Wednesday 28 September 2016

Fifty years of living the high life and working with the best view in Dublin

Alan O'Keeffe

Published 07/09/2015 | 11:17

Liberty Hall
Liberty Hall

The 50th anniversary of Dublin's Liberty Hall is being marked this year with mixed feelings.

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An iconic building on the skyline of the capital, the 16-storey glass tower on the banks of the Liffey is accepted as one of the enduring landmarks of the city.

Staff who spent most of their working lives in the building told the Herald they have always loved the stunning views over the city, bay and the mountains.

While some spoke of happy memories working in the building, others said the structure has become "outdated".

Liberty Hall is the headquarters of Siptu, Ireland's largest trade union, formerly known as the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU).

It was built on the site of the original Liberty Hall, a stronghold of trade union members during the 1913 Lockout. The older building was a wellspring of the 1916 Rising and it was where James Connolly oversaw the printing of the Proclamation the night before the battles began.

Liberty Hall

Have Your Say: Liberty Hall... iconic building or city eyesore?

Have Your Say: Liberty Hall... iconic building or city eyesore?

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  • City eyesore 0%

After the demolition of the old building in the 1950s, the new Liberty Hall, designed by Desmond Rea O'Kelly, rose skywards on the site. It became Ireland's tallest building and was officially opened in 1965.

The design was commended by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, but one critic declared it may be "too jazzy".

"I just love this place," said Marie McFarlane (58), who has spent 41 years working in the building.

"As a child growing up in St Laurence's Mansions around Sherriff Street, I watched it going up. It looked wonderful and, as a teenager, I remember wanting so much to work in it.

"I was so happy when I got a job as a shorthand-typist in the union's finance department on the 13th floor. It was 1974, when I was 16," she said.

She liked that she could see the spire of Sherriff Street church and the busy docklands from her office in the sky.

Those views changed as the dockland shipping activity receded over the years and homes and buildings were demolished to make way for financial institutions and new apartment blocks.

When the giant gasometer structure was dismantled on Sir John Rogerson's Quay, the peregrine falcons who nested there found a new home on top of Liberty Hall.

Over the years, the Department of Social Welfare had offices in the building and a number of other unions rented office space, including the National Union of Journalists.

Concerts

McFarlane said there was always a good social life for workers in the building.

The Connolly Auditorium, in the building's basement, has been a lively venue for Christmas parties, concerts, and social functions for staff, local communities, and various trade union and left-wing groups.

The union's most senior officials continue to work on the 15th floor.

The top floor above them is used by Siptu's legal unit.

In December 1972 a bomb planted by a loyalist gang caused extensive damage to the building's windows when it exploded.

One consequence of the attack was that the windows were later covered in an anti- blast film. It meant the building lost its beautiful transparent character and became less appealing with a new 'solid block' appearance that became somewhat dilapidated as the years went by.

Jimmy Coulahan (62), head porter at Liberty Hall, was a bakery worker who was involved in a strike two decades ago. He found himself without a job as a consequence of the strike and was relieved to get a full-time job with the union.

"We get lots of people coming into Liberty Hall. Some come with problems they are having at work. And we get tourists and visitors who want to go to the top of the building, but it isn't allowed," he said.

"A new building is needed. People get sentimental about this building, but I think it's time it was replaced," he said.

Evelina Saduikyte (35), a native of Lithuania, has worked as a union official for 10 years in Liberty Hall and she loves her workplace.

"When I first came to Ireland 14 years ago, I used to look up at it and think it would be a lovely place to work. Now I work here, I love it," she said.

Herald

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