Jewish Heritage Europe

Irish Jewish Museum gets OK for major expansion and upgrade

Exhibit in the Irish Jewish Museum. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Ireland’s Planning Appeals Board, or An Bord Pleanála (ABP), has  given the go-ahead for an ambitious, €10 million expansion, upgrade and modernization of Dublin’s Irish Jewish Museum.

The museum “is very pleased with the decision […] concerning the necessary plans for the expansion and development of the museum which operates with a mission to be an educational centre and beacon for tolerance and co-existence in our society,” the museum said in a statement. “The museum’s management believes that the current plan as approved, will contribute and benefit the cultural life of the city and the neighborhood of Portobello.”

The Dublin Planning Commission had granted permission for the project months ago. The Dec. 23, 2013decision by the Bord overruled appeals against this brought by local residents, who complained that the expansion will destroy the character of the street and neighborhood, add to traffic and, because of excavations, potentially threaten the stability of local houses.

Exterior of the museum, on Walworth Rd. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Jewish Museum is situated in two two-storey houses that are part of a terrace on Walworth Road, in Dublin’s Portobello neighborhood, once the heart of Jewish Dublin. A former synagogue on the upper floor is part of the exhibit, the museum’s other exhibits — documents, photos, ritual objects, paintings, memorabilia and other artifacts — are crowded; much material is in storage.

Synagogue in museum. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Expansion plans call for the demolition of the museum’s current premises, as well as the next three houses leading to the corner of the street — the end house is vacant and already apparently in such bad condition that it is held up by metal girders. The facades of all the houses (and the synagogue) are to be rebuilt to their original appearance. The museum would then have a new, modern, entrance around the corner from Walworth Road. In addition, excavations under the houses would add a basement floor with further exhibition space.

Four of the houses to be demolished & rebuilt, conserving only the facades. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

The plans prompted opposition among local residents. When JHE coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber visited in October, the street was plastered with protest posters hung in windows and on posts. The neighborhood opposition was generally characterized as a “NIMBY” — Not In My Back Yard — protest, rather than having to do with the Jewish character of the museum.

The news site reported that the Bord:

decided that the proposed development would not seriously injure the visual or residential amenities of the area of property in the vicinity, it would not be prejudicial to public health or pose a risk to flooding.

It also said it would be acceptable in terms of traffic safety and convenience.

The conditions include that a full architectural survey of the exteriors and the interiors of the buildings proposed for demolition on the site be carried out; that the height of the plant zone not exceed a certain height; and that the noise level during development not exceed a certain level.

The Museum  statement welcoming the decision to green-light the project took note of the objections to the expansion and said that it hoped to maintain good relations and cooperation with the local community:

The Museum was very much aware of the various potential issues raised by some of our neighbors as presented to ABP. Those same concerns were addressed as part of the design and planning process and after receiving satisfactory answers from the appropriate consultants. The Museum is gratified that Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanala were satisfied with those answers.

Throughout almost 30 years of operation the Museum has maintained a good relationship with its neighbors and it is hoped that following this decision we will be able to renew and maintain those good relations.

The IJM wishes to work closely together with all our neighbors for the success of the project.

The museum wishes to thank all those who have supported the vision for the development and continued success of the museum into the future as a unique and important National Heritage institution.

Here is a fund-raising video prepared by the Museum for the expansion project, which details the plans:

Read the Irish Times report on the Bord decision

See and read Irish TV report on the decision, with report on opponents’ reaction

See Irish Independent report, focusing in part on opponents’ reaction