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December 28, 2007

Uinseann MacEoin 1920 – 2007

Ruadhán MacEoin on Uinseann MacEoin

‘Maverick,’ ‘iconoclast’ and ‘contrarian’ are some of the more polite terms that have been used in reference to my father. Born in Tyrone in 1920, his family moved to Dublin in the 1920s. In a house abutting what is now the Connolly Bookshop, the back room was home to seven, while in the front room my grandmother ran a working man’s café. The son of an Argenta internee and a Republican mother, it was inevitable that Uinseann would join the IRA during the 1930s; when he was caught, he served a one-year sentence for membership, and was released into the hands of Special Branch. They delivered him to the Curragh internment camp, where he spent a further three years until the Second World War was over.

Uinseann became an architect and town planner, having studied by correspondence while in the Curragh. During the 1960s, many were pushing to demolish Georgian Dublin, often on a shallow pretence of “wrap-the-green-flag-around-me-nationalism.” Then-fashionable ideas included filling in the canals for an inner-city ring road and breaking the Georgian Mile for the ESB offices on Fitzwilliam Street. My father and mother intervened repeatedly to thwart official policies that were corroding the city.

Uinseann was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1966, but Dublin was where he has spent most of his time. With my mother, he set up the magazine Plan – a publication still in existence some 30-plus years later. I recently chanced upon a letter, advising him that one proposed article was “highly dangerous” and “almost certainly libelous!” It concerned a young councillor who was rezoning land around the airport while moving motor roads to suit hidden interests. The councillor’s name was Ray Burke.

My parents put what little money they had into buying houses in the north Georgian quarter. In The Georgian Squares of Dublin, John Heagney noted that Mountjoy Square has been saved “thanks to the heroic efforts of individuals such as Uinseann Mac Eoin.” Not that the southside has escaped his attention. Well before the Luas, Uinseann and my brother Nuada put together a team to produce a feasibility study that advocated reopening the Harcourt Street railway line. This ‘Dart 2′ would open up the line to Bray all in one go, and would have cost just £30 million.

Dad’s idea of relaxing is to climb some mountains. A few years ago he became the first Irish man to climb all of the Munros – 277 summits, each over 3,000 feet high, in Scotland. He has also written three books on Irish history, including Survivors, a bestseller telling the stories of veterans of the Tan and civil wars.

Author, republican, architect, planner, conservationist, journalist, mountaineer, civil-rights activist, and patron of the arts – Uinseann is well qualified for “maverick” status.

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