Dublin conservation project wins top European award

Updated / Tuesday, 25 May 2021 18:39
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By Philip Bromwell

A project to conserve a 19th century merchant building on the banks of the River Liffey in Dublin has won one of Europe's top heritage honours.

18 Ormond Quay is one of 24 "exemplary achievements" from 18 countries to be recognised as winners of the 2021 European Heritage Awards/Europa Nostra Awards.

The building, constructed in 1843, was restored by Dublin Civic Trust over a three-year period.

First floor room at 18 Ormond Quay

Commenting on the award, CEO of the Trust Geraldine Walsh said: "Europe has seen that this project ticks all the boxes of what cultural heritage is and what, to them, is distinctive about Dublin.

"Often it takes the outsider to point out what is of intrinsic good on our own doorstep. This is a ringing endorsement that Dublin's old buildings have significant cultural, economic, and environmental value and we must act to carefully invest in and reuse them.

"We did a count from Heuston Station to the Point Depot and there are only a couple of houses that are in full residential use. And yet we are going through a housing crisis. We have this stock of beautifully situated houses, looking out on a river, right in the heart of the city."

Over the years, 18 Ormond Quay was home to occupants as varied as hotels and gunsmiths, taverns and grocers.

It was latterly known to a generation of Dubliners as Watts Brothers - hunting, shooting and fishing purveyors - who closed in 2000.

Constructed in 1843, the building was restored by Dublin Civic Trust over a three-year period

A €650,000 restoration project - majority funded by the Trust's revolving capital fund - began in 2017.

Conservation Director in the Trust Graham Hickey said: "This building was a bit of a train wreck when we first moved in. There were major structural failings to the side walls and it was covered in pebbledash. But we could see the beauty that lies beneath all the later layers of intervention.

"The aim of the conservation project was to highlight how these modest street buildings, though not a grand statement individually, collectively shape the essential identity of Dublin. All of their elements, from brickwork to windows to plaster details, are specific to our city and can be cost-effectively conserved.

"We’ve proven how manners can be put back on the streetscape and we hope other building owners and investors will take note and step up to reanimate their own premises - especially in the post-Covid context."

Graham Hickey looks out of a second floor window at 18 Ormond Quay

Today's award is the first Ireland has won in Europa Nostra's conservation category since the Office of Public Works was awarded in 2005 for its restoration of the Victorian Great Palm House complex in the National Botanic Gardens.

Assessing 18 Ormond Quay, the jury noted that "the project was undertaken to specifically be a model for others, showing that the heritage of buildings common to Dublin has value and contributes to a more sustainable development of the city".

Dublin Civic Trust is now seeking public support for a second phase of the project involving the conservation of an 18th century rear building on Arran Street East.