Tough times in Liberties but some see hope on the horizon
IN Dublin's most fabled heartland of the Liberties, years of underdevelopment and neglect have taken their toll.
The first distillery to open in Ireland in over a century did so last week up the road at Newmarket. Another whiskey distillery will soon follow in its tracks. The Guinness Storehouse is the country's most popular attraction and tourists continue to flock en masse to St Patrick's and Christchurch Cathedrals.
But visitors to the Liberties don't buy communion dresses, or sirloin steaks or antique furniture. The old-style industries, through which the famous Liberties area acquired its lustre, its grit and its stories, are facing tough times.
On Thomas Street, Vivian Walsh says conditions have been "very, very tough" for his butcher shop.
Vivian Walsh at his butcher shop Fay's Butchers, in Liberties, Dublin 8
"That has been the case for the last seven or eight years," he says with exasperation.
"This year has been worse than last year and I thought last year was as bad as it could get."
Fay's Butchers has been in operation since 1899 and in Vivian's family for four generations, but he is not optimistic for the future.
"Tourism is the only trade that is growing here and, unfortunately, try as I might, I can't monetise that," he said.
"The footfall is all tourism. If you're on holidays, you don't go to the butchers and buy meat."
Vivian has tried to fight the tide. A bright banner offering discount prices hangs on the shop front window. He has advertised as well and there was also a near €300,000 refurbishment. But it has largely been in vain.
"There's a fifth generation, but I hope they'll go off and get themselves a masters before they take over here. Then you never know, there could be 15 of these shops down the line."
Further down Thomas Street is Fagan's Tailors, which has traded for 48 years, withstanding all the change Dublin has been able to throw at it in that time.
Leonard Fagan (52) in his tailoring business, called Fagan's Tailors, on Thomas Street, Liberties, Dublin 8. The business has been there for 48 years.
Business has been good in the past few months for owner Leonard Fagan, who specialises in tailored communion suits. But he knows that seasonal work is just that.
"The street is dead," he offers bluntly.
"Why would you come here when you can go to Liffey Valley and park for free? It's all tourists here. The street will never be back. There's nothing on it.
"Communion outfits have been my main business for the last 20 years. I'm probably the only one making suits like that. I have local customers and those who come from Munster and even the UK.
"It will go quiet again. We do get weddings and debs and we do an alteration service. There is no real Christmas trade for us. There's no real Christmas trade at all here anymore."
Leonard does rejoice in the fact he is not hit with crippling rent every month, but rails against the notion "things are improving".
"We're hearing it all the time and that people have more disposable income. But we just don't see it," he said.
A few doors up is Brendan Henry in Finestyle Furniture. There are days when not a single customer will enter the shop. He tells a story of once being offered €3m for the two stores he owns on the street. He's glad he didn't take the offer but recognises he may be out of business in five years.
Brendan Henry (57) outside his furniture store on Thomas Street in Liberties, Dublin 8
"Others will be gone as well," he says adding that 20 years ago there were 40 furniture shops within the Liberties, along the Quays and in the north side of the city. Now only two remain.
He cites multiple problems with the street and area including the parking issues as well as anti-social behaviour and the increase in begging, none of which makes running a business any easier.
However, dotted throughout Dublin 8 exist pockets of hope and optimism in the future.
On Meath Street, shop owner Noel Dowling is more optimistic. His newsagents 'Noel's' recently won a citywide awarded voted by customers. He acknowledges the area has undergone "huge transition" and is very welcoming of the addition of Teelings Distillery to the area. He is hopeful the increased numbers in the area will benefit all business.
There is also Conor Linnane, the proprietor of Fallons 'The Capstan Bar' in The Coombe.
The bar has been successful in pleasing both locals and attracting a new breed of young customers - helped by the close positioning of the two BIMMs music colleges.
"I'll be speaking with the Teelings and others. We have recently been told the big bus tours will be serving this area. It all bodes well and I'm very positive for the future of the business and the area," Conor says.
Other new additions have promised to do their bit to restore Dublin 8 to its past glory. Teelings, with adjoining museum, brands itself as "the spirit of Dublin".
Founder Jack Teeling says he wants to "work with the local community".
There is a commitment to employ local people and the company has also pledged to put a portion of all admission fees into local projects.
But for the old-style industries the challenge remains to capitalise on the influx of visitors to the area - if it's not already too late for Dublin 8's butchers, bakers and furniture sellers.