Smithfield, Dublin

Most foreign visitors will know Smithfield in Dublin as the site of the Jameson Distillery Tour and St Michans Church with the mummified bodies in its crypts. Most Dubliners will know it as the Old Farmers Market and even today there is a monthly horse fair…..where horses are bought and sold. There is a certain conflict between Tradition and Modernity. The Horse Fair, attended largely by the Travelling Community has a reputation for violence between Traveller “clans” and abuse of horses.

The Dublin Society for the Protection of Animas has been urging its closure for years and the Dublin City Council seems stuck in the middle of an unedifying dispute …too often it seems the Travellers are relying on “Heritage” to support a life-style seen as outdated and worse by those of us who think (rightly in this case) that we are more civilised. Abuse of animals is just wrong…..and cannot be supported by appeals to heritage and traditional values.

About twenty years ago, Smithfield was re-built. It was at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom….and a piazza was built on the old “market site”….the monthly horse fair being its last trace.

Smithfield is just the fifth stop from the city centre going west….. on the LUAS (high speed tram service  which links east of the city to the west). It is just one stop west of the Four Courts (and several legal offices) and one stop east of the Collins Barracks Military Museum.

Its convenience to the City Centre and of course the Museum made it an ideal location for “our” hotel. Yet there is something about Smithfield which does not quite work. Bound on the river side by the LUAS tram line and on the other side by a main road, it is about 250,000 modern cobble stones making a very wide piazza or square.

On the eastern side of the square is mostly a very large and modern “back-packer” hostel which seemingly has branches in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin and London. Nice to see that there is a small group of re-furbished family occupied houses. The western side of the square has a hotel, fitness suite, cinema (so discrete that we did not even notice it on the first night) a pizzaria and a large supermarket/deli.

But mostly the western side has some upmarket appartments….the gound floors seem reserved for shop units but in these harsh economic times, they are mostly showing “TO LET” signs. It looks like this optimistic attempt to gentrify or yuppify this ancient part of Dublin has failed bacause the Celtic Tiger economy has collapsed.

I dont suppose many families live in these appartments. Certainly we DID see some families with very young children but appartment lfe seems more suited to single living and appartment share for adults under forty.

Certainly the proximity of so many legal offices make it a good base for young legal professionals.

To Mrs FitzjamesHorse and myself…..this seems a sad way of life. Yet oddly attractive. A life-style I would associate with New York or Los Angeles. Thru the doors, a desk is seen… even has the word “concierge” and a liveried woman sits…..with a range of letter boxes behind her. All around Smithfield there are Warnings about loitering and Disclaimers about cars parked at owners risk.

A Gated Community….it seems…. detached. It seems……..un-Irish.

Back at the hotel…..well check-in seems odd. The Desk Clerk is very proper and precise. We have paid our deposit online. And the intention is to settle our bill with cash on the final day. But he asks for our credit card……and I say that we will be paying cash….but without actual explanation he “needs” our credit card.

Now as I have said we are unsophisticated travellers. We dont really understand what all this is about. We rationalise it later…..and of course the procedure is familiar to our sons. It is pre-authorisation.

It seems to me that the Desk Clerk could have explained it better. But he is from the Indian sub-continent. Is that relevant? I think in this context ……”yes”. Because an Irish Desk Clerk would have been more “wordy”….and given me the opportunity of joking that it was “in case we leave without paying… we usually do”.

Am I stereotyping here? I hope not. There are friendly and unfriendly Asians. And friendly and unfriendly Irish.

Some time later, we are struggling with the “card key” system in the elevator. The member of staff who helps us out is from Croatia. And being me……I say “ah a Hadjuk Split fan?”. As it turns out he is a fan. They are playing in the Europa Qualifier this very night and he adds that he hates Dynamo Zagreb.

Yet I am uncomfortable at being …..friendly or as some would say “intrusive”. It is in my nature and yet I feel I have to curb it. It is probably something the majority of Irish people (stereotyping?)  “get” and the majority of non-Irish people (stereotyping?)  dont “get”.

Possibly with some cause….including hostility by a minority of people…. towards them, people can get defensive with conversations which I might consider “friendly” and they consider “intrusive”.

It is how it is …in 2012. Not a time I feel at ease.

Is Ireland changing…….the gated communities……….and the staffing at our hotels. It makes me uncomfortable that I even think of this. But some twenty years ago…..the Irish airline Aer Lingus ran an advertising campaign which claimed that a visit to Ireland began when a tourist boarded an Aer Lingus plane (in New York, Berlin or London). Tourism is Ireland’s biggest industry. People……ALL of our people, including “new citizens” are our greatest asset but I wonder how tourists feel that most of the inter-actions with people in Ireland…….hotels, bars, restaurants and shopping centres will be with people who are not actually “Irish”. Of course this merely means that low paid workers in Ireland are in the service  and retail sectors and a disproportionate number of folks in the service and retail sectors are from ethnic minorities. And perhaps Dublin is no different from London, Rome, Paris and New York.

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