It could be a magnificent augmentation, to the already significant tourist value of Dublin’s beautiful Phoenix Park, but it currently languishes within the half sleep of near dereliction; I am of course referring to the Magazine Fort, which sits atop St Thomas’s Hill, next to the Island Bridge Gate, on the Liffey side of the park.
Like many Dubliners’, throughout my life, I have spent innumerable happy hours in and around the Phoenix Park. As a child, it was my playground and no doubt like many other lucky children with access to the park, we transformed it into many magical imaginary worlds, as we lost ourselves in play. As adults, no such imaginary transformations were required, as we could plainly see the park, for the beautiful natural wonderland which it was and continues to be. Full marks to the OPW (Office of Public Works) staff throughout the years, for maintaining this beautiful public amenity and indeed many other public parks in the Dublin area. However, from as far back as my recollection will go, the Magazine Fort has been locked off from public access and left to wallow in a sad, slow and progressive decline. Such has been it lengthy abandonment and accompanying decline that activities now occur, in regular proximity to it, which let’s say would never form part of any family entertainment (enough said).
You know, there is much to be done in our Ireland of today. Much of which, on a priority basis, needs massive public investment and expenditure e.g. homelessness and child deprivation would be two shameful facets of life in today’s Ireland, which immediately spring into my mind. Without question, such utter and urgent human need must be prioritised above much else and whatever be their manifestations and underlying causes, must be addressed without delay.
In life however, we oft-times are called upon, to attempt to carry out several things, at the same time. So many aspects of the mosaic of our lives, go to make up its quality. One such aspect being the wonderful heritage, in its manifest forms, which surrounds us and which far too many of us, can take for granted. The Phoenix Park’s Magazine Fort to me, is a prim example of our architectural heritage, in neglect.
The Magazine Fort was built in 1735 (281 years ago, at time of this writing). It stands on a vantage point site formerly occupied by Phoenix House, which in its time, was the residence of Sir Edward Fisher and had been built in 1611. Sir Edward Fisher, at that time, was Viceroy (or Deputy to the King of England). He had been charged with looking after the Kings affairs, in an Ireland which then, was ruled by and from, England.
So, both the Magazine Fort site and the current structure upon it, are hugely historic and hugely significant in terms of Irish national heritage and in my humble opinion, are more than worthy, of effective preservation and transformation into an accessible, educational, entertaining and enjoyable museum, of both military and perhaps, local social history. In fact, such a project, at that site, is way overdue.
It is said, that the longest journey, always starts with a first step. It is also said, that in relation to achieving anything, where there is a will; there is a way. Both truisms.
What we need right now, despite present economic circumstance, is for OPW Management to take a brave initiative. To formulate a plan of development for the Magazine Fort site, perhaps along similar lines to what I have just suggested. To take that plan to Government and to advocate for its part funding and completion, within a reasonable time frame.
Of course funding is likely to be challenging and perhaps to date, has been the singular reason, why this wonderful and most important historic site has languished, year after year, in almost derelict obscurity. We really do need to do something about this, before the structure becomes so unstable, as to crumble before our very eyes.
There are ways and means of funding such a project. There are literally thousands of Irish people out there, both at home and abroad (the latter being our famous diaspora) who, if they were made aware, of a well structured plan of restoration with a realistic timeline, would I believe be willing, in perhaps many ways, to support it, including funding.
Look, the women’s mini marathon took place today: 6th June 2016. Since inception, that great annual event has garnered, over its thirteen year existence, €200m for thirteen charities. Splendid work and congratulations to all organisers and participants. That amazing fund-raising effort amounts to €15m accumulated per year. I read somewhere lately that since inception 958,000 individuals have participated in those marathons. That means that €15.68 was raised per individual participant, over that period. If funding is the big hold back, then why can not something similar be done, in relation to a project to preserve and open for public and tourist enjoyment, the Magazine Fort site in the Phoenix Park.
We are all now well familiar with the concept of crowd funding. It’s almost as common today, as dish water. There is no reason, a cleverly thought out and incentivised international crowd funding programme could not be put together, to facilitate such a worthy project, as restoring the Magazine Fort. Perhaps, for example, on the basis of crowd donations the Government might consider agreeing to matching whatever funds may be generated and in a gesture of start-up good will, might even consider funding the first planning phase, of such a project. There is no question, that such a project would be good for employment, either voluntary of full-time, or both.
Having considered all of this, it is perfectly possible that there were, or are plans already somewhere, gathering dust in relation to such a project. It would of course be inconceivable, that no one previously would have considered the Magazine Forth, worthy of such preservation.
If plans for the Magazine Fort do exist, I believe it is now time to revisit such plans and if they don’t exist, it is certainly past time to draft them and get on with the important work of bringing back to life a hugely important heritage site, for the education and enjoyment of our present and future generations of Irish citizens and for our tourist guests, alike.
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