Mountjoy Square sparks Notting Hill-style revival
Why D1 is the place to be for the city's young trendsetters
IS Dublin's Mountjoy Square fast becoming the capital's Notting Hill?
Residents who have bought entire Georgian homes here in D1 for a fraction of the cost of elsewhere in Dublin would fully agree.
The park at Mountjoy's heart has just been earmarked for an €8m revamp by the council which will see its formal gardens restored and workmen are already busy painting the railings.
The plan is being conducted in conjunction with the Mountjoy Square Society, a group of residents who live on the Square and who have resiliently campaigned with remarkable success since 2008 towards transforming its fortunes.
For years they have been bringing high-brow cultural events and community social evenings to the area which also happens to be Ireland's hardest hit unemployment blackspot - six out of 10 adults are unemployed.
Earlier this month the Society held a traditional Dublin musical evening for 30 people at the drawing room in number 47. Recently the Enchant Ladies Choral Group performed for an audience in number 25. There are also regular walking tours by Karin O'Flanagan who lives as number 54.
Now the Society's dogged work has resulted in a real and substantial council investment towards the Square's rejuvenation.
In recent years the Square has become a melting pot of cultures - with Dublin 1 being a target area for Eastern European, African, Brazilian and Chinese immigrants while Irish students and artistic types have gravitated here based on cheaper property prices and rents.
This wasn't missed by the makers of the Oscar-winning Dublin movie Once who selected the Square for the female lead's home and the focus of many of the scenes starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova.
The park isn't the only place that's starting to see change. People's ears have begun to perk up about these townhouses as residential properties. While many of the city's south side squares are used as offices, in contrast, Mountjoy now has up to 1,000 residents.
One of the latest arrivals is Jimmy Loughran, a young professional working south of the Liffey, who recently moved into an apartment on the Square's East Side.
"My friend and I decorated and furnished the place over the space of three months. The process of renovating was fairly organic. We chose the paint colour first and had some carpentry work done. We then started to pick up furniture as we went along.
"The living room/kitchen was originally a mix of greens and they made the room look so much narrower. We thought an off-white/grey would be contemporary and easy to work around."
His décor is an eclectic mix of Danish 60s design, iconic pieces, charity and flea-market finds, as well as additions from high street stores such as Tiger, H&M, Penneys and IKEA.
A typical feature from the Georgian era, Jimmy says that the grand period dimensions take friends back when they first come to visit.
"I love the ceilings and enormous windows but finding affordable curtains, that are more than three metres in length, has proven hard," he admits.
The apartment contains two large double bedrooms, divided by a long hallway, with a coinciding bathroom for each.
According to Jimmy, the area is now beginning to generate a vibe similarly experienced at the start of Dublin 8's past ascent into a busy social hub.
"Seomra Spraoi, which is just off the square, is an alternative community centre that hosts foodie evenings, free bike repair courses, cinema nights and art exhibitions. On Parnell Street a newish cafe called 147 Deli serves amazing sandwiches and great coffee."
Nearby Parnell Street is filled with a mix of ethnic Asian restaurants, food markets, grungy rocker pubs, salons and cafés.
"Before we started the work in April, we asked people who knew the area well about the general vibe. Like any inner city location, one friend said it's fine if you keep your wits about you. But I really do feel this area is the melting pot of Dublin."
But it's not only singles. There are also family residents like Lisa Dolan who works as a waitress in the mornings at Molesworth Street and has just started using the Dublin Bike Scheme as transport to zip back and forth. Her children are 19, 13 and 12.
"I'm very shaky, very nervous, but alright," she told the Independent as she took off for the home leg of her first ever city bike jaunt to cook dinner.
Although the area is still dogged by crime, drugs and homelessness, cheaper property prices and rents have continued to draw in trendy younger people priced out elsewhere.
Although prices rose 15pc last year, they remain extremely affordable with small apartments available for €100,000 to €150,000.
Meantime, an entire townhouse building sold in the summer for just €650,000.
Local estate agent Owen Reilly says there is a popular misconception that there is a glut of apartments abound in Dublin 1 when in fact there is now a real shortage in this location.
Chinese and Asian buyers favour this area heavily as well as investors and parents buying for their college going offspring.
The square was first laid out in 1790. The railed park in the centre was open to residents in 1805.
But it soon became a slum and hit its lowest ebb in the 1980s when dereliction caused many of the original facades to be replaced by replicas.
Now thanks to the efforts of the Society and other residents, a new life is brewing and for the first time since the late 1700s, and it's hip to be Square.