Tuesday 26 September 2017

Dublin's Latin Quarter or just Temple of bars?

Twenty five years after its reinvention, violence again tarnished the reputation of Temple Bar last weekend.

Mix of the old and new: Cope Street in Temple Bar, Dublin
Mix of the old and new: Cope Street in Temple Bar, Dublin
Cultural shock: Ella de Guzman (pictured in front)
John Meagher

John Meagher

In the space of just three years, Ella de Guzman has created a mini retail empire in Temple Bar. The Vancouver native runs a trio of second-hand shops - or "pre-loved clothes stores", as she likes to call them - within a minute's walk of each other.

Life is good on Tuesday, on the hottest day of the year, as a stream of customers including Fair City actress Ciara O'Callaghan visit her South Temple Lane shop, Siopaella, just a stone's throw from the busy thoroughfare of Dame Street. "I love it here," Ella enthuses. "There's so much that's great about Temple Bar and if you walk around these streets now you will see lots of interesting stores and cafés and other places. Even in the short time I've been here, it's picked up."

And with the sun shining in the early afternoon, Temple Bar looks well, and anyone who walks down Eustace Street, Crow Street and East Essex Street - to name just three of its narrow cobbled laneways - would likely feel that this is a part of Dublin getting a whole new lease of life.

But just a few days before, on Saturday, Temple Bar was hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Four stabbing incidents were recorded, including that of a man who had attempted to break up a fight. It was the sort of unsavoury news that has dogged this part of the south inner city for many years.

Neil Barry of the Tamp & Stitch boutique and coffee shop says he was forced to close on Saturday at 3.30pm such was the sense of menace posed by gangs of teens who had seemingly been attracted to the area thanks to the party atmosphere engendered by the annual Pride march. "I'm talking about kids as young as 14 or 15. Really feral and no sense of fear at all. I heard all sorts about what went on on Saturday - someone being stabbed with a stiletto heel, a guy punching a girl. Awful stuff."

It's a view echoed by Martin Harte, CEO of the Temple Bar Company -the organisation that puts on events such as Trad Fest in the area. "You get young, disaffected people coming in from all over the city and they congregate at Temple Bar and often go looking for trouble," he says. "The garda numbers just aren't there - there are 300 fewer guards on the street of the city than there were in 2008 so it's easier for them to get away with that kind of behaviour. The other problem is the easy supply of alcohol - we estimate that there are 63 off-licences - be it corner stores, supermarkets, you-name-it - within a five-minute walk of Temple Bar and it's very clear that a lot of them have had an awful lot to drink."

Brazen on-street drinking was one of the biggest cultural shocks Ella de Guzman encountered on moving to Ireland. "I still can't understand why it is tolerated," she says. "Back home, you really wouldn't want to get in trouble with the police for anti-social behaviour and there are 'drunk tanks' [police cells] in Vancouver where people are put into if they've had too much to drink.

"I'm not a prude by any means but when your drinking has a negative impact on other people, something really should be done."

The balmy weather continues into Tuesday night and the pubs are heaving. Temple Bar watering holes seem to be, to employ an old cliché, a licence to print money. Some of them charge prices for pints that might be more in keeping with Scandinavian cities than Ireland, but their mainly tourist clientele don't seem to mind. And they're not short of choice - there are 30-odd bars in the 28-acre expanse of Temple Bar.

Gerry Cahill from Birmingham, and his four friends, are in Dublin for a midweek break and have spent much of it in Temple Bar. They're loving it. "Everyone is really friendly and there's a great atmosphere here," he says. "It's very good value to fly over and spend a few days. We haven't loved every pub we've been too, but some of them are great, like The Palace [on Fleet Street, Temple Bar's eastern fringe]. You just don't get pubs like that any more." He cheerfully admits that many of Temple Bar's cultural attractions are lost on them. "To be honest, we're over for a few pints and a laugh and don't intend to spend any of it in galleries."

If the lure of the Gallery of Photography and Temple Bar's other cultural amenities is missing for Gerry and his friends, they are not always attractive to Dublin residents either, and mainly because of their location. "You do find that people will give Temple Bar a wide berth," says Michael McDermott, who publishes the Le Cool Dublin guide, "and they don't realise that the area has many cultural amenities and interesting new shops and cafés, especially west of the Temple Bar Gallery. There is a lot of creativity happening here and it's a pity that it's often perceived as just being a tourist trap."

American Sven Anderson is typical of the new breed of creative people attracted to this part of Dublin. He has created a sound installation called Continuous Drift that can be heard in Meeting House Square, the area that houses the popular farmer's market on Saturdays and was devised by the architect collective who won the commission to reinvent Temple Bar in the early 1990s.

"There's a lot that I love about this part of Dublin," Sven says. "There's an intriguing mix of old and new buildings and because it's on a small scale you can get to know a lot of creative people who want to do interesting things."

When he first came to Ireland in 2001, he lived in an apartment in the heart of Temple Bar. "It was chaos," he says, smiling at the memory. "It's not the sort of place to live if you want peace and quiet. There must have been about eight different times where I was woken in the middle of the night after some guy had managed to climb on to my balcony as a dare or whatever and was unable to get down, so I had to bring him into the apartment and let him out through the front door."

Another resident, who does not wish to be named, says he has got used to the "madness" after five years, although the noise of the heavy-duty cleaning equipment in the early hours of the morning continues to be difficult to tolerate. "I don't want to moan too much because I have chosen to live in the centre of Dublin and I had a good idea about what I was getting myself into. But it's the little things that annoy you, like looking out your window in the early morning and seeing yet another person pissing against the wall. Usually, they're too inebriated to care if they're seen or not and it says something about the policing, or lack of, where you can feel you can just unzip and go about your business without a care in the world."

Garrett Pitcher, who runs the Indigo & Cloth clothes store and design studio on East Essex Street near the Clarence Hotel, says many of Temple Bar's most striking buildings are not being used to their full potential. "Look at a building as impressive as the old Dolphin Hotel [across the road from his shop]: it's a juvenile court now. Could you imagine what a lovely hotel you could have in there? There isn't enough joined-up thinking in Dublin."

Garrett's store has been in Temple Bar for two years. He relocated here after facing a doubling of the rent for the basement he used in fashionable South William Street, not far from Grafton Street. "It would have been a crippling increase that I couldn't have afforded. The building I'm in now allows me to do many more things and I think quite a few young entrepreneurs are attracted to Temple Bar because the rents are much more reasonable than you'd have to pay in South William Street or Drury Street or Clarendon Street."

Neil Barry would love to open another store in a different part of the city, but says spiralling rents make it impossible for now. "It would be nice to get more local trade, but Dubliners often avoid Temple Bar," he says. "Most of my trade - for the coffee and the clothes - are from tourists, so although people might complain about the area as a tourist trap, I'm very glad of it."

A doorman, who works for one of the area's busiest pubs, says Temple Bar "is the engine that drives Dublin tourism" and does not deserve the bad press it often gets. "Yes, there's trouble occasionally, but you get that in every city. Generally, people are very well behaved and there's a good spirit here. I hear people bang on about the old days of Temple Bar, but nobody should forget how grim it all was down here. CIE were going to demolish the whole place for a bus depot, you had buildings falling down, there was litter everywhere. It's not perfect now, but it's a hell of a lot better than it was."

Paul Clerkin, who runs the popular Archiseek website on Dublin architecture, says the 'old' Temple Bar was "a gap-toothed area" boasting "great locations for 'arty' shots of dereliction for my occasionally photography class in NCAD.

"The Group 91 [collective of architects] vision did what it set out to do: resurrect what was then a pretty grotty part of the city centre. I'm not sure they would love the current nightlife incarnation of what it evolved into and their fairly idealistic vision of an arts and cultural area is now drowning in Guinness."

Despite its shortcomings, Martin Harte believes Temple Bar has the potential to be great. "Anything can happen if the will is there," he says. "There's been a crackdown on drug-dealing this year and the positive results can be seen. Targeting the teen gangs would be a huge step in the right direction."

Temple Bar in numbers


Estimated number of bars in Temple Bar


The year the Temple Bar Renewal and Development Act was passed, paving the way for the Temple Bar we know today


Estimated number of residents in the area


The number of years the farmer's market has been held in Meeting House Square


The number of acres that houses Temple Bar

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