Ailtireacht (Architecture)

Between The Land And The Sea

Teach an Locháin, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014

“Teach an Locháin”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. A new build with an aggressively modern – and locally unsympathetic – design replacing an older more low-key dwelling (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

Regular readers will know of my affection for Bóthar an Choinicéir, a leafy side-road in Fine Gall situated on a narrow strip of land between the sea and the main BÁC-Binn Éadair DART line. Generally considered to be part of Cill Fhionntain technically the area lies within the separate townland of An Coinicéar (though both lie in the barony of An Chúlóg. For administrative purposes Ireland is divided into townlands, parishes, baronies and counties, the first three often following indigenous Irish territorial divisions rather than later British colonial impositions). I spent a considerable part of my childhood here, both at school and at play, and remain a regular visitor. So I thought I’d post a couple of pictures of my favourite houses (of which there are many).

Cois Farraige, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014 (3)

“Cois Farraige”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014 . The front view of “Seaside”, a listed house dating from the 1800s lying empty for some considerable time (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

Cois Farraige, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014 (2)

“Cois Farraige”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. The rear view of the empty “Seaside”, a noted property dating from the late 1800s (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

Trá an Choinicéir, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014

Trá an Choinicéir, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. The view from the garden of “Cois Farraige” or “Seaside”. An enviable vista I think you’ll agree (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

An Sean Teach, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014

“An Sean Teach”, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntain, Éire 2014. One of a number of properties lying empty on the road at Bóthar an Choinicéir – Bóthar Dhroim Chléire (Íomhá: An Sionnach Fionn 2014)

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Lá Mór Na Gaeilge

Lá Mór na Gaeilge - a demonstration in support of Irish language rights in Ireland,  Saturday 15th of February 2014

Lá Mór na Gaeilge – a demonstration in support of Irish language rights in Ireland, Saturday 15th of February 2014

There is a day-of-action planned for Saturday the 15th of February 2014 in support of Irish language rights on our island nation. A parade will gather at 14.00 outside the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square with a march to Leinster House, the seat of Oireachtas na hÉireann. I ask all readers of An Sionnach Fionn to join the demonstration if you can and to spread word of it far and wide on your social networks, and to family and friends. The more citizens that show up on the day the greater the impact upon the anglophone political and media establishments in Ireland. Meanwhile a Gaeltacht community group have dubbed the day Dearg le Fearg, literally “Red with Anger” and are calling on all those attending to wear the colour red.

For further information contact the organisers at “” or via Facebook at “Lá Mór Na Gaeilge“. A more detailed article on the event is here and Dearg le Fearg can be found here.

Bóthar an Choinicéir – A Walk Down Memory Lane

Binn Éadair (Howth) with edge of Bóthar an Choinicéir to the lower-right of image, Éire

Some long-time readers know that I’m a bit of an architecture buff and reading a recent post by exiled Irish blogger Football Cliches on urban design reminded me of one of my favourite locations to visit in Dublin. As I may have mentioned before way back in the Stone Age I attended a sprawling primary school situated on the edge of a beach in north county Dublin that would have given Hogwarts a run for its money. In fact that school was (the old) St. Fintan’s CBS in Cill Fhionntain (Sutton), on the secluded Bóthar an Choinicéir – Bóthar Dhroim Chléire (Burrow Road-Claremont Road). To one side of the chestnut-tree lined avenue is the Dublin-Howth DART line, to the other is the long strand of Sutton Beach, and between both is the sometimes higgledy-piggledy row of historic and modern houses which locals know colloquially as “Millionaires’ Row” (and with good reason).

Most of the houses have rear gardens butting up against the now much-reduced dunes that front the beach and many are of historic significance. Some are well-known in the locality by a variety of nicknames such as the Tudor House (officially Eskeragh, designed in 1898 for the now largely forgotten artist Mary Kate Benson) and the Witch’s House (to which I shall return anon). Other names reflected the real addresses and descriptions of the homes such as the Lakehouse – a large dwelling in a mid-20th century style backing onto the beach with a small lake taking up the front and an approach over a bridge.

Last evening I went for a walk down the Burrow with my brother, mother and pet dog, the first long visit in a couple of years. Sometimes one should not go back. The area is as beautiful and quiet (at night) as ever it was and it still maintains that air of enchantment that has beguiled so many others (including Jim Fitzpatrick, Irish artist and creator of the definitive “Ché” image, who now lives in apartments where my old school was situated) but the death of the Celtic Tiger has touched everywhere in Ireland, even here. Some of the storied, grey-walled mansions along the beach were in darkness, their tall windows curtained, leafy gardens overgrown, iron gates sealed with red rust. According to the faded notice on a wooden fence facing the road the once gleaming Lakehouse was demolished over a year ago and now lies an empty wasteland waiting for a new building that itself awaits a new economic boom that may never come.

Seaside, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntáin, Éire

Seaside, Bóthar an Choinicéir, Cill Fhionntáin, Éire

And the Witch’s House… Officially it is Seaside, built in 1860 and with only a handful of owners since its construction one hundred and fifty years ago. However it now lies empty, a lonely building girthed by ankle-tall grass and overgrown bushes, and crowned on its high peaks by grey-green lichen. Both my mother and I have always loved this building and as with the loss of the Lakehouse actually felt the pain of its abandonment, only this time all the more keenly. It is strange how places and buildings can effect one, how they can take on the attributes of genuine affection or love even. My childhood was spent with the Witch’s House in the background, school breaks played in dunes that were far greater than they are now, along a wide foam-swept strand skirting a landscape of weathered buildings and wind-tortured trees that would fire anyone’s imagination.

Ah well.. Maybe one day I will find my own Teach an Cailleach.

Who Dares To Speak? Morality Versus Venality In Modern Ireland

The Irish “Twin Towers” – The GPO, Dublin, Destroyed By British Occupation Forces, 1916

What other nation in Europe would have such little regard for its history? What other nation in Europe would be so willing, so eager, to destroy the physical embodiments of its identity?

The community campaign to thwart the destruction of the 1916 Battlefield Quarter of Dublin City centre continues, as it has done for the last several years, with no end in sight as it struggles against the unrelenting nihilism of Ireland’s political and business cabals. Now a new documentary from TG4, Iniúchadh – Oidhreacht na Cásca, investigates allegations that Dublin City Council abused its powers to procure the site for the development company Treasury Holdings and more incredibly that an unprecedented secret agreement was signed between Dublin City Council management and the developer Joe O’ Reilly of Chartered Land, an agreement made without the knowledge of the city’s elected councillors.

From the Irish Times:

“Dublin City Council should be the first to investigate allegations of wrongdoing between the council and developers of the historic 1916 site in Moore Street, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has told the Dáil.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called for Government action following allegations of what she called “backstairs deals” between officials in the council and a developer, to the advantage of that builder.

The allegations were made last night in a TG4 documentary, Iniúchadh – Oidhreacht na Cásca, about the proposed development of the Moore Street area, where the leaders of the 1916 Rising met for the last time and signed the surrender.

Calling for Government action, Ms McDonald described the allegations in the programme as “one of the biggest planning scandals” in the State.

The “vandalism” of the site through the development of a shopping centre could not go ahead without the say so of Minister for Heritage Jimmy Deenihan, and she said the matter had been on his desk for months.”

A Monument To Freedom Versus A Monument To Greed

From Easter Rising to Celtic Tiger. Which would we rather remember? Or, indeed, celebrate?

From the Irish Examiner.

“Campaigners have renewed calls for state intervention to stop the “disrespectful” demolition of the area surrounding the historic 1916 Rising battlefield site.

As Sinn Féin gears up to appeal for support from Government TDs to save and restore the monument in the Dáil today, James Connolly’s great-grandson said it was a modest demand.

James Connolly Heron, who has been fighting for the restoration of the Moore Street site for the last 10 years, said Nama-funded plans to tear down surrounding buildings to make way for a shopping centre need to be blocked.

“People are waking up to the fact that we have four years until the centenary,” said Mr Connolly Heron.

“We need something to show the Gathering in 2016. Are we going to show people a monument to the rising, or are we going to show them a shopping centre that is a monument to the Celtic Tiger?”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has got behind the Moore Street campaign, which aims to restore the row of houses from 14 to 17 – where the rebel leaders met for the last time – and turn the area into “a cultural educational centre of excellence”.

Deputy Adams has secured backing from some Fianna Fáil and Independent TDs, while Labour has previously gone on the record in support of the initiative.

But Mr Connolly Heron warned the mission must not be eclipsed by political point-scoring.

“That would be dishonouring the people we are trying to honour,” he went on. “It doesn’t belong to any party, it belongs to the people.”

Sinn Féin will propose a Dáil motion during private members’ time tonight and tomorrow night.

The motion, which was drafted by descendants of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, including Mr Connolly Heron, already has the support of over 50 opposition TDs.

It asks for the Government to support the proposition to ensure the site is protected and preserved, and that the surrounding buildings, streets and laneways are retained with a view to developing the area as a historic and cultural quarter.

Sinn Féin will need the support from more than 30 additional TDs to gain a majority in the Dáil to pass the motion.”

Imre Makovecz – A Loss To Architecture And Design

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about my love for the works of the little known Hungarian architect Imre Makovecz so it is with deep sadness that I learned of his passing this week. A Guardian obituary tells most of his life story and why he was so important:

“The Hungarian architect Imre Makovecz has died at the age of 75. Makovecz headed a loose-knit band of architects, designers and craft workers who established an alternative way of building, thinking and existing during the long years of communist rule and soulless, Soviet-style architecture forced on Hungary and Russia. A fierce critic of communism, materialism and globalism, he was banned from working in Budapest in 1976 and moved north to Visegrád, a beautiful stretch of countryside by the Danube. There, he developed his compelling, idiosyncratic and organic style, borrowing from nature and re-interpreting the ideas of, among others, Rudolf Steiner, Frank Lloyd Wright, Antoni Gaudí and the Hungarian architect ödön Lechner.

Makovecz shaped holiday shelters, restaurants, camping grounds and visitor centres that were as highly charged aesthetically as their purposes were low-key. These designs were what he described as “building beings”. Erring on the folkloric and looking a little like trees in children’s stories, sprouting arms and sporting faces, they really did feel alive. Wooden shingles might be made to resemble the feathers of a bird’s wings. Some buildings appeared to grow like plants. Windows were like eyes.

Makovecz returned to Budapest in the 1980s, after the communism system collapsed, set up his own studio, Makona, and became something of a national hero. Alongside the low-cost community centres he built in villages, and a string of spirited new Roman Catholic churches, he was commissioned to design the Hungarian Pavilion for the Seville Expo of 1992. From the outside, the building resembled a cluster of fairytale church steeples. Inside, real trees were reflected in a mirrored floor. Like so much of Makovecz’s work, it was strangely lyrical and curiously beautiful.

Makovecz was born and educated in Budapest. His father was a carpenter. Imre spent much of his boyhood in and around Nagykapornak, to the west of Lake Balaton. He helped his father sabotage German tanks during the second world war. He studied architecture at Budapest’s technical university, graduating in 1959. When asked to design a fish restaurant as part of his training, he shaped one in the form of a pair of interlocking fish. His tutors were not amused.

He sensed a guiding creative spirit in the patterns found in nature, such as the shapes of trees, and in Celtic carvings and Scottish reels. “My buildings and architectural designs do not come from me,” he said. “They come from the landscape, from the local environment and from the ancient human spirit.”

In the early 1980s, as an assistant editor of the Architectural Review, I went to meet Makovecz in Hungary during a heavy storm.

A profoundly and defiantly individual architect and philosopher, Makovecz was a warm and friendly man with a powerful build, pronounced Magyar moustache and a love of God, Celtic and Scythian culture and Scotch whisky. He was at once fierce and kind, intensely serious and very funny.

In 2010, he closed his studio and retired to focus on the Hungarian Art Academy he founded in 1992. He was an honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and, in 1997, recipient of the gold medal of the Académie d’Architecture.

He is survived by Marianne and three children.”

For me, growing up in an Ireland dominated by the soulless zombie works of a generation of wannabe Anglo-American architects and designers, the buildings of Imre Makovecz were a revelation. He showed people like myself the power of human scale architecture and the joy of reinterpreting vernacular styles in a modern setting. Because of him I was able to understand the imaginative and cultural poverty of contemporary Irish architecture, the derivative hollowness of it all. However I also came to understand what could be achieved had we but the self-confidence to reimagine our history and heritage in a modern setting.

He will be sorely missed.

Imre Makovecz, 20-11-1935 – 27-09- 2011. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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In Praise Of The Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin

Journalist Fionntán Ó Tuathail Fintan O’Toole writes a lengthy piece celebrating the award-winning architecture of the Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin in Doire (Derry), the heart of the city’s Irish language community.

‘MODESTY AND restraint are not the virtues one associates with Irish culture in the Celtic Tiger years. But one of the finest pieces of contemporary Irish design is brilliant in part because it is contained, understated, and so supremely self-confident that it doesn’t have to shout. John Tuomey and Sheila O’Donnell’s Cultúrlann building in Derry is on the shortlist for the architectural Oscars, the Stirling Prize. I was in it for the first time last weekend and it deserves all the praise and prizes it can get. Apart from its own merits, it points towards a kind of genuine austerity aesthetic, a way for Irish art to be modest and serious without being dull and impoverished.

The Cultúrlann is the baby of the Stirling shortlist, up against far more opulent projects. Most of the other buildings cost vast amounts of money. The former British Telecoms building in London was refurbished at a cost of £72 million. The refit of the Royal Shakespeare theatre in Stratford cost £60 million. The admittedly stunning Olympic Velodrome in London, which is widely tipped to win, cost around £93 million.

The Cultúrlann cost just £4 million. But it is a wonderful contemporary validation of Mies van der Rohe’s architectural dictum that less is more.

What seems to me to give the building its power is that it emerges, not out of the sense of amplitude that characterised pre-crash Ireland, but out of scarcity – of money and space.

The Cultúrlann was an even more constrained project, built on Great James Street in the old walled city. It had to fit into the site of a burnt-out bakery, on a street of Victorian and Georgian terraced houses. To make matters worse, an electricity substation occupies a third of the site’s street frontage and had to be incorporated in the façade. And there is only one entrance to the site – there’s no view from the back of the building.

In fact, you could easily walk by the building without taking a second look. The outside is wedged between existing buildings, respects the height of the street and is conspicuously inconspicuous. If you do stop and look, you’ll notice the clever way the façade is actually arranged to look smaller than it is, folding in and out, almost like corrugated cardboard. The grey concrete exterior is broken by angular arrangements of yellow-framed windows, so that no one thing presents itself to the eye with any great force. There’s nothing imposing about the way the building sits on the street.

The genius of the design, though, is that O’Donnell and Twomey compensated for this modesty with a lovely paradox – placing the facades on the inside.

This is a great public building that is entirely without pomposity or grandiloquence. It has a genuine austerity, not just in the way it uses cheap materials like plywood and painted plaster in many of its rooms, but in the way it makes the most of every resource of space and light that’s available to it. This kind of austerity isn’t grim, slash-and-burn negativity. It’s the creativity of turning constraints into inspirations and limitations into inventions.’

Having visited the Cultúrlann several times now I think O’Toole has got it right and though my own architectural tastes are somewhat different there is no doubting the impressiveness of the building and the amazing use made of the space available. However, a bit more on what the Cultúrlann actually does, serving as a vibrant cultural centre for the region’s Irish speaking population, would have been appropriate. But then as the Ó Tuathail states:

‘The Cultúrlann is the first publically-funded Irish-language centre in the UK.’

So maybe we shouldn’t expect too much progressiveness from him (or Hiberno-English spelling either, it would seem). However he did deliver the annual lecture to this year’s Féile in the city that makes for some interesting (if familiar) reading.

Imre Makovecz And The Wonders of Organic Architecture

One of my favourite architects is also one of Europe’s least known, Hungary’s Imre Makovecz, a proponent of organic architecture who has created some of the most distinctive, beautiful and humanistic buildings to be found anywhere in the world. An article in the Guardian from 2004 gives an excellent summation:

‘Makovecz, born in 1935 and educated in Budapest, was himself imprisoned at the time of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and had the death penalty hovering over his head for some years afterwards. One of the former Soviet satellite’s most creative dissidents, he developed and built his own form of organic architecture from the late 1960s onwards, in direct and timbered opposition to the communist love of four-square, pre-fabricated Soviet-style concrete blocks.

The Robin Hood of Hungarian architecture, Makovecz was banned from working in cities and teaching, and nurtured his highly personal and engagingly spiritual form of organic design in forest settlements and villages, themselves under threat of demolition. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Hungary became a democracy, Makovecz became a national hero. He represented his country with the design of the popular Hungarian pavilion – part barn, part cathedral – at the 1992 Seville Expo, while his firm, Makona, and his many disciples, who had taught illicitly in the compartments of cross-country trains, began to spread his brand of architecture across Hungary.

Makovecz is, moreover, much influenced by the anthroposophic theories of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the Austrian “spiritual scientist”, whose schools are well known worldwide today. Steiner held that our spiritual evolution is held back by being mired in the material world; in the leaning domes of Piliscsaba, it is possible, perhaps, to see the architecture that frames our spiritual education, struggling with the mire.

Makovecz’s rise to prominence has clearly owed as much to his skill in creating a folkloric architecture that conjures Hungary’s struggle for independence, while challenging the materialist values of both communist and capitalist ways of life, as to his artistic imagination and integrity.’

Makovecz’s combination of native Magyar architectural styles with an almost Celtic infusion is unforgettable and his buildings resemble images constructed from the distillation of medieval European legend, natural, instinctive and familiar. For some more reading on a man regarded by many as an architectural genius try visiting this photo gallery, or here. It is a crying shame that Makovecz has been rejected by some in his home country in Hungary’s rampant drive to become just another Anglo-American clone in Eastern Europe, with the embracing of a sham modernity that is a hollow and meaningless as a McDonald’s sign.

Video tour of Christchurch Cathedral Crypt (via Irish History Podcast)

Over the past two days I visited the oldest buildings in Dublin – that is Christchurch Cathedral, St Patricks Cathedral and St Audeons Church. While I get through the queue of articles I need to write check out this video tour of the crypt in Christchurch cathedral, the oldest structure in Dublin dating from at latest the 12th century. As you can see its well worth a visit…. [youtube More

via Irish History Podcast