As the Irish economy took off in the early 1960s, an alliance of property developers and politicians set about dismantling Dublin's architectural heritage. The city's elegant Georgian streetscapes and squares - built during the eighteenth century under British rule - were a particular target of those who, for reasons of profit or misplaced nationalism, south to replace them with modern office blocks. Probably the best known example of this trend was the violation of the famous 'Georgian Mile' stretching from Leeson Street down to Holles Street Hospital. In September 1964, the government ordered the demolition of sixteen of the houses along this unique vista and their replacement with a new headquarters for the Electricity Supply Board. There were opposing voices, however. Among them was a Dublin City architect, Daithi Hanly.
Hanly was the senior official responsible for all public housing and civic architecture in the capital. He was not opposed to modernisation but he hated the senseless destruction of historically-important buildings. In 1961, at his own expense, he rescued the granite blocks of the old Abbey Theatre from the demolisher's skip in the hope that they might be used one day in the construction of a museum to honour the national theatre. So when the Georgian Mile was threatened with partial demolition, Hanly made his opposition clear in a report to Dublin Corporation. He offered examples from Cologne and Boston to show that a policy combining conservation and development could enhance the prestige and value of a great city. His report was ignored and the eradication of much of Dublin's architectural splendour continued through the rest of the decade.
Daithi Hanly began his career as an architect in the 1940's and made a name for himself with his winning design for what became, twenty years later, the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square. He became Dublin City architect in 1959. There, he resisted what he considered to be bad planning decisions by the powers-that-be. These included the new civic offices at Wood Quay which he believed should have been built further down river where they would not obscure views of Christ Church catherdral. He also foresaw the social problems that would arise as a result of the government's decision to build a high-rise complex in Ballymun. He resigned from the Corporation in 1965 and moved back into private practice. During the 1970's Hanly designed two of the country's largest enclosed public spaces; the basilica at Knock Shrine in County Mayo and the Simmonscourt Pavilion in Ballsbridge.
Daithi Hanly's commitment to architectural conservation never waned. He was a key figure in the preservation and restoration of Tailors' Hall, an early-eighteenth-century landmark in Dublin's Liberties that became the headquarters of An Taisce, Ireland's National Trust. He died in his home on June 27th 2003.
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