By Sean Cuttle
Tucked away in a little corner of Meath Street in the heart of the Liberties is Liberty Market. First opened in 1973, the banner suspended high above the unassuming entrance, calls it “Dublin’s famous market” and it is the Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory of markets.
The Market is open from 10am to 4pm on Thursday and Friday, and 10am to 5pm on Saturdays.
A stroll through the market reveals a maze of stalls stocked to the brim with every kind of product imaginable. The market is deceptively large on the inside, with every inch of space utilised. One stall is covered, floor to ceiling, with leather shoes, each with their own handwritten price tag. Another is selling “designer brands” at low prices. There is even a small barbershop occupying one of the stalls.
One stall vendor, Alexia, is a small Kenyan woman. Spread out on the table in front of her is an array of sandals, scarves, handbags, and jewellery and a few ornaments, including a pair of pink flamingos.
Alexia says that they are all handmade in Kenya, and she brings them to Ireland when she flies back to visit family. Having been in Ireland for a number of years now, she has only had the stall in the market for the last two months. Pickings at the stall are slim and Alexia doesn’t have a lot of stock to sell.
“Business isn’t great – it’s very slow. The virus made it very difficult for us to work. We were closed for months. ” Alexia says, in broken English. She is a very charismatic woman and chats away with the few punters who are walking the market on a dreary Thursday afternoon.
Walking through the narrow rows of stalls, there is a real sense of community and family. Vendors shout across to each other, joking and laughing like old friends. Despite being in competition with one another, they all seem to get along. It is this character that is missing from the modern shopping experience.
Another vendor, had a crowd of young children and teenagers around her, looking at her goods. Her stall was an old-fashioned sweet shop, with floor to ceiling shelves filled with tall glass jars of sweets. What the crowds were most interested in however, were the American brands of sweets spread across the table, the types that you rarely see in Ireland: Hershey’s, Toxic Waste, Jolly Ranchers.
“Business has started to pick up again now that restrictions are easing,” she said. “Everyone here is gearing up for Halloween and Christmas, out two busiest periods..”
The vendor said that she’d worked there for two years now and that there was a steady stream of business. Most of their income these days came from providing sweets for private birthdays, weddings and communions. They also have an online service and that has increased income.
The further into the market you walk, the stranger the items on sale become. One stall is selling a menacing array of air rifles, blades, and other weapons, with the whole stall secured behind a wire grates like a bank-teller. Another stall sells lampshades, another knitting supplies. There was one man sitting in the chair while the barber worked away on his hair.
Thanks to the lack of some of the frills that high-street stores have, items for sale in the market tend to be cheaper than their high-street counterparts because vendors don’t have the overheads that larger stores do. The Liberty Market’s slogan is “Why pay more?” and it certainly lives up to that.
The Liberty Market is a perfect embodiment of the spirit of the Liberties. It is a taste of the ‘real’ Dublin – a family of locals coming together to earn a living and a brilliant way to spend an hour on the weekend.