wood quay – viking remains

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      Paul Clerkin

      from the government papers released….

      WOOD QUAY: A MEMO for government described Wood Quay as “the medieval equivalent of a modern municipal dump” and said very few of the objects found were “of intrinsic merit or importance”.

      The 1978 memo was prepared by a senior civil servant for tánaiste George Colley to update the cabinet on the Wood Quay controversy. It claimed that preserving the Viking site would involve “an unjustifiably high level of public expenditure, perhaps as high as £5 million in compensation to Dublin Corporation alone”. It also said Wood Quay “would not rank highly in most archaeologists’ priorities, if resources on the scale required for preservation of that site were freely available”.

      The memo was written on the day before a Friends of Medieval Dublin protest march which attracted up to 20,000 people.

      A few days earlier, Dr TK Whitaker wrote a personal letter to taoiseach Jack Lynch warning that building civic offices over Viking remains could do irreparable damage to Ireland’s reputation.

      The economist and public servant who was credited with playing a key role in Ireland’s economic development was a senator when controversy raged over the Dublin Corporation development at Wood Quay.

      He had retired as governor of the Central Bank two years earlier and he wrote that his “harrowing experience” in relation to the Central Bank building disposed him to sympathise with a public body in need of accommodation but frustrated by delays.

      “I thank my stars that no Viking remains were uncovered in Dame Street!” he wrote. The “brilliant but impatient and self-willed” Sam Stephenson was the architect for both projects and the bank project ran into difficulty over planning permission.

      Senator Whitaker noted that some Dublin Corporation members “now conspicuously silent where their own interests are involved, helped The Irish Times to fan the flames of indignation” on the Central Bank project.

      He said he had no personal knowledge of what lay at Wood Quay but he was impressed by the evidence given by so many experts at the High Court. “In a matter of such significance, I would not rely on internal advice alone – even in Finance, you will remember, we always consulted outside experts before taking major decisions,” he wrote.

      But if Wood Quay was of national and international importance “I think it would do irreparable harm to the Government’s and Ireland’s reputation if we were to destroy rather than conserve” the senator wrote. “We would appear uncaring and uncivilised.”

      The latest release of State files includes hundreds of letters from people opposing the Wood Quay development. One Limerick letter-writer urged Jack Lynch to “put the civil servants in Ballymun – they built it – and put the people there in houses”.

      Several letters were sent from academics from institutions in Nordic countries such as the Danish National Museum and the Swedish National Archives.

      Six-year-old Judd O’Toole from Crumlin wrote to the taoiseach saying “please don’t let the bad men bilt [sic] the office in Wood Quay. Miss Fagan and the boys will be very sad.”

      A Mayo letter-writer asked Mr Lynch “surely you wouldn’t want to be mentioned in the same breath as Cromwell and other despoilers of our national monuments”?

      Baron de Breffny of Castletown House told the taoiseach that many farmers would be delighted to knock down the ruins of a monument because it impeded the easy passage of a tractor on their land. Allowing Wood Quay to go ahead would justify such actions, he claimed.

      However, after years of massive public opposition and court cases, archaeological excavation finished on the site in 1981 and the main construction work on phase I was completed in 1985.

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