Ambassador Theatre operators seek to fence in venue for safety

Historic building threatened by fires, vandalism, blood, urine, vomit and ‘human excrement’, request for railings claims

The operators of the Ambassador Theatre on Dublin’s Parnell Square want to surround the venue with permanent steel railings ahead of its reopening, to protect patrons, staff and the historic building from threats to safety and antisocial behaviour.

Millennium Theatre Company is seeking permission to erect railings up to 1.7m high around the perimeter of the 260-year-old building, closing off its entrance plaza, to prevent damage from fires, vandalism, blood, urine, vomit and “human excrement”.

However, heritage bodies have urged Dublin City Council to refuse permission, with the Dublin Civic Trust saying it would obscure the “temple-like entrance pavilion” of the theatre and deprive the north inner city of much-needed public space.

The protected structure was built in 1764 as an entertainment venue to raise funds for the adjoining Rotunda hospital. From the turn of the 20th century, it was used as a cinema, finally closing in 1999, after which it operated as a music venue until 2008. In recent years it had been used for events and exhibitions, but has not operated since the Covid-19 pandemic.


In an application to the council, the operators said the building was “subjected daily to anti-social behaviour”. Tents were assembled on the entrance forecourt with litter including “beer cans, wine bottles, cigarette cartons, coffee cups, piles of bin bags, needles and more”. There were particular concerns about amounts of urine and blood as “these are likely to cause serious damage to the stone facade”.

Railings were installed in first half of the 19th century and removed in 1953. Reinstatement would “return the Ambassador Theatre to its former historical character” and facilitate its reopening, the applicants said.

However, Graham Hickey of the Dublin Civic Trust, said this was based on “dubious historical precedent”. The 19th-century introduction of railings had “architecturally compromised” the design and their removal had “restored the original design principles”.

Arguments about threats to safety and antisocial behaviour provided “no justification for the proposed railing-in of the entire premises to the west, south and east in a defensive enclosure”, he said.

Rather, there should be investment in “quality public space”, the need for which had “taken on additional resonance in the light of recent events and disturbance in the immediate environs of the Rotunda”.

Parnell Square was the focal point for violence and arson attacks in the city last November in the wake of the stabbing of three children and their carer.

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Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times