The Things I see… (# 2)

I published a post a year or so back with this same title, which people seemed to enjoy.  So here we go again.

Below is mostly images, seen over the last few weeks, right up to yesterday afternoon.  A little text,  where context is required, and/or where there’s an opportunity for you to partake yourself.    Enjoy…

 Tuesday, at the IGS:


above: model from the current, beautiful exhibition “Describing Architecture:  Memory and Place”  on show in the lovely Octagon Room in the City Assembly Rooms, a building which these days, is also headquarters of the Irish Georgian Society.

Below, the Octagon Room.  You can find the City Assembly Rooms at 58, South William Street,  just across little Coppinger Row from the Powerscourt townhouse, and almost opposite Grogan’s pub.


Below,  more images/ models, from the same exhibition.  I hope to post more fully on this show in the next week or so. But if you don’t want to miss it yourself, it continues to Saturday, 08 November.  (2014)

IMG_1069  IMG_1152

below:  a drawing from the same exhibition.

Look carefully, can you identify and name this famous Dublin building?  The answer is at the foot of this post.  :)


Below, a corridor, adorned with sculpture busts in the Royal Dublin Society RDS)  Tuesday evening, spotted at an event there to honour the launch of Hugh Oram’s wonderful new book, “The Little Book of Ballsbridge” 




Below:  12-13 days ago:   off Cork Street.  Peace and plants.   Or is that peace through plants?  (and old stone walls)


above: a quiet corner of a garden centre, o set amid old buildings off Cork St, Dublin 8.


The palm trees and old cut stone seem more of something in Seville, or Norman Sicily than inner-city Dublin.

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Tuesday last week 21st October. , at the Hibernia Club, for the launch of “The Glorious Madness”, a book of WWI stories, by writer and historian Turtle Bunbury.  


early 20th century cartoon-print, of Irish Party leader John Redmond,

-  spotted in the men’s lavatories of the Hibernia club on Stephen’s Green.  (the print, not Remond himself)

below: Stephen’s Green itself, early 19th century, with the old statue of William III still in situ.


below:  detail, from a landscape,  in the National Galley of Ireland.  IMG_0899

I am leading a tour here in about, eh, an hour and a half, there’s a small charge but well worth it, meet us in the foyer 6pm if you are free.


below: detail from a fronts piece, old book of Navigation/ Atlases.  I find these sort of Elightenment scineces and their whole style of print, illustration and graphic/ typographic style, all extremely beautiful.


below:  detail of same panoramic view (print) as above, showing Liffey, Customs House with Bersford terrace behind, and old bonding warehouses, next to Custons House.   Seen at the RDS antiques fair a couple of weeks back.


Below, details from an antique cabinet, spotted at the recent RDS antiques fair, the same as old print above.


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below:   Tapestry in the old House of Lords, College Green,  depicting seige of Derry/Lodonderry, by James II (on horse)


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DRL Lexicon public library 14

above, the lovely view of Dun Laoghaire harbour (East pier and forground: Royal St George Yacht club)  out of the second floor of the enormous new Dun Laoghaire public library, only just completion now, they are still stacking the books on the new shelves. 

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above:  a fat little Cupid’s foot, National Gallery of Ireland.

below: detail, from the same picture..   For those free this very evening, I am leading a symbol decoding tour, from 6-8pm this eveing (Thursday 30th Oct)  at the NGI.   Meet inside the foyer of the Nat Gal 5.55pm  Sit/ meet,(by the NG bookshop)   just inside Claire St entrance.  You will enjoy this if you are free.  If you wish to join the monthly newsletter, to get notice of future tours,  the subscribe form is here.


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Below:  the superb cantilevered staircase and skylights at the 1170s Newcommen Bank: Cork Hill.  Visted on one of my tours last Wednesday afternoon.

Below:  Saint Werburgh’s church,

St Werburg's  Arran

above, the perfect 18th century interior of Saint Werburgh’s church,

Below, a detail fro the organ in the same church, above the Viceroys private pew. 

St Werburg's  Arran4

Below: a deatil from a neo-Gothick pulpit, to a design by Franscis Johnson.  Bibles/gospels resting on the heads of the Four Evangelists.


Our IGS tours have now finished for the season, but we will resume next spring.  In the meanwhile, if you’d like to receive notification of my other, Dublin Decoded,  tours, including 2 really special ones the weekend of 22/23 November,  subscribe to the monthly tour bulletin.   Our subscribe form is here.

Oh, and by the way, the famous Dublin building depicted in the photo archiectural drawing  near the top of this post, which I challenged you to identify, is the Museum Building at Trinity College, by Deane and Woodward.

Thanks for reading.  Enjoy Dublin.   :)

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.

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Dublin Decoded medieval gates, walls and towers walk, next date: tba. Tour also available for private groups.

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 tours of Nat Gallery, Thursday evening 6-8pm, available for pre-booked groups

Special Evening-time Tour of National Gallery,   the unique How to Read a Painting tour,  is a highly accessible, fascinating  introduction, revealing some of the “mysteries” of reading ideas and symbols found in old master paintings.

Gabriel Metsu

As the tour title suggests, we make aspects of paintings art historians are trained to think about, accessible to non-specialists, giving you important conceptual tools and “keys” to know & understand more about art.


The tour features lively, guided discussion and explores symbolism and iconography, both religious iconography and secular symbolism and exploring how artists create meaning in art- using not just tokens, allegory and symbols, but everything from light to landscape, and from gesture to perspective.  All our emphasis is on making these ideas accessible, enjoyable and fun.


Come and find out exactly why this tour is the subject of scores of rave reviews by visitors from Ireland and around the world. We think you’ll never look at pictures the same way again.


Summary of key information again:  We will resume public tours, open to all in the summer months.  But in the meanwhile, the tour is available to book by prior arrangement with/for pre-booked groups.   Prices are typically €20 p/p for small groups and €10-15 p/p for larger groups.

Once you have emailed and arranged a confirmed date with us: we meet Thursdays 5.55pm, and tour from 6-8pm.  Meet point is inside the foyer inside the Claire Street entrance of the National Gallery of Ireland.  email us on to arrnage a date for your group.

For those bringing a work group of colleagues, the discussion and visual “problem solving” elements of the workshops make them ideal as team-builders.   We’ve also entertained school and college groups, groups of friends from book clubs, writers, academics.  Across the board our reviews mean this tour has become one of the highest-rated cultural activities in Dublin on TripAdvisor.  

Arran Art at NGI14 w Dublin Decoded

If you want to hear about our other scheduled tours, (open to everyone) the best way is to join the monthly newsletter, alerting you when these tours go ahead.  Obviously, we’ll never share your information or email with anyone.  To subscribe to monthly newsletter, go here.

Info on booking any of our other 7 tours as a private custom tour:  All our tours can also be booked for a custom, pre-booked groups, such a school, language college, work  or book club social outing.   Unless extra admission costs apply  our fee structure is very simple, Prices are €100 for the first 1-5 people combined, then just €10 per/person after.    For those bringing a work group of colleagues, the discussion and visual “problem solving” elements of the workshops make them ideal as team-builders.

To inquire about a date, please send an email to  stating 1- the title of your preferred tour, 2- your approximate numbers, and 3- preferred date or dates.  Thank you.


You can see our many rave reviews on the TripAdvisor website.    Our website Dublin Decoded Tours  has details of this tour & all our tours in general description.

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48 Arran Henderson Dublin Decoded walks

a magic map, scholar’s sketch of ancient Dublin, special tours, available for groups.

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, is an excellent guide to understanding old Dublin,  in the years before the Wide Streets Commission.  We use it because it’s one of the best and clearest illustrations to understand the shape and form of the medieval city and street plan.

For the full range of Dublin Decoded history, art and architecture walks and events, see here.    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 your book club.    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!    -Arran

To see some of our 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor, see here.


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!

Oh, if you have read the piece above, please leave a comment below.   Thank you.    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 or Post:” to see more information on individual tours and tour dates.  Rave reviews and new testimonials, of both our Dublin History walking tours, and our famous How to Read a Painting workshop (twice a month at the National Gallery of Ireland)  appear regularly on TripAdvisor.  Reviews can be seen here. 

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St Canice’s Cathedral of Kilkenny

the ancient city of Kilkenny lies on the west bank of the River Nore as it runs North to South.  The southern end of the town is dominated by the huge Butler castle, while to the north, just outside the lines of the old city wall, towers St Canice’s Cathedral.


The geography is clear from this excellent map, courtesy of the historians and archeologists at the wonderful Rothe House project, visited in my last post.  The medieval street plan is still largely intact throughout the town.

With the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland from 1169, beginning i this very part of Ireland, attracted the great continental orders to the country and as you see below, the old Franciscan, Dominican and Augustinian Religious Houses all survive to this day.


Here’s a second map, below, this time from the superb Historic Towns Atlas of Ireland, a huge scholarly undertaking sponsored and driven by the Royal Irish Academy.


Christianity came to these parts around 402, and just over a hundred and ten years later St Canice founded a church on this site, which gradually grew in size and importance.  The status of the site was further marked by the construction of this huge tower alongside the cathedral in 1111 and the site finally becoming a cathedral – the seat of the Bishop of Ossory- just a few years later, in 1120.

The Anglo-Norman Conquest followed soon after and as the Normans replaced the old Gaelic elite, certainly in this part of the country, regime change is often apparent in more continental architecture styles, and indeed in surnames.  Construction on the present structure began 1202, under Bishop Hugh de Rous.   It has of course been repaired and partially reconstructed several times, notably after the central tower collapsed. (where the arms of the cross meet, in the centre of the building as you see below)


The graveyard incidentally contains many wonderful funerary artifacts,  I was struck by this one, below, with its extraordinary egg-like form.



As you explore the graves, the tower looms overhead, more or less daring you to climb it.  This is one of only two such towers in Ireland it is permitted to climb, so I felt I had to accept the gauntlet.  The steep wooden steps, almost more of a ladder than a stairwell, could be a challenge for some people,  and their were moments when i felt i was in an Alfred Hitchcock film (that one called Vertigo)   But the experience and view were well worth it, and I’d heartily recommend this climb to anyone visiting the marble city.




The amazing view from the top of the twoer also gives a clear picture of the architecture of the cathedral just below.  That square tower top right of picture below,  is of course the one that collapsed in 1332.


and of course, at this stage I couldn’t wait to get inside the interior of the Cathedral itself.   After an equally breathless decent back down inside the huge tower, I finally entered   One isn’t disappointed..  Look, for example, at that wonderful wood arched ceiling.


Regular readers here will know I’m fairly besotted by medieval art and architecture wherever I’m lucky enough to find it, be that around France, or further afield,  or right here in Dublin.  I lead medieval tours here and have written quite a lot about the architecture and artifacts in places like Saint Patrick’s Cathedral here.

There are a few fascinating medieval tombs in Dublin, notably Archbishops Falk de Saundford’s tomb in St Patrick’s, the Portlester memorial in St Audoen’s and the Fitzgerald/Purcell one in St Werburgh’s.  Galway’s old church of Nicholas also has some wonderful pieces, and no doubt there are others around the country I’ve yet to see.   But nothing I’ve seen so far in Ireland quite prepared me for the quantity, quality and beautiful state of preservation of the medieval tombs inside St Canice of Kilkenny.



Look at this one above for example. for heaven sake…  Very beautiful, all that wealth of detail,  and especially in that gleaming black Kilkenny marble.

It belongs to a lady called Honoria Grace.  If you read my previous post, you’ll have seen that in the centre of the city, the remains of her family’s medieval castle now form the old prison cells under Kilkenny’s 18th century courthouse.


above:  their second son:  Richard Butler, died 1571.  Yes, elsewhere in Europe that would perhaps be the Renaissance.  But not in Ireland, as you can clearly see this is still in the full medieval style and sensibility.   The information plaque informs us he was the First Viscount Mountgarret,  a new title created for him, as he was himself a second son, of the 8th earl of Ossory, so presumably his elder brother inherited that old title., while Richard here went off to found his own dynasty.

By the the late 1500s and 1600s the Butlers  had overtaken the Kildare-Fitzgeralds as the most powerful family in the country. The main Butler brach were eventually raised to a Dukedom, under James Butler Duke of Ormonde, who was twice Viceroy of Ireland and the leader of Confederate Ireland, during the terrible 17th century wars.   Kilkenny was in fact the capital of Confederate Ireland in that turbulent time.    But if memory serves me right, the two Butler branches actually clashed, at least once, in battle, with James Ormond fighting his cousin Viscount Mountgarret, a descendent of the same man you see above.

By the way,  there’e something else I love about Richard Butlers tomb.   At one end is the noble warrior head…


But look at what lies at his amour-clad feet!


You have to love this dog.  As the nobility of the time were obsessed with hunting and hawking and dogs and horses, I’m sure it was a real and favoured mutt.  But a dog of course is also a symbol of fidelity.   At the feet of a noblewoman, it usually denotes fidelity to her husband, who may be away on campaign, at war, or on crusade, or perhaps politically embattled.  At the feet of a man, perhaps it is more likely to denote loyalty to his king or his cause.    Either way, this particular dog verges on the bizarre.   Loyal and fierce, yes but it looks more like some dragon or giant salamander!   I love it, guarding his master, even in death.



Above, Butlers,  who were of course not just the local magnates and dynasty, but the most powerful family in Ireland as a whole.   It makes a difference.  For example the only really genuinely sophisticated Renaissance portrait I’ve ever seen here, equal to something in France or Italy of the same period, was of a member of the Butler family.  Only they could afford to entice and import an artist of that caliber from overseas.   Am I also right in thinking Anne Boleyn was supposed to come to Ireland and marry a Butler?  Before she caught Henry VII’s eye of course.  (and we all know where that led… )

The sides of the tombs are also wonderful.  Nearly all of them are decorated with carvings of the Apostles..




Apart from members of the Grace family and an awful lot of Butlers, there are also one or two members of a family called Whyte here, like this fine old knight warrior in the picture below.  My mother’s maiden name is Whyte, spelt the same way, and her father’s family are a long time in Dublin and Ireland.  So of course,  I’d love to imagine some vague connection, but really in  all honestly I’ve no idea if there’s any connection.   But its nice to imagine.  Who wouldn’t want to be descended from a chap like this?   He looks like he’s about to get up and go straight out on crusade right now.


Perhaps I’d better leave it there!  If you’ve enjoyed it, please leave a comment, it’s always great to hear from readers.  Many thanks for your company.  – Arran.


a Dublin city walk along Thomas St, via St Catherines & James Gate, to Dean Swift’s St Patricks Hosptital

When the weather is fine and bright as it was today, (after some truly but unusually Biblical scale rainfall yesterday) there are few greater pleasures in life than a long rambling walk through the historic parts of old Dublin city.    This piece of modern street art, at the start of my epic circumnavigation, summed up the mood perfectly.


from here, across Dame St, and through to City Hall, skirting buy the side of the old Newcommen Bank, where you can see this lovely drinking fountain (below).  I’m pretty sure the scallop shell motif is no idle decoration: this was after all on the old pilgrims route from S James Gate to embarrking for France or Spain at the docks.  The scallop of course is the symbol of St James.  And by the way, St James gate was of course the old starting point, and we’ll be heading past that today.   But if you’d like to join me on this route, I’ll be doing it, or something like this with a few variations, on Saturday 22nd November,  all the details are on my other website here. 


Onwards, to Thomas St, and this hipster pub joint,  the Thomas House…


… and the fabulous Gothic Revival church of S Augustin & S John.  It’s designed of course by EW Pugin, from that ultimate family of Gothic revivalists.  His father, AW Pugin quite literally, wrote the book on the subject, not to mention designing the English Houses of Parliament.


The sculptures on the spire here are by the stone masons firm of Pearce and Sons, that is to say the father of Patrick and Willy Pearce, who were shot after the Easter 1916 Rising that Patrick helped to lead and inspire.



Next door to that is my old Alma Mater, the National College of Art and Design.


Thmoas St by the way is named for Thomas Court, an old medieval Abbey founded by King Henry II, when he was in Dublin in the winter of 1170-71.,  He established in in atonement and repentance for his part in the death of his old friend, that “turbulent priest”  Archbishop Thomas a Beckett.   Hence the name.

Just a bit further up the road, on the far side, stands the lovely 18th century Church of Saint Catherine’s.   To many Dubliners, this is most famous as the place where the patriot and United Irishman leader Robert Emmet was executed following his failed rising of 1803.


At this point Thoams Street becomes James Street.  This was named was named after a very old religious House and church, with, as I mentioned at the head of this piece, a very, very old association, dating back to at least 1220, with the medieval pilgrimage to the tomb of St James, at Santiago de Compstella in Gallicia in Northern Spain.   Pilgrims passports were issued here.  As they still are today.

Here is the current RC church of St James, who still issue the passports.


and almost just across the road, stands the former C.of Ireland St James (formerly the Anglican, now closed.  Many small protestant churches have been closed and parishes merged, due to a tiny and ever dwindling congregation, especially in the this area, but indeed across the country.


This one has been closed for a good many years now.  It was a shop and showroom for lighteing for years, but i saw today thta too had gone now, and a planning permission notice stands outside,  seeking persmission for a micro-distillery and whiskey museum.   Fair enough I suppose, as long as the conversion is sensitive and changes follow the principal of “reversibility, it is better for the building that it’s in use.

Onwards…  to where the road splits in two, at this fine obelisk… complete with sundial.  :)


Here the orad spilts.  The left path, more or less straight on really, leads to Inchicore, while the right fork slopes downwards to Kilmanham village.   We shall go left,  but then almost immedaitely is the gated entrance to the historic old St Patrick Hospital, founded by the will of the legendary Dean Jonathan Swift.



This facade here above was designed by George Semple, otherwise best known perhaps for his Grattan Bridge, linking Parliament St to Capel Street across the Liffey.  That is overlooked by City Hall, where you’ll recall I started this walk.  City Hall was designed, slightly later in fact than the bridge by Tomas Colley.  And guess who designed the 18th century extensions at this hospital here?  That’s right, Colley.  A contemporary, and sometimes rival of James Gandon, he also designed the central block of Dublin’s Four Courts., later finished of course by Gandon.  Gandon lived in Lucan by the way.  And this hospital later acquired an additional asylum premises,in an old estate called St Edmundsely.  At Lucan.    I suppose the point is, the more one ferrets about to explore Dublin’s history and heritage, the more connections you finds.  It’s like a spiders web at times.


Inside the hospital is a very mixed type of atmosphere.  It is of course still a working psychiatric hospital, so many sections have been modernised and feel like a hospital.  On the other hand, some of the older parts have been preserved just as they were designed nd furnished in the mid-18th century.  Like this beautiful cantilevered staircase above, or this stanined galss below.


There is also a small museum, containing the original hospital charter, signed by George II, early minute books from meetings of the board of governors, and of course,  much superb Swift memorabilia.  These two lovely miniatures caught my eye.


Some of the things in this collection were from the belongings of Swifts  contemporary, and one-time great friend,  the wickedly amusing diarist Mrs Delaney.   Her’s another miniature, of Swift.  There are also pieces depicting some of great friens including John Gay, author of the Beggars Opera, (who of course later inspired Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill)  and alos another of Swifts great London literary friends Alexander Pope,  he of the eternal sunshine,  of the spotless mind.


There’s is also Swift’s escritoire, or writing desk, where he penned some of his immortal works, and even one of the few old surviving copies of his death mask.


The return journey back to Dublin city centre was by another route and just as full of history and artifact, but I shall save that for another day,   Some people however may be interested in a tour I shall be leading,  a walking tour through the historic Liberties, and a return to St Patrick’s Hospital and museum, next Saturday 22nd November.   All details on the Dublin Decoded website.   Please tweet this or that, or whatever it is that people do to help spread the word.  Until then, many thanks for reading.  – Arran Henderson, Dublin Decoded.


Special one-off tour to Dean Swift’s historic St Patricks Mental Hospital | Saturday 22nd November.

Saturday 22nd November, early afternoon, (meeting 12.30pm) a unique history and architecture walk, starting City Hall   (former Royal Exchange) going westward along the areas of Lord Edward Street; Corn-market, Christ Church Place and High Street; Thomas Street; James Street, with occasional diversions into adjoining historic areas in the Liberties, including the sites of St Catherine’s Church, site of Robert Emmet’s execution and of the former medieval Thomas’ Abbey, founded by Henry II in atonement for the death of Thomas Beckett.   But the star of our tour will come towards the end…


Most excitingly  we’ll conclude the tour by special permission with a rare chance to visit the historic St Patrick’s Mental Hospital.


SPMH was founded by the will of Jonathan Swift, legendary satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal.  Swift was the great self-proclaimed compassionate Champion of Liberty, and of Dublin and Ireland’s poor, most marginalized and dispossessed.   Designed by George Semple, opened 1747, his hospital was one of the first of its kind in the world, ground-breaking in its treatment of psychiatric illness.  We visit the library, discuss the architecture and the 18th century institution itself.  We’ll meet and have a talk with the archivist, and visit the untouched  boardroom, with its portraits, of Dean Swift and the two enigmatic women in his life.

Although rarely visited today, the institution is the subject of some of the most famous lines from Swift, written prior to, and anticipating, his own death.

He gave the little Wealth he had,

To build a House for Fools and Mad:
And shew’d by one satyric Touch,
No Nation wanted it so much:

In its totality, the hospital is a monument, to compassion and Enlightenment values.   As we shall discover, the great Dean could have no finer or more fitting legacy.   Join us if you can,  details just below.


Meet Point:  City Hall,  the facade of this historic building fronts onto Dame Street and looks down Parliament Street. but please meet your guide Arran at the (west) side entrance to the City Hall, at Cork Hill, on the side steps to City Hall, near the gates to Upper yard of Dublin Castle.

CITY HALL Royal EXchange Dubllin Map

Meet Time:  Meeting and starting 12.30pm, Saturday 22nd November. We shall tour for approx 2 hours, so please have a hearty brunch prior to walk.  We also tour regardless of weather so please wear suitable clothes and stout footwear!

Fee:  This is a special one-off tour requiring additional work and administration so we are requesting a fee of €25 p/p.   However the following concessions are available.  For “our members”, that’s to say for subscribers to the Dublin Decoded mailing list  – the fee is just €15 p/p.    For unwaged, for job-seekers and/or for students with valid card, fee just €10 p/p.

Booking a place on the tour:   It may be possible to just turn up on the day, but ideally places should be booked a few days before the tour, via a email to

Pay on the day.  No deposits taken, we currently work on a trust system and we’d love to keep it that way, so please, only book a spot if you are certain to attend. Many thanks.

Spread the word, (social media buttons below)  and join us if you can.  We look forward to welcoming you on tour.

Next day:  For those not free Saturday 22nd, unusually we’ve a different tour available the very next day, (this is our last and only other tour of November 2014!)    This Sunday tour will explore the medieval walls and towers of Dublin, including a special treat under the foundations of Dublin Castle.  Please see this link  , for details.

Postcards from Kilkenny, a medieval wonderland.

IMG_1409 Some pictrures from a recent trip to wonderful Kilkenny.  I’d long wanted to explore the famous historic heritage here and was thrilled to explore and finally learn a bit more about Ireland’s best preserved medieval city.   Here are some pictures. Top, above:  the front exterior of the glorious Rothe House, a perfect and rare example of an early 17th Century merchants House (built 1594-1610) Below:  the thick colonnaded columns and arches of the arcade of the same front exterior. IMG_1410

Below: (1) a view into an interior courtyard of the Rothe House IMG_1411

Below, another view and angle of the same courtyard, thus time looking left and upwards to this gorgeous balcony/ loggia.  At this stage, I felt as though I was in Verona! IMG_1413

Now look at this building below…


Above:    The upper stories here, (above) are the Kllkenny Court House.  It was built in the early-modern period by the great Irish architect and Surveyor-General,  Sir William Robinson, with its clearly neo-classical columns, pediment and so on.  Robinson, as surveyor general 1670-1700, is a major figure in Irish built history.  He’s responsible the Charles Fort in Kinsale, Co Cork and-  in my own home stomping ground Dublin- for much of the Upper yard of Dublin Castle, for Marsh’s Library, and the Royal Hospital at Kilmanham.     But now look again, at the lower floors underneath the Kilkenny courthouse above.  I visited the exterior here twice last weekend, but it wasn’t until my second visit Saturday morning, with the excellent guide and local historian Pat Tynan I fully appreciated the complexity of the building.   These lower sections, below Robinson’s lovely courthouse, were the City prison, but also, previously the remains and lower sections of Grace’s Castle, a medieval stronghold, belonging to the powerful local family of that name.   These rooms then became cells of Kilkenny’s prison, underneath the court house.   It’s a wonderful example of the way very old buildings are frequently mixed and “layered” in their history.  I don’t much like the look of these cells.  According to Pat, a typical sentence for stealing a loaf of bread was about 4 years!


Before we leave the old courthouse/ prison, can’t resist showing you these workman’s gloves, hanging over an old cell door!  (above and below)   They could have been left here by accident.  But I doubt it.  Looks like a clear example of black Kilkenny humour to me! By the way, when we get to the Kilkenny’s stunning St Canice cathedral in a forthcoming post, you’ll meet the Grace family again, via two of their stunning black marble medieval tombs.   Here’s a sneak preview below, the tomb of Honoria Grace.


Back to the streets of Kilkenny city.  The medieval streetplan is clear.  Here you can see some of the alleys.


and below:  one of the tiny steep medieval lanes leading down to the river, used by old market stall traders, called “Slips”   This one was traditionally used for butter, so is called the Butter Slip.


Below:  a really terrible picture, (sorry!)  but of a very interesting house.   Now a well-known local pub, this was once the home of a woman called Alice Kyteler,  target of the most famous trial for witchcraft in medieval Ireland.  She herself was extremely well-conected and rich, both coming from a wealthy family herself, and also having put four well-off husbands in the ground.  She then became the focus of suspicion and then outright hatred for a fanatical bishop called Ledrede.  It’s a long complex tale, because Alice herself had friends in powerful places, and at one stage Ledrede himself was imprisoned.  But after a highly political few years, in 1324 Alice she was eventually brought to trial and then convicted for witchcraft.    Being rich, she managed to bribe her way out of prison, at the last minute, just prior to execution.  She then escaped Ireland, never to return.  One of her maids, who’d been convicted alongside her, Petronilla, was not so fortunate.  She died a horrific death, burnt alive at the stake. IMG_1402

Below:  the Thosel.  the city hall, where the tolls which were collected- as Kilkenny was a walled city- at the various city old gates, were gathered together here centrally.  Hence “Toll-House” = Thosel.   Dublin of course also had a Thosel but it was destroyed over 200 years ago.   Drogheda’s Thosel, like Kilkenny’s,  is still intact.  KIlkenny’s Thosel as you see boasts this fantastic medieval arcade of arches, not unlike something you’d see in Italy or Germany. IMG_1760

For what is by modern standards quite a small city, Kilkenny has lots to savour and enjoy.  I was very taken with some of the traditional shop fronts for example, both town and rural/traditional “vernacular” – style.  My guide pat told me from the 1980’s onwards they have the subject of a preservation partnership, between the city council and local businesses.  Would to God we could manage the same thing in Dublin.


Some of the 19th century architecture is also very good, like this fine Victorian bank building below. IMG_1649

Ditto houses from the earlier Georgian period.   As you can see below, unlike in Dublin,  the Kilkenny style of 18th century Georgian townhouse has two doors paired together, under a single fan-light, meaning a large lovely, slightly flatter “half-moon on its side”-style of fanlight.


I also loved this beautiful old Carnigie library, built overlooking the river. IMG_1443

As you can proabaly tell, I was quite smitten by Kilkenny!   I could happily go on all day about it!   I’ve barely mentioned the giant Kilkenny Butler Castle here, which would merit a post all of its own, if that is I felt qualified to talk about it,  (which i don’t)   But I’m going to leave it there instead.  I’ve posted a few of my sources, links and references below for those who’d like to read more or even pay a visit.   Huge thanks to the staff at the Rothe House and to my superb expert guide Pat Tynan.   I leave you with a picture of the steep approach leading up to Kilkenny’s ultimate gem, St Canice’s Cathedral.   Wait until you see what is inside!  I’m hoping show you in my next post.    But until then…  thank you for reading. – Arran. IMG_1419 IMG_1421

Selected sources: Rothe House, home website: Pat Tynan, Historian and Guide:  home page: Or the Kilkenny Touris board site, on Pat’s tour page.

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.

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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.

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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…

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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. 

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

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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. 

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

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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

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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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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.

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

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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.  

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

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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.