New money brings a touch of Tuscany to Dublin strikes death blow at heritage

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The Independent Online
COME THE next millennium, students of Irish folklore may well ponder the significance of place names such as Tuscany Downs and Graceland to the rural landscape at the end of the 20th century.

They will probably conclude that there was none, but this has not stopped developers from inflicting such names on new housing developments across the country. The trend has created a row between builders and local planners, who are anxious to protect indigenous culture.

Ireland has a larger number of historical place names per square mile than any other country in Europe, but still it seems that builders and auctioneers are anxious to create their own bit of history. The country's booming economy has created a nouveaux riches with an apparent penchant for living in large detached houses in schemes called Cambridge Villas or Chelsea Terrace.

National Heritage Trust members are aghast at what they regard as a destruction of national culture, and such is the glut of "unsuitable" names being presented before planning authorities, that the government has moved to ensure that any new place names must have some historical relevance to the locale.

But residents of existing estates are resolutely clinging to their new- found exotic status.

Responding to a suggestion that residents of Tiffany Downs, a middle- class housing estate in Cork, should reconsider its title, homeowners quickly defended their right to choose. Mary Walsh, who lives in the Downs with her husband and two children, says the name is perfect because "it's a jewel of a place".

"There's a definite taste police out there, trying to ram their ideas down other people's throats," she said. "We're not a bit interested in changing the name of our estate. Personally, I think it adds to the value of the house."

Others remain unconvinced about the worth of Anglicised place names. Eoin Ryan, a parliamentarian and member of Dublin City's local council, has been a vocal opponent of "foreign" names on new housing developments.

"We've had applications in to name developments after a lot of famous areas in England," he said. "The suggestions have nothing to do with the local area and we've made sure to reject them. People think these types of name gentrify the area. To my mind, they're ridiculous."

And it is not just non-indigenous place names that are being embraced. Just as some have rejected traditional Irish titles, old rural homesteads have been knocked down on a large scale to make way for hacienda-type bungalows and neo-Tudor houses.

The resulting blight on the rural landscape has led many tourists to discount the idea of ever returning to Ireland. The tendency to associate all things old with poverty and a colonial past is a peculiarly Irish phenomenon, according to Michael Smith, chairman of the National Heritage Trust, An Taisce.

"There is a crisis in people's willingness to protect their environment; people are obsessed with destroying vernacular buildings and sticking up neo-Edwardian or Georgian-type dwellings," he said. "It's a very unhealthy reflection of our national culture."

The destruction of much of old Ireland means that many of the famed Irish pubs are, in fact, no more real than their themed counterparts in the United States and Europe.

"Given that pubs are such a part of what we are, it's very sad to think there's only about 10 pubs which could be described as original left in Dublin," Mr Smith said.