COLOUR, NOT CLUTTER – Grafton Street flower sellers

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 4 minutes)


We bring colour to Grafton Street, not ‘clutter’!” was the response of street traders in Grafton Street to a request from multinational property company Hines to Dublin City Council to remove the street trading stalls away from Grafton Street, to which Hines allege they bring “clutter”. The street traders also pointed out that they and their predecessors had been on that street much longer than Hines.

Catherine Claffey, a Grafton Street flower seller, from whom I took the “Colour, not ‘clutter'” quotation. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          Although the request to Dublin City Council had been made in August, it only hit the news earlier this week and brought a swift response of outrage from the street traders, some public representatives and ordinary members of the public. Broadcaster Joe Duffy joined the chorus and also referred to the difficulties experienced by the street traders on Moore Street with an unhelpful DCC Management.

Hines PR people soon found themselves removing their feet from their mouths and eating not only their words in public but very humble pie.

Dublin architecture, history and soul is under constant attack by property speculators, both native and foreign, to whom everything is a potential ‘development site’ and a possible source of profit – and without the production of a single commodity.

Victoria Dempsey, Grafton Street flower-seller, hugs a friend.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)


          Dublin’s Grafton Street was a premier Dublin residential street as the upper classes deserted the north for the south side of Liffey river in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. Perhaps that was the spur for the street becoming known for prostitution in the period.  According to Wikipedia: “In the 1870s, 1,500 prostitutes were reputed to work in the street.”

When the O’Connell Bridge (then the Carlisle Bridge) was completed in 1795 (just in time to hang United Irishmen from it), it led not only to the doubling of the length of Drogheda Street, which then became Sackville Street but also to much traffic backwards and forwards across the river to both sides of the city centre. Grafton Street soon became a premier shopping street with many Irish-based companies selling fresh, preserved and tinned food, higher end male and female clothing, jewelry and ‘exotic’ imports such as coffee through Bewley’s Oriental Café (1927). This state of affairs persisted into the late 1960s but in the decades since then however, the profile of the street has changed to feature mostly British high street outlets and a Mac Donalds fast food place.

For two centuries there have been street traders selling a variety of products on the street, of which the flower-sellers, newspaper stand and a hat and jewelry stall are all that remains.

The street was very narrow to accommodate both pedestrian and vehicle traffic both sides of the street and pedestrianisation of Grafton Street began in 1971, however at an extremely pedestrian rate (pun intended), not being completed until 1983 and it was paved the following year, repaved in 1988 and then partially again more recently. The pedestrianisation facilitated performance by buskers (street musicians) and music and song of high quality may be heard any day in different genres from Irish traditional to world rock and classical. Perhaps they would have been the next to be accused of “clutter”?

Flower Sellers, Grafton Street by Norman Teeling.
(Image sourced: Internet)

The Dice Man (Thom McGinty 1952–1995) regularly carried out his performances there too. Dublin world-famous musician Phil Lynott (1949-1986) had a statue commemorating him placed in Harry Street, just off the north end of Grafton Street in 2005 while the statue of fictional sea-food street trader Molly Malone was moved from the north end of Grafton Street to a less crowded space in Suffolk Street in 2014.

The street features in much of Irish literature and some song but also in images: two are particularly striking: IRA men walking up a wet Grafton Street during the Civil War and Flower Sellers, Grafton Street by impressionist Irish artist (and musician) Norman Teeling (b. 1944). It was also the scene of the shooting dead by the IRA of a G-man, the political plain-clothes branch of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, in 1921.

Famous photograph of the IRA proceeding up a rainy Grafton Street in June 1922.


          Talking briefly to some street traders there on Wednesday about the threat to move them, one of them remarked: “We bring colour to Grafton Street, not ‘clutter’” and reiterated their declaration that they and their predecessors had been on that street long before Hines.

Another controversial recent initiative in Moore Street has been the changing of the traditional Irish-language Christmas lighting decoration and the ‘renaming’ of the street to “the Grafton Quarter”. Irish language comment on the new design? “Tá sé gránna!” Indeed. Sometimes it seems as though the poor property magnates can’t put a foot right.

Perhaps Hines had ideas of greater expansion, changing the street into a “quarter” which, as some Dublin City Councillors have pointed out, does not exist.

All that aside, doing away with Irish language Christmas lighting and wanting to get rid of flower-sellers doesn’t accord very well with Point Four of Hines’ own Guiding Principles: “Hines is committed to fostering an inclusive culture where diversity is respected and valued.” 

Another comment in Irish?  “Seafóid!”

end/ a chríoch

Irish language Christmas illumination now removed.
(Photo sourced: Internet)
The new Christmas lighting (Source image:






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s