John Mulligan: Dundalk’s St Nicholas Quarter welcome but Park Street shows more to be done

An aerial view of St Nicholas Quarter in Dundalk. Photo: Ken Finegan/Newspics.

By John MulliganThe Argus

In the statement which accompanied the news release announcing that Louth County Council had appointed the architectural lead consultants for the St. Nicholas Quarter and Backlands Phase I regeneration scheme the Council stated that it has been “a strategic objective for many years to complete the regeneration of this historic part of Dundalk”.

All very laudable, for unquestionably that area, around Castletown bridge, Fairgreen, Linenhall Street and Bridge Street is possibly the most historic part of the town for historians, most notably the late Harold O’Sullivan who wrote extensively and authoritatively on Dundalk’s origins, traced the first inhabitants of the town to that area on the banks of the Castletown river.

The council further stated that when the work on St. Nicholas Quarter is complete it “will provide a streamline town centre experience from the Market Square through to the northern end of town, making it an appealing accessible hub to live, shop, work and visit”.

Again that is a very admirable objective, and the work that has already been completed in Clanbrassil Street, Church Street and around St. Nicholas Church is a testament to that vision.

The problem many have is that all of the investment in the regeneration of the town centre is that it started from the Market Square and moved in just the one direction - north.

What about the southern end of the town - Park Street, Dublin Street and around St. Patrick’s Cathedral, including Crowe and Francis Streets.

Park Street, the forgotten child of Dundalk, was once a thriving commercial hub, the second busiest shopping street after Clanbrassil Street.

It was alive with thriving family businesses, many handed down from father to son.

Ironically the street can trace its slow decline as a commercial hub to the arrival of Dunnes Stores in the centre of the street, for while initially Dunnes increased the footfall it sucked the life blood out of many the small traders who just could not compete.

Then when Dunnes moved to larger premises with ample parking space the businesses that were left struggled to survive.

The mistake that the local authority made was in allowing Dunnes to sit on the vacant premises for years, rejecting offers for the building until a few years ago when they eventually disposed of the premises which remains in much the same condition as the day Dunnes turned the key on the front door.

Yet the site, standing as it does in the centre of the street with access to the Rampart area, is key to any regeneration plans for Park Street and although it might stick in the craw of some to admit that a mistake was made in not acquiring the premises years ago, it beholds the Council to forget the mistakes of the past and prioritise the regeneration of Park Street to give the businesses that still survive the hope that they are not the poor relations.

The area around St. Patrick’s Cathedral must also be a priority in the regeneration plans of the town centre for it is tired looking, yet has the potential to be a real pedestrian hub and amenity area, surrounded as it is by the imposing cathedral and some fine buildings.

Undoubtedly great work has been completed in revitalising Clanbrassil Church Street and now St. Nicholas Quarter starting it is hoped in 2024, but hopefully the planners can start to look south and see that they have a neglected child on their hands, ready, willing and anxious for some attention.