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

Ireland.

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.

Mayo.

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.

DUBLIN

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

of it.

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

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"

development.

LIMERICK

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

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

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

Chemists.

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

inconvenient for

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 future.

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

suburbs.