On a recent Tuesday morning, Brian Murphy was heading into the Markievicz Sports and Fitness Centre, near Tara Street, for a swim.
He cycled here and lives near Merrion Square, he says. He’s on his own today but he often takes his children at the weekend because he’s teaching them to swim, he says.
“They are doing brilliant,” says Murphy. “We come here most weekends, depending on what else we have on.”
He heard that this pool could be closed down in the future. It would be a major loss major loss to the area, he says. “It is brilliant to have it here. It’s so handy.”
If the plans for the MetroLink get the go-ahead, the building where the Markievicz centre is due to be knocked to build a new underground train station.
Dublin City Council plans to “replace” it by building a new pool and leisure centre at the Irishtown Stadium – together with squash courts, new pitches, a redeveloped gym, a cafe and more, according to a recent presentation to councillors on the South East Area Committee.
“The intention would be to create a new south city sports hub, expanding significantly the facilities there,” says Donncha Ó Dúlaing, a council senior executive officer.
Councillors welcomed the planned expansion of facilities at Irishtown but said that is quite far away and leisure facilities like the Markievicz centre are still needed in the south inner-city.
“It’s a real city-centre facility,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor Claire O’Connor. “Having lived in a city-centre apartment block myself, back in the day, it’s the only thing you have at the weekend that links you into a community.”
The council will also carry out improvements to the swimming pool in Sean McDermott Street, says Ó Dúlaing, which is approximately a 15-minute walk away.
Relocate to Ringsend?
On 3 April, councillors on the South East Area Committee heard about Transport Infrastructure Ireland’s (TII) plans to demolish the Markievicz centre to build an underground train station.
“As part of proposals for the MetroLink project TII are proposing the demolition of that entire block,” says Ó Dúlaing. It has submitted proposals for MetroLink to An Bord Pleanála, he says.
Around 3,700 people use the swimming pool at the Markievicz centre each month, and the gym has more than 1,100 members, according to the presentation.
The council did a feasibility study to find an alternative location for these sports facilities, says Ó Dúlaing. They looked at sustainability, current community needs, and emerging trends in use, he says.
It didn’t identify any other publicly owned land in the area that was suitable, says Ó Dúlaing. So, instead, they are proposing to expand the facilities at the Irishtown Stadium.
It already has athletics facilities, including a running track and all-weather pitches. The plan would be to keep those, says Ó Dúlaing.
The gym building, however, would be knocked and replaced by a three-storey, 7,800sqm leisure centre with a 25m six-lane pool, a smaller training pool and a play pool for children. “A once-in-a-generation building,” says Ó Dúlaing.
The new sports centre would also include more courts and pitches, a new gym and a cafe.
The works should cost around €40 million to €48 million, says Ó Dúlaing.“The majority or a very significant contribution would come from TII,” he says.
The council can also tap into sports capital and equipment programme funding and the large-scale sports infrastructure fund, says the presentation.
The council hopes to appoint a design team this year, with a view to completing the new leisure centre by 2026. “All going well we would be in a position to submit for planning next year,” says Ó Dúlaing.
The council would also expand the Sean McDermott Street pool to include “significant leisure facilities” to cater for the city centre, he says.
Irishtown’s Gain, Pearse Street’s Loss
Councillors welcomed the plans for expansion of the facilities at Irishtown, but flagged the distance between Townsend Street and the Irishtown Stadium.
It’s about 2.5km: 32 minutes walking, 17 by bus, or 10 by bike, according to Google Maps.
The part of the south inner-city where the Markievicz centre is located will lose out, they said. “Irishtown’s gain is Pearse Street’s loss,” says independent Councillor Mannix Flynn.
The council surveyed the Markievicz centre’s members and found that around 75 percent were men between 25 and 35 years old, many of whom work in the area and use the gym before work, said Ó Dúlaing.
For the Irishtown Stadium expansion, “the vision for the pool and for the complex is state of the art,” Flynn says. But he wondered why the council didn’t find a spot closer to the pool that is going to be closed down.
If the council is promoting people living in apartments in the city centre then it needs to provide facilities for them, says O’Connor, the Fianna Fáil councillor.
“We need to think about a replacement for this in the city centre and also push ahead with the redevelopment of Irishtown,” she said.
Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne says she is struggling to get her children into swimming lessons because all the swimming pools on the south side, public and private, are oversubscribed.
So the council should expand at Irishtown and also build a new facility in the city centre. “I’d like to see it as an additional resource,” she says. “The demand is obvious.”
Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey said the plans for Irishtown are really positive. “I think it’s a really exciting development,” he said.
Flynn, however, queried whether putting so many sports facilities together might lead to increased traffic congestion in Irishtown.
Fine Gael Councillor Danny Byrne was sceptical of the council’s plans. “I’m not totally convinced by this,” he said. “We had the fiasco of the proposed whitewater rafting so my confidence is low.”
The controversial proposal to build a whitewater rafting centre at George’s Dock was scrapped after the costs escalated and the central government declined to fund it.
Byrne asked for more detailed information on the Irishtown centre and whether the VAT was included in the estimated costs. It had been left out of the original costs for the white water rafting proposal, he said.
The council is exploring the possibility of building an outdoor swimming pool on George’s Dock. If that goes ahead it would be a 10-minute walk away from the pool that is closing.
Of course, it’s possible that neither the demolition of the Markievicz centre nor the expansion of the Irishtown one will go ahead.
At the committee meeting, Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan asked whether the proposed redevelopment of Irishtown Stadium would proceed in the event that the MetroLink plans changed or didn’t go ahead.
Ó Dúlaing said that it wouldn’t, because the council is relying on compensation from TII for the loss of the Markievicz centre to pay to redevelop the Irishtown Stadium.