From a spot on Cook Street in the Liberties, Richard Taplin points out a brick tower in the distance, its green copper dome visible above the treeline.
Built in 1757, Saint Patrick’s Tower is “nothing new”, he says. It used to be the largest smock windmill in Europe and was part of the Roe whiskey distillery.
“It makes up the skyline of Dublin. There’s amazing history on it,” he says. “It’s been right in front of people’s eyes all this time.”
“When we go around the community, there are these small little gaps where you get a glimpse of things,” he says.
Taplin is wearing a black jacket with “In Our Shoes Walking Tours” embroidered on the back.
He’s leading this tour for a community social enterprise based in The Liberties, which hires local people who know the area well. After months of planning and training, these guides officially started giving tours last month.
Taplin first heard about the project last April, when he saw a sign in a local window asking for people interested in showing groups of tourists around the area.
“If we had a euro for every tourist we pointed towards Guinness, we’d be millionairos. Or billionairos,” he says.
In Our Shoes
That’s the idea of In Our Shoes Walking Tours: to help locals tap into the tourism industry.
Many people in the area used to work in the textile industry, says Máirín Ó Cuireáin, executive director of the Robert Emmet Community Development Project, which is based on Usher Street in the Liberties.
But that’s all gone now, she says. What’s replaced it is employment in multinational companies, she says.
“At the moment, for a lot of the people we would work with, those opportunities are not available to them,” says Ó Cuireáin.
“So we’re trying to work in an industry where there would be opportunities,” she says. Tourism, also, is growing.
Dublin City Council envisions the number of tourists in the city growing about 7 percent per year, according to its tourism strategy for 2017-22.
And the Liberties hosts a massive draw: last year, the Guinness Storehouse attracted 1.7 million visitors.
Ó Cuireáin says tourists don’t often have a chance to engage with the real Dublin. The In Our Shoes concept is based on “sustainable employment” and “responsible tourism” in the area, she says.
“So people find out what it’s like to live here in the recent past. And a bit about the social history, social housing, the community activism in the area … There are many layers,” she says.
Much of the local history included in the tour came from a 2016 project to mark the 80th anniversary of the nearby Oliver aBond Flats. A team at the community development project archived photos and bits of history from the area.
Back on Cook Street, Taplin points towards the Dublin City Council Offices on Wood Quay and talks about the remains underneath of an enormous Viking settlement. Before the offices were built, the site was excavated for seven years, from 1974 to 1981, and plans to build on it drew huge public outcry.
He walks past the 40 steps that used to lead to the walled Dublin of medieval times.
“At the top is Saint Audeon’s Park, recently rejuvenated. We’re waiting for it to reopen, hopefully by early summer,” he says.
He arrives at the gates of a small garden at the back of the Church of the Immaculate Conception – Adam and Eve’s. The thrum of the two beehives inside is audible from the footpath.
“In here, we’ve got what we call our security operation, which is 25,000 bees, happy in there making honey,” he says.
The hives are also part of the Robert Emmett Community Development Project. They run beekeeping courses, and have up to six beehives in the community.
“So if you have a rooftop or anywhere, we’re always looking to get another one out,” he says.
He has a plan for another community garden and social enterprise in the community, and he hopes to get up and running by summer, he says.
“By trade I’m a plumber, so when I see a problem, I know how to fix it,” he says. When an accident on a BMX put out his back several years ago, he knew he wouldn’t be able to return to plumbing, he says.
He did a course in community development, but the financial crash happened soon after. “Everything collapsed. The funding fell out of it.”
More Guides Wanted
Taplin is one of two tour guides with In Our Shoes. But they’re recruiting more.
Being a tour guide isn’t for everyone, says Ó Cuireáin. They’ve broadened their training programme, after a first recruitment round last April.
Now, it’s not so tour-oriented. “We’ll provide a set of skills that are transferable,” she says, like communication and confidence.
Some might want to be guides, but others might want to go look for other jobs. They’ll do what they can to help, she says.
The goal is sustainable employment for people in the inner-city, she says. Profits go towards recruitment, training, and paying the tour guides.
“We’ve worked hard on the model, and there’s no reason why it wouldn’t transfer to other parts of the city,” she says.
The Liberties has its particular history, she says. “I know there are other parts of Dublin that have that as well, so why wouldn’t it be a model that is taken to other parts of the city or other parts of the country?”
The Final Stop
“No two tours are the same,” says Taplin. But today’s ends at the Liberty Market.
“How’s business today, Eddie?” Taplin stops to chat with one of the stall owners. “He does everything here. Shopping trolleys.”
It’s a community of entrepreneurs, says Taplin. “There’s something about being in a market. You can browse everything from socks to the ladies down there doing clothing repairs,” he says, as he passes a rack of white communion dresses.
He’s already got another tour on his mind. Perhaps, a lunchtime tour with local food producers, he says.