Why Have So Many of Dublin's Fountains Run Dry?

Barcelona has the Magic Fountain, Rome has the Trevi. Dublin has the Floozy in the Jacuzzi and a host of disused relics.

The city has a chequered past with its fountains and water features. The last few decades have seen many switched off or poorly maintained. Allowed to crack and decay, the fountains now function as curious monuments to a time when Dublin City Council showed more interest in them.

One of our readers, though, is interested in their fate. “Dublin has so few [fountains] and the ones we have are in bits,” he wrote in. Why?

Fountains: Heyday and Decline

A disused fountain outside the Gate Theatre.

Gary Branigan, author of Fountains of Dublin, has chronicled the history of Dublin’s water features and they were, he notes, once widely used.

“The high point of the public fountain appears to have been in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when clean drinking water was hard to come by,” he says. “The high level of alcoholism within the city led many philanthropists to raise funds for the construction of drinking fountains for the health of the populace and also to encourage sobriety.”

While no longer functioning as fountains, a number of these monuments still stand today.

Constructed in 1791, the Rutland Memorial on Merrion Square was restored in 2010, yet the water feature at its base was never brought back.

The Sheahan Memorial, erected in 1905 to commemorate Constable Patrick Sheahan, who died while on duty, was recently moved from its location on Burgh Quay. Its water feature remains out of service.

Similarly, the James Street fountain, erected in 1790, and the Gate Theatre basin have become receptacles for cigarette butts, leaves and other assorted rubbish.

The Anna Livia feature was moved from its location on O’Connell Street to make way for the Spire. It was placed at the other end of the city in 2001, in Croppies Acre Memorial Park, where it still functions today.

The fountain at the base of the Davis statue on Dame Street remains one the few fully functioning water features in the city, when it hasn’t fallen victim to the Fairy liquid brigade.

It’s important to note that many of the features still functioning today, particularly those in parks,  are under the care of the Office of Public Works. It says it maintains nine fountains around the city.

In contrast, the many disused monuments one sees are under the care of the city fathers.

Dublin City Council, despite several inquiries, did not respond to queries about why so many of its water features are in disrepair, how much was spent in 2015 on fountain maintenance, and who is responsible for their upkeep.

There’s a low priority, says Branigan, “given to street furniture and art that require maintenance and upkeep, particularly those which suffer from vandalism often”.

But another reason might have to do with the cost.

A Costly Feature?

David Frazer, of Dave’s Gardening in Tallaght, says that fountain and water-feature mechanisms are simple.

“There isn’t any difficulty with them,” he says. “They’re self-contained and basically you just buy a decent pump, fill it [the feature] full of water, and, as long as it’s maintained, there shouldn’t be any trouble.”

The same applies to both large and small features. As long as no fish inhabit the fountain or feature, Frazer suggests that a bit of bleach will do the trick to keep them clean. If the pump breaks, it just needs to be replaced. Pumps can cost from €100 up to €4,000-5,000, Frazer says.

“If it’s submersed, they’ve a lot of work to get at it,” he says. “But normally, when they’re fitting them in the first place, they should be fitting the better ones that they don’t have any trouble with.”

Niall Power, of N.J. Power & Co. in Ballymount installed the mechanism on the Anna Livia feature. He similarly asserts that after initial construction, there’s little to do in terms of expense.

“It depends on the feature, but the pump would be an insignificant part of it,” he says. “It’s not major surgery. The setup initially would be the biggest part: getting the electrics to it, the plumbing to it, but after that’s done, the only moving part is a pump.”

However, Power does point out that during a recession, water features and fountains weren’t people’s top priority.

“There is a little bit of maintenance to it,” says Power. “But we would have seen over the last few years, when things were a bit tougher, because it’s a luxury item, people would be more interested in getting their gates and their lifts fixed.”

Recent Departures 

It’s not just the antique fountains in the city that aren’t working.

In 2005, the council fitted a water feature on South King Street, which is not currently in use.

In 2007, the Martha Schwartz-designed Grand Canal Square was completed. It originally included a large water feature, a triangular cascade, but that was removed last summer for “works”.

At the time, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority told Schwartz the “works” were expected to take about four weeks. But months have passed.

It’s unclear why the water feature has never been put back. The architect’s firm said they hadn’t heard anything more about it.

Robert Gallagher of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority said he couldn’t answer questions about what had happened to the fountain, how much to cost to install, and whether it was going to come back.

“The Dublin Docklands Development Authority is currently involved in legal proceedings relating to the removed fountain at Grand Canal Square and in light of this fact, I cannot give you the details as yet, until the matter before the court is resolved,” he said in an email.

In the area last Thursday,  a number of office workers said they didn’t know what had happened. Some said that children often clambered atop the feature, and that the water had rarely been switched on in recent years.

Pressing the Issue

The large monuments aside, drinking fountains are also by no means prominent in Dublin.

“Traditionally, the drinking fountains would have a clean source of water and which also had filters incorporated into the mechanism,” says historian Branigan. “While very few of the drinking fountains in the city work these days, there would be no reason why a connection to the main water supply couldn’t provide a clean supply of drinking water.”

You might expect that that would appeal to the city’s joggers, who would prefer not to have to lug around water bottles on long runs.

But you don’t really hear runners talking about the lack of drinking-water fountains, said Ash Senyk, who runs a sports store in Temple Bar. “It’s expected that there are none.”

He said he saw a pilot project in Australia where they had a water fountain that was sponsored by a mineral-water company. “I just thought what a great idea,” he said. “Phoenix Park is screaming out for some.”

Green Party city councillor Claire Byrne plans to raise the fountains issue at a local area committee meeting on Wednesday 2 March. She plans to ask why they’re disused and whether there any plans to get them spouting water again.

It’s likely, though, that she’ll be told there’s “a budgetary issue”, she says.


With additional reporting by Lois Kapila.

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Author:

Cónal Thomas: is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

Reader responses

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Jimminycricket
at 24 February 2016 at 10:32

I think part of the problem has been the “anti-social behaviour” that they have attracted in the past. Namely litter (think cans, takeaway containers, napkins, and cigarette butts) and vandalism (bent water spouts). I’m fairly certain that litter and pumps becoming clogged were a big problem back in the 90’s and that has coloured the way they are dealt with now. The people who decide to install new fountains and water features aren’t the same people who have to clean and maintain them, and based on past experience, the latter have just quietly turned off a lot of fountains because they attract less negative attention that way, and therefore, fewer man-hours are required to maintain them.

I think we have a lot of hangovers in the way we treat these things that are coming from an 80’s/90’s attitude of “the general public are bad and lazy and will never change so we just can’t have nice things” rather than actually trying to change the culture and grow up as a society. For example public toilets. I don’t see why we can’t have public toilets; even paid attendants and everyone pays 20 cents; they do it in London so surely we can do it here; especially now that we have CCTV if necessary.

I also think we need some fresh blood working in these jobs for the council, more care rather than just ticking boxes. I’m sure some of it is to do with the way they are managed but when I see the way they drive the street cleaning machines around our neighbourhood once a month, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, it is the most pointless waste of time and money ever.

By the way, I just discovered there is a lovely old (Victorian?) drinking fountain down near the front gate of the Phoenix Park, just inside the first entrance to the ornamental garden they have there on the right as you enter the park. I just assumed it doesn’t work.

Karl
at 24 February 2016 at 12:10

@Jimminycricket: There is always a maintenance aspect to water features, just like grass needs cutting, pavements cleaned etc. A well designed and implemented water feature will have very little maintenance. The problem is often that the design is implemented on a budget based on price rather than quality and that the persons charged with maintaining these water features have insufficient information as to whats required. The design should include “operation & maintenance manuals” which detail all equipment used and how the water feature.
Water features used in public areas should always have the following components:
1. Drain and overflow outlet connected to storm water system. So cleaning becomes a fast task.
2. Automatic water level top up system. So water level is always maintained when it is lost through evaporation or wind.
3. A filtration system which includes ultra violet clarification. To maintain clear healthy water free of pathogens.
4. If there are any spray nozzles they should be sized such that the water spray stays in the water reservoir area and if necessary a wind control sensor is added to reduce the height of the water spray as wind levels increase.

There are simple steps to avoid and remedy foaming also and adding any chemicals should be avoided unless retention tanks are implemented. Naturally we don’t want passers by having there hair bleached and equally we don’t want to pollute our drainage system with unsafe chemicals.

So its quite possible to introduce water features throughout all our cities, towns and villages, just allow sufficient budget and qualified expertise. The advantages are enormous.

steve white
at 24 February 2016 at 12:54

DCC are planning to turn Rutland Memorial Fountain into Ruland Memorial Gateway into St Stephen’s Green [http://www.dublincity.ie/sites/de…

daved
at 24 February 2016 at 14:07

I don’t buy it – it’s just an inherent laziness and failure of the council – same as the complete lack of any public toilets in a Capital City.

Every public clock in the city center seems to tell a different time as well – which is typically Irish.

Not to mention all the dog excrement in the city after they removed all the bins.

Stephen Coyne
at 24 February 2016 at 14:13

Good to see light being shed on this topic. Its just a shame and a puzzle as to why these potentially lovely features on our streets are all out of use. The number is quite remarkable 0 many are simply unknown.

Here’s an interesting thread on Archiseek on the topic from 2012 [http://archiseek.com/forum/topic/… What’s interesting from the images is how many of these fountains remain in the same poor state. Most strikingly for me is the fountain on Cavendish Row outside the Gate Theatre. Its in such a state (much like this side of the Square) and yet its on a main ceremonial route from GPO to the Garden of Remembrance.

Okay so money is an immediate issue to get things repaired and back in working order. It will entail an initial big spend. But once its done then we have these lovely features and the tinkle of water to add something different above the din of traffic.

Come on Dublin, show some pride!

Stephen Coyne
at 24 February 2016 at 14:16

@steve white: Merrion Square. And the proposal is to remove the centre part and create a doorway. The (former) fountains are on side panels.

Stephen Coyne
at 24 February 2016 at 14:18

@Jimminycricket: I think this hits it on the head. We really need to believe that most people are mature and caring of their city and want to see nice, beautiful things, rather than lowest common denominator.

Mind you the City’s Parks Department, who I think are ‘responsible’ for most fountains, are simply starved of staff and funds to do much of what we’d like to see in the city.

Karl
at 24 February 2016 at 14:48

@Stephen Coyne: There’s a nice fountain in the center of Government Buildings, Merrion Street that we all get to see on the RTE news. That very nice ring fountain seems to be working perfectly well and its very close to the one you mention.

Reg
at 24 February 2016 at 19:51

Great Article! Just to add that DLRCC spent a fortune restoring the Victoria Fountain opposite the Pavilion. Following restoration, the fountain operated for a short period and was then turned off permanently it seems. I wonder why? There’s another water feature nearby which is part of the Open Space at the former Stena terminal, also permanently switched off.

daved
at 25 February 2016 at 15:49

Almost seems like Dublin City is being dragged backwards from a Victorian/Georgian sense of progression and design all the way back to a medieval City, with broken paving, no public toilets, no seating, human excrement in the lane ways, ruffians on the streets etc.,

Brendan Walsh
at 25 February 2016 at 18:43

Fountains need to be considered as part of the soul of the city; along with parks, trees
and interesting landscaping. As we spend numerous hours on the specs for roads and buildings, fountains (like in many beautiful cities) should be added to the Dublin landscape and maintained.
As many of us live stressful busy lives; a moment observing beautiful fountains, like thoughtful landscaping can help us to relax and appreciate beauty…if only just for a moment.

D Owens
at 7 July 2016 at 00:09

The water feature at South King Street never worked, I worked within 100 yards of it for years and saw it on twice, each time the water was running out of the circular area that was meant to contain it and down towards the shops. Whoever built it should have being responsible for fixing it at their own cost.

Sylvia
at 12 July 2016 at 17:29

The fountain outside the Gate Theatre is actually a horse trough. My 2 uncles used to put pinkeens in it, back in the 1940s. Part of Dublin’s history, it should be restored.

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