Like a stone wall, stone paving has a visual and structural logic; the way the stones are arranged together is very important. This stretch of antique stone paving running down a side lane off Pearse Street, by St. Mark’s Church, could be up to 200 years old and has had little or no alteration. You can see the organic quality of it - stones of different sizes coursed and bonded together happily.
There is an unbelievable situation prevailing in this city where €300,000 can spent last year on restoring O’Connell Street’s stone monuments, engaging various professional conservators and other specialists (a great job and money well spent). But when it comes to repair & conservation work to Dublin’s antique stone paving, the budget is €0; no professional expertise is sought; all work is done in-house by the Council’s Roads Maintenance Division (or its contractors). This might be ok if the Roads Maintenance workers were capable of treating the paving in an appropriate way, but sadly the opposite has been the case. Some of the most savage and unlawful work to our priceless antique paving has been done by this department.
Here is one such job in progress on Castle Street not too long ago, illustrating 2 common problems:
1. Raised cement pointing, messily smeared outside the joints also.
2. Idiotic diagonal cutting of individual flagstones, making a visual nonsense of the paving.
Here is another savage job carried out right at the foot of Francis Johnston’s monumental arch entrance to the (now) BoI Arts Centre which closes Foster Place, one of our most important historic areas. A dish has been brutally inserted as if the existing paving wasn’t there – partly using non-matching white granite and again including fussy diagonal cutting of flagstones and messy cement pointing.
As anyone who has worked on an old building knows, there are always compromises - you can’t usually make as many modern concessions as you would like to because you have to work with the fabric of the structure and respect its integrity. It’s the same with historic stone paving. But this principle has been almost completely ignored when it comes to Dublin’s historic paving.
This is also quite common: The listed antique kerbstones seen here on Ormond Quay Lower are in the process of being removed and replaced with Chinese white granite. They just do this kind of thing all the time and hope no one will notice …. something to put in their end-of-year report. In this instance I managed to report it to the Conservation Officer in the Council and work was stopped. But there are hundreds of examples of this around the city - streets with “listed” antique paving or kerbing sloppily half-replaced in modern white granite (which becomes grey and ingrained with dirt almost immediately and looks as dull as concrete).
Here is another mess at the corner of Earlsfort Terrace and Hatch Street Upper, like Graham’s example from Trinity: red crossing-point tiles thrown in all over the place in a random pattern, bits of surviving antique paving mixed in with concrete flags, and the usual straps of cement pointing. For jobs like these, there seems to be no consideration of the various treatment options, no plans submitted for approval. It seems that they just come along and decide what to do there and then, with usually disastrous results.
The antique granite has a naturally abrasive surface and is quite grippy in all conditions anyway. It’s questionable that these studded tiles are needed at all, especially in a comparatively low-footfall area like this.
Almost all of the surviving antique paving and kerbing in the city is listed for protection in the Development Plan, which states “It is the policy of Dublin City Council to preserve, repair and retain in situ historic paving … [which is] identified in the Development Plan”. But it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, because no system of consultation has been put place to see that this objective is observed or to see that work to the paving is carried put in accordance with best practice principles.
While the Council’s Roads Maintenance Division have carried out most of the work that I refer to, the blame for all of this lies ultimately with the Planning Department and their failure to put such a system in place. Jim Keoghan is the Council official who has for the last number of years been in charge of the Development Plan’s Record of Protected Structures and other items listed for protection.
It really is a sorry state of affairs – historic stone paving is a hugely valuable asset and distinguishing feature of a city – it should be pristine.