Street trading: A dying culture in the Liberties?

Street trading has been part of Irish culture for generations. Irish women and men from the distant past have passed down this occupation from mother to daughter or father to son.

However, a trade that was once woven into the fabric of Dublin society, is now dying out.

In Dublin, many streets and alleys were filled with street traders where they gathered to sell their wares. The market stalls were filled with anything from fruit, flowers, vegetables, clothes, fresh produce, toilet paper, sneakers, toys and the like, and back in the day they even sold household pets like puppies and kittens.

Meath Street, in the heart of The Liberties, is a well known street where traders and local businesses alike would sell their wares. However, in recent years, one by one, street trading has declined, with just a few remaining stalls to carry on the legacy of their forebears.

Catherine O’Connor, a sixth generation street trader, has been part of the trading business for as long as she can remember. It was passed down to her by her mother more than 10 years ago and she has continued the family business ever since.

This 40-year-old street trader sells a variety of products like toilet paper, sweets, and household goods. She has a separate stall for flowers, located at the top of Meath Street at the corner with Thomas Street.

O’Connnor said in an interview “up to 10 years ago you’d have good quality living, like you’d have good quality food on the table but now… no… times are changing.

“We have many different types of cultures now in Ireland… We just have so many nationalities, but we don’t have people who have an interest to have it as a market area where there are fresh products from different countries.”

With the continuing development in Meath Street, the area has been gentrified over the years but changes in the area have not affected her business in any way and O’Connor learned to adapt to this by “…having a good relationship with customers and you have to have an open mind”.

There aren’t many street traders left in Meath Street, but on the weekends the hustle and bustle on the street creates a lively atmosphere.

Meath Street on a sunny weekend afternoon has more stalls with traders and customers, all looking for a bargain.

There are also local businesses that have been in the area for years.

One of these local shops is owned by Michael Norton whose business has been part of the Liberties for 75 years. ‘Norton’s Green Grocer’ was started by his grandfather in 1949 and was one of the first grocers established in the Liberties at that time. The business was passed down by his grandfather to his father and now to him.

“The Liberties are very community-driven and you’re providing a service for the local community,” Norton says. “The essence of the shop is obviously good quality fruit and vegetables.”

Currently, Norton’s grocers is one of three grocers remaining in business in Meath Street, but up to 20 years ago, according to Norton, there used to be seven or eight butchers on the street.

One of the struggles of having fresh market produce as a business is the changing climate where “too much sunshine or too much rain affects the crops of the farmers” which then affects the supply and prices to local shops, Norton added.

“The area has improved over the last 20 years since I’ve been here. There’s a big mix of all different nationalities and cultures because my store wouldn’t survive if I only had Irish customers, you need a mix from everywhere.”

Street trading has changed over the years, with most street traders moving into different types of work. However, there are still those that continuously keep the tradition and culture alive.

Grainne Quinn, head of the Irish Organization for Market and Street Traders (IOMST), an organisation that supports a range of small businesses and street traders, said “a lot of the trading business is passed down from mother to daughter or father to son, however nowadays the children don’t want to do street trading.

“We are seeing a change in the last few years whereby more people are trying to set up in the field of traditional trading.”

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