Could a hidden red brick alley off D’Olier Street be reopened and put into use?
While researching her family tree, Brian Dempsey’s aunt asked him if he could take some photos of his great-grandparents’ home.
Her listing said they were Catherine and Patrick Duffy.
Her research found that in 1877 they lived in Leinster Market, an alley between Duller Street and Hawkins Street.
Dempsey says it wasn’t an address he was familiar with, but he visited in early January 2021. “And I was disappointed to see it was closed on both streets.”
On D’Olier Street, the entrance to the alley is at the corner of the 12-story glass O’Connell Bridge House. It is blocked by a gate made of four steel plates topped with spikes.
At the other end of Hawkins Street, it is hidden behind a pair of locked wrought-iron gates within the circular arch that runs through the New Tudor Dublin Gas Company building.
Five years ago, Dublin City Council said it was about to launch a plan to revitalize Dublin’s streets – albeit its focus at that stage was on the north side of O’Connell Bridge rather than the south side where Leinster Market is located.
But because of the pandemic, the project never went beyond the concept stage, a council spokesman said in July. Even as council policy promises more pedestrian routes across the city as it seeks to encourage active travel, another route, Harbor Court, off Abbey Street Lower, is set to close.
The fate of Leinster Market is unfortunate, says Dempsey, to see a piece of the city’s heritage still closed, especially when the high street is a market. “With a little imagination, something can be done with this.”
“You can have it like the BlackRock market, where it’s a hive of activity during the day,” he said.
The council spokesman did not explain the reason for closing the track. But they said there are no plans to reopen at the moment.
Old meat market
Despite the gates, Dempsey was able to get an inside look at Leinster Market, he said, with a Spar store next door. “And the men let me in.”
Dempsey said the narrow red brick alley was relatively well preserved. “It exists and is still intact, and has some very cool features.”
Maps of the Old City show that Leinster Market dates back hundreds of years.
It was documented in 1756 by the French-British cartographer John Roque in his map, ‘A Careful Survey of the City and Suburbs of Dublin’. However, it had no name, and had only one entrance via Hawkins Street.
It’s named after the Duke of Leinster, says Maurice Earls, owner of Books Upstairs on D’Olier Street. “They were the Earls of Kildare, the Fitzgeralds, and that family along with the Dowler family provided the money to build Dowler Street.”
D’Olier Street did not exist until about 1807, Earls says. “It was created by the Broad Streets Commission, and I can only assume that D’Olier paid more money because he got the street named after him.”
By 1822, after the construction of D’Oulaire Street, Leinster Market was recorded as a main road on Cook’s Royal Map of Dublin.
In 1843, it was already mentioned as a market, the Leinster Meat Market, according to Atlas of Irish Historical Cities No. 26: Dublin Part III 1756 to 1847.
Used for waste
On a Saturday afternoon, the obscure entrance to busy D’Olier Street reveals a little of its historic character. But the Hawkins Street side does.
The alley passes through the circular driveway of the Dublin Gas Company Building, a three-story neo-Tudor building built in 1905, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
Black wrought-iron gates with gold spearpoints block the arched entrance to the alley. Its roof and walls on both sides are made of red brick.
In the middle there is a corridor that acts as a bridge between the buildings on either side of the market. Like the main facade of the Gas Company Building, it is designed in the Tudor style. The exterior walls are painted white and supported by a dark wooden frame.
The alley is used to store boxes these days. Health and safety signs have been fixed to the walls, and steel grilles have been installed over some of its former windows. The pond was full of trash.
Just inside the Hawkins Street entrance, on the wall to the right, is a rusty, bent green-and-white bilingual street sign.
A painting on the left wall, dating from 1993, shows a gruff man drinking whiskey from a Jameson-branded glass, reading a book with Dublin Literary Pub Crawl written on the cover.
The painting was sponsored by Jameson and Bord Gais, says Colm Quilligan, founder of the Dublin Literary Pub.
He says the tour used Leinster Market for street performances at the time. “Because it looked like authentic Dublin in Sean O’Casey’s time.”
The Leinster market began to decline during the 1960s, says Earls, owner of Books Upstairs. But it was still accessible for decades.
A Dublin City Council spokesman did not say why it was closed. But they said that was about 30 years ago.
There was no steel gate blocking the D’Olier Street entrance in 2009. But based on Google Street View images, this gate was in place by June 2014.
Likewise, Google Street View images from 2009 and 2010 show the Hawkins Street side also open, with the wrought iron gates appearing to be closed from 2014 onwards.
A council spokesman did not respond when asked if the corridor had only been closed in recent years.
But even after it closed, the street impressed director Shaun King. “It seemed very magical and atmospheric,” he said.
He says it was a glimpse into a part of Dublin that doesn’t really exist anymore. “It has amazing light fixtures above its arches.”
In 2022, King proposed to Dublin City Council that Leinster Market should be reinstated as an arts and food market. This was in response to the council’s consultation on the draft Special Planning Control Scheme for O’Connell Street and Suburbs 2022.
But the council’s chief executive at the time, Owen Keegan, said in a written response that no changes had been recommended. He wrote that King’s suggestions were outside the scope of the plan.
King says he is disappointed that a place like this could be reimagined as something similar to Merchants’ Arch, between Ha’penny Bridge and Temple Bar.
“It’s like a transitional area, and if we apply the same logic to the Leinster market, there are lots of types of uses we can apply to it,” he said.
The walkways provide shortcuts to walking, increase accessibility and improve access to properties, according to the council’s 2018 Reimagining Dublin One report. “In some cases, they also create opportunities for low-rent shopping and services and highlight richly textured stonework and historic buildings.”
A council spokesman said on Tuesday that there was no plan to reopen the alley at the moment.
If the Leinster market has a future, it won’t be enough to just open those gates, Earls says. “I will support anything that makes the city more interesting, but the city has severe social problems, with a large number of people suffering from drug abuse.”
He says this must be taken into account when bringing life back to a neighborhood like Leinster Market. “It’s going to take some kind of really active vision, so that the alley can be used in a socially positive way.”