On some of the Dublin tourist maps you will see a large pink area titled "The Liberties / Antique Shop Quarter," but there is no information on where the shops are within the quarter. The Dublin shopping map doesn't have any information about shopping in the area either. But with a little digging, we found out that there are a dozen or so antique and vintage shops along Frances Street and just a block away on Meath, is the Liberty Market (Thursday to Saturday).
The name ( Liberties) is derived from jurisdictions dating from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. They were town lands that were part of the City of Dublin, but still preserving their own jurisdiction. Hence, "liberties." The most important of these liberties were the Liberty of St. Sepulchre, under the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore belonging to the Abbey of St. Thomas (later called the Earl of Meath's Liberty) - hence Meath and Thomas streets. The current Liberties quarter's boundaries are between the river Liffey to the north, St. Patrick's Cathedral to the east, Warrenmount to the south and St. James's Hospital to the west.
We decided to check out The Liberties district on a sunny Saturday afternoon in October and had a FAB time. Starting at the north end of Francis Street, we were surprised to find a large surface parking lot tucked away behind a building that was full of graffiti art reminding us of Boise, Idaho's popular tourist attraction - Freak Alley.
Dublin's Antique Row
Walking just a bit further, we arrived at Dublin's Antique Row beginning with O'Sullivan's Antiques - look for the building with the piano hanging off the side of the building. This is the spot for serious antique collectors and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable. We were surprised and impressed with the collection of 1950s whale bone vertebrae.
A few doors down is Michael Mortell's impressive store of unique mid-century modern furniture and accessories. As you proceed down the block, proceed down the block to discover more antique stores, second hand stores, a gallery and even a larger Oxfam Charity shop (what we call thrift stores). We definitely enjoyed our stroll.
At the end of Francis Street, turn left and you are at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The afternoon sun provided us with a wonderful sun-drenched perspective. We stopped for lunch at the tiny Cathedral Cafe with its six tables. It was a busy place, the owner cooking and serving up the tasty meals - we were exhausted just watching her.
Meath Street Madness
Watered and fed, we were ready to tackle Meath Street, which we were told by one local is a bit gritty or in his terms "Dublin unpolished." We turned the corner and were immediately hit by a wave of people and cars - the street was like Costco at Christmas. I think this is what Jane Jacobs (urban living '60s guru) was talking about when she coined the phrase sidewalk ballet. However, in this case it was a "street ballet" with cars, teens, seniors, couples, families and the odd horse sharing both the street and sidewalk space.
In addition to the eclectic shops, bakeries, groceries and butchers was the Liberty Market with its cheesy flea market stalls selling everything from lamp shades to purses. It was urban chaos at its best. We loved mingling with the locals.
There is also the historic St. Catherine's Church mid-block with the secret Our Lady of Immaculate Conception grotto at the back which we discovered by accident. It is a wonderful place for a little solitude and reflection. Here met Debbie, who comes often to light a candle and say a pray for her recently deceased husband.
Once we got to the top of Meath Street at Thomas Street, we headed east (left) to find a pub. Just by chance, I looked up an alley (I like to do that) and saw a horse. Curious, we wandered up the alley and got chatting with an older gent who, with his young sidekick, who were cleaning up. Happy to share the alley's history, he told us it has been home to stables for over 300 years. At present, the stables house 30 horses for the City Centre's horse-drawn buggies. You won't find this on any tourist map.
We had a FAB Saturday afternoon hanging with the locals, just a few blocks away from the hoards of tourists that invade Dublin's City Centre everyday.
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