Thatâ€™s certainly an argument, but one must also factor in the clout an established national theatre like the Abbey has in acting as a draw to Dublin on an international level. Okay, the typical audience is largely populated by greying sweet suckers, but the impact of a high profile national theatre established in the capital surely must make a significant contribution to the attractiveness of Dublin as a destination. Not that Iâ€™m arguing for more planning-by-tourist, but the perceived folly that the Abbey may be must be considered in the wider context of its role as one of a cluster of cultural attractions. An iconic theatre building â€“ and I mean iconic in a memorable sense â€“ expresses much more about a city than merely what goes on inside. As such, the concept of a fixed theatre - by all accounts with a travelling element - still has its purpose. The other thing to bear in mind is that any new facility could serve as an acting and performance centre on a much wider level than just trotting out Beckett every six months.
As for the GPO as the Abbey, the idea has its merits, but as we come back to time and time again, ultimately it is too flawed to warrant consideration. Fundamentally, the GPO was built as a post office, has survived as such for almost two centuries, and is the only major Georgian public building left in Dublin that retains its original function. It continues to serve citizens well, even if the status once attached to a postal service, and by association a building as significant as the GPO, has diminished to that of a chain store since its inception. It performs a useful civic duty, grants universal public access, and therefore should remain as is. The last thing we need is the postal element relegated to a minor corner, and happy clappy, oh-but-theyâ€™re-not-permanent, vulgar coloured banners suspended between the columns. Also, I personally find new uses in major public buildings distinctly off-putting when visiting other European cities: where what once was a palace is now an opera house, or a major bank or church is now a heritage centre or art gallery. Of course new uses have to be found for these buildings, but where that distortion of legibility can be avoided, especially with the most significant of structures such as the GPO, it should be. To move the Abbey to Oâ€™Connell Street undermines the civic dignity of a structure such as the GPO, while also banishing any chance of a major public building being built in the city centre for perhaps another century.
I am getting somewhat concerned, having heard of a number of other proposals sloshing around, that the GPO is now being viewed, in 1930s style, as the only game in town. Literally every public and civic project going is now looking to house itself in or leech itself onto the GPO redevelopment, desperate for a slice of the cake. I fear we risk compromising not only the GPO as a major historic site, but also each of the proposals looking to piggy back off it in their desperate hope of being realised within the next decade. Itâ€™s like the post-war restoration of Dublin Castle, BusÃ¡ras, or indeed the GPO itself in the 1920s, all over again, where everything short of the kitchen sink is thrown into the mix to maximise the net gain to the State in cancelling out other projects with the stroke of a pen. We need the GPO and its courtyard to have a clearly defined clarity of function, by all accounts encompassing a number of uses, but not those that would be better served â€“ such as the Abbey â€“ elsewhere.
Without question the Hawkins House site is the most perfect location for the Abbey Theatre on a host of levels: across the water from the existing site, a state-owned site, right in the heart of the city, an incredible regenerative potential for this part of the city, a new ceremonial axis between the theatre and former House of Lords, a new civic plaza at this major multiple street junction, erecting a public building in the spirit and midst of the adjacent legacy of the Wide Streets Commission, the fabulous orientation and dynamics of the site... The list is endless. I wish somebody would have the vision to realise this, instead of the lazy, fawning vote-getter that the GPO proposal is.