Sunday 17 November 2019

'Street traders are a dying breed'

Moore Street is the centre of attention again, but why did it take 1916 to get this cultural hot-spot noticed

Marie Cullen, fourth-generation trader on Moore Street, is situated outside Nos 14-17, the 1916 buildings that will be turned into a commemorative centre for the Easter Rising
Marie Cullen, fourth-generation trader on Moore Street, is situated outside Nos 14-17, the 1916 buildings that will be turned into a commemorative centre for the Easter Rising

Eva Hall

As tens of thousands of people gathered in Dublin city centre on Monday for RTE's Road to the Rising commemoration, hundreds more flocked to Moore Street to get a glimpse of Nos 14-17, the building where the rebels made the decision to surrender in 1916, and which was finally bought by the State from Nama last week for €4million, after years of campaigning to preserve the area. In the midst of all the selfie-snapping, Moore Street traders continued to sell their fruit and vegetables in the background.

The traders, who have been situated here since the 19th century, were forced to flee their pitches during the Rising, and continue to trade here nearly 100 years after the events.

The sale of terrace 14-17 will no doubt have an impact on the Moore Street traders - but it is not yet known whether it will be good or bad. The plan is to develop the terrace into a commemorative centre.

Fourth-generation trader Marie Cullen, who runs a fruit and veg stall right outside the famous buildings, which were declared a National Monument in 2007, has said the traders' fate is in the hands of the State.

The Government acquired the National Monument to "put an end to the uncertainty surrounding the future of these buildings and to ensure that they will be accessible to all who are interested in the history of the 1916 Rising," according to the Department of Arts and Heritage.

Prior to 1916, the building had a colourful past. Starting out in 1760 as a 'Dutch Billy' (a Netherlands-style build), the roof was later flattened in the Victorian era. The building was the premises of a brutal murder thereafter.

It later became home to a stained-glass maker, as well as Vodrey Pottery, and a succession of china and delft merchants. In 1902, No. 16 almost burned down when a fire started in the back of a neighbouring building.

In 1916, Plunkett's butchers had the downstairs lease, and kept pigs out the back, according to author and historian Barry Kennerk, who commemorated Moore Street in his 2012 book Moore Street: The Story of Dublin's Market Street. "Ordinary" tenants lived upstairs.

The terrace was the last place the rebels held out during the Rising, and it was upstairs in No. 16 that the decision to surrender was made. All shop staff below, including the street traders, were forced to flee the premises during the Rising "as soon as the barricades went up" according to Barry.

"It seems like only now people are becoming aware of how important the buildings are in Moore Street. It's only in the last couple of years that you see schools and walking tours being told about the street and learning how long the market was here and how there was generations of families in the market," says Marie

"It's lovely to see that, but I don't know whether the market will survive. I'd love to see it surviving. There are only about 20-odd licence holders on the street now, compared to 80-odd years ago. It really is a dying breed..

"My mother, her mother and her mother before her were all traders on Moore Street, and my own kids come in the weekend to help out so there's five generations now. But I think I'll be the last generation, as the work is just too hard now. My kids have their education, and they want to do different things, and the world is their oyster," adds Marie.

Barry says the market and its surrounding buildings should be remembered, not just the 1916 buildings.

"The story of 1916 dwarfs everything else, trading life on the street should be celebrated. The sheer amount of people that lived in that building before 1916 should be remembered, such as John Doyle and his wife Teresa, who were ordinary tenants living upstairs, and both were shot on Moore Street in an attempt to flee during the Rising," says Barry.

John Doyle died from his wounds and his wife sustained a serious head injury.

Other 'ordinary' people include Mary Plunkett, whose husband Pat ran the butchers. The story goes that Mary's linen was used to bandage the wounded of 1916, including James Connolly, and the Cumman na mBan replaced her sheets. Mary applied for compensation to the Dublin Fire and Property Losses Commission too late, missing out on remuneration.

"The building has only come to light in the last couple of years, no one cared about it up until the decision to sell it was made," says Marie.

"Since I've been here it has just been left derelict. But we've had absolutely no contact with the State or the developers on this; and we don't know what's going to happen. I encourage the building, I encourage the museum being built.

"Look around, the street is really appalling. They let it go to rack and ruin, and if they do put a museum in here it will encourage decent people back into the street and we'd have a lovely market street here again," says Marie.

Marie's husband Tom, a former member of the Moore Street Committee, says it is "absolutely ridiculous" that no one has divulged to the Committee what impact the building work will have on the traders. Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys says she is "hopeful that the Commemorative Centre can be completed in the centenary year".

Like Barry, Marie would like to see more investment in the surrounding buildings as well as the 1916 buildings, in a bid to attract more people back to Moore Street.

"We had a lovely Paris Bakery here, and it was an absolute pleasure to work outside it. More of those types of little businesses would bring the market back to the way it was - a thriving market with lots of hustle and bustle," says Marie.

Developers Chartered Land, which owned the buildings, of which Nama is handling the loans, obtained planning permission for the restoration from An Bórd Pleanála in 2010. OPW will carry out the work - a start date has yet to be confirmed.

The Irish Independent's 'My 1916' series will continue each Wednesday throughout the year ahead of the Rising commemorations

Irish Independent

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