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William Murphy via
Curious Eye

Talk of the town: The time two bronze shoppers in Dublin's city centre were given a voice

The story of the legendary statue, fondly referred to as the “hags with the bags”, in Dublin’s busy shopping district.

THE RISE OF online shopping changed our retail habits in the hopes of making life easier. But at what cost? In good company, nothing compares to heading into town to survey the shops and soak up the atmosphere around you. For almost 35 years, two women at the foot of the Ha’penny Bridge remind us of the importance of that ritual in Dublin’s history. 

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Contained within Dublin’s city centre, an abundance of shopping centres and malls stand within walking distance on either side of the River Liffey. The northside, in particular, has always been impressively populated with several synonymous retailers. Over the years, consumers have explored the packed-out departments of Guineys, Arnotts, Henry Street’s Jervis and Illac Shopping Centres, and picked up some bargains at Moore Street Mall. Later this year, Clery’s Quarter – a refurbished retail space situated in the iconic building on O’Connell Street – will open its doors to a new generation of shoppers after the original business closed in 2015.

Immortalised in bronze and nestled within these busy shopping streets, two women sit on a stone bench with their shopping bags by their feet. On Lower Liffey Street, the statue, entitled ‘Meeting Place’ by sculptor Jackie McKenna, has witnessed countless shoppers go about their business for over three decades. It has seen different businesses come and go and offered a perch for passers-by to pause for a moment. 

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Since its installation, ‘Meeting Place’ has endured everything from a stolen bronze shopping bag (it was promptly replaced and both bags are now secured to the path) and been subjected to unsavoury nicknames, such as ‘the Hags with the Bags’. If you look closely at the fine details of its design, you’ll see that one of the bags adorns an Arnotts’ logo; a nod to Ireland’s oldest department store, founded in 1843.

Sculptor Jackie McKenna told The Journal how the statue came to be and why she was chosen to create it. “The sculpture was part of the Dublin Millennium celebrations in 1988. There was an open call and I was lucky to be selected from the entrants. My idea was to celebrate women as there were no sculptures of ordinary women in Dublin [at the time].” The statue took six months to complete and McKenna’s mother posed for one of the figures. 

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Made to reflect and represent everyday people and city life, the statue’s embodiment of this sentiment was greatly enhanced with the help of technology.  In 2017, ‘Meeting Place’ was picked along with ten other beloved statues scattered around central Dublin to interact with the public. The Talking Statue initiative, produced by Sing London with funding from Fáilte Ireland and additional support from The Abbey Theatre, Dublin City Council and the Arts Council, brought the statues to life with specially commissioned works voiced by a few familiar names.

Fleabag’s ‘Hot Priest’ played by Andrew Scott performed a piece by John Banville for the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square, James Joyce spoke through the partnership of Gabriel Byrne and Roddy Doyle and Maria Doyle Kenndey lends her distinct cadence to Molly Malone. Meanwhile, Academy Award winner Brenda Fricker shared stories from the street as witnessed by the two bronze women, named Eileen and Maura. The script was written by Rachel Kilfeather. 

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“I was delighted with Brenda Fricker’s audio piece and happy to see that people like and interact with the two women,” McKenna said of her sculpture’s opportunity to be experienced in a new context. 

Next time you’re tempted to fill your virtual basket, why not shut down the laptop and immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of your local shopping district to not only continue the tradition but enrich the enduring stories from the streets. 

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