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, we wind across Dame St and through to City Hall, skirting by the side of the old Newcommen Bank, where you can see this lovely old stone carved 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.

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