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Column: Businesses are coming together to rejuvenate one of Dublin's most iconic streets

Big business, small locally-owned shops, major tourist attractions, architectural gems, and the country’s most respected art college all rub shoulders on Dublin’s Thomas Street – yet this is often overlooked. It’s time to make a change, writes Brian McCarthy.

Image: infomatique via Flickr/Creative Commons

Brian McCarthy is the third generation of his family to be work in the family business, Manning’s Bakery, on Dublin’s Thomas Street. Here, he writes about the character of the street, and major efforts being undertaken by local businesses to rejuvenate the area.

When I was growing up, Thomas Street was an almost mythical place in my mind. It was one of the streets where my grandad had a bakery and, even though he had other bakeries on other streets, the anecdotes my mother, aunts, uncles and grandparents used to tell would always be at their most animated when Thomas Street was at their centre.

It seems strange now that Thomas Street always stood out to me, and I wonder was there some clairvoyant part of my young brain that impressed on me the significance of the street where I would eventually be spending the bulk of my waking hours.

A long overdue chapter of the street’s history

Now working on Thomas Street, the sense I have of the Liberties being somewhere special hasn’t waned; it has only been given greater context. But, whereas in my youth, tales of Thomas Street were always based around humour and the unavoidable mention of ‘characters’ and their ability to ‘buy and sell you’, what I feel now is a sense of anticipation. The street is ready to come into its own; everything is lining up; and it feels like something great is about to happen. And I’m delighted that our business can play its part in this long overdue chapter of the street’s history.

Thomas Street is more than a little rough around the edges, but it has huge potential. Last year, as I drove my now sadly deceased grandad over to the street to meet with my aunt (the current owner of Manning’s Bakery), he told me not to be fooled by the frayed edges – that Thomas Street was always one of the great shopping streets of Dublin.

He said it as if the dirty facade hid from the world at large how special the area was.

I totally understood: there is somehow a village feel and distinct identity to this part of the city, when on first inspection it has almost everything going against it. Face-forward social problems and obvious dereliction overshadow a hive of positive activity and potential.

A place that remains distinctly Dublin

Even if the fishmongers (or Molly Malones, as they were known), button-sellers and greengrocers have been replaced by six-foot towers of jumbo-box washing powder and half-price Easter eggs in the middle of summer, it is good to remember that these activities are a living extension of the street’s market history, and one of the more traditional expressions of a place that remains distinctly Dublin.

As I write this, I realise that it may sound like deluded and nostalgic promotion of ‘Auld Dublin’, but Thomas Street also happens to have everything going for it. Iconic big business, small locally-owned shops and restaurants, the country’s most respected art college, major tourist attractions, architectural gems, traditional and digital creative industry and the associated community, workers and patrons are all sharing the same pavements. It is also right in the heart of the city. How is it not already Dublin’s cultural epicentre?

The answer is that none of these constituent parts are in sync and, as far as I’m concerned, the aim of fixing this is the core of the 90 Day Plan, recently launched by the Thomas Street Business Association and other local stakeholders.

The street will hopefully become greater than the sum of its parts

Thanks to a small group of inspired and inspiring experts who got together and asked these questions, I genuinely believe Thomas Street could have a dramatically improved future. This group came up with answers to what now seem like obvious questions that I know I never thought to ask. More impressively, they managed to get the street’s diverse stakeholders – big and small – on board with the notion that a positive change for Thomas Street is possible.

The plan itself was born out of numerous meetings and conversations and now has the support and interest of the likes of Fáilte Ireland, the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin City Council, The Digital Hub and the restaurants, retailers and residents of Thomas Street.

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The plan works off the principle that the street as a whole is a package and, with the concerted efforts of individual traders and interested parties, we can achieve a coherent and considered regeneration of the area. Re-packaged, Thomas Street will hopefully become greater than the sum of its constituent parts, like all good neighbourhoods.

Accentuating the area’s existing attributes

I genuinely don’t think it could have come at a better time. A frequent complaint that is aired amongst the community in Dublin 8 is that no development ever made its way to Thomas Street or the Liberties during the boom years. The more I hear this, the more I realise that this may have been more a stroke of luck than a loss. I can name numerous parts of the city that have ‘benefited’ from investment, infrastructural development and public realm ‘improvements’. All I see is cold granite, steel, glass and wholesale homogenisation. To me, those areas are no longer identifiable as being Dublin.

It is only now – when resources are scarce – that we are being forced to get together and come up with creative ways to regenerate our area. The result is an organic and considered approach that accentuates the area’s existing attributes, not whitewashes over them.

These are the reasons why I believe the 90 Day plan for Thomas Street has such potential. The building blocks of a dynamic, culturally interesting, beautiful and safe neighbourhood are already here. Now the will is here too, and there is a plan that considers and relies upon the whole Thomas Street community for it to come to fruition. It is incredibly exciting and we can’t wait to play our part.

To find out more about the 90-day plan for Thomas Street, go to www.facebook.com/ThomasStreetDublin or follow @thomasstreetdub on Twitter.

About the author:

Brian McCarthy

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