Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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By the 1980s it was all too easy to forget that Dublin was a city built upon a river. In 1999, the Docklands Authority commissioned a River Regeneration Strategy, which provided a comprehensive analysis of what was preventing the river from making a more vibrant contribution to the city. The immediate conclusions of that report resulted in the commissioning of two new bridges linking the north and south waterfronts and clearing the quaysides of the empty warehouses and derelict sheds. The campshires were restored and planted anew with trees and shrubs. The river is no longer a straightforward commercial waterway and is planned to become one of the city’s foremost leisure facilities and visitor attractions. Many of the events now staged in the Docklands are river-based while most of the prime development sites are also along the waterfront.

The recent boom in the Irish economy played in favour of the Docklands Authority. It made the creation of a sustainable community seem both plausible and likely. It also meant that the six existing communities explored in this book had the confidence to speak up, to make their presence felt and even to inspire the Docklands Authority through their own unique histories. Each area had its own legacy of entrepreneurs and skills, of adversity and triumph, of spirit and humour. There was still a good deal of soul in the Docklands and that was a social capital the Docklands Authority wished to nurture and develop. As part of the strategy to integrate the community, the Docklands Authority has provided considerable support to initiatives across the six areas. A flurry of new state-of-the-art crèches, football pitches, bingo buses and community halls have been complemented by strategies to calm traffic in residential areas, provide better street lighting and ensure plenty of open-air green parklands.

Today, there are over 23,000 people living and over 40,000 people working in the Docklands everyday. Untold numbers are now also visiting every day. With the development of each campshire and bridge, the opening of every hotel, theatre, shop or restaurant, the creation of every new apartment or office block, the Docklands takes another bold step forward.

Bono described the development of the Dublin Docklands as showing one of the best aspects of 21st century Ireland. In less than a decade, the skyline of Dublin’s docklands has been utterly transformed. Where once there were gasometers and cranes, now the riverfront boasts a shimmering collage of glass and block. While many of these new builds are modest in scope, a magnificent burst of landmark structures are due to open in the next two years. A classic example of the Docklands Authority architectural ethos is to be found in the Grand Canal Docks which has attracted considerable praise from across the world. When the Docklands Authority first acquired the derelict, semi-corrugated, coal-stained former Gasworks site at Hanover Quay in 1997, many eyebrows were raised as to their wisdom. Today, that same site boasts some of the most genuinely prestigious office and residential addresses in Dublin City, including a large number of social and affordable units, with the Martha Schwartz designed red poles and green planters lighting the way for the exuberant Studio Libeskind designed Grand Canal Theatre, and the Aires Mateus chequerboard hotel nearby. Directly across the Liffey from the Docklands Authority’s offices on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, the Convention Centre, Dublin, and Samuel Beckett Bridge are also defining a bold new age for the Dublin Docklands.

The award-winning Séan O’Casey Bridge has already revolutionized contact between the north and south sides. Irish architects are to the fore with such works as the new Séan O’Casey Community Centre by O’Donnell+Tuomey, Grand Canal Square No 1 by Duffy Mitchell O’Donoghue, Shay Cleary’s Altro Vetro, and Urban Projects’ Clarion Quay buildings on North Wall. In Mayor Square stands the educational triumph that is the National College of Ireland, providing a huge positive for those in the Docklands seeking better qualifications. The restoration of Stack A into the chq building by Michael Collins Associates has been hailed in highest circles. The developments at both Spencer Dock and the Point Village are also turning heads, not least with the arrival of the Luas line and the opening of The O2 in the former Point Depot. By 2012, we can expect Harry Crosbie’s 40-storey Watchtower and the U2 Tower to stand sentinel over the waterfront. Meanwhile, in East Wall, the new Séan O’Casey Community Centre is fast becoming a beacon for one of the Docklands oldest and most independent minded communities. The combination of cutting edge buildings, public spaces and intelligent, easy access is now billowing out through Ringsend and Irishtown to the Poolbeg peninsula where the former Glass Bottle Company site is destined to become one of Dublin City’s foremost visitor attractions in the decades to come.

The development and regeneration of the Docklands over the next ten years will be guided by the Docklands Authority Master Plan 2008. The main focus areas are social regeneration, economic development, land use, transportation, infrastructure, urban design, arts, culture, tourism and leisure. The Master Plan aims to convert the Dublin Docklands into one of the greatest ‘living’ urban environments in Europe. Local community leaders and stakeholders will continue to work hand-in-hand with the Docklands Authority to boost the living and working environment throughout the Docklands, and to ensure that this splendid sea-side cityscape becomes one of the unmissable places to visit in Dublin City.

All policies in the Docklands Authority Master Plan are driven by an ambition to create energy efficient, sustainable environments to encourage the best international practices in urban living. These environmental measures include the reuse of grey water, district heating, high quality low energy cost buildings, well managed open spaces, play spaces for children, cycle lanes, and a specific emphasis on recycling and waste management. An early example of this policy was the Docklands Authority’s remediation of the former Bord Gáis site between the Grand Canal Docks and Sir John Rogerson’s Quays. They have also promoted clean ups of the Grand Canal, the Royal Canal, the Dodder, the Tolka and the Liffey. New parklands, green spaces and play areas are planned for all new developments from East Wall to the Poolbeg peninsula.

The animosity between the northside and southside of the River Liffey has been the subject of much banter down through the years but there was an underlying seriousness to it. The dockers of the two sides would not tolerate one another. Likewise, the parishioners of Westland Row and Ringsend tended to regard one another suspiciously from ‘across the brudge’, as McMahon Bridge was known. However, a new dawn of communication between the various communities has had an extraordinary impact in bringing people together. The river separates north and south but it also binds them. The new bridges across the river provide a vital and practical means for the bridging of ideologies.


Unemployment amongst the indigenous Docklands community continues to be high, with the North Wall registering three times the national average. When the Master Plan was being drafted, there were calls from the local community for a guarantee that 10 per cent of all new jobs created in the area would be given to local residents. The implications of this for free market economics were serious. The Docklands Authority felt it would be detrimental to the project and that possible investors would almost certainly recoil. Besides which, they reasoned, the locals would probably be pawned off with undemanding jobs as security men, janitors and such like. The DDDA Council argued that the community should think bigger. Why couldn’t they secure jobs as accountants, traders and computer gurus? They had the knack and the aptitude. All they needed were the qualifications. The compromise was the creation of a database on which the details of all participating locals were entered, alongside their level of skill. Educational programmes were put in place for those seeking to gain the necessary qualifications for the higher end jobs. To this day, all incoming companies are invited to consider this list.


The number of performing arts venues within the Docklands is now extremely impressive. The revamped O2 will provide a massive boost for the North Wall and one can anticipate a good deal of spill-over for the Point Village. Likewise the Studio Libeskind designed Grand Canal Theatre is likely to put the Grand Canal Docks firmly on the international map and will surely tempt some highly rated shows to Dublin. On a community level there are now stages in most areas, including the new 75-seat Pearse Centre on Pearse Street and the new Séan O’Casey Theatre in East Wall.
A number of important art galleries have now opened on both sides of the river. The Docklands Authority has also shown a commendable commitment to public sculpture and art, perhaps most notably with the Martha Schwartz design at Grand Canal Square. They also commissioned ‘Freeflow’, the glass cobble illuminated work by Rachel Joynt along North Wall Quay, and a sequined installation by Martin Richman.


The London Docklands suffered greatly because those who worked in the docklands tended to abandon the area the instant they left their office. In Dublin, there has been a noble attempt to ensure that those who work in the Docklands are tempted to stay around the neighbourhood, both after work and during the weekend. The Dublin Docklands has the benefit that six distinctive communities have lived here for at least 150 years. They are also close enough to the city centre for anyone to venture down. In this bustling new quarter, the annual calendar is impressively busy from the St. Patrick’s Festival through to the Analog Festival of the summer, the Dublin Fringe Festival in September and the 12 days of Christmas. Increasing numbers are participating in events such as the‘The Docklands Liffey Swim’ and ‘The Docklands Fun Run’. The summer months are particularly inviting with the prospect of a dozen or more tall ships floating in the Liffey at the annual Docklands Maritime Festival. During festivals, the campshires and squares come alive with endless stalls selling works of art, magnetic charms, potted plants, wooden toys, tempting hammocks and golden marmalade.




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