Hill Street Views: The fight goes on for the soul of Dundalk's St Nicholas Quarter

Opinion, views and commentary from former Democrat editor David Lynch

David Lynch

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David Lynch

Hill Street Views: The fight goes on for the soul of Dundalk's St Nicholas Quarter

In September of last year Anthony O’Hagan contacted the Democrat to enquire about submitting a short, picture-led article.

Anthony, for those who don’t know him, is a well-known fountain of historical knowledge on all things Dundalk.

If there’s a piece of local trivia you’ve drawn a blank on, Anthony’s your man.

Between himself and our own Peter Kavanagh, if there’s something they can’t answer, then it simply mustn’t have happened.

Anthony’s article would be printed in the following edition and was headlined: ‘Bridge Street remains very much the lower end of Dundalk’.

The pictures he supplied – taken in the weeks leading up to submission - seemed to very much back up that rather dispiriting headline.

In several of the pictures, a very clear demarcation is visible. On one side there’s freshly laid, black tarmac, with clear yellow road markings.

On the other side, older, greying tarmac, pocked by discoloured and uneven bumps from previous works on the road over the years.

The fresh tarmac signalled the end of the Clanbrassil Street regeneration programme whichwas completed earlier in 2020. Thereafter, Bridge Street returned to its more rundown nature.

Anthony wrote towards the end of his piece: “Bridge Street… in spite of having many good houses and shops, behind the painted smile of the magnificent mural of Brigid, Goddess/Saint is still very much burdened and filthified.”

The “burdened and filthified” line was a reference to the quote which Anthony opened his article with:
“Dundalk contains some good shops, and many good or tolerable houses, yet it is far from having an attractive interior, and is burdened and filthified, as much as not a few second-rate Irish towns.”

The above comes from the The Parliamentary Gazetteer or Ireland, published around 1846.

The short reference to Dundalk makes up just a small part of an immense 2000-page tome which “presents in considerable detail a country on the cusp of huge and irrevocable administrative and social change”.

That approaching “huge” change would in part be The Great Famine, which was already starting to cut untold trauma into the Irish psyche. But also the ensuing and accompanying political unrest, simmering in the country.

From 1846 to today it’s clear to see that, despite everything else that changed in the town, county and land, only limited progress has occurred were Bridge Street is concerned.

Anthony’s photographs paint a relentlessly grim picture of an important street, in a large town in 21st century Ireland.

Boarded-up and paint-faded shop fronts with grass and other weeds growing ever higher, abound in Anthony’s images.

It should be a great source of shame on everyone who ever had any influence on this matter, that Bridge Street has remained thus for so long.

But, over the last number of years, there has been a concerted and driven campaign to achieve funding for Bridge Street – to continue that fresh black tarmac all the way to the old Newry Road bridge.

This campaign, let by prominent local businesspeople based in the area, was not lacking in passion or determination.

The calls for Bridge Street’s long overdue renaissance were growing louder.

The aforementioned regeneration of Clanbrassil Street – an excellent job, which has restored much pride in our town centre – should have included Bridge Street with it. But, alas, we were told the funds dried-up and the idea of a similar, modern streetscape for Bridge Street and its parallel, Linenhall Street, was mothballed once more.

There was, understandably, considerable anger at this. Yet again Bridge Street had been left behind.

In October 2019, in a plea to get public support for their cause, the local traders association were quoted in an article for this paper as saying “with every week, it’s (Bridge Street) falling into deeper dilapidation and disarray”.

This bleak picture of a continuing “decline of our neighbourhood” was presented to council and elected representatives that same week.

The next two years would see similar battles and frustrations, but last week, at long last, €7.49m in Urban Regeneration and Development Funding was finally allocated to Bridge Street, Linenhall Street, and the St Nicholas Quarter.

There has been considerable and pained expressions of dissatisfaction from Drogheda this past week - their own Port Access/ Northern Cross Route was not included in the round of funding announced last week - and there may be very good merit in their unhappiness, but few can realistically suggest that Bridge Street and its environs is not a worthy and valid use of such funding right now.

The future looks a lot brighter for the Northend of the town. The €7.49m will go a long way towards making the area a more attractive sight and a far more promising proposition for prospective businesses; but there are plenty of vacant units along the street, and it will take a lot more than just external window dressing and freshly-paved footpaths and a gleaming new public realm to make it a real success.

The fight goes on for the soul of the St Nicholas Quarter.