Category Archives: Economic Gloom

Dublin- Smithfield.

Growing up in Dublin, I remember Smithfield Square in the North City area of Dublin as a market. It was a place of traders, fruit and vegetable merchants, and horse fairs. It had a particular character and feel, cobbled and weather-beaten, but it was beloved by many hard working people who were there earning their living . It was regarded as a major trading  marketplace for Dubliners.

It was a run-down sort of place in the 70’s and 80’s, dilapidated and neglected. Small lock up premises bordered the square on three sides where trade was plied, and vans and horse drawn carts were in and out delivering and collecting. Business was conducted daily and the square was a hive of activity filled with many colourful characters selling merchandise.But at night time the place was deserted and empty. Irish Distillers were located on one side of this square, but the traders were the life force of this inner city square during the day.

Old Smithfield

There was also a horse fair on the first Sunday of every month. This fair was as old as my grandfather could remember and I regularly took trips in with my Dad to watch the trading of horses, donkeys, and other animals during the 60’s and 70’s. It was a bustling fair where horses, ponies, goats and chickens were kept in makeshift pens with other domestic animals. Walking around the square on those Sundays was an experience filled with sights and smells that I will remember forever. I had to hold on tightly to my father’s hand in case we became separated because it was crowded by hundreds of people.

Dublin changed, and during the late 1980’s a new city plan was created to redevelop the area. There was a sustained outcry from the people who traded there, but the lockups started to disappear and become boarded up as leases were not renewed. Trade shifted to the more expensive  ‘Official Fruit and Vegetable covered market’ off Capel Street and the square became more forlorn and neglected.

The horse fair continued on the first Sunday of each month though, despite repeated efforts to close it down.

Developers began to buy up properties on the square in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and I clearly remember reading a proposed plan for the area, where it was imagined that it would become a grand piazza or square, modelled on an Italian vision where new urban dwellers could ‘cast their gaze over the space as they sipped their cappuccinos from their apartment balconies during their leisure time’. Coffee culture was unknown in Dublin at that time, and most of us didn’t even know what a cappuccino was or what it tasted like.

The developers created wonderful artistic impressions in their sales brochures of this new fabulous lifestyle that they were attempting to sell to Dubliners. It all looked amazing. People talked it up, and there was such a buzz about this new European style apartment living.

All looked and sounded great except for the fly in the ointment.

The one thing that ruined the sales palaver about ‘coffee on balconies’ and ‘gazing across the rooftops of Dublin’ was the obvious smell of horse manure that would pervade this idyllic space every four weeks without fail.  (In my opinion there was a greater whiff from the sales patter than there ever was from the horses.)

In the intervening years when the apartments were eventually built with their balconies and their new urban dwellers, and the whole square was redeveloped, the monthly horse fair continued. There were calls from the health and safety police about animal welfare, rogue trading, and counterfeit selling. You name it; it was all happening in Smithfield on the first Sunday of every month. There were proposals to move the fair to another venue outside the city limits, but the horse traders cited old city by-laws which allowed the trading on site to continue.Smithfield horse market 2008

The market attracted all kinds. And inevitably there were people who ignored standards, and animals were traded and sold to people who didn’t have the animal’s welfare at heart. Reports of cruelty began to surface, and coupled with an influx of young lads who just wanted to buy horses as pets and urban racers, grazing them on common ground in Dublin estates, the authorities were becoming increasingly bureaucratic and wanted the whole fair disbanded. There was a gun attack in the market in 2011 and this signalled the end of the fair.

It was simply over and I have no idea where horses are traded in Dublin any more.

Smithfield has continued to be redeveloped and now bears all the hallmarks of that once envisioned grand Italian Piazza. It is a place that is on the map of all visitors who come to Dublin, and the Distillery on the corner reaps the rewards from people who pay for the tour to see how Irish whiskey is produced.Smithfield 5

I went in there tonight to see the Christmas tree that lights the square and reflects on the wonderful ancient cobblestones that hold a million memories, but for me, despite the beauty of the revamped area and the wonderful buzz of contemporary living, it has become a heartless anonymous place.Smithfield

I gazed about, and remembered the sounds that used to reverberate around it, the calls of the merchants, and the banter of the Dubliners who traded there. It is a beautiful space for sure, but it possesses no history or footprint, as that has been obliterated by the urban redevelopment practice  that has forgotten that cities need people living and working in them to survive and not just be places for tourists to visit. Walking around Smithfield tonight, admiring the Christmas tree, listening to the other visiting people who were doing the same as I was, I could have been in Berlin, Prague, or any other European city. There is sadly nothing left to distinguish it as a place that is recognisably Dublin.

Destiny can be about realising that we all need a history to know who we truly are.


Being yourself….

Living in the shadow of someone else can be the most debilitating curse. Being compared to someone that everyone else perceives as being better than you can be privately humiliating, and the feelings that arise as a result can last a lifetime. It can colour how you live and how you justify your very existence. You can end up apologising for your life choices, how you made them and how you continue towards your destiny. Despite your choices though, you are always compared. This can be the toughest battle and one that is never really fought openly. It can be latent and subjective and it can burden in the most hurtful and inconceivable way.

31 years ago today I married a boy. I was 20 and loved him. He was 24 and loved me back. We set forth on an adventure that saw us buying a house, having a couple of kids, building a life as young couple’s do- raising a family together and taking life in its stride.

We encountered Joy, happiness, debt, hardship, isolation, personal problems, parenting issues, job difficulties etc…. Normal events in normal lives.

Throughout our early married years we had the benevolence of our parents, but in particular we had my husband’s wonderful dad who was a rock of sense. He was a Civil Servant who worked for the Department of Justice in Ireland, and had spent his lifetime working for the collective good of the Irish legal system- drafting pieces of legislation that are still a part of our constitution today. He was a moral and kind man and had wonderful values that he passed unknowingly on to his four children.

My lovely husband was the beneficiary of the morals, kindness and thoughtfulness of this sweet man who sadly died on the eve of the new Millennium on Dec 31st 1999.

Growing up in an affluent area in Dublin, my husband was surrounded by neighbours who had children, some of who had grand career opportunities that were granted to them because of their family connections. My husband had no such connections as his Dad was not in private business and who also believed that in order to get on in life you had to work hard and not rely on people giving you a leg up. His Dad had a total distain for stockbrokers and Merchant bankers and on his retirement when he was given a substantial amount of money for all his years with his State employers, he declined to invest in the “latest trend” and deposited his money in a regular bank with regular interest pay-outs rather than gamble on the stock market. He saw many of his colleagues lose their pensions on “sure things” and he passed on his hatred of stock trading and share purchasing to his children and I am all the better because of it.

This is a frame as to how we ended up living our own life, carefully and thriftily. Not showy and full on, but according to our needs and within our budget. Boring to so many who encouraged us to borrow and go on expensive holidays- to build on-or to buy a bigger house- to buy that car and to “have it all”.. We didn’t do any of that and we had a small life, lived within our means, but we were never desperately poor yet never extravagantly rich either. This was the example his Dad had set.

In comparison to some of his old neighbourhood peers, my husband suffered the indignity of mediocrity. They built empires while he worked as a skilled paramedic and Fire Fighter with the Dublin Fire Brigade. He provided a lifesaving service to the people of Dublin while his peers were busy accumulating personal wealth through business and entrepreneurship. His Dad was very proud of him and his chosen career and that is worth more than words can say.

The recent financial crash has left many of his peers broken, debt ridden and despairing.

My lovely husband knows what it feels like to live in the shadow of people who think that “they are all that and a bag o’ chips” … when really they are not even the bits in the bag when the chips are gone…….

I have always known his worth as a person. His Dad lives on in him. I married him 31 years ago today and I am so glad that we are still together. I simply love him and all the qualities that make him so dear to me.

Destiny can be about recognising goodness in people and grabbing that person and holding on tightly. x

Emigration – Ireland & Me….

Reading newspaper articles on the emigration of Irish people in recent times, I have been caught up in the many tales of heartache and separation that occur when such a drastic step is taken. Many of the stories are about economic emigration because it can be difficult to see a future in the harsh landscape of Ireland in the post Celtic Tiger gloom of the present. Other stories are about bravery and vision and a belief that life will be better away from this small Island that has a huge history in shipping out its talent and youth and sending our best to the far flung corners of the globe.

When I was engaged to be married a life time ago, I had the opportunity to go to Chicago in America with my fiancé. He had an uncle who would sponsor us and we were assured of good jobs, accommodation and a loving family member who would be thrilled to watch over us and to help in any way that he could. My fiancé wanted to go but I didn’t. I loved living in Dublin at that time and being a young and naïve 19 year old, I didn’t want too many challenges or to be separated from my family and friends. My argument was that we would go, work hard and have a life, but would never be able to afford to come home for our parent’s funerals if they died. Travel was expensive in the early 80’s and this was a valid argument in my mind. We didn’t go and the dye was cast on our life in Ireland.

We stayed here, married, raised a small family and lived a small life surrounded by the people that were important to us. We educated our children and hoped that they would eventually acquire the skills needed to become independent and to continue to live here and not to be included in the statistics of people who emigrated and had to leave Ireland’s shores. We wanted them here with us and I believed that I was rearing them to become the new generation of Irish people who were going to continue into the new century with pride and a skill set that was worthwhile and valuable. Sustainable living in Ireland was our hope for them and I never gave a thought to them leaving this country.

My children are grown now and are independent and working. They are maintaining their own lives and homes against a backdrop of savage austerity and hardship. Tax cuts are biting deep and there are harder days to come. There are Increases in the cost of living, health insurance, fuel and other day to day products as well the introduction of stealth taxes on property and other items that reduce their disposable income every day. There seems to be no good news on the horizon for Ireland and for this new generation of citizens the emigration figures are climbing higher and higher.

Looking back at my own opportunity to emigrate, I realise that I was young and scared. I was afraid to take a step into the unknown, afraid to take a step into a different country, afraid to leave behind all that was familiar, afraid simply to take a step. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t been that way, and I really admire the people who have taken the plunge and have gone on to make lives for themselves and their families in so many places far from this land. They possessed the courage that I lacked.

As an Island state, Ireland cannot continue to sustain its population indefinitely and so will continue to provide the rest of the world with educated young people who will search out better places to live and to settle in. I will always want my children close by, but I am beginning to see myself as being selfish in not wanting them to go where life offers better possibilities. They have not mentioned emigration, but it’s something that I may yet have to face.

Home is somewhere that you carry in your heart and distance cannot change that. I always want them to be happy in their choices and not to be scared like I was when I was their age. If emigration calls them I don’t want them to be shackled to me or to the past, I want them to look to their own future and to find that special place that they can live and prosper in no matter where in the world it is.

I will also have a few bob put aside for them just in case they need to fly home for my funeral!

Destiny can be about evaluating the past and reshaping the future……