Past, present and future: Legacy of Custom House’s history honoured as part of new Visitor Centre conservation works
A month ago on 25 May, we marked the centenary of the 1921 Custom House fire during the War of Independence which claimed nine lives and nearly destroyed the landmark neo-classical building on the River Liffey’s north quay. Today, on 21 June, the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage together mark the rich history of the 230-year-old building by incorporating into its fabric records that link these commemorative events – captured in a newspaper from the day – to the cross-organisational project team involved in the current conservation project at the Custom House Visitor Centre. The refurbishment of the Custom House Visitor Centre this year is carried out by the two Departments with the support of Fáilte Ireland and is a key Decade of Centenaries legacy project.
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Mr Darragh O’Brien, T.D. placed the records chosen to symbolise the continuum between past, present and future in the Visitor Centre. Commenting on the occasion, the Minister said:
“It’s a special privilege for me to be a Government Minister based here in the Custom House, which is one of Ireland’s most remarkable buildings, and one steeped in such a rich and varied history. The opening, later this year, of a major new permanent Visitor Centre is something all of us have looked forward to.
It will give the public a chance to marvel at James Gandon’s architectural masterpiece, and as well an opportunity to immerse themselves in a formative part of our history, including a detailed account of the 1921 burning of the Custom House, one of the most seminal moments in the War of Independence. The opening, during the Centenary year of the burning of the Custom House, will be really significant for Dublin’s North Inner City and we hope to offer a very informative and very interesting visitor attraction.”
In the aftermath of the Custom House fire, the OPW reroofed and restored the building and skilfully reinstated its iconic dome from 1926-9. Through this, as well as through the continuous conservation of the building’s exterior and interior, it has ensured that the Custom House is preserved for generations to come.
Commending the work done by OPW’s Conservation Services, Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Mr Patrick O’Donovan, T.D. said:
“The Visitor Centre itself is an example of some of the finest neo-classical architecture in Europe and its reopening will ensure that this wonderful space is once more accessible to the public. The OPW design team, led by Conservation Services, have coordinated this sensitive refurbishment project. The OPW’s guide service team looks forward to sharing the rich history of this building with visitors and to taking them on a journey from its beginnings right to the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the attack carried out during the War of Independence. New exhibition and interpretation displays have been developed with eminent Irish historians, art historians and architectural historians and will feature, for example, architect James Gandon’s original desk as well as audio visual displays detailing the day of the fire that nearly destroyed the Custom House a hundred years ago.”
Local Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD has welcomed funding of €270,067 for eight projects under the Community Monuments Fund.
The objective of the Community Monuments Fund which is funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, is to support the conservation, maintenance, protection and promotion of local monuments and historic sites.
Minister O’Brien paid tribute to Fingal County Council saying, “I would specifically like to thank Fingal County Council for their support of the Community Monuments Fund and for submitting a number of wonderful heritage projects under the scheme, all of which will be funded this year.
"These monuments provide a sense of place to our rural communities, villages and towns and cities across the country. With my colleague, Minister of State Malcolm Noonan, TD, we have grown this Fund significantly from last year to have a real impact on communities across the land.
“I am also delighted to see so many archaeological monuments in private ownership benefitting and want to acknowledge the dedication of private owners as custodians of a significant share of our archaeological heritage. We are happy to be able to provide this support,” he concluded.
Minister O’Brien has today received Cabinet support to sign a European Declaration on combatting homelessness.
The signing of the Declaration will coincide with the launch next Monday (21 June) in Lisbon of a new structure, the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness, which Minister O’Brien will attend virtually. This will provide a means for EU Member States, the European Institutions and stakeholder bodies to work together in addressing homelessness. The Declaration commits all signatories to working towards the ending of homelessness by 2030. It is the first time such a structure has been put in place at a European level to deal with homelessness.
In signing the Declaration, Ireland is agreeing to:
“While signing a declaration is not a silver bullet by any means, the collaboration of EU member States with the shared goal of ending homelessness is to be welcomed.
“Over the past year in Ireland progress has been made in reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness, which has fallen by 13%. This progress is especially clear with family homelessness which has thankfully fallen by almost a third but despite the welcome reductions the number of people experiencing homelessness in Ireland remains far too high and is of major concern to me.
“The progress that has been made has been achieved thanks to the collective efforts of our NGOs working in collaborative partnership with local authorities and my Department and there is no shortage of will or determination to deal with the issue of homelessness.
“The European Platform will add value to the work already being undertaken by my Department which will attend meetings and participate in knowledge sharing.
“As Minister I will use all tools at my disposal to support those experiencing homelessness, to help prevent entries into homelessness and to secure successful exits from homelessness,” he concluded.
The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD today (Wednesday June 9th) provided Cabinet with an update in relation to the Defective Concrete Blocks Grants Scheme for Donegal and Mayo.
Minister O’Brien, who has met with public representatives, action groups and local authorities on the matter in recent weeks, said that the devastation and stress of affected homeowners was not being underestimated or ignored by Government.
The Defective Concrete Blocks Grants Scheme opened for applications at the end of June 2020 and is administered by Donegal and Mayo County Councils. 433 applications have been received by the two local authorities to date with five remedial options available to homeowners ranging from external wall replacement (€49,500) to full demolition and rebuild (€247,500).
Limits are a feature of grant schemes and ensure that the schemes can be budgeted for with the potential financial liability known at all times and also to ensure that the available budget can benefit the majority of properties and the maximum number of people.
Commenting Minister O’Brien said, “Since the introduction of this scheme last summer over 400 homeowners have applied and their applications are progressing. Where there are issues arising, both my Department and I are continuing to liaise with officials, local authorities and local action groups on how they may be overcome.
“I visited Co. Donegal last August to officially open the scheme and acknowledged that overcoming this issue is a major challenge. I met with the MICA action group in early February 2021 and requested further information from them in relation to their concerns with the scheme. My Department and I have been working through their document which we received five weeks ago and we are liaising with other Departments and agencies to figure out how best to address some of the concerns raised.
“The existing scheme was informed by the work of an Expert Panel and finalised in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. As such, any changes to the scheme would require a whole of Government approach,” he concluded.
Ministers Peter Burke and Darragh O’Brien have welcomed the provision of additional bins and outdoor facilities across the country this weekend and into the summer.
The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is providing funding to local authorities to support their work in keeping our outdoor spaces clean, and to help them provide the infrastructure and facilities required to ensure the safe enjoyment of our public spaces. This includes additional public toilets in the city centres and across the country at other locations such as beaches. Local authorities are also providing more bins in key areas and are increasing the frequency of emptying with support from central funding.
Minister Burke said:
“The Government has been very clear that this summer will be strongly focused on outdoor spaces and activities, and I’m delighted that we can support our Local Authorities as they work to ensure our public spaces can be enjoyed by everybody in a safe and responsible way as we open up over the coming months.
I want to pay tribute to the Local Authority teams who are out multiple times each day cleaning our streets and I would urge people to take personal responsibility too – it goes without saying that individual behaviour and personal responsibility are crucial in helping us all to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors this summer.”
Minister O’Brien said:
“Our local authorities have a lead role on the management of our public spaces and they are working incredibly hard to deal with the challenges of this summer’s outdoor focus in a responsive and balanced way.
Across the country they continue to provide for additional public spaces to facilitate outdoor dining, with the costs associated with outdoor dining licenses now waived for the year. Other measures being taken range from the provision of additional parklets outside premises to the pedestrianisation of streets. Our Local Authorities are also in regular contact with local businesses, An Garda Síochána and other local stakeholders to provide every support possible for a safe outdoor summer that we can all enjoy.”