Monday 24 July 2017

Let's move to... Smithfield

Known for its regular markets, Smithfield sets out its stall with an eclectic mix of modern, apartments and more traditional homes, writes Enda Sheppard

Smithfield main
Smithfield main

THINK of Smithfield, just across the Liffey in Dublin's north inner city, and chances are two things will spring to mind: the enormous cobbled square, and the clatter of hooves and the colour, whiff and pong of the famous Smithfield Horse Fair.

Laid out originally in the 17th century, Smithfield is the oldest surviving market area in Dublin, but the Horse Fair, for which it is best known, only continues in a much scaled-down version, just twice a year and subject to stricter rules.

Smithfield roughly incorporates the area bounded by the Liffey to the south, Bow Street to the east, Queen Street to the west, and North Brunswick Street in Grangegorman to the north.

The Red Luas Line skirts Smithfield Square, or Plaza, as it is officially known, to the south, providing a convenient link to the nearby city centre, or on to Tallaght and Saggart.

These days, people tend to include the developing Museum District to the west and the Four Courts District to the east. These districts are largely residential and, combined with the area around Smithfield Square, comprise the main Liffey river frontage of D7.

It all makes for some very unusual dynamics, especially in fine weather when you will find barristers sitting outside eating gourmet sandwiches from Seven Social, on Benburb Street, as kids run around in the playground nearby, and young hipsters go about their young hipster business, maybe on their way to the Third Space on the Square for a salad and to use the handy wi-fi hot spot.

175 The Old Distillery
175 The Old Distillery

Rejuvenation has been the name of the game here since 1997 when, under the Historic Area Rejuvenation Plan (HARP), more than 400,000 120-year-old cobblestones were lifted, cleaned by hand and re-laid. Twelve 26.5 metre gas lighting masts, each with a two-metre flame capacity, now flanked the square, and the Celtic Tiger was on the prowl as commercial, residential and cultural developments sprang up.

However, with the tiger's claws long retracted, and the envisaged 'Western IFSC' unrealised, the flames are rarely lit now, as Dublin City Council deems it too costly.

St Francis Terrace
St Francis Terrace

The lighting mast shades can at times be seen in different colours, however, with red the theme colour for this year's Bram Stoker Festival, which opens on Friday, October 23, casting a macabre light at night on the large installation Dublin artist Maser will construct on Market Square as part of the festival.

All the development in the mid-noughties led to the area becoming newly fashionable. The recession hit the first wave of development hard but one business's commercial misfortune is another's opportunity and, like in the early days of Temple Bar, culinary, social and cultural entrepreneurs have been drawn to the resulting cheaper rents in the area.

Smithfield trad music
Smithfield trad music

Many units remain unoccupied, but it's still a lot better than in the dark days of the 1980s and 1990s, when all around the square and beyond was ramshackle warehouses, dereliction and urban decay.

Nowadays, as well as modern apartment blocks like Market Square, Smithfield Village and The Old Distillery, and the occasional row of two-up-two-down cottages on the likes of Chancery Street or Fr Matthew Square, Smithfield is home to the Old Jameson Distillery, the Light House Cinema and the ultra-cool Generator Hostel, and is full of trendy eateries and entertainment hotspots.

Smithfield, woman with dog
Smithfield, woman with dog

The original Jameson Distillery was founded here in 1780 and functioned until operations were transferred to the Midleton Distillery in the 1970s. Beautifully restored, it has become a very popular tourist attraction.

Those Smithfield cobblestones were just made for film noir, and the ultimate in the genre, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, based on John Le Carre's novel, was shot here in 1964-65, with Smithfield doubling as Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie.

Smithfield luas
Smithfield luas

The film starred Richard Burton as a Cold War-era British spy. Burton brought with him his wife Elizabeth Taylor and their entourage, which took over a full floor of the Gresham Hotel for months.

Smithfield Square hosted a series of carnival-type summer picnics this year, but, mostly, it is a convenient through route for local residents as well as for professionals and users of a range of court and legal-related services and buildings in the area.

Smithfield, house
Smithfield, house

Social/amenities: There is so much going on in Smithfield, all the time. Smithfield Outdoor Market is held every Friday in August and September, offering a variety of stalls selling Spanish foods, jams, cheese, olives, breads, fruit and vegetables, jewellery and more.

And not to forget the Fruit and Veg market on St Michan's Street, where traders have sold their fresh produce for centuries. The original market building is considered one of the finest expressions of a late Victorian open plan building.

Worth visiting too is the Smithfield Market Fair, a monthly event in the Generator Dublin centre, selling vintage clothing, jewellery, or quirky one-off art or craft pieces. The next one is on October 25.

Smithfield apartments
Smithfield apartments

Food lovers are spoiled for choice. WUFF is your friendly neighbourhood bistro, while My Meat Wagon is an excellent barbecue spot.

The bright graffiti building on Chancery Street is home to a food truck selling authentic Mexican food, also known as K Chido Mexico.

Staff at The Kish Fish branch on Bow Street write the menu only when they find out what's been landed that day. Oscar's Cafe Bar, on the Square, also packs them in.

Smithfield, musical youth
Smithfield, musical youth

If it's music you want, the Cobblestone is a must for traditional tunes while, for a taste of New York, try The Dice Bar.

Property: There are very few houses coming to the market here, and apartment living is what Smithfield is about these days.

According to Orla Redden of The Property Shop, prices in The Old Distillery development range from about €200,000 to €270,000, for a two-bedroom affair with its own parking space. Apartments in Smithfield Village would go to about €300,000 for a top-end two-bedroom.

Smithfield, new apartments
Smithfield, new apartments

According to Derek Mulligan of OMD, the market picked up in August, with a rise of 2.3 per cent on a slow July.

"The figures, overall, are up this year," he says, even after a slow spring and summer. The problem is the lack of supply.

Maison Neuve and Maguire has 2 St Francis Terrace, currently two separate, two-bedroom apartment units, for €280,000; 9 Queen St, a three-bed end of terrace, is on the books of The Property Shop for €260,000.

47 Church Street
47 Church Street

Or, you can have a two bed terrace house at 47 Church Street, on offer at €250,000 through the Property Shop; while OMD has priced 175 The Old Distillery, a two-bed apartment, at €249,000.

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