I’ve grown up down the road from Dun Laoghaire my whole life. I’ve seen it through a lot of ups and downs.
There was no down more severe during my lifetime than the period following the recession. One by one, shops and restaurants started to close down without warning.
The GastroPub on Marine Road, the 40 Foot bar, La Strada, Real Gourmet Burger, The Hen House, Pagoda, The Sweetest Thing, Readers Bookshop, the Imaginarium, Marks and Spencers and even the pet shop, among others, were gone.
The Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre became hollowed out. The high street had huge runs of closed doors.
By 2014, there were approximately 100 vacant retail and office spaces.
Many people started talking about the death of Dun Laoghaire.
The problem was that the places we were left with were nothing special. Some of the empty spaces were filled up, but usually by Starbucks (there are now two on Marine Road alone), another chain like Nandos, or yet another two-euro shop. I mean really, do we need one of them, let alone four all along the same street?
The only reason to go into Dun Laoghaire after that was to see something in the cinema, or to get something in Penneys. Apart from that, why bother? You could stay on the Dart the extra 20 minutes and have much more choice in town.
Sure, there was always the Harbour and the Pier, which would bring people in on a sunny day. But the further you moved away from the sea, the more desolation there was.
It became a vicious cycle too. As more and more places started closing down, Dun Laoghaire lost most of its footfall. There were less places to go shopping. There was nowhere you would go drinking with friends.
Apart from Hartleys, there was nowhere nice to eat, and Hartleys is an expensive place.
Thankfully, the tide now seems to have turned and there are signs of a recovery.
A lot of credit must be given to the local council. They completely renovated the seafront, adding attractive seating areas and a playground, did some restoration work on the People’s Park, repaved George’s Street and built the controversial library, the Dun Laoghaire Lexicon, which has turned out to be a great asset to the area.
The next big project is the regeneration of Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre. The plan is to move the remaining shops down to the first and second floors, and have the entire third floor taken up by an anchor tenant. The rumour is that it’s going to be TK Maxx.
They will also be replacing the ugly brick indents with windows, which should brighten up the very severe looking building and hopefully attract more tenants.
Importantly, we’re also starting to see signs that exciting new businesses are settling into the seaside village as well. Gourmet Food Parlour opened up opposite the Dart station and every weekend, it’s buzzing with people, proving that there is definitely a market there.
Four new businesses have opened on George’s Street: Love Suits, Sostrene Grene, The Natural Bakery and Gourmet Pantry. There’s also a new restaurant, Bistro 73, which has gotten great reviews.
The Maritime Museum also now has a little café that serves healthy and vegan food.
Two very cool looking coffee places have opened up near the cinema; Two Beans and the Curious Monkey Coffee Company. A hipster barbers, Men’s Hair Co, is just across the road and Beer Traders bar has also opened.
And whatever you think of Wetherspoons, it’s started attracting young people back into Dun Laoghaire by giving them somewhere to hang out.
Now that there are more places to shop, eat and drink, we can take advantage of Dun Laoghaire’s other amenities, like the cinema, the theatre, the library, the pier and the park, which has a great Sunday market.
Of course, Dun Laoghaire isn’t fully back to business. But we are starting to see a real turnaround and that’s definitely something to be hopeful about.