Sligo Borough Council's City Architect Sean Martin traces the evolution of our City from 19th Century port to 21st Century Gateway City.
'The one constant in life is change. Sligo as a city has always been changing. A particular dramatic period of change was in the 19th century when our port, which could then be considered the equivalent of an international airport was bringing trade, farming materials and plant, stock, coal and timber to and from Sligo. The activity of the Port has cultural significance also; William Pollexfin - a formidable shipping magnate of the time brought his young grandson, Jack Yeats on early morning inspections of the quayside activities. Yeats would later acknowledge that these experiences with his grandfather fuelled his creative imagination from a very early age and influenced many of the themes of his paintings and illustrations which followed. Sligo's wealth at the time was invested in fine town centre buildings such as the Town Hall, Banks, Courthouse, Model School and Town Houses. The Port acted as a Regional Gateway connecting Sligo to North America, South America, Europe and Britain, especially Scotland. The foundries of Clydeside provided many of the farm implements of the time while migrant workers made the journey on a seasonal basis seeking employment.
One outstanding manifestation of the current changes in Sligo, the New Inner Relief road, has a precursor in post-famine Sligo of 1848 with the construction of the two Inner Relief roads of that time, known as the Albert Line and the Victoria Line.
The Albert Line is now known as Pearse Road and the Victoria Line as Markievicz Road. The construction of these roads was to facilitate growing traffic issues of the period - a sure sign that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Papers at the time carry articles in relation to traffic congestion at Old Pound Street caused by sheep and cattle! But principally these roads were constructed to aid better access and connectivity to the region. The advent of the Bianconi transport network and the difficulty of overcoming the physical barrier of Gallows Hill and Mail Coach Road to the south and Holborn Hill to the North had to be addressed in order to improve transport in order to improve transport links to and from Sligo. Markievicz Road and the associated Quay Wall, constructed as a famine Relief project and being some 1000 feet long and some 30 feet high for example, was representative of a time of significant engineering achievements undertaken in difficult circumstances and site conditions and remains a monument to the men and women of Sligo who build it. The Albert Line or Pearse Road, descending 200 feet in just one mile aimed at getting to the heart of Sligo, focusing on the Courthouse and connecting to the existing street pattern at Teeling Street.
The new Sligo Inner Relief Road represents a contemporary feat of engineering which shows the continuation of that process of change in Sligo. The economic activity of the Port has now diminished from it's former glory. The focus is now on the Services sector together with the development of Sligo's industrial medical, diagnostic, tool making and institutional sectors. A number of issues have contributed to Sligo's current growth. A series of tax incentives encouraged new developments manifested in the regeneration of Rockwood Parade, Kennedy Parade, Kempten Parade and Riverside. The certainty generated from the Sligo and Environs.
Development Plan 2004-2010, the designation of Sligo Gateway city under the National Spatial Strategy, together with the restoration and refurbishment of key public buildings such as City Hall, Model Arts and Niland Gallery and Courthouse have significantly contributed to the preservation of key landmarks in a time of change. These important public buildings continue to contribute to the architectural character and quality of Sligo City Centre.
Any deficiencies in the are of contemporary commercial and retail developments are now being met in the Quayside Shopping Centre, Wine Street Car Park Redevelopment and at Carraroe. Much of this change does not happen in isolation but is due to the fostering of new partnerships, many of which have been co-ordinated and developed by Sligo Local Authorities.
Another deficiency which is now being met, and is encapsulated in the changing face of Sligo, is Tourism and the Hospitality industry. Four significant new hotels, two of which are now completed, one under construction at Silver Swan site and one in the planning stage at Bundoran Road will greatly contribute to the Tourism growth of Sligo through proactive marketing by these hotels of Sligo and the region.
Such significant change presents challenges in equal measure. Retaining the quality of the City Centre and integrating balanced development remains a challenge for developers and Planning Authorities to ensure that the quality of life issues of a vibrant City Centre are met. In some cases familiar local landmarks have disappeared such as the Silver Swan Hotel, however, in the changing face of Sligo this familiar hotel will be replaced by what we anticipate will be a very significant contemporary piece of architecture which will house a new hotel and form a landmark at Hyde Bridge.
The future changes anticipated by the Local Authority will be in the area of transportation with the continued planning and development of the Western Distributor road, Eastern bridge, a Western by-pass and bridge linking to a new N15 route to Donegal, the pedestrianisation of the City centre, the planning and development of the Port area through Local Area Action Plans and the continued marketing and development of industrial and technological opportunities in the region.
The continued development of quality housing in the public and private sectors and the development of new partnerships in the creation of integrated communities will continue to be pursued. One such development is envisaged at Ballinode as part of the Hazelwood Ballinode Local Area Plan 2004-2010. Another area of focus by the Local Authority is the refurbishment and regeneration of older existing housing stock within the Borough. In particular, the Cranmore Regeneration Project which has been in the formation and consultation phase for the past year. The first draft proposals are being launched in September which will form the basis of the physical element of the Cranmore Regeneration Masterplan and will set out the framework of regeneration in the area and include housing, community facilities, a civic centre, details on addressing issues of access, youth, education, enterprise and recreation.
Quality of Life issues for the people of Sligo are also being addressed through the Planning and Development programmes relating to Pedestrianisation, Public Arts, the arts generally, Recreation and Public Parks; in particular the development of Doorly Park, Forthill, and the long term development of Cleveragh as a Regional Park.
The development of towns and cities has always relied on strategic locations and the availability of Opportunity. These opportunities must be grasped in the key areas of competitiveness in education, industry, quality housing and environments, where, through recreation and improved quality of life, the human imagination can take flight through the fostering of our arts, heritage and culturally rich environment.
The corridor of the new Inner Relief Road will provide new opportunities for new residential and commercial buildings reflecting high quality contemporary architecture on new sites generated by the Inner Relief Road and in particular in the areas of Union Street and Adelaide Street. These buildings will be important in presenting a 'new face' of Sligo to the users of the Inner Relief Road. The 'gateway structures' (which have received planning permission), planned at Carraroe represent the start of such development together with the refurbishment and redevelopment of the former Harper Campbell warehouses at Union Street in the City Centre.
The changing face of Sligo represented by the scale and variety of development currently underway reflects the assertion of Sligo as the regional capital and gateway to the North West. City Building comes together through the inter linked development of key areas of human activity, many of which sometime appear to occur in isolation. However there comes a time when the pieces come together to form a perfect fit that completes the jig-saw. The jig-saw that is city building in Sligo is far from complete but the pieces are certainly coming together!