Traders put Dublin's antiques quarter on the tourist map

 

Francis Street in the Liberties has been the hub of Dublin’s antiques trade for generations – now its traders are trying to draw more tourists and locals to shop there

PARIS has the Left Bank and London has Portobello Road, now Dublin has its very own Antiques Quarter, according to visitdublin.com, the capital’s official online tourist office. Well not quite. But plans are afoot to halt the decline in one of the city’s most interesting streets.

Francis Street in the Liberties has been the hub of Dublin’s antiques trade for generations. And, although incomparably smaller than similar areas in London or Paris, the area ought to be better known - and promoted - as a destination for tourists and locals alike.

Its appeal is not confined to collectors. A motley collection of shops and galleries offers an amazingly diverse range of merchandise - from top-drawer, price-on-application fine art and antiques to quirky, affordable collectibles and unusual gifts likely to appeal to weekend browsers.

It’s an ideal place for anyone who prefers to buy at leisure or those who may be intimidated by the heady ambience of an auction saleroom.

But like pretty much every shopping thoroughfare in Ireland, Francis Street bears the scars of the ongoing economic crisis with a smattering of derelict buildings, depressing “to let”signs and a slightly gloomy air.

But there’s life in the old street yet and, although up to 10 antique shops and art galleries have closed in recent years, the surviving businesses are proving to be resilient.

Martin Fennelly is typical of those still flying the flag and is a spokesman for many of the traders. He’s lobbying Dublin City Council and tourism authorities to help put Francis Street back on the map.

Mr Fennelly said the street – just a few minutes stroll from St Stephen’s Green - is often overlooked by tourists and needs simple, low-cost signage and clever marketing such as targeting affluent passengers on American cruise ships which call at Dublin port.

He’s tried – unsuccessfully - to get the street included on tour bus itineraries but has persuaded the concierges of leading hotels to direct guests who ask where to buy antiques.

He’s also using social media - including a Facebook page and an internet blog, antiquedealersireland.blogspot.com, to promote the area. Shops are erecting new green signs designed to identify and promote the “Antique Quarter” concept.

Francis Street should get a boost with the opening, this autumn, of a new, purpose-built rock music school (a partnership between the Dublin Institute of Technology and BIMM – the Brighton and Bristol Institute of Modern Music) and plans by Dublin City Council to reopen the Iveagh Markets – a splendid Victorian building currently defaced by graffiti and razor-barbed wire – to house a venture similar to Cork’s hugely popular English Market.

Without an increase in footfall, Francis Street is at risk of further decline which would greatly diminish the variety, vibrancy and colour of the city’s commercial life not to mention the irreplaceable loss of considerable expertise and cultural heritage. If you haven’t been there for a while – or have never been – it is well worth a visit.

Mr Fennelly’s shop at No 60 is as good a place as any to start. He opened the shop six years ago after leaving a job as manager of Bank of Ireland’s Trinity College branch.

After years of collecting he already “had enough to stock the shop when it opened”. The intriguing and diverse range currently includes a vintage ashtray from the Shelbourne Hotel found at a car-boot sale in Le Mans, France (€350); an art deco decanter set manufactured during the 1930s in Bohemia by Karl Palda (€495); and a mid-20th century Malahide Cricket Club painted oak trunk (€990).