Whatever about the plan’s shortcomings, they didn’t lack ambition. The 12 giant gas braziers would light up the night sky, acting as beacons to attract people to Smithfield. The large square would host all of Dublin’s major civic events, from rock concerts and the St Patrick’s Day parade to the marathon. The horse fair would be moved elsewhere, while the arrival of the Luas and high-end apartments would transform one of the city’s most neglected areas into a bustling, dynamic urban quarter.
Today, just over a decade after the regeneration of Smithfield began, many of these aims either have been derailed or are still waiting to be realised. The gas braziers aren’t lit any more (the official reason is they’re not considered eco-friendy; it also happens to cost upwards of €500 an hour to run them). Dozens of shops are lying empty and the square is seldom used as a civic amenity. Key pieces of the regeneration jigsaw, such as the relocation of Dublin Institute of Technology to Grangegorman and the renovation of the city markets, have stalled.
At a time when the area needed a lift, a shooting at last month’s horse fair was yet another blow to its faltering reputation. But disappointing as the the pace of development at the square has been, there is another layer to the story of Smithfield’s regeneration that is less evident.
Some traders are quietly growing, while cultural and theatre groups are taking over empty commercial premises and beginning to transform parts of the area into an alternative, artistic community reminiscent of Temple Bar in the 1980s. Slowly, the vision of Smithfield as a cultural quarter is becoming a reality, though in a way that few envisaged.
Overall, planners insist it is far too early to say the regeneration plans have failed. They acknowledge that the pace of growth has been much slower than expected, and that mistakes were made in the design of the area, but fresh plans are afoot to try to tap into the full potential of the area in dramatically changed economic circumstances.