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A potted history of Busarus and Government indecision.

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Old Blarney

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I found this on the Internet and hope it may be of interest to others who read this article!.


Original Article - History of Ireland







Fifty years of Busáras


Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 2 (Summer 2003), Volume 11


Busáras-view of the curved canopy and control room. (de Burgh Galwey)


In the late 1930s the general public in Dublin had been agitating through the newspapers for better transport facilities, specifically the provision of bus shelters along the quays where long-distance passengers caught their buses. In 1937 the Irish Builder and Engineer suggested that a central bus station be constructed on the bonding warehouse site next to the disused and abandoned Custom House dock. The 1939 ‘Sketch Development Plan for County Borough of Dublin and Neighbourhood’ also proposed a central bus station, but at Aston Quay on the McBirney’s department store site, keeping the original building frontages. It also recommended that a site be put aside at Wood Quay for a future station as needs might change. In early 1944 the decision was taken to build a bus station. The site was to be central, convenient to rail, sea and road arteries, and near the Liffey. Four sites were considered: Store Street, Aston Quay, Wood Quay, and Haymarket, Smithfield. The Irish Omnibus Company selected Store Street, the cheapest and easiest site to acquire and bounded on two sides by roads. By opening up a new road and bridge to the east of the Custom House, the site was to be made into an island, easing traffic circulation. The site was also close to Amiens Street railway station, which was to be the new central railway station as proposed by Abercrombie, and the B & I ferry terminal to Britain on the North Wall, as well as the local bus routes. The area was the focus of most of the traffic coming into the city from the north of Ireland. Dublin Corporation, however, favoured Aston Quay, with a second station at Wood Quay, while the government preferred Smithfield.


Córas Iompar Éireann


The bus company went ahead and bought the Store Street site from the Dublin Port and Docks Board for £13,000. The architect Michael Scott had been holding informal discussions with the Irish Omnibus Company since May 1944. In early 1945 he produced a plan for a two-storey circular bus station for the newly formed Córas Iompar Éireann (CIÉ), with a concourse on the ground floor and a restaurant, booking offices, newsreel cinema and other facilities on the first floor. This was granted outline planning permission and the old bonding store was quickly demolished and part of the dock filled in. CIÉ promised the travelling public that the station would be open within twelve months. But in early 1946, after no progress had been made, Dublin Corporation revealed that CIÉ had still not submitted detailed plans for the site.

A new plan was then submitted, with four storeys instead of two. CIÉ had intended to extend their existing O’Connell Street offices and to amalgamate their administration. Their offices were scattered all over Dublin at the old regional railway company headquarters. On examination the O’Connell Street property was deemed unsuitable for extension, and so the extra office space was added to the bus station design. Thus the building developed into the final design concept of two blocks in an ‘L’ shape with a curving station in between.

On 3 October 1946 the Irish Times printed a photomontage of the Custom House and the proposed new building on its front page. This showed a massive block looming over the Custom House and purported to be derived from the elevations and plans submitted to the Corporation. Scott retaliated by initiating legal proceedings against the newspaper, claiming damages for libel on the grounds that the montage had completely misrepresented his design. After a lot of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Scott finally got an apology in April 1947 plus costs. Under the agreement, the glass plate from which the photomontage was printed was broken into several pieces and handed over to Scott so that it could never be reproduced. At the time of the picture’s publication, considerable fuss was made over the fact that the new building was to be much taller than the Custom House. The Irish Times was leading the opposition against the building and claimed that the exterior façades were ‘more suitable for a factory than for a public building beside the Custom House’. The Corporation planning committee postponed their decision until they could take advice from the Royal Hibernian Academy and other interested bodies.

After finalising the design for the building, CIÉ submitted the plans for permission to commence construction but were refused by a narrow majority of the planning committee. They then went to appeal, resubmitting their proposal to the general purposes committee of the Corporation. It was passed narrowly on condition that stylistic changes be made. Originally the office accommodation was to consist of one eight-storey block at the rear of the site, mounted on a two-storey bus station podium. However, the length of the city’s fire ladders and rights of light on Store Street dictated that the main block’s height be lowered by two storeys and that the accommodation be placed in a three-storey block at 90 degrees to the other block. Controversy reigned, with the newspapers declaring that the new building would create too much cross-town traffic, causing problems on the quays.

Even at this early stage the design was arousing interest in the architectural world. In July 1947 Architectural Design stated that ‘by the time it is finished, it can easily claim to be one of the masterpieces of modern architecture judging by the sketches and descriptions received to date’.


Inter-party government halts work


No sooner had building work started than CIÉ began to experience serious financial difficulties, suffering losses of over one million pounds in 1947. Consequently it became a common opinion that the building was a white elephant and a folly for a cash-strapped company. So when the general election of 4 February 1948 brought in a new inter-party government led by John A. Costello, it was decided not to proceed with the project in its original form and work was halted.

The new government decided that the office accommodation was too prestigious for a transport company and that it should be appropriated for use as government office space.

Edited by Old Blarney
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Fifty years of Busáras.


The photomontage of what the Irish Times claimed the new bus station would look like and architect Michael Scott's sketch suggesting misrepresentation. The solid lines of the actual plans are contrasted with the dotted lines of the higher Irish Times version. In April 1947 Scott got an apology and costs.rnment preferred Smithfield.

The photomontage of what the Irish Times claimed the new bus station would look like and architect Michael Scott’s sketch suggesting misrepresentation. The solid lines of the actual plans are contrasted with the dotted lines of the higher Irish Times version. In April 1947 Scott got an apology and costs.rnment preferred Smithfield.


McGilligan, the minister for finance, stated that although the government had been unable to stop the project, it hoped to turn it to some useful purpose. It was felt that the building was very much a monument to the previous Fianna Fáil government and it was resented as such by the new administration. The Irish Times was not impressed:


‘It seems not quite credible that political cynicism and irresponsibility could be such that plans, however good, are being cancelled or changed merely because, having been instigated by Fianna Fáil, there is a reluctance on the part of this government to see them come to fruition.’


Various suggestions were put forward for the building’s alternative use: Garda headquarters; the Department of Posts and Telegraphs; a Rank film studio; or a Radio Éireann studio. Then in early September 1949 it was suggested as a headquarters for the new Department of Social Welfare and the Tánaiste’s office. It was also proposed to use the ground floor as a women’s unemployment exchange with space for over 500 people.

In fact CIÉ’s board had already decided that they did not urgently need the office space. This was partly due to their perilous financial state—CIÉ now owed the government over three-quarters of a million pounds. The building had so far cost £250,000 and it was estimated that it would cost another £750,000 to fit out and complete. So it was decided to sell the building to the state for £200,000 for a use still to be decided.


Map showing new roads in the vicinity of Store Street. (Hibernia)

Map showing new roads in the vicinity of Store Street. (Hibernia)


CIÉ were to abandon their new ‘luxury bus station’, as the Irish Times insisted on calling it, and build a utilitarian structure in Smithfield with no provision ‘for the luxury of a refreshment bar, cinema and shops as was included in the Store Street plan’.

Getting rid of their financial millstone did not end CIÉ’s problems. At the Dublin Corporation meeting of 19 September 1949, their planning submission for Smithfield was referred to a special committee meeting of the whole house as several councillors were vehemently opposed to the Smithfield site and government interference. At the same meeting it was suggested that the Corporation buy the partially built Store Street building and convert it into flats. On 22 October, at a special meeting, CIÉ informed the Corporation that they had definitely abandoned the Store Street project.

At the same time the government decided to nationalise CIÉ in a bid to gain some financial control over a company that was generally seen as profligate. On 26 October 1949, during the second reading of the Transport Bill, the minister for industry and commerce stated that the need for a central bus station in Dublin was unquestionable but that there was no need for CIÉ to build five storeys of offices above it. The bill was passed, and CIÉ became a state company on 1 January 1950.

The government attempt to force through the Smithfield option on the grounds of finance was drawing criticism from all sides. During the debate on the Transport Money Bill, Fianna Fáil’s Seán Lemass launched a blistering attack on the concept:


‘The public very strongly recognised the need of a central bus station near the main shopping centre and he refused to accept the belief that the completion cost of the bus terminus part of the building would be £250,000. I think that the suggestion of establishing the station at Smithfield is mad.’


He went on to state that the Smithfield site would be unusable without major expenditure on street-widening schemes in the area—a point that both the government and CIÉ had glossed over. In support of Lemass, Captain Cowan, an independent TD, stated that it was a grave mistake to suggest that the ground floor of the building was useful as anything other than a bus station—the purpose for which it was designed. Then, for the first time, the aesthetics of the building entered the political debate, when he said that he had been informed of the architectural importance of the building, with architects travelling from all over Europe to see it.

Taoiseach John A. Costello then announced that the Department of Social Welfare was to purchase the premises. After the Christmas recess the matter continued to be debated in the Dáil. Morrissey, minister for transport and communications, went on record as saying that the building was to be put to a use for which it was better suited, as the Department of Social Welfare—an unusual claim since it was designed as a bus station. Throughout the Dáil debates, the Fianna Fáil opposition defended the building and the CIÉ plan despite preferring the Smithfield site while in government themselves, using the building as a political stick with which to beat the government.


‘A monument of civic ineptitude’


Meanwhile, outside of the Dáil, the two sides put forward their arguments. The Smithfield traders attempted to swing the discussion by advocating the revitalisation of their area, an argument also put forward by the Talbot Street traders. By March the building was being described as ‘a monument of civic ineptitude’. When the Transport Bill reached the Senate the senators were no less forthcoming with their theories and views than the TDs, the majority of them deploring it. The government’s main argument for abandonment had always been cost. Claims were now made that 106 families would have to be rehoused, and that road-widening and moving of services would cost £300,000. Morrissey then declared that ‘as far as the CIÉ company is concerned Store Street is out’. He also railed against the newspapers, particularly the Irish Times and the Irish Press, which he felt were giving too much credence to the opposition’s claims about the building.

Tánaiste Norton continued to insist that the entire building was needed for his staff and department. The Irish Times editorial of the next day (21 April 1950) slammed Minister Morrissey’s and Tánaiste Norton’s desire to get Store Street for the Department of Social Welfare, pointing out that as CIÉ was a nationalised state-owned company it didn’t matter who finished the project, as the country was going to have to foot the bill anyway. This was the first statement of common sense to be issued by anybody since the debate started but very few paid any attention to it. The Irish Times was still widely seen as an instrument of Protestant Ireland and was mistrusted by the majority. The Irish Press, although a mouthpiece for Fianna Fáil, was seen as the voice of the common people and it also advocated completion of the building as a bus station. This added fuel to the fire that already raged about the building, with a considerable letter campaign being waged in the Irish Times.

Architects travelled from all over Europe to see this marvellous building that was causing such furore, with one intrepid traveller, Robin Boyd, coming from Sydney, Australia. Boyd was the editor of the journal of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and was very enthusiastic about the building: ‘Even in its unfinished state this building is clearly destined to be a distinguished contribution to the development of imaginative modern architecture. It has the scale and vigour and breath of vision so lacking in much of the dull heavy work of post-war Europe’. Such was the campaign against the building at this stage that when this letter complimenting the Irish on their architectural daring and forward thinking was published, another correspondent two days later asked him not to meddle in things that were not his concern and to go back to Australia!

As the first construction contract was finished, work had been halted since 1948 and the discussion upon the merits, both artistic and otherwise, of the building continued to rage. People espousing various other causes used the building as a rallying cry with their own aims in mind.


Michael Scott at his drawing board in the 1950s.


One letter-writer to the Irish Times cited the concrete structure in an argument in favour of concreting the Rock Road along the south coast. Another used the proposed Portland stone cladding to raise the profile of Ireland’s limestone and granite quarries, then threatened with closure.

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Backing of Irish artists


The artist Louis le Brocquy was involved in a lengthy correspondence with a certain John Manning on the subject. Le Brocquy, who was a supporter of the building as well as a friend of Scott, seemed to be taking an alarmist tone, perhaps to galvanise the cultural élite of Dublin in defence of the building. Throughout the summer of 1950 letters were published in the national newspapers from people like Uinseann Mac Eoin, Barney Heron, the Arts Association of Ireland and the Irish Exhibition of Living Art. These groups took the side of the building in a public and at times acrimonious debate in the letters page of the Irish Times. While the Irish arts sector rowed in behind Scott, most of them were friends or colleagues of his, and so would be expected to back him anyway.

In September 1950 the magazine Hibernia published an article reviewing the debate and the history of the building in an attempt to explain the situation. It included interviews with people involved with design and architecture from outside the state. Sydney Kelly ARIBA ARIAI, who was co-author with Patrick Abercrombie of the 1939 planning report for the city of Dublin, wrote from Australia:


‘It is a public scandal of the first magnitude to convert the Store Street structure to any other purpose than that for which it was intended. I consider this structure one of the finest contemporary buildings in Europe, admirably suited for a bus terminal and one that could not be converted adequately for any other purpose as it was designed to handle the problem of heavy traffic in a capital city. It could only be suitably used for that purpose.’


As those involved in the design and architectural professions all declared their views on how great the building was, the public—or at least the letter-writing section of it—declared its opposition. One hardy soul, writing as ‘Viator’, claimed that he did not want a bus station with toilets, shops and other luxuries, even if it was an architectural triumph; a small station in Smithfield would do just as well as long as he got to his destination.


Myles na Gopaleen’s ‘bust station’


The building and its attendant controversy started to become the butt of Dublin humour. Myles na Gopaleen (Brian O’Nolan, alias Flann O’Brien, who was a friend of Scott’s) suggested to Scott that if it became a women’s unemployment exchange he could always call it the ‘bust station’. John Manning submitted a short poem on the discussion:


‘Shame that our nation,

Should submit this unique building to serious structural alteration,

Yet one shouldn’t be too solemn,

Over the change in the function of a reinforced concrete column.’


However, in the midst of all this public discussion the Corporation planning department gave CIÉ permission to develop the Smithfield site, on condition that CIÉ carry the costs of street-widening and underground services in the area.

A couple of days before Christmas, the Irish Times again issued another editorial of common sense, asking the government to make up its collective mind as, since they had suggested taking over the building, no construction work had been carried out on either that bus station or an alternative. It also reminded the government that the general public who voted for them, and who could vote them out if they pleased, were still catching their buses in the rain on the quays. It ended with the ominous words: ‘The people’s patience is not everlasting’.

In 1951 this threat came to pass. In the general election of 14 June a new Fianna Fáil government was elected. Fianna Fáil had campaigned for the retention of the bus station, with Éamon de Valera promising ‘the restoration of many beneficial projects stopped or curtailed by the previous government, including the use of the Store Street building as a central bus station’. On 3 July 1951 a discreet front-page column in the Irish Times announced that the Store Street building was to be finished for its original purpose and that the Smithfield project had been abandoned. A compromise had been decided on—the offices were to be used for the Department of Social Welfare, and the bus station was to be used by CIÉ for its original purpose. Years later, in 1960, this was formalised in a lease: CIÉ had the tenancy of the station areas ‘for the term of two hundred years, from the nineteenth day of October 1953’, at an annual rental of £15,000.


Further delay by sympathy strike


The building’s problems were not over. In 1952 a strike by CIÉ maintenance workers led to a sympathy strike on the CIÉ portion of the building: work continued on the government offices. This delayed the opening of the station for a further six months, while the Department of Social Welfare was already using their offices.

After the government takeover of the project, costs became the overriding factor in its completion, with many of the planned facilities, fittings and decorative elements being dropped from the design. In August 1953 the Irish Builder and Engineer reported ‘that the cost of erecting the Store Street bus station was £1,014,000 up to 31 July last’. Finally, on 19 October 1953, some seven years after construction began, eight years after the design was completed and nearly fifteen years after the site was suggested, the Store Street building was officially opened to the travelling public. It was announced two days before the official opening that it was to be known as Áras Mhic Dhiarmada after Seán MacDermott, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. In popular usage, however, it became known as ‘Busáras’, and the name stuck. After all the fuss and discussion about its construction, it was opened with much fanfare. All the daily newspapers devoted upwards of six pages to ‘Dublin’s wonder building’, as the Irish Independent referred to it. Articles devoted much space to boasts of cost, statistics about glass and square feet of floor area, and photographs of interiors. Even its former detractors claimed to admire it. The design team, who had put up with so much criticism and abuse, received plaudits from the government and the public but were just glad that the job was completed. Writing two years later, Michael Scott observed:


‘It requires the greatest call on Christian charity to have to fight for a building with those officials of departments of state who are merely administrators of a branch of fluctuating government power and who yet impose their personal whims on permanent buildings.’


Paul Clerkin is an architect and writer.

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