When I lived in the middle of Dublin, we would often pass the time at the height of the pandemic by going on meandering walks through the streets of the city centre. City Hall wore the barren streets around it well, standing taller and prouder once it didn’t have to compete with traffic on Parliament Street. Talbot street, usually a glorious humming melee, seemed almost solemn in its new silence. But between Capel Street and Smithfield, there was a different kind of desolation.
’m sure hardly anyone could pass the old fruit, veg and flower market on St Mary’s Lane without thinking what a waste it was to have let it lie empty. The resplendent red bricks and embellished Victorian arches were too fine to be framing nothing more than a decaying cavern, the haunted site of a former market. People have been crying out for the council to revive the building, in its enviable location at the heart of the city, into a new market — the kind you can find in so many other Irish and European cities.
Then I heard that someone had. Rain had washed away all our other bank holiday plans, so I thought that Me Auld Flower, the indoor food festival running in the market as part of Dublin’s St Patrick’s weekend festival, would be ideal. We have a toddler, so most meals are consumed single-handedly while walking around anyway. We’d be indoors and would have access to enough varieties of cuisine that we might even satisfy the nonsensical yet tyrannically specific daily dietary demands of our small child. (Sausages may prompt ecstatic gratitude on a Monday, horrified disgust on a Tuesday.) We might even get to have a pint.
Then we saw the price. For our family of three, we would spend €48.90 on tickets — no food or drink included — and that’s because we would benefit from having a child young enough to qualify for a free ticket. A family of four, with two older children, could have spent almost €60 before even starting to feed themselves. Watching the parade on TV it was, so. In a way, it was a kind of patriotic way to spend the weekend. Paying through the nose for something that one could access for free in plenty of other cities felt so very Irish, and so specifically Dublin.
One of the weirdest things about Dublin is how protective people in it can get when anyone talks about how silly the price of things are’
I have a little bit of sympathy for the organisers of Me Auld Flower, who would likely point out that the event was a one-off festival rather than an ordinary market. They had to invest tens of thousands of euro on facilities, security and insurance before they could let anyone in the door. The state of the building is not their fault. But I think most people would expect at least a voucher toward food and drink for that price. And I think it is a little galling that the event leant so heavily on the identity of that part of Dublin for its branding — ‘Me Auld Flower’, its unironic servings of ‘Michelin star’ coddle — when surely only a specific fraction of the city’s population could justify the price of attending. I think what tends to annoy people about Dublin is that when important or nice places are revived, they are often taken beyond the means of a lot of people.
I wasn’t the only person left reeling from the price. But I detected a fervent defensiveness which met anyone else who dared point it out. One of the weirdest things about Dublin, I think, is how protective people in it can get when anyone talks about how silly the price of things are. We love a shallow rebrand in this city, so why not take it from Stockholm and start calling it Dublin syndrome altogether, because €10 pints and astronomical rent seem to have some of us in a chokehold.
Earlier this month, journalist June Shannon wrote a fantastic piece about how her family has been totally priced out of the capital. I watched her talk about it on Virgin Media’s The Tonight Show. She was cool, articulate and compelling. The response from some of her fellow panellists … was not.
Like a pull-string lawn mower spluttering to life, George Hook sat next to Shannon and started honking and snarling out some ludicrous comparison between the eye-watering rental rates of Dublin’s most humble abodes and the demand-driven price of accommodation on the “upper west side of New York”. The jaw-dropping rhetoric continued, with another panellist seriously arguing that the cost of living in Dublin is reasonable because it is comparable with pricing in places like Monaco, LA, Paris or New York.
Are we being serious with ourselves? Short of a phenomenal psyop tactic designed solely for the entertainment of the people of Cork, I don’t know what kind of collective delusion those of us living in Dublin would need to submit to in order to convince ourselves that we get the same value from the cost of living here as one would get while being saturated by the sun in the millionaire’s playground of Monaco. Can you imagine? Dublin, with all its alleged global cultural heft, stepping in as the fifth main character in Sex and the City. Dreamers paying through the nose for rent just to get the chance to bartend in Temple Bar, safe in the knowledge they were at the periphery of stardom here, in what is apparently the European equal to LA. Or Bogart and Bergman gripped in anguish next to that plane, their sole shared consolation the knowledge that they’d “always have Stoneybatter”.
Real families are being pushed out of Dublin by its prices. If the type of people who get invited on TV all the time don’t feel that, I hope it stays fine for them. I understand that nobody likes admitting they’ve been ripped off, but let’s be unambiguous: despite all of the affection that I have for it, Dublin is not Paris. And if it’s charging Paris prices, that’s an indictment of our city and not a defence.