There was broad welcome in the community last week as it emerged that the Guinness family had invoked a reversion clause in the original deed of conveyance to the Iveagh Market on Francis Street, returning the building to the ownership of Edward Guinness, the fourth Earl of Iveagh. Lord Iveagh’s ancestor, Edward Cecil Guinness, was responsible for the development of the market in the early 1900s as part of a wider regeneration of a large part of The Liberties, including what we now know as Iveagh Buildings and St Patrick’s Park.
When the Iveagh Market was built in 1906, it was handed over to Dublin Corporation (as the City Council was then known) on a 99-year lease to be managed as a public marketplace. The market included a Wet Market, selling food stuffs, and a Dry Market, selling clothes and household items. The Iveagh Market remained in use right up to the early 1990s, when it was closed after a period of decline. Seeking new investment in the property, it was sold by Dublin Corporation in 1996 to a company led by businessman Martin Keane with plans to refurbish the market and develop hotels, restaurants and a craft brewery on the site.
After initial difficulties with the Guinness family, planning permission for the site was brought forward in 2006 and approved in 2008. An €80m+ development was proposed, billed as “Dublin’s Covent Garden”, which also included the former Mother Redcaps /Winstanley Factory on Back Lane, some houses on John Dillon Street and an internal site alonsgide the main Market Hall.
However, with the onset of the economic crash the plans were put on hold. The original planning permission was extended in 2014 however, despite various promises from Mr Keane that work was to start, the scheme came no closer to being realised. Meanwhile the building itself fell into severe delapidation. The floor has been removed as part of archaeological excavations and plans to create a basement, the ornate cast iron balconies and uprights began to decay, the roof became compromised and the absence of maintenance of the exterior of the site saw it become an ailing eyesore.
In 2018, the planning permission for the site lapsed. Dublin city councillors called for the property to return to the control of Dublin City Council. The Council itself commissioned a study of the building to assess its condition and found there was widespread damage to historic fabric owing to years of neglect. The report estimated that it would take in excess of €13m to bring the building back from the brink to a basic condition.
Despite moves initiated by Dublin City Council in 2019 to take back the building, Mr Keane ploughed ahead with a new planning application for the building, along similar lines to his original failed plan. However, in January 2020 Dublin City Council invalidated the application and cut further discussion with Mr Keane. The matter had proceeded to court in recent months as Mr Keane fought the Council’s efforts to retake the building.
The involvement of the Guinness family now brings a much-needed change of dynamic to the saga. Representatives for the Earl of Iveagh report that plans are advancing with architects engaged to develop proposals for the building “more in keeping with the plans of the first Earl”. Peter Smithwick, a representative for the Guinness family, noted that due to the continuing controversy of the past 20 years, “a fine Edwardian building in the heart of the Liberties area of old Dublin has remained idle and concealed with the resultant utter destruction and dereliction”.
Lord Iveagh has suggested that firmer proposals for the building will be made in summer 2021. The ailing Mother Redcaps site on Back Lane and two derelict cottages on John Dillon Street remain in the ownership of Mr Keane and are unaffected by the recent developments.