Walking through Temple Bar a couple of days ago I noticed that a Costa Coffee shop is about to open, just around the corner from where a new McDonalds is being built. I hadn’t heard anything about the Costa, but I had been part of the fight to keep McDonalds out of Temple Bar. With the Temple Bar Cultural Trust (our landlords) currently being wound down amidst some controversy and these large multinationals moving into what is supposed to be Dublin’s ‘cultural quarter’ (subject to much derision by Dubliners themselves) it seems fair to ask ‘what next for Temple Bar?’
We opened the Gutter Bookshop on Cow’s Lane, in what is referred to as the Old City or West End of Temple Bar in 2009. We lease the shop from the Temple Bar Cultural Trust who own a number of shop units and buildings in this area. TBCT also lease a number of the cultural buildings (IFI, Project Arts, The Ark) and areas (Meeting House Square, Cow’s Lane Market) in the area and use the income generated from rents to promote cultural activities in Temple Bar. TBCT was formed as a company in 1991 (under the original name of Temple Bar Properties) by Dublin City Council who remain its only shareholder. Once TBCT is wound down it is expected that the property management and cultural organisation for the area will revert to DCC. Temple Bar in its current form was created through regeneration in the late 1980s.
Personally, working with TBCT has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for the Gutter Bookshop. It is unlikely that a private landlord would have taken the risk of allowing an independent bookshop to open on this site, and TBCT have allowed a number of young Irish entrepreneurs to try new businesses in the area – some have worked, some haven’t but the support has been there to create something new and unique. That our rent is used to develop cultural activities such as Culture Night, First Thursdays, Get Active, Meeting House Square in the area has been a really positive aspect to the business (even if a large proportion of this is spent on the wages of those who create such activities).
The night-time drinking culture of Temple Bar has long been a source of contention which clashes regularly with the cultural aspects of the area. The opening of more fast food restaurants and generic multinational businesses also weakens what could still be Dublin’s best entertainment district. In 20 years Temple Bar seems to have moved further and further from its original concept and An Bord Pleanala’s controversial decision to overturn Dublin City Council’s objection to McDonalds appears symptomatic of a lack of vision for the area. Temple Bar retains the possibility to become a cultural centre for Dublin, appealing to both tourists and locals alike. Temple Bar should be a beacon for unique Irish businesses and groups that show what is best about Irish culture. Pubs have a part in this, as do cafes and shops, venues and arts centres. What seems to be lacking is any kind of co-ordinated plan to bring Temple Bar back to the original vision. But it only took 20 years to get this bad, if Dublin City Council, An Bord Pleanala and other interested agencies agreed on a new concept for Temple Bar and worked together to create it, Temple Bar could still revert (in about 10 years) to a highlight, not a low life, of Dublin town. Personally, I’d like to see support for local Irish businesses, cafes, restaurants (not fast food) with a limiting of pub licenses and size. Do I think it could happen? With a vision and commitment from DCC backed up by An Bord Pleanala, yes I do.