There have been plans for a major regeneration of Thomas Street for a number of years now. Dublin City Council, in conjunction with the Dublin Civic Trust, had produced a document in 2009 whereby it identified the area as a special ‘Architectural Conservation Area’. Dublin City Council were supportive of regeneration plans but to date, little or no further direct action seems to have occurred. We look into what plans exist and progress to date.
Also included is a brief history of Thomas Street, historic buildings in the area and recommendations of a Dublin City Trust report on the area, which found that there is great potential of Thomas street to develop into an economic and historical hub in Dublin City Centre
The History of Thomas Street
Thomas Street is one of the oldest areas in Dublin with evidence of settlements from early Christian and Viking times. The river Liffey played an important role in the establishment of Dublin City Center and Thomas street. The area acted as a connection point and linked early Irish monastic settlements and provincial kingdoms. During the reign of King Henry II in the 12th Century, lands were allocated to build the Augustinian Monastery of Saint Thomas. The development which followed became known as “The Liberties”.
In the late 17th century the area prospered with the development of a silk and weaving trade. Huguenot immigration also increased around this time and peaked in the early 1800’s. This period of prosperity ended and the area went into decline. In the 19th century the brewing and distilling sector brought new energy to the area. The Iveagh Market was built on the site of the Sweetman Brewery in 1902 by Sir Cecil Guinness, director of the Iveagh Trust This building is a fine example of a prominent Victorian structure.
The most recognised company to operate from the Liberties is the world renowned drinks manufacturer Guinness. The company was established in 1759 and took out a 9,000 year lease on St James’s Gate Brewery from where it has operated to this day.
Robert Emmet leader of the failed 1803 rebellion was famously hung on outside St.Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street on the 20th of September of the same year.
Thomas Street Today
The history of Thomas Street and the Liberties can been seen today in its historic building stock. Below are a list of historic buildings on Thomas Street and surrounding areas.
Church of St. Nicholas of Myra, Frances Street – Mid 18th century
Classical Church of St. Catherine, Thomas Street – Late 18th century
Classical Church of St. Augustine and John, Thomas Street – Mid 19th century, Victorian/Gothic
Church of St Catherine, Meath Street, Thomas Street – Mid 19th century, Victorian/Gothic
The earliest buildings on Thomas Street which are still standing date back to the 18th Century (No’s 20, 21 and 55). These houses are amongst the oldest historic buildings in this part of Dublin City Centre. Examples of 19th century historic buildings can be found at No. 119 Thomas Street, built in a typical Venetian style with monumental arches of machine-made brick. No. 79 and 109 Thomas Street are more restrained examples of Victorian architecture, while the former Webb and Co. building built on Cornmarket in 1870 was far more extravagant, built in the Italianate style.
Thomas Street – Architectural Conservation Area
Thomas street was designated as an Architectural Conservation Area in a policy document produced by the Dublin Civic Trust in 2009. A further study was completed by the trust which included regeneration proposals for the area (details below).
Recommendations of the Report
The idea behind the regeneration of Thomas Street is to improve the area as a retail and tourist destination, while restoring the historic heritage of the area. This will be achieved in a number of ways:
- By stimulating the restoration of the historic sites and old buildings through information and grant assistance, and collaboration with private and business owners.
- Improving the public areas by widening pavements, planting trees, and reworking the current motorway like high street by removing the central median to improve the pedestrian experience.
- Control shop signage on the street and issue guidelines to patrons on how to best present their offerings to the benefit of the wider streetscape.
- Manage the current retail offering under a Thomas Street Business Improvement District, this body will coordinate the uses and presentation of the shops and build a brand for the area.
- Encourage the development of a design quarter by harnessing the creative energies of NCAD (National College of Art and Design) and the antique and arts area of Frances Street.
- Develop the East-West cultural trail with a focus on Thomas Street and its rich history.