The Liberties, home to both the old and the new

Steve and Elsie Anderson, long-time locals of the Liberties

Steve and Elsie Anderson, long-time locals of the Liberties- Photo by Charlie Heasman

Located in the centre of the capital, the Liberties is host to young families looking to start a new life, while the older generation remains a symbol of the area’s history, writes Charlie Heasman

The Liberties is arguably the most traditional area of the city. The last bastion of ‘the rare auld times’ where the population lives cheek by jowl and with everyone seeming to know one another.

If much has remained the same a lot has changed, some for the better; some for the worse. However, there is no going back. The basic layout is still the same but anyone travelling forward in time from fifty years ago would scarcely recognise the area and many would never have foreseen the outcome.

We spoke to two very different couples in order to get a flavour of the old and the new…

Stephen and Elsie Anderson

It would be difficult to find a couple more representative of the ‘old Liberties’ than Stephen and Elsie Anderson, both in their seventies.

Although Elsie was actually born a short distance away in Dublin’s docklands her family moved here when she was very young so many of her childhood memories are from the area. All her own children were born in the Coombe Hospital. Stephen’s family, on the other hand have been here much longer and can trace his pedigree back to his great-grandfather’s day and beyond. His mother and his aunts were all stallholders, plying their trade from barrows on Camden St.

Elsie and Steve both agree that the times were both happy and hard. With both parents working in order to make ends meet children were often left to their own devices after school or at least entrusted to the care of their older siblings.

Steve recalls how after school they would all troop down to ‘the bayno’, the Iveagh Trust building off Patrick St, which now houses amongst other things Liberties College. Whilst he cannot recall where the name came from or why, he often remembers being given a cup of tea and a bun and being allowed to play there until their mothers came home. On dry days they played in the courtyard but when wet they played inside. In wintertime they could use the swimming pool, but during the summer the canal became their much preferred spot to swim.

As a child Steve could expect to get two pairs of runners during the year but all summer long he would run around barefoot. “There was no stigma to it,” he says, “We all did it. If nothing else it would save you from having to clean your shoes for Sunday Mass.”

Steve reminisces the olden days and talks of well-known local characters such as Bang-Bang and Johnny Fortycoats; vagrants who slept rough in the area. He also mentions how they sometimes frightened the ‘bejaysus’ out of the kids and Mushat, a German, Jew chemist who often minded the children when the mothers were unwell. There was no national health and doctors were expensive. Mushat would save everyone money by bypassing the middle-man and the mothers trusted him implicitly. It was said that his famous ‘KK’ prescriptions stood for “Kill or Kure”.

Times have changed. The long-time local points to an apartment block. “That’s where the Liberties market started; it was a derelict plot then. There have been a lot of derelict plots in this area,” he says. “The eighties were a bad time; they ripped the heart out of the place for roads, buildings and ‘regeneration’.”  When they tore down the tenements whole extended families living near each other were forced apart.

“Okay, new apartments have been built but a lot of people from outside have moved in and, while they are very welcome the old community spirit has been diluted.”

Oliver and Marta Bertoletti newly settled residents in the Liberties

Oliver and Marta Bertoletti, newly settled residents in the Liberties- Photo by Charlie Heasman


Oliver and Marta Bertoletti

One such couple who have moved here are Oliver and Marta Bertoletti. They are a young, professional, Italian couple who in many ways are the polar opposite of the working class Liberties stereotype. Along with their six month old son Diego, they live in one of the aforementioned new apartment blocks in the Coombe.

Oliver works in an international bank in the city and Marta is currently on maternity leave from UCD where she is studying for a PhD in molecular biology. They have lived at their current address for three years and the area is well suited to them. Like Elsie Anderson’s children, Diego was born in the Coombe Hospital.

Diego Bertoletti a young resident living in Liberties

Diego Bertoletti, one of the younger residents living in Liberties- Photo by Charlie Heasman

Marta shops locally and is on first name terms with her butcher and greengrocer on Meath St. With the birth of her child she quickly made friends with other young mothers in the area and is set to make more once Diego starts at a local crèche.

“It’s like a small town, we’ve never had any problems here and we feel totally accepted. Local people are very friendly. When the lease ran out on our apartment we had no hesitation in renewing it,” says Marta.

There can be no doubt that the influx of peoples of different races and nationalities has brought a whole new vibrancy to the area and added new dimensions to its social life. To what extent a will family living behind key coded steel gates in a secure complex ever fully integrate with those in the wider community is a moot point, but one that is by no means confined to the Liberties.

It’s unlikely that Marta Bertoletti will ever be seen or heard pushing a barrow down Meath St hollering “Bananas, ten for one euro!”. However, despite the fact that others have come in, set up stalls and small businesses there’s no doubt traditions will continue. In any case, everyone has something different to bring to the table and it will be interesting to see what the Liberties will look like fifty years from now.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *