Sunday 24 June 2018

Will Dublin's new 'Water Quarter' draw tourists to the docklands?

Travel Insider

Stock picture: Dublin's docklands
Stock picture: Dublin's docklands
The Custom House, Dublin. Photo: Deposit
Grand Canal Dock, Dublin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and Fiona Ross, EPIC museum director, pictured in July 2017. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan
The famine memorial on Custom House Quay. Photo: Tara Morgan/Fáilte Ireland
Conor Keane Kennedy competing at the National Championships. Photo: Wakedock.ie
Epic Ireland: Inside Dublin's newest visitor experience. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Could Pearse Street be transformed into a 'Grand Allée'? Could Dublin's often desolate canals be nurtured into a "linear village"?

And why is the Custom House not a star attraction in the city?

Those are just some of the questions being asked by a new visitor experience report that seeks to spur tourism in Dublin's disjointed docklands.

The draft report, prepared for EPIC, Waterways Ireland, Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland, looks at how joined-up thinking could change local and visitor experiences of the "urban waterscape" from Custom House Quay to Dublin Bay.

"This is a different offering to the city centre, and it speaks to Fáílte Ireland's 'Breath of Fresh Air' concept," says Terre Duffy, Dublin Docklands Development Manager with Waterways Ireland, which manages the docks and canals in the area.

"The bed nights are here, there are lots of things to do, but there was no sense of joined-up thinking between major stakeholders."

The Custom House, Dublin. Photo: Deposit
The Custom House, Dublin. Photo: Deposit

"I'm referring to it as Dublin's water quarter, but that name may change!"

The report, dubbed 'Water's Edge: Experiencing Dublin's Urban Waterscape' and seen by Independent.ie Travel, looks at the Docklands as three key 'clusters' - Custom House Quay, North Wall Quay and Grand Canal Dock.

Bundling the three, along with all of the canals, bridges, quays and attractions inbetween, it argues, could make for a compelling new tourism quarter.

With the right planning, collaboration and connected thinking, it suggests, the Custom House could be as big a draw as Dublin Castle or Kilmainham Gaol, Pearse Street might blossom into a 'Grand Allée', and industrial heritage gems like the old sea locks or rolling lifts could become tourist attractions in themselves.

Recent developments have boosted the city's historic docks and quays.

Grand Canal Dock, for example, has morphed into a genuine neighbourhood, complete with Daniel Libeskind-designed theatre, watersports school, five-star Marker Hotel and business clients including Facebook and Airbnb.

Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and Fiona Ross, EPIC museum director, pictured in July 2017. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and Fiona Ross, EPIC museum director, pictured in July 2017. Photo: Lorraine O'Sullivan

Likewise, George's Dock has become a draw, with the 19th-century CHQ building, a former tobacco warehouse, rebooted as a hub for EPIC (The Irish Emigration Museum), Dogpatch Labs, Urban Brewing and the refurbished ely bar and grill.

"We welcomed 120,000 visitors this year," says Aileesh Carew, EPIC's director of sales and marketing. "And we're planning to double that in 2018."

Despite the progress, however, there is little sense of a joined-up "water quarter", and both docks can struggle to draw visitors south of the city centre.

On top of that, visitors enjoy no intuitive route through the various 'clusters', and journeys are regularly disrupted by poor signage, abrupt industrial or derelict spaces, and canals that can sometimes feel dangerous and dirty.

Grand Canal Dock, Dublin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
Grand Canal Dock, Dublin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

"We want to bring life back to the canals," Duffy enthuses, outlining plans for walking and cycling trails she believes could turn them into "linear villages".

Other projects in the works include an illuminated 'dock mile', a walkway that would circuit Grand Canal Dock, a priceless piece of Dublin's industrial heritage.

A potential U2 museum has also been mooted.

Elsewhere, Fáilte Ireland and local authorities are working on a strategy to improve orientation around Dublin, part of which would zero in on problem areas like the intersection of Eden Quay and Butt Bridge, where the Liffey Boardwalk ends, roads are tricky to cross and views of the Custom House are obscured.

For its part, the Custom House is fully occupied by government departments as a working building. It plays a role in events like Culture Night and New Year's Eve, but the visitor centre is seasonal, and this year welcomed just 22,000 visitors.

However, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government - one of its tenants - hopes to commence "a detailed process of review in the coming year with the OPW which will inform any future works required, including in regard to the Visitor Centre," it has told Independent.ie Travel.

The famine memorial on Custom House Quay. Photo: Tara Morgan/Fáilte Ireland
The famine memorial on Custom House Quay. Photo: Tara Morgan/Fáilte Ireland

Dublin Port is also pushing ahead with a redevelopment plan that will allow the largest cruise ships on the planet to dock as far upriver as the East Link by 2020.

All are cause for optimism, but then, plenty of plans have come a cropper (U2 tower, anyone?) in an area that carries the whiff of squandered potential - failing to capture the imagination like, say, Liverpool's Albert Dock or Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

Right now, the 'Water's Edge' report is being examined by stakeholders, with a view to pulling everyone together to drive a future tourism masterplan.

Breath of fresh air, or another hopeful docklands wheeze?

"It's a lot more than hope, actually," Carew says. "We’re backing it strongly because we are confident it will become the new ‘go to’ place for tourists."

"It's not just about tourism," Duffy adds.

"It's a first step in developing a place of wellness within the city, a place that's good for your soul, for those who work here, live here and for the visitor."

Read more:

Dublin has a new 'district', but will it finally draw people north?

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