The rebirth of Rathmines

Ross O’Carroll Kelly once described Rathmines as a shanty town when compared to Ranelagh and Rathgar. However, these days Ranelagh is something akin to a ghettoised shopping mall of restaurants, and Rathgar seems to just trundle along with old money, old families and little passion. Rathmines these days is experiencing a renaissance of sorts or as Niamh Creighton of Deveny’s Off Licence says: “It’s got its mojo back.”

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One of the key components to this new sense of self that Rathmines has acquired has been brought about by Mart. Operated by Matthew Nevin and Ciara Scanlan. It comprises an art gallery housed in the old fire station, various artists’ studios and a café/collective space called the Martcade. I sat down with them in their studio and asked about Mart and Rathmines, Matthew says: “We really love Rathmines and we think the people are really nice here, our footfall is obscene, there are so many people, we cater not just for the art community but also the community.”

Ciara spoke about establishing Mart and a scene:  “It wasn’t our intention to make a new scene in Rathmines, our desire was that we really loved this building, that was number one, and it nearly killed us to do it up.”

They had to expand quickly in order to make the business self-sustainable. Matthew: “We have 30 studios, over 45 artists. We showcase 120 artists on our website. Over the last year we’ve probably shown 150 artists in this gallery, but actually our turnover is really quite tight so at the moment we’re looking at how we can expand because we had to get to a certain size before we could stay afloat.”

They’re shrewd and ambitious, but this is what is needed in a place like Rathmines that has traditionally been very unforgiving of new businesses. The future is bright for them and expansion is not far from their minds. Matthew says:  “It’s opening other studios, going abroad, potentially opening another coffee shop, making this gallery internationally known as well and nationally and getting good big names.”

The best way to describe what is happening in Rathmines is summed up by Niamh Creighton of Deveny’s Off Licence: “I think now Rathmines is a destination again rather than somewhere you just pass through…you could spend a whole day here.”

Deveney’s has been going for over 100 years and won wine specialist of the year in 2013. They average over 400 different craft beers.

She summed up how locals see Rathmines “It’s the rough diamond, whereas Ranelagh is the polished pearl, Rathmines has always been quite quirky, it’s a huge big eclectic mix of people.” The rebirth is  happening through a combination of a number of businesses that help and feed off each other. Niamh: “You’ve got The Blackbird for all your craft beers and obviously that’s helped us, you know people are coming from different areas with a thirst for all different types of beers.”

The Blackbird,a bar, is another new addition to the area. Manager Shane Clifford sat down for a chat about their current success and what they do differently. “We’re in our fourth month and there are a few staples that we stick to. Our staff are very friendly, they go above and beyond to talk to anybody, we try to create a nice warm cosy atmosphere for people, we try to play some good music and we’re all about craft beer.”

The Blackbird has two sister pubs in Dublin, P Mac’s and Cassidy’s, so they know what they’re doing. It shows too. Since opening it has become one of the more fashionable places to go to in Dublin. I wondered how Shane felt about Rathmines. “The customer base that exists for the two pubs in town, a lot of them are from this area so we knew that …but we don’t want to be stepping on the neighbour’s toes. Imagine if you were living beside a place that was extremely busy.” ¨

Shane told me the opening was helped by the other businesses being there when they opened their doors for the first time. “It definitely lent a bit of levity to it…and I remember the online magazines noting that Rathmines is after getting a rebirth.”

One business that is experiencing a renaissance is Abner Browns Barbershop. Originally opened 13 years ago by owner Dave Judge in the past year it has been hosting gigs and getting a lot of attention from the music world. Dave: “The cool thing for bands in Dublin now is to get a gig in here, I get about five emails a day, people are coming in with their music, it’s like another job, it’s ridiculous.”

It all started when Dave sent his partner a picture of an old couch he had bought with a guitar resting beside it. She liked the idea. One day the singer/songwriter Blair Packham was getting his hair cut and said he’d play a few songs sitting on the couch, “instead of the radio” as Dave says. From there they’ve gone to a stage at Electric Picnic and hosting various gigs around the city.  Dave agrees that there is now a ‘scene’ in the area that he and others are part of, affectionately calling it “little Camden”.

While talking to various people in the area about Rathmines’ rebirth I stopped off in The 3rd Policeman, a vintage and curios shop on the Lower Rathmines Road owned and operated by Alistair Elliman. While we were talking it dawned on the two us that we’re both natives to the area. So we ended up having more of a conversation about the changes we’ve both seen in recent times and how we feel about our area becoming, as Alistair and others put it, “a destination once again”.  Below you can hear that conversation.

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