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building dublin

Building Dublin City: From Medieval Township to Technical Hub

Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, was founded by the Vikings in the ninth century as a small township on the banks of the River Liffey. The city has lived through many ages including Medieval, Tudor and Georgian each of which has left their mark in the city’s planning and architecture today and served to chart the fortunes of the city over the years.

Below, we explore how Dublin has evolved from its historic past to a flourishing technology hub as a result of cultural and political changes.  

Building Dublin’s Landmarks

St Audeon’s, Dublin’s oldest church still stands as a fine example of 12th-century Anglo-Norman architecture. The church is located a stone’s throw from the Guinness Brewery, first established by Arthur Guinness in 1759 to brew his now world-famous stout, under an impressive 9,000-year lease.

Dublin St Audoen Church of Ireland. Photo courtesy: John Menard

The current building, constructed in 1902 was the first steel-framed multi-storey building in Europe. Further developments in 1999 added new facilities to the listed building, including a vast atrium, which is glazed-in to resemble a pint-shaped Guinness glass and topped by a glass roof.

The Guinness company is intrinsically woven into the fabric of Dublin’s history. The vast complex comfortably combines the brewery and a tourist attraction and has been a valuable source of employment for Dubliners over the years. Guinness was also among one of the few city employers who built houses to provide for their employees– a coveted asset in the growing city in that period, where access to housing was often a challenge.

Guinness Factory in Dublin. Photo courtesy: Shadowgate

A City Shaped by the Tides of Political Change

By the beginning of the 18th century, Ireland came under England’s control and Dublin was established as the administrative centre for Ireland. Dublin’s population swelled to 600,000 people identifying it as the second largest city, after London, in the British Empire. As a result, the city benefited from the arrival of peers and professionals, who helped redefine the landscape and lay the foundations for modern Dublin.

This period marks some of the most defining steps in the modernising of Dublin. An order directed that all houses along the River Liffey in the city centre should be adapted to face into the river, in an effort to halt the busy water way from being used as a rubbish dump.

Narrow medieval laneways were demolished and replaced with wide Georgian streets while a major rebuilding project introduced Georgian style architecture, with distinctive high fronted houses, and established five green squares in the centre of the city. Further developments brought about the introduction of smaller townlands and desirable neighbourhoods in the wider Dublin area where the Establishment took up residence.

Dublin experienced further change in the early 1900s as political developments and an increased rural migration shifted the demographics of the city. When Dublin lost its status within the empire, the gentry moved their residences back to the “mainland” of Great Britain. Their once elaborate Georgian homes evolved into tenements to help house over 400,000 of Dublin’s growing population. Many of the new Dubliners were rural workers and their families who moved to the city in search of employment and took residence in cramped, unsuitable slums in the city.

A Look Inside Dublin’s Ever-Changing Housing

Some of New Dubliners’ stories are sensitively recounted in The Tenement Museum at 14 Henrietta Street, in the city centre that sympathetically recounts the fortunes of the area through its journey from Georgian townhouse to Tenement dwellings.

Number 14 Henrietta Street started life as a five-storey palatial home to a series of dignitaries, their families and servants. The expansive layout and flexible space efficiently separated their required public, private and domestic functions. The full plot included a railed-in basement, brick-vaulted cellars, a garden and mews to the rear, and a coach house and stable yard beyond.

Henrietta Street in Dublin. Photo courtesy: William Murphy
Henrietta Street in Dublin. Photo courtesy: William Murphy

In the 1800s, the house moved from residential to commercial usage when Dublin lost its sheen for the peerage. The empty townhouse and similar premises were adapted to accommodate offices for professional firms, with the floors split to allow for multiple usages.

The 1900s saw the most significant change in the fortunes of the house in response to the

chronic need for accommodation in Dublin. The house was adapted into 19 one, three and four-roomed tenement flats which saw the former grand reception rooms on each floor divided and rented out. The new basic flats provided homes where families cooked and ate, cleaned, washed laundry and slept. By 1911 the house accommodated 100 people, a situation replicated across the many fine Georgian houses in Dublin.

Poor access to sanitation and overcrowding took their toll on the inhabitants which are borne out by residents’ stories during the museum tour. Number 14 Henrietta Street was the home to many professions in Dublin; the 1911 census lists milliners, a dressmaker, French polishers and bookbinders amongst the residents of the house.

A concerted programme of building public housing by the Irish government in the 1950s saw the development of new suburbs in the outskirts of Dublin. The objective of these new housing estates was to provide safe, clean and secure housing to clear out the overcrowded slums. The last of the residents were moved out of Number 14 Henrietta Street in 1970, and the building was passed over to the state. A sensitive and comprehensive conservation project restored the building as the most intact collection of early to mid-18th century houses in Ireland, combined with a permanent exhibition that charts the mass conversion of the mansions of Dublin and offers a valuable insight to the impacts of social change over time and helps to chart the growth of the city.

The Rise of Modern Dublin

Dublin was traditionally a city of emigration, with high unemployment and a high birth rate forcing many of its inhabitants to leave Ireland for other countries, notably Britain and the United States. However, in the last two decades, Dublin has experienced an increase in population as the city hosts the EMEA headquarters for established technology brands–including companies such as Autodesk, Facebook and Google located in the bustling Silicon Docks, on the banks of the River Liffey.

The area is aptly named as it offers employment to about 7,000 professionals who work in technology firms located in this growing neighbourhood. Salesforce.com’s recent announcement to build Salesforce Tower Dublin to accommodate all 4,000 employees in the area together in one campus provides a further boost to this previously undesirable part of the city.

Dublin city landscape is changing as the construction sector responds to the demand for new commercial and residential properties. This has seen a move back to city living with high-density housing and apartments in the city centre. These new structures stand beside grand buildings from former ages, adding to the rich tapestry of architecture which plots the growth of Dublin and the fortunes of its population, from medieval times to the modern 21st-century capital city of the technology age.

Further Reading:  2018 UK Construction In Review: 4 Major Developments That Reshaped the Industry

Amanda Fennell

Amanda Fennell joined PlanGrid in October 2017 as Director of Marketing in EMEA, based in the UK. She has 20 year's marketing experience in IT, including working with some leading cloud organizations. She was the first marketing recruit in salesforce.com EMEA and supported the launch of the company in the region. Amanda holds an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from DCU, Ireland.

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