Dublin’s docks met the same sorry fate in the 1970s as those elsewhere around the world, the arrival of containers revolutionising shipping and decimating dockland employment.

Work that had sustained inner-city communities for generations suddenly evaporated. The Docklands became empty, desolate wastelands until the first regeneration project came in the shape of Charles Haughey’s Irish Financial Services Centre in the late 80s. The IFSC was developed on the north side of the Liffey behind Connolly train station. While banks and other financial services moved into the area, it had little impact at first on the citizens of Dublin. And at night there was a tumbleweed feel to the area as the wind blew between the deserted canyons of capitalism.

As the years went by there was further growth with both business and residential projects popping up and extending the IFSC down the north docks towards the Point Depot – a dedicated events venue renovated in 2007 and now known as the 3 Arena. But the north side struggled to achieve a critical mass, and while things certainly picked up, it could still feel a bit barren at night.

there is much more tolerance towards other races, religions and even ideas

However, by 2000 things were starting to change south of the river. And it seems lessons were learned. A large attractive space for social interaction was developed at Grand Canal Dock, and the IDA was proving successful in bringing employment to the area. It had set its sights on luring Silicon Valley’s tech companies to Dublin. Google liked what they heard and went looking around for an HQ. What caught the emerging tech giant’s eye was some buildings on Barrow Street. Google felt the area had the right sort of hip vibe as waterfront regeneration of old industrial revolution zones had become very trendy in many western locations.

Tides of change: View of the South Docks, now dubbed the Silicon Docks.

What’s more, Grand Canal Dock location offered other attractions, being within walking distance of the city centre. And if the creative staff were in need of some inspiration, a beach stroll was within easy reach. Once Google set up its European headquarters here, the IDA found Dublin a much more natural sell to the other big players in Silicon Valley. Facebook soon followed, as did Twitter, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, LinkedIn and many of the other new kids on the digital block.

By 2011 the big names in finance and the legal world were being overshadowed by the emerging powerhouses of the digital revolution and the term Silicon Docks came into use for the first time. The docklands were now truly transformed and started to play a pivotal role in the capital’s economy.

The people are the best, seriously.
It is what Ireland is about

Some 40,000 people now work in the area, most of them young. Cafés, shops and bars have sprung up all around to cater for their needs. Docklands developer Harry Crosbie has said that what makes a development successful is people – people choosing to socialise there as opposed to going into the city centre or elsewhere. And the docklands was now achieving this. More than just a major centre of employment the area was becoming an integral and vibrant part of the city.

New infrastructure, such as the Samuel Beckett Bridge and the LUAS Docklands extension, made the area much more accessible. And new architecturally striking, prestige developments such the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, the Marker Hotel and the refurbished 3Arena all added buzz, glamour and life.

Irish people are very open-minded I was quite surprised when I first arrived by the fact that you legalised gay marriage

The area is now one of the most multicultural in the city with around 45% of the population born outside Ireland. This youthful, diverse dynamic is one of the first things the young workers say they enjoy about Dublin. And it seems the IDA did not have to exaggerate when pitching the city. One Google worker after another mentioned ‘the people’ when asked what it is they enjoy about working in Dublin.

The Samuel Beckett bridge spans the River Liffey, joining North Wall Quay to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

“I really like the people. I really like the culture of openness and tolerance,” Claudia Brudlo from Poland says. “Poland is a very conservative society; people care very much about old values. For instance, they would ask ‘why are you not married when you are 27?’ I would not hear that question here in Ireland. I mean no one cares. I think there is much more tolerance towards other races, religions and even ideas,” she says.

Yeah, you’re great craic

French colleague Arthur Chaim reinforces this point. “Irish people are very open-minded I was quite surprised when I first arrived by the fact that you legalised gay marriage. But there is still the issue of abortion,” he says.

“Yeah, you’re great craic,” says Brazilian Juliana Castro. “You’re just like us. But bleached,” she added. Austrian Astrid Tan noted that if you stopped on the street looking lost, someone would come to your assistance in seconds. “The people are the best, seriously. It is what Ireland is about,” Astrid says.

Digital Dockers: Cihan Balkan, Claudia Brudlo and Astrid Tan.   Image courtesy of Barry Delaney.

The Googlers and their Facebook colleagues all sang from the same hymn sheet about the friendliness of the people. But they were equally unanimous about the main difficulty they faced living here; “The rents!” says Claudia.
“I am ready to pay money for quality, but you don’t get that. Look at Daft etc., there are so many terrible places you can’t believe they are advertising them,” says Astrid.
“Yeah, the real estate situation needs to be regulated,” Juliana Castro says, before running back into work.

Time for a coffee then, and to enjoy the sunshine and buzz of the Silicon Docks. The surrounding skyline peppered with cranes testifies to the continuing growth and signals the fact the recession is well and truly over in this area. The regeneration of this once blighted place has been a revolutionary success.

Kevin Barrington is a poet, multimedia artist and a regular on the open mic scene around town. Kevin is also an award winning advertising copywriter and blogger. He gets his adrenalin from cycling around town or out to the 40ft for a swim.


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