Guest Blog Post by Mark Jenkins
Over centuries Dublin 8 has been a hive of activity with shoppers seeking out the diverse bargains, household items, curios and basic provisions. Comprising two main arteries into the city, Thomas Street and Clanbrassil Street and surrounding areas have been the place to navigate for generations. While there is a long history of shops and huxters in Dublin 8, for this post we will focus on the places in living memory that people have fond recollections of.
For some shopping is a pleasure, representing a social outing, chance meetings and releasing endorphins as they seize a good bargain. For others of course it is pure torture, a matter of endurance out of necessity. One thing for sure is that for many, shopping represents some of their most vivid childhood memories, brought along happily (or unwillingly accompanying) their parents as they went in and out of several shops or bought from street traders that imprinted memories for a lifetime. Locals didn’t have to go far for all their shopping needs, or some made the short trip from Inchicore, Kilmainham, Ballyfermot and other areas to the Liberties.
While the city centre had department stores such as Arnott’s, Clery’s, Switzers and McBirneys, Frawleys on Thomas Street was the place to go for household items, clothes, bedding, haberdashery and electrical goods. Frawley’s was established in 1892 on the site of a former sizeable private house and was a drapers before Cornelius and Bridget Frawley founded a business that would trade for 115 years. There is of course longer history associated with the site of Frawley’s, but that is for another day.
Next to Frawley’s was Fitzgerald’s and it was the hot spot for fashionable jeans in particular, and that fleeing spell when chinos were high fashion in the early 1980’s or before that to source drainpipe jeans. The business was stocked from ceiling to floor. It was also seemingly the only place that had the particular shade of charcoal grey trousers my school required as part of the uniform.
We also had Gordon and Thompson further down Thomas Street and in between was Duffy’s clothes store which became the Carpet Mills and was a Heaton’s at one stage too.
Time has seen several indoor markets. The Dublin Bazaar on Thomas Street was extensive and had a lot of different stalls and products under the one roof. The building that housed it is marked A.D. 1782 and stands on the site of where a much older market called The Glib Market, which took its name from the river that once flowed down the street. All within relatively close proximity were Mother Redcaps market, The Bull Ring, and The Liberty Market which still has anything and everything, and retains a sense of shopping of old with vibrant colour, ranges and traders with real character.
Much has been written about the Iveagh Markets, its past, present and future. One element of its history is of course the history of street trading. Previous to the establishment of the markets and the incorporation of the Liberties back into the municipal city an attempt was made to stop trading directly on the streets, ruling that no trader could lay their goods on the footpath. Cleverly, the response was to make use of large baskets hanging from their necks to sell their wares so in effect weren’t breaking the rule. Of course the hawkers won out in the end. The later Iveagh Market act had rulings against shops having products outside their premises but was a controversial element of the statute to enforce. Although a gradual and natural decline in our street trading for various reasons it is still nice to see some from several family generations still plying their trade.
One thing that people often recount are their experiences of being sent for “the messages” as a child. I always found it entertaining that if you asked someone where they were going and the reply was “I’m on a message” that no further inquiry was required and that sufficed. The Dublin 8 area had several distinct aromas pervading the air ranging from the industry of Guinness to the eye watering O’Keeffe’s yard on Mill Street, but one common pleasant smell was that of fresh bread or a bakery early in the morning. At some of the bakeries in the area such as Thompson’s on the corner of Bridgefoot Street or Kennedy’s on Patrick Street it was possible to buy a pillowcase of “fancy bread” which basically were the run-offs from the production line, but invaluable as a cheaper way to feed larger families. St. Catherine’s bakery on Thomas Court was hugely popular and if sent for bread by a parent there many recall how they would of course sample the quality of a fresh turnover or loaf by trimming the outside with careful pinches. One of the simple pleasures from life of old. Another tradition was on Christmas Eve the ovens in St. Catherine’s bakery were used to cook the turkeys for locals courtesy of Johnny Lawlor.
If ever you mention the Myra Bakery to anyone that remembers it, the famed “pink slice” is sure to be prominent in comments, usually by those that dashed in from neighbouring schools around Meath Street, Francis Street, The Coombe and Warrenmount. Puff pastry apple and jam slices were much sought after too.
Before we had bigger chains of supermarkets there were numerous specialist butcher shops in every area of Dublin 8. If buying meat you might have had to go to three different shops to get your beef, lamb and pork. There were several butchers including McGuirk’s. Francis Street, later to become known as the Antique Quarter.
Seezer’s were primarily a pork butchers that had other branches but were on Thomas Street for over 70 years. They were famous also for their tripe and local drinkers would buy honeycomb tripe with added salt as a delicacy to accompany their bottles of Guinness. Each to their own!
Clanbrassil Street in particular and the some surrounding streets around the Portobello area became known as Little Jerusalem due to the influx of Jewish people, setting up business and settling in the area. Specialist butchers and bakeries became popular, like Rubensteins butchers. In 1968 forty turkeys were stolen from the shop and were worth £4 each at the time. The Bretzel bakery is still in existence on Lennox Street.
Of course every area in Dublin 8 had its dairies, local shops and grocers, adding so much to the character and vibrancy of the districts. Stoney Bourke’s on the Coombe, The Kokonut on Meath Street, Doyle’s of Gray Street, The Orchard in Kilmainham, The Gem on the corner of Ardee Street and Chamber Street. Minnie Minogue’s dairy on Patrick Street, O’Hora’s Francis Street, Cahill’s fish shop… there are too many to mention.
One person who cannot go without mention is of course Jack Roche. An extremely knowledgeable, kind and funny person who so many know. A child wouldn’t leave his shop without being given a piece of fruit, and if passing by it was always worth stopping to see which witty, funny or informative quote Jack would have in the window that would always induce a smile.
I hope this trip down memory lane has brought up some happy memories. What becomes history is available now in personal recollections, so please do share your memories with comments.
Photos sourced for this post other than ones by Mark Jenkins are from the Dublin City Libraries and Archive Digital Repository and The National Folklore Collection UCD, under Creative Commons Licence(CC BY-NC 4.0)(CC BY-NC 4.0)
4.0 International (CC BY-NC https://www.dublincity.ie/residential/libraries/find-library/dublin-city-library-and-archive