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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 0°C
stall the ball

'I've been on this street since I was in a pram': The stories behind Dublin's market stalls

From Moore Street to Camden Street: the traders keeping Dublin in fruit, flowers and fish.

ON A BLUSTERY Tuesday afternoon, Marie Cullen is serving a customer from her fruit and vegetables stall on Moore Street. Cullen is a fourth generation street trader and has been selling her wares on the iconic street for several years. 

It’s hard work, she explains.

“You normally get up around half six,” she starts. “I have a day’s work to do before I even come and do this job. I have kids to get out, I bring them to school. Then I go down, source my stuff on the market, come up with my goods, set up my stall and hopefully I’ll sell them.”

The fabric of the street has changed greatly over the years. Where once it was a lively outdoor food market, it is now a shadow of its former self. In recent years, the street has been blighted by antisocial behaviour as well as a controversial development plan that has never come to fruition. 

As a result, the number of traders has dwindled and footfall has fallen.

“Dublin City has done nothing with the street,” says Cullen. “The street has gone to hell. It’s not safe for people. Young people might come down, but people with young families don’t want to walk down the street.”

With many Dubliners avoiding the street or opting to shop elsewhere, Cullen says she counts foreign nationals among her best customers these days. “We’d be lost without them,” she says. 

In her view, the street needs two things: more policing and more vendors. 

“That would attract people to walk down the streets,” she says. “It is lovely to walk down a market street and see all the colours, the vibrance. It’s beautiful to do it. But it’s not happening here.”

With only fifteen traders left on the street, Cullen says she and her colleagues are the last of a dying breed.

“We are the last of the traders. There will be nobody after us. My kids don’t want it.” 

“[Dublin City Council] want the street back so they should do the decent thing and offer people compensation and ask them to leave. There are people in the autumn of their years and they would gladly go. But to think they’ve worked here all their life… the least Dublin City Council could do is offer them money to go.”

For the time being, Cullen will continue to ply her trade on the street – whatever the weather. 

It’s not nice working in the rain when you’re in an open market! However you do meet nice people and you do get a laugh every day. The job is absolutely different every day.

Further up town, Helen Kelly is sitting beside her flower stall on Duke Street, smoking a cigarette and looking out onto Grafton Street.

It’s a busy weekday morning with punters traipsing up and down the thoroughfare, occasionally stopping to look at Kelly’s impressive display of bouquets.

“I’m here for most of my life, about forty years,” says Kelly. Her mother and sisters all worked in the trade and she followed in their footsteps. 

So who buys her flowers? Tourists or locals?

“Not tourists, they don’t buy,” she says. “They’d be locals. Restaurants, hotels and we have a few customers who come in from outside the city to buy their flowers in here.”

With weeks to go until Christmas, she says business has yet to pick up for the festive season. 

“At the moment, it’s slow. People, as you know, are probably waiting until their houses are clean to buy the flowers. Well, we’ll be hoping anyway. We’re waiting for the rush, but at the moment it’s not busy.”

Asked if there is anything the city could do to be more accommodating to traders such as herself, she has one suggestion. 

“Public toilets – not only for me, but for tourists. They can’t believe it when they ask me are there public toilets and I tell them there are none.”

Due to her location, Kelly says she spends a lot of time fielding such questions. 

“I’m like an information centre here,” she says. “I should be getting paid for that as well. We don’t mind, though.”

As for her favourite part of the job? 

Meeting people. And you’re able to smoke outside. For now anyway! 

Rose Draper has been a fixture on Camden Street for her entire life. 

“I’ve been here since I was a child in a pram,” she says. “My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother were all here.”

Like the generations of women before her, Draper sells fruit and vegetables to passersby.

She says the elements dictate when and how often she gets out.

“If it’s a bad morning weather-wise, we don’t bother coming out,” she says. “We could stay in three days a week if the week is bad. That goes with the  job. We take advantage of the fine weather.” 

It’s hard in the winter, it’s a joy in the summer. One compensates the other.

Over the years, she has witnessed the street undergo a significant transformation. 

During the recession, Draper says that a number of businesses on the street closed. In the meantime, the area has become chiefly known for being home to bars, restaurants and nightclubs and become a “nighttime street”.

Draper says she would like to see more shops open in order to increase footfall during the day.

“We need more shops open around here,” she says. “If you pass down on the bus and you look at the amount of shutters down on the street, people are going to say, ‘There’s nothing really there, I’m not going to get off.’”

Similarly, the demographics in the area have changed. 

“We’ve a lot more Europeans coming over here from all walks of life,” she says, noting that they are among her best customers.

As older residents have died and family homes have been sold, the area has become  home to more renters than ever before. This makes it difficult to establish a more permanent customer base, says Draper. 

“You’re only getting to know them after a few months and then they move on,” she says. “That’s the way it’s gone.”

With just three traders left on Camden Street, Draper says the future looks uncertain.

“They’ve died off and the younger kids won’t take it up,” she says. “There are better opportunities for the kids, there is better education for them and they don’t want to be standing here in the cold.” 

“If I gave you a month to stand here, I think you’d run off after a few days. It has to be in you to do it. You have to have the hardiness in you.”

For now, Draper is just hoping the rain stays away over the coming weeks.

Yesterday was very bad, last week was very bad so I hope we get a bit of a break. Other than that, it’s back home to the house – to the cleaning!

More: ‘I think I came out of the womb with a bag of chips’: The faces of Ireland’s old-school chippers>

More: 9 of the best spots around Ireland for a great trad session (without the tourists)>

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