Broadstone – Iosta Na Cloiche Leithne – is a right bruiser of a building that sits over the no-place between the north inner city and Phibsborough. Eoin O’Mahony takes a look at how we fetishise old infrastructure.
It’s a terminus, a prayer place, a station in need of a train. Until recently there was a half legible wooden sign near the traffic lights, “Rosary Recited, Very [sic] Sun. at 3pm – statue committee”. In the short number of years I have lived here, I never once saw the Marian devoted pray for their souls but Mary still stands.
Broadstone is soon to be a Luas stop and so there’ll be less car traffic but the buses will pour in and out of Broadstone for years to come. The building hides a lot more than it shows: it is the best marker we have of the edge of the early 19th century city, shorn of its function twice and swallowed up by Cabra in the 1930s.
Broadstone garage hides the working headquarters for the national public bus company, Bus Éireann, in remarkably mundane offices replete with filing cabinets. The interior of the building is painted in industrial quantities of red and orange paint, notable only for the undecorated central hallway. The west facing first floor windows give great views over the developing DIT campus but this site is more about bus storage than some fanciful heritage project.
Recently some objected to the wall being built at the front as part of the construction works, comparing it during a recent demonstration to the Berlin Wall. This makes little sense when we consider that as recently as summer 2016, the children living next door didn’t have a playground that had been promised for years. But I guess some prefer to glance up and reflect upon their own place in the world than have to live near one of the country’s largest bus garages.
Broadstone garage makes little sense unless you see it in the context of the development of the Royal Canal and how private railway companies bet on Galway being the centre of transatlantic shipping. When the canal was finally completed in 1817, it had two branches: one called the Longford branch, the other spurring off at Phibsborough and driving south to Broadstone Harbour (opened in 1806), culverting the Bradogue River.
The canal spur served the commercial needs of the linen and food trades of a growing city until the Midland Great Western Railway company bought the entire canal in 1847. With massed emigration and the Great Famine came a decline in western traffic. The railways became more important than the slower canals. At Broadstone, the canal spur was carried by an aqueduct over the road which was only removed in 1951.
This section of Dublin city is an incarcerating landscape: workhouses, prisons and barracks dominate a colonial arc from here to the Phoenix Park. Imagine how many women and men arrived by train to Broadstone garage until the station’s closure in 1950s only to be locked up in St. Brendan’s for long periods.
In Ireland, and in Dublin in particular, some like to celebrate the beauty and grace of Georgian and Victorian architecture as an intrinsically good thing. Shorn of any material context, this view of Dublin’s architecture denies the meaning of places like Broadstone and St. Brendan’s in a community’s development. Broadstone garage was, and still is, a place of work. Objections to the aesthetics of a retaining wall on the basis that it offends a largely-ignored workplace are founded on a partial view of how our city took shape.
As part of the Luas works, a number of derelict houses and a café were demolished. This was simultaneously an opportunity for fun and danger for the neighbourhood in the absence of other plays area.
The garage is hardly beautiful but it was never meant to be: fetishizing its role as part of some glorious past now makes little sense. Trains got termini, towering over people in an age when steam was the fastest mode of transport.
Do we only now pay it more attention when it affects “our” infrastructure?