Save The Cobblestone, Save Merchant’s Arch, Save Tolka Park. Each passing week, another institution ingrained in the cultural fabric of Dublin faces an existential threat. When Pete St John wrote In the Rare Auld Times, a song about the disappearance of landmarks in Dublin, he probably didn’t think the song would be sung for the same reasons over 50 years later. However, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and a surge in private development on cultural institutions in Dublin today, the song has proven to be as relevant, if not more, than ever before.
One such pandemic-related impact was the recent decision to close the much-loved Chapters bookstore in early 2022. Chapters is the largest independent bookshop in Ireland, first opening on Wicklow Street in 1983. Its extensive second-hand collection is especially revered, with many locals flocking for a chance to buy bargain bestsellers. Its low prices and book exchange programmes also provided the opportunity for those of any income to start building a library, encouraging reading amongst generations of Dubliners. The lines stretching outside its doors following the announcement of its closure echo these sentiments.
“Despite being held in such high regard, the lack of footfall in the city centre during Covid-19 left Chapters owner, William Kinsella, with no choice but to close the business.”
Despite being held in such high regard, the lack of footfall in the city centre during Covid-19 left Chapters owner, William Kinsella, with no choice but to close the business. Speaking to Newstalk, Kinsella described how many consumers changed their habits during the pandemic, opting instead for online sellers or local bookstores. These factors, coupled with increased rent and a lack of tourists, meant Chapters suffered significant shortfalls in revenue. Despite Kinsella’s best efforts to increase the store’s online presence during the pandemic, these changes came too little too late, with the “figures just not stacking up” according to the owner. These factors led to the announcement of the store’s closure at the end of October.
While the pandemic was a determining factor in many businesses’ closures in recent months, a surge in private development, particularly hotel development, has also had an adverse impact on the preservation of Dublin’s landmarks. The Cobblestone pub, a bastion of traditional music in the capital, has announced it will cease trading if planning permission is approved for a hotel within its grounds. Under these plans, nearly 70% of The Cobblestone’s premises could be reappropriated. Speaking to RTÉ News, Tomás Mulligan, a representative of the pub, described how this loss would make The Cobblestone “financially unviable”, leading to the venue’s closure.
While pubs in Dublin can be seen as a dime-a-dozen, what sets The Cobblestone apart as a cultural hotspot for locals and tourists alike is its emphasis on traditional Irish music. With live performances every night of the week, The Cobblestone has provided a space for traditional musicians to showcase their craft. Moreover, the pub has fostered budding artists with regular dance, singing and instrumental lessons. It also hosts frequent cultural events such as pop-up Gaeltachts, storytelling workshops, and poetry nights. The local reverence of the pub has been highlighted by the hundreds of objections filed against proposed plans, coupled with the protests held at Dublin City Council’s headquarters regarding the same matter
Another impact that hotel developments have had on the cultural landscape of Dublin is the increased private development in Temple Bar. This was brought to a head with a proposal for a three-storey hotel in the Merchant’s Arch section of Temple Bar square in recent months. Whilst the arch itself will not be demolished, objectors to the development, such as the heritage watchdog An Taisce, assert that the hotel will continue to alter the already changed landscape irreparably.
“Whilst the arch itself will not be demolished, objectors to the development, such as the heritage watchdog An Taisce, assert that the hotel will continue to alter the already changed landscape irreparably.”
In An Taisce’s press release on the matter, the group described how this development constitutes another indictment of Temple Bar’s betrayal of its initial primary goal as a revitalised cultural quarter. The government first set this out in the Temple Bar Plan of 1992, which presented a vision of Temple Bar in which arts, culture, and heritage would be “supported and conserved”. There was a particular emphasis placed on building residential units in the area, with the intent to create a “vibrant city centre community”. The successful, continued implementation of the plan has been credited for revitalising Temple Bar into a now-iconic part of the city. For objectors, the proposed hotel represents the latest amongst a slew of contradictions of the initial ideals of the Temple Bar Plan, which threaten to remove the cultural heritage of the quarter.
Private development’s impact on cultural landmarks is not confined solely to hotels. Tolka Park, one of the city’s oldest sports grounds, located in the suburb of Drumcondra, has recently been put up for sale by Dublin City Council for private development. The stadium has been at the centre of sporting culture in Dublin for nearly a century, with many Irish football alumni either watching a match or taking part on the pitch throughout its illustrious history. The renowned player and RTÉ pundit, John Giles, has described the ground as his “spiritual home”. For musician David Balfe, matchdays at Tolka Park present the opportunity to “connect families through generations” and remember times with a close friend who had passed away.
“The harshness of the pandemic, coupled with the surge in private development, are the two issues at the core of the recent changes.”
However, due to a lack of investment, the stadium has fallen into disrepair. So, when the opportunity was presented for the current occupiers, Shelbourne F.C., to enter a ground-sharing agreement with rivals Bohemians F.C. in a new stadium, they took the opportunity. The ownership of Tolka Park was subsequently handed over to Dublin City Council. The council has since decided to sell Tolka Park to private developers to fund the new stadium and other projects across the city. The sale has been described as an “act of cultural vandalism” by the activist group, Save Tolka Park. They regard the passing of the publicly owned lands into the hands of private developers as a misuse of green space that the council could have otherwise employed for public amenities.
It is clear that the situation in Dublin is multi-faceted, with no one single cause for the loss of these landmarks, and, consequently, the culture of Dublin. However, the harshness of the pandemic, coupled with the surge in private development, are the two issues at the core of the recent changes. Moreover, the prevalence of these issues in recent media, and the public outcry for the prevention of private development has shown the value that locals place on these landmarks.