In the late nineteenth century, Dublin Corporation tried to rid the city of street traders regarding them as an insanitary nuisance. It opened the City Fruit and Vegetable Market for wholesale dealers in 1892. Shortly afterwards, the Earl of Iveagh, Sir Cecil Guinness, through the Iveagh Trust, began a significant piece of urban renewal in the area north of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Here he developed flat blocks, baths, a hostel, children’s play centre and a public park.
To accommodate traders who were displaced by these changes, he had the Iveagh Markets built. This was done directly by him and not through the Trust. Here traders could continue their business in hygienic conditions, protected from the elements. It was to be run by the Corporation and consisted of two interlinked market halls, together with ancillary buildings. Situated on Francis Street, it occupied the site of Sweetman’s Brewery which the Earl had bought and shut down some years earlier.
The larger hall, the Dry Market, would sell second hand clothes while foodstuffs would be sold in the other, the Wet Market. However, some traders resisted the idea of paying rent. When the markets opened in 1906, many stalls remained unoccupied until reduced rents were agreed.
The building was the result of a competition won by a young English architect Frederick Hicks. Hicks had been in Dublin since 1890. He spent the rest of his long career, designing both social and private housing in the city. Two well-known public buildings by him are, the Church of St. Thomas, Cathal Brugha Street, and Rathmines Library and Technical Institute.
The main contractor of the Markets was McLaughlin & Harvey, with cast iron work by Tonge & Taggart. Constructed of Portmarnock brick and Newry Granite with Portland Stone dressings, the quality of both craftsmanship and materials is equal to anything else built by Sir Cecil Guinness at the time.
The Facade on Francis Street, with its classical pediment, gives little hint of the brightly lit spaces within or, of its current dilapidated state. The plan of the two markets is best described as a trapezium, narrowest on Francis Street and gradually broadening out towards Lamb Alley. Designing a roof to cover it must have been quite a challenge for the contractor, J&C McGloughlin.
The Dry Market, entered from Francis Street, is a large space with a gallery at first floor level on all four sides. This gallery is supported by square cast iron columns. Above these are ionic columns that support the roof structure. The gentle curve of the beams just below the roof is echoed in shallow niches in the brick wall behind. The floor of the gallery is made of reinforced concrete, something quite innovative then. The Wet market has a similar glass roof.
Apart from its architectural merit, the whole complex played an important role in the daily lives of people of the Liberties, and is embedded in folk memory. For many years, It offered them more affordable goods, including second hand clothes. This was long before cheap chainstore clothing was available. There was also a laundry for washing and disinfecting the clothes before they went on sale. This laundry also had cubicles with double sinks, hot and cold water and facilities for drying. For a penny, people from the surrounding area could used them. A real boon to locals, many of whom lived in overcrowded tenements.
From the late seventies on, business declined and the Markets were finally shut down in the early nineties. At present, (October 2021), the building’s future is uncertain. Meanwhile it continues to deteriorate, so that it is now considered by An Taisce to be one of the top ten most at risk buildings in Ireland.
Photography by Kieran Doyle-O’Brien.