George’s St. Arcade, aka Market Arcade, Dublin


George’s Street Arcade in Dublin runs through the middle of an enormous red sandstone market building, which had to be rebuilt after a disastrous fire gutted much of the building and destroyed the original arcade in 1892. It runs from South Great George’s Street through to Drury Street, close to Dublin Castle and Temple Bar.

Some photos of the original arcade show a traditional walkway with glass-fronted shop units on either side and a glass and ironwork roof above. These days, however, there are market stalls filling the central passage-way, so as soon as a few tourist groups arrive, or people stop to window-shop or browse those stalls, there is a sense of congestion and busy-ness. It certainly gives the arcade a buzz on a Saturday morning, but it means it feels more like a covered market than an arcade.

There’s also a wide-range of independent shops operating out of the arcade premises. These tend towards the quirky and arty rather than the high-end jewellery and designer labels you find in some arcades. There are shops you see in many arcades: barbers, vintage clothes, coffee shops, vinyl records, health food, book stores; but there are also some rather unique shops like the one specialising in crafts and jewellery from Mali and West Africa, or the Irish crystal shop; there is even a tarot card reader in this arcade.

With all the hustle, bustle and general movement along this arcade, it’s easy to miss some of the architectural highlights of the place: the iron girders holding up the arcade ceiling; the frosted windows in arched groups of three high up along the sides of the arcade; the green ironwork gates at the entrance in George’s Street.

The arcade name varies from person to person and from year to year. The official website refers to ‘South George’s Street Arcade,’ but the signage outside calls it ‘Market Arcade,’ though the lettering above the entrance says ‘George’s St. Arcade,’ and the building it belongs to is the ‘South City Markets.’

My favourite shop today

I’m torn between the Stokes Bookshop, which has been in the arcade for over 40 years, and the Doni Doni West African crafts store just for its colour and diversity.

My pick of the arcade’s past

The original market building, complete with arcade, was formally opened on 26 October 1881. The Lord Mayor of Dublin Sir George Moyers presided, but very few local Dubliners were invited to the opening celebration. It was designed by British architects, with the British-educated Lord Mayor hosting, the event was a decidedly Anglo-Irish occasion, and at first the place was unpopular with Dubliners.

In August 1892 fire destroyed much of the market building. The fire burnt ferociously through the night, the Irish Independent describing it thus: “The long arcade of the markets was a glowing furnace against which the gush of water from the (fire) hose showed black. The entire square block in which the market is situated was overtopped by large clouds of smoke, glowing with the reflection from the flames beneath.” The poor manager of Valentine’s tea shop in the arcade managed to get much of his stock clear of the flames, only to find locals pouncing on it and running off with free bags of tea.

In 1992, the Layden family bought the building, and were interested in restoring it to a favourite retail space. Gwen Layden still oversees the arcade management today, ensuring that no two shops or stalls are competing by selling the same products or services, but also by helping all the traders survive the shutdown during the height of the Covid pandemic. The Sunday Tribune newspaper, writing in 2005, said the arcade “gives the shopper the rare sense of possibility – the feeling that you might just happen upon something truly original…” The arcade is a great example of how to ensure a heritage-laden building can survive well into the 21st century.

This arcade in films or books

James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ has scenes set in the George’s Street Arcade.

What’s your favourite shop in the arcade today?

What memories do you have of visits in years gone by?

Have you got any good stories to add on the past of this arcade?

Have you seen George’s St Arcade in any other films or books?

Does the arcade have its own website?

Yes, click the link for access to George’s St Arcade’s own website. And the arcade is active also on Instagram and Facebook.

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