Looks as if Goldhawk/ Phoenix was on the money about O'Toole afterall. But where was he when objections were being lodged; permission has already been granted (on the 8th) to whack the house. The scheme is a monstrosity and will be comparable to that other close-by delightful development on Henrietta St which DCC was so enlightened in giving the go ahead to. There isn't even a set of photos of no 12 in the "conservation" report - and yet there are 2 red-herring sets of the Moy bar; FFS. For anybody wanting a textbook lesson in ruthless development, this is it.
Well done DCC you have outdone yourselves in letting the north inner city get shat on - again
The Irish Times Saturday 16th February 2007Build them up and knock them down
Culture Shock: We use our great writers as a unique selling point, but we can't even be bothered to preserve the houses they lived in.
Recently, when the Abbey Theatre staged Richard Brinsley Sheridan's great comedy The School for Scandal, even its management was taken aback by the popularity of the production. Over the last 20 years, only around half a dozen Abbey productions have managed to sell 550 seats or more every night of their run. The School for Scandal, along with such huge hits as The Shaughraun and Dancing at Lughnasa, was one of them. This success, though, was not, on a long view, all that surprising. The School, along with Sheridan's first play The Rivals, are the only 18th-century plays that still hold a place in the international English-language repertoire. Given any kind of decent production (and the Abbey's was more than decent), their energy, their vividness, their linguistic invention and their rich characterisations still get through to audiences.
It says something about the fecklessness of Irish cultural memory, however, that just as the Abbey was putting Sheridan back in an Irish context, permission has been granted to demolish the house, 10 minutes walk from the theatre, where Sheridan was born in 1751. That house, 12 Dorset Street, is saturated with Irish theatrical and literary history. Sheridan's father, Thomas, was one of the greatest Irish actors of his age and, as manager of Smock Alley theatre, a revolutionary figure in the development of theatre here. It was Thomas who, at the cost of riots and ultimate ruin, insisted on the professional dignity of actors by removing audience members from the stage and refusing to repeat speeches on demand in the course of a performance. Sheridan's mother, Frances, is easily the most important Irish woman writer of the 18th century, a pioneer of the epistolary novel and a considerable playwright whose A Trip to Bath was a huge influence on her son's work.
Sheridan himself, though he left Ireland at the age of 11 and never returned, was a self-consciously, even insistently, Irish figure. In the course of his long political career, he campaigned for Irish independence, developed ties with the United Irishmen, devoted himself to the cause of Catholic emancipation, spoke out against the abuse of Irish political prisoners, and conceived an idea that would have a huge bearing on Irish history after his death - the notion of an Irish party in the Westminster parliament. He was regarded in his time as a great adornment to Irish national pride, not least for his sensational speeches against the governor of India, Warren Hastings, which are milestones in the development of international human rights law.
The idea that Sheridan's birthplace should be preserved has been around for at least 50 years now. In 1956, for example, the Longford-Westmeath deputy, Frank Carter, raised the issue in the Dáil, citing "certain houses . . . which could and should be preserved". He listed three in particular: the homes of the 1916 Rising leader Thomas Clarke, the 19th-century nationalist John Mitchel, and Sheridan's birthplace. "A move should be made, preferably voluntary, if people were sufficiently civic-minded, to preserve those buildings, but if a move is not made voluntarily, then steps should be taken by the State, even in a small way, to preserve these famous buildings."
Some small moves were eventually made. The house was listed for preservation. A blue plaque was erected on the front wall in the early 1970s by Dublin Tourism. Bizarrely, however, the plaque was removed soon afterwards. While blue plaques adorn numerous buildings where Sheridan lived in London and Bath, Dublin has the unique distinction of having actually removed one. The obliteration of the house's historical significance seems to have been a deliberate prelude to its eventual destruction.
For many years now, it has been nothing more than a semi-derelict shell with bricked-up windows and no roof. In another bizarre twist, number 12 and number 13 Dorset Street came to be distinguished, not as landmarks, but as eyesores. A Bord Pleanála inspection report on proposals to demolish number 13 noted of the two houses that "they stand out in the streetscape. In their current state, they detract from the amenity of the area." In 50 years, Sheridan's house had gone, in official discourse, from a "famous building" to an infamous one.
Does any of this matter? At an economic level, it probably does. Dublin is sold to visitors as a literary and theatrical city, and the authorities are busily attaching literary associations even to structures which have no previous connection to James Joyce, Sean O'Casey or Samuel Beckett, all of whom have new Liffey bridges named after them. Yet Dorset Street, on which two of the greatest dramatists in the English language, O'Casey and Sheridan, were born within a few hundred metres of each other, makes less than nothing of its genuine historical associations. This seems perversely wasteful.
More importantly, though, the likely demolition of Sheridan's birthplace implies a neurotic disconnection from the lived reality of our cultural heritage. Writers can be fetishised in the streetscape by sticking their resonant names on bridges, pubs, hotels or industrial estates. But their actual lives, the things that locate them in time and place, are not worth remembering.
Â© 2007 The Irish Times