Battleground: Moore Street


Posted 2 months ago in More

BIMM may-june 22 – Desktop

Moore Street remains a battleground over 100 years later as appeals are lodged against a proposed €500m build at the historic site. We gauge feelings from those on the ground. 

’My sister’d say, “shout out, shout out!” And we’d all be shouting out, “sixpence a dozen, the herrings are. Shilling-a-dozen the mackerel.”’

Over the Ilac shopping centre’s north exit is a photo series paying tribute to the open-air market outside on Moore Street. Composed of nineteen panels, each one represents a different facet of its three-hundred-year history. There are pictures of fruit, fish and flowers, traders, young and old, siblings grinning, and a mother laughing with her daughter.

It’s a story of the inner-city’s female working class and their tradition passing stalls down from one generation to the next. It brings to life the second verse of ‘In Dublin’s Fair City’, in which Molly Malone’s parents are revealed to have been fishmongers too. And it conjures up that eternal, inimitable voice: “anyone want bananas, apples or oranges?”

What the display promises is an almost Wizard of Oz-like transition from sedate fluorescence to a place definitively local. As the exit comes closer, however, that promise is diluted. Few of the blue and white striped stalls are open. Most are locked up inside uninviting cages. Of the seventeen traders still active, scarcely a third are around on any given day. Neighbouring storefronts are shuttered. Crammed into subdivided lots are approximately twenty phone repair shops. What thrives are the chains and bookies.

Moore Street isn’t dead. It’s terminally inert.

Strange is the sheer contrast between its outward appearances and deeper significance. This, locals stress, is where the Republic was born. It was into the now-derelict row of terraced houses, numbers 14 to 17, that the 1916 rebels made their final retreat after escaping the burning GPO, and above number 16, a plaque marks where the leaders signed their death warrants:

“Here on the 29th April, five members of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic decided on surrender.”

It takes an effort or good eyesight to read, however. The text is minuscule, and the plaque itself is so high up as to be barely legible.

“Take out the magnifying glass,” jokes Margaret Buckley, one of the market’s fish traders. “If you passed it, you wouldn’t know where it was.”

“People who emigrated thirty, forty, fifty years ago come back and say, ‘I remember coming down here with me granny, mammy or Uncle Dick, what happened? Why did ye let it go like this?’ But we’re not the ones responsible.”

Margaret Buckley hasn’t opened her stall for two years now. The 77-year-old wants desperately to return. But she’s hesitant. The combination of Covid, anti-social behaviour and neglect has kept her away.

A fourth-generation trader, she began in the early 60s, aged 19. She was newly married and expecting her first child. Her mother ran one of the then-myriad fish stalls. They didn’t have coverings back then, she says. When it rained, “you got drowned. You’d have to get a spare change of clothes, and luckily, we only lived ten minutes away. So, I’d get Mam clothes and a cup of tea.”

And it was on one of those errands that Margaret was roped in. “She’d say, ‘Margaret, stand there ‘till I come back’, and I’ve been standing there ever since. It was a labour of love. I just wanted to help her.”

Holy Week and Farmer’s Day, on December 8th, were their busiest times of the year. “All the farmers’d come up to Dublin. They loved to see our banter, shouting ‘get yer cheeky Charlies and the last of the Mickey Mouses.’ You had to shout. Oh my god! And if I took out a cigarette, Mam’d say, ‘are you here to work or are ye here to smoke?’

Margaret’s mother “worked her whole life.” She looked after her brothers and sisters, while her own mother sold fruit outside the former Volta Electric Theatre on Mary Street. Then upon marrying, she became a fish trader herself.

Margaret was one of eight children whom she raised. “Mam had to work at the same time, because the men were chauvinists. There was no social welfare, no children’s allowance. The women put the food on the table. They broke the mould.”

When, aged 64, she fell ill, Margaret and her sister Imelda encouraged her to retire. They were, she said, among the last of the traders’ children to inherit their parents’ businesses. “As people my mam’s age were dying, the children didn’t want to take over. To be honest, I never thought I’d be on Moore Street. I was gonna go to America and dance with Fred Astaire.”

The market was long in jeopardy before the decrease in traders accelerated, though. Its existence was threatened as early as 1964 when Irish Life Assurance, backed by the Council, envisaged a ‘comprehensive redevelopment’ of the North Inner-City.

By ‘73, 102 properties in the area were bought out. 400,000 square feet was planned for retail space. Another 300,000 was set aside for offices, a carpark and hotel. The traders weren’t consulted, and local dissent was ignored.

Four markets – Angelsea, Norfolk, the Rotunda and Taffe’s – were flattened, and the site remained derelict for four years. Eventually, the land for retail was halved. Everything else was scrapped. And what emerged in 1981 was the Ilac Centre.

“It removed half the street,” says Patrick Cooney, a local campaigner. “City Council got their new buildings and saw Moore Street not as an attraction but as a vestige of old Dublin that needed to be swept away. The running down started when Irish people became too snobby to shop on the streets.”

Patrick began campaigning to defend Moore Street when, one day, in 2001, he noticed that the plaque over 16 was missing. He assumed it was down for cleaning. “It was quite grimy, but I knew enough about demolitions to contact the National Graves Association.”

To the NGA’s surprise, in 1999, a private developer received permission to demolish the house as part of another rejuvenation scheme. Lined up to link Moore and O’Connell Street was a new retail and leisure complex. “They’d preserve the front wall,” he recalls. “We just said no.”

In response, he started the Save 16 Moore Street campaign, and was joined by James Connolly-Heron, the grandson of executed Rising leader, James Connolly. The duo then attempted to reunite as many relatives of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic as they could find.

“A lot of them hadn’t met before,” says Patrick.

“Once our Grandparents left,” says James. “We were lost. My generation weren’t aware about a lot of the surrender though. How they burrowed into the terrace wasn’t talked about.”

“My grandmother would always become very upset talking about him,” James continues. “When she wrote his biography, she was living with us in Ballymun. She wrote it alone in my sister’s bedroom, and we heard her sobbing as she wrote.”

Dublin City Council’s defended the new scheme, saying that, while the 1916 ought to be recognised appropriately, this house – the ‘Irish Alamo’ – had to go.

The first success of the Save 16 campaign came in 2007 when numbers 14 to 17 were declared a national monument. “We thought if four are worth preserving then the entire terrace is: 10 to 25” says Patrick.

Two years later, in April 2009, they made their case at an oral hearing, and then again in the High Court, the latter one month shy of the Rising’s centenary in 2016. The Court ruled in their favour. The national monument wouldn’t be declassified. What the National History Museum called ‘the most important historic site in modern Irish history’ was recognised by Justice Max Barrett as a ‘battlefield site’.

At the top of the street, welded to the gates of an underground carpark were seven monochrome portraits of the Proclamation’s signatories. Their faces, however, have faded to resemble Louis le Brocquy imitations. Padraig Pearse is now only the hairs on his crown, nape and temple. Thomas MacDonagh is identifiable by just the shadows below his left nostril and lower lip.

A ‘sop’ and a ‘nonsense’ is what James Connolly-Heron labels the items. They were erected by a private developer as a tokenistic gesture, a distraction from the fact that Moore Street remains a battlefield. Recognition meant little if the open-air museum of dereliction continued to expand.

“Cycle-Ways, Fabric Select, In-Cahoots Café.”

Stephen Troy, a fifth-generation butcher, runs down the list of local businesses closed in recent years.

“The Satellite TV Shop, Caroline’s Beauty Salon, Chapters.”

His own fear is that Troy’s Family Butchers might join them.

For more than one hundred years, the family business has operated on Moore Street. “My uncle started employing me after school. My father died when I was very young, and he took me under his wing.”

His nickname was the ‘Prince of Mince,’ because on Saturdays, he did the mincing, while on Sundays, he washed the walls.

“Every day on these streets, as a kid, and even up to ten years ago, was brilliant and vibrant. But what has happened since, people feel crap. They didn’t succeed in knocking the terrace in 2016. But they might in 2022.”

In March 2015, after the Government were pressured to purchase nos. 14 to 17, two polar-opposite plans were set in motion. The was a Bill launched by the Moore Street Advisory Group and now-Minister for Heritage, Darragh O’Brien. They wanted a cultural and historic quarters to ensure, O’Brien said, the street and adjacent lanes would be ‘developed appropriately.’

Six months later, however, UK developers Hammerson acquired a block of properties from Moore to O’Connell Street. The State, in 2018, overturned the High Court ruling, and in June 2021, Hammerson was granted key permissions for a proposal to regenerate 5.5 acres of land in in the area.

Hammerson’s masterplan comprises 94 new homes, 8,000 square metres of restaurants, cafes and shops, 44,000 square metres of workspace, 210 hotel rooms and a new public gallery. According to their spokesperson, this would “appropriately regenerate the historic part of Dublin, while ensuring its long-standing traditions and important heritage can be retained and celebrated.”

With the timeline on construction estimated between five and fifteen years, the Hammerson spokesperson said, immediate benefits would include 12% of construction goods being sourced from locally, while 3.7% of employee weekly wages would go to local traders and shops.

“They want us to work on a building site for fifteen years,” exclaims Margaret Buckley. “In fifteen years, I won’t be around.”

“Knocking down retail to produce more retail and office space is not a way forward,” Stephen Troy says. “What Moore Street has going for it is its history. There’s unique potential here to convert this into a cultural quarter.”

The alternative vision, known as the 1916 Cultural Quarter Bill 2021, was launched by Sinn Fein’s Aengus O’Snodaigh, and this is what Stephen backs as ‘appropriate.’ Included among its potential features are genealogical, diaspora and language centres, a 1916 museum, GAA shop, theatre, Irish writer’s bookstore and a music.

“Moore Street should become a cultural quarter for the thinking visitor,” he writes in his submission to An Bord Pleanala.

Of course, in both visions, one of the least considered features of Moore Street is the diverse make-up of its locals. The district is distinctly multicultural. Included among its businesses are Asian supermarkets, a Polish-language bookstore, and restaurants serving Pakistani, Brazilian and Korean food.

The precarious nature of the street, with many of its independent businesses operating on short-term leases, leads to a paradoxical existence. For over-qualified migrants unable to access the job market, its low rents enabled them to self-employ and find their feet in Ireland. The Chinese owner of a now-closed phone repair service told me it was a necessary starting point owing to his limited English.

But that same precarity poses longer-term issues. Demolition and regeneration all but guarantees the displacement of many migrant entrepreneurs.

‘Moving a business affects you,’ says Peace Bergin, the Nigerian-born owner of Peace Boutique. ‘You lose a lot of people, no matter how much you advertise on Facebook. People will miss you if you’re not here.’

Peace came to Dublin seventeen years ago. She worked in a former cosmetics shop – replaced by the discount retailer Dealz – and shifted over into clothing three years ago. Her boutique is unique in that it sells casual and evening wear, but also food and herbal medicines, specifically for malaria.

‘You can find people from your own tribe here and have their food. There’s something special about it.’ Moore Street, she says, ‘is a centre for everyone, multicultural and Irish. When you come to Ireland, the first thing you ask is, where is Moore Street?’

She isn’t sure where Moore Street will be in five-years-time. Her only hope is that there will still be a place for her.

‘I call this home, and I’d miss the fish-sellers, I love those women. Not seeing them again would hurt me.’

“Get the camera, will you?”

Patrick Cooney wants a photo taken. He and James Connolly-Heron are shuffling through papers in the reception of the An Bord Pleanála offices on Marlborough Street.

They slip files into a pair of brown envelopes, which will be their submissions of appeal against Dublin City Council’s granting of Hammerson’s permission to develop the ‘battlefield site.’

The pair mutter to each other a sense of disbelief at the fact that, thirteen years since the last oral hearing, and they are about to go through it all over again. It’s an historic moment, Patrick says. The next chapter in the longest running heritage campaign in the State.

“Who would want a site with us connected to it?” he asks. “It’s like buying a joint of meat with a terrier stuck on the other end of it, that won’t let go. That’s what this is like and we’re not going anywhere.”

The following Saturday, a rally is held outside the terrace. Traders, activists and the descendants of the 1916 fighters deliver impassioned speeches to a growing crowd. They draw parallels with the Rising and call it wrong that a UK developer be allowed to build on this, of all sites.

“We don’t need no shopping centre,” chants one speaker to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall. “We don’t need another mall.”

Towards the climax, dozens of participants unwind a lengthy strip of green ribbon onto which red hearts are sewn. They stretch it from number 10 to 25, and someone announces this as a declaration of love ahead of Valentine’s Day.

After the rally ends with a rendition of The Foggy Dew, silence resumes briefly, before a voice calls out, “anyone want bananas, apples or oranges?”

“There’s no better day than Saturdays,” the fruit dealer tells me. “But people are getting scarcer. They won’t come in if this is a building site, y’know?”

She is a third-generation trader. Fifty years now, she’s been at this.

“I nearly came here with the bricks.”

* Dublin City Council did not respond to our invite to comment on this story

Words: Michael Lanigan

Photos: Sean Breithaupt

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