Speech by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan T.D., at the official opening of 14 Henrietta Street
Check Against Delivery
Lord Mayor, Deputies, Councillors, Executive members of Dublin City Council, and friends.
Seo lá iontach, tá muid anseo chun ceiliúradh a dhéanamh ar an ionad nua cultúrtha agus oidhreachta seo i ceann de na sráideanna is stairiúla sa chathair.
In this the European Year of Cultural Heritage, it is timely to see this great project coming to fruition. It started with a rescue and then work progressed to stabilise, weather and conserve and adapt one of the city’s great Georgian buildings. After a decade of tireless work by a dedicated core team in City Council and a host of others along the way, I am delighted to join the Lord Mayor and all of you to open the next chapter in the life of 14 Henrietta Street.
Winston Churchill said “We shape our buildings: Thereafter, they shape us.”
Those words are so true when we study the journey 14 Henrietta Street has taken. The gestation of this project and the resources required in terms of the time, care and research invested are indicative of the consideration regularly required when setting out to provide public access to important elements of our national heritage.
Success is never guaranteed, and it takes a great deal of effort and focus by all involved to deliver a great outcome. The necessary balance required in this case was achieved by the team assembled by City Council, along with stakeholders including my own Department. Importantly, the approach adopted to the project accommodated an active debate throughout. That debate helped to identify the assets, weigh up the risks, scope for innovation, and ultimately fully inform the making of appropriate decisions. This debate enabled learning by all parties on how best to work with the fabric of the building and crucially how best to present its story. That said, the entire process evolved in tandem with an early recognition that the first priority for action was to stop the rot!
I made time yesterday to call in to the building and experience the full guided tour of the house, and I gained some insight in to how this Summer’s pre-launch tours must have been something of an emotional rollercoaster for many visitors. I believe you hosted several generations of a number of families taking the journey through the house and its history together. They effectively walked in the footsteps of a parent or grandparent, and got to feel and better understand the lives of those past generations, who lived in tenements in Dublin.
Number 14 Henrietta Street will present Dubliners and those from further afield with an opportunity to have a conversation about their history and the experiences of past generations. I believe this is an important opportunity for the city and its citizens.
This house is and will continue to be a catalyst for stories to be told within families, and hopefully shared further. For that, we’re enormously grateful for the care, the time, and the attention taken by the historians, former residents, artists, artisans, architects, conservationists, stuccadores, wallpaper restorers, model makers, and all the skilled and knowledgeable people who contributed to rescuing this house, saving this street, and making this magnificent museum a reality.
Realisation of this project is a story of courage and vision on the part of Dublin City Council, in the face of strong headwinds in the economy and the public finances, particularly in the early years of the project. As conditions improved the project was primed to progress apace.
I believe 14 Henrietta Street will be a unique and wonderful addition to Dublin’s museums by telling the story of the city through the life cycle of one building, and the people who lived here.
From the grand aristocratic townhouse of the 1700s to the multi-unit occupancy that operated for 100 years up to the late 1970s. A building that went from initially housing one family of four, and their servants in 1755, to the Census count in 1911, when it housed almost 100 people from 17 families!
That juxtaposition and the crushing reality of the latter cohort need to be explored and absorbed. This is important for all of us today to inform our understanding of both how far we have progressed as a society over the last century, and some of the core areas where we still have more to do.
This story also relates directly to the restlessness, and great appetite for change that pervaded the population of Dublin 100 hundred years ago in the aftermath of the Rising and at the introduction of popular democracy. We, the State and the citizenry, continue to mark the important milestones of this period and the path to independence through the Decade of Centenaries 1912-1923 programme.
Extraordinary details of the ordinary lives of the house’s occupants are contained within these walls. Through wonderful and considered video and audio content, visitors will hear the voices of former residents, and hear the songs of the children who played here. As I walked through the house yesterday with Tracey and Iseult, I felt the worn treads on the back stairs and on the stone flags and thought of the generations of children who ran in those hallways over the course of almost 270 years.
I’d like to pay tribute to the former residents of this house and of other local tenement houses, who gave their time to share their memories as part of ‘Urban Memories and Tenement Experiences’. This oral history project informed and helped ensure the faithful and very human story told throughout the house.
The development of No.14 Henrietta Street as a Tenement Museum and as a centre for the exploration of Georgian and Tenement Life in the North Inner City was co-funded by my Department with the a grant of €2m. This is one of the Permanent Reminder projects under the Government’s Ireland 2016: Centenary Programme providing as it does an insight into the lives of the people of Dublin around the time of 1916.
And of course I also note that the building is already winning awards – when announcing the Judges Special Prize, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland Jury Panel described the restoration and refurbishment of 14 Henrietta Street as “an architectural story book – revealing the lives of those who have lived here through the years, resulting in an inspirational and engaging museum building”. The Panel remarked on the “skill, craft, innovative conservation, historical examination and complex decision making” evident in the upgrading for public use, “enabling the past to live anew and bringing the future to its doorstep”.
It was Theodore Roosevelt who once said; “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.”
I encourage everyone here today to champion this great new resource and to come back themselves in the near future to experience the full tour that has been so carefully crafted for you. I assure you that it is a very rewarding experience.
Anois, gan a thuilleadh moille ba mhaith liom, leis an tÁrd Mhéara Nial Ring a fhógairt go h-oifigiúil go bhfuil uimhir a ceithre déag Sráid Henrietta, oscailte anois.
Now, along with the Lord Mayor, we will unveil a special commemorative plaque to be installed in the entrance lobby of the house, and declare this important new museum, 14 Henrietta Street, open to the public.