Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The planned reordering of Emily Square

The proposed works to the front of Emily Square have gathered quite a lot of interest and generated much discussion amongst the people of Athy. The works comprise eight elements and include footpath widening and resurfacing, replacement of all existing trees with a single specimen tree and the reconfiguration of traffic to give a one-way system running north to south on the east side of the Town Hall. The design proposals prepared for Kildare County Council by the Paul Hogarth Company of Kilkenny are intended to improve the aesthetic quality of the front Square, while improving it’s functioning for pedestrians, vehicles and events and improving the setting of historic buildings and features within the Square. The views of the public on the present state of the front Square was canvassed during two open public consultations, when the project team shared thoughts and ideas on plans for Athy’s principal public space. Interestingly the majority of the local people made negative comments about the front Square, with ‘dangerous uneven surfaces’ the most comment complaint voiced. Quite a significant number of people felt that the front Square was cluttered with too many signs, lamp posts and trees. The existing tree planting was encouraged by Patrick Shaffrey, a consultant employed by Athy Urban District Council in connection with the Inner Relief Road project. I supported Mr. Shaffrey’s tree planting suggestion, as did all the members of Athy UDC, but unfortunately for reasons not fully understood the trees created damage to the surface of the Square and the uncontrolled tree growth impeded the view of the historic Town Hall. Early photographs of Emily Square show that as originally planned it was an open space in the very heart of the town which provided the focal point of all major community events. It was here that various local markets were held and it was in Emily Square that the Land League meetings of the 1880s took place. Platforms on which civic and church leaders stood to canvas support for the World War 1 effort were placed in front of the Town Hall and it was from similar platforms also that the likes of Arthur Griffith, Eamon De Valera and others spread the message of Irish nationalism in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Rising. The regeneration of the open public space in the town centre is a laudable proposal, creating as it will a space for cultural outdoor events and activities involving the local community. There are two monuments presently in the front Square, one of which could with advantage be relocated. The fountain donated by the Duke of Leinster is a forgotten and neglected piece of our local history, despite recent claims to the contrary. It could with benefit to the decluttering of the Square be moved to the People’s Park, which was also gifted by the Duke of Leinster to the people of Athy. There it could be sited on one of the several mounds in the park and become an attractive feature in the People’s Park. The 1798 monument should remain in the front Square, even if it is to be moved to another site within the Square. It represents an important reminder of Athy’s troubled past, as does the memorial plaque on the front wall of the Town Hall to the local men who died in the 1914-18 war. The reopening of the Square as a public space justifies the removal of the existing trees which have been allowed to grow uncontrolled since they were planted. The proposal to replace them with a single specimen tree near to the Leinster Street side of the Square needs to be looked at. The view from the front of the Square down to the Town Hall should as far as possible be unimpeded. Would not trees planted on the two outer edges of the Square be better? Any such trees planted could be maintained in the same fashion as the recently planted trees in O’Connell Street Dublin and could prove to be an attractive feature. The proposed removal of parking facilities from the front Square has caused some controversy. The concerns in that regard could be dealt with by Kildare County Council acquiring the nearby Abbey site, to be part developed for parking, with the riverside portion used for apartment/shop development. The traffic re-routing proposals in the improvement plan may present the greatest difficulties. The opening of the outer relief road will take the heavy-duty traffic out of the town centre and I believe the current town road system is capable of dealing with the remainder of the traffic. If I am correct then the proposal to reroute traffic from the Carlow Road down through the back Square and existing at Whites Castle should not be necessary. This part of an otherwise excellent improvement plan is fraught with difficulties, but in the overall scheme of things the improvement plan merits the Athy people’s support.

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