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Beneath the surface: the plan for a £15m underground shopping mall at the site of Nelson's Pillar

Details of the plan were released this week under the 30-year State Papers rule.

The mall was to be located beneath the Anna Livia fountain on Dublin's O'Connell Street
The mall was to be located beneath the Anna Livia fountain on Dublin's O'Connell Street
Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THE DESTRUCTION OF Nelson’s Pillar in 1966, it was said, had left Dublin without a centrepiece.

But a quarter of a century on, one company sought to fill that void with an even bigger one, this time below the surface of O’Connell Street.

The proposed underground mall would have employed 200 people, provided a meeting place for locals, a focus for tourists, and allowed for the regeneration of the “long-neglected” street to provide social and leisure activities.

It was intended to extend along the centre of O’Connell Street between the junctions of Henry Street and North Earl Street and nearby Prince’s Street, with entrances and exits via stairs, lifts and escalators.

“The development will enhance the role of O’Connell Street in terms of its stature as the principal street of the capital,” a 1989 application for European Commission structural funds by developer Clanwilliam House read.

Details of the plan, which were sent to both the Taoiseach and the Department of Environment that year, were released this week under the 30-year State Papers rule.

The £15m mall would have contained two levels of shops totaling 82,000 square feet, a food court and possible connections to the basement levels of Clerys, the GPO and other stores. 

Plans were even outlined for a replacement for Nelson’s Pillar, which would have required its own separate design.

“If indeed, the new design for a pillar to be incorporates the use of lifts and/or stairs to permit viewing from the top, a take-off point from the basement would enhance it as a feature,” Clanwilliam House’s application read.

O'Connell Plan1 An outline of the plans from 1989 Source: National Archives

The company also said that the project would be carried out as a joint venture with Dublin Corporation, which agreed to provide the site in return for the mall’s infrastructural, planning and social gains.

The essence of the mall’s design, the company said, was to provide an easy pedestrian link between Henry Street and North Earl Street.

This was expected to reduce overground pedestrian activity and enhance traffic flow on O’Connell Street to such an extent, that it would have allowed for the widening of the street’s central plaza so it could be used for market and recreational activities.

“The project will have a significantly beneficial impact on the area, including facilitating the traffic flows, increasing shopping facilities, enhancing the stature of O’Connell Street and restoring the location as a major focal point in the city centre which it had lost with the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar,” the application read.

The mall was expected take 33 months to build, and its construction would have led to the closure of both sides of O’Connell Street for around a year, with traffic diverted to one side of the street while works were carried out beneath the opposite side.

Its planners even put forward a novel solution to heating and cooling the mall, storing the heat generated by electronics and people during the day to use for heating when the mall cooled, while outdoor air would be used to air condition the area underground.

Despite its £15m price tag, the company sought just £3.85m from the EC, including £10k budgeted to remove, store and re-erect a statue and flagpole on O’Connell Street, and £25k for possible alterations to the Anna Livia fountain which was then on the site.

In the end, they never saw the light of day. The Anna Livia fountain was later removed to Croppies Acre Memorial Park near Heuston Station, and the Millennium Spire now stands where Nelson’s Pillar used to.

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