A Reminder

On Monday, the Irish Times carried a report noting that Ireland’s Health Service Executive owns hundreds of unused buildings across the state, some of which have been left vacant for decades (see: HSE owns hundreds of unused buildings, figures show (irishtimes.com)). This will not come as news to anyone who is concerned for the welfare of the country’s architectural heritage: the HSE is responsible for many historic sites, and a large number of them have been left not just vacant, but badly neglected, such as the former St Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe, County Galway (above). A vast range of buildings designed by William Murray and opened in 1833, it closed 180 years later and has stood abandoned ever since. The HSE is by no means the only offender in this respect. Columb (originally Wellington) Barracks in Mullingar, County Westmeath provided accommodation for troops from 1819 until 2011, when it closed down: owned by the Department of Defence, the site has since been left largely empty, a prey to vandalism and creeping decay. Last winter – a full decade after the last troops left – the Land Development Agency produced a report on the site, with the promise that further information would follow in due course. No doubt something will eventually happen here, but after 11 years nobody can be accused of rushing into hasty decision-making.
A few points need to be made about both these and many other such premises, the first of which is that they are owned by the people of Ireland: the relevant state bodies in whose care they remain, are supposed to be their custodians. These are national assets, and the abysmal failure to take due care of them is at a cost to everyone else: the more they fall into decay, the less they are worth, to the detriment of all of us. In addition, the two examples shown here, and many more besides, are often close to urban centres and therefore ideally suited to provide ample accommodation for those who unfortunately don’t have it at present. In recent days, for example, it has been reported that a tent village is being prepared for Romanian refugees in Gormanstown, County Meath. This is an extraordinary state of affairs: why should anyone have to sleep in a tent when the HSE, and other agencies, own so many vacant buildings. Furthermore, if the state is supposed to lead by example, what sort of example is set by the likes of the HSE and the Department of Defence? Why should private owners worry about neglecting their property, when state authorities do so on a much larger scale? A reminder: this is a shameful – and shameless – squandering of our assets, and we are the losers as a result.

11 comments on “A Reminder

  1. Kenneth Mitchell says:

    I’m open to correction but I believe the issue is that while the properties are owned by the various state depts, their administration is under the OPW remit and decisions can’t be made without agreement between the two entities

    • Thank you for your comment. No matter how many parties are involved, it ought not to take a decade or more to reach consensus, during which time important and substantial buildings are left to moulder…

    • Symmachus says:

      Given the ruinous state of the Magazine Fort in the Phoenix Park, the OPW have long form in neglecting buildings in their care. All their their engineers, vehicles and resources, and they do nothing, except sometimes promises. At least something might happen now with the Magazine Fort.

  2. upsew says:

    So glad you are doing these posts….I work for hse and will often mutter at least the nuns maintained buildings!! The old fever hospital in uchg is now dermatology and building so shabby….I have heard they don’t want to do anything with as there is a preservation order on it …. its all short term strategy on long term risk…..

  3. Another example is the lovely Newcastle Hospital between Newcastle and Newtownmountkennedy in Co. Wicklow

  4. All so true Robert. I cannot understand why there is no government body set up and made responsible for the future care and maintenance of such buildings after their use is abandoned? As a one time medical rep I called into St Brigids many times in the 80’s. As usual, and as in the UK where I also worked, psychiatric hospitals often housed the stores unit for nearby general hospitals. Being in the town of Ballinasloe it should be the purpose of the local Council to darw up some plans whether it be for tourism, or community use. Bit like Spike Island or so many other historic and architecturally interesting buildings. No doubt if An Taisce were given sufficient funding, they could take such jobs in hand I am sure! Having a Protection Order on a building does not prevent its future use. In fact, it should help if civil servants and politcians and OPW had vision? Upsew.

  5. Fidelis Power says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Its disgraceful, especially as you say, with so many in need of accommodation at the moment. From an architectural point of view, we are losing so much of our heritage.

  6. Deborah T. Sena says:

    As always, your comments strike a chord of WHY? I suspect part of the answer is that the buildings are in such a poor condition that they cannot accommodate immediate occupancy and no one wants to foot the bill, particularly on a short term stay (?- refugees or immigrants) basis. As I read this I also chuckled (sadly) because when I was browsing through daft.ie yesterday as I periodically do, there was a banner asking people to offer rooms to refugees. You could put the tents up as temporary housing near the buildings while they are made habitable. Those lovely C of I churches would make great Orthodox churches. It would be so stirring to see them used that way, filled with chants and singing of believers. But people need work as well as a place to live.

    The reality is a good portion of this building stock do not meet current needs and will have to come down. Even any in relatively good state, they are too costly/too big to maintain. This is also the result of Ireland’s population numbers never fully recovering or increasing from the pre-Famine levels and the concentration of population around a few major cities/areas.

    But some of the above has interesting parallels here in the US. Very recently a local military base reopened closed building to house Syrian refugees. I haven’t seen any mention of them being used for Ukrainian refugees. Thye would be welcomed as we have an active Eastern European community in the area, including several Orthodox churches.

  7. Noel Byrne says:

    You are too right!

  8. DW HAMBLETON says:

    We have all. Got used to watching the many BBC Channel 4 progs, where. People buy to restore old buildings of character, castles, mills etc. I cannot remember the guys name but Hugh Wallace is doing an RTÉ version. So much effort is made to get things as close to original. We are indeed losing so much and the OPW need some proper funding to be able to do more?

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