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Smithfield’s Decay

I live in Dublin 7, on the north side of Dublin. Historically, the north side has been run-down and under-developed, always losing out to the more well-maintained, and well-funded, south side.

A few years ago, though, it looked like this was changing; the Spire in O’Connell St. was erected, new bars and shops opened, and the Luas line was installed. One site, Smithfield Square in Dublin 7, was radically overhauled; its derelict buildings were renovated or knocked down, new construction was going up, and fantastic architecture was being put in place. The future was looking bright.

That was back around 2000/2001; in fact, I remember walking past the avenue of braziers on Milennium night. Fast forward — I’ve been back in Dublin 6 months now, and as far as I can tell, all that has petered out, while I was away. This Frank McDonald article in the Irish Times sums it up perfectly:

The cafes, bars and restaurants that were meant to be part of [Smithfield] are nowhere to be seen. The promoters had promised residents “an entire lifestyle on your doorstep, extended by the possibilities of the city and beyond”. There was to be an eclectic mix of restaurants and stylish bars – “a unique mix of offerings, ranging from food to culture to entertainment and leisure in a family-friendly development”, according to Paddy Kelly.

In November 2003, his son Chris said: “We are hoping it will emulate the New York example where everything – from your launderette, hairdresser and your masseuse – is only a block away, and that people will live, work and socialise within the same area”. On another occasion, London’s Covent Garden was cited as the urban model.

Incredibly, the lower end of Smithfield – through which Luas runs – remains unfinished six years after the rest of it was re-paved in an award-winning scheme by McGarry Ni Eanaigh Architects. It also has a redundant stone-clad structure, which served briefly as a plug-in point for open-air concerts.

The only real entertainment available in the area is the annual Christmas ice rink or the seriously indigenous and pre-existing horse fair, still being held on the first Sunday of every month.

Otherwise, the plaza attracts an assortment of winos, or juvenile offenders on their way to the Children’s Court, handcuffed to prison warders.

The little stage set up for open-air concerts is now covered in graffiti, and hosts a solid crew of junkies and winos; the braziers are no longer lit; the square boasts a permanent encrustation of construction fencing. The fruit and veg market that used to be held in one of the buildings has been bought out and moved on to somewhere on the outskirts of town, replaced by “Fresh“, which — while it sells the odd bit of interesting food, like the nice Bretzel bakery bread — is really just an upscale Spar. Even the local Indian takeaway has dropped in quality, and is now shipping out generic dishes that aren’t even made with Indian spices.

To be quite honest, Smithfield — and, to be honest, much of the north side — gives the impression it’s been abandoned again, after only one or two years of short-term investment, and no long-term thinking.

What happened?

(PS: it’s not over for Dublin 7, though — about a half-mile from Smithfield, a flashy new restaurant is set to open this weekend. But who’s to say that Capel St. won’t find itself similarly forgotten in a year or two?)