Ambassador Theatre operators refused permission for defensive railings

Historic building threatened by fires, vandalism, blood, urine, vomit and ‘human excrement’, operators claimed

Plans to surround the Ambassador Theatre on Dublin’s Parnell Square with steel railings have been rejected by Dublin City Council due to the “severely” negative effect it would have on the “special character, setting and appearance” of the historic building.

Millennium Theatre Company, which operates the venue, sought 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”.

The railings were needed to protect patrons, staff, and the historic building from threats to safety and antisocial behaviour which were “plaguing” the venue, and to restore “the fine building back into beneficial use”, the operators said.

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.


Heritage bodies, including the Dublin Civic Trust and An Taisce, had recommended the council refuse the application.

The building was a “nationally significant protected structure”, the council said and a “landmark structure that terminates the Capital’s principal thoroughfare” O’Connell Street.

The council said while it was “sympathetic” to the ambition of enhancing the safety and security of both the building and its patrons, “softer” interventions such as security management and better lighting should be considered instead of railings.

The council said closing off the plaza space in front of the building would “in effect, result in the permanent enclosure of this informal public space, one that has existed for decades, if not centuries.” This was concerned this might set a precedent. “It is also considered that to permit such a development could result in the further erosion of public space throughout the city, as others may seek similar interventions.”

The council said the proposal would “seriously injure” the visual amenity of the O’Connell Street Architectural Conservation Area and would be contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.

Millennium Theatre Company has until February 28th to lodge an appeal with An Bord Pleanála. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

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Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times