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‘You don’t want to go into Dublin city centre and just see loads of hotels’: Architect Róisín Murphy on why Irish pubs and shops should be made Unesco sites

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Architect Róisín Murphy

Architect Róisín Murphy

Francis Doherty, head of communications at the Peter McVerry Trust, in front of former council flats on William Street North, Dublin, which have been renovated by the trust. Picture by Damien Eagers

Francis Doherty, head of communications at the Peter McVerry Trust, in front of former council flats on William Street North, Dublin, which have been renovated by the trust. Picture by Damien Eagers

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Architect Róisín Murphy

Home Rescue presenter Róisín Murphy believes there should be a campaign to have traditional Irish pubs classed as Unesco sites.

In recent years the French have been lobbying to have iconic bistros and cafes included in Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The TV presenter and conservation architect — who is fronting a new documentary called Róisín Murphy’s Big City Plan — believes there is a strong case for adding the nation’s older pubs to the list of Irish items of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which already includes hurling, harping, uilleann piping and falconry.

“In France, they’re lobbying to preserve their café bars as Unesco sites. We should be doing the same for the Irish pub. It’s especially important for the pub and grocer and bars with snugs. Why aren’t we understanding our own heritage?” she said.

If the pub is included in the list, it would achieve international recognition as a key element of Ireland’s living heritage to be safeguarded for future generations.

Ms Murphy said buildings like small shops should also be preserved — along with their use — in tandem with period buildings.

“You don’t want to go into Dublin city centre and just see loads of hotels or kind of Wetherspoons pubs, so the idea is that you value your cultural uses, not just your buildings.

“It’s not just about the Mansion House or big architecture preservation, it’s also preserving the smaller shop or the living over the shop and their use.

“If you preserve those uses, it stops too much greed happening because obviously if you’ve got to preserve the small pub or shop, it forces the developer to control what is put on the ground floor.”

In the hour-long RTÉ documentary, Graham Hickey, from Dublin Civic Trust, said there needs to be a tenfold increase in conservation officers to protect our housing heritage.

“We have some of the best legislation in Europe when it comes to protecting older buildings. That is simply not resourced on a national level. Half of the local authorities in this country have no conservation officers at all to manage just over 40,000 protected structures that we have in this country,” he said.

“Up until recently, Dublin City Council had one conservation office to manage 9,000 protected structures — everything from the Custom House to Georgian houses on Mountjoy Square. We need a tenfold increase in the resourcing of conservation officers.”

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In the programme, the cameras show how Dundalk is an example where vacant units over shops are being turned into habitable spaces.

“It can be done, the fireproofing can be done, the noise can be reduced, and you have the texture and characters of the old architecture,” Ms Murphy said.

“It brings life back into towns and cities, it provides housing, and it also provides security.

“If you have somebody here the shops are safe, and the streets are much safer places to live in and the towns are much more fun to live in too.”

Another tool to keep Irish cities habitable would be to penalise property owners for letting a building run into ruin.

“It has to be much tougher for people to allow their properties to become derelict. It’s much easier for developers to knock the building down and start from scratch, so you have to push back as well,” she said.

The documentary also examines how the Peter McVerry Trust has led the way in seeking out vacant properties and heritage buildings to renovate for the homeless. In the programme, Francis Doherty from the trust said they particularly look for empty buildings in town centres.

“In the likes of Drogheda, Limerick, Dublin there are lots of vacant heritage buildings. People will understand we have a housing crisis. There is a lack of available housing but there is no lack of available properties from which to create housing,” he said.

“Vacant buildings are often sites of anti-social behaviour; it can also be an eyesore and affects property values for adjoining property owners. We come in and remove all those issues. The scope and the opportunity is endless: we have 180,000 to 200,000 vacant properties.”

Ms Murphy said the work of the McVerry Trust shows renovation can be cost-effective.

“You think about a charitable organisation like the Peter McVerry Trust, it’s still cheaper for them to go in and re-inhabit historic properties than it is for them to build as new,” she said. “That’s how important the preservation of architecture is. It is usually incredibly cost-efficient because you get good sites close to urban centres that have good characteristics in them.”

‘Róisín Murphy’s Big City Plan’ will be shown on RTÉ One on Thursday at 10.15pm


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