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?)

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  1. Posted July 5, 2006 at 23:49 | Permalink

    As a fellow D7 resident (North Brunswick St, for the past 5 years) I too have seen how Smithfield has failed to live up to it’s promise of excellence in urban living. A new development has just finished on North King Street and it has provided more retail space to an area already awash with unrented property. The apartment building directly opposite The Cobblestone has ground floor retail space that has remained vacant for the past 5 years. The new developments on Parnell St (I know I’ve entered D1 but bear with me), beside and across the road from Jury’s, also remain vacant. As too does the ground floor space in the building where Peat’s was founded. So much space and so few tenants!

    After getting the Luas to Smithfield the other day, I saw two junkies shooting up as a squad car drove past them. Now I don’t think we’re asking for much by asking the Gardai to deal with such anti-social activity, but when nothing is being done to combat the problem the whole area is dragged down with it.

    Smithfield has become what it was always intended to be, an investors dream. F**k the residents.

  2. ben
    Posted July 6, 2006 at 00:48 | Permalink

    I don’t see how investors benefit from the place going to seed …

  3. Posted July 6, 2006 at 01:38 | Permalink

    Sorry my bad, I didn’t mean people investing in property, I meant the property developers.

  4. Posted July 6, 2006 at 11:49 | Permalink

    yep, the developers came off well; they’ve sold their apartments to the investors and dwellers. The investors, not so much — they’re now left holding the bag for what are effectively new high-rise slums.

  5. tom
    Posted July 7, 2006 at 13:04 | Permalink

    Firstly – I have noticed no deterioration in the quality of food from Namaste, but that said I haven’t had one for a while.

    The un-let commercial units are a by-product of the residential development. To get planning permission they have to be included, but the investors don’t really want to let them, or at least aren’t that bothered about letting them at the sort of rents they would have to charge before anyone other than Spar and Centra are interested in them. An example of market failure.

    The ice-rink and associated stuff are actually a desperate indicment of why the space doesn’t work. After a few years trial and error the latest set-up is an entire christmas village behind high wooden walls. You pay to get in, skate and potter around a faux-swiss market and are entirely segregated from the local population, presumably because the local population were causing trouble. It’s sad that you can’t have open air / free to access entertainment on the northside but that seems to be the case.

    Having said all that a couple of words in smithfield’s defence. The space is too large, but it was kept that way because there is a belief that we need a space for ‘civic events’ like football teams coming home from world cups (hollow laughter). It’s no surprise that it doesn’t work for working and playing as that wasn’t really what it was designed for. Some of the smaller places off it, particularly the courtyard with Kelly and Ping and the Distillery, work quite well. You might see the same on the other side of the square as it evolves. There are a few good shops in the area and it wouldn’t take many more to reach critical mass. This is back to the rents though, it’s absurd that shops like Kish and Little Italy are hidden in back streets rather than having a proper shop front on the square. If these two and Fresh were all adjacent you would have some momentum and something to build on.

    In planning terms what the space really needs is a ‘magnet’. You would think the obvious thing would be a market but that niche has been stolen by temple bar. Possibly a large ‘upmarket’ retailer. Maybe the brave thing would be to tear up the cobbles and create a park / playpark.

  6. tom
    Posted July 7, 2006 at 13:07 | Permalink

    oh – one more comment.

    Perspective is required here. The area isn’t ‘going to seed’ – it is unrecognisable compared to 10 years ago, when most of the market and surrounding streets were either falling or fallen down.

    The latest apartments were all snapped up immediately at vast prices.

    At very worst Smithfield is uninspired development close to the city centre, something that a lot of people are willing to pay for.

  7. Posted July 7, 2006 at 16:06 | Permalink


    Kish and Little Italy are indeed fantastic — but they, like the horse market, were there before all this development, so the development can’t take any credit for them. Most of the ideas the developers put in place, have pretty much failed.

    The latest — I notice that Chief O’Neills (which seemed to be there mainly to attract bus tours of tourists from Chicago) has closed down, too.

    ‘Perspective is required here. The area isn’t ‘going to seed’ – it is unrecognisable compared to 10 years ago, when most of the market and surrounding streets were either falling or fallen down.’

    Sure, it’s better than it was before the development started; it had been deteriorating for 20 years by that stage! There’s plenty of room to fall before it gets that bad again.

  8. Posted July 7, 2006 at 22:02 | Permalink

    I caught the torches on fire a while back:

  9. Posted July 13, 2006 at 19:08 | Permalink

    I’ve walked through there recently and was marvelling at the lack of lights in the finished apartment blocks and how dead the area was. From talking to some people about it I think the reason for this is that the apartments have been bought up by “investors” who in the current climate would rather leave the property unlet while their nominal equity increases. That’s fine in this miracle economy property pyramid scheme some are involved in.

    The problem with the area is a lack of residents which will drive commercial activity. As soon as these so called investors bail out (or try to bail out) I think the place will recover.

  10. Luke
    Posted July 18, 2006 at 12:53 | Permalink

    Justin, I think you are being a bit hard on Fresh. My test for whether a food shop is crud or not is simple – can you make a tasty meal of good meat and veg from the products on offer. 90% of Spars and Centras fail this test, Fresh passes with ease.

    On other matters – I have heard an urban rumour (possibly soon to be upgraded to legend status) that the block of apartments opposite the Tap is still unrented at ground level because the block was built too close to the footpath in defiance of a Corporation road widening plan and that there’s a massive legal battle running on and on.


  11. Posted July 18, 2006 at 13:04 | Permalink

    hey Macker —

    yeah, I recently found myself buying a bag of split peas in Fresh, after failing to find them in both of the Manor St. shops — fair dos to them for stocking that kind of unusual ingredient. So maybe I’m being over-harsh there.

    interesting rumour btw.

  12. Posted September 5, 2006 at 09:19 | Permalink

    yo, yo, yo… The Onion had a rather good article on this very subject not so long ago –

  13. Posted September 5, 2006 at 10:08 | Permalink

    ‘I am always telling my other struggling artist, freelance graphic designer, and independent T-shirt-maker friends that this is the neighborhood to take it to. It’s the next big thing. Sure, it’s an hour from my day job and right next to a stinky canal and a power station, but that’s the whole charm — it keeps the yuppies out.’


    you know, I wouldn’t mind if there was a taqueria on the corner. Although I suppose the Irish equivalent is a greasy spoon serving fried breakfasts, and there’s still one of those on Smithfield square…