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Dublin 8 - In Eight Images - Guest Post by Mark Jenkins

As this is the last of the current series of blogposts for Culture Date with Dublin 8 I thought we might finish with some snippets of history through eight images. The first three themed posts explored the history of shopping in the area, then recent archaeological discoveries and further to that urban myths and legends associated with different locations. I hope these have demonstrated how rich Dublin 8 is in history and everywhere we turn there are historic and interesting sites across a broad range of themes. They say that every picture tells a story. For this post we look at 8 images and tell a little bit of associated history to each one.

One of the interesting and pleasant anomalies of Dublin 8 is the fact that the Phoenix Park is part of it. This is related to the system of postal districts introduced in the years previous to the establishment of the free state. In general, the districts with odd numbers are north of the Liffey and those with even numbers south of the river, with the park being an exception to the rule. Enclosed by eleven kilometres of walls there are many different sites to see and enjoy. From Farmleigh House, Dublin Zoo, the victorian tea rooms, bike rentals, the magazine fort, fallow deer, the visitor centre, prehistoric burial chamber, the people’s garden, Wellington testimonial, to simply picking wild garlic or going for a walk, the park offers a huge variety of activities for visitors. A lesser known annual event that used to take place in the park was what was known as the “cab derby”. These were races held to support owners of working horses and carts that had fallen on hard times due to the switching of people to use of public transport and the motor car becoming more popular. The races took place in the 1930’s and 1940’s and up to 100 cabs would take part with the starting point being where the statue of field marshall viscount Lord Gough stood(before being blown up in 1954). Prizes and the launch of the race was often officiated by the popular Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne, known as “the shaking hand of Dublin”, who appeared at countless functions and launches during his several terms in office. The cab derby would take place in and around the end of each year ranging from St. Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day. Prizes for the race would include a generous cash prize for the cabbie, and the horse wasn’t left out of the pot as a bag of oats was supplied to the winner too!

One of our previous blogposts focused on the history of shopping in Dublin 8, and for many generations people would have visited the shop of Jas Fagan at 75 Thomas Street to get their communion or confirmation suit. One useful fact of Dublin 8 is many of the more prominent and older streets haven’t changed numbers throughout centuries, and tracing the life of an address can sometimes prove interesting from a number of different angles. One thing I found for 75 Thomas Street was a printer at this address producing children’s books from over 220 years ago. The printer who lived there, William Jones, sold a variety of titles ranging in price from twopenny, penny and halfpenny volumes. Some titles were “The Misfortune of a Week”, “The House that Jack Built”, “Tom Thumb’s Playbook”, “Babes in the Wood” and many more. Here is the cover of one title, “The History of Tommy Titmouse”, published circa 1800.

The next image is from the lantern slide collections of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. The scene depicts two girls, one standing and another in a bed. The photograph is of a tenement dwelling at 38 Francis Street. The parish it was part of, St. Nicholas Without, was at the time of the photograph(circa 1913) one of the poorest parishes in Dublin. It was also one of the most populous, with many tenements having rooms let out with a mere curtain dividing the room into two and as many people packed into single houses with very little maintenance, sanitary facilities or access to basic facilities. If we look at the Census returns for 1911 we find that at this very address of 38 Francis Street there are an incredible 49 people with 12 different family units living there.Two of those listed as present on the night of the census were visitors. In the returns many of the adults are listed as not being able to read or write. The primary job description detailed is that of general labourer for many of the men, likely depending on whatever work they could get rather than a fixed, steady job. Some women are listed as weavers and “factory hand”. Looking at the image it is likely the girls in the image belonged to one of the twelve families living in such stark accommodation. We can only hope that they grew up and prospered, and who knows, they may have relatives today living in Dublin 8. Some of the family names living there in 1911 were Walsh, Hannon, Deane, McDermott, Gaskin, Timmins, Reardin, McGuirk, Tallant, Murtagh and Byrne. 49 people is obviously a huge number of people at the address but when you consider that the ground floor was one of the many dairies in the area at the time it makes the image of congestion and lack of space all the more evident. The proprietor of the dairy was charged in 1915 for selling milk that was adulterated with almost ten percent of water. He tried to pass the blame on to the larger dairy, the well known Chester Dairy in Ranelagh, saying he was supplied directly by that business but was fined £1 and costs by the judge.

This image of Cornmarket is from the Cashman collection of the RTE Archives and dates from 1950. Just a brief note of description of that in view. Cornmarket was previously called Newgate Street, alluding to the fact that on reaching the end point of the Sligh Mór and the main western artery into Dublin city, stood the towers of the city gate. The actual corn market building stood there from the early eighteenth century until the start of the 19th century. Looking at old maps it was a sizeable building but instantly looked out of place and an impractical location given its size, in the middle of Thomas Street leading to Newgate itself. The building of the custom house on the quays it made more sense to build somewhere central and the Corn Exchange on Burgh Quay was eventually built. In view on the left hand side of the photo is also the former bank building which was built in 1866, but most of the other buildings in the photo are long demolished. Cornmarket was the birthplace of Napper Tandy, one of the founding members of the Dublin branch of the United Irishmen. He is immortalized in the ballad “The Wearing of the Green”: “I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand/And he said “How’s poor old Ireland? And how does she stand?” The plaque that marked the house of his birthplace in Cornmarket can still be seen in St. Audoen’s Park. There is a lot more detail in the photograph but perhaps more another time about different features we see.

This photo dates from the 1950’s and is from the excellent Dublin City Library and Archive photographic collection. Chamber Street takes its name like so many in the Liberties area from the Brabazon family, so much related to the history of the area and many philanthropic endeavours over the centuries since the abbey and lands of St. Thomas the Martyr were gifted to William Brabazon after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. The Brabazons were made Earls of Meath and the fifth earl was Chambré Brabazon, a name he took from his mother, Mary Chambré, who was a daughter of a member of the English Parliament and married the fourth earl, Edward. So Chambré street was eventually corrupted like several street names in Dublin, and became known as Chamber Street. In shot can be seen O’Toole’s shop on the corner of Weaver Square and O’Reilly’s bar half way down the street. The area has seen much development over the years and of course Chamber Street flats were built there and now on the left is Weaver Park, a much needed and welcome addition to the Dublin 8 area. In the distance we can see the small bell tower of St. Luke’s church, which opened at the start of the 18th century and closed in 1975, before being destroyed by fire in 1986. It was a big loss but the shell was sensitively incorporated into a new development with a small but attractive park space fronting it out on to the Coombe.

This photo perhaps deserved a place in the urban myths blogpost as no matter how many times it is posted online some people confuse and often insist it is where Vicar Street and Thomas Street meet. It is a great photograph but is definitely John’s Lane West as detailed in the image, from the 20th of October 1888. The photo is from the collections of the national library of Ireland. Again as with other photos it makes you wonder what the lives of the subjects in the photo were like. The numbers on the buildings are another visual clue to the correct location, sitting beside John’s Lane church, and now where the grey former presbytery building stands today. On the left hand side today is the former entrance to the offices for the Power whiskey distillery. It wasn’t long after the photo was taken that the buildings on the left hand side were demolished by compulsory purchase order. So if ever you see the photo cropped or detailed as being Vicar Street you will know the correct location is almost across the road from the venue!

This photo from the late 19th century depicts the narrow and crowded Patrick Street and Nicholas Street area with numerous stalls leading towards Christchurch and the city centre. To accompany this I attach what I thought was an interesting description of the scenes around here in the 18th century. This of course was long before Guinness philanthropy gifted the Iveagh Market to the citizens of Dublin and introduction of a statute that intended to move the street traders from the area to an indoor market, and indeed before the beautiful Iveagh Trust buildings were constructed.

“A kind of fair was being held in the long narrow St. Nicholas Street that evening. It was at best a malodorous street, the lower stories of its crumbling houses open to the pavement, and full of second hand clothes and other wares. The feeble oil lamp that swung over these established shops were eclipsed tonight by the flaring torches of itinerant vendors. In their fitful glare a crowd of dirty, ragged people pressed about from stall to stall, chattering, yelling, laughing over their bargains and their play. High above the torches and beyond its dark vanishing line of gables, the cathedral spire stood silent, pointing up to the blue gulf of heaven, to the quiet stars.”

For the final image I leave you with a collage of relatively recent photos I have taken. There is much more to explore in terms of history and so many locations that have a story behind them. I hope you have enjoyed the blog series and thanks to Culture Date with Dublin 8 for asking me to do it, and indeed to everyone who attended . If you see me around Dublin 8, where I live, please do say hello and I’m always happy to talk about the history of the area and sure we might see you on a future walking tour or talk. Do please add comments on the festival social media pages listed below for what was a fantastic and well organised festival that I am glad to have been part of. Thanks to all involved in making it such a huge success.

Mark Jenkins.

Mark Jenkins:

Photo credits other than public domain and those of the author: Royal Society of Antiquaries Ireland

National Library of Ireland

Dublin City Library and archives

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