The Iveagh Markets: Can a former Dublin glory be saved?

Published date19 November 2022
The smirking face on the decorative keystone around the corner from the main entrance to the Iveagh Markets, on Francis Street in Dublin's Liberties, can hardly be laughing much these days; there are many losers in this sorry tale

Supposedly representing "a Jew" (market keystones represent "trading nations of the world"), it's also said to be a likeness of Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh, who built the market and gifted it in 1906 to the people of Dublin.

This is a story with many elements. Heritage, cultural significance and outstanding architecture; embedded social history of the city, its poverty and Guinness's philanthropy; allegations of official neglect and mishandling; legal rows about ownership and responsibility; millionaires and aristocracy, tensions between public good and private profit; hope for a future for Dublin's gracious indoor market.

It's a hard saga to follow; attempting to make sense of the path that's led here, a quarter of a century after the market closed, with the empty building visibly deteriorating while its ownership is disputed.

The decay is one thing, but the condition of the building has not been helped by the work done, in the hands of people with no feeling for a quality building like that

Over 20 years after hotelier Martin Keane agreed a long-term lease with Dublin Corporation to develop Iveagh Markets commercially, having failed to do so despite two planning permissions, Dublin City Council (DCC) ruled a third application invalid in 2020 and sought to repossess. Keane challenged in the High Court.

Then Edward Guinness, fourth Earl of Iveagh, invoked a reverter clause from the 1906 deed entrusting the property to the council, that it would revert to Guinness if it ceased to be used as a market. Keane and three of his companies then sued Guinness, claiming unlawful forcible entry and seeking orders for possession. The deadlocked dispute over title has been in High Court mediation since early 2021, between DCC, Keane and Guinness, as the building's perilous state worsens.

The taxi driver who brings me to the Markets says "Ah, the Iveagh. That was a great place. I got my first communion outfit there, and my confirmation suit. It's sad to see it gone."

Inside it's majestic, but also sad. You can feel its ghosts. After 25 years of vacancy, with claims of neglect and damage, nature has been reclaiming the Iveagh.

The vast expanse of the dry market is still glorious, with shades of Miss Havisham's neglected home in Great Expectations. The floor has been dug out and there's a pit several metres deep. In it are ponds of water and even luxuriant ferns. The hall's rusting pillars still hold up the now unstable balcony where once furniture was sold. Many panes of the glass roof are broken or missing, and the wood is visibly rotting; years of water ingress and storms have done serious damage.

One corner appears about to fall in. It's been raining on and off for weeks, and rain comes through the roof as we walk around. The floor of the wet market has been rough-filled. Brick under the windows seem to have been partially removed. The linking archway between the dry and wet markets looks like it was ripped out. Many original white wall-tiles are damaged or missing.

Outside in the yard, laundry buildings and a tall brick chimney have been long ago demolished to make way for a once-proposed hotel; now there's a gaping green marshy pit. Lumps of granite are stacked loosely outside while inside the wet market are several pallets of old red bricks; these appear to be the remains of the demolished laundry.

Hotelier Martin Keane, whose properties include what is reputedly the most profitable pub in Ireland - Temple Bar's Oliver St John Gogarty - appears determined to include a hotel in his development plans for the markets

Noel Fleming of Liberties Cultural Association and David Delaney, of generations of stallholders, are here too. When it closed, the market only needed minor work, they observe.

It's perilous now, a monument to dereliction.

The poor state of the structure will add millions to any future refurbishment. By 2018, a dilapidation survey estimated essential repairs at €13 million-plus. Later estimates produced a figure of more than €23 million. Meantime: further deterioration, storm damage and construction inflation.

And yet, it is still solid and strong. Those graceful features, its fine redbrick and granite, the elegant pillars, are still there. Squint and you can imagine it alive and pulsating. A market to rival others, from Cork's English Market or St George's in Belfast, to further afield: Lisbon's Time Out or Mercato Centrale in Florence.


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