Friday, May 12, 2017

DRIVING DUBLIN


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This is the seventh volume in the series The Making of Dublin City. The books are published by one of the nation's assets, the wonderful Four Courts Press. The volumes vary from a compendium of authors to a single author and they are overseen by the series editors.

They are of a high academic standard and at the same time very readable and well illustrated (b&w). The idea is to cover all aspects of the development of the city and the latest volume deals with the 1950s and 1960s, two very important decades in shaping the city we live in today.



Ruth McManus

The author is Joe Brady, Associate Professor and former Dean of the Arts Faculty in UCD. The occasion was a talk he was giving on the contents of the book and it was taking place in Hodges Figgis bookshop in Dawson St., appropriately enough within sight of the Mansion House.

Joe was introduced by Ruth McManus (DCU) the book's editor. Ruth herself has written Dublin 1910-1940 which taught me a lot about the development of neighbourhoods in which I have an interest. In the case of her book Joe Brady, and Anngret Simms (UCD), were the editors. So you can see a tight dedicated grouping here bringing us a consistent and comprehensive series on the city.

In fact, it was in Ruth's book (p232) that I came across the location of the Medlar Bridge (The Mettler) connecting Maryland to Basin Lane, a bridge championed by my grand-uncle PJ Medlar, in the teeth of fierce opposition from the Grand Canal Company, when he was on Dublin City Council in the 1930s.



Joe Brady

As Joe remarked: We have now arrived at the period between 1950 and 1970. This is close to the time I grew up and it is interesting to revisit the period and see the extent to which my recollections are reflected in the sources.

It is also more or less the period in which I grew up (though there are those who deny that I ever did - but that's a different book).

Joe brought us through a magnificent sweep of Dublin's development in that period. The 1950s was a depressing period, but one during which there were many ideas generated on how the city ought to be developed. In spite of what I remember as a period when money was tight, Joe reminds us that, nevertheless, car ownership was increasing, albeit from a modest base.

And it was the car that dominated much of the planners' thinking. We nearly ended up with spaghetti junctions, complete with overheads, in the middle of the city, but fortunately the Council didn't have the money and that phase had more or less passed by the time it became affordable and the realisation dawned that you couldn't just carry on facilitating increasing car numbers for ever.

This was the period which saw the advent of the self-service store, starting in the city centre but soon to lead to suburban supermarkets and eventually shopping centres. These relied absolutely on the availability of the car, and an aerial photo from the period of the Stillorgan shopping centre was remarkable for the ratio of car parking space to that taken up by the centre's actual shopping area.

These were mind blowing developments. My sister reminded me once that my granny who had relocated from Thomas/James's St. to Orwell Gardens in Rathgar used still go into town by bus to shop in Clanbrassil St. in the 1940s and up to the early 1950s.



And then there was the class thing, or Northside versus Southside. Public housing tended to be developed on the Northside, while private housing and commercial development tended to be on the Southside, though there were always pockets to prove the rule.

One such pocket, though not actually public housing, was Orwell Gardens, Rathgar, which on the dust jacket of Bob Quinn's book is described as a ghetto, implying relative poverty in the midst of plenty. It reminds me of people today referring to the DART accent on the basis of certain assumptions about class which are not borne out if you actually travel the line, as I have done regularly since the DART was invented, and long before.



I haven't actually read the book yet. I've only just become aware of it. But from Joe's presentation and his use of many illustrations from the book itself I know it's going to be a great read.

And while on the subject of illustrations, I was glad to see his extensive use of cartoons from Dublin Opinion. That publication is a serious repository of the nation's and the city's history, and the cartoon is now coming to the fore as a legitimate, and sometimes superior, source for many aspects of history. Cartoons are turning up in the most respectable of books these days. Long may this trend continue.

You can get a copy of Joe's book, as he puts it himself, in all good bookshops and, of course directly from Four Courts Press.



My three volumes

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