Dig-out reveals skeleton in Smithfield

The Times We Lived In: April 16th, 2002. Photograph by Brenda Fitzsimons

 

‘Ah well now, in actual fact, em, you know . . . when I asked for a dig-out, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.” Hmm. It’s the old skeletons-in-the-cupboard trick. All you’re trying to do is get a shiny new property development under way when up they pop, waving their bony arms and smelling faintly of white elephants and red herrings.

The jury is still out on whether Smithfield is one of Dublin’s coolest places to live, or an uncertain mix of council apartments and hipster regentrification which is not (or at least, not yet) for the faint-hearted.

Bertie Ahern, with archaeologist Gary Bedford, and a 16th century skeleton on the site of the Smithfield Market Development. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The original published image shows then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, with archaeologist Gary Bedford, and a 16th century skeleton on the site of the Smithfield Market Development. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

What’s certain, though, is that people have been living – and, indeed dying – in this part of the city for a long, long time. Taken in 2002, our photo shows the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, at the official launch of the Smithfield Market Development with the archaeologist Gary Bedford, who had discovered a 16thcentury skeleton on the site.

According to the article, a team of 30 archaeologists worked to excavate the site, finding an Elizabethan coin, the foundations of 17th-century houses, and the skeleton – which, one of the experts explained, was probably that of a murder victim.

The name Smithfield Market dates from 1665, when the area was laid out as a marketplace surrounded by a maze of alleys, many with yards containing farm animals. Apart from a few names – Haymarket, Stable Lane – it bore little resemblance to today’s busy streetscape, with its high-rise apartment blocks, cafes and bars. On the day of Mr Ahern’s visit the weather was spring-like; his pristine safety helmet glows in the sunshine. But the clouds drifting lazily along the sky behind the taoiseach in this picture look, in retrospect, like a warning.

“It’s wonderful to see so much of our past,” Mr Ahern declared, as he inspected the site which was to change Smithfield’s future. Within five years his own past would be excavated in painstaking detail – and the word “dig-out” would have wormed its way into our vernacular forever.

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