Helping Today. Helping Tommorow
We work as a collaborative community to reduce the harm caused by addiction and homelessness.
Our mission is to offer people dealing with homelessness and addiction in Ireland, accessible, high-quality quality and effective services, which meet their complex needs in a non-judgemental and compassionate way.
An inclusive society that supports the integration and well-being of all
We believe in a just society where no one has to face homelessness or addiction alone, and where everyone has the support they need to reduce the harm caused by homelessness and addiction and to build a better life; an inclusive society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.
We work together (Professionalism, Teamwork, Adaptability)
We meet people where they are (Acceptance, Commitment, Support)
We speak up, challenge & advocate (Integrity, Respect, Diversity)
Merchants Quay Ireland is based on the Franciscan ethos, with the Franciscans living and working on the south side of Dublin’s River Liffey since 1232. In 1348, the Black Death swept through Dublin and among the thousands who died were twenty-four Franciscans. During the Reformation in 1540, the Friary on Francis Street, at the site of the present church of St. Nicholas of Myra, was confiscated and the community dispersed. In the following century, the Friars worked secretly in the Cook Street area. At that time, they said Mass in the Adam and Eve Tavern, hence the name of the present-day Church. Following Catholic Emancipation, the Friars built a new church at Merchant’s Quay, and the foundation stone was laid in 1834.
For over a century, the main work of the Friars was the church services. Until the 1960s, Merchants Quay was one of the most popular and well-attended churches in Dublin City. The 1960s saw profound changes in Ireland and the Church, as people began to move out of the city centre, tenements were torn down, and communities dispersed to new estates in the suburbs. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Church began to take a greater interest in matters of social justice. The Franciscans could no longer ignore the poverty and the social problems on their own doorstep and as a result, some of the Friars became involved in justice activities. The first Simon Community was set up on the Friar’s property on Winetavern Street in 1969. St Francis Food Centre for the poor and homeless, also known as the Tea Rooms, was opened by the Friars the same year.
Brother Salvador Kenny, the tailor who made the friary habits, and sacristan Brother Sebastian Tighe began serving tea and sandwiches to homeless men who took refuge in the church during the day.
Drugs invade Dublin
By the early 1980s, the European drug explosion hit Ireland. Dublin experienced a huge increase in heroin use. There has always been an informal support network around the friary for drug users who were HIV positive.” In 1989, the friars gave Fr. Sean Cassin two rooms at the front of the friary to set up a counselling and drop-in centre for drug users. It was then that the Merchants Quay Project was born, and demand was instant.
Merchants Quay Project
In 1991, the Merchants Quay project was granted charitable status, offering care and treatment to drug users and their families, and opening the country’s first NGO needle exchange. Prior to this point, all help had been voluntary, and there was no state funding.
Growth and change
By the mid-1990s Merchants Quay service included a formal sixteen-week drug-free rehabilitation programme in High Park, day programmes and counselling at the converted Friday garage on Winetavern Street, and the meals service still run on Cook Street by Brother Sebastian. Brother Philip, a member of the Franciscans, stated “In a sense, we’ve been doing this work for 800 years – no one would ever be turned away, but I started to see the young people waiting inside for breakfast, looking so desperate. The whole scene had changed. It needed professional people.”
In 2001, the homeless and drug services operating at Merchants Quay were brought together under one management structure and became Merchants Quay Ireland. In 2012, the charity moved into the newly refurbished Riverbank Open Access Centre on Merchants Quay, allowing all crisis services to exist under one roof, and ensuring the space necessary to meet increasing demand.