Una Mullally: Cobblestone protest’s potency a portent of what is to come

If so many can turn up and close a street, imagine what housing protests will look like

Marching to the Dublin City Council offices: people are now protesting the literal removal of texture and grain, of spirit and meaning, of culture and community. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Marching to the Dublin City Council offices: people are now protesting the literal removal of texture and grain, of spirit and meaning, of culture and community. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

On Saturday, hundreds of people walked from Smithfield in Dublin to the steps of Dublin City Council’s office on the quays by the Liffey to protest the proposed obliteration of the character of The Cobblestone pub, a cultural behemoth that even given its significance, value and standing in Irish music, community and culture is not immune, or by any means protected from, the toxic cultural nihilism our capital city is currently stewing in. It’s proposed a hotel is built on top of it, demolishing its music venue.

How many times do we have to shout about what’s happening to Dublin? The same words ring out about different places, the same themes about the same scenes that keep repeating. Over and over. The ignorant neoliberalism and thick land speculation is metastasising around the city, numbing buildings and streets and shrouding the place in homogeny. 

And then, all of a sudden, beauty. For a while on Saturday afternoon, the gardaí, caught completely off guard that people would even deign to show up for something they care about, were forced to close a section of the quays to traffic, such was the size of the crowd. On the steps of the council building, an area of Viking Dublin that was bulldozed, because a half of millennium of life – perhaps the earliest inhabited area of the city – was less important than administrative offices, a session took hold. Musicians sat down, and played. Other musicians held a banner, a brilliant cartoon of a figure personifying capitalist greed chowing down on town itself. 

Protesters march to the Dublin City Council offices in protest at a proposal to build a 114-room hotel around the Cobblestone pub at Smithfield, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Protesters march to the Dublin City Council offices in protest at a proposal to build a 114-room hotel around the Cobblestone pub at Smithfield, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

One of those musicians was John Francis Flynn, whose extraordinary album I Would Not Live Always, stops you in your tracks. It does so because although unique and totally in and of his own voice, the depths it plumbs are ones of history, culture, cadence, notes mapped out across eras, documenting the territory of the way we are. Yet the deep, deep well his record draws from, is being siphoned off. First it was the artist’s habitat that was threatened. People should have listened then, because now it’s the whole place. 

‘Tipping point’

“This is the tipping point, don’t you think?” one protester remarked, surveying the scene, and the fact that such a large number of people could be mobilised in such a short time. People are now protesting the literal removal of texture and grain, of spirit and meaning, of culture and community. So yes, it is a tipping point. If the guts of a thousand people can turn up on spec, and shut down a street, can you imagine what the housing protests are going to look like when they coalesce? 

'The Cobblestone is not just a pub. It’s a centre of music, it’s a centre of culture ... an essential part of the city'

One woman spoke about how she and her community of Traveller singers and musicians had tried to find a home for their music in 15 venues in Dublin before The Cobblestone welcomed them. “The Cobblestone is not just a pub,” she said from the steps of the council. “It’s not just a venue, it’s a centre of music, it’s a centre of culture, it’s a centre of community, it’s an essential part of the city.” Everyone roared. Joe Higgins played tin whistle. Ruth Coppinger moved through the crowd. People remember who shows up. A bunch of lads carried a coffin daubed with “RIP Culture”. Someone raised a placard: No to Culture Vultures. 

When the protest landed on the quays from its gathering point at Smithfield square, where more ugly office development is under way – one on the site of Block T, the recession-era artists’ building – casting new shadows over streets, the numbers stunned the traffic. Protesters themselves had to ring Garda stations to ask for help. The road was closed off and the gardaí, when they arrived, had a bemused look about them. One spent most of the time leaning against the council building, arms folded, seemingly enjoying the music. Ye Vagabonds were there, The Mary Wallopers too. 

Corporate gentrification

Threatening a cultural institution is obviously completely ugly. Yet this is the culmination of how the city has been designed, and it is the consequence of a toxic and regressive ideology emanating from Fine Gael’s decade in power, where land speculation and the destructive and chaotic addiction to profit smashes everything in its path. It is why housing is the way it is, a crisis by design, and it is why brainless corporate gentrification is out of control.

Musicians play on the steps of the Dublin City Council offices in protest at the plans for a hotel beside the Cobblestone pub. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Musicians play on the steps of the Dublin City Council offices in protest at the plans for a hotel beside the Cobblestone pub. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Someone needs to take charge of the city. If where we live matters at all, the Government needs to intervene now, ban hotel development, ban luxury student block development, protect cultural amenities, and give people a right to housing. If that necessitates constitutional change, well, do it. The only reason successive governments won’t propose a referendum on a right to housing is because they know it would pass. So who are they serving? Whose interests are being looked after here? 

Small moments matter. The protest on Saturday didn’t take over the city, but its potency and meaning cannot be unseen. There will be days over the next two years, where the Government will be dreaming of lockdown, a time when people couldn’t leave their homes – if they had them – to protest. That’s over, for now. So get ready. Everything is going to change, and it will happen, as it always does, at street level, in small moments now, and in big ones to come.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.