Wednesday 13 December 2017

View of Poolbeg is my favourite place and we must save it

A few years back, at the albeit not excessively vertiginous height of my reality TV fame, I was asked to do one of those 'My Favourite...' spots by a Sunday newspaper.

The theme was Hidden Dublin, and I was tasked with revealing my favourite out-of-the-way part of the capital.

It was an easy choice, as I was always fond of Dublin's least well-known pier: the South Wall beside Poolbeg Power Station.

It wasn't just the solitude that the pier, a poor cousin sandwiched between the more on-trend maritime barriers in Dun Laoghaire and Howth, afforded you.

It wasn't just its uneven surface and lack of protection against the elements, which on winter nights made you feel like you were walking straight into Dublin Bay. It was, more than anything, the view back to Dublin at dusk, with the sun setting over the Liffey, and the magnificent Poolbeg chimneys in the foreground.

So the current debate about whether the chimneys should be demolished - the ESB stopped using them commercially in 2010 - is an extraordinary one, given the obviousness of the answer. Which is that they shouldn't. And the news that local councillors plan to bring a motion before the council to have the chimneys listed as protected structures is most certainly to be welcomed.

By the standards of most European capitals, Dublin has a fairly tawdry skyline. The Spire may forge some special place in our consciousness in years to come, but for now it barely holds any kind of place in the heart of most Dubliners.


Amongst a raggle-taggle of office blocks and church steeples, the Poolbeg chimneys stand out as its one, iconic image.

Councillor Dermot Lacey described them as "iconic structures", and an integral part of the city's skyscape. Even more pointedly, Mannix Flynn referred to the subliminal, emotional attachment that so many Dubliners have to the structures, and was perceptive in pointing out their central role for incoming flights to Dublin.

Comparing them to lighthouses, Mannix opined that the first sighting of the chimneys through the airplane window gives returning travellers "a sense of home".

Dublin councillors haven't covered themselves in glory of late - and within the chatter amongst south city councillors, there were worrying signs that their architectural appreciation leaves something to be desired.

Councillor Mary Freehill compared the emotional attachment Dubliners have to the chimneys as being similar to that which Parisians feel for the Eiffel Tower, before going on to offer her own critique of the famous Parisian landmark.

"It's not great," she said, "but people became attached to it."

To many, it would be troubling that someone involved in a sizing-up of a landmark's structural merits would describe one of the world's most beautiful structures, and greatest engineering feats, as being "not great".

But there seems to be a consensus amongst them that these great structures must not be demolished. By preserving the Poolbeg chimneys for good, Dublin City Council have a chance to redeem their reputation, and do the right thing.

And long after the Garth Brooks fiasco is forgotten, we will thank them for doing so.

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