Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

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I accept that the slums were bad, but that stock phrase that Dublin’s slums ‘were the worst in Europe’, or ‘second only to Calcutta’ gets trotted out almost as often as the one that ascerted that O’Connell Street was once one of the ‘Finest streets in Europe’. There is actually no basis for these statements. It’s part of our insular mind-set that anything that we have that’s moderately good, we’re convinced is ‘outstanding’ and anything that’s poor is ‘horrendous’.

I remember having to research a meat packing plant for a Bolton Street project and each meat factory owner I phoned, without prompting, described his operation as ‘the most modern in Europe’! Maybe they were, but I suspect that an average 20 year old facility in Holland or Germany would have given them a run for their money.

I’m not convinced that we had any unique housing conditions in Dublin, there were grim slums, and ghettos, in almost every city in Europe.

The weavers houses of the Liberties were never high status houses, but they were merchantile houses in the European tradition and they had been recognised as unique and duly recorded in photographs and yet we still we allowed these houses, and numerous Dutch Billys, to vanish almost without a murmur of protest. We even knocked down sound houses of known historical importance, such as the row of early 18th century houses on Cornmarket complete with historical plaque recording the birth place of 1798 leader Napper Tandy.

I’m not saying that Dublin was unique in casting off a chunk of it’s heritage, other cities and towns in Britain and elsewhere did this too, but the smart cities didn’t and planning applications like the current one for the demolition of Frawleys, shows us that this destructive mind-set is still out there. I get the impression sometimes that, in some circles, this is actually the default position and, IMO, we need to recognise this and tackle it head on.

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