Dublin’s Temple Bar is a small enclave bordered by the Liffey, Westmoreland Street and Dame Street. The main drag is a cramped, erratic thoroughfare beginning at Fleet Street in the east, on into Temple Bar and finally as Essex Street meeting Parliament Street at the western extreme.
Fleet Street, when I first knew it in the sixties, was where you got the bus. It was crammed with waiting busses and passengers, diesel fumes and cigarette smoke, steam rising from raincoats as the sun split the louring clouds. Too narrow and decrepit for its purpose, growing even more narrow as busses shimmied westward through Temple Bar, it was earmarked for development. A great bus terminal would arise to serve the metropolis, and this windy, cobbled backwater would be swallowed in the smog of time.
Dublin was old and grey, even on a summer day and, like every generation before and since, it was my generation would blow the cobwebs away. Flower power was planted and the Dandelion sprouted by Stephen’s Green. The bees swarming into the hollowed core of the city causing such hives of activity as the Project Arts Centre. I snuck off school many’s the afternoon for the smell of patchouli oil and other exotic substances and a stroll around the Project gallery to gaze in awe at the creations of Fitzpatrick and Ballagh and others.
The Project would migrate to the neglected quarter of Temple Bar in the early seventies. The Granary, just around the corner, was the early flowering of the Health Food Shop. Not far away was the Alchemist’s Head, a shop for all the comic book guys. In seventies Ireland, such flowers were weeds, but weeds will always proliferate. I used wander the cobbled streets, linger in the music shops, antique shops, the stamp collectors place on Fownes Street, in the shadow of the emerging hulk of Stephenson’s Central Bank, haunt the Project for plays by Sheridan and late night gigs.
But Temple Bar was doomed, the spaceships of seventies commerce circling ominously. And then it all changed, changed utterly. The growing community of hippies and ne’er-do-wells somehow convinced our esteemed leader, Charles J Haughey, that there was merit in the madness of the crumbling slum. Thoughts of WAAMA no doubt, Flann O’Brien’s Writers, Artists, Actors and Musicians Association, might fit with the denizens, and Charlie was after all a patron of the arts. Thus, reprieve, and the Great Bus Station in the sky went off to orbit another planet.
Temple Bar has been proposed as many things, principally as Dublin’s cultural quarter, its Left Bank. It is also the night life focus, the funzone for wining, dining and dancing till dawn. And it even has residents to participate or complain about the whole damned thing. Overpriced, overcrowded, noisy and hokey it might be, but it is also real, full of all the variety, quirk and charm you need in a city centre.
I pass through when I can, hopefully stopping at a watering hole en route. The Palace at Fleet Street is my favourite. A rael olde Dublin pub, narrow, high ceilinged with darkened wood interior and a well established literary theme. It plays host to the Flann O’Brien festival on the first of April. Flann the Man, who also gave us Bloomsday.
Further in, there’s plenty of boozers and eateries. Take your pick. In this painting, I’ve chosen the Hard Rock Cafe, a good joint for burgers and beer, with a good rock soundtrack to boot, as you would expect. In this painting, I’ve paused between courses, or pints, to gaze out onto Fleet Street. There’s a tattoo parlour across the street, and the tattooist, between customers, is practicing his skills on a dart board. There’s something quite still and serene about that, I think, all going unnoticed in the midst of the madding crowd. I was thinking of calling it The Dart Player.