Architects' study to revive Mountmellick market square in Laois

Study to revitalise market squares in Irish small towns at La Biennale de Venezia architecture exhibition

Lynda Kiernan

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Lynda Kiernan

Architects' study to revive Mountmellick market square in Laois

A study of how Mountmellick can revitalise its market square is part of a prestigious global architectural exhibition in Venice in Italy.

The Laois town is one of ten small Irish towns chosen to feature in the six month long exhibition Venice architecture Biennale 2018 - La Biennale di Venezia.

Ireland is one of 65 countries at the exhibition which will welcome over a quarter a million visitors.

The exhibition in the Irish National Pavilion is being curated by a group of six young Irish architects and designers, the Free Market, who chose to explore how to revitalise market squares in small Irish towns.

It is a first for the biennial exhibition which usually focuses on city architecture.

The Irish group includes Laois architect Miriam Delaney who grew up near the Rock of Dunamase.

She believes that O’Connell Square, as with town squares, has a big role in revitalising the town centre.

“Mountmellick has a very interesting marketplace that is underexplored and we believe undersold. It would have had markets but now has little or no function, only used for occasional events,” she said.

In Mountmellick, the long back gardens of the square’s houses offer potential.

“They can offer small work spaces, as is already happening with one house. That is a really good move that gets people back to the town centre. Derelict houses could become work hubs, shared work spaces. It is hard to bring shops back in to town centres, but small towns do well in services, as there are low overheads,” Ms Delaney said.

“The bigger issue is the regeneration of the town centre. It can once again be at the heart of the town. Like other towns that has drifted with shops opening up on the outskirts, but what’s really important in Mountmellick is the secondary school and the post office are still in the middle of the town. That was lost in Portarlington when the post office moved,” Ms Delaney said.

Below: The Free Market team.

Mountmellick will be represented in Venice in model, photography, drones images and drawings of the town.

“This event presents a remarkable opportunity to highlight Mountmellick to a global audience. This is the first time that small towns and their market places has been the subject of the Irish pavilion, and it is also the first time the exhibition will return to tour Ireland,” she said.

The other towns selected are Athenry in Galway, Ballinrobe in Mayo, Ballyshannon in Donegal, Bunclody in Wexford, Castleblayney in Monaghan, Kilmallock in Limerick, Kilrush in Clare, Macroom in Cork and Templemore in Tipperary.

Free Market will return to Ireland in Summer 2019 to exhibit in Mountmellick and the other nine towns.

The tour will close with a major symposium in late 2019, which will gather architects, historians, representatives, policy makers, and stakeholders involved in towns.

“It is hoped that this exhibition and subsequent tour and symposium will become a catalyst in the way policy decisions regarding small towns are made and implemented,” Ms Delaney said.

“There is a lot of international interest because there are small towns everywhere so it is very relevant,” she said.

The ‘Free Market’ group are Jo Anne Butler, Jeffrey Bolhuis, Miriam Delaney, Tara Kennedy, Laurence Lord, and Orla Murphy.

This year also for the first time, the overall curators of the Biennale exhibition are Irish, Grafton Architects who have set an overall theme of ‘FreeSpace’.

The Irish National Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale is an initiative of Culture Ireland in partnership with the Arts Council.

The Free Market team is grateful for the support it has been given by Laois County Council and by Creative Ireland Laois.

Below: historic photo of the market square in Mountmellick, Laois / A sample of the exhibition book featuring Mountmellick.