Saturday 24 March 2018

The future now looks bright for Smithfield

There was quite a delay between completing the first phase of Smithfield, and starting the second -- eight years -- but no one could have anticipated that this delay would affect the mood of Dubliners. However, it has done so. To the extent, in fact, that the public apparently find the open Plaza -- intended as the piece de resistance of the site -- "alienating".

The Light House Cinema, described by some as the most exciting cinema in the country and relocated from Abbey Street a few years ago, reports that "as people make their way to and from the cinema they face a daunting prospect in the somewhat alienating space of Smithfield Plaza, as it is now".

Footfall, apparently, is quite low in the square at present, in spite of the fact that the area, which had been one of the city's least populated, now has one of the biggest populations of any ward.

Things are looking up, however, because Dublin City Councillors have now approved a multi-million euro extension and improvement of the plaza.

It will be half-funded by the EU, but among their conditions is that the works must be completed by December of this year.

The proposed works include provision of power service points for future markets or events, and the removal of existing public lights and the provision of new public lights along the eastern side of the space.

The provision of brackets to facilitate banners on existing braziers are also proposed.

Local residents were very much involved in discussions for the second phase and their comments -- mostly very supportive -- were considered carefully by the Council.

The Plaza takes up the central area, surrounded on four sides by a mix of residential apartments and commercial offices. The Probation Office is there as is the Motor Tax Office, two hotels, restaurants, shops and the cinema. Dominating all is the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery and the Observation Tower.

When phase one was undertaken in 1997 the restoration involved lifting more than 400,000 120-year-old cobblestones, cleaning them by hand and relaying them!

Flanking the plaza at the moment are twelve 26.5-metre gas lighting masts, each with a two-metre flame, lit only occasionally.

Final plans include tree-planting and a landscaped terraced area while play equipment and associated repaving are proposed for the North King Street end. At the Luas end the historic paving sets will be relayed, existing trees will be removed and seating and further landscaped areas provided.

Smithfield Market was laid out in the mid-17th century as a market place and has a far happier history than its two name-sakes -- London's Smithfield was a scene of multiple burnings by Bloody Queen Mary in Tudor Times, while Smithfield in Belfast was the scene of hangings which were watched, gruesomely, by large crowds of people.

After the initial renewal of Dublin's square it was used to hold concerts, but these were discontinued following complaints from local residents. It now has a seasonal ice rink which is quite popular.

Its greatest problem arises from concerns about the Smithfield Horse Fair, which is held on the first Sunday of every month and continues to be the subject of much debate.

The proposed enhancement works do not in themselves inhibit or impinge negatively on the future continuation of the fair. But although it is often romanticised the fair, in fact, is highly dangerous with up to 200 horses wandering unsupervised in the open space, and it seems only a matter of time until some eight-year old, riding bareback as fast as he can in the Civic Centre, comes into collision with a LUAS tram.

Suggestions have been made that the horse fair be transferred to the nearby Phoenix Park.

This would seem to be an ideal solution as there would be plenty of grass for the horses, safety for the dealers, many of whom are children, -- and relief for the residents of Smithfield.

Irish Independent

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