Category: Real Ireland Tour
THE IMAGE AND THE REALITY
1.1 The Marketing of Ireland
Ireland is under going an unprecedented investment in tourist development
through dormer bungalow B & Bs, hotels, golf courses, tax generated holiday
villages, visitor interpretative centres and pubs. All of this is taking
place on the back of the general economic boom and the massive EU funded
road programme, which is accelerating the process of motor car access and
dependency around the country.
At the same time, the images being used to market Ireland in books and
brochures, including Bord Failte's (the Irish Tourist Board's) own
literature, are the traditional ones, the quiet country road, the unspoilt
beaches, the mountains, the little cottage at the end of the boreen, the
charming village or town street with its small shop fronts and quirkey
local names, the relaxed figures lingering beside a signpost, the historic
house, the Georgian streets and doorways of the major cities, the welcoming
pub, the traditional music session etc.
All countries present tourist images compartmented from everyday reality
and from the late 20th century industrialised conditions in which most of
their populations live. But Ireland, somehow, is different, it is trying
to project the illusion that it remains a magic place of unspoilt
countryside, attractive historic towns and cities, and friendly people
providing that special one to one welcome.
1.2 Relaxed Getting Around
Ireland is spinning blindly into the consumer throwaway, motor car
dependent, homogenised global economy. The country boreens are for the
tourist brochures only, as the major part of the current tranche of
European Structural Funds are put into a massive road building programme,
whose effect is highlighted by the proposed widening through the Glen of
the Downs in Co. Wicklow. At the same time, the Irish rail system, which
was once one of the finest in Europe at the time of the foundation of the
State, is now an under invested skeleton. For an independent tourist to
travel around Ireland by public transport, and particularly on the coast,
is a difficult experience.
1.3 The Pure Water
Irish farmers are among the most drug addicted and chemical dependent in
the world, through the massive use of antibiotics in animals, and the
saturation of the earth with over-enriching fertiliser. The inevitable
result of this overkill agriculture are seeping slurry pits and
contaminated ground water and the annual ineffective hand wringing when yet
another spate of massive lake and fish kills occurs.
Phospate fertilizer pollution is accelerating the effect of algal
bloom on Irish lakes. In a recent presentation to the EPA (Environmental
Protection Agency) by an international study team led by Dr. Andrew
Petersen of DIT Cork it was revealed that of 55 lakes surveyed 42 were
experiencing "potential or actual nuisance from" algal bloom.
"Consideration should be given to intensively monitoring
bloom susceptible water bodies, especially those having potable
or recreational utility, in view of the tumour-promoting and
carcinogenic activities of cyantoxins"
A number of state run and private drinking water supplies have become
contaminated with E. Coli, Clostridia, Faecal Streptococci and other
bacteria and parasites in the last 5 years.
1.4 The Traditional Farm
The typical Irish farm is a place where a decent tree has hardly been
planted for a hundred years, with a plastic windowed, radon gas trapping
bungalow, breeze block and corrugated sheds, designed with no concern for
the landscape and the old stone or clay walled family house, if it
survives, a crumbling ruin. Fuelling this process, and in turn being
fuelled by it, is the Irish mega-agrochemical industry, symbolised by the
recent amalgamation of Avonmore and Waterford Co-op and its inevitable
"rationalisations' for more efficient production units, thus, now totally
extinguishing the co-operative dream of Horace Plunkett. To serve these
chemical plants which pose as dairy processing facilities is an army of
petrol tanker-like milk collection vehicles, which now require access and
inevitably the widening and ditch slashing of every thorn-lined boreen in
Anyone in a few hours JCB driving can wipe a way a whole pattern of
FIElds, stone walls and ditches that have been created over thousands of
years. The national ring fort stock, now no longer protected by the fear of
the fairies, is being decimated
The State Agricultural research agency Teagasc instead of promoting
organic farming has entered into partnership with the American agri
chemical company Monsanto to promote genetically modified sugar beet trial
crops. The aim is to create a genetic strain which will be dependent on
Monsanto's own seeds and pesticides.
1.5 Scenic Rolling Country Side.
From Atlantic breakers on rolling sands, to heather-clad mountains, to
green lush pastures; this is the image which Ireland sells. The more and
more real Ireland is a snake-like ribbon of suburban-type bungalows, in
octopus like tentacles crawling miles out beyond the major towns forming
strange little conglomerations of their own in the middle of nowhere.
Their effect on the landscape is, of course, most obvious in the less
vegetated western seaboard from Donegal to Galway, the plastic bungalow
county of Ireland, and Kerry. Allied to this is an absolute chaotic
failure on the part of Irish Local Authorities to impose any sort of
planning boundary between what is town, village and country.
Under the aggressive commercial agenda of the State forestry agency
Coillte, and with EU funding, harsh grids of conifers are invading familiar
landscapes, like the VEE in Waterford's Knockmealdowns. Most of the timber
produced is suitable only for pulping. More seriously the introduction
of huge swathes of alien species such as silka spruce is perculating soil
acidity down valleys and threatening bio diversity.
With Ireland's Third World mentality of accepting any multi-national to do
whatever it wants, wherever it wants, the result is the absurdity of
industrial location, or, more pertinently, non-location. The legacy is
the monstrous MDF producing Masonite in Co. Leitrim, dominating the upper
reaches of the Shannon, the Aughinish Alumina, Aluminium plant in Co.
Limerick on the lower reaches, the chaos of chemical plants around Cork
Harbour, and the now redundant synthetic fibre Asahi plant in Killalla, Co.
1.6 Charming Small Villages
It is hard to find those very contrived postcard views of the cluster of
attractive traditional shops and pub. The new Irish rural conurbation and
the testimony of the addiction of the country to the motor car, is the
petrol station chain store supermarket mini store, with its huge motorway
type plastic canopy which now penetrates into the furthest rural reaches.
Even though the distance could be a few hundred yards, the daily paper and
carton of milk, has now become a car journey. In strange contrast to this
fluorescent lit world the Irish pub is mushrooming into a vast cocoon of
cavernous twilight. The typical rural pub already extended twice, three
times, initially with a crude featureless 1970s type flat roofed extension,
now has a fancy dress of reconstructed nostalgia with cartwheels, old
bicycles hanging in the rafters. agricultural implements, fake thatch
roofs, etc. Grander examples have interiors fitted out from the plundered
19th. century Gothic woodwork from the local abandoned convent chapel, to
create vast drinking temples of sepulchral gloom.
1.7 Killarney - Ireland's Premier Tourist Destination
Mr. Neilus Moriarty, Chairman of Cork/Kerry Tourism states that, "Killarney
is one of the jewels in Irish tourism". Despite this, there is absolutely
no serious planning strategy on the part of Killarney Urban District
Council to protect and enhance the character of the town. While,
obviously, photographs and tourist features of the Killarney area have
always highlighted its spectacular combination of lakes, mountains and
historic domains, it is in the town itself that most visitors stay.
Killarney is a good example of a Georgian planned town, laid out by the
Earls of Kenmare around 1800 with its main streets forming a T junction
between Main Street and New Street. Both streets are of a handsome quality
with a uniform three storey frontage. Main Street is characterised by the
survival of a large number of good quality 19th century commercial
buildings with shop frontages or pubs, whereas, New Street, in particular
the end running towards the Cathedral, has some attractive early 19th
century Georgian houses. Apart from these main streets, the town possesses
a fine selection of 19th century buildings, the Cathedral, Church of
Ireland church and Franciscan Friary and the magnificent Great Southern
Hotel, probably the finest purpose built hotel in the country.
Killarney Urban District Council has demonstrated a total failure to
protect the character of the streets from hideous plastic window insertion,
and even of the main buildings. The treatment of the Great Southern Hotel
with swing out, uPVC widows, ranks among the most offensive examples of the
character of a nationally important building being devastated and demeaned
by factory type uPVC window replacement in the entire country. Other
casualties of incongruous uPVC window replacement are the Friary Complex
and the former Bishop's Palace near the Cathedral. Epitomising Killarney
UDC's management of the town, is the treatment of their own office
headquarters in Main Street. This, like so much of the town, has factory
type, uPVC windows, so that the UDC are themselves setting the worst
example in design and environmental practice.
1.8 Lively Historic Cities
With the whole thrust of current tourist promotion seeking all wet weather
and out-of-season visitors, the cities and their image are being marketed
more and more.
The reality of the on-going destruction of the historic character of
Dublin, both in the last few years, continuing and now threatened, would
require a major book.
Dublin is now touted as one of the most attractive short-stay holiday break
destinations in Europe. This is certainly reflected in the level of hotel
investment, visitor numbers and the ratio of visitor bed nights in Dublin,
in relation to the rest of the country which is now hugely increased in
Dublin's favour. The books, the brochures, the literature, market Dublin
as a great European historic capital city, with a proud history and
literary heritage, pleasant to walk about and full of intimate pubs and
easy welcoming conversation.
Any visitor to Dublin, unfortunate enough to make the disorienting arrival
by plane, will be confronted im- Mediately by its transport chaos and failure
to establish a rapid transit link with the city centre. This is only
symbolic of the total blindness to which Dublin has staggered down the
route of motor car dependency. While the clock ticks on availing of
European funds for rapid transport the proposed LUAS rapid transit plan
becomes progressively delayed. The original £120 million EU allocation has
already been redistributed, with Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy stealing
£31 million for the Roads Programme, thereby even further imbalancing the
modal split between public and private vehicular transport. Meanwhile the
reshaping of the physical, economic and social fabric of the city to the
dictate of the motor car continues. The whole balance of shopping has been
tipped to the EU funded C Ring motorway which is supposed to be a bypass
route, with the development of the Quarryvale and Blanchardstown in west
Co. Dublin and their easy accessibility from a wide catchment area. The
widened National Primary Road radial roads are simply fuelling more low
density car dependent suburban housing in satellite towns. Failure to
invest and develop rail freight chokes the city with heavy goods
vehicles,while the worst offenders of all, are the diesel buses which chug
in traffic jams along the streets, which, until the mid 20th century had
one of the most efficient tram systems in Europe.
Lest there be any pretence that Dublin is now looking after its great
Georgian heritage, a simple tour will quickly disillusion that. Every day
a walk around the 18th.century squares from Mountjoy to Merrion will
reveal skip after skip of houses throwing out the very Georgian front doors
themselves, which encapsulate the image of the city. Original fanlights are
smashed up and replaced by poor copies, and the national uPVC window
blight, while held at bay only through special vigilance in the Merrion and
Fitzwilliam areas is devastating the streets around Mountjoy Square.
The real glories of Dublin houses are their interiors, and it is on these
that the kango hammer is ripping riot. No better example can be shown than
that in the terrace beside the very successfully refurbished Merrion Hotel
opposite government buildings. In this terrace, 25-29 Lower Merrion Street
the "conversion" of five formerly State owned buildings to residential
accommodation has resulted in the removal of all of their staircases, and
joinery interior features, dating back to the mid 18th century and the
re-ordering of the buildings into a series of mean rabbit warren boxes.
This process is being repeated on a large scale around the Georgian North
Side, along with a new phenomenon for the chopping up of large Georgian
houses into the shoe box type guest houses, presumably to facilitate the
lower paying, burgeoning, stag party market. Combined with this total
ongoing process of attrition, is a complete failure of the understanding of
traditional building conservation and maintenance, as that most precious
and irreplaceable quality of the city, its the sense of age and patina is
progressively eroded by the daily depredations of unnecessarily ripping out
of pointing for new crude cement and the ravaging of the surface of brick
facades through abrasive grit blast cleaning.
The pressure of development is now threatening the future integrity of the
skyline of the city with 20 storey tower blocks being touted by the
property development fraternity. A current planning application for a site
in George's Quay, proposes a cluster, rising to up to 24 storeys.
The future of the city's prime theatre, the Gaiety is totally unresolved
with UCI the international chain cinema syndicate having made an offer for
it, higher than anybody else subject to its de-Listing as a theatre.
The oldest intact Classical church in the city, St. Mary's, where Wolfe
Tone and Sean O'Casey were baptised, has suffered many years of poor
conversion as a tacky paint and decorating store, is now facing the
even-worse effect of pub conversion. Much of its early 18th. century
carved woodwork has disappeared.
The National Gallery, which one would expect to be the pre-eminent cultural
Guardian of Ireland itself set the worst possible example by its
acquisition and proposed demolition of a major late 18th century townhouse
at 5 South Leinster Street for an extension. It was only the major
concerted opposition of conservation bodies which succeeded in having the
plan amended to retain the house, as is now proposed
Allied Irish Banks, the most profitable company in the country, and which
likes to fancy itself as having an environmental conscience through its
sponsorship of the annual "Better Ireland Awards", has entered into a joint
venture with the developers, Johnny Ronan and Richard Barrett of Treasury
Holdings, to "develop" the complex block of 19th Listed century buildings
in the long-standing ownership of AIB at College Street/D'Olier Street
opposite Trinity College. However, instead of seeking to work with the
grain of the buildings and to create an interesting mix of uses within
their envelopes, the plan is a massively greedy one for a major office
content of two high storeys with a five storey hotel plonked on top with
mansard roofs presenting views over Trinity College and the roofs of the
former Parliament House. All but one of the nine buildings on site are to
be demolished or reduced to facades. The one building with an interior to
be "retained" the former Provincial Bank is to have two stories cast on top
This, probably the most architecturally destructive scheme in Dublin for a
decade was supported by the then Director General of Bord Failte, Matt
McNulty on the grounds that "top" hotels need penthouse rooms so that their
patrons may lord themselves over the cities they visit. While the proposal
by Hilton Hotel to take up the use of the site has now been shelved due to
an ongoing legal action, by a group of environmentalists constituted as
Lancefort Ltd.to the Supreme Court, AIB and Treasury Holdings are still
actively pursuing their development plans for the site, including bringing
in an alternative international hotel chain.
The project at St. Michael's and St. John's Church, by Temple Bar
Properties and Dublin Tourism involved gutting of the interior of the first
pre-Emancipation Catholic Church in Dublin, for a Disneyesque type Viking
theme village centre, best described as Mullaghmore meets Celtworld, in
its bizarre combination of reckless major use of European funding, in this
case £6 million, for a scheme that represents the ultimate combination in
destruction of real heritage and spectacular financial loss. It is now to
relaunched as a commercial drinking den, so that its fake Viking boat may
now join the original early 19th century church fittings in the scrap heap.
Cork is holding its individuality and lively lived-in feel with
family-owned shopping streets. However, the chains are lurking for their
prey, symbolised by McDonald's capture of the landmark Woodford Bourne
building. Cork Corporation itself, has set some good initiative through
the Fens Quay and North Main Street projects, but mainly very bad example
through planning permissions for demolitions of important buildings at
Peter Street, Lyndville, and the entire gasworks complex, along with its
spectacular failure to control the uPVC epidemic.
However the status of the centre is now under attack from a ring of plans
for superstores, retail parks and shopping centres around the city. With
Cork City and County Councils competing against each other to "attract"
Limerick has deservedly acquired the most genuine and meritorious of all
heritage investment projects in recent years, the Hunt Museum. It has also
acquired one of the most absurd, the Shannon Development mock city street
beside King John's Castle, which includes a reproduction of a 19th century
stone warehouse building of a type being actively demolished in other parts
of the city such as the Milk Market.
The City tragically fails to appreciate its own quality as the westernmost
Renaissance city in Europe with its noble street plan. Limerick is now the
plastic window capital of Ireland, indeed possibly of the world. Nowhere
is this better symbolised by the fact that the majority of houses in
Ireland's only crescent have lost their timber are now of the fire-trap
uPVC top hung hinged variety.
Galway has reinvented itself as the city of craic, culture, music, film and
vibrant Irish life. However, it is strange that the new culture which
Galway seeks to embody, should be combined with such a complete lack of
appreciation of the physical qualities and characteristics of the city
itself. Most of its great limestone buildings, like the Great Southern
Hotel and Railway Station, now suffocate in plastic windows. In its urban
renewal areas, it has adopted its own pastel coloured parody style of the
late - Mediaeval buildings, whose remains it is still demolishing. Its
attachment to the super pub, parallels that of Dublin's Temple Bar.
It has spectacularly failed to plan for its state as the fastest growing
Irish city in transport and infrastructure, with the city Corporation
locked into an outmoded scheme for putting its new sewerage treatment plant
on a prominently sited Mutton Island in Galway Bay.
Waterford is now trying to lure cruise liners and market itself as an
historic European port city to live up to its 18th century title of "the
noblest quay in Europe". In reality, it maintains its quay-front as a
chaotic car park saturated, shed littered mess, dominated by the most out
of place motorway petrol station in Ireland. Along the great quay-front
itself, which unlike Cork and Dublin, has survived so splendidly intact, is
the blight of plastic windows, including, the supposed welcoming point in
the city itself, its tourist office!
Despite commissioning an model strategic plan for the Quayfront the city
Corporation totally abrogated it by granting permission for a monstrous
penthouse extension to the Granville Hotel which destroys the cohesion of
the building line. Meanwhile, Waterford instead of promoting the
conservation of the city, is now engaging in the "de-Listing" of some of
its earliest surviving buildings in Broad Street to accommodate Boots
1.9 Ancient Sites And Archaeology
Ireland has always conveyed the illusion that it jealousy guards its
ancient past, while admitting at the widest official levels that its
treatment of the post 1700 legacy has been less than satisfactory. The
complete lack of any real appreciation, understanding, or meaningful
protection of ancient Ireland is symbolised by the bulldozing by a local
woman of the great mound of Tailteann in County Meath, centre of the
national Lughnasa Assembly. For the people of the time, the building and
raising the earth of this mound represented collective effort equivalent to
that of the Great Pyramids in Egyptian society. At the core of the mound
and laid with huge labour were layers of earth brought from all over the
country, ceremonially laid and ritually burnt to symbolise the unity of the
people. Centuries before the Grecian Olympiad, this was where these
ancient people held their annual truce, arranged marriages, played games
and told stories long into the night.
Also threatened was Tiachtgha, County Meath, not a site perhaps as well
known as Tara or Tailteann, County Meath, but in its time, as symbolic in
significance. It was the principal religious centre of the Druids and the
seat of Samhain Assembly, where the wise gathered annually to work for the
country's welfare. Like so many absurdly inappropriate locations, the
Tiachtgha (Hill of Ward site) was the subject of planning application by
Esat Digifone, for a hundred foot mobile telephone mast, refused planning
permission following major local oppostion.
In the urban areas, and particularly those affected by the Urban Renewal
Tax Incentives, the quick fix, quick build demands of contemporary
construction have left little time for archaeology. Cork has lost the
remains of St. Mary's of the Isle and Galway many impressive fragments of
late - Mediaeval houses, which could have been excitingly incorporated into
new buildings. The discovery of the foundations of the only Irish church
with an apsed chancel the 12th. century St. Peters in Waterford proved
the construction of a shopping centre supermarket. The stones were moved to
another area in the development loosing all context and meaning.
1.10 The Thatched House
Still the most evocative of Irish images, is the thatched house, with its
lime washed walls, small windows and great robust outline of roof thatch.
A visitor now seeking the real thing, would have a hard time to find one,
particularly in the West. On the Aran Islands, no more than a handful
survive, as new housing there apes the style of the could-be-anywhere
suburban bungalow, and the Department of the Gaeltacht facilitated extra
grants fuel the elimination of stone-built walls for breeze blocks,
laboriously hauled on to the Islands.
With the real thatched house disappearing, the country takes refuge in
nostalgia and parody as a new spate of fake pubs, many with huge over-sized
roofs, one such erection even erupting in suburban Stillorgan in Dublin.
Apart from its evocative encapsulation of the essence of Ireland, the
thatched building presents the most valuable ecological lessons to a global
society. At a time when we are more and more dependent for our buildings
and consumer needs on industrial products requiring huge energy consumption
and transport, and very often a short performance life and disposability,
the traditional Irish thatched building is the ultimate example of
"sustainable development". It is a house created out of the very earth in
which it stands, since a large proportion are built out of that most, now
underrated, yet most ancient and ecological of all building materials.
While the dry climate of Yemen can accommodate earth buildings of seven or
eight storeys, Ireland still retains 200 year old, two storey houses,
covered in their protective lime wash, still happily lived in, and models
of thermal insulation, cool in the summer, warm in the winter. Large
concentrations, may still be found in Wexford that richest of all Irish
counties for thatched buildings. The buildings of the West were more
modest in size and stone constructed and these have suffered almost totally
from modern bungalow replacement.
Bord Failte should not dare allow one more photograph of an Irish thatched
house to be printed in one more postcard, to appear in one more magazine
article, to be printed in one more book, unless a major national initiative
is taken to combat their destruction.
Apart from the necessity to retain the very small stock of thatched
buildings which remains, and to try and find a viable use for them, since
many are not suitable for living accommodation for large families, a
massive national initiative is needed. But the rewards will be high in the
satisfaction of retaining these among the last threads of our national
identity. Their survival will also hopefully inspire the next generation
to move away from the concept of the hard cement plastic windowed
synthetically slated dormer bungalow, and think again about evolving a
modern and indigenous Irish rural architecture, which will take its
materials from the earth around it, while at the same time achieving the
comfort, which modern living now demands.
1.11 The Country House Legacy.
The value of this previously despised inheritance is now universally
recognised and actively marketed. One of the great success stories of
recent years has been the development of the Hidden Ireland Country House
Accommodation group and the economic rehabilitation of many charming medium
sized 18th and 19th century houses after years when their future had
seemed hopeless. The Section 19 tax incentive has also in many cases
provided that vital financial advantage to allow a house and its contents
to be retained. This must not disguise the fact that there is still no
effective national strategy to protect this great legacy, so that each
time, a problem arises, the system nearly always fails to respond.
Fota on its island in Cork Harbour ranks among the all-time debacles of
recent years. Here, with the enlightened ownership of University College
Cork and the patronage of Richard Wood, the superb ensemble of island
parkland setting, house, picture collection and arboretum was revived.
Following UCC's betrayal of Fota, and its sale of much of the land to a
multi-national leisure company, golfers now strut over the island parkland
demense, while the house goes literally derelict.
Powerscourt Co. Wicklow is a not very wonderful example of over-intensive
development, with a plastic windowed, mock Georgian and Tudor housing
estate creeping menacingly against the entrance, a golf course engulfing
the drive up to the house, including its far too assertively sited car park
surrounded clubhouse. The visitor to the gardens and cheaply re-roofed
shell of the house has to clamber through a temple of shopping.
1.12 The Fate of Carton
Worst of all, is the long-simmering threat and now imminent destruction of
the character of Carton, Co. Kildare. This the premier Ducal seat of
Ireland, the birthplace of Lord Edward Fitzgerald (his childhood home at
Frascati is now marked by a rock), is a great demense walled ensemble of
house, outbuildings and Capability Brown parkland. The current planning
permission given a ten year life in 1992 would turn it into a huge American
country club type set up. While the option was abandoned by
Guinness/Gleneagles Group, it is now to be taken up by Sheraton, in
conjunction with the existing owner Lee Manahan.
Surely the golf course sterilised surroundings of such places as Straffan
and others of the same ilk, are enough to cater for the international
market, which wants the safe sanitised experience of staying in a Sheraton
and driving around in golf buggies. Carton is special, and if its quality
is lost, it will never be regained. There are plenty of other locations
where a Sheraton type chain could develop its type of international
packaged experience without destroying Carton. Instead of preying on the
past, another location could be chosen, to create an exciting modern hotel
of the highest international design quality, which could set a marker for
The most outrageous aspect of the Carton project, is the massive £6 Million
EU Tourism grant funding, which Sheraton are seeking. It is completely
unacceptable that public money should be used in this manner for a
commercial development, which is not in the long term interest of the
country's national heritage and which represents the same sort of thinking
that has prostituted Ireland to international manufacturing companies and
chain stores. This funding allocation, which will inevitably be open to
legal challenge from conservation interests should be terminated, and money
secured instead, for the purchase of Carton and its land as a National
Historic Park to be maintained in the very simple way it always was, as
both a National amenity and one for the population exploding western