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Left on the shelf

One of my favourite buildings in Dublin is only about 100 yards from the entrance to our apartment block, which is located pretty much smack bang in the middle of the capital’s traditional market area.

I pass by the Fruit and Vegetable Market building most mornings on my way to work when it has already been teeming with activity for many hours. Traffic moves slowly as pedestrians, cyclists and cars negotiate vans, forklifts, pallets and the odd stray box of fruit or veg from the market.

The description here says that “the present fruit and vegetable market building behind Mary’s Lane, opened in 1892, is considered to be one of the finest expressions of the late Victorian approach to open plan buildings. The use of cast iron and glass was characteristic of the buildings of the time, epitomised by the Crystal Palace in London which was built for the Great Exhibition of 1851”.

This striking building is home to a number of fruit, vegetable and flower wholesalers – at 600 square metres it has plenty of room for them. Many more wholesalers and shops are based in the surrounding area and fruit and veg-related activities dominate this area from early morning.

However, I can’t help feeling that it has the potential to offer so much more to the city (without booting out wholesalers who have no alternative accommodation). And I’m not alone in thinking that, as there have been plans and more plans for the building and surrounding area for years now. The most ambitious of these was certainly Dublin City Council’s Markets Area Framework Plan.

I have linked to the draft plan above and it’s worth a read if you have an interest in the area, but its aim was the creation of a ‘Market Square’ for Dublin. This was to be “a space roughly the size of Mountjoy Square, with the Fruit and Vegetable Market building at its heart – its centrepiece.

The council proposed that within the existing structure about one fifth of it would be reserved for the continuing activity of a wholesale market situated at the northern end, but the rest was going to be retail:  “the Market Building could accommodate a retail market as well as a reduced wholesale market to serve the city’s hotels and restaurants. A new Fish Market Building will create the southern frontage and gateway to the new Markets. Car parking and servicing would be located at basement level under the Square allowing the market to function without impinging on the pedestrian amenity of this new City Square.”

The  sides of this new square were to be formed by “a six-storey building template with a consistent façade treatment”, as you can see in the artist’s impression below, where I have the present and “happy ever after” images.

This was all going to be achieved by the removal of the Fish Market Building and a number of smaller buildings on East Arran Street. Well, the Fish Market is gone and currently in its place is that ever-popular local authority stop-gap, the car park, which you can see behind the railings in the photos above. Apart from that, everything else remains the same.

In fairness, we all know how this story goes. It has been repeated endlessly throughout Ireland since the arse fell out of our economy, the Celtic Tiger stopped roaring, the building boom went bust etc etc Indeed, the council’s conclusion in its plan for the area seems as fanciful now as it was probably considered achievable a few short years ago:

“The construction of Luas along Chancery Street provides the opportunity for acting now to recreate this new urban identity for the centre of Dublin. With its long tradition of Markets it would become the ideal centre for fruit, vegetable, fish and other foodstuffs, including specialist and ethnic food products, flowers, restaurants, cafes, etc. Add to this the clear demand for offices and workspace for the legal and other professions, small businesses and entrepreneurs and the current demand for 1- 2 person and family sized apartments and live-work units, then the impetus for change is obviously now at hand.”

Oh dear.

In this Irish Times piece on “Putting derelict sites to use” in May, council planner John O’Hara openly admits the whole ambitious project has “fallen flat on its face”.

Still, even as recently as last year, hopeful talk had persisted.In a discussion document called Food and the City, the Fruit and Vegetable Market featured heavily throughout and it was proposed by the council that it should “continue the work of including a retail element in the Fruit and Vegetable Market to provide a major visitor attraction and a showcase for Irish produce”.

Then in August of last year there was big news. As the Evening Herald reported, “plans to rejuvenate Dublin’s Victorian fruit and vegetable market into an artisan-style food hall will be a much needed boost to the north inner city”.

“Dublin City Council plans to renovate the market, currently occupied by a number of wholesale fruit, vegetable and flower sellers, into a 40,000 sq ft space for food retailers such as butchers, cheesemakers, fruit and vegetable sellers, bakers and other artisan producers,” the newspaper reported. It was to be along the lines of the popular English Market in Cork. But there’s no sign of that happening any time soon either I’m afraid.

Nonetheless, Dublin’s Fruit and Vegetable Market remains a beautiful building with huge potential. The money may not be there for a very long time to realise that potential, but I would respectfully suggest that the council, at the very least, should fulfil its duty of care to this building and ensure it doesn’t suffer too much hardship in the meantime.

This is how the building currently looks and as well as trying to give an overall picture of it I have also focused on some of its lovely decorative details that were added to celebrate its purpose as a busy market.

Bloom!