Analysis: What is spurring the growing trend of cultural loss in Dublin?

The city’s development is coming at a cost of cultural spaces 

The announcement earlier this summer that O’Connell Street beer garden is to be replaced with a Holiday Inn extension has added to the growing trend of cultural spaces being lost to commercial developments.

The courtyard beer garden connects three popular establishments, all part of the Dublin social scene: Fibber Magees, The Living Room, and Murray’s.

Although intentions for its closing met strong objections from publicans and the public, including a petition which has attracted over 10,000 signatures, Dublin City Council (DCC) proceeded to permit the Holiday Inn with permission for the extension.

The extension will add 97 rooms to an existing 214 rooms in the Holiday Inn Express.

Although the developer had previously requested a seven-storey extension, that plan was denied due to concerns about loss of daylight for the surrounding buildings. The application therefore changed to solicit a lower six-storey extension instead, and was accepted.

Fibber Magees holds its name as one of the best-known rock bars in the country. Around since 1979, it has grown into a cultural landmark. Aslan, Bono and the Foo Fighters are all examples of musical figures welcomed on Fibber’s stage.

As part of the outdoor garden, Fibber’s rock influence shares the outdoor space with a traditional music bar, and The Living Room, a notable Dublin sports bar.

Nonetheless, plans to replace the cultural hub go in favour of supporting “the growing city centre business and tourism industries”, as highlighted by the hotel developer.

DCC’s support of this statement has demonstrated the importance placed on profit incentives in the city’s development plan, and its inclination particularly towards business and tourism initiatives.

The case of the O’Connell Street beer garden is just one example of what Dublin’s cultural spaces have been facing in recent years.

Earlier this year, Trinity’s Science Gallery was forced to plan its closure due to financial difficulties in its upkeep. A decline in grants and funding led the Gallery into deficit, making it impossible for it to continue operations.

Known for its exhibitions and events intended to promote science, the Gallery had been one of Dublin’s main cultural and educational centres.

Former Science Gallery curator Vicky Twomey-Lee described the environment created by the Gallery, calling it “a great proponent of advocating science and tech crossing boundaries with creativity like art and design”.

Journalist Maria Delaney at Noteworthy by Journal Media expressed her concern, pointing out that the Gallery’s closing might mean “no permanent space(s) for science in Dublin”.

Delaney continued: “When it began, it gave those interested in science a home and enabled the growth of our community. It was where I first decided to write about science and first connected with our vibrant science communication community.”

Dublin’s famous traditional pub the Cobblestone faced a similar fate in late 2021. Both a pub and a music school, the Cobblestone risked closing due to a DCC plan with aims of turning it into a hotel.

After being met with street demonstrations, protests and 700 objections submitted, city authorities refused planning permission and allowed the Cobblestone to continue running.

Green party MEP and architect Ciarán Cuffe was one of the objectors to the Cobblestone’s closing, describing the hotel development plan as “an over-scaled, crude and soulless monument to greed”.

Cuffe continued to express the importance of the pub as a cultural space, describing it as “an extraordinary venue for traditional Irish music that has attracted singers and musicians from all over the world”.

The pub’s victory over property developers therefore offers an illustration of Dublin’s struggle to maintain its cultural spaces.

The protests and demonstrations that saved the Cobblestone are telling of the public’s anger towards ambitions of city development that only favour business and tourism, while neglecting the importance of culture in the form of educational, musical and social spaces.

Sofia Ferrari Bravo

Sofia Ferarri Bravo is the Deputy News Analysis Editor for the 69th issue of Trinity News.