The evolution of Meath Street

Long-time residents say it’s changing. The younger generation moving in say it’s still the heart of Dublin City. Either way, no one can deny that Meath Street has evolved.  

Walking down Meath Street you see old buildings and markets, now mixed with the new coffee shops and brunch spots. You still get a sense of the character of the street when walking around – the church, greengrocers, clothes shops, charity shops, hairdressers, a chipper, and many butchers.  

Mary Doyle, a 76-year-old past resident of Gray Street, now living in Dublin 12, still makes trips down to the street – but says it’s not the same.

“We used to get everything in the street. It was all we needed and when I moved out, I still went back on Saturdays to do some shopping in the markets. I brought my grandchildren with me so they could experience the street and they loved it.

“Now I would go less frequently, I find the street dead and very quiet it has no atmosphere anymore, lots of the locals have passed away so I think that has a lot to do with it, it’s a real shame,” Doyle added.  

Top of Meath Street from 1970. Image: “Growing Up in the Liberties” Facebook page

History of the street 

‘”There was no longer desperate poor in Dublin” –
Imagine saying that!’

Máire Devine

Meath Street has a big history of being at the heart of the Liberties. The street was laid out in the 17th century as a planned street that was then the domain of the Earl of Meath. The head of the Liberties was the Earl of Meath, which meant the family lent its name to places and streets in the area: the Meath Hospital, the Meath Market and Meath Street. In 1680, plans were commissioned to be drawn up for a new thoroughfare linking Thomas Street and The Coombe, as it was the Earl’s wish to create a fashionable residential area in what was then the suburbs of Dublin.  

The street measured 44 feet in width at its centre, and originally the street narrowed at its north and south ends on account of existing buildings at either end. The Wide Streets Commission in the 18th century widened the junction with Thomas Street and left a corner building. The side streets and lanes off Meath Street developed organically and a map from 1728 shows the area fully urbanised and densely developed, much the same as what we know it to be today.  

The street developed from the start into rows of merchant shops with living spaces above. The Quaker community (a religious group) moved into the area in the early 18th century which resulted in many businesses like bookshops and publishing houses being created. The opulence didn’t last long, by the mid-18th century, many of the industries began to decline rapidly from competition in the rest of the city. Overcrowding and poverty continued into the 19th century but the street remained a popular trading place.  

The street came back to life somewhat in the late 19th and early 20th century with developments of new housing such as the Gray Street scheme by Dublin Artisan Dwellings Company, which was a scheme supported directly by the Earl. Slowly over the 20th century, the street lost more and more of its older buildings, with new buildings being built that were just plain and functional. The old pretty details such as timber shopfronts and joinery were all lost.  

Meath Street today. Image: Mia Waterhouse

Máire Devine, a 49-year-old Sinn Féin politician who has served as Dublin City Councillor since 2020, was born in The Liberties. “I was born and reared in the Liberties and I was a Saturday girl in Frawley’s shop from the age of 14. It was a vibrant, wonderful working-class destination with a great community, and this was really before drugs took hold of the community and destroyed a lot of it,” she said.  

“In 2007 Frawley’s closed and what they said when it closed was that ‘there was no longer desperate poor in Dublin’ – imagine saying that! I was gobsmacked and the Liberties area was devastated with drug addiction, poverty and it was staring you in the face. It was a place where no one wanted to go to anymore,” said Devine.  

The new street 

Libert market today. Image: Mia Waterhouse

Now the area of the Liberties has changed as a new generation moves in. With colleges and student accommodation, a need for more trendy places is in high demand. The street is in need of a new injection of life and vitality. Market life continues but not to the same level of popularity as it used to be. Now around 345 years old, Meath Street is changing to keep up with the 21st century.  

Devine said, “We are constantly on at revitalising the street and there are plans to do Francis Street and Meath Street is next. The plans are to have fewer cars on the street, but the mobility issues of the elderly will need to be the top priority.  

“The street’s got great history and it’s got a great tradition its government neglect of investment in working-class communities that has led to these disadvantaged and drug addiction issues and you walk down Meath Street today it is very visible. 

“It is in its revival, so we must keep that going keep investing in it. It’s a gem and the only thing I’m fearful of is that it will become a street with nobody living there because of the rent and the hotels pushing communities out and only allowing tourism in.” 

for more information visit: A Plan to Improve Meath Street | News | The Liberties Dublin

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