Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Benburb Street #2: artists and artisans

The 'Complexions' artwork on Benburb Street

How this stretch of Benburb Street looked
like before 'Complexions'
Benburb Street in Stoneybatter crops up frequently in my novels, from Another Case in Cowtown to the latest thriller, Ghost Flight. 

As an earlier post put it, the street has had a chequered past. It's still somewhat run down at the moment, though you could see a definite turning point after the Luas arrived a decade ago.

The tramline provides a natural promenade and removes most of the cars, though until last spring your morning stroll or cycle ride would be marred by the ugly derelict buildings and hoardings on the north side of the street.

Since last May these have been covered up and brightened up by a brilliant little public art show called Complexions - An Exhibition of Character. Indeed, one or two of you might recognise some of these local characters.

Photographer Jarlath Rice put together the project with a local arts organisation called The Complex, and the launch was sponsored by several local businesses - hats off to The Cobblestone and Oscars Café Bar. It was commissioned by the Law Society.

As the Complex website explains:

"...our principal objective is the provision of, and facility for, innovative, inclusive, socially relevant arts programming delivered to audiences in a live performance context. 
"We endeavour to make positive contributions to the cultural identity of the area in which our organisation is fostered, shining a positive light on Dublin’s north-west inner city."

The Complex began life in 2009 when it rejuvenated a dormant commercial property in Smithfield Square. Then the building was taken over by the National Asset Management Agency, better known in Ireland simply as NAMA.

An aside (and a little rant): NAMA was set up by the Irish government in late 2009 to bail out Irish banks by acquiring their property development loans in return for government bonds. NAMA was billed as the world’s biggest landowner. Five years later, NAMA has changed direction, to become Ireland’s biggest landlord. 
This very same landlord forced the Complex to move out. NAMA is once again in the news this week for trying to turf out the Camden Palace Hotel Community Arts Centre from its premises in Cork. The artists and other volunteers renovated the place over the past five years from a crumbling old building into a thriving arts hub and really terrific arts space. NAMA, believe it or not, is a State organisation. NAMA is building a new Ireland that doesn't have any time for art. I spit on them, the slimy sliminesses of slimenimity. End of ranty aside.

72 and 74 Benburb Street

Meanwhile back in Dublin, the Complex found temporary offices at 72 and 74 Benburb Street, across the street from the diner Wuff. The Complex currently also has a theatre space at 1 Collins Square, next door to the main gate of the museum at Collins Barracks.

Locals might remember being "sent for the messages" to Martin & Joyce the butchers on the corner of Benburb Street in number 74. They were called victuallers - such a wonderfully meaty word - and their watchword was Only the best beef and mutton stocked.

Next door in 72 was a grocers until at least the late 1980s called Downings,  It was a fierce busy street back then, what with Kilmartins the bookie shop, a  cinema that had closed down in the Fifties or Sixties called the Phoenix (the "Feeno"), countless pubs and Kelly's Plastics of course (it's next door to Wuff).

Jennifer Slattery Textiles moved into 72 and 74 recently with its studios and the Wool Felt Shop. As you can see below, the distinctive red-and-white painted brickwork has been stripped back to the original brick, and the colour scheme of the woodwork has changed too.

Along with the Complex this is a fantastic addition to the street. Jennifer is an award-winning designer who specialises in homeware products. She started up her business three years ago, bang in the middle of the recession, yet she already has her wares stocked in the Louvre. Yes, the Louvre. The Paris one.

Before: the red-and-white painted brickwork of 72 and 74 Benburb Street about a year ago or so

After: How the corner of Benburb Street looks today