From Frank McDonald - Irish Times Saturday 12th September

Demolition marks last stop at historic Dún Laoghaire pier

The 150th anniversary of the opening of the railway station on Carlisle Pier almost went unnoticed – but for the few concerned people who noticed it was being knocked down to make way for a car park

With the demolition by Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company of the original Victorian railway station on Carlisle Pier where the old mailboat terminal was located, Ireland has lost one of its most historic points of arrival and departure. And this tragic loss has passed almost unnoticed, except by a handful of conservationists. Dún Laoghaire-based architect Adam Hall, who had photographed the old railway station both inside and out, was shocked to discover that it was being demolished to clear Carlisle Pier for the development of a public car park and promenade; there was no warning in advance of a mechanical digger moving in on August 31st.

Ironically, the work got under way just a day before the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment heard evidence from An Taisce’s heritage officer, Ian Lumley, and others about the adequacy of architectural heritage protection in Ireland and our failure to comply with the Council of Europe’s Granada Convention. Hall was incensed by what he saw happening and used his camera to document what he described as a “scandalous” demolition. Earlier this week, he wrote to both the Minister for the Environment, John Gormley, and the chairman of the Heritage Council, archaeologist Conor Newman, calling on them to take “urgent and strong action” to stop it.

Lumley raised the matter at a meeting of the Heritage Council’s architectural committee last Monday, saying the former railway station on Carlisle Pier “is, on account of its setting and history, a structure of genuine international architectural, engineering, historical and cultural importance. It was the Dublin Airport of its time.” Noting that this December would mark the 150th anniversary of its opening in 1859 “with the proud boast that you could now travel from Dublin to London without getting your head wet”, he said the old railway station had witnessed many historical events until the track was taken up following the inauguration of the Dart in 1984.

“From here, Parnell made his journeys to Westminster. It was the principal embarkation point for troops departing for the Boer War and the Great War. It was from here that the Leinster sailed on its final tragic voyage in October 1918 with over 500 lives lost, and relatives thronging the pier in anxious hope of survivors. “Collins, Griffith and their team embarked from the Carlisle Pier to negotiate the Treaty. Old newsreels show Éamon de Valera meeting the Papal Nuncio disembarking for the Eucharistic Congress in 1932.

“It was also the last Irish building that sheltered many generations of emigrants on their way to an uncertain future.” Despite these associations, “the original and almost completely intact wrought iron-trussed roof of the unique Victorian rail station was gouged out with a mechanical digger by Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. That it should be removed in such a shoddy manner insults the memories of a great many people”, Lumley said.

When the demolition work began, “very few people and certainly none of the general public knew what was being destroyed” – mainly because the old railway station had been covered up for so long by the “overcoat” of a much-unloved 1960s car ferry terminal, which had the effect of removing it from the collective memory.

A 2007 inventory of Dún Laoghaire harbour’s architectural heritage by conservation architects Shaffrey Associates mistakenly described the railway station as a “warehouse” – even though its report noted that the Dublin-Kingstown line had been extended on to Carlisle Pier when it was built in 1859. What else could it have been?

While the Shaffrey report identified the granite pier as being of “regional” importance architecturally, it assigned no such standing to any of the structures on it, recommending only that they be recorded. At that time, the harbour company was hoping to redevelop Carlisle Pier for a “major cultural attraction of national importance”.

Gráinne Shaffrey, who was heavily involved in compiling the inventory, chairs the Heritage Council’s architectural committee – and she defended the harbour company’s actions when the matter was raised by Lumley at last Monday’s committee meeting. She also reiterated that the buildings being demolished were of no importance. Plans to redevelop Carlisle Pier by a consortium led by Urban Capital to provide a national marine life centre, with a floating stage for performances, a 227-bed hotel and more than 220 apartments – designed by architects Heneghan Peng – were dropped by the harbour company in 2005 because of doubts over funding. Now, the company is clearing Carlisle Pier to make way for a public car park with 100 spaces and storage for 50 boats (both surrounded by a security fence), a public promenade and look-out point and the erection of an open-sided pavilion “utilising elements of the former train shed” – such as its cast-iron columns.

This application was lodged on September 2nd, two days after the demolition work got under way – not on the ugly 1960s structures, but the “train shed” shrouded by them. Of course, had the demolition programme started with these problematic buildings, which contain asbestos, it would have revealed the railway station. The harbour company has insisted that no planning permission was required and told Green Party TD Ciarán Cuffe last Tuesday that it had “comprehensive professional advice” to this effect from a senior counsel and a planning consultant. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council officials have endorsed this interpretation.

However, in the view of An Taisce, the work being carried out on Carlisle Pier is unauthorised development under the 2008 Planning Regulations made by Gormley to close a loophole in previous legislation. These specify that permission is required for the demolition of buildings with a floor area exceeding 100 sq m (1,076 sq ft).

Lumley has now requested the county council to state formally that the demolition work is “exempted development” under the 2000 Planning Act and says An Taisce will take its case to An Bord Pleanála for adjudication. If the appeals board ruled in its favour, the harbour company would then have to seek retention permission.

“It’s a terrible shame that the roof structure of the railway station has been pulled down,” says Lumley. “It could have been refurbished for use as a market hall, a diaspora museum or even as a venue for Spiegeltent-type events, with canvas blinds that could be pulled up and down as required. But now, it’s effectively gone.”

He was particularly critical of the statutory Heritage Council for not using its powers under Section 10 of the 1995 Heritage Act to intervene in cases where historic buildings owned by public authorities are threatened with demolition and, in the Dún Laoghaire case, to schedule the 1859 railway station for protection.

An Taisce has called for an immediate halt to all demolition work on Carlisle Pier and for the protection of elements of the roof structure taken down (and probably now removed from the site) with a view to reinstating it. “A thorough and unbiased heritage assessment of the pier must be made, prior to any further work going ahead.”