Founded in 1890 as part of a larger philanthropic initiative by Edward Guinness (head of the family brewery and future first Earl of Iveagh), the Iveagh Trust is one of this country’s most effective, but relatively little-known charities. As the trust’s website explains, Guinness regularly passed through Dublin’s Liberties area on his way to work and ‘was appalled at the conditions that prevailed in this corner of Dublin. A warren of foul-smelling laneways lined with crumbling and overcrowded houses that were no longer fit for habitation.’ Having floated two-thirds of the company in 1886, he became the richest man in the country and so began to think about establishing a charity to address the terrible living conditions experienced by so many people in both Dublin and London, and donated £250,000 ‘for the amelioration of the condition of the poor labouring classes’ in the two cities. Among the trust’s first undertakings was the construction between 1894-1901 on a two acre site at the corner of New Bride Street and Kevin Street of three five-storey blocks originally containing 336 separate flats. But perhaps the best-known work of what in 1903 officially became the Iveagh Trust, was an enormous scheme undertaken at the start of the last century on the area north of St Patrick’s Cathedral and south of Christchurch Cathedral, and running from Bull Alley Street and Bride Street; requiring several acts of parliament to ensure its successful conclusion, the project’s cost exceeded £220,000, with further monies spent on the creation of St Patrick’s Park and other associated works which were directly funded by Edward Guinness.
A superlative example of Edwardian architecture constructed 1901-05, the Bull Alley Estate, designed by the architectural partnership of Joseph & Smithem, comprises eight five-storey blocks today holding 213 apartments (a comprehensive, six-year refurbishment of the entire site was completed in 2012). But of course, the clearance of large areas of the old city for improved housing meant many of the residents lost the place in which they had hitherto earned their meagre livelihoods. In the Liberties, this was especially the case for street traders, who found their former pitches cleared and needed to find an alternative site in which to conduct business. It was for this reason that, according to a report carried in the Irish Times in July 1906, when work commenced on the Bull Alley site, Edward Guinness, by then Viscount Iveagh, undertook ‘to provide suitable accommodation for the vendors within five years.’ He was as good as his word and personally paid for the provision of an alternative venue, the aforementioned Irish Times report which celebrated the official opening of the Iveagh Markets.
Designed by Dublin architect Frederick George Hicks, the Iveagh Markets sits on a parcel of land much of which was formerly occupied by a brewery: the initial cost for the project was some £45,000 but in the end the sum was closer to £60,000 all personally funded by Lord Iveagh. The site includes two covered markets, the larger one, measuring 100 x 150 feet, intended for selling clothes. Roofed in iron and glass, and with a first floor gallery 15 feet wide carried on cast-iron columns around the perimeter of the building, this market also provided the main entrance to the property from Francis Street, the seven-bay facade has an advanced and pedimented breakfront, the granite-fronted ground floor taking the form of an arcade, with quoined arches of Portland stone, each keystone representing various trading nations of the world: the upper parts of the building are of red brick. Behind the clothes market is a second, smaller space measuring 130 x 80 feet where stallholders sold fish, fruit and vegetables. Within the complex and to the immediate north was an area for the disinfection of clothes before they could be offered for sale, with space for 40 washers, four centrifugal wringing machines and 40 hot air drying horses: these facilities represented an enormous improvement in what had previously been available to residents in the area, and reflect Lord Iveagh’s understanding of the importance of good hygiene. A number of other buildings were constructed here for administration and a resident manager.
The Irish Times article of July 26th 1906 noted that although Lord Iveagh had paid for the new markets to be built, on the occasion of their official opening a deed of conveyance and keys to the property were handed over to Dublin’s then-Lord Mayor. ‘The Corporation of the City of Dublin,’ the report added, ‘has undertaken to take over and control the markets as in other parts of the city, and though a further responsibility is thrown on the shoulders of the city fathers, still, everyone will admit it is a worthy one.’ The corporation – now Dublin City Council – continued to exercise that responsibility until the early 1990s, although even before that date inadequate maintenance of the markets meant they were in poor condition. A report commissioned by the local authority and produced in 1992 observed that the ‘restoration of the building to its original splendour and its refurbishment as a modern indoor market would be of considerable economic and social benefit to the surrounding area.’ The following year, the council offered each of the market’s stall holders £20,000 to vacate their stands and give up their licenses, before announcing plans for a £1.25 million refurbishment. However, nothing happened – other than a steady rise in the cost of the proposed refurbishment, and in 1996 the council decided to invite a private developer to take on the job. The following year the council granted Dublin publican Martin Keane a licence to redevelop the site, and all appeared well until questions were asked about whether the council had the authority to issue such a document under the terms of the Dublin Corporation Markets Act, passed in 1901 to allow the construction of the Iveagh Markets. The dispute was only resolved in 2004, it then took a further three years for Mr Keane to obtain planning permission for a scheme that would have included restaurants, a 97-bed hotel, a music venue and an apartment hotel, as well as the refurbishment of the old buildings. This work was never begun and a long, sorry saga over the building then ensued: anyone who wishes to understand what befell the Iveagh Markets over the past 15 years is encouraged to read an article on the subject published in the Irish Times on November 19th (The Iveagh Markets: Can a former Dublin glory be saved? – The Irish Times). At the moment the matter is subject to ongoing mediation but there can be no doubt that Dublin City Council must accept a substantial amount of responsibility for the unhappy situation here. For several decades the local authority has shown scant regard for historic properties in its care. On the other side of the river Liffey, for example, the old Fruit and Vegetable Market, opened in 1892, was closed in August 2019 by the council which said it was about to undertaken a two-year restoration of the site. This was after 17 years of successive announcements of diverse schemes for the building (for a chronology, see Dublin’s Victorian fruit market to close for two years for revamp – The Irish Times). Last August, three years after the Fruit and Vegetable Market was closed (supposedly for just two years), Dublin City Council said that it had ‘initiated a tender process for a design team “to detail the conservation works needed” for the property. Initiating a tender process suggests a great deal more time will pass before anything actually happens and this is just one of a substantial number of projects in which Dublin City Council’s intervention has proven catastrophic. Recently, for example, the council announced that the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, initiated in 2013 (and supposed to have been completed in 2017) would not see even the ‘first phase’ be delivered until at least 2027. Then there is the long-anticipated development of a new public plaza in College Green where successive design schemes have been launched to much fanfare and then quietly abandoned.
As for the Iveagh Markets, it cannot be denied that what ought to be a thriving and valuable public resource which would do much good for not just the local community but all of Dublin, has been allowed to deteriorate over some 30 years to the point where it is now at risk of being lost forever. The gift of a generous man to an impoverished city has been needlessly squandered as a consequence of poor decision-making and lack of action. Who would ever want to gift anything to Ireland’s capital, seeing what its governing body has allowed to become of the Iveagh Markets? Meanwhile, the original benefactor’s other great philanthropic gesture – the many blocks of flats constructed in the greater Liberties area – continue to be managed by a private charity, the Iveagh Trust, and continue to benefit large numbers of people. The contrast between these thriving buildings and the Iveagh Markets could not be more stark.