Sunday 19 November 2017

Faded resort town needs to reinvent itself as 'living bay' like San Francisco

Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire.
Pic Frank Mc Grath
Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Tourist Owen Loney from Sydney pictured during his visit to Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
The new Library in Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
The Town hall in Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Cllr Cormac Devlin pictured near the sea front in Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Cllr Cormac Devlin pictured near the sea front in Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
The Town hall in Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
Vacant offices and shops on Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Vacant offices and shops on Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Vacant offices and shops on Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Vacant offices and shops on Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Vacant offices and shops on Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Tourist Owen Loney from Sydney pictured during his visit to Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
George's St Lower in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath
Looking towards the water front in Dun Laoghaire Pic Frank Mc Grath
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The post office on the main street is bustling and the sandwich shops are doing a brisk lunchtime trade in boxed salads and baguette rolls.

Five glamorous pensioners in lipstick and earrings are having an animated chat waiting for a bus that actually seems to arrive on time. A street sweeper painstakingly bends over to pluck a minute fragment of paper.

And schoolgirls in tartan uniforms are milling around the €36m state-of-the-art library with its incredible views spanning the arc of Dublin Bay.

At first and even second glance, this does not look like a town in trouble.

George's St Lower in Dun Laoghaire.
Pic Frank Mc Grath
George's St Lower in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath

But Dún Laoghaire is in itself almost a tale of two towns.

There is the smart and upscale waterfront with its iconic pier walk and yachts bobbing with gently tinkling mastheads.

Elegant Victorian terraces, painted ice-cream hues and chi-chi restaurants are signposts to a town where people are happy to visit and proud to call home.

But turning away from the harbour and heading up the main street, neglected and dated shopfronts are perhaps the first warning that all is not completely well in this main county town. Squalid and all-but-derelict retail units are numerous and the whole vista is generally bleak and unloved.

Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire.
Pic Frank Mc Grath
Georges St Upper in Dun Laoghaire. Pic Frank Mc Grath

This week, the town had the devastating news that Stena Line is to cease its seasonal passenger ferry route to Holyhead.

To some, it sounded the final death-knell for tourism in the town. At Dún Laoghaire's Last Corner Shop, owner John Hyland recalled the glory days when British holidaymakers would flock to his shop.

"They'd buy Embassy Regal and Lambert Butler - I used to keep those cigarettes especially for them because nobody else would buy them," he said.

But the British holidaymakers stopped buying cigarettes or anything else from John five years ago, when the regular ferry service was slashed back to summertime only.

At the National Maritime Museum in a converted church on Haigh Street, volunteer and former fisherman Richard McCormick is adamant that the town needs to look forwards, not backwards.

He rattles off a list which includes the ancient sunken wrecks which number at least 1,300 in the local waters and the regular sight of cavorting dolphins and seals as being untapped assets which Dún Laoghaire could build on to sell itself as a 'Living Bay' akin to that of San Francisco.

"There was a tourism meeting a while ago and they mentioned the lack of a proper coach park - something as basic as that could really help to develop the town," he insisted.

Local Fianna Fáil councillor Cormac Devlin is similarly upbeat. He pictures a Dún Laoghaire full of artisan shops and organic butchers - but says the local business community needs to work together .

"There's been an over-reliance on the seafront," he reckons. But now it is fully complete, he said the council can now concentrate on the town proper and right the wrongs there.

But even now, the improvement has begun, according to Australian tourist Owen Loney from Sydney - who has been visiting family here since 1971. He was shocked with the empty appearance of the town on last visit four years ago.

"I thought this is it - that's the end of Dún Laoghaire," he said. Now it's back, Owen insisted. "It's looking better."

Irish Independent

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