Is Dublin Done with Big Outdoor Christmas Markets?

They’re not going ahead this year, the big outdoor markets.

Unlike in previous years, Stephen’s Green and George’s Dock won’t host the German-style affairs with pop-up wooden stalls, mulled wine, and bratwurst.

It’s not that Dublin City Council or DublinTown have given up altogether on this style of Christmas market. It’s that they’re just not feasible this year due to the Luas Cross City works.

But perhaps it would be a good thing if this type of Christmas market did not return even after the tramway construction’s completion (which is planned for autumn 2017).

As some see it, Dublin needs bottom-up, homegrown Christmas markets, rather than imported, paint-by-numbers ones.

Bavaria in Dublin

“With the Luas Cross City works taking place at the moment, there are limited options for suitable locations for outdoor Christmas Markets in the city,” a Dublin City Council spokesperson said by email.

“Consideration will be given to holding a quality Christmas market at a suitable location in 2017,” the spokesperson said.

People liked the big outdoor Christmas market at Stephen’s Green in 2014, says Richard Guiney, who is CEO of DublinTown, the city-centre business-improvement district.

“The public have requested this consistently. They want a high-quality Christmas market,” he says. “The years we had it on Stephen’s Green … over 750,000 people attended, which was a huge number.”

Guiney says that during the Christmas market the footfall in the Grafton Street area increased by 10 percent, and that it fell back down the following year when there was no market.

Businesses around the area, he says, missed the Christmas market in 2015; 80 percent of businesses in the Grafton Street area, he says, were pleased after the 2014 market.

Yet, when The Journal reported that there would be no Stephen’s Green Christmas market in 2015, there were angry comments below the article. And not in support of the market.

“I’m sick of the Xmas markets in Dublin,” read one comment. “Nothing in them is unique. Just food and drink at rip off prices. I’m off to Cologne Germany this year.”

“The market last year was a joke,” read another. “It was so narrow you couldn’t get through the crowds and was full of over priced food and drinks.”

Map by Simon Auffret

Grow, Don’t Import

And a handful of angry online commenters – who might well slag off everything from safe behind a keyboard – aren’t the only ones who see problems with this model.

“You really shouldn’t import a Christmas market from elsewhere,” says Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan. “If you go to any of the Christmas markets in Munich, there are people who are at those markets all year round.”

In other words, don’t import a Disneyland version of a Christmas market. Instead, says Moynihan, we should encourage smaller local businesses to sell their wares during the festive season.

Aisling Rogerson agrees. Eight years ago, with Sharon Greene and Luca D’Alfonso, she established the Dublin Flea Market. It pops up monthly in Newmarket Square in Dublin 8.

She’s not a fan of previous years’ big, outdoor Bavarian-style Christmas markets in Dublin.

“Those Christmas markets are like a fold-down, pop-up packaged thing,” she says. “They just arrive up and they have all the trimmings, the little wooden huts and whatnot. They rent out their little huts to people [at high prices].”

Without any depth, what’s the point? asks Rogerson. Many of the traders she knows don’t return after their first year at such a market, she says.

Angela Cuthill has been a vendor at many a market. These days she runs artysmarty from a storefront on Dame Street, but before that she plied her jewellery trade around Dublin markets, often at the the National Crafts and Design Fair each year in the RDS.

Dublin is new to such Christmas markets, so it might take time to develop them, says Cuthill. With a small population and cold weather, the outdoor Christmas markets don’t have the same appeal, she reckons.

And it’s tough to make money from them as a small trader. “It’s almost impossible,” she says. “You can probably make a few bob from food. Although, that’s a tough gig as well.”

Developing Over Time

There are lessons to be learned from previous years, says Guiney of DublinTown. One idea for the future is for vendors to split stall space.

“If you’ve a craft jeweller, who makes their own jewellery, they’ll only have a certain amount of stock,” he says. “It does cost a lot of money to run these markets. You’ve got lights, security, all the rest. If you could have a rotation for craft people who could rent for a week then I think that’s something that there’d be certainly scope for.”

Affordable and quality produce is key, says Guiney of DublinTown. It’s one thing that the bigger, outdoor markets like Stephen’s Green need time to develop.

“You have to get the right balance of products,” he says. “The longer a market is in existence the more it’s known to have a certain footfall and standard.”

But for 2015 and 2016, the Stephen’s Green market hasn’t gone ahead. This sets everything back, says Guiney.

If a Bavarian-style affair, replete with wooden huts, glühwein imbibing and bratwurst munching, does take place in 2017, it will be like starting all over again.

If that’s the case, why not stick with sponsoring the homegrown, bottom-up Christmas markets?

This Year, and Next

For the first time this year, Dublin City Council is sponsoring the Dublin Flea Christmas Market in The Point Village.

Now in its fifth year, Rogerson says the Dublin Flea Christmas Market takes a different approach to that of the former Stephen’s Green markets.

“The produce, the majority of it, is locally made,” she says. “In those bigger markets it’s more like a window shopping experience whereas at the Flea you are going down to, first of all, get really great quality Christmas presents and you’re buying directly from the person.”

Rogerson of the Flea says it’s key to make trading at these markets affordable.

“When you put up the price of a stall it changes the kind of market you’re going to have,” she says. “It means that the small guy doesn’t have a chance. Essentially the quality of your market depletes then.”

Looking ahead, Rogerson thinks that a reassessment of how the large, outdoor markets are run is in order.

“If those bigger ones were run in the right way, and there was actually substance and depth to them, then that’d be amazing,” she says. “Our market is successful because there’s four of us putting in serious, hard graft for months beforehand.”

Labour’s Moynihan says that if Dublin hosts a big outdoor market again in the future, it shouldn’t be overly bureaucratic, and it should be more affordable. “I would like to see people who know how to run these markets involved,” she says.

Street closures will be important, and Stephen’s Green might not be the best location, she says. “If College Green plaza is pedestrianised I certainly think that that would be a very good venue for one of those markets.”

Reader responses

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dave
30 November at 15:17

If anything it shows up just how little open public space there really is in Dublin. Roll on the College Green Plaza. The Stephen’s Green Market was far too cramped a location and a nightmare to walk through. Seems odd they don’t light up the inside of Stephen’s Green itself and use that instead, Especially as there could be other attractions like music on the bandstand etc., and it is wasted as an attraction being closed by 4pm every day in winter.

Séan Billings
5 December at 14:15

We should keep the elements of the German markets that work too though. For me that must include glühwein imbibing and bratwurst munching. Although, any decent sausage will do the trick.

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