraction system is also in the theatre, just above the classrooms’ ceilings, McDowell says.

File photo from September 2018 of part of the old concert hall. Photo by Zuzia Whelan.

Were the auditorium to be reopened, the college would stand to lose the five classrooms. But the college is already short on space, Lacey says. “They need alternative space, which is fair enough.”

It seems logical then to transfer the former TU Dublin conservatory over to the Rathmines College of Further Education, he says. “My view is then that there is space across the road, in a state-owned building that could, and should be used.”

In the Zone

The old conservatory on Lower Rathmines Road used to be owned by the Vocational Education Committee (VEC), later re-established as the CDETB in 2013.

In 1991, the building was designated to Dublin Institute of Technology as part of a property split between the institute and the VEC.

CDETB has made it clear in the past, says Freehill, that they are interested in the building.

At a special council meeting in September 2016, as part of the proposed amendments to the Dublin City Development Plan 2016-2022, Freehill tabled a motion to rezone the lands on which the conservatory stood from Z4 for mixed-service facilities to Z15 for institutional and community use.

The former TU Dublin Conservatory. Photo by Michael Lanigan.

CDETB put in a submission, making it clear they were in serious need of space for Rathmines College, Freehill’s motion read.

As of 2016, the college had 700 day students and 1,200 evening students. And according to the submission, the college had to rent houses nearby on Leinster Road to use as overflow classrooms.

Freehill said that the CDETB had told DIT about its position.

But DIT opposed the rezoning, its submission shows. It was beginning its four-year process to relocate its 20,000 students to the new campus in Grangegorman.

Changing to Z15 would reduce the building’s value by 25 percent and increase the risk of vacancy, DIT’s submission said.

Ultimately, the land was rezoned Z15. The Department of Education bought the building in 2019, according to a TU Dublin spokesperson.

Freehill says for her proposal to have legs, the council and CDETB need to co-operate.

“We need to work together to try and put pressure on the Department of Education to make that educational building available to the ETB,” she says.

The Department of Education did not respond to an invitation to comment.

The next step is to ensure that the chief executives of the council and board meet, and can agree on a common approach, Lacey says. “If they were to go to the relevant Minister and say this is something we could deliver, it would be a poor minister who doesn’t help.”

“It’s a theatre in the middle of a commercial district,” he says. “This is something that could benefit everybody, and indeed, Dublin on a wider level.”

Michael Lanigan is a freelance journalist who covers arts and culture for Dublin Inquirer. His work also appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, and the Business Post. You can reach him at

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