What next for Moore Street?

 

Walk down Dublin’s Moore Street today and you’ll find a snapshot of Ireland in all its ethnic diversity, but what do those who work there say about of its future

IF YOU had to choose one street in Ireland that has been a litmus test to the way the country’s population has changed in the last decade, Dublin’s Moore Street would be it. Cheap rents and a central location attracted a variety of people from the incoming immigrant community, initially led by the Chinese, who wanted to set up businesses. Now in 2009, the street is changing again. With the development of the former Carlton Cinema site on hold, and an entire row of shops shuttered on the south side of the street, there is an increasing atmosphere of transience there.

Walk down Moore Street today, and this is what you’ll find. In the centre of the street are still the fruit and vegetable sellers that have been trading there for decades, although there aren’t many younger faces to be seen.

On either side of the street are at least 12 shops where your phone can be unlocked and cheap international calls made, internet cafes, four African hair salons specialising in extensions, euro saver shops, tanning solariums, a bookies, a Polish supermarket, a tattoo parlour, at least four Asian supermarkets, a butcher’s and several empty shops in a row that are shuttered and closed.

MILANO SOLOVJOVAS: ‘WE HAVE 10 NATIONS, 10 COMMUNITIES WORKING HERE’ In the underground Moore Street Mall at the Parnell Street end, the businesses range from a vitamin shop, to yet more hair extension shops and ethnic takeaway restaurants. One of the newest businesses there is Tea World, a tea and coffee shop run by Lithuanian Milano Solovjovas, which opened a fortnight ago. Solovjovas sells coffee in flavours that include tiramasu, rum, and chocolate cherry. Among his teas are Morning Dew, Old Love, Moonlight, 1001 Nights, Seven Samuray (sic) and Irish Breakfast.

“I’m in Ireland five years, and for 12 years before that I worked as a chef in Lithuania,” Solovjovas explains. “When I came to Ireland, I was working as a plasterer. But maybe 18 months ago, there is not much work any more.” When the plastering work finished he worked as an operator in a fruit and vegetable production company. That too came to an end. Then he reconsidered. “I have two options. One, I go to the Social. Two, I put the little bit of money I have saved into a new business.”

The brand he mainly sells in his tea and coffee house is Gurman; a brand popular with Polish and Lithuanians. His customers so far have been mainly Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian “and a few Irish, not many”. He has ambivalent feelings about Moore Street. “I think we have maybe 10 nations, 10 communities working on this street. But black and white, they don’t mix.”

FENG QING (TOM): ‘I FEEL REALLY SAD WITH THE CHANGES ON MOORE STREET’

FX Buckley Butchers, now occupying three units, is one of the oldest businesses on Moore Street. Manager John Collins, who has been working there over 20 years, says he thinks the shop dates back to 1939. At Buckley’s you can buy spice burgers for 99 cent, ox liver for €3.99 per kilo, chicken gizzards for €2.49 per lb, rib steak at €5.99 per kilo, and lamb cutlets for €16.99 per kilo. The place is packed.

“Everything on the street started changing in 2000,” Collins observes. “We had always had a big base of Irish customers, whose mothers and grandmothers would have come here. Then the Chinese community arrived. They were here first, and they were followed by Filipinos, Nigerians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Polish. We added a new range of products to what we sold. Fresh pork hocks, certain types of mince, chicken hearts and gizzards.”

They also sell pigs’ heads for €5, which are mainly bought by members of the Filipino community. “They take about three or four hours to roast slowly.”

Buckley’s employ people from the Chinese, Polish and Slovenian communities. “We would have had no idea in the beginning what people who came in were looking for, because there was a language problem. Now, there is always someone on the staff who can figure out what people want.”

One of the butchers that Buckley’s took on is Chinese man Feng Qing, who goes by his alternative name of Tom. He’s been in Ireland eight years, and has been working at Buckley’s almost all of that time.

“I feel really sad with the changes on Moore Street,” he says, looking out the window, and down the street to where the shops stand shuttered. “This street is not like it used to be. It used to be really, really busy, mainly with Chinese and black people. It’s so much quieter in the last three years. Most of the Chinese have gone. They’ve either gone home, or gone to the Chinese butcher’s on Parnell Street, where there is cheaper meat.”

Tom loves working on Moore Street, but it took him a while to get used to the fruit and vegetable sellers who are infamously territorial about people touching their produce to test its freshness. “They were not nice to me at all on the stalls when I bought things there before. But then I started working here, they know me now, and they got very nice after a while.”

TERESA LYNCH: ‘NOW I’M SELLING MORE FOREIGN THINGS TO NEW PEOPLE’

Teresa Lynch has been working at her fruit and vegetable stall on the street for 51 years. For part of that time, her mother, Jenny Beggs, worked alongside her. In total, her mother worked at the stall for an extraordinary 73 years, and only died in 2007. Lynch’s best memory of being on the street was when she was about 14, and all the women stall-holders dressed up as Molly Malone and had a huge street party. “That’s a night that always stands out in my memory,” she recalls wistfully. Despite the fact she’s worked at the stall for half a century, first as a young girl, it’s only one year since a canopy was put on top of the stall to provide some kind of shelter from the rain. “I hate the winters,” she admits, grimacing. “But you just have to put your raincoat on.”

On Lynch’s stall, among the many things on offer, you can buy four red onions for €1, two aubergines for €1.50, and a lump of ginger for €1. “It used to be all cabbages, potatoes and turnips,” she says. “Now I’m selling more foreign things to the new people – chilli peppers, ginger, aubergines, corn. It’s what they demand, so I get it for them.” Her consistent “exotic” top seller is ginger. “I’m still busy, and making a living, but it’s nothing like it was 20 years ago.”

Lynch thinks the street is slowly dying. “A lot of the old people on the stalls have died or retired. There’s not the same spirit here any more. We don’t really know the people who have set up new businesses here, because so many of them are on short-term leases.” She wonders what will happen to the Carlton development. “It’ll take years now, with the recession, to do anything. Meantime, all those shops on the other side of the street are closed.”

SALIM KHAN: ‘THEY TRY TO CLEAN IT BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE HERE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE’ The Spice of Life, an ethnic halal shop, is run by Salim Khan, from Bangladesh. He’s been in Ireland nine years, and has had the shop on Moore Street for one year. “I always wanted a shop in the city centre,” he explains. He’s been on the move for 15 years, and worked in Malaysia before coming to Ireland. “It’s a funny kind of weather over here,” he observes wryly, laughing and shrugging as he looks out at the sudden downpour of rain. “I can’t get to like it.”

Khan sells Asian, Arabic and Indian produce. At present, his main customers are Mauritians, followed by Bangladeshi people, Pakistanis, Indians, and Africans. His top basic sellers are lentils of all kinds, followed by beef and lamb. A tin of pigeon peas costs 80 cent, a tin of guava halves is €1.29 and a jar of lime pickle in oil is €3.99. “When I first came to Ireland in 2000, Moore Street was very, very busy. You couldn’t walk down it because it was so crowded.” He thinks that the street has changed a lot, is much less busy, and is dirty. He also complains of people drinking in the lane off the street. “They try to clean it, but I think a lot of people here are not responsible to keep it clean.” Yet, Khan thinks that if the development goes ahead, the street will lose what remains of its character.

“It won’t be Moore Street any more.”