Sarah Harford visits the historic site and asks what the redevelopment may mean for the local area.
After years of planning, redevelopment works at the Dun Laoghaire baths are finally due to commence this summer.
“We’re hoping that work will start June or July of this year,” said Councillor Cormac Devlin, Cathaoirleach of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.
“There was a slight delay,” the Fianna Fáil councillor told The City. “It was meant to be March but things got pushed out for a number of reasons.”
“Any work along the seafront in Ireland has to get permission for the foreshore licence. Then the concepts that went out on public display, while they were overwhelmingly supported by the public, the detailed drawings could only be done once approval was given by the councillors.”
“So it’s taken quite some time, but now that it’s all done I’m hopeful that work will begin at the start of this summer.”
The current plans for the baths site, which has been derelict for almost 20 years, were first unveiled in March 2015.
These plans involve renovating the existing main building into a studio, gallery, cafe, and public toilets. It will also include filling in the pools outside to create a new park and walkway connecting the East Pier to the pedestrian area at Newtownsmith.
A small jetty will be built to provide better swimming and watersports access in Dun Laoghaire – a part of the plan which Cllr Devlin is particularly supportive of.
“This will open up the sea area, so Scotsman’s Bay becomes almost a paddling pool for people who wish to swim or bring down a kayak. We have been very cut off even though we’re right beside the sea, so hopefully a public jetty will encourage more people to use the seafront and I’m looking forward to that element.”
“There’s a lot to it,” said Devlin. “I think it’s an exciting plan, and I have no doubt that it will be very popular with those in the area.”
Exploring the plans for the baths. Video by Sarah Harford
The current plans were approved by the Department of the Environment in November 2015. However, there have been other attempts to redevelop the site since the baths closed in 1997.
In 2005, there was a €140 million plan to build apartments and retail units on the Queen’s Road site. This proposal to privatise the site was rejected after strong opposition from the public.
A €20 million plan was then proposed in 2010 which would have retained the public pool area, but this was revised due to the cost.
The baths site has been derelict since its closure in 1997. Images by Sarah Harford
Local group Save Our Seafront, which was founded by TD Richard Boyd Barrett, has been campaigning for the restoration of the Dun Laoghaire baths since 2002.
The group have said that they welcome the current development plans, but “regret the omission of the swimming baths requested by the public.”
Councillor Cormac Devlin admitted that money was the issue here.
“There’s no swimming facility which is a downside, but the cost for putting in another baths was €20 million,” he said. “This plan will cost €2.5 million so that’s a big difference. I’d love to have a swimming facility, but for now the price was too much.”
“From my view, as somebody who lives locally as well, I wanted to ensure that it remained a public area. I ultimately think that’s the best part of this plan.”
While the baths project has experienced many delays, other parts of Dun Laoghaire’s seafront have been redeveloped in recent years, including a refurbishment of the People’s Park, the Metals walkway, and the €36 million Lexicon library.
But the baths have been a prominent feature of the town’s seafront for over a century, and so this project is of particular importance to the local area.
“It’s a very significant site in the area historically,” said Devlin. “But it’s not only the immediate area who will benefit, I think the seafront in Dun Laoghaire is a huge attraction to so many from all parts of Dublin and even further afield.”
“This plan will open up the seafront more both for walkers and cyclists, and I think it’s going to be a big benefit for the area. Plus the economic benefits for the town. As people are attracted to walk along the coast, hopefully they’ll be encouraged to walk up to the town and have a bite to eat too.
“It’s going to finish off the seafront. It’s certainly needed, and it’ll certainly be welcomed by the locals.”
The Royal Victoria Baths were originally constructed in 1843 in Kingstown, as Dun Laoghaire was then named. They were rebuilt in 1908 by Kingstown Urban District Council and the public swimming facilities attracted visitors to the town.
Many changes were made over the years – in 1970 heated indoor pools were added to the main pavilion building, and in the 1980s the Rainbow Rapids waterslides were opened on the site.
However, in 1997 the baths were closed after a proposal to build a larger water complex on the site fell through. The structure fell into disrepair in the years that followed.
The baths are situated directly across the road from Teddy’s ice cream parlour and the People’s Park. This makes it a busy area, especially on Sundays when the park hosts its weekly market.
The council are hopeful that when development work is completed, currently planned for 2018 or early 2019, the baths building will be able to welcome people once again, with new facilities to enhance the already popular area.
“I think this is the final piece of the puzzle along the seafront of Dun Laoghaire,” said Councillor Cormac Devlin.