Context 163 - March 2020

12 C O N T E X T 1 6 3 : M A R C H 2 0 2 0 ARTHUR PARKINSON The development of Irish building conservation The current planning system in Ireland and the story of its development provide a distinctive context for how historic building conservation is practised today. The ways in which the historic built environ- ment is understood and valued varies over time and from place to place. However, in contentious political contexts, heritage debates can become more fractious.1 In Ireland, the dominance and control exerted historically by the country’s nearest island neighbour, and the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, have both led the independent state to forge a quite different path in conservation terms from the UK. Historically, these aspects of Ireland’s history have often tended to play a central role in debates around historic buildings – in turn impacting on the state’s broad approach and priorities in relation to built heritage – and the historic built environment was for many years not valued to the same degree as in many other western European countries. There is limited evidence of much concern for the wider historic built environment in Ireland at the start of the 20th century, aside from legislative protection for archaeological heritage, and academic interest in the same. Nevertheless, following the end of the second world war, a growing awareness among the professions of a threat to Ireland’s landscape and towns was reflected in the formation in 1948 of An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland. While these concerns were initially largely confined to a small elite within Irish society², this would slowly change. It was within this context that, in 1957, despite expert recommendations to the contrary, the political leadership of the time approved the demolition of two substantial Georgian houses in Kildare Place, immediately adjacent to the Oireachtas (the Irish legislature).This prompted the foundation of the Irish Georgian Society (IGS) in 1958, the first nationwide independent body set up in the state whose primary aim was the protection of architectural heritage. Among the landmark cases of the time were the eventual intervention of the state to halt the deterioration of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in 1955; the demolition of Georgian houses at Fitzwilliam Street Lower, Dublin, in 1965, to construct offices for the state electricity provider; the acquisition of Castletown House by the Hon Desmond Guinness in 1967 and subsequent restoration through the IGS; demolition of Georgian houses by a developer at Hume Street, Dublin, in 1969–70; and the controversy in the late 1970s around development of new offices for Dublin Corporation at Wood Quay (the principal site of Viking settlement in Dublin). While positive and inclusive representations of pre-independence built heritage strongly pre- vail today, often emphasising the role of Irish craftspeople and the importance of heritage in The state’s intervention to prevent the demolition of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, was a landmark in Irish conservation. 1 Graham, B J and Howard, P (eds) (2008) The Ashgate research companion to heritage and identity, Aldershot, Ashgate 2 Hanna, E (2013) Modern Dublin: urban change and the Irish past, 1957–1973 , Oxford, Oxford University Press