Tuesday 23 July 2019

How the 'cultural quarter' came into being

'Poster girl' Laura Magahy
'Poster girl' Laura Magahy
STREET SMARTS: Left, the Temple Bar pub in the 'cultural quarter'
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

For years, it was a bohemian bolthole – full of narrow cobbled streets where struggling artists could find cheap lodgings, cheaper drink and a like-minded circle of poets, painters, sculptors and creative artisans. CIE had slowly bought up a huge land and property bank in and around Temple Bar with the plan to build a transportation hub including a new central bus station.

While the transport company slowly built up its holding, the old buildings became increasingly ramshackle and a diverse group of artists, artisans and other colourful but penurious characters began to move in.

But in 1991 it all began to change. The CIE plan was dead in the water. Within five years, only artists making a comfortable living from their work could afford to set up their studio on Dublin's Left Bank and the cheap, shabby lodging houses were replaced by new eco-friendly apartments with intercom entry for the hipsters for whom black linen became a virtual uniform.

The regeneration of the area bordered by Fishamble, Dame and Westmoreland Streets and Wellington Quay, but now spread beyond that initial reach, cost more than £100m, made up of €63m borrowed from the banks and £37m extracted from the European Regional Development Fund in its first six years of change. The new streets and squares, and demolition of the old buildings that had teetered on the edge of collapse for years, elicited howls of anguish from An Taisce and other conservation bodies.

The rejuvenation of Temple Bar gathered pace. By 1996 the managing director of Temple Bar properties was Arts Council member Laura Magahy, who became the articulate poster girl and passionate advocate of the project, and an endless source of fascination for the Irish Times whose best correspondents differed sharply and fell out bitterly over the changes.

Ms Magahy had been involved in some shape or form with Temple Bar from the early Eighties when she had voluntarily fronted a campaign to stop the CIE project. Years later, it was Charlie Haughey who backed the idea of a cultural quarter. Later one of the State's best-known civil servants, Paddy Teahon, would also make his mark in the administration of Temple Bar.

"We were lucky we had a sympathetic and positive response from the then Taoiseach, Mr Haughey," Ms Magahy said in a 1996 interview.

Despite the millions pumped into cultural projects like Meeting House Square, the jury is still out on Temple Bar. The worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger invasion of foreign stag and hen parties have been partially quelled. But these days Temple Bar is sadly best known for late-night carousing where the price of the pint increases after midnight to a point that no struggling artist who plied their trade there in the Seventies and Eighties could countenance.

Sunday Independent

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