Smithfield is one of the oldest market squares in Dublin City Centre. Situated on the north side of the Liffey it even featured in the film The Spy who came in from the Cold, starring Richard Burton, as the home of Checkpoint Charlie. Sadly the once vibrant town square lost most of it’s charm during the Celtic Tiger restorations.
For centuries it was the home of the loud and somewhat smelly Dublin Horse Fair. On the first Sunday of every month traveller families would migrate to the big open space and buy and sell horses. Often this would lead to loud arguments and shouting but overall it was a colourful day filled with neighing and neighbours, horses and hay.
However the City Council always saw it a little bit differently and when they “rejuvenated” Smithfield into a place where lawyers, bankers and other successful Celtic Tigers lived, they tried to move the old horse market, the last surviving open trading in the square. Luckily for them in 2011 a feud between two traveller families resulted in shoots being fired, leaving three people wounded and finally giving the Dublin City Council enough reason to close the fair down on the 6th March.
Since then the Horse Market in Smithfield has been a topic of debate. Of course no one condones shootings, however with traditions being eroded from Dublin life it seemed important to try and save some of what is left. So yesterday for the first time in nearly two years the Horse Market in Smithfield reopened.
And although the Arts Council advertised the event, the national news even featured it as a main story, the whole day was very lackluster. The promised exhibition was a library-bus showing a few slides and displaying six black and white print-outs, the live-music was kept separate and the policing was very severe. Dublin City Council had managed to convert a lively, bustling family day-out into a clinical event with no charm, atmosphere and very few horses.
It’s a pity, but the reopened Smithfield Horse Fair is a little like the square itself: the facelift changing it’s image too much, the restrictions choking out its life and the atmosphere evaporating like the residents 4X4s exhausts.