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Dublin 8 - What Lies Beneath - Guest Post by Mark Jenkins

Guest Blog Post by Mark Jenkins

One thing I always recommend to people is to look up when you are walking around Dublin 8 as there is so much to see above masked ground level facades and different periods of architectural features above. The focus is usually on what is still visible, or what was once at the site in various locations in Dublin 8. For this post we look at some of the interesting archaeological discoveries in recent years and associated history, which has helped to further inform some of what we already knew, and some others that pose questions and make us think of Dublin 8 of the past.

During improvement works and resurfacing of the road along James’s Street and Thomas Street for the Quality Bus Network hundreds of artefacts were unearthed by archaeologists along the way. As this is so close to where I live, I must mention how helpful and open some of the archaeologists were when almost daily I would be up to them asking if they found anything.

In front of the location of the former St. James’s church (now site of the Pearse Lyons distillery) numerous pieces of pottery were discovered and part of the medieval roadway that led to the city in the 12th century. The road in front of the church which widens before branching towards Bow Lane and Kilmainham was the site of St. James’s fair, which traditionally took place over five days around the feast day of St. James. This was a very popular fair which people travelled from from around Europe to attend but just like Donnybrook fair it ceased due to the increasing boisterous nature of the festivities and became noted for its consumption of ale by attendees. There has been a church on the site of St. James’s since the 12th century and on the feast day locals would decorate the gravestones of the churchyard with handmade paper garlands.

Nearby at the corner of Echlin Street and James’s Street in front of the redbrick parochial hall evidence was found of a tannery site and a leather shoe of child size. The hall itself was built in 1925-26 in red brick and flemish bond, and financed largely by holding bazaars organised by the parish. Over centuries there were many tanneries along James’s Street and Thomas Street, and of course Watling Street.

In a previous post we mentioned the famed Frawley’s store which was established in 1892 by Cornelius and Bridget Frawley, trading for 115 years. The redevelopment of the site provided a chance to find out more about the Abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr from which Thomas Street takes its name. The abbey was founded in 1177 by William Fitz Audelin on behalf of Henry II as reparation for the death of Thomas a Becket. Upon establishment the abbey was granted lands all over Ireland which amassed to over two thousand acres. Although largely demolished subsequent to the dissolution of the monastery in 1539 by Henry VII, the team of archaeologists were able to discover many objects that help inform so much about the physical form, inner precinct of the abbey and what daily life would have been like. Discoveries included medieval shoes, tanning pits and activity spanning 500 years, a 13th century toilet seat, the abbey precinct and boundary walls, tile fragments dating from the 13th-16th century, parts of ceramic jugs and decorative ceramic heads. There were also 112 burials. A fascinating element was that some of the burials were found with a scallop shell, associated with travel on a pilgrimage in their lifetime. Details of these finds and different aspects of the history of the Abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr were explored during a symposium with excellent papers delivered, and are available to listen in full on a podcast via history hub.

Further again down Thomas Street where John’s Bar currently is, evidence was found of a cagework house and wooden beams incorporated into later structural changes to the building. In behind this locality of the structure was a medieval tannery from the late 12th and early 13th century, and over “4,000 items of ceramic, leather, bone, metal, glass, ivory, wood, textile and amber”(ref: Archaeology and Built Heritage Ltd,). John’s bar takes its name from John Creeth. He ran a successful haberdashery business there in the 19th century and was popular locally but sadly took his own life on the Dublin mail boat.

Perhaps one of the most interesting finds in Dublin 8 in recent times has been that at the site of the Hyatt Centric Hotel on the Coombe. The area is quite considerable and exposed the layers of Dublin history, and the site was well preserved. Five post and wattle dwellings, outhouses and other artefacts were discovered under the remains of subsequent buildings on the site One fascinating discovery was that of a piece of 12th century graffiti, drawn on a slate. The drawing etched on the slate seems to depict a warrior figure on horseback holding a sword. It is an intriguing mystery as to who the person was, what was the purpose of the drawing or was it mere casual graffiti. One theory from the excellent Dublin City Archaeologist Dr. Ruth Johnson is that it may be the work of a child scholar and an equestrian seal. The drawing is contemporary with the 12th century invasion of Ireland.

Other finds at the Hyatt Centric hotel site included medieval weighing scales, 13th century coins, a 13th-14th century well and many other artefacts. In a great example of business embracing local history and the significance of the finds, visitors and guests can view images of these and many more items found during excavations

The area on the Coombe at the site of the hotel was also where several generations of the Grace family ran a pump manufactory business. In the 1911 census we find John Grace living with his wife Elizabeth, four daughters and a son.

At the corner of Kevin Street Upper and New Street where the Maldron Hotel is now situated it was said that they found everything bar the apothecary themself. A whole host of objects from a pharmacy of the mid seventeenth century were deposited all at once in a cesspit. Glass vessels, phials, wooden boxes for holding herbs, measures and everything you would associate with a 17th century apothecary shop were there. One can only imagine the type of elixirs, potions and tonic combinations that these vessels would hold for whatever ails you!

On Francis Street of course is the famous Iveagh Markets. The market was built on the site of a brewery run by John Sweetman and his older brother Patrick.. They also had a premises at St. Stephen’s Green. John was a United Irishman, being admitted in 1792. He was arrested on Francis Street like many others in the Dublin 8 area in advance of the 1798 rebellion, curtailed by many other arrests of prominent leaders. The Sweetman brewery continued for generations until Guinness purchased the site to build the market. The Iveagh markets historically sits on what would roughly have been the fair green area of the compound of the abbey of St. Francis from which the street got its name.

In the Blackpitts and New Street area preceding the building of mixed developments, over 100 tanning pits were uncovered and ranged in dates from the 13th to the 17th century. The area was for centuries the epicentre of leather working industry in what were the suburbs of the city at the time. Another fascinating discovery in the Blackpitts was a 17the century suede latchet fastening shoe.

Dublin 8 is so rich in history and thanks to the work of Dublin City Archaeologists and archaeology firms/consultancies we have been able to absorb many more aspects of the daily life, industry, diets and living conditions of those that have lived here before us. There are of course many items on display from the area at the National Museum of Ireland. Next time you are in the rose garden of the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge you will be standing near the site of a viking graveyard, and on display in NMI archaeology are some of those burial finds, with grave good including jewellery, personal items and swords.

I hope this introduction to some of the more recent discoveries will encourage you to think of those sites you may pass a lot or remember, and perhaps wonder what else lies beneath!

Photos credits for photos other than the author: IAC Archaeology, Dublin City Council, BIlly Mooney, Dublin City Library and archive, Archaeology Built Heritage Ltd., Duchas, Philip Bromwell.

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