Building for the future by preserving the past

With a growing focus on urban spaces and dereliction, Roisín Burke speaks with experts about how Cork compares with other cities and how it can be improved.
Building for the future by preserving the past

Frank O'Connor and Jude Sherry of anois.org design for the future pictured on John Redmond Street in front of the old Butter Exchange. Picture Dan Linehan

THERE is a growing sentiment that the heart of the city is intertwined with the heritage and culture of the urban hub, and the integrity of this must be protected.

City councillor Kieran McCarthy, said Cork, as a city is particularly photogenic.

“There are not a lot of high buildings in Cork, so there is a lot of light on the streets.”

Mr McCarthy said he thought because Cork is quite compact, buildings stand out more.

“There are a lot of buildings that bring a sense of place and an added value to an area.”

The city councillor and historian said there has been a wave of renovation projects but nothing consistent or on a large scale.

“There have been a handful of buildings renovated, but it’s the same few buildings,” he said.

The historian said for a long time, people weren’t encouraged to renovate but noted that the attitude and culture are shifting now.

“We are making changes, but we need to do a lot more. The impetus needs to be stronger.”

The city councillor said the issue of dereliction carried with it complex legal issues that slowed down the process, but he praised the increase in private-public partnerships where the council work with a developer to achieve a housing development to meet the needs of the community.

Mr McCarthy said the incentives for members of the public to renovate and revamp needed to be enhanced.

“There needs to be more resources made available to the public, they are not currently mainstream, the measures are separate and inefficient, there is no incentive really.”

As a city and as a nation, Mr McCarthy said we were “playing catch-up” and needed to get ahead of the curve.

“There is a vast chessboard of challenges in relation to this issue and we need to practically and seamlessly strategise and improve.”

Frank O’Connor and Judy Sherry of Anois Agency have been hitting headlines in recent weeks, months and even years, with their Dereliction Ireland campaign, highlighting and canvassing for stricter, tougher dereliction legislation which tackles the fundamental issue of leaving prime city centre properties to rot.

 Officially derelict - North Main Street, 62, 63, 64, 65 North Main Street are on the Derelict Sites Register (Declan Clancy receiver over certain assets of David O'Connor and Bryan O'Connor)
Officially derelict - North Main Street, 62, 63, 64, 65 North Main Street are on the Derelict Sites Register (Declan Clancy receiver over certain assets of David O'Connor and Bryan O'Connor)

Speaking to The Echo, Frank said while there has been progress and the issue is now a mainstream topic, there is much more to achieve.

Judy said since they began photographing vacant and derelict properties in the city, they have watched and witnessed the demise of a number of premises that could have been put to good use.

“Prevention is key,” Judy said, “we need to stop the gateway of vacancy leading to dereliction. It needs to be tackled at the source.”

The duo, who have travelled a considerable amount, said the rate of dereliction and vacant properties in Ireland was comparable to what they had seen in Cuba.

“It’s depressing to think people are unable to rent or have a place to live when there are empty homes going from vacant to derelict in the city, it doesn’t make sense,” Judy said.

Frank said dereliction in Ireland is underresearched and often misunderstood.

“Dereliction in the city centre can impact the mental health and wellbeing of its citizens, as well as the economy and tourism. The buildings of the city need to be protected.”

A recent renovation project undertaken by Cork City Council has been heralded as an example of what is possible in terms of renovating and restoring an integral part of the city’s landscape while also providing housing to those who need it most.

Before and after shots of the protected properties at 5 and 6 Shandon St which have been restored by Cork City Council as part of a housing regeneration project.
Before and after shots of the protected properties at 5 and 6 Shandon St which have been restored by Cork City Council as part of a housing regeneration project.

The council project on 5-6 Shandon Street/John Philpott Curran Street was used to create six new fully accessible apartment units for older people in two derelict 18th-century townhouses at the corner of Shandon Street and John Philpott Curran Street.

Before and after photographs of the protected properties at No 5 and 6 Shandon St which have been restored by Cork City Council as part of a housing regeneration project.
Before and after photographs of the protected properties at No 5 and 6 Shandon St which have been restored by Cork City Council as part of a housing regeneration project.

The sheltered housing project is said to have transformed the identity of an urban block in the historic Shandon quarter of the city from dereliction to active, fully habitable, energy-efficient accommodation for use by elderly members of the local community.

The city architect’s department and Housing Directorate worked to save and restore the handsome pair of gable-fronted early 18th century houses, with steeply pitched roofs facing onto Shandon Street, which was once common across the city and in other towns and cities, but now very rare.

This site is unique in that it is the only such corner site in the city.

Cork has the largest surviving numbers of these Dutch-influenced houses in Ireland, located principally along Shandon Street and other nearby streets. Cork City Council highlighted how the project demonstrated how four historic but derelict, badly deteriorating gabled houses could be restored to enhance the character of a well-established urban block, injecting a new lease of life in the form of six new fully accessible apartment units for the elderly.

The project carried a price tag of over €2.5m. Speaking to The Echo, City Architect Tony Duggan said living in the city, is not just convenient, it has additional sustainability and allows for a more comfortable lifestyle in a community setting.

“There is a cultural aspect to living in the city. The buildings are secondary to the people, but the environment has a knock on effect on the mood and look and feel of the area.”

Mr Duggan said when a city invests in the public realm, there is a positive knock on effect.

The architect said the council were placing more emphasis on brownfield sites in recent years, looking to renovate and rebuild the city.

Restoration project was a labour of love

A LABOUR of love is the only way to describe the Edwardian house restoration project a Cork family has been engrossed in for the past six years, bringing a vacant property back to life with style.

Edwardian home 2021
Edwardian home 2021

Danielle O’Donovan, who bought the property in St Luke’s along with her husband Fiacre, said the property was in “a bad state” when they took it on with the original three-story building chopped up into one bed apartments with facilities, such as a kitchen and toilet on each floor.

“There were so many surprises,” Danielle said.

Original garden Danielle O’Donovan, who bought the property in St Luke's along with her husband Fiacre, said the property was in “a bad state” when they took it on with the original three story building chopped up into one bed apartments with facilities, such as a kitchen and toilet on each floor.
Original garden Danielle O’Donovan, who bought the property in St Luke's along with her husband Fiacre, said the property was in “a bad state” when they took it on with the original three story building chopped up into one bed apartments with facilities, such as a kitchen and toilet on each floor.

The pair have spent a great deal of time over the past five to six years working on the building, returning it to its former glory with some modern flair.

“In Dublin, you see these beautiful historic buildings that sell for something like €600,000 to €1m and it’s just not affordable, but here in Cork, it’s possible to have a beautiful Edwardian property.

“There are some incredible buildings in Cork.”

Revamped garden Danielle O’Donovan, who bought the property in St Luke's along with her husband Fiacre, said the property was in “a bad state” when they took it on with the original three story building chopped up into one bed apartments with facilities, such as a kitchen and toilet on each floor.
Revamped garden Danielle O’Donovan, who bought the property in St Luke's along with her husband Fiacre, said the property was in “a bad state” when they took it on with the original three story building chopped up into one bed apartments with facilities, such as a kitchen and toilet on each floor.

Danielle said the purchase process was slow and stressful, but the minute they got the keys, Fiacre got stuck into stripping the building, putting in long hours and learning a lot of DIY in the process.

“The hardest thing for me was the dust and the mess, you couldn’t keep the house clean, there were builders coming and going and the dirt got in everywhere.”

For Fiacre, he said the logistics of renovating a terrace house came with a lot of practical headaches around access points and early morning or late evening deliveries of supplies.

Revamped office
Revamped office

Despite the problems, both Fiacre and Danielle are delighted with the (almost) finished result.

“All the work has made me appreciate the restored building a lot more,” Danielle said.

Early 19th-century building restored by Simon

AN early 19th-century building (1860's) was restored and renovated by the homeless charity Cork Simon after the building was gifted to the organisation in 2016.

Cork Simon's Flagship project, The St Joachim and Anne’s building on Anglesea Street now housing eight one-bed apartments for people who have experienced longterm homelessness.
Cork Simon's Flagship project, The St Joachim and Anne’s building on Anglesea Street now housing eight one-bed apartments for people who have experienced longterm homelessness.

Speaking to The Echo, Cork Simon spokesperson Paul Sheehan said the project was not without complication, but the prime location of the premises of the St Joachim and Anne’s building on Anglesea Street was an invaluable commodity and with the beautiful building was a joy to behold with the restoration project also enhancing the local area.

Speaking to The Echo, Cork Simon spokesperson Paul Sheehan said the project was not without complication, but the prime location of the premises of the St Joachim and Anne’s building on Anglesea Street was an invaluable commodity and with the beautiful building was a joy to behold with the restoration project also enhancing the local area.
Speaking to The Echo, Cork Simon spokesperson Paul Sheehan said the project was not without complication, but the prime location of the premises of the St Joachim and Anne’s building on Anglesea Street was an invaluable commodity and with the beautiful building was a joy to behold with the restoration project also enhancing the local area.

Mr Sheehan outlined the project, which cost more than €2m to complete. It was led by de Suin Architects with construction carried out by HG Construction and funding was provided by the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS).

The finished project saw the development of eight one-bed apartments within the protected building, right in the heart of the city, where people who have experienced long term homelessness can enjoy independent living assisted by conveniently close supports.

“It’s important that access to services is available to anyone who might need them and that was one of the considerations when we took on the building,” Mr Sheehan said.

The apartments are made up of two small rooms that had at one time been a residential care home, a self-catering home for elderly women and an asylum for ‘distressed females’.
The apartments are made up of two small rooms that had at one time been a residential care home, a self-catering home for elderly women and an asylum for ‘distressed females’.

The apartments are made up of two small rooms that had at one time been a residential care home, a self-catering home for elderly women and an asylum for ‘distressed females’.

The upper floors are connected to the ground floor by a wooden spiral staircase which was preserved. As well as this, each apartment has a fireplace that is part of the original building along with the period windows. 

Mr Sheehan said the location of the building was an important aspect of the project.

“We wouldn’t have been able to acquire a site in the city for this project. It wouldn’t have been possible.”

Mr Sheehan outlined the project, which cost more than €2m to complete. It was led by de Suin Architects with construction carried out by HG Construction and funding was provided by the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS).
Mr Sheehan outlined the project, which cost more than €2m to complete. It was led by de Suin Architects with construction carried out by HG Construction and funding was provided by the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS).

Mr Sheehan described the building as iconic and said the design has allowed for safe, secure, housing in the city centre for people who really need it.

The Cork Simon spokesperson said it was a flagship project that showed what could be achieved.

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