An “Architectural” Tour of Ireland’s Drab and Featureless Buildings

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It is summer here in Ireland. At least, that is what they allege. You wouldn’t know it from looking out the window. And you could put it to a jury of Americans and hope for a successful verdict. With apologies to Mark Twain, the coldest winters we ever pass are always our summers in Ireland. Judged by the weather, rather than the calendar, we could be in Nebraska in February. It is cloudy, with winds and rain blowing intermittently. People go by, bundled up and shivering.

But we are not here to complain about the weather.

No, lads and lassies, we’re here to complain – about the architecture!

Beginning today, The Daily Reckoning will offer a new free service for national governments – a National Hotline. George…Tony…Vladimir…just call us. We’ll give you some advice; we guarantee it will be worth every penny you pay for it. And worth a lot more than the advice you get from your billion-dollar consultant cronies.

What really matters to most people, most of the time? Beyond the elemental conditions for a happy life – personal safety, shelter, and food to eat – and the intangible features of personal relationships, what really matters is the quality and convenience of things. What does your food taste like? When you look out your window, what do you see? How hard is it to get hold of a phone or to get across town?

Some of these things come to you from the hard work and careful attention of earlier generations. It has taken the French, for example, hundreds of years to perfect their cheeses and their wines. It took thousands of years to arrive at the architectural wonders you see all over Paris. For it was the Greeks who developed many of the key elements – the capitals, the columns, the harmony of vertical and horizontal forms…as well as the decorative details around windows, roofs, ceilings and so forth. Those designs were passed along, forgotten, rediscovered, embellished, modernized and put to use in the buildings you see all over Paris.

But there’s a certain amount of luck involved, too. Paris was lucky that it was not destroyed during WWII. Because practically all the post-WWII architecture in Europe is hideous – including parts of Paris itself. The city had the good fortune to be built when people still had the classical forms for reference and enough good taste to appreciate them.

Poor Ireland was not so lucky. While the French were building Paris, Ireland squirmed under the hard heel of Britain and the rude thumb of her own backwardness. The result is a heritage of drab, featureless buildings – even the old ones.

Travel writers are always looking for ways to make Dublin sound attractive. They refer to its large houses as “magnificent” or “handsome” Georgian houses. Only the Georgian part is true. They were built during the reign of one of England’s Georges – but they will not appeal to Americans, for they are plain on the outside and gaudy inside – just the opposite of the American character. Outside, only the doorways give a nod to the old Greek masters. The windows have no shutters and no framing. Stuck into holes in the dirty brick fronts, the result is depressing in bad weather, which, in Ireland, is almost all year round.

What Ireland once had, that saved it, was a rural, vernacular architecture that was charming and picturesque. Houses were built of stone, whitewashed, and covered with a thatch roof. But then, in modern times, the thatch gave way to tin and slate, while the whitewashed stone yielded to gray concrete. Now, the countryside is as depressing as the cities. Which is why, we read in today’s Irish Independent, the people who see the most of Ireland – the “travelers” – commit suicide three times more often than the typical paddy.

Nevertheless, we offer the following advice not for humanitarian reasons, but simply out of our own instinct of survival. We come to Ireland often. We travel too. And so we urge the Irish to encourage a return to the pre-war, Irish vernacular. Heck, they are trying to give the old Gaelic tongue a new wag; why not put a new look on Irish countryside houses? Put on some thatch. Whitewash the houses. And, oh yes, pray for global warming. It will be good for tourism. And the suicide rate will go down.

As for the city: Paint the Georgians, and put shutters on them. Shutters improve almost any dwelling. If they had put colorful shutters in Auschwitz, it would have jollied up the place and who knows? Maybe the gaudy shutters would have induced the Nazis to plant flowers rather than gypsies. So, all you micks and paddies…plant flowers. If you get enough forsythia blooming, people won’t notice the buildings.

Message to the Government of Ireland: Our hotlines are open. Operators are standing by. Call now.

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail The Daily Reckoning.
Bill Bonner

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Comments

  1. Shove a bunch of shutters on Georgian buildings?

    Methinks you are mad Sir.

    Reply
  2. Some fair comment in there but also some dubious nostalgia for the Ireland of “The Quiet Man”. Terrible isn’t it when quaint impoverished countries get a little bit richer and then spend it on less than tasteful stuff? Maybe we should learn from experts. Who would know that Georgian buildings have shutters on the INSIDE.

    Eoin Keating
    June 27, 2007
    Reply
  3. Thanks for the offer, but if your architectural wisdom is anything like your knowledge of the Irish Traveller situation, then I think we’ll be giving it a miss. “They’re called Travellers. So they must, like, travel all the time. I’ll make a joke out of that, so I will so I will. A joke about Suicide!”

    But what should we expect from someone who thinks nothing of making flippant gags about concentration camps?

    Here’s an idea: physician heal thyself.

    Reply
  4. And as for the comment about the thatch, many new houses around Ireland (particularly Wexford and Galway) are being thatched. The Government is trying to encourage it but, as you may expect, getting the insurance to cover it is quite difficult.

    Please research these things before writing an opinionated article about them.

    Amy O'Connor
    July 2, 2007
    Reply
  5. Irish houses may look ugly to your eyes, but who cares what your think. Most americans are obese or overweight and we dont keep reminding you of that.

    Weve been in Ireland since the ice age and we’ll be here for another 10,000 years, long after youve evolved into monkeys in the oppressive heat of Texas.

    ProudToBeIrish
    July 3, 2007
    Reply
  6. I found Mr Bonner’s articles on Ireland’s wealth and the one on Dublin/Irish archiecture to be gratuitously offensive and infantile. What evidence does he have that Irish wealth is fraudulent? Both articles were redolent of the anti-Irish bile found in 19th century English Tory rants.

    Jerry Kelleher
    October 16, 2007
    Reply
  7. A year later from the last post our apparent wealth over the last few years certainly looks more like so much trash and tinsel by the day.

    We’re robbing Nanas and Grandads of their medical cards in January. Can you say “Banana Republic”? I certainly can.

    Plenty of our shapeless and drab new boxes will be going empty for a few years yet.

    Newly Impoverished Irishman
    October 16, 2008
    Reply
  8. These comments on the aesthetics of the Irish man made landscape are a bit rich coming from an American born in Baltimore (watch a John Waters feature to get an idea of the hideous sprawl that stretches from NYC to the Virginia side of the Potomac) – The USA has an incredible natural realm but its cities & towns are sh*t ugly, admittedly not as hopelessly functional & unimaginitive as my home country Australia urban & suburban landscapes & the Aussie continental natural features are nothing to write home about either. Ireland is wet & grey cloudy, but its landscape is emerald green & it doesn’t have water restrictions, would have that any day over Baltimore or incessant cobolt blue sky, baking hot, parched, featureless, double brick & tin patio roof Australia!

    john hynds
    May 21, 2010
    Reply
  9. an old article from before I was reading here. What an ignorant @rse Bill Bonner is.

    Reply
  10. There are all sorts of country houses/estates in Ireland, the quality is so varied that it is hard to judge. I know some rippers and the odd feaux castle complete with ghosts. It is true that many in Dublin are not that grand in design but Dublin is more about public space and life. You don’t read Ullysses to savour the sweet narrative on the architecture. I’ve been in rough cottages down lanes that fed me with pots of potatoes and pots of life.

    And I disagree vehemently on his view of post WWII European architecture in terms of public buildings. If you compare the galleries of Europe to the US it is like chalk and cheese, even with the Guggenheim that while innovative as a viewing space it was a failure as a structure. It is nothing in comparison to my favourite at Moenchengladbach.

    Reply

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