One of my earliest and most cherished childhood memories is going into the Dandelion with my parents. To quote the British royal family, my own recollections may vary, but I do have a vivid image of my da buying a pair of cowboy boots – look, it was the 1970s, everyone makes mistakes.
If my memory isn’t completely playing tricks on me, I also recall the pungent smell of patchouli oil and, perhaps, some other substances. For some bizarre reason I think he also bought a chessboard, even though we already had a few of them at home. Of course, to most readers under the age of 40, the word “Dandelion” will mean absolutely nothing.
But, situated near St Stephen’s Green, it was the most famous market in Dublin at the time. Locals could wander in and have a browse and, if they so desired, buy a pair of cowboy boots, some nice food and, as my brain still insists, even patchouli oil. It was a famous Dublin landmark and loved by everyone, even if they did allow a young U2 to play there.
Now? Well, now the Dandelion is just a long-faded memory. It shut its doors back in 1981 and was replaced by the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, where I’m pretty sure you can no longer procure cowboy boots and hippy oils.
Back then, Dublin had quite a few markets – the Iveagh was another extremely popular spot – and we would frequently do our Saturday shop in the market on Meath Street, where you could pick up meat at a decent price and the resident baker created the most beautiful white batch bread – which is probably the most important basic foodstuff for most Dubliners of a certain age.
But markets have disappeared from the city over the years, replaced by a never-ending array of the kind of foreign-owned retail stores that make the streets of Dublin virtually indistinguishable from the kind of average high street you can find in any medium-sized town in the UK. When I was young and working in restaurants, I used to love going into the fruit and veg market in Mary Street when it was still dark and dawn had yet to break to go through the produce on offer to see what would be good for that day’s menu.
Then from about 2019, Dublin City Council began to evict local vendors, many of them family-owned companies which had been trading there for more than 100 years, because of a massive refurbishment plan.
That seemed fair enough at the time – there was no doubt that the building could do with a lick of paint and, given an assurance by Dublin City Council that the place would be back up and running in a spick-and-span condition by 2021, people accepted the new plans. However, as was reported in the Irish Independent the other day, that hasn’t happened, and now the council estimates that Mary Street market won’t reopen until “circa 2024/25”.
Of course, this being Official Ireland, the word “circa” actually means “nah, it definitely won’t happen by then”. Frankly, I’d be amazed if it managed to reopen within the lifespan of this decade.
This has come as a hammer blow to stall-holders such as John Condren, who was evicted after working there for 25 years. As he put it: “They (Dublin City Council) were in such a hurry to get everybody out, and then nothing happened. Executives blame the councillors and the councillors blame the executives.”
Ah yes, councillors blaming the pen pushers and the pen pushers blaming the councillors – sure, it’s the Irish way. This is a massive financial hit to the people who have worked all their lives, but there’s a cultural element to the absence of markets in Dublin that should also be taken into account.
Whenever I visit a foreign city for the first time, one of my favourite ways to pass a lazy afternoon is to go into their biggest market and see what’s on offer – I highly recommend the Central Market Hall in Budapest, it really is sublime.
I remember bristling with a weird sense of embarrassed resentment when, out for a few beers with the late Anthony Bourdain (that loud crash you just heard was me dropping another name), he wouldn’t stop extolling the virtues of the English Market in Cork.
He couldn’t understand why a city as large as Dublin didn’t have something similar. Frankly, neither can I. Most Dubliners have a love-hate relationship with the place we’re from, but we don’t just live in the city – the city lives in us. That’s why the continued delays in Mary Street and the failure to properly redevelop places like the once-iconic Iveagh Market are issues that affect all of us.
That’s because they’re not just places where working people make a living, they’re also places where people make memories.
So, come on, Dublin City Council, and get your act together. I long for the day when I can wander around a place in my own home city and buy a chessboard, cowboy boots and a loaf of batch bread all under the same roof.
But I think I’ll skip the patchouli oil...