Following the news that Bernard Shaw, a stalwart of the city's creative scene, will be closing its doors this year, we're left asking if anything can be done to prevent the death of Dublin?
In 2006, Ireland was beginning to suffer the comedown from the Celtic Tiger and as a particular ilk of Irish models were posing inside newly renovated nightclubs and bloated millionaires were flying helicopters to buy the morning newspaper, the rest of us were kept out from that world by velvet ropes, golden inner circles and actual air miles. As they coveted shiny objects for a new Ireland, the rest of us picked up what was discarded and turned it into something special. One such place was the Bernard Shaw, which after 13 years of business, announced that it will be closing later this year.
2006's creative capital
Born out of despair at a city that was becoming both tawdy and desolate, the Bernard Shaw opened its doors in 2006 and changed what we thought we deserved in terms of pubs and nightlife. Founded by Bodytonic's Trevor O’Shea, he and his team created a social hub for craic merchants, creative people, music lovers and music makers. This wasn’t just a boozer; it was a place to discover new music, make friends and hide away. It was a place to be when you felt like nowhere else wanted you. It became an escape from the noise of Harcourt Street and the crush of commercial nightclubs.
Even though the Shaw didn’t have a late license, the pints (and pitchers of Buckfast) were cheap enough to make it the congregation spot before heading to Antics in Crawdaddy (RIP), Chemistry in Wax (RIP) and Mr. Jones in the Twisted Pepper — the Bodytonic night club now known as Wigwam, that opened in 2008. As you made the dash from one venue to the other, Dublin became ours again.
Employment in Ireland at this time was tough going if you weren’t a recent BESS graduate from Trinity College and with the financial crash, we didn’t just celebrate in the Shaw, we commiserated too. We had send-offs for friends who left for London, Berlin or Down Under. We had condolences for layoffs and, for a while, the layoffs just kept on coming.
Boozy promises to sober realities
However, because Bodytonic rewrote the structure of what a Dublin pub could be, people got work from just hanging around the smoking area. Knowing the skills of the community that held fort there, the owners could take chances on their regulars and give them jobs. Familiar faces worked the bar. Friends who ran nights there taught others how to DJ and, soon enough, they were DJing there themselves and setting up club nights elsewhere.
You could put names to the faces of people who ran market stalls by the Big Blue Bus, selling vintage clothing or homemade jewellery, and groups of friends turned boozy promises to form record labels, club nights and art collectives into sober realities.
The walls became gallery spaces and this art, had it been done anywhere else would have been considered criminal but within these walls, it was expression. When Savita Halappanavar died in 2012, a mural in her honour was painted by the artist Aches on the walls outside the Shaw. Flowers and tributes were left there for her and pleas to Repeal the Eighth were made here, either written in marker, whispered under breath or shouted at the top of our voices.
A different Dublin
In the 13 years of the Bernard Shaw, Dublin has changed. The rubble that we polished then is now being reclaimed by the people who first let it fall apart and we’re being left with less than dust.
Our music venues, our night clubs, our markets, our theatre spaces and our communities were warming the lots that were abandoned by developers and now they’re being pulled from under us. If it was velvet ropes and helipads that divided us during the last boom, it’s the revolving glass doors of boutique hotels and extortionately priced student accommodation, that few students can actually afford, that are acting as the barricade between us and our city.
Cranes hover like vultures across the skyline and while it may feel like Dublin is on its last legs, Dublin isn’t dead. The outpourings of love for the Bernard Shaw and what it represents prove that we’re not giving up this city without a fight. Things may be changing but by doing things like supporting local businesses, knowing which politicians want to make our cities liveable instead of transactional and voting for them, we can swing this change in our favour.
Don't give up. Stand your ground, raise your voice and take action.