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Temple Bar, Chinatown – And An Ceathrú Gaeltachta?


Temple Bar is Dublin’s much vaunted ‘cultural quarter’ an area of the city centre designated for writers, poets, artists, galleries and theatres, based upon a previous, rather shabby ad hoc incarnation. With official imprimatur (and huge swathes of state funding and, em, helpful local government bodies and business people) it was supposed to be the artistic heart of the capital – albeit an almost exclusively English language heart (quelle surprise!).

Since then it has turned into Dublin’s ‘hedonism quarter’. As the Irish Times reports:

‘TEMPLE BAR TODAY is nothing at all like the run-down, laid-back, “left bank” bohemian area it once was. Nor does it, by any yardstick, measure up to the official aspirations of 20 years ago to create a “bustling cultural, residential and small- business precinct that will attract visitors in significant numbers”.

During the St Patrick’s Day festivities this year, every alcove, alley and doorway in the area was used as a pissoir. The scenes were disgusting beyond belief. On every street, men with far too many pints on board were urinating in public, and some were also vomiting – although that’s usually done by the vodka spritzer-laden girls.

Throughout the year, and particularly in summer, Temple Bar is trashed on a nightly basis by drunken louts, drug addicts, graffiti vandals and indifferent bands of buskers with portable amplifiers. The primary culture of Dublin’s designated “cultural quarter” is a street-drinking culture, catered for by many of its 30 bars or nightclubs.

“The ‘mini-bohemia’ everyone recognised as worth saving – colourful, edgy, rough-grained and utterly benign – was destroyed by the initiative because grittiness wasn’t part of the agenda.” As a result, it was a “total failure”.’

Indeed. As a friend of mine so elegantly summed up the Temple Bar of 2011: ‘ It’s a good place to get pissed. And for a piss!’

Of course the blot in our city centre landscape is well matched by Dublin’s new ‘ethno-land’ around Parnell Street, where a self-grown area of foreign restaurants and shops is to be given another huge wad of taxpayers cash and turned into ‘China Town Dublin’. Which might come as a wee bit of a surprise to all the Bangladeshi and Nigerian businesses up there. But at least the distinct local character of the place and its communities is being recognised and given visible expression; and it can’t be any worse than the tawdry, unregulated mess that is there now (hopefully).

All of which brings me, in my usual roundabout manner, to the one component lacking in all these ‘cultural initives’ for our national capital: namely, our national language.

While the city of Belfast (in ‘British Occupied Ireland’) has the successful An Ceathrú Gaeltachta, the Gaeltacht Quarter, the city of Dublin (in ‘Free Ireland’) has… um… er… nothing. Incredibly for Ireland’s capital city Dublin has no official area designated to be the ‘cultural centre’ of the Irish speaking community (of course one could argue that the whole of Dublin city should be designated as the centre of the Irish speaking community but lets not get ahead of ourselves here, folks). Dublin does have several Irish language venues, and some initiatives have been taken to encourage the use of the language and to make the city a more welcoming home to its Irish speaking population (albeit with much opposition from the Anglophone elite).

However, there is little doubt that having a dedicated Irish language quarter of the city would hugely bolster the language’s presence in the capital, would encourage its growth and development, and would have a positive effect on tourism. Several proposals have been made upon these lines over the last decade and more, with initiatives to create a number of suggested Irish speaking areas (for instance in Ballymun or at the Docklands Development) but all have failed through lack of official support – or indeed opposition. With several parts of the city already having strong embryonic Irish speaking communities through the clustering of Gaelscoileanna or Irish medium schools, the positive discrimination in favour of the English-speaking Irish or non-Irish population by local and national authorities is more than questionable. Indeed, as time passes on, it looks more and more like a discriminatory allocation of state resources (the fact that some of these evolving Irish language communities are centred in working class districts makes it all the more apparent).

The suggestion that the Irish speaking population of Dublin should take matters into their own hands has some merit. If the history of Ireland has shown us anything it has proven that waiting for the state (in whatever form) to do something positive is a waste of time. If Conradh na Gaeilge was to draw up a plan to ‘cluster’ the Irish language community in a chosen area of the city by headquartering a number of Irish language organisations there, along with Irish speaking businesses, schools and other facilities it may perhaps yield the sort of results other ‘ethnic minorities’ have enjoyed in terms of official recognition and facilitation from local and national government. It’s not as if Dublin city is lacking in empty premises or buildings. The demise of the Celtic Tiger has left many parts of city ‘abandoned’, with developers all to eager to sell (Dublin West, anyone?).

So, is the will or imagination there to make it happen?

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