OPINION: Tourists are not lovin' north Dublin

Vincent Wall says that while it's attracting record numbers of visitors Dublin is a deeply divided city...

OPINION: Tourists are not lovin' north Dublin

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The €11m upgrade of the Old Jameson Distillery at Smithfield, announced by Irish Distillers during the week, may represent small beer (sorry) for the spirits giant, but it’s a welcome tourism investment for the capital’s north inner city none the less.

God knows it needs it.

We have spent millions over the past few decades marketing Dublin to a growing tourism market, and with great success it has to be said, notwithstanding the intermittent proliferation of stag and hen parties.

But effectively we have welcomed visitors, apart from few hardy or foolhardy stragglers, to just one-half of what is already a relatively small city centre.

Ask yourself, if you had visitors coming to Dublin for a few days, whether you would advise them stray too far beyond the GPO on O’Connell Street, and only there because it’s been in the news a bit recently?

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No, far easier and safer to advise them stay south of the Liffey where most of the nice shops are; where the nice leafy Georgian squares and streets are; where all the interesting buildings are, right?

Except, some of the most elegant remnants of our Georgian heritage are found north of O’Connell Street; some of the city’s most interesting buildings - from the old Blue Coat School on Blackhall Place in the west to Aldborough House on Portland Row in the east - lie in the north inner city; and most of the residents are probably more representative of native Dublin heritage and culture than their south side cousins.

It’s just that large tracts of what was once beautiful and unique have been allowed decay in north inner city Dublin. Some of the ugliest 20th-century public housing and government buildings have been thrown up there; and, to some degree understandably, a small proportion of the local community has turned to a greater degree of criminality and drug abuse than elsewhere in the city.

It’s true that less than half a mile north of O’Connell Street, the same distance from the Liffey as St Stephen’s Green, stand two huge utilitarian, if not ugly, public service buildings, the Mater Hospital and Mountjoy Prison. Not much can be done about that.

On the other hand, the majestic sweep of Great Denmark Street and Gardiner Place up the hill from Parnell Square to Mounjoy Square must once have been one of the grandest streetscapes in Europe.

But have you walked these streets recently?  Apart from the tremendous efforts made by David Norris and other enthusiasts on North Great Georges Street, this priceless Georgian enclave, every bit as valuable as its counterpart on the south side, has been left by the City Council and national government to become a down-at-heel, poorly-regulated, rental slum, pockmarked with empty sites, garish billboards and uncollected rubbish heaps.

And what must those brave tourists who walk the trail from O’Connell Street westwards behind the Four Courts to the aforementioned Jameson Distillery on Smithfield and further to Collins Barracks Museum, think of the proliferation of ugly light industrial buildings, vacant sites, badly-paved streets and footpaths which greets them on their way?

Best for all our sakes they take the Luas to bring them swiftly and safely through this particular quarter.

Niall Carson / PA

The new Luas lines to Parnell square and the welcome emerging campus at Grangegorman will bring much-needed footfall and commercial life to the area and the proposed re-development of Clerys (irrespective of its botched origins) and new investment in the Gresham Hotel will also help.

And if, some of our planners have the wit to restore Parnell Square to its original park-like splendour when the modern buildings of the Rotunda Hospital have been vacated, we could actively encourage visitors and natives alike to stroll at their leisure a little bit northwards beyond the GPO.

But the physical landscape of north inner Dublin generally needs as much attention, nurture and investment by national and local government as some of its benighted citizens. From a tourism perspective alone we would reap the benefits, and credibly be in a position to welcome visitors to the often-forgotten inner half of our capital city.