As a student, it’s easy to reduce city life to your journey into college and the coffee shops around college, with occasional trips into Harcourt Street or Temple Bar. Indeed, the oft cited phrase “be a tourist in your own city!” seems more fitting as an ironic Instagram caption for when you spend €9 on a pint in the Temple Bar than it does as a sincerely held belief about how you should interact with your city. However, Dublin practically bleeds art from every gable and electricity box. Alternative Dublin’s Street Art Walking Tour encourages us to recognise that there’s beauty wherever we find ourselves, improving our community and mental health as we venture from one destination to another.
Before going on the tour, I expected this article would be a fluff piece highlighting some interesting art around Dublin. It was anything but that. I, along with two New Yorkers, two lads from Belfast, and two Dubliners immersed myself in a vast swathe of information centred around street art culture within Dublin.
“Tour guide Conor taught us about the history of modern street art.”
While standing in front of a beautiful mural outside Yamamori Tengu on Strand Street, tour guide Conor taught us about the history of modern street art and graffiti, from its beginnings in New York, to how it spread via train cars, and how journalist Martha Cooper spread it internationally in the 1980s with her book Subway Art.
On Liffey Street, Conor drew our attention to a massive tag on the gable of a building above a travel agent. This unassuming graffiti was in a heaven spot, a loaded term that conveys how high up these spots usually are, their desirability, and as our tour guide aptly phrased it: “If you fall, you’ll end up in heaven.” Here, we learned about the turf wars happening between different artists and collectives in Dublin and how to recognise artists through art spread across the city.
During the first half of the tour, which spotlighted art in the Northside, there was an emphasis on Dublin-based Brazilian artist Brutto, from the techniques he used to achieve his art, to the mural depicting his daughter so that he could see her even while she remained in Brazil, to the massive mural he created on the facade of the Abbey Court hostel; a grand feat given it faces onto the Quays. The latter caused Dublin City Council great agony as they deliberated whether to remove it.
“It was an incredible experience to see this massive artwork and discuss it with strangers from vastly different backgrounds than my own.”
Travelling across the Liffey, we made our way into Temple Bar, which has much more to it than overpriced pints. We viewed the Bloom’s Hotel mural created by artist James Easley, a piece of art that attracted international attention. Now he rarely returns home to Ireland, a sadly common story for Irish artists. While I don’t wish to give too much away, as I hope to convince people to experience this tour for themselves, Conor extensively detailed the mural’s (which spans the entirety of the five exterior walls of the hotel) artistic influences. It was an incredible experience to see this massive artwork and discuss it with strangers from vastly different backgrounds than my own.
While in Temple Bar, we popped into The Clockwork Door (www.theclockworkdoor.ie), Ireland’s only timehouse, which houses This Must Be The Place (thismustbetheplace.com), a collective that organises many different events, such as clay workshops, tote bag painting sessions, and speed friending. The space also houses Alternative Dublin, the art collective that organised this tour, as well as many others, such as a true crime tour and tours highlighting Dublin’s LGBTQ and womens’ history. It also functions as a third place that allows people to sit together and chat, play boardgames, play instruments, and generally get to know other like-minded individuals.
Iconic. That’s how I would describe our procession down Icon Walk before we went into the Icon Factory. The Factory is a non-profit artist’s co-op in the centre of Temple Bar, where artists can exhibit their art for free in the gallery or work on their art in the adjoining atelier. Here, you can find postcards, prints, tote bags, wooden busts and more, all created by local artists. Sadly, due to market pressure, the Icon Factory is being threatened out of the space it has resided in for years.
Our penultimate piece of street art was the infamous Maser heart which became an international news story causing political uproar during the 2018 referendum. The piece, a red heart inscribed with “Repeal the 8th” was previously painted over, but now exists as a partial heart, half painted over, keeping the recent history alive.
“This wall, which features dozens of hearts and quotes from movies, books, and songs all about love, is definitely a must-see for anyone in Dublin.”
Our final visit was to Love Lane, an alleyway made famous by Instagram pics but still unknown to many people. Here there was art from years ago, blasting the government for the Great Recession, as well as linocut prints depicting some alternative women one might expect to see around Temple Bar (or the Arts Building), and finally the installation by Anna Doran devoted to love. This wall, which features dozens of hearts and quotes from movies, books, and songs all about love, is definitely a must-see for anyone in Dublin.
While I went into this tour expecting to gain some more appreciation for the art to be found around the city, I left feeling invigorated by the artists and creatives who are fighting to keep Dublin beautiful and lively. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must book my ticket for the True Crime tour.