An Artist Documents Derelict Dublin, While Dreaming of a Prettier Future for the City

On a recent overcast Tuesday, Nadine Maguire stood outside the Sounds Around music store on Capel Street with a white pad and black Sharpie.

She paced the footpath, jotting down details from the vacant site across the busy pedestrian street.

Her attention was fixed on numbers 163 and 164, both listed on the council’s derelict sites register, and the former location of Utopia, a head shop which burned down in an arson attack 12 years ago.

Nothing of the shop remains today. Pale grey hoardings and razor wire have cordoned off the lot. Weeds are so overgrown as to be visible from over the barrier.

Maguire was in the middle of illustrating a rough thumbnail image of the site and taking notes, she says, before later sketching out a fuller image at home.

Her pad is filled with similar works-in-progress.

This site is the latest addition to an ongoing project of hers, in which she walks through Dublin’s inner-city, documenting its glut of derelict and decaying sites and buildings.

She searches out the properties that spark a thought in her, a mental image of how they could look if done up, refurbished and put back to use, she says.

“I want to do a story on each place. I do them as they are now, and what they could or should be like one day,” Maguire says.

Change of Plan

Maguire had always considered sketching as a hobby, she says. “But it was something I’d never really done for a purpose.”

She studied marine science in college, before moving to Berlin in her early twenties.

The German capital’s electronic music scene captivated her, she says. “I’d really been into industrial music and techno, and when I started wondering about its roots, I started to go back, looking at the history of the country itself.”

That included contemplating the seemingly endless number of derelict warehouses, many abandoned after the fall of the Berlin Wall, she says.

Her response was to document them, picking up a camera and photographing their ghostly, crumbling interiors.

“I would spend the whole year there, walking for hours, just to find old bakeries, chemistry labs, an old school, an army base, and we could just go in.”

Nadine Maguire. Photo by Michael Lanigan.

Once she returned to Dublin, she took work managing the Stag’s Head pub in Temple Bar, she says.

Pre-pandemic however, she decided to migrate, taking a friend up on the offer of work managing a pub in Basel in Switzerland.

The move, she attributes in part to her disappointment in the city’s night-time economy. Nightclubs and pubs were closing at an alarming rate circa 2018 and 2019, she says. “District 8 was gone, Hangar, the little clubs, they were all gone.”

Covid prompted her return to Dublin. She found new work, and enrolled in an art and design course in Ballyfermot College of Further Education.

It was while handling an early assignment, in which she was to pay attention to the natural world and its finer details, that the project sprouted, she says.

“It led on from looking at plants coming out of derelict buildings. I just began to notice the buildings a lot more, their broken windows, the texture on tiles, cracked paint,” says Maguire.

Stood at the intersection between Strand Street and Capel Street, she says, pad in hand, that the decision to shift into art came at a crossroads in her life.

“I had always wanted to sketch like this, but I’d never done it for a purpose, and so now I just decided to put the head down and the focus into it.”

An Appealing Thought

Three days later, at midday, Maguire is perched on top of a painted black cask outside a pub between Parnell Street and Capel Street.

Her hands are covered in black charcoal, as she works on a full version of the front façade on number 4.

The two front doors on the three-storey house are walled in by bricks. Its shutters have been down since at least 2009, according to Google Street.

On the above floors, the windows are covered over by wooden planks, nailed together in the shape of an X.

Pages from Maguire's scrapbook.

Maguire had been looking into the history behind property, she says. “I wanted to do a version of what this used to be, but I didn’t get much information.”

Earlier in the day, she had asked around in the neighbouring businesses. They couldn’t add anything, she says, and one had told her to leave it alone.

A new 65-room hotel was granted permission by An Bord Pleanála on 59 Capel Street and 3–6 Parnell Street, with number three listed as a protected structure.

The decision was signed off on by former board member Paul Hyde, who resigned and is currently facing criminal prosecution.

When asked about how she could envisage an alternative future for it, she proceeds to describe a small bar, no more than 50 seats.

Gesturing towards the demolished, overgrown site next-door, she says, “it could be an outdoor eating area, with a little hatch that could be for the kitchen”.

“You don’t need to go inside to the bar to get your food. You can grab it there from the hatch.”

She pauses, laughing, half with embarrassment at having shared the image in her head.

The Long Walk

Maguire is a walker, and isn’t overly fond of public transport, she says.

It is on her trek from her home in Finglas towards college in Ballyfermot that she keeps an eye open for any abandoned sites worth sketching, she says. “I don’t have a specific route, but I’ll usually walk down through Dorset Street, through Temple Street onto Parnell Street and up towards Parliament Street.”

Daylight is always her main concern, she adds. It is always a race to find a moment when the sun is out, between her college course and full-time job.

From her travels so far, she opens up her pad, offering an overview of what she has gathered.

The pad contains roughly eight preliminary drawings on each page.

It is covered in rough impressions, often done in black marker pen, of spots such as a row of empty houses near Temple Street, the weathered front of Neary’s pub on 77 Parnell Street, empty apartments by the Royal Canal, old decrepit doors on heritage sites and glimpses of collapsed houses from behind metal fencing.

Neary's, Parnell Street. Pages from Maguire's scrapbook.

“Ugly,” she says, as she wraps up this illustrated tour of Dublin. “And it’s just odd to see lovely, lovely buildings across the road from things like these.”

From her project, she wants to see empty spaces to be put to meaningful use, she says. “There is so much untapped potential here, and not just for hotels, whether it’s a funked-up building, or a poetry night, or somewhere to make culture.”

“I just want people to understand where these places came from, and to see these spaces used for good purpose. I just want to make the city pretty.”

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Michael Lanigan: Michael Lanigan is a Dublin-based freelance journalist. His work appears in Vice, Totally Dublin, and the Business Post.

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