Samuel Brocus View of College Green

18th century Georgian Dublin architecture tours, next 4 Wednesday afternoons

Every Wednesday afternoon here in Dublin, a tour on 18th century Georgian Architecture, for the wonderful Irish Georgian Society.

For many, Ireland’s capital is synonymous with the Georgian period, c1714-1830,  when so many of our great buildings were made.  It was an era when the leading citizens, landowners and political classes, felt confident enough to commission magnificent public buildings, vying with London to be seen as a major 18th century European capital.

On our walking tour, we do a little circuit of the southern half of the city centre, looking at some of the best masterpieces of the Dublin Georgian style. There are in fact 2 routes, (Georgian East and Georgian-West) and we alternate these week by week.  So on this Wednesday 15th October for example we will go west from the IGS, looking at the splendid old Newcommen Bank, The City Hall/Royal Exchange, the upper yard of Dublin Castle and, very enticingly, and by special, kind arrangement, view both the exterior and the magical, untouched interior (no easily or often accessible,) of Saint Werburgh’s church.  This tour also includes views and a discussion of James Gandon’s Four Courts, and of the role of the Wide Streets Commission.   The next date fro this particular tour is 2.15 pm Wednesday 15th October.  (There will be at least one more,on Wednesday 29th October).

Other Wednesdays we do Georgian East, which takes in the Old Parliament in great details, including the stunning House of Lords, and eighteenth century highlights of Trinity College.   The next date fro this particular tour is 2.15pm Wednesday 21st of October and it may be the last of the season.

I’m particularly happy to be doing this tour for the Irish Georgian Society, (IGS).  For over 50 years the IGS has been fighting the good fight to protect and preserve these beautiful buildings, through grants, conservation, education, scholarship and advocacy, often in the teeth of stern opposition, and sometimes even downright hostility.  I’ve long been a fan of the IGS, so it’s both a pleasure and privilege to be doing this tour in collaboration with them.

We commence our tour, each Wednesday afternoon, just after 2pm, from the front steps of the IGS own headquarters,  the lovely City Assembly Rooms at 58, South William St, a splendid old building, and itself a masterpiece of the 18th century Georgian style.   We also end the tour back there (at the IGS) and so our final “sight” on the tour will be the battered wonder of the Octagon Room, the first ever purpose-built space for exhibiting art anywhere in Britain or Ireland, (predating both the Royal Academy, and the Royal Hibernian Academy).

All tickets should be booked through the Irish Georgian Society.  Tickets can be purchased either in the IGS bookshop in the City Assembly Rooms on 58 South William St, any time office hours  prior to the tour.  They can also booked in advance through their nice website here- IGS site.

We hope to see you on tour some time.

Samuel Brocas The College of Surgeons

Samuel Brocas:  View of College of Surgeon’s, St Stephens Green, one of the stops on our Wednesday walk.


above & below: James Gandon’s Four Courts, one of the highlights of our walk. (photos by the author)


Brocas 4 Courts & Liffey

The same building in a view by Samuel Brocas, looking positively Venetian.

Samuel Brocus View of College Green

A final view by S. Brocas, featuring the old Parliament builings (by Lovett Pearce, Gandon and others, and (to left) Trinity College, with architecture by Sir William Chambers and others.   Both places featuring on the IGS tour.

The website again, to view the tour and/or book advance tickets is IGS 

Thank you for reading. Social media buttons at foot.   Please feel free to comment, re-blog, share or Tweet.

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Dublin Decoded medieval gates, walls and towers walk, next date 11.45am Sun 23rd Nov.

the Dublin Decoded Walk “Medieval Mass” tour takes places on occasional dates, often often a Saturday or Sunday. Dates are announced on our monthly newsletter and elsewhere. (You can subscribe to newsletter here)

Medieval Mass works a little differently from other Dublin Decoded tours.   It’s a sort of treasure hunt,  walked together with our “treasure map” in hand,  learning how to read the city street-scape and other clues, to seek out and trace the lines of the old walls, towers and gates of the ancient city.   (Special adapted maps are provided for the duration of the tour)

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Tour details: In 1660, the year of the Stuart Restoration,  Dublin was still a densely crowded network of ramshackle medieval mass, scooped out with only a network of tiny streets, courtyards and alleys.


Over the next 150 years, it would transform into one of the finest neo-classical cities in Europe, as it did so, much of the old medieval city was knocked down and swept away, not least by the developments controlled by all-powerful Wide Streets Commission.

Samuel Brocus View of College Green

So how can we look back today, to read, imagine and visualize what was here before?

This tour offers a guide to reading the medieval past, and medieval city scape,  locating the ancient walls, gates and towers of medieval Dublin.  There are many fragments and many clues, if we know where to look …

Section of Medievel city:map, Dublin Decoded   IMG_5930

Join us, as we walk the route of the ancient city walls, gates, watchtowers, prisons and ancient churches of the old city,  map in hand,  discovering half forgotten stories, from daring escapes to devastating explosions, from war and famine to plague, invasion and revolution.

Fee is €20 p/p. Concessions for artists, students and job-seekers €10.

How to attend the tour:   These tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  But if you don’t see a date advertised above, then to see when the next scheduled Medieval tour open to public goes ahead, (and when all all scheduled tours go each month)  please just subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

If you can already see when the next scheduled tour goes ahead, please use the booking calender on the “Tour calender and booking” page on Dublin Decoded, to simply book yourself in, on the relevant date.  We will be in touch to confirm your place in due course.  There is currently no deposit, as we work on a trust system, so please, don’t book unless you’re sure you can and will attend.  Thank you.

All Dublin Decoded tours are also available, on flexible dates,  for pre-booked groups, via inquiry to    You may wish to to consider making a custom group booking.  The Medieval tour and all our tours can be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups, usually either on Monday afternoon or at weekends, (Or Thursday evenings, in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour )   The private group booking option is one we recommend even for quite small groups, as it’s quite economical to book your own tour.  Rates for pre-booked tours are a minimum of €100, for the first 2-5 people, but then €10 p/p after.  With groups over 6/7 people and upwards, this can easily work out cheaper than joining a scheduled tour.  Plus crucially, you choose your own tour on your own dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  just send us an email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date or dates,  and how many visitors, in your email or in subject header.  Thank you.

and remember, if you wish to join the monthly newsletter, the subscription form is here.


For reviews of Dublin Decoded Tours on TripAdvisor, see here.

You can see the full range of Dublin Decoded tours on our homepage:

Arran at NGI cUp


Arran's Dublin Decoded Bussiness card  obverse

22 Dublin Decoded Arran Henderson

special evening & afternoon tours of National Gallery, Dublin, Thursdays evenings 23rd & 30th Oct.

Special unique Evening-time and afternoon, Tours of National Gallery,  1-2 Thursday evenings each month-  this “How to Read a Painting tour, called inspirational by many visitors,  is a highly accessible, fascinating and fun introduction to the great “mystery”  of reading subjects and symbols in Art.   We aim to make the things trained art historians think about, accessible and “user-friendly” to all.  The tour and tour features lively guided discussion.  It explores the supposed mysterious and arcane world of symbolism and iconography, but makes them available and accessible to all.

  Read more below the booking details, You can also see the many rave reviews on the TripAdvisor website.  Please note:  Dublin Decoded runs more like a “private” cultural walking club in the quieter off-peak months, although we still do one or two of these tours each month. So if you want to hear about the next scheduled (non-private)  How to Read a Painting Tour the best way is to join the monthly newsletter, alerting you when tours are going ahead.  Obviously, we’ll never share your information or email with anyone.  To subscribe to newsletter, go here.

Alternatively it’s possible to request this tour (indeed most of our tours)  for any pre-booked group.  This is a fun alternative to the theatre or dinner and we find, increasingly popular with our guests.  You may also find it surprisingly economical especially for any group of 5 people or more.   (€20 p/p and less for larger groups)   For those thinking of bringing a work group of colleagues, the discussion and visual “problem solving” element of the workshops make them ideal as team-builders, as well as a pleasure for our guests.

Note that our default dates for How to Read a Painting Tours is usually on Thursday evenings 6-8pm,   (Also available some Monday afternoons 2.15-4.15pm, by request, (or weekends by very special request)  Fees only €20 p/p, or €15 concession.  You don’t need any background in art or art history (that’s our job)   All are welcome, you can come solo or in a pair or group, and you can pay on arrival, but you must book ahead.


This popular workshop – How to Read a Painting-  aims to make the things trained art historians think about, accessible and user-friendly to all.  The tour and tour features lively discussion.  It explores symbolism and iconography, looks at both religious iconography and secular symbolism and explores in general how artists create meaning in art, using not just tokens and symbols, but also everything from light to landscape, from gesture to perspective.  You’ll never look at pictures the same way again.

Gabriel Metsu


Arran Art at NGI9 w Dublin Decoded

Arran Art at NGI14 w Dublin Decoded

Summary of key information again:  Tour available Thursday evenings  6-8pm:  Afternoon tours also available on occasion (both scheduled and available by request for groups on some Tuesdays afternoons also.   Tuesday tours run at the earlier time of 2.15 -4.30pm,   The fee per person is €20p/p.  The tour can also be booked for a custom, pre-booked group, such a school, language college, work  or book club social outing.    Just send an email to   stating numbers and preferred tour and preferred dates.  Thank you.

Arran Art at NGI11 w Dublin Decoded

Our blog Dublin Decoded Tours  has details of this tour & all our tours in general description.

You can also see notice of individual tour  dates for History, Art, Architecture, and sociable walking tours of Dublin announced on the Dublin Decoded Facebook page.

48 Arran Henderson Dublin Decoded walks

a magic map, scholar’s sketch of ancient Dublin, special tour: Thurs 16th October & Sun 30th November.

Arran's B card landscape

A small but significant detail above,  from the lovely little 1904 map by RISA scholar and historian Leonard R Strangeways.

This magical map, will be our guide, (along with yours truly) to the Medieval  Walk of Dublin on Thursday afternoon (2.10pm)  16 th. of October and Sunday 11.45am, 23rd November.  We use it because it’s one of the best and clearest illustrations to understand the shape and form of the medieval city.   The walk on Sunday afternoon is €20 p/p  (€10 concession rate, for students, artists and anyone else who can’t afford €20)

For more illustrations and a brief discussion of the material covered, see here. 

For the full range of Dublin Decoded history, art and architecture walks and events, see here.    As you’ll see, we run both scheduled walks, to which everyone is welcome, or also bespoke walks, for birthdays, for schools, colleges, language schools, a group of friends.  Or a treat for your book club?

To see some of our 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor, see here.      To inquire about a pre-booked group walk, or about joining a scheduled walk, drop us a line anytime at      Don’t forget to mention your preferred tour and preferred dates in any correspondence, thank you!   But most of all, just try to come along this Sunday 29th June.  Hope to see some of you there. -Arran


Propaganda & Recruitment. WWI Posters.

First World War recruitment pictures.  From an exhibition last year at the National Museum at Collins Barracks, Dublin.   All of these posters (bar one, aimed at Irish exiles in the North of England) were used around Ireland during the First World War to drive recruitment.  To mark the approach of the onset of World War I and raise funds for Focus Ireland,  we’re doing a WWI walk 30th March. Meet point is the Campanile in Front Square, Trinity College, at 1.45 pm tomorrow 30th March.   Suggested contribution €15, all proceeds go to Focus Ireland.  Join us there.  Right, back to 1914-18!  Although Ireland this period was of course still a part of the UK, for very specific political reasons, unlike England, Scotland and Wales, it did not have conscription imposed on it.  Hence the need to recruit, and these posters of course.  Despite that lack of compulsion, for all sorts of complex and varied reasons, many many tens of thousands of Irish men were prepared to, indeed did volunteer and serve.  These images sought to encourage that “impulse”.

Over 2
00,000 went in the end, dwarfing the numbers who fought, for example in the Easter Rising 1916 or even the Irish War of Independence.   



as you see from the two examples above, some posters sought – through colour, and various emblems and devices- to emphasize the “Irishness” of the individual men, and the regiments,  fighting in Northern France, Flanders, Gallipoli and elsewhere at that awful time.

I have no inside information on this, but we could hazard a guess that these particular type of posters were considered safer and less contentious in those areas of Ireland where people were pretty sick of the English.  A vast majority, around 80% – of Irish people wanted Home Rule at this stage.   (Many had been voting for it and campaigning for it for generations)


Another category of poster (above) acknowledged (even celebrated, albeit in highly simplistic terms)  the distinctive traditions of the disperate parts of Ireland, England, Scotland & Wales.  But at the same time it also sought to emphasize the essential unity and “togetherness” of the parts, standing shoulder to shoulder of course, putting aside “minor” differences,  in order to concentrate on the real business in hand-   fighting the beastly Hun.    This poster above therefore, may have “played” better in (mostly) staunch Belfast, rather than, say, West Cork and Kerry, which were (in general) far more Nationalist in outlook.


Another category of poster (as I see it)  simply sought to appeal to the manly virtue of the reader.  It more or less says:  “Go on, have an adventure; there’s a great scrap on;  don’t be a bloody whimp”  (are you a man or a mouse?  etc…   )    Given our much changed culture and also what we know now about the carnage and horrors of WWI, this might seem daft.  But one should not underestimate the changes in culture and mindset wrought by the last 90 years.  Men, and especially young men, were indeed bred, educated and primed for tremendous risk-taking, sacrifice and the rest.   – Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori…  and all that.

This other poster, just below,  plays on much the same emotions…



Regiments, units and battalions were of course organized and recruited on a regional basis.  I was interested to see this map-poster, above, clearly showing the boundaries for army/regimental purposes in Ireland. The name of nearly all these regiments are still remembered.   Let’s jus take one, albeit very distinguished example,  Anyone who read my post on the Anglican church of Saint Nicholas Of Myra, in Galway, will know its the regimental chapel of the Connaught Rangers.  They fought from Napoleonic times until after WWI.  Just checking their Battle honours even on Wikipedia maks it clear just how integral Irish officers and men were to the British army and (by extension) to British power and British colonialism.  Among others, these battle honours include soldiering in the Peninsula campaign (in Spain, against Napoleon) in Egypt, South America, the Battle of Toulouse, the Indian Mutiny, the Zulu War, aand the first Boer War. A few small detachments were sent to Crimea, where individual troopers may have participated in the Charge of the Light Brigade.

I also see that when they were in Africa some went on the Gordon Relief Expedition, (on camels apparently)   As we know they arrived too late to save poor Gordon.  I also see they also took part in the Dongola Expeditionary Force, as part of Lord Kitchener’s reconquest of the Sudan. Obviously,  later, they fought in that mother of all wars, WWI.                                          Anything for a quiet life, eh?


We mentioned at the head of this piece that all of the posters were plastered around Ireland,bar one.  Here above is the exception.   As you see it is from Tyneside, in other words from Newcastle in the north of England.  I don’t pretend to be an expert but I see that the Tyneside Irish were an infantry brigade raised along the lines of the “Pals Battalions” – in other words from among closely connected communities.   In this case it was from the men in the Newcastle area of Irish extraction.  (there would have been many thousands of Irish origin or Irish extraction, and of course the same story in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and so on)   This particular regiment was all but wiped out, many, many hundreds of them, as part of that epic tragedy known as the Battle of the Somme. (July-November, 1916)   It lost so many men the regiment was effectively disbanded.  One can imagine what this loss did for the Newcastle-Irish community.(or ratherof course, one can not imagine )  Naturally the same obliteration was happening to hundreds of other regiments across the army, of other Pals regiments, other communities, from all regions and nationalities, English, Irish, Welsh and Scots.   The British army, which had originally used the Pals Regiments as a very successful recruitment ploy, abandoned it when it became clear that some communities had lost nearly all their men.

Heard enough?    Okay, here are just two more for you.


Look at this little exhibit above.   Bear in mind that 80% of Irish people were pretty sick of British rule in Ireland, a big majority wanted Home Rule at the very least, and there was a radical but significant minority who demanded nothing less than a full, seperate, independent Irish Republic.     In such an atmosphere, appeals to a hearty “Let’s all be British-together” type-spirit were unlikely to go down well.   And the army knew it.  But they also knew the majority of Irish people were devout Catholics.   So, what better than a picture of Catholic church or cathedral in Catholic Flanders, “desecrated” by the filthy Godless Hun?    There were also plenty of lurid reports in the newspapers,  about the hun raping Belgian and French nuns.  Also-  (I seem to recall form school history)  news reports of them impaling people on their bayonets (orphans, kittens and puppies as well probably) to go along with this sort of poster.   This sort of propaganda very often had the desired effect.  It drove recruitment.   Most of it was nonsense.  Or lies in fact.  However, the Germans did, definitively, commit atrocities in Belgium and France, including shooting unarmed civilians.

In the end…

So many soldiers were killed that the army had to keep up their recruiting drive.  Most British people still belived in the War, although they were weary and sick of it, and sickened by the loses.  There was more skepticism in Ireland, which was naturally more distinct, and more politicised, even radically politicised, than other parts of the British Isles.   But there was another factor, tragically, that kept Irishmen volunteering, and that was simple economic necessity.  Ireland was far less industrially developed than other parts of the British Isles.  (Partly, it has to be said, as a result of English trade laws imposed in the 17th and 18th century)  Fighting could mean you died in a cold, muddy field, trapped on some barbed wire while the germans shot you to pieces with their machine guns.  But at least it was a job, with room and board….

Nonetheless, there was a huge amount of skepticism about the war effort, and who it would ultimately benefit.   The more radical strain of Irish nationalists, in particular, worked hard to dissuade men from joining up.   The clumsy, brutal and inept British response to the 1916 Dublin Easter Rising, (executing all the signatories of the declaration of Independence and several others, bombarding the city centre with heavy artillery, and the murder of the unarmed pacifist Sheehy-Skeffington, by a mad army captain)  all played right into the hands of more extreme “physical force” Nationalists..  Ireland saw the war of Independence a year or so after WWI.   Ireland (or 26 counties of it) shook free of Britain, gaining de facto independence, barely 3 years after the tragic global events of 1914-18.

Here is our last poster below.   Or rather,  here are two posters, nearly the same.    Play spot-the-difference.  As you’ll see,  the one on the right was doctored at the time,  to make a political point.   I’m not sure i agree with the people who doctored it.  The First World War was an immense tragedy o sacrifice and horor, but it was not a waste in the sense of being “meaningless, or “futile or “all for nothing”  Maybe it was a war worth fighting after all.  But then again,  I don’t know.  It’s all extremely complicated, to say the least.  But I hope you found this post of interest. Feel free to leave a comment.   Alternatively, there’s a World War One Walk, tomorrow, Sunday 30th March 2014, to raise money for the homeless charity Focus Ireland.  Meet point  the Campanile in Front Square Trinity College, at 13.45 (1.45 pm)   Suggested contribution €15, all proceeds go to Focus Ireland.  Join us there.

Copy-write Note:  all the above posters and images are from, and courtesy of,  the Irish army Museum at Collins Barracks, (the National Museum) in Dublin.  They may not be further reproduced or used in any commercial manner without prior written consent from that body. 

There is a further series of related images (WWI  recruitment posters) to be seen on the excellent Trinity library website, just follow this link.

If you would like to book or simply join one of our unique,  sociable and highly informative tours, go to Dublin Decoded  to see the tour menu and then hit an individual “tile:” to see more information on individual tours and tour dates.

Remember if you are in a group of 4+ people, you can simply book your own tour, any of the Dublin Decoded tours.  All you do is drop is an email anytime, with your preferred dates and choice of tours to

If you’re solo, and you’d like notice of scheduled tours, to which all and everyone is welcome, the best strategy is to Like and follow the Dublin Decoded Facebook page where we announce all up-coming walks and tours.

and/or follow  “Arran Dublin Decode” on Twitter, upcoming walks and tours announced there too.


Saint Patrick’s History, 4: Richard Boyle, earl of Cork, power, politics and intrigue in Elizabethan & Stuart Ireland.

In a series of three seperate earlier posts, we’ve looked at the history of Dublin’s cathedral of Saint Patrick’s, from the early Christaina era,  in one post, to the Viking ear in another, and finally to the Anglo-Normans, and “the story of the two cathedrals”.

It’s all a long, immense, complex web of religious and civil politics, spanning from early “Celtic era” saints, to Viking warriors; from Plantagenet kings to Norman archbishops.   Congratulations to those who managed to follow the story,  in all its machinations, twists and turns so far!

Today, we’re going to have a look at the famous Boyle memorial, an enormous, commemorative sculpture, commissioned by Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork, in memory of his beloved second wife Katherine.

Where is it?   Well, let’s imagine we’ve just walked into the cathedral, through that double porch from the bending lane known as St Patrick’s Close.  Just through the second, inner door, we look first to our right, where the great nave of the cathedral opens up, (below)  its looming vaults soaring overhead.  Between the columns we can catch glimpses,  of tombs, statues and memorials, of arches and stained glass.  Naturally we are eager to see them all.   We shall be traveling that way soon, I promise,  in future posts.   There are scores of treasures and stories here to enjoy.


But today we’ll look in the other direction.  Because before we blunder into these great spaces, and maybe miss something, while we are still by the doorway, we first take a look hard left.   Over there we spy an enormous monument.    Our curiosity piqued, we saunter over to the subject today’s post, the superb, massive multi-layered mid-17th century Boyle memorial, carved in wood.

This vast memorial was commissioned by Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork, to  commemorate himsefl and his second wife Katherine, the mother of his fifteen children.  He and her are depicted on it, along with various other members of their large family.   The figures of the earl and his wife lie in recline at the centre of the memorial, inside the recessed space,  you can just make out his face in the niche below.  The piece has much to tell us about the man who commissioned it, and the turbulent, often violent politics and conflicts  of late 16th and early to mid-17th century Ireland.

The sculptor was Edmond Tingham, whose workshops were in Chapelizzod, on the western reaches of the banks of the Liffey, west past the gates of Phoenix Park, for those who know or have visited Dublin.

In Italy or France, this work would probably be in marble.  But here it is in wood.   The artistry is perhaps not stunning by French or Italian standards, but personally I somehow prefer these works of the Northern Renaissance.

But is the piece even Renaissance?   Well, yes and no.  By date perhaps, yes. And there’s no doubt either that Tingham would have been partially aware of some developments in the great world beyond Irish shores.   But – if you’ve read my Egyptian piece “Ripples of History” – you’ll know the Renaissance came late to Ireland.  So, even though this work dates from the 1600s, it is still carved and conceived in an almost medieval mindset and sensibility.  Ireland in the late Renaissance was a new developing colonial outpost, carved out through guile, grit and blood by ambitious men.  Men like Richard Boyle.

Boyle’s memorial to his wife may lack the sophisticated art, anatomical knowledge and learned polish of continental artworks from the era.  The figures are stout and homely.  It may look clunky, even naïve to some eyes.  But strangely perhaps, I almost prefer such works these days.  One gets jaded with too much sophistication!   Besides, there is plenty of gritty history here.

Nor does the work lack vigour, in its strong composition, its power, vivid colour  sheer bulk and immensity.  Indeed by all accounts it reflects the character of its patron, Richard Boyle, earl of Cork, scion of an old family perhaps but a ruthless self-made man as well, a land-holding magnate, a fighting warrior type, and sire of an immense brood.

I read quite a lot of late 16th and early 17th century history.  But even the most cursory glance at Wikipedia will tell you what an extraordinary man Boyle was and the dangerous and turbulent times he lived thorough and somehow managed to not just survive in, but to prosper.

He was born in Kent in England.  There he attended the local famous school, the King’s school at Canterbury.  Curiously he not only attended this school, at the same time, but later attended the same college (Corpus Christi) at Cambridge University as Christopher Marlowe, the famous playwright, poet, and spy,

Marlowe was author of Tamburlaine; Edward II, and, of course; Doctor Faustus, and a contemporary and literary rival of Shakespeare, who greatly respected him.  (Marlowe was a more educated man, especially in the classics)

However Marlowe met  an early, violent death in very mysterious circumstances.  He was stabbed in 1593, in a pub in Deptford.   At the same time as the Star Chamber, the highest authority in the land, was looking for him.  Marlowe’s early and murky death undoubtedly cleared the stage for Shakespeare, who duly inherited Marlowe’s mantle as England’s pre-eminent dramatist and tragedian.

It was this same shady, ruthless, often bloody world of ambition, politics and intrigue that Richard Boyle now entered and embraced.  If you think modern politics are “cut throat” well, hold on to your seat.  There will be blood.

After Cambridge, Boyle went on study law at London’s Middle Temple.  Then he made his way to Ireland, just one of many Elizabethan-era, “new-English” adventurers to seek his fortune there.    For non-Irish readers, “New English” is our Irish term for this new, protestant generation of Elizabethan and Jacobean English, (in contrast to the Anglo-Norman era, Catholic “old English”)

There would be plenty of politics, intrigue, violence and real-life adventure in Boyle’s career.  He probably married his first wife -Joan Apsley for wealth.  It worked to get him started, gaining him estates, income and valuable connections.    After her death, and in sharp contrast, he almost certainly married his second wife Katherine Fenton, for love, if reports, the size of her memorial here in Saint Patrick’s, or indeed of their vast brood are anything to go by.

Boyle was criticized for the perceived cynicism and opportunism of his first marriage.  In fact, in general Boyle clearly alienated many of his New-English contemporaries in Ireland.   Several highly placed officials did their best to convict him on various charges and he was briefly imprisoned at least once.  Most seriously, he was even accused of colluding with England’s Spanish enemies. In this age of the Armada and religious war, this was an extremely dangerous charge.  If substantiated, it certainly would have seen Boyle beheaded for treason.  Much of Catholic Europe loathed Elizabeth, while Protestant zelots and loyal allies, like her spy master Sir Francis Walsingham,  were equally prepared to do anything to protect her from threat,  or assassination, or England from invasion.

Boyle planned a return to London, to justify himself to the Queen or her representatives and clear his name.   But events in Ireland would intervene first.   Ireland at this time was a pot of simmering ethnic and religious tensions, stoked to boiling point by locals’ land losses to the early plantations, just getting started in earnest, especially of course in Ulster, but also in tracts of Munster, where Boyle’s own estates around Cork and Bandon were a case in point.

A brief digression here about this generation of colonial English and Scots adventurers in Ireland.  You (we) may not like them but their exploits were extraordinary.  From the mostly English plantation-generation in Munster alone, we have Boyle, a bit later Sir William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) and Sir Walter Raleigh, (the explorer and buccaneer who went to the new world and apparently brought back some odd discoveries from there.

Unfortunately, Raleigh’s New World finds did not catch on.  (Who remembers or has really heard of “tobacco” now?  Or for that matter that forgotten strange ground-growing vegetable reportedly called “the potato”?)

It was Raleigh’s estates, incidentally,  that Boyle bought in County Cork.    Boyle had to build or maintain 13 castles, to defend the territories.  It was that sort of world.

For students of English literature, the poet Edmund Spenser – author of The Fairie Queen- was also in Munster around this same time, as a civil servant in the colonial administrator.  Oh, and Boyle earl of Cork’s own son, Robert Boyle, is recognized as the father of modern Chemistry. Among other feats, he’s the author of Boyles Law of Gasses.  (It is quite likely, that the small figure of the youngest child on the memorial, in the photo above, depicts Robert as a boy.)

The predominantly Presbyterian Scots-Ulster planters in the northeast were equally prolific to their Munster counterparts.  Several ventured further to the New World and by the mid-19th Century, a sizable number of American Presidents (e.g. Andrew Jackson; James Knox Polk; James Buchanan) were of Scots-Ulster decent.     Anyhow,  here ends today’s obligatory digression!

Whatever their later exploits and distinctions,  the circumstances for such planter types Ireland, no matter how ruthless and determined, did not look promising in late 16th and early 17th century.  Local resentments soon turned into open insurrection.  Gaelic rebellion in Munster soon laid waste to Boyle’s estates around Cork.  Without the necessary funds Boyle was temporarily unable to travel to London to clear his name.

A while later however the exact same antagonism and accusations forced him to London, where he returned briefly to legal practice to gain some income.  But at this same period in London, Boyle was touched by the world of very high politics, as he was taken into the services of the earl of Essex.

Essex, the handsome and courtly Robert Devereux, was famously Elizabeth’s favourite (remember Bette Davis and Erol Flynn in the old classic, absurdly rosy,  The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex?)

In real life Essex was a far more complex and probably far darker character.  He had served well in his early military career in the Netherlands.  Now he courted and flattered the elderly queen, for his own ends and ambitions.  She liked his looks and easy charm.  The queen’s favour brought him a far more senior command in the campaign in Ireland, where he would fare far less well.

Meanwhile back in the late 1590s in England, even in London, and even with this powerful new patron, Boyle still seemed surrounded by enemies, including some within the frightening “Star Chamber”  which was to sit in judgment of him, (as they had intended to do with his old school contemporary Marlowe.)

Boyle’s prospects did not look good.  But he escaped this trap when he somehow managed to have the Queen Elizabeth herself present.  He then managed to convince her of his innocence, his loyalty and his worth.

Even better, she granted him a commission in Ireland.   Soon Richard Boyle was back was back in Ireland, exonerated, untouchable for the time being, annoying people and generally throwing his weight around, and soon,  heavily involved in the 9-Year War.

Yes, various small acts of local simmering resentment and hostility towards the pushy English outsiders, had now turned into a full-scale war.

This, the famous 9-Year War was the last great push of Gaelic Ireland, against the English and their hated Plantations.

The leader and figurehead in all this was the massive figure of Hugh O’Neil.  He- the Great O’Neill, was the most powerful Gaelic Lord in Ulster.  In the English system O’Neill was earl of Tyrone but -far, far more importantly in the ancient Irish system, he was the O’Neil – a de facto title in the old Irish clan system.  And  O’Neill, having long played with the English, was now fiercely resisting them.

O’Neill  (portraits above and below)  had accepted titles and had given his (feudal-style) submission to Elizabeth, in return for guarantee of his lands, under the Tudor system known as “surrender and re-grant”.  But O’Neill was not impressed with an English-style title like the earl of Tyrconnell.  He hardly considered himself some ordinary, petty baron.  He came from kings, from the great and ancient Sept of the O’Neills, who had been high Kings of Ireland for time immemorial.

He treated, and was treated, as a Prince in the states of Europe.   Most of all, deep down, O’Neill did not like these vulgar, nouveau riche newcomers coming in and grabbing land from his neighbours.  His whole people, his entire culture and history, looked to him for leadership.

His distant kinsman and ally, the earl of O’Donnell, from the neighbouring Gaelic O’Donnell kingdom in Donnegal, and also the powerful Maguire clan, felt much the same way.   Before too long they stopped playing games and pretending to like the English.  They were soon in open rebellion.

Dangerously, treasonably and very frighteningly from an English perspective, they were also courting an alliance with London’s mortal Spanish enemies,

Specifically they courted the king of Spain, the arch-devout-catholic monarch of Europe, Phillip III of Spain, (above)  a powerful monarch with vast resources as his domains included Spain itself; Austria, the highly developed Netherlands, and the Philippines, as well as the vast resources of gold and silver-rich South America.

But even prior to the arrival Spanish assistance, things in Ireland for the English in the Nine Year War were going from bad to worse.   Hugh O’Neill and his allies already defeated several English armies sent to tame him.  In March 1595,  he made light work of the army of Henry Bagnel, routing it at the Battle of Clonibert in County Monaghan.

Then an enormous Gunpowder explosion ripped apart the centre of Dublin in 1597, destroying the city centre and obliterating scores of people. Then in August 1598, O’Neill destroyed a second army,  killing 2000 English soldiers at the Battle of Yellow Ford.

It was now obvious to London many more men and resources, and vast amounts of money needed to be thrown into the fight in Ireland if the crown was to Prevail.

At this stage, 1599, Boyle’s patron, the ever-ambitious earl of Essex, talked himself into the job in Ireland, as Lord Luietentant and military commander of crown forces.  But, even equipped with 16-17,000 men (a very large force then)  Essex did not do much better.   From an english standpoint, he wasted time and men in expeditions south of Dublin,  instead of marching to in Ulster to confront O’Neill directly.

When Essex did finally attempt to face O’Neill, he’d lost so many men to dysentery that he was forced into signing a compromise treaty that many in England would regard as a failure or even a humiliation for the crown.

Essex then returned to England.  He did this without permission, effectively abandoning his post, and so was promptly put on trial.   He was partly exonerated but never regained his power and influence at court.  He was also stripped of the trade monopoly (for sweet wine apparently) and thus the income necessary to support his lavish lifestyle.

This humiliation, allied to his relentless ambition, later led Essex to the extreme desperation of trying to to lead what seems to be some sort of badly-organized coup.    It quickly spluttered out,  failing miserably.  Essex was tried a second time.   This time there was no reprieve.   He was convicted by a jury of his peers and duly lost his head on the block, the last-ever person be executed at the Tower of London.

But by now the English had ther things on their moind.    Now came the news they’d been dreading.   The Spanish now sent military help to assist O’Neill.  Their ships lay at anchor off  Kinsale,  in Co. Cork,  (hard by Richard Boyle’s estates of course.

This was another Armada in its way, and almost as dangerous to England.  The O’Neill and O’Donnell forces now made the long, hard march south to join forces with the Spanish and make common cause with their catholic allies to destroy the English and their colony in Ireland.    But it was a long and difficult march.  It gave the English, travvelling from Dublin, time to reach Kinsale first.  This little map below shows the route taken by the O’Donnell army from Donnegal.

The English, with the new commander Mountjoy,  rushed south to meet this joint menace.  They reached the south cruvcially before the Gaelic army from Ulster.  The English and Montjoy now besieged the town of Kinsale, which the Spanish forces had occupied and done their best to fortify.

When the Gaelic armies arrived, muddy and exhausted, the two sides clashed at the battle of Kinsale.   Even when the O’Neills and their allies arrived they could not link up with teh Spanish, and were themslves exhausted and far from their Ulster territory and powerbase.   Ultimately the English managed to prevail, and the besieged Spanish survivors surrendered.

I have read that Boyle himself able to deliver this news to Elizabeth.   If so, it would have been breathless news to deliver.    This was a pivotal moment in British and Irish history. True, there would be later heaves against England in the Confederate war and Cromwellian  period, and again in the Williamite War.  But these would by confederations of Old English type Irish and Gaelic Irish, as uncomfortable and mutually supsicous allies and often with teh gaels as “junior partners”   The 9-Year war was the last great push by Gaelic Ireland, acting alone to oust the English.    And they had lost.

There was no doubting who was now in the ascendancy.   The colony and protestant interest in Ireland was preserved for the foreseeable future.

In sharp contrast, Gaelic Ireland was spent force.   O’Neill, and O’Donnell, did hang on a while longer. But now they could not even adequately defend their own territory, as the English rampaged through Ulster.  The Irish Nine Year war was all but over.    Within a few years the great Ulster earls, increasingly hemmed in and under ever-greater pressure,  were forced to give up,   They, with their close kin and retainers, all set sail, for exile in Spain, an event known as the Flight of the earls.

As noted there would be one more, last final heave for the remnants of aristocratic, Gaelic, catholic Ireland later, towards the end of the 17th century, called the Williamite-Jacobite war.  But I’ll tell you all about that some other day, later on our tour of the cathedral.

And what of Richard Boyle?   With his lands around Cork, Kinsale and Bandon safe, the Plantations accelerating, his Cork estates finally secured, and the Gaelic menace seen off,  that seems to end the first, eventful chapter of Richard Boyle’s life.   But there was plenty more drama and conflict to come.

Elizabeth, “the virgin queen” died soon after the battle of Kinsale.   She childless of course so was succeeded by the first Stuart monarch James I of England (also James VI of Scotland)  James continued the hated policy of Plantation.

Tough old Richard Boyle outlived both Elizabeth and James.  James was succeeded by his son, Charles I.  ( Portrayed in the image below, painted by the Flemish master, Sir Anthony Van Dyck).

here begins another belligerent chapter in old Richard Boyle’s pugnacious career.

Boyle’s political struggles would continue under this new realm, Charles I was the third monarch Boyle lived under.   Life was not really about to get any quieter.

Boyle was of course first earl of Cork.   The earl, often reckoned to be the richest man in Britain and Ireland at this point, had a high notion of himself.  Bizarrely his huge wooden memorial to himself and his wife once stood directly behind the altar!

It was moved to its current location on the insistence of the earl’s arch political enemy, from this later stage of colourful career.  This was Thomas Wentworth, earl of Stafford (1593-1641).

Wentworth/Stafford was King Charles’ Viceroy in Ireland, a determined, ambitious and driven man.  Stafford and the archbishop of Dublin Laud both despised Richard Boyle earl of Cork.  Both were delighted to have his memorial moved from behind the altar to a less glamorous location near the West door.   Obviously this was a symbolic gesture, meant to humiliate the earl, but there were also far higher stakes at play.

Stafford was determined to force through reforms in Ireland.  He was harsh and unpopular in Ireland but he served Charles loyally and well, doubling customs duty, getting rid of piracy and raising an army .

Feeling secure in his position, he was not afraid to trample on local sensibilities either.  The earl of Cork was just one of many powerful enemies Stafford made, both in Ireland and back in London, where the restive Puritans and parliamentarians also cordially loathed him.

Boyle, predictably, was instrumental in Stafford’s bloody downfall, testifying at his trial when he was finally abandoned by his royal master and thrown to the wolves.  Stafford was duly impeached in front of a vengeful parliamentarian.

The Boyle family incidentally, never forgave the Cathedral for allowing of their memorial to be moved.  I’ve even read that even over a hundred years later, they refused to help pay for any restoration work, unless it was restored to its original position!   It never has been moved.

But Stafford fared far worse.  Having flown very high as Viceroy and as favourite and key advisor to Charles, he was later cynically, cravenly abandoned.  After much heart ache and brest beating, Charles sacrificed his loyal Viceroy.   Wentworth was tried and impeached by the Parliamentarians.  He was beheaded in 1641.

Charles’ cynical sense of self-preservation and expediency did not save him in the long run.  England was slipping ever closer to civil war.   Charles lost the war.

He himself was tried and impeached, and famously lost his royal head, in that extraordinary, unthinkable act, of regicide, at Whitehall, in January 1649.

Boyle had died a few years earlier, in 1643.   At the time, he had even gone to England, having temporarily lost his lands,  in the Irish Rebellion of 1641, one of many upheavals in this most bloody and endlessly complex era of Irish history, and all tied up with the equally complex series of bitter rolling inter-related conflicts in England, Ireland and Scotland.

But Richard Boyle, that thrusting dynastic-minded opportunist, that vulgar political pugilist, that grabber of lands and favour, sometimes called “the first colonial millionaire” and “archetypal adventurer”  would have pleased to learn of events after his death.

He  claimed to have founded the town of Bandon, a blatant lie,  but he did import the iron works there and import and establish also the colony of settlers there over from England.  To this day there is a protestant community in pockets of Cork, and most notably in Bandon.  The church of Ireland (Anglican) Bandon Grammar School is still thriving,  founded 1641 by the earl of Cork.

40 years after the Battle of Kinsale, when Ireland had seemed pacified or at least subdued, trouble erupted again, with the bloody Irish rebellion in 1641.  Bitter fighting would continue over the next 12 years, and perhaps a third of the population would perish in that period- a story we shall tell in the next post.    But Boyle would have pleased by one thing at least.  As the initial stages of the local part of the rebellion was put down, with the vigorous actions of his sons, they regained the family’s Munster estates within a few short years.

The family have this vast wooden behemoth to the memory of their kin here in the cathedral.  In a place where Archbishops, Field Marshalls and Dukes are all interred, it is still the largest memorial in Saint Patrick’s.

Rumour says they still won’t contribute to its upkeep!

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new Dun Laoghaire library (DRL Lexicon) @ OHD.

This weekend (17th-19th Oct ’14) saw the 2014 installment of Open House Dublin (OHD), a glorious, weekend-long annual celebration of architecture in the capital, now in its 9th year.

It’s always a privilege to visit great architecture (both buildings in the city centre and across the wider Dublin area) especially those not normally open to the public. But even more of a treat to be shown around them by architects, by owners and other experts and enthusiasts.  This is my favourite weekend of the entire year, and this year I experienced it from both sides so to speak, leading a couple of tours for OHD on Saturday, then on today, Sunday, back as regular visitor myself following other guides. My own modest Saturday efforts were 2 walks focusing on historic architecture and changes in the old city centre from the late 1600s to early 1700s (a crucial period in the development of the city) around the Dublin Castle area.


Everyone works voluntarily on OHD in order to keep all the tours free, so we had quite big groups.  The visitors who attended seemed to enjoy and get a lot out of it, which of course is always a relief.


But today it was also wonderful just to be a regular visitor myself, (enjoying other people do the talking!)  I managed, just about to squeeze three separate, excellent tours this afternoon, all in the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (DLR) area, the area I grew up.

DRL Lexicon public library 14

My mum who still lives locally joined me for the first two and we started at a private house between Dalkey and Killiney, re-designed by a young architect for his own parents. This enjoyed a superb, highly fortunate location, looking south-west to the old Dalkey hillside quarry on one side and NE out over Dun Laoighaire and right across over Dublin Bay on the other.  Jealousy-inducing, stunning views as you can imagine, but still a location, and in fact a fairly small site, that presented its own peculiar challenges for re-design.  Our guide the architect had dealt with these impressively.   But the next tour and the standout highlight of the day,  was the huge new public library, that now  towers over the seafront of Dun Laoghaire itself: called the lexicon.

DRL Lexico public library1

This is the biggest public building project undertaken in the DLR area for over a hundred years, and (my mother would not forgive me for not mentioning) has not been financed or completed without a degree of dissent and controversy- something like €39 million spent – in a town suffering from housing shortage and depressed retail sector- on this library, with its children’s reading and art rooms, meeting areas, café and a small theatre, all housed in one huge wedge shaped building, perched on an extraordinary site.

I’m just a simple art historian- not an architectural critic at all- happy enough speaking about historic architecture from the medieval period up to about the 1950s, but badly out of my depth on contemporary architecture. So I won’t try. Far better anyway to let this amazing new building speak for itself.   Whatever about external consideration, this new library triumphs as a piece of architectural design.

Savour, and behold, the new DRL lexicon public library…

DRL Lexicon public library 15

Along with smaller more intimate reading,  study and meeting spaces,  in many parts of this building is a great sense of scale and of spectacle. 

DRL Lexicon public library 2

the entire landscape around the library has been reshaped and re-landscaped.  The hope is that this will provide a new route through the town and towards the seaside and the adjoining park.

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DRL Lexicon public library 4

Senior architect for DLR, Bob Hannan, shows visitors around today. 

DRL Lexicon public library 5 DRL Lexicon public library 6

Obviously in public buildings, durability of materials is a key concern. It’s early days, but aesthetically at least the mix of warm timbers and concrete is highly successful. 

DRL Lexicon public library 8

I loved the see-through views and the reveals of different angles and views.

DRL Lexicon public library 9

DRL Lexicon public library 10

DRL Lexicon public library 11

In such a favoured location, framing the amazing views around the town and the coast was naturally a priority, while at the same time keeping enough space for the many thousands of books and for reading spaces.   Again, the architects seem to have got the balance right.  Here, below,  looking SE, towards Sandycove and the iconic 40 Foot

DRL Lexicon public library 7


DRL Lexicon public library 12

Regular readers of this blog will already know of a general enthusiasm for maps.  No surprise then, even in a building full of wonderful details and materials, this map in poured, molded concrete, of DL harbo,r was a special pleasure today.

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DRL Lexicon public library 14

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DRL Lexicon public library 17

Above;  a deeply, deeply unsuccessful attempt to use the panorama view on a smartphone, to capture the real panorama around DL harbour and some of the library itself. 

Below:  the library also houses within its huge interior,  a small theatre, with retractable, flexible seating (above, left) for 80-90 people.

DRL Lexicon public library 18

Below: there are also exhibition spaces.  Below, art by Wendy Judge, and below that, by Gary Coyle.

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DRL Lexicon public library 20

Above, notes books, from artist Gary Coyle, documenting is daily swims in the nearby 40 Foot.

Below: this house below will be converted into craft studios and craft exhibition and retail space.  The house also has a symbolic importance.  It is fro this building that Marconi sent his first telegraph signals.  

DRL Lexicon public library 21

Below, the cafe, looking out onto the same lawn.

DRL Lexicon public library 22

Well done to  the design team at DRL and well done OHD for coordinating such amazing events together again this year.  Happy birthday also, to one architect friend of mine.  Regards from Dublin!

Thanks for reading everyone.

Dublin historic Maps (2), medieval survivors | city movers | explosive history.

Recently we looked at John Speed’s 1610 map of Dublin, a crucial source for historians. This week we look at a map by a historian. It’s Leonard Strangeway’s 1904 The Walls of Dublin. In other words, depicting the medieval city and walls, but made much later.    Here it is.  It’s worth pointing out that unlike most other maps, Strangeways’ map is “the other way round” so just bear in mind here that South is “up” and North is “down”.

Strangeways ENTIRE

The author focused on the city’s ancient defensive walls, seeking to locate their exact lines, (no easy task) and also includes fascinating valuable information on the location of buildings from the medieval era, say from c1170 right through to (in Dublin’s case anyway) maybe 1600.  He also includes also buildings from the early modern period (say c1600 to early/mid-1700s, when the Georgian period began.)  The walls of course date from much earlier, built from c1170, in the immediate aftermath of the Anglo-Norman conquest, replacing the wooden stockade Dublin’s previous Hiberno-Norse inhabitants used for defense.

Our 1904 scholar was one Leonard R. Strangeways, of the Royal Irish Academy.   One of many delights of his map is the way he notes his sources with the succinct words “From all available authorities”   Blunt, and confident, but seemingly true.

Strangeways Title detail

In setting out on this project to locate vanished walls and long-gone buildings, Strangeways confronted a complex task. Unlike intact medieval cities like say, Venice, or Bruges, medieval Dublin has on the whole simply disappeared, swept away by age, by war, neglect, damp and decay, by the Wide Streets Committee (from 1753) and other more recent, often far more brutal developments.

So what, if anything is left of ancient Dublin?   Well, the great Maurice Craig’s famous book Dublin 1660-1860 is a good place to begin. In the introduction he sets out a sort of “medieval-survivors” inventory. He lists parts of Christchurch and Saint Patrick’s (albeit both heavily restored in the Victorian period) and parts of Saint Sepulchre, which is of course the Archbishop’s palace beside Saint Patrick’s, (nowadays this is Kevin Street Garda station) and a few other fragments.

The City Walls    The city walls themselves, built in the 12th &13th centuries, were mostly pulled down in the late 1600s. We have references to specific demolitions in both 1688 and in 1699. The Dame Gate for example, (built 1305)  and its surrounding walls, were all pulled down 1699, and this demolition may well have included Isolde’s Tower nearby.  Incidentally, Strangeway has made a small, entirely-understandable error depicting Isolde’s tower as a square-cornered structure. The foundations seem to indicate it was round, but of course Strangeways would not have had access to these in 1904, as we do today.

Strangeways NE cornr

By this period around the 1690s, following advances in artillery and cannon, defensive walls were largely obsolete.  In a specifically Irish political context, it’s also no coincidence many of the walls came down after victory in the Williamite war (and the following “Settlement”) both of which made the crown authorities, city fathers and Dublin merchant/professional classes (by now almost universally Protestant) feel physically and politically secure.  No more use, or need, for walls.

Craig notes the large medieval wall section still standing today at Cook Street, adding, “Not nearly so bogus as it appears”. He meant that it has been repaired from time to time over the centuries, but yes, it is authentic.  Very old buildings are consonantly being repaired and altered acrross the centuries, indeed  it’s part of their very nature, something i try to impress on visitors here occasionally.

Strangeways Cook St

By the way, this particular rectangle of walled city above was basically an extension, reclaimed from the river by the Anglo-Normans in the medieval period, creating a new Merchants Quay, (where Stangeways has written “New walls”.)   

I’m fascinated by the various references to Jesuit Meeting halls etc;  and utterly puzzled, and particularly intrigued by the enigmatic words elsewhere on the map  that appear to say “RC University 1629″    I won’t digress into it now, but if any historian or scholar out there has further information, I’d be very, very happy to hear from you.

Anyway, lets get back to our survivors list.  To this large intact section shown above at Cook Street, Craig might have added another large length of wall along Ship Street by the Castle; another running along Lamb’s Alley; plus smaller additional fragments in the Liberties.

These are admittedly just the “above ground” sections that endure.  Cities are full of underground mysteries, from buried buildings and tunnels to underground rivers.  There are other sections of city wall below the current surface we all know today.  Notably the part excavated by archeologists in the 1970s and 80s, during the Wood Quay digs. This by the way is now visible and accessible, in that underground room used for conferences by Dublin City Council.  Visit when you can, and you’ll see each stone there has been numbered.

To conclude with “Craig’s List” (if that’s not blasphemous to the great man) he also listed a few survivors which strictly speaking, are artifacts, (rather than walls or buildings) including medieval sculptures like the Portlester memorial in St Audoen’s, (there’s another medieval work, a tomb, in St Werbughs).   But the point about the “Medieval Survivor list” overall is basically how short it is. As I say above, most of medieval and early Dublin has vanished.

And that of course, is exactly what makes Strangeways’ map both so fascinating, and so amazingly useful to people like myself.  His map rewards close attention, in many ways.  Look for example, at just how much the area around Christ Church has changed.

Strangeways ChChrch area

Immediately attached to Christ Church as you see, is the Four Courts, obviously no longer there today. (we’ll come back to that in a moment).  Also attached is S Marys church, also gone.  Immediately to the west (right here) is S Michael’s: gone. Below it (North here, disconcertingly) is the Kings Gate, gone.  Near St Mary’s was St John.s (gone). Beyond that is the CC Deanery:  gone, from here at least, (I believe the CC Deanery today is a house by S Werburgh’s).   On the far side of Skinner Row, (which itself has gone or at least been changed beyond recognition) is the old Thosel, (once used for civic and trade meetings) and beyond that is St Nicholas, both gone.  All changed, changed utterly.. as Yeats might have said.  That church is called St Nicholas Within meaning wihin the walls, there there another called (honestly) St Nicholas’-without.   Even from that one clue, you can sense how important the city walls were to medieval citizens, how they  referenced them constantly in daily life, navigated and orientated themselves for centuries, by their lines and their constant, reassuring presence.

While the walls and many of the buildings have vanished, in some or many cases, the institutions once housed by those building have not gone, but have instead relocated, in what we might call “the Migrating institutions phenomenon”. In other less high-fallutin’ words, we can see how institutions like the Four Courts; the Kings Inns, and various version of the Customs House have all moved around the city over the centuries.

Look at our map again now.  See how the old Four Courts stood directly in front of Christ Church cathedral.   Conversely the Kings Inns stood where the Four Courts is now.  Strangeway does not show the riverside Inns on his map, but Speed does in his 1610 work.  We know the Inns were where the 4 Courts stand today  although not of course in the same building.  The current Four Courts only date from the late 1700s, designed first by Thomas Colley then, (after Cooley’s death) by James Gandon.

My favorite example of “Migration” is the Customs House. Or rather Customs Houses, as per different manifestations across the centuries.   As Dublin is a port and trading city, the Customs House was naturally a vital focus of commercial activity. Indeed it was a focus of city life in general, particularly prior to mechanization, when it would have employed large numbers of labourers, and right in the city centre too.

The old Dublin vernacular for this key institution by the way was not “Customs House” but “Crane House” or simply “the Crane”.  Look again at the area around Cook Street, at the NE (lower-right) corner and as you can see, the original one- the old Crane- stood on Wood Quay…  abutting the walls of the reclaimed city extension, mentioned earlier.

Strangeways Cook St

Or at least it did, until it was blown to pieces by the massive gunpowder explosion of 1597.

For those who may not know the story, barrels of gunpowder were being unloaded at the old Crane, They’d been shipped over from England, for use against the Great (Hugh) O’Neill and in his allies, in the 9 Years War.  Then a spark ignited one of the barrels. Within moments the whole lot exploded, blowing the old Crane House to bits, killing the poor old Crane house officer John Allen and his infant son, (the Allen family lived in the building) and killing perhaps 100-120 other people in the vicinity.  God knows how many hundreds more were and injured and maimed.

The shock waves were enough to blow apart the old Elizabethan merchants’ cage houses that lined both sides of the river.    It also caused a large crack in the stone bell tower of Saint Audoen’s Church, a crack that can still be seen in there today.

Naturally, suspicion fell on enemy intervention, although anyone attempting sabotage like this would have had to been prepared to die in the attack, making them an early suicide bomber.   Ultimately this theory was discounted by the official enquiry. The whole thing was written off as a huge, horrific accident. A spark from a horse’s shoe was blamed in the end.

The enquiry also found, and heavily criticized the fact the powder was only single-casked, not in double cask barrels, as gunpowder was always meant to be.  This tragedy would have been appalling in any time, but must have been devastating for the city at the time, bearing in mind that 100+ victims was a significant proportion of the population overall.

But paradoxically, it later helped modernize the city. With so much war, and political instability, the economy was often pretty stagnant from 1597-1660; so much of the area was not rebuilt in that period.  That all changed however 70 odd years later, after the end of the Puritan Commonwealth period, with the Restoration of the Stuart dynasty, when James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, returned from exile (with Charles II) to Dublin as Viceroy in 1660, stepping from his coracle onto the sands of Dublin bay as ordinary folk chanted, “You have brought the sunshine with you” (according to Craig’s terrific introduction to his 1660-1860 book),   The devastation of the 1597 explosion meant Ormonde now had a blank slate to work with. This in turn meant the development of the Dublin Quays.

Previous houses from the medieval and Elizabethan period had backed directly onto and over the river, using it as a sewer in fact. Ormonde now ordered that all houses be set well back, creating the riverside streets, the quays on both sides of the river that we know today.

Let’s have another closer look at the map and see what else we can learn… We’ve already seen that up to the time of its violent destruction, the old Crane House stood on Wood Quay.   After the explosion, the rebuilt version of the Customs House/Crane moved down the river a hundred yards or so, to a point just east of Essex Bridge (today called Grattan Bridge and/or Capel St Bridge)   The new Cranne/Customs House was near to the Old Essex gate and Isolde’s Tower, which were both still intact and standing at the time.   Can you see it below?  This is version 2 of the Customs House Crane, in its new position.

Strangeways NE cornr

You’ll also see that there used to be a harbor, behind the “new Customs House” – a harbour fed of course by the Liffey. But also presumably fed by the river Poddle, via the old dam that lay just outside the Castle and the Dam Gate (or Dame Gate).   In these parts, the Poddle was engineered to form a moat for Dublin castle. This dam was the terminus of that system, dammed to keep the level of the Poddle/moat high enough for defense.

The harbor itself, basically an inlet off the Liffey, was filled in 1625 Strangeways tells us here. It was just one of several old harbours that used to lie off the Liffey. The old Dublin vernacular for a harbor was ”Pill”  The monks at St May’s had their own Pill too, where the Bradogue river (now covered up) met the Liffey. This St Mary’s harbor/Pill is where Sir William Skeffington landed, when arriving in Ireland in 1535, sent over by Henry VIII to deal (brutally) with the Silken Thomas Rebellion.

There is a another, different Harbour visible here on Stangeways map, further west, namely Usher’s Pill, named after the old Dublin family of that name, They had a great town house on Usher’s island. This is the family who gave us James Usher, the archbishop-philosopher who, very accurately, calculated the creation of the world to 4004 BC.

Stngewys Usher's Pill

Getting away from various Pills, on this section of the map you can also see the Brazen head Hostelry, (still miraculaosly serving pints of grog today.  You can also see “the Bridge”, as you can guess it was simply called that because for centuries it was the only one.  There were various attempts to build other bridges, but up to the late 1600s, all such plans floundered,  mostly in the teeth of opposition by various private interest groups, such as ferrymen.  The common good defeated by sectional interest groups, hmmm.. sounds familiar.  Plus ca change, and all that.

Getting back to the replacement Customs House, Strangeways gives 1621 as the date. Presumably there was some makeshift arrangement in place for the 24 years between 1597-1621.

Later again of course, much later, in the late 1780s-90s, a third Customs House went up, much further down the river, at the behest of the all-powerful John Beresford. This is the magnificent neo-classical Georgian edifice by James Gandon we all know today. That wonderful building was gutted by fire in the War of Independence, was later repaired, and the Customs office operated from there most of the 20th century.

Later on, customs offices operated out of Castleforbes St and today, from 2006, from Promanade Road in the modern Dublin Port area complex.   So, by my estimate, the Customs House has had at least five locations since 1590, and three in last century alone.

If you’d like to go for a walk some time and learn more about medieval Dublin, some readers may be interested to know we have a  medieval Dublin walking tour coming up soon, starting at the earlier time of 11.45am,  on Sunday 23th November  The fee for either tour is €25 p/p, which include use of a special map for the duration of the tour, and also access/tour to the extraordinary undercroft and Powder Tower foundations under Dublin Castle.

You can book yourself in on our website, or if you prefer send an email  to    if you email, (and we love it when you do) please remember to put tour title “Medieval” and your chosen date in the subject header.  Thank you.

The Dublin Decoded website shows all our standard tours, available for group bookings, but the best way to be notified of when our unique, sociable tours go ahead is the quick easy sign up to our monthly newsletter here.

Thank you for reading.   -Arran.

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Maps of Dublin, old Speed’s map reveals history of Dublin.

Old maps of Dublin: Viking & Medieval Dublin to the early modern era. 1,200 years of change.

The image below is the first known image of Ireland. It was drawn as part of a larger map, around 200AD, by the legendary Ptolemy, often called the Father of Geography.   Culturally speaking, Ptolemy was Greek, but he was born and lived in Alexandria in Egypt, which by his era had fallen under Roman rule.


As a Dubliner, it’s very tempting for me to suppose or imagine the name “Eblana” -appearing on the east coast of Ptolemy’s Ireland-  represents my own city. But no, sadly Eblana is almost certainly not Dublin. (Sniff).  Dublin, as city at least, simply did not exist in 200AD. Modern scholarship suggests that Eblana may instead well be Loughskinny, now a small town further north (in the Fingal area) since this was an important and attested trading post in Roman times. But nobody knows for certain.


Although Dublin wouldn’t be a city until the mid-800s, there were almost certainly people living around the Liffey valley area, well prior to the arrival Christianity, from around 430AD, thanks in large part to you-know-who.


Most famously in the pre-Christain era, there was the Atha Cliath, “the Ford of the Hurdles” at a narrow points in the river Liffey, an important nexus which would have acted as a draw and centre for settlement.  This excellent map, by (Insert) makes the point well.


The ford was later replaced around 1014, (exactly 1000 years ago, in the same year of the Battle of Clontarf) by Dublin’s first Bridge. Naturally, this was simply called “the bridge” – since for centuries it was Dublin’s only one. Today’s successor-structure is called Father Mathew Bridge.

When Christianity arrives in Ireland, a few churches and early monastic settlements spring up in the area. The same excellent map above shows some of the early and best–attested church sites, as well as the all-important river Poddle, the Dubh Linn; Usher’s island (which was then still an island) and even the old hurdle-ford crossing point.  You’ll also note Áth Cliath, and Duibhlinn appear as slightly separate, distinct places.

But the credit for the foundation of Dublin as a city goes of course to the Vikings. Driven by population pressure in their homeland, and assisted by technological advances in ship building and navigation, they start showing up, marauding and pillaging on Ireland’s coastlines from 791.


They had a permanent settlement, Dublin, from 840, where upon they started to settle down a bit, in both senses of that term. (I mean they stopped pillaging quite so much and started farming, manufacturing, trading and so on instead). They also intermarried with local people and so became a sort of hybrid people Irish-Scandinavian people, whom we call the Hiberno-Norse.

The Vikings or Hiberno-Norse called their town “Dyfllinn” a corruption of the local Gaelic words Dubh Linn, meaning “black pool” – this being the dark muddy lake where the rivers Poodle and Liffey met, which made an ideal shelter for their longboats. I love this image by the way, by the artist Iain Barber, showing the thriving Viking town of Dyfflinn.


We’ve no maps of Dublin from the Viking age. Nor any from the Norman or Anglo-Norman era. Strongbow with his small but superbly equipped and ruthlessly efficient army, took Dublin by conquest from the Hiberno-Norse in the year 1170, when as the Welsh-Norman chronicler Gerald Cambrensis coldly put it, the Vikings “were slaughtered in their citadel”


 Four hundred years later, as England in the Tudor era grew richer, more powerful and more centrally controlled, it was Henry VIII who began to assert full and more direct control over Ireland.  The Kldare FitzGerald family, and especially the 9th earl Gerard, had ruled Ireland in the crown’s name.  But Henry ruthlessly smashed an uprising by Gerard’s son Silken Thomas. The Kidare siege of Dublin in July 1534 failed, while the following year Henry’s Lord deputy Sir William Skeffington besieged the Fitzgerald’s own fortress at Maynooth, got the garrison to surrender on terms, by granting them a pardon, then broke his word by killing the lot. A piece of insincere savagery, known ever since, with bitter irony, as “the Pardon of Maynooth”

Henry then tied up any loose ends by executing both the son, Silken Thomas, and his uncles in London.

Henry VIII also brought in the Reformation, dissolved the monasteries, and renamed Ireland from a lordship to a Kingdom. His daughter Mary, a devout catholic, would reverse the religious changes but her reign would be relatively short. Henry’s other daughter, Mary’s half-sister and successor, Elizabeth I would continue and consolidate the Protestant revolution their father began.

But, surprisingly perhaps, there are no surviving maps until shortly after the death of the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth. You have to wait until eight years after, into the reign of the first Stuart king James I (James IV of Scotland)

Because in 1610, which by way of context is the same year that Richard Burbage, William Shakespeare and the rest of their actor-producer company (the Lord Chamberlain’s men) move their theatre from the Globe in Southwark to a new site across the Thames in Blackfriars) a cartographer called John Speed shows up and makes the first map of Dublin. Here it is.


This is naturally a vital source for historians, full of fascinating and vital information. You’ll see how Speed has picked out numerous important ecclesiastical and public buildings. These are numbered in the legend in the two boxes on the right hand side, including important and prestigious churches like #40 Werburgh’s and #34,St Audoen’s. (Both of which good old Speed has spelt a little erratically)

Speed LEGEND 1- 36



We can also clearly see at once, how the whole medieval Dublin city lay south of the river. You can see that the entire old city was substantially further west than the current city centre. Today we normally think of O’Connell Street- Grafton St axis as “the centre”, but back then neither existed and even if they had, would have been outside and quite far east of the city walls.


No, instead Dublin Castle (numbered #23 on Speed’s map above) mark the south and eastern extremity of the city. Indeed, if we look again, it’s more accurate to say Dublin Castle is the southeastern corner of the city.

Just beyond it is the new university,  (marked #12).   Elizabeth for religious and political reasons, had encouraged the foundation of the new Dublin University. It was envisaged that this would take the same collegiate path as Oxford and Cambridge. So the first, initial college was called Trinity College. But no further colleges were every founded, the original just got ever-larger and today, Dublin University and Trinity College to all intents and purposes are the same institution.  You can see it, to the right of this early map.  Trinity College was about 15 years old when this map was made, barely a teenager!

Trinity College 1610 Speed

If you still stay on the south side of the river: but go over to the other, left side of the map, find #58, Thomas Court: an important Abbey founded by old Henry II-  to atone for the murder of his troublesome archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett.


Also find just above  #57 St Catherine’s church, (which Speed has spelt “S Cathren”) As all Dubliners know, this is where poor old Robert Emmet was executed in 1803, having redeemed his shambolic revolt with a brave and justly famous courtroom speech.

In the dead centre of the city, aptly enough, sits #35 Christchurch- founded way back in 1028 in the Norse era- just after the Vikings, rather belatedly, converted to Christianity.

Almost immediately left of it, see #47, Saint Michaels, which no longer exists but in 1610 was still clearly an important church.


Now draw a line, hard south, from between these two ecclesiastical buildings, and you’ll pass through the medieval city walls under #45 St Nicholas’ Gate (one of the 6 great gates of the ancient city) which is overlooked in turn by #44, St Nicholas’ fortress, (which was really more of a defensive tower).

If you follow that same road south, you’ll come to #63: St Patrick’s; founded as a great colligate church around 1189 by Archbishop John Comyn, then raised to the status of a Cathedral by his successor Henri de Londres a few years later, meaning Dublin (uniquely,) now had two cathedrals.  You’ll see St patricks appears bigger on Speeds map and that is probably not just a matter of perspective.  Ever sincesits foundation in the 12th century it has been larger and more important than Christchurch.

Or, instead of proceeding south on this southwards road, go back to #45, St Nicholas’ gate, and look East instead. Do you see the way there is a river, the river Poddle, that flows all the way around the south wall of Dublin Castle, forming a moat? Today the Poddle/moat has been culvert’ed over.  It is is now a road called Ships Street.

Follow the river/moat, as it turns the corner of the castle and goes a small way north. You’ll see the river widens slightly, as it turns the corner. This is a dam. (the Anglo-Normans were of course superb engineers, especially when it came to military architecture and defense)   The superb artists impression below makes the point well, and there’s a second enlarged detail below again.

Medievl Dublin Csstle & Moat

This dam, by the way, is the origin of the name “Dame Street” a name which has nothing to do with an old dame, or “notre dame” or anything like that, but is simply a corruption of the word dam.  Near the dam was another of the city’s great gates, Dam or Dame Gate, marked #15 on Speed map.   (in the image below it stands guard over the bridge)


There are hundreds of other bits of vital historical information in Speed’s map. Look on the north bank again and you’ll see important examples. There are not many major settlements north of the river. Few enough we can list them.

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They are, #1-the church of St Michan’s, which for a very long time was the only church on north of the river. The cluster of houses above it by the way is the “suburb” of Oxsmanstown, established when the victorious Normans had booted the surviving Hiberno-Norse out of their own defeated city in 1170-71.  In fact the name Ostmanstown, simply means the “town of the Ost-men” which is what people at the time called Vikings and Norse.

Back on the river, #3 is “the Innes” or Inns, meaning the Kings Inns, meaning the home of barristers and the legal profession. This is where the law library and benchers were. The actual courts did not move until slightly later. James Gandon’s famed Four Courts building was not until much later of course, the 1790s, at which point the Inns moved North again to their new, magnificent home, (also by Gandon) between Henrietta St and Constitution Hill, which at that point sat facing open countryside.

The old Inns by the river sat in turn on the site of a religious house, but this is gone and demolished. Why?

Also on the north side of the river, #2, is another religious foundation, St Mary’s, still intact.   But if you know your history, you’ll know it must have been an empty shell by 1610.

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The monasteries of England, Ireland and Wales had been dissolved back in the 1530s by Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII. Yet the buildings and high curtain walls of formerly the richest, most important Dublin religious house, the Abbey of Saint Mary’s, are all clearly still standing and intact, fully 80 years after all the monks were thrown out, now in 1610 during the reign of her successor, James I, when Speed drew his map.

It would be another 65-70 years before these walls and the Abbey were torn down. That was all done by the highly entrepreneurial builder–developer, Sir Humphrey Jarvis, who cannibalized the old abbey for building materials. Large sections of Jarvis’ old Capel Street, and the old Essex Bridge, (which predates Parliament street, the modern version is called Grattan Bridge) were both made of stone from the Abbey.

This once the all-powerful St Mary’s, biggest landowner in Ireland and wielder of immense power, both religious, temporal, political and economic. For example the Abbey controlled the entire food supply of Dublin; they’d also had their own courts and powers of trial and execution. Now it lies empty. In time it will be pulled down completely by Jarvis.

For hundreds of years it was thought nothing of the Abbey survived, but in fact the Chapter House somehow did, albeit hidden and buried underground. We sometimes visit this incredible old survivor on our Dublin Decoded tours (see below)

In the next installment of this post, we’ll show you how Jarvis’s developments, and further expansion just 20 years later, by old Luke Gardiner, changed the shape of old Dublin, broke the city from within the medieval walls and even reoriented the whole axis of the city.

If you enjoy walking your history as much as you enjoy reading it, we lead a 3-4  history walking tours around the city each month, focusing on different themes and ideas, from medieval through Georgina to Victorian and beyond.  More specifically,  some readers may be interested to know we have a  medieval Dublin walking tour coming up soon, fast approaching now,  on the afternoon of Thursday, 16th of October, 2014, starting 2.15pm.     If you’re not free weekday afternoons, there is a second available date: with one last 2014 Medieval walk  starting at the earlier time of 11.45am on Sunday 23th November  The fee for either tour is €25 p/p, which include use of a special map for the duration of the tour, and also access/tour to the under croft and powder tower at Dublin Castle.   You can book yourself in on our website, or if you prefer send an email  to    Please remember to put tour title “Medieval” and your chosen date in the subject header.  Thank you.

The Dublin Decoded website shows all our standard tours, available for group bookings, but the best way to be notified of when our unique, sociable tours go ahead is the quick easy sign up to our monthly newsletter here.

Either way, we hope you enjoyed the little tour, and we love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment or to share this post. Thank you.

Dublin pictures and quiz answers

To anyone, in Ireland or abroad, who looked the pictures of lovely art and architectural views and details which featured in our 2014 Dublin Decoded picture quiz, and would now like to see the answers and where each picture was, here’s the answers revealed on our Dublin Decoded History walks site.  if you look at the bottom of the page, you’ll also find details how to book onto both scheduled tours, and/or book your own private or custom tour and a useful link to sign up for our monthly newsletter, which tells you when scheduled tours go ahead, like our How to Read a Painting workshop, and all the wonderful Georgian, Victorian and Medieval city guided walks.  Here’s another reminder of  this link. to sign up for that monthly newsletter.


22 Dublin Decoded Arran Henderson

Samuel Brocus View of College Green

QUIZ 20 Dublin DEcoded


Sculpture Busts of Long Room Trinity College, Dublin, cpywriteArran Henderson


On the sea


The beautiful blog and photography of Bucharest citizen Ileana Partenie, as she celebrates the lovely old vanishing architecture of her city, documents its destruction, and captures new juxtapositions of the brash and the traditional, the corporate and the counter-cultural, now existing side by side.

Originally posted on ILEANA PARTENIE:

The Astronomical Observatory/ building details

It was built to look like a ship anchored right in the Centre of Bucharest.

“I built the house in the form of a yacht, with a dome observatory, while I make telescope observations to have the feeling that I float on the sea” used to say Admiral Vasile Urseanu who started the construction works in 1908, with his own money.


On the sea

View original

QUIZ 20 Dublin DEcoded

Easy sign up to mailing list & Dublin Art & buildings Picture Quiz!

Two quick but key items.  1- The Dublin Decoded mailing list. People on mail-out list receive our monthly newsletter where we reveal the details each month of our unique, sociable, historic and architectural city walks.  Joining to receive newsletter list is quick and easy, and the link to sign up is here.
Item 2:-  the deadline for answer-entries to the 2014 edition of Dublin Decoded Picture Quiz is now expired, at midnight 27th September 2014 and winners have now been notified via email.  But if you’d still like to try your hand to identfy  21 beautiful pictures of art, buildings & architectural details from Dublin, to guess at and identify.    Here’s a sample below from pictures in the quiz..  But no use answering here, head over to the quiz, the link is just below these sample pictures!


Quiz Pic 4 Dublin Decoded

QUIZ 20 Dublin DEcoded

quiz link here.  Good luck if you try your hand.  Please share the quiz link if you’d like.  If reading on a smartphone and can’t see share buttons?  scroll to top of post and click on Title of the post.  Share buttons will appear foot of post below.

Thanks for reading.    Arran    |  Dublin Decoded.


Our Dublin Tour. Summer days, summer daze, How to read a city, a painting, a building & a street.

Looking back over this summer, since we got our mix of unique art, history and architecture city walking tours going in May, it’s been a hectic yet amazing ride, and often a privilege too.  We did 2 North-by North-West tours; 3 medieval walled city tour/treasure-map hunts; a Victorian walk; 5 more of our long-established “How to Read a Painting” symbol-reading workshops at the National Gallery; a specially commissioned Art Deco walk (!) a really lovely and very sociable one-off along- the -River Liffey walking tour, and at least 14 Georgian tours!  (both the East and West variety)

Along the way, as well as the many experts and professional who gave us help, we’ve also been humbled by the kind responses of nearly all our guests, Irish guests and overseas visitors alike.

Many were generous enough to write about their Dublin Decoded experience on TripAdvsor and similar sites.  (If you are reading, many thanks to you all who did this, you wouldn’t believe how much it helps a young business like ours)   Either way, from a standing start, in our first season in business-proper, Dublin Decoded tours, a tiny high-quality but low-budget company, competing with vastly bigger walking tour firms (with far bigger marketing budgets (who also prentend to be “for free” when they are not!)  we still somehow got to number 8 out of 200+ cultural tours, attractions and things-to do in the Dublin rankings of TripAdvisor.  We are surprised, and (we’ll admit it) quite pleased!    (There’s a link to these nice reviews further down, but read the next bit first)

Now, as we reach the the quieter off-peak months,  we are going to innovate again and do something as as far as we know, is unique for a cultural walking tour company.   What is it?  Well essentially, we’re going to run Dublin Decoded runs something like a “private club” yes, a city-walking club.   This is neither as scary, pretentious, nor as expensive or even as fancy as it sounds.  “Membership”   will be entirely free and optional  (as in easy to opt-in/opt out)  since being a member simply means being on our Dublin Decoded mailing list.   It might sound odd at first.   But in fact we think this new arrangement will work very well for everyone, and most of all for potential customers.

So-   Why would you want to be on our mailing list?   Well, let’s say you quite like the sound of, for example, our How to Read a Painting or the Medieval Treasure Hunt, or the River tour, or any of the walks really.  Then immagine you’re even mildly interested in knowing when that walk next goes ahead.   Then you should consider putting your name on our members mailing list.   There is, and never will be, any obligation of any sort to attend.  The notification merely tell you what is happening, and if you wnt to join in you mail us back.  It really is that simple.  Nor is joining the list remotely complicated.  You simply send a one-line email to  with the words, “Please Put me on the Mailing List” in the subject header,  and your full name in the email please.   We’ll obviously be very happy to oblige.   And that’s it.   Once on the list, you should then receive from 2 to 4 notifications each month,  alerting you when tours are planned, and then a confirmation they are going ahead.  This next part should go without saying, but here it goes anyway.  Obviously, we would never and will never, share your information or email with anyone else.  You can of course also opt out any time you wish.

Finally, for those with an abundance of initiative  and get up and go,  there is one other alternative way to get on a tour.  Request one.  Yes.  It’s possible to request most of our 8 different tours as what we call a “custom tour”  In other words  a tour for a pre-boooked group.  This is also not as scary, as expensive or as fancy as it might sound.   In fact people are already doing it.  As people get a little more imaginative and curious about the city they live in, we find this is an increasingly popular option with our guests.  (Some of them, especially at the Nat Gal eveing tours, even tell us they see it as a fun alternative to the cinema, theatre or dinner)   It is certainly more interactive than sitting in the stalls at the cinema or theatre,  And compared to theatre or dinner certainly, you’ll also find it a surprisingly economical option, (especially for groups of 5 people or more.  at €20 p/p, or working out at even less p/p for larger groups,)     For employers or those thinking of bringing a group of colleagues or workmates, the discussion and visual “problem solving” element (of the National Gallery workshops in particular, and the Treasure Hunts) make them ideal as team-builders, useful as well as a pleasure.   One other last advantage, among many, is you get to decide your own dates, rather than working to our regular Dublin Decoded tour schedule.

Sound good?  Okay, so how would you get your own custom tour?    Well, rather like joining the emailing list, requesting or ordering a custom tour is a bit of a doddle.  You can send a 3-line email to  with the name of the tour and your preferred date please in the subject header,  and your full name in the email.  Example subject header:  “Medieval tour for group, Friday afternoon, 29 October?”   Or “Cathedral Tour- any weekday late October?”  Within the mail, help us to help you and please also say how many people the tour is for, (even if that number is provisional or approximate)  and if possible,  it’s surprisingly useful if you can tell us what type of group you are.   Colleagues/ book club?  Irish, or overseas visitors?  Average age perhaps?  That’s enough information   We’ll then get back to you as quickly as we can.  (normally within 46 hours, often less).

You can see the many rave reviews on the TripAdvisor website.    But to sum it up,  we think we do something special, our very happy visitors seem to agree,  and we hope you’ll join the party and come on one of our unique tours some time.

Either way  or until then, thank you for reading.  The website link is below these images.

IMG_2445   Why Go Bald 2 Arran Henderson Dublin Decoded walks

22 Dublin Decoded Arran Henderson   Arran's 1 Dublin Decoded How to Read a painting Tour, at the national Gallery of Ireland.

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To see the full list of tours, visit the website below,  But remember, to receive notification of individual tours that are actually going ahead, please join the mailing list in the way described above:  Thank you again.  Arran Henderson  |  Dublin Decoded.