Readers' Blog: An official who was dedicated to housing

The housing crisis was reflected in the 20,000 citizens who marched in Dublin recently.

Around the same time, I read a new article on Herbie Simms, who knew all about housing people and families in his 16 years as leading architect in Dublin Corporation. He worked with the chief city architect, Horace O’Rourke, to design and build homes for the vulnerable through the 1920s to 1940s.

He began the design and delivery of public housing three years after the foundation of the State, and a year later, he went to London, Liverpool, and Manchester, India too, to see new housing developments. His ambition was for public housing in Dublin to be well-designed, built quickly, and to a high standard. It is said he inspected the houses and flats before they were given to new occupants.

In the 1920s, 30,000 families and individuals were living in slums in Dublin. Simms built over 17,000 homes as Dublin city architect and his designs were copied around the country.

He worked under O’Rourke, who was very supportive and protected the younger architect from politicians and others trying to sometimes stop what he was doing, because, say, some constituents may not have wanted social housing near their homes or it was too expensive.

When O’Rourke retired in 1945, the burden of work fell on Simms, who became exhausted and died three years later by deliberately laying down on a railway track. He didn’t die immediately when partially run over by a train, but later in a local hospital. After his death, his building programme continued for a time with the estates familiar today in Dublin and around the country. 

Dublin’s city surveyor said on his death: “By sheer hard work and conscientious devotion to duty, he has made a personal contribution towards the solution of Dublin’s housing problem, probably unequalled by anyone in our time... It is not given to many of us to achieve so much in the space of a short lifetime for the benefit of our fellow men.”

Simms was 49 when he died in 1948. He was born in London and moved to Ireland in 1923 to work in a small private practice and joined Dublin Corporation in 1925 as a temporary architect and then was made permanent.

A note found at his death stated: “I cannot stand it any longer. My brain is too tired to work anymore. It has not had a rest for 20 years, except when I am in heavy sleep. It is always on the go like a dynamo and still the work is being piled on me.

Dedication to duty for a long time providing homes for the citizens of Dublin led to his life ending so soon. He did the State full and complete service in the public realm.

Mary Sullivan

College Rd


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