Georgian House Museum – what next?

Like many others I was dismayed to read reports in the Irish Times this week about the intention of the ESB to turn to the Georgian House Museum on Fitzwillian Square into apartments. Today I wrote to the Minister on this matter stating my objection to this move and advocating for its retention as a museum.

Text of the letter:

Dear Minister Martin,

I’m writing to you concerning the fate of the Georgian House Museum located at 29 Fitzwilliam Street. The museum in question was established in 1991 as part of Dublin’s year as the European Capital of Culture. It was jointly operated by the ESB and the National Museum. The museum had closed in 2017 for renovation purposes with an opening date getting repeatedly pushed back. Reports this week however have emerged stating that the museum is set to be dismantled.

A spokesperson for the ESB was quoted as saying that the body intends on seeking planning permission from Dublin City Council to convert the site into apartments to be sold privately. Further attempting to justify the move the spokesperson commented, ‘Since 1991 there is a changed landscape in terms of historical/heritage offerings, with many museum/heritage alternatives now available.’ This comment shows a real ignorance of the heritage offerings in Dublin City. Sites of historical value from the Georgian period have in the last half century or so ceased to function as residential properties as they have switched to commercial use. For example, on Merrion Square the houses of hugely important historical figures such as Oscar Wilde and Daniel O’Connell now operate as a language school and a US college branch respectively.

The fact that such sites remain out of public ownership combined with the historical demolition of houses which has previously taken place in Fitzwilliam Square mean that the lives and experiences of Georgian Dublin are only appreciated by a small cohort whom work in high end commercial, legal and business organisations. The Georgian House Museum by contrast offered the average citizen an insight to life in Dublin during the 18th century, a period neglected by other heritage offerings in the city which tend to focus on the latter revolutionary period of the early 20th century.

I would urge you and your department to work with DCC to investigate the matter and establish how it can be retained as a heritage and cultural site accessible to the public. Indeed, such a process would not be without precedence. Richmond Barrack in Inchicore and the Tenement Museum on Henrietta Street offer comparable examples of recent collaborations between government and DCC to re-appropriate historical sites into publicly accessible heritage venues. Both sites are currently run by DCC with a panel of tour guides working between the two sites on a part time ad-hoc basis. By incorporating the Georgian House Museum this would help transition these part time positions into fulltime employment thus offering both job security and a higher quality in-depth experience from employees whose sole focus would be developing and researching tour experiences for visitors.

The history of Dublin City is littered with examples of the destruction of our cultural heritage such as the Viking settlement at Wood Quay, the O’Rahilly House at Herbert Park and the proposed demolition of the 1916 surrender site on Moore Street. In this Decade of Commemorations were have placed huge emphasis on remembering the past but this too must extend to protecting the standing monuments to the past as well. The story of Dublin must be preserved for future generations and the place of Georgian Dublin in that narrative is just as important as any other.

Is mise le meas,

Patrick Costello TD.