(IRISH INDEPENDENT, October 9th, 2015)
Think of Smithfield just across the Liffey in Dublin’s north inner city and chances are two things will spring to mind: the enormous cobbled square, and the clatter of hooves and the colour, whiff and pong of the famous Smithfield Horse Fair on it.
Laid out originally in the 17th century, Smithfield is indeed the oldest surviving market area in Dublin but the Horse Fair, for which it is best known, only continues in a much scaled-down version, now on just twice a year and subject to stricter rules and regulations.
Smithfield roughly incorporates the area bounded by the Liffey to the south, Bow Street to the east, Queen Street to the west, and North Brunswick Street in Grangegorman to the north.
The Red Luas Line skirts Smithfield Square, or Plaza, as it is officially known, to the south, providing a convenient link to the nearby city centre, or on to Tallaght and Saggart in Co Kildare
The area is often seen nowadays as also including the developing Museum District to the west, and the Four Courts District to the east.
These districts are largely residential and combined with the area around Smithfield Square comprise the main Liffey river frontage of D7.
It all makes for some unusual dynamics, especially in fine weather when you will find barristers sitting on a bench outside eating gourmet sandwiches from Seven Social, on Benburb Street, as kids play in the playground nearby, and young hipsters go about their young hipster business, maybe on their way to the Third Space on the Square for a salad and to use the handy wi-fi hot spot.
Rejuvenation has been the name of the game here since 1997 when, under the Historic Area Rejuvenation Plan (HARP), more than 400,000 one hundred and twenty-year-old cobblestones were lifted, cleaned by hand and re-laid. Twelve 26.5 metre gas lighting masts, each with a two-metre flame, now flanked the square, and the Celtic Tiger was on the prowl as commercial, residential and cultural developments sprang up.
However, with the tiger’s claws long retracted, and the envisaged “Western IFSC” dream unrealised, the flames are rarely lit now, as Dublin City Council deems it too costly to do so.
The lighting mast shades can at times be seen in different colours, however, as uplighters change hue to reflect cultural events throughout the year; green for St Patrick’s Day and rainbow colours for the opening night of the 2015 GAZE International LGBT Film Festival at the restored Light House Cinema on the Square.
Red is the theme colour for this year’s Bram Stoker Festival, which opens on Friday, October 23rd, and will cast a macabre light at night on the large installation Dublin artist Maser will construct on Market Square as part of the festival.
All the development in the mid-noughties led to the area becoming newly fashionable. The recession hit the first wave of development hard but one business’s commercial misfortune is another’s opportunity and, like in the early days of Temple Bar, culinary, social and cultural entrepreneurs have been drawn to the cheaper rents in the area.
There are still many units unoccupied, but it’s still a lot better than the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, when all around the square and beyond was ramshackle warehouses, dereliction and urban decay.
Nowadays, as well as modern apartment blocks like Market Square, Smithfield Village and The Old Distillery, and the occasional row of two-up two down cottages on the likes of Chancery Street or Fr Matthew Square, Smithfield is home to the Old Jameson Distillery, the Light House Cinema and the ultra-cool Generator Hostel.
So once a a traditional working class area, Smithfield is now a buzzing city hub, full of trendy eateries and entertainment hotspots.
The original Jameson Distillery was founded here in 1780 and functioned until operations were transferred to the Midleton Distillery in the 1970s. Beautifully restored, the distillery has become a very popular tourist attraction, as visitors take in the barrels, cellars and copper stills which used to produce the popular tipple.
Those Smithfield cobblestones were just made for film noir, and the ultimate in the genre, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, based on John Le Carre’s novel, was shot here in 1964-65, with Smithfield doubling as Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie.
The film starred Richard Burton as a Cold War-era British spy. Burton brought with him his wife Elizabeth Taylor and their entourage, which took over a full floor of the Gresham Hotel for months.
The film itself may have been shot in black and white, but off-set it was pure Technicolor Hollywood, and it is well worth googling the wonderful tales from the time of Burton, Liz, her White Rolls Royce and the pet monkey that had to be kept in the famous couple’s bathroom because it wrecked their living room.
Or just read Le Carre’s own wonderful essay in the New Yorker magazine, entitled The Spy Who Liked Me, on his experience as the mercurial Burton’s minder on the shoot, at the behest of the increasingly frazzled director Martin Ritt.
“The reputedly seventeen-strong Burton-Taylor household, which occupied the whole of one floor of Dublin’s grandest hotels, and included, as I understood it, their various children by different marriages, tutors for said children, hairdressers, secretaries, and, in the words of one disrespectful member of the unit, the fellow who clipped their parrot’s claws? All these, and Richard still needed me?” wrote a bemused Le Carre.
Smithfield Square hosted a series of carnival-type summer picnics this year, run by Bluefire, a non-profit social enterprise based in the North Inner City, and who also run the annual Bluefire Street Fest, but mostly, it provides a convenient through route for local residents as well as for professionals and users of a range of court and legal-related services and buildings in the area.
These range from the Prison Probation Services through to the Family Court and the Law Society of Ireland.
There really is so much going on in Smithfield, all the time. Smithfield Outdoor Market is held every Friday in August and September, offering a wide selection of stalls selling Spanish foods, jams, cheese, olives, breads, fruit and vegetables, beauty products, jewellery and much more.
And not to forget the Fruit and Veg market on St Michan’s Street, just behind the Four Courts, where traders have sold their fresh produce for centuries. The actual original market building itself is considered to be one of the finest expressions of the late Victorian approach to open plan buildings.
Worth visiting too is the Smithfield Market Fair, a monthly happening of market stalls, music and food offerings, located in the Generator Dublin centre, the accommodation and venue space, right on the square. If you are looking for vintage clothing, jewellery, or quirky one-off art or craft pieces, this is the place to go. The next one is on October 25th
Food lovers are really spoiled for choice. WUFF is your friendly neighbourhood bistro, on the corner of Benburb Street and Blackhall Place. Try their butter cooked 10oz rib eye.
My Meat Wagon, right next door to the Light House, is an excellent barbecue spot, and we especially recommend the mixed meat board offering brisket, beef ribs, pulled pork, chicken and sausage.
The bright graffiti building on Chancery Street that is home to a food truck selling authentic Mexican food, also known as K Chido Mexico, is attracting praise for its tasty tacos and burritos.
The Kish Fish branch on Bow Street is popular with the locals. They write the menu only when they find out what’s been landed that day, with specials on a chalk board.
Oscar’s cafe Bar, on the Square, also packs them in. Their Inferno Chicken Wings are served with home made hot sauce, coriander and lime mayo.
If it’s music you want after that, the Cobblestone is a must for traditional music, seven nights a week and twice on Sundays.
Looking for something a bit more hard core, well try the Dice Bar,
a little piece of New York on the corner of Queen Street and Benburb Street. The décor is coloured in the dark black and reds of an East Village Bar in Manhattan, hardly surprising as it was once co-owned by New York’s own Huey Morgan, lead singer with The Fun Lovin’ Criminals. Here the music is hard core, but the vibe is late night laid back.
There are very few houses coming to the market here, and apartment living is what Smithfield is about these days. According to Orla Redden of The Property Shop, prices in The Old Distillery development range from about €200,000 to €270,00, for a two-bedroom affair with its own parking space. Apartments in Smithfield Village would go to about €300,000 for a top-end two-bedroom.
According to Derek Mulligan of OMD, the market picked up in August, with a rise of 2.3% on a slow July.
“The figures, overall, are up this year,” he says, even after a slow spring and summer. The problem is the lack of supply.
Maison Neuve and Maguire has 2 St Francis Terrace, currently two separate, two-bedroom apartment units for €280,000; 9 Queen St, a three-bed end of terrace, is on the books of The Property Shop for €260,000; while OMD has priced 175 The Old Distillery, a two-bed apartment, at €249,000
- Everything Dublin city has to offer nearby
- Great local transport and Heuston Station also close at hand
- Wonderful food and entertainment spots
- Still a lot of shut down commercial units
- Caution at night advised
- Shortage of houses/apartments