The Dandelion Market: Dublin’s magical forgotten wonder

Dandelion Market Logo. Photo: Facebook / The Dandelion Market

Most people that inhabit Dublin City are very familiar with Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre, since its opening 35 years go on November 8, 1988.

This particular area of Dublin has seen some very bizarre, and even macabre events over the centuries – that when discovered casually by the accidental historian, adds to the mystique ambience and magic of the area.

Up until 1663, St. Stephen’s Green was a marshy common on the edge of its fledgling city. It was used for sheep and cattle grazing, public executions, and amazingly enough to think of in this day and age, witch burnings.

Another odd, but heart-warming occurrence which happened here, on Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, was of a temporary ceasefire – put in place to allow a groundsman to feed the local ducks.

The Dandelion Market was started in 1970, on Pembroke Lane, a mere stone throw away from the American Embassy in Ballsbridge. Shortly after this, it relocated to Leeson Close in 1971.

In 1973, it moved again, and reopened for business in its longest and best-known setting, a largely unused warehouse, right beside St. Stephen’s Green, and stayed there for its remaining years.

The Old Dandelion Market sign. Photo: Facebook / The Dandelion Market

Initially, the market was a grotty, tatty, but much needed business destination for Dublin City, which was more or less in a strange dark abyss of poverty, and economic depression.

It was a product of its time, inhabited by vendors and punters mainly dressed in 1960s hippy hangover garb – flared strides, fat ties, giant lapels and corduroy. Common hair styles featured buns and beehives for the girls, and long wavy unkempt barnets for the boys.

However, a cultural musical event which blossomed in 1977, would to a large extent change the appearance of the crowds, and a significant amount of the businesses in the Dandelion Market.

The event was of course punk rock, new wave, and later ska, skinheads, proto goths and new romantics. Teddy boys, at this time, also staged a fairly prominent revival. Mods, on the other hand, largely confined themselves to O’Connell Street, and were not welcomed, tolerated, or allowed at Stephen’s Green when noticed by the ‘rocker’ factions.

“There was nothing like it before or since really. Great memories! Great times!”

– Terry Morgan, a weekly visitor to the Dandelion Market

Youth culture was now seemingly in command of the atmosphere of the Dandelion Market, especially every Saturday and Sunday, when the market stall area was open and thriving.

Product reflecting these youth movements started to appear not only on stall tables and shelves, but also inside some shops in the market.

T-shirts, wristbands, rings, crazy-colour hair dyes, rock band wall posters, vinyl records and cassette tapes, most of which could not be found elsewhere in Ireland, were now not only obtainable, but also affordable to most Irish consumers.

The quality of most of these items were usually very high and visually stunning, most of which were mainly sourced and imported from businesses in London, England.

The main and best stall of this nature was called Sticky Fingers, and was the brainchild of John Fisher and Eoin O’Shea. Past employees at this stall included Ferdia McAnna and Dave Sweeney of the band Rocky DeValera & the Gravediggers.

One of the actual shops in the main enclosure was called No Romance, probably named after lyrics from the Boomtown Rats’ song ‘Joey’s on the Street Again’, from the band’s 1977 self-titled debut album.

No Romance’s speciality was punk/new wave/ska/early goth and new romantic clothing. It included items similar to and including the BOY clothes shop in London. Bondage trousers, tops and jackets, ska 2-tone suits, colourful mohair furry jumpers, pork-pie hats, Harrington jackets, and Crombie overcoats, were all the rage.

Outside Advance Records November 1979. Photo: Patrick Brocklebank

Just outside on South King Street, was a very important record shop, which added and complimented the goings on in the market, and was called Advance Records, which mainly imported vinyl and cassettes from the punk and new wave explosion.

Again, the shop’s owner, Fred Talbot (who unfortunately passed away in 2017), was a visionary regarding his chosen product – quickly adapting to a new demand of not only major label punk and new wave content, but more importantly, the brand-new independent record labels. These independent record labels were envisaged to majorly change music culture in the western world throughout the 80s and 90s.

Advance Records carrier bag. Photo: Derek Price

To illustrate and describe the atmosphere and make-up of this market, it was very similar but a much smaller version of the Camden Market in London.

It was a joy to walk into the South King Street entrance and fill your nostrils with the delicious aroma of freshly made donuts. This donut oasis was started and owned by Michael Quinlan back in 1978, who later moved his business to a small kiosk at on O’Connell Street – a small but very familiar Dublin landmark.

It is called The Rolling Donut, it is still there today and also has a branch on Bachelor’s Walk. Interestingly enough, a new branch now has returned to its roots on South King Street.

Not only was the Dandelion Market just a prominent business centre, but a music venue was also created, which hosted many of Dublin’s emerging, new wave bands.

The most well-known of these bands, is of course the world renowned U2, who were not very adept as musicians, or songwriters at the time, and frequently got bottles, cans, and whatever else that could be found and uprooted, thrown at them, to ‘influence’ them to get off the stage.

Other prominent bands that played here were The Blades, The New Versions, Berlin, and The Atrix, The Outcasts from Northern Ireland, and an excellent band who were ahead of their time, but tragically never got their day in the sun called The Threat.

John Fisher has stated on his blog that: “…the gigs went from strength to strength. We had a unique rule – we changed (sic) a flat entrance fee of 50p, and the bands got all the takings – we only took a pound or two if we needed to buy new chipboard for the stage or a few light bulbs. The only other condition was that the bands who played had to come in early in order to re-build the stage, which was inevitably smashed up by the local kids during the week when the market reverted to being a sprawling car park.”

“The capacity of the venue was, I reckon, about 300–330 at a squeeze. Typically, we probably averaged about 100–150,” John added.

The Dandelion Market now became a prominent youth culture hub, which attracted all of the late 70s/early 80s factions and sub-cultures. Business was thriving on the weekends, there was an obvious visual and aural excitement in the air, but unfortunately, youth gang assaults and violence were increasingly rearing their ugly head.

These were largely sporadic, and there is no record or evidence that the market closed down, or the site was sold, because of these untoward events.

Check out the YouTube video below:

Vintage footage and interviews with young skinheads, punks and more. Filmed in and around the Dandelion Market, Advance Records and Saint Stephen’s Green – Dublin 1980.

Paddy O’Brien, 61, from Coolock was a weekly visitor to the Dandelion Market.

“I used to go there every single week to buy punk records and clothes, soak up the atmosphere, and see the up-and-coming bands at the early gigs. I frequently remember the Dando, and I really miss it so much. There has never been anything like it in Ireland, and probably never will be, which is a terrible loss and a shame,” he said.

Another weekly visitor was Terry Morgan, 64, from Monkstown and said, “Ah God! That place was like something out of a 2000ad Judge Dredd comic. To see the crazy colourful looking early punks walking around, was like the future had landed in a grey backward town that time forgot. It was a really big culture shock, like the past was clashing with the future. There was nothing like it before or since really. Great memories! Great times!”

While it was joyous to experience the exciting presence and importance of the Dandelion Market, it’s existence was all too brief, and it would have been even better if it had lasted for another 10 years, but that was sadly, not to be.

Perhaps these days, there might yet still be a glimmer of hope as far as interesting, vibrant, and exciting markets in Dublin are concerned.

With the recent announcement that the much-neglected Iveagh Markets on Francis Street are to receive government funding of €9 million, its former glory is set to be restored after being closed for over 27 years.

This will of course depend on the type of shops and stalls that will be set up there, and who knows, it could perhaps include a music and band performance area.

Here’s to hoping!

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