I’m always met with the same answer when I tell a Dubliner that I live in an area called Ringsend: “You wouldn’t have been caught dead walking through Ringsend five or ten years ago,” they say, in a tone that nods to the area’s new blooming character.
Dublin’s Docklands, jokingly known as “Silicon Docks,” is in area in southeast Dublin that’s well known for its gorgeous, modern office buildings, sleek apartment complexes and exclusive brunch spots overlooking the water. Synonymous with corporate hustle and bustle and expensive coffee, the Docklands area has an established reputation as the hub for big international businesses, such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Airbnb, Accenture, and more. The bridge overlooking this area is situated right on Ringsend Road.
After a three minute minute walk down Ringsend Road, you’ll reach the Watermarque building, home of one of the two Airbnb offices in the area. You can peer inside with envy as you notice an entire private pub for the staff inside the front windows.
Beside Watermarque is Shelbourne Park, the Greyhound racing stadium that used to be associated with loitering petty criminals but now has queues out the entrance of attendees in fancy garb, preparing for a big night out at the races. And directly across is ARUP, an independent firm of designers, engineers, consultants and tech specialists. This building is connected to Grand Canal Wharf — a stunning, modern apartment complex with an unbeatable rooftop view.
While you’re technically in Ringsend at this point, a true Ringsender (I obviously don’t include myself in this) would call your bluff. Just another few seconds straight on from here you’ll reach Ringsend Bridge. From this bridge you’ll have a perfect view of the glistening Aviva Stadium to your right, and to your left, you’ll see a skyline riddled with cranes working away on the next generation of offices — slowly but surely expanding the Docklands, to the chagrin of many a Ringsend native.
And once you’ve crossed over into Ringsend village, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Ringsend is one of the only remaining parts of Dublin City that’s kept its true physical form over the last few years of gentrification, except for the “vacant, derelict places that were easy to run and hide in,” Ringsend taximan Nick Murphy told me. You’ve still got your local butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Everyone knows everyone and his mother. They have their own distinctive accent. It’s a highly authentic Irish community, with the iconic Saint Patrick’s Church standing tall at the heart of the village. Once you’ve met the local barman, florist, butchers et al., you’ll never miss out on the neighborhood gossip.
But while the neighborhood’s skeleton remains true to its original form, these days the area is much safer and more welcoming to out-of-towners, which is largely as a result of the Docklands’ overflow. Just a few years ago, Ringsenders wouldn’t even take kindly to the crowd dwelling just right over the bridge on Ringsend Road, or worse yet, a quick stroll further down, when it turns into Pearse Street. It would’ve been looked down upon for the Ringsend crowd and Pearse Street crowd to intermingle and intermarry; still to this day, the rivalry lives on, though much more subtly.
Taximan Nick Murphy told me that the looming Docklands overflowing into his beloved neighborhood is bittersweet. While modernization of the area might infringe on its character, all of the construction has been and will be creating many job opportunities for the locals. In addition, while the old style may have character, the new buildings and business make for a safer environment for the children. Big businesses have convenient tax incentives to move to the area, he said, including years of tax relief after setting up businesses or apartment blocks.
“There’s a little bit of resistance,” the taximan said of the semi-secluded area. “We don’t particularly think we need or want the changes coming our way, but on some level we know it’s probably a good thing.”
When I first moved to Dublin I worked in a new cafe in the heart of Ringsend Village, opened by a married couple from the south Dublin coast. They were aiming for an upscale eatery, and sold imported goods from Spain, Italy and the like. The food and coffee were tremendous, but by Ringsend standards pricy. They hired Ringsend locals as floor and kitchen staff, used local meat and produce, and went the extra mile to appeal to the locals. But the locals never bit the hook and even resented the restaurant’s presence, which was a large contributing factor to the cafe’s eventual closing.
Perhaps one of the biggest signs of gentrification in the area is the construction of the revolutionary Boland’s Quay, which developers are calling a “campus in the heart of the city,” and it’s right on Ringsend Road. The €150 million ($170m) project is going to be a corporate hub with residences, commercial offices, and civic and retail spaces, and will transform the city’s skyline. Here’s the catch: the architectural innovation is being built where the historic Boland’s Mill stands today. The flourmill was a landmark in the 1916 Easter Rising, occupied by Eamonn de Valera and his men during battle. The building has been derelict for some time.
Once the red fences went up as construction for Boland’s Quay commenced about a year ago, sections of the fence that had digital images of the final product had been spray painted over with the word: “Replacing.”
Nonetheless, the area has been the fastest growing and most visually impressive part of Dublin’s recent years. Across the Liffey is the spectacular 3Arena, where world famous musicians and entertainers perform. It used to be an old rundown concert hall. Locals have mixed feelings about the takeover: logistically speaking it’s a positive thing, but some say it gets in the way of Dublin’s most characteristic and authentic streets, which are now alive with chatter in hundreds of different languages.
Have you ever spent time in Dublin's Ringsend neighborhood? Share your experiences in the comment section.