For years, the two-storey building at 80 Thomas Street has sat vacant.

It’s in a prime spot: in the Liberties, near NCAD, the Thomas House pub, the Vicar Street venue and the new Bridgefoot Street park, within sight of the top of Francis Street, which the council has recently revamped – and right on several bus routes.

But it’s mostly just been holding up an advertising billboard

It’s a building full of memories for John Walsh, who grew up there, helping his parents run a shop on its ground floor.

“It was a brilliant place to grow up , as kids and teenagers and after, we all had our turn at working there,” he said by email. “To us it’s almost like looking at an old castle ruins and remembering its glory days.”

Dublin City Council didn’t directly address queries as to what it thinks of buildings being left vacant while the owners sell advertising on them, and whether it knows who owns this one.

“DCC [Dublin City Council] is currently in the process of acquiring this property for the purposes of regeneration,” a council spokesperson said. “We have nothing further to add.”

Full of memories

The building at the corner of Thomas Street and St Augustine Street used to be similar to its neighbours to the west: shopfront on the ground floor with three floors overhead, Walsh says.

And it was linked to its neighbour, which is now 80B Thomas Street, he says. That building is now home, on the ground floor, to Bounceback Cafe.

“My parents came there as shop tenants in the early ’50s,” Walsh says. “It was two shops then: one was a vegetable shop, the other a gun shop.”

At that time there were huge families living in each room above the shops, with mattresses on the floor, and toilets in a common lane that ran behind the block, Walsh says his mother told him.

“Not long after they opened their shop, the landlord approached them about buying the building,” Walsh says. “What he didn’t tell them was there was a condemn order on the property, so shortly after they raised the money to buy it the Corporation pulled it down.”

“They had no money and a young family, but with the help of my uncle and grandfather they built the two-storey building that you see today,” he says. “My parents lived overhead back then. One of my sisters was born in the room above, delivered by my aunt.”

“In the ’70s and ’80s Thomas St was surrounded by little sewing factories, shoe factories etc, not to mention the passing trade and droves that went to John’s Lane church everyday,” he says.

The shop that sometimes appeared in RTÉ’s mid-1980s sitcom Leave It to Mrs O’Brien, set in the parochial house of an inner-city church in Dublin, focusing on the housekeeper, was modelled after Walsh’s family’s shop just down Thomas Street from John’s Lane Church, Walsh says.

“The outside of the shop was featured and stills were taken of the inside and recreated back in studio,” Walsh says.

A staff member in the RTÉ Archives said Tuesday that they wouldn’t have time before publication to search the archives to see if there was anything in there showing whether this was true.

Says Walsh: “You would be surprised how many people would come in looking for Mrs O’ Brien.”

Walsh says his brother Thomas ran the shop until he retired, but that he doesn’t know how to contact him. Twenty-six years ago John Walsh moved to Canada, where he runs a pub called The Snug in Newcastle, Ontario.

It’s decorated with photos of Thomas Street, and of characters from the area including Bang Bang and Paddy Allright – as well as a reconstruction of the shop’s facade.

“I run tours to Ireland twice a year and bring my tour groups up through the Liberties and fill them in on life as it was there,” he says.

The building “looks a tragic mess today”, he says. “And breaks my heart whenever I pass it.”

Decline into vacancy

The Property Registration Authority’s website Landdirect does not say who owns the building now.

A search of the Property Registration Authority’s Registry of Deeds suggests that Thomas Walsh sold both 80 and 80B Thomas Street in 1988.

The most recent document lodged with the Registry of Deeds for 80 Thomas Street references a company called Bezique Ltd.

Architect Stephen Molloy, a director of that company according to its latest annual return, on 25 May said the company used to own 80 Thomas Street but sold it years ago, maybe a decade ago, and that he doesn’t recall who the building was sold to.

80 Thomas Street in September 2009 Credit: Google Street View

Google Street View shows Walsh’s shop open and apparently operating in 2014, about a decade ago, but closed in 2017.

Street View shows a large advertising billboard covering the entire St Augustine Street side of the first floor as far back as 2009. It’s still there today, marked JCDeceaux.

The building was for sale on 22 May for €400,000. That ad has since been taken down.

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