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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 24 October, 2014

Column: Markets like Moore St are the heart of our cities, and must be saved

The humble street market is in danger of being forgotten as developers move in – but it represents our real heritage, writes Barry Kennerk.

Barry Kennerk

‘GO DOWN TO Moore Street and get your nose educated’, the entertainer Jimmy O’Dea once said. Today, that dictum is more likely to apply to the smell of Middle Eastern spices or the aroma of French bread. FX Buckley’s, a long-established butcher shop has reintroduced pig heads and cow tongues.

“We’re doing fish that we’ve never done before,” says fish monger Margaret Buckley.  ”We used to throw back monkfish, now it’s one of the dearest; and then we’re doing squid, we’re doing sea bass, sea bream, John Dory, fish heads – they make soup out of them.”

The accommodation has not always been an easy one. In recent years, Dublin has witnessed an influx of foreign nationalities – those same people who single-handedly reversed a steep inner city population decline for the first time in decades, bringing with them a demand for new, more cosmopolitan foodstuffs and a fresh influx of ideas. As a result, today, one can now find Halal meat and Chinese food in the market alongside the more traditional fare sold on generations-old fixed pitches called “stannin’s”.

But in a sense, Moore Street has always been an international space. Even before the First World War, Egyptian onions were sold there and one often forgets the distance over which fruits such as the humble banana had to travel.

‘Much abused’

At the time of writing however, all of these businesses – old and new – continue to exist in the shadow of a proposed shopping centre development. As the argument rages, it may seem as though the traditional traders are in danger of being forgotten – a familiar story in the market’s long history. If developments get under way, there are talks of them being moved temporarily to nearby Wolfe Tone Street and many of them fear that once that happens they will never be allowed to return.

Patrick Cooney, spokesman for the Save Moore Street Campaign, is as much an advocate for the traders as he is for the street he is trying to save. As he points out, both go hand in hand: “They have been much abused for decades by the city planners. I have always seen them as unpaid ambassadors for the city. It is amazing that they are still there.”

It is still not too late. Some semblance of the old Moore Street market could still be recreated by pedestrianising Moore Lane and O’Rahilly Parade, renovating lock-ups and garages and turning them over to clothes sellers, dealers in small craft goods and other products. The area needs an integrated selling experience – not a fragmented one. As one trader points out: “In every country of the world, a market place is a market place, no matter what.”

In Dublin, each trader, regardless of whether they work from a fixed pitch or a pram, pays a rate to the City Council under the terms of the Casual Trading Act – a system that causes them to adopt an individual, rather than a collective approach to selling. In some parts of the market, this has led to a glut of too many people selling the same fruit or vegetable product and diversification is badly needed.

Life after hours

The answer may be to bring in a management agency. These are commonplace in many other city markets, where organisation is the key to survival. It would allow for private policing to help eliminate counterfeit trade for instance or assistance to the traders, encouraging some to diversify into baked goods, dairy, condiments and even craft products.

Another aspect of the plan would be to bring the market to life after hours. The metal stalls, which currently lie idle in the street by night and on Sundays, could be removed to a storage area, leaving the street open to continental-style restaurants and cafes.

So much of what has been written about Moore Street over the past fifty years has been retrospective. Newspaper pieces and magazine articles have tended to commemorate rather than celebrate what remains of it, but it is important to recognise that there is still a living market there.

From the stoic flower seller who can still be heard telling her jostling customers that “patience is a virtue”, to the fishmonger guarding her produce from the craw of an expectant seagull, Moore Street’s traders are the very essence of the city. Without them the cobbles mean very little. They are the real living heritage in the centre of Dublin – the “heart of the rowl” – whose way of life is worth saving before it is too late.

Barry Kennerk is the author of Moore Street – The Story of Dublin’s Market District, available now from Mercier Press with a foreword by Joe Duffy.

Do you have any memories of Moore Street, or other street markets around Ireland? Leave them in the comments below.

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