John Millington Synge

John Millington Synge, poet, folklorist and leading figure in the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th century was born on the 16th April 1871 in Rathfarnham, County Dublin. He was the youngest of eight children and his father was John Hatch Synge, a wealthy barrister who came from a family of laned gentry in Glanmore, County Wicklow.

JM Synge

His father died in 1918 and was buried on his son’s first birthday. Soon afterwards his mother took the family on the short journey to Rathgar where they lived beside her mother’s home. The little boy was educated at home before attending the Royal Irish Academy of music where he studied violin, piano, music theory and won a scholarship in counterpoint. He entered Trinity College in 1889 and graduated three years later before travelling to continue musical studies in Europe. However, due to his inherent shyness he was unable to deliver convincing musical performances and he opted for a literary future. So, in 1895 he moved to Paris and enrolled to study literature and languages.

JM Synge’s home in Rathfarnham, Dublin

He met WB Yeats the following in a hotel in Paris, and he suggested that he should travel to the Aran Islands and write about what he experienced there. Over the next few years, he did just that, and in learning the language spoken by the locals, he was able to write incisive, dramatic works. His play In the Shadow of the Glen, formed part of the bill for the opening run of the Abbey Theatre from 27 December 1904. But it was his masterpiece The Playboy of the Western World that was remembered by the audience and the public. On its opening night, 26th January 1907, riots broke out and continued on following evenings. The play was ridiculed by just about every commentator and it caused more riots when it was performed later that year in America.

Synge, who had always been a frail type, died from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on 24th March 1909 in Dublin, and he is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.

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You fly like a zephyr, in the blue sky above

With the easy grace, of the whitest dove

Oh, do stay awhile

And make me smile

As I feel again, the sunshine of your love

Fly On…

For a special friend who, sadly, was taken from us much too early.

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Dublin’s Georgian Squares – Northside

It is often said that parks are ‘the lungs of cities’ and Dublin has plenty of them, particularly its Georgian Squares. The five squares were laid out from the late 1700s with Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) and Mountjoy Square being laid out on the Northside of the city. Such squares were developed to improve the image of the city by linking new wide street with elegant, appealing squares.

Parnell Square was the first the Georgian squares where Bartholomew Mosse opened the lying-In Hospital in 1757 which was designed by the renowned architect Richard Cassells. Mosse also developed the gardens, which were laid out by Robert Stevenson, and used to raise funds for the hospital. The Rotunda and Gate Theatre were added later and helped the fund raising.

The Gate Theatre

The popularity of the gardens was significant in getting property developers to complete other three-sides of the square with beautiful houses with fantastic interiors. Oliver St John Gogarty, doctor, writer, politician was born in No. 5 and the wonderful The Hugh Lane Gallery sits imposingly at the top of the square.

Oliver St John Gogarty

A short distance away is Mountjoy Square which was developed by Luke Gardiner, 1st Viscount from the 1790s and completed in 1818. At that time is the most desirable address in the city with such luminaries as Arthur Guinness, and the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin. Down the years other famous folk who lived on the square were Sean O’Casey who set his Dublin Trilogy of plays mostly set in in Georgian Dublin, with the square featuring. Similarly, James Joyce, who lived nearby, mentions the square in his books Dubliners, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

Many of the original paving stones can still be seen on the square, and in 2005 architecture critic Christine Casey claimed that the ‘Neoclassical plasterwork is finer even that that found in the contemporary terraces on the south side of Merrion Square’. And it is a ‘square’ with each side measuring 140 metres!

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Ballybrack Dolmen

Ballybrack Dolmen

It’s often the case that when you have something ‘on your doorstep’ that it’s ignored for another time. And that was certainly the case, for me, when I decided to check out the Dolmen near Ballybrack village. I knew about it for a long time but had put my visit on the long finger until a few days ago. It was warm and sunny when I arrived, and the old stones looked bright and sharp in the middle of the green that is almost surrounded by modern houses. (It is on a green in Cromlech Fields, and it’s no surprise that cromlech is another word often used to describe such ancient structures.) What was it like here on the day the last stone was put in place, I wondered, and walked to the group of heavy stones.

I read that the large, roof stone weighs about twelve tons and that must have taken some effort to set it in place. Thinking about that and the commitment of those who first decided and then erected the structure it must have been important to them, and it’s a statement of the focus and skill that it is still standing after, possibly, more than four millennia. A small, stone beside the dolmen says that it is a Dolmen, Portal Tomb, circa 2,500 BC – a timeframe that is impossible to understand. Since that time, getting on for nearly five thousand years, almost all of recorded history has come and gone and the dolmen is still standing and awaiting the next sunrise.

There are many dolmens around the country and, having one so close to home and easy to visit, it was a real treat to see it and think about druids in flowing robes carrying out mystical rituals by firelight back in the mists of time.

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Samuel Beckett Bridge

It’s different, that’s for sure, but the image of an ancient Irish harp spinning in the air was the inspiration that led Santiago Calatrava to the unique design for the Samuel Beckett Bridge. It was the second bridge over the Liffey that he designed, having previously seen the James Joyce Bridge open on Bloomsday 2003. Both Joyce and Beckett (born 13 April 1906) left their native city early on to pursue their dreams, but neither ever forgot about Dublin.

The bridge, stretching 123 metres from Guild Street on the north quays to Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, is a vital part of the city’s traffic flow system and unites the local community. It is a vital part in the overall plan for the area as it looks forward into future.

It is, uniquely, a moving bridge, opening up and welcoming visitors to the city. Swinging through 90 degrees it is an impressive sight and one not to missed.

Although Calatrava was appointed in 1999 building did not begin until April 2007. The bridge was made in Rotterdam, Holland, and shipped to Dublin – a 630-mile trip – in May 2009. It was followed all the way by interested onlookers and social media platforms before arriving in Dublin Bay. The total cost of the project, which included new roads and various upgrades, was €60 million and was paid for by the Dublin City Council, the Dublin Docklands Authority and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Culture.

The official opening was held on 10th December 2009, and it was attended by both Beckett’s niece and nephew. Also in attendance was Seamus Heaney, another Nobel Laureate, who shares Beckett’s birthday (born. 13 April 1937). The bridge complements Calatrava’s other bridge to the West, is loved by many for its aesthetic appeal and won the 2010 Engineers Ireland Award.

Samuel Beckett Bridge

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Halloween Night

It’s Halloween, and the magic is here

Laughter too, with much to cheer

Sparkling rockets will fly

Into the dark sky

Heavenly burst, as bright stars do appear

Heavenly Light

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Smock Alley Theatre

Smock Alley Theatre, on the south bank of the Liffey, is in one of the oldest parts of the city where many a Viking walked about long before an actor tread the boards of the old theatre. Dublin, as the second city to British Empire, was given its very own Theatre Royal. In fact, it was the only Theatre Royal outside beyond London.

Smock Alley Theatre

The theatre opened in 1662, two years into the reign of Charles II who was determined to bring back ‘the good times’ that Oliver Cromwell and his followers had previously banned. No funds were spared in getting the place ready, and the sparkling chandeliers, colourful drapes and decorated sceneries were an instant success with the audience. It was a leader in the use of ‘footlights’ on the stage, a new innovation that added excitement to the whole experience.  

The Theatre Royal at Smock Alley was a training ground for works by great Irish playwrights, like Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops to Conquer) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan – below – (The Rivals), both of which are still regularly performed. Nearly three hundred people attended the theatre each night of the week, where they were entertained by actors, acrobats, dancers, musicians and trapeze artists. Candles blazed in brass chandeliers as David Garrick, the greatest actor of the time, moved about the stage holding theatregoers’ rapt attention.

As time moved on other theatres opened and took business away. Then structural problems threatened and soon the place was forgotten about, and it closed its doors in 1787.  A number of different owners came and went before it was stripped bare of its fine interior. The once great theatre now became a warehouse for whiskey barrels!

In 1811 the place was recreated as a Catholic Church and the church bell rang out for the first time in three centuries.

In 2012, Smock Alley returned as a theatre having been restored  – it became Dublin’s Oldest Newest Theatre.

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Kathleen Lynn

Kathleen Lynn, born 28 January 1874 in Mullafarry, Co. Mayo, was the second of three daughters and one son of Robert Lynn, Church of Ireland clergyman, and Catherine Lynn of Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo.

Kathleen Lynn

Although she had a privileged childhood she was exposed to poverty and disputes over land in her native county, which informed her political outlook in later years. She attended Alexandra College, graduated in 1899 before taking-up postgraduate work in America. Ten years later she became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

She worked in both Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital and the Rotunda Lying-In Hospital before taking up the post of clinical assistant at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, where she was, notably, the first female resident doctor.

Work in the soup kitchens during the 1913 lock-out brought a sharper focus to her politics and she joined the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) and later instructed members of Cumann na mBan in first-aid techniques. During the Easter Rising she was the chief medical officer of the ICA and helped combatants from her post at City Hall. She spent time in Kilmainham prison before being sent to England where she worked with a doctor in Bath. She returned to Ireland later that summer and soon had re-established her medical practice at 9 Belgrave Road, Rathmines.

However, Kathleen Lynn is best remembered as being one of the founders, along with Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, of St. Ultan’s Hospital for Infants on Charlemont Street in 1919. This was very much in response to the need for access to appropriate care for the poorer women in society.

In 1923 General Election she was a winning Sinn Fein candidate for Dublin county, but did not take her seat. She lost the seat in the 1927, but was a member of Rathmines  district council between 1920 and 1930.

She died on 14 September 1955 at St Mary’s Nursing Home and, in recognition of her contribution during the Easter Rising, she was given a full military funeral and is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.

City Hall
City Hall

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Samuel Haughton

Samuel Haughton was born 21 December 1821 in Carlow, second of three sons of Samuel Haughton, merchant, and Sarah Haughton. He entered TCD at the age of 16 and remained there, first as a student and then as a teacher for the rest of his life. Initially he studied mathematics and graduated with a Gold Medal in 1843 and in 1844 he was elected to fellowship.

Samuel Haughton

He was a Renaissance Man with an interest in various subjects that included mathematics, geology, and medicine. His did research in mathematics and fluid mechanics and in 1851 he was appointed to the chair of geology, a post he held for 30 years. He worked out the age of the earth by various methods and opposed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, believing that man was a recent creation.

In 1859 he began studying medicine, and after graduation (1862) developed an interest in animal physiology. He was involved in medical administration, and was the registrar of the college’s medical school, and was a board member of Sir Patrick Dun’s hospital.

Today, he is best known for the ‘Haughton Drop’. In this scheme he calculated the best (most humane) way for hanging prisoners. This was to ensure an instantaneous death which, up to that point, was not always guaranteed leaving the prisoner to die a slow and painful death. His work was published in 1866 under the title “On hanging, considered from a mechanical and physiological point of view”.

Haughton showed mechanical and medical calculations and determined that the long drop would be best. So, his rule was: “Divide the weight of the patient, in pounds, into 2,240 and the quotient will give the length of the long drop in feet”. Therefore, for a prisoner weighing 160 lb, a drop of 14 feet would be sufficient to ensure fracture of the spine and sudden death.

He died at home, 12 Northbrook Road, Dublin, on 31 October 1897 and is buried in Killeshin churchyard, Co. Carlow.

Trinity College, Dublin

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Henry Grattan Bridge

It was the third bridge over the Liffey and known as Essex Bridge when it opened in 1676. Humphrey Jervis, a local developer, named it in honour of the Earl of Essex who had been recently appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Charles II. The fashionable area of Capel Street was connected to the crowded, narrow streets on the southside of the river. The bridge, however, was often in need of repair as a result of floods and passage across was sometimes chaotic with carts, horses becoming entangled. With trade growing a new bridge was required and this was undertaken by the engineer George Semple.

Henry Grattan statue on College Green

He had also recommended that a new street should be built on the south side of the bridge, facing Capel Street. It was designed in the style of Westminster Bridge and opened in 1755. The new street, Parliament Street, was finished in 1757 and was the same width as the bridge to assist and improve traffic flow.

Almost a century later it was decided to rebuild the bridge, and Bindon Stone was tasked with important job. The Dublin Port engineer’s work was a masonry bridge with five arches, similar to Semple’s. He did, however, make the new bridge flatter which made traffic safer. Also, he added to the width of the bridge with raised footpaths on both sides which he adorned with iron parapets. These were then completed by the addition of ornamental lamps which are both unique and popular with photographers.

In 1875 the bridge had its last name change in honour of the parliamentarian Henry Grattan (1746-1820). He was a local having been born in nearby Fishamble Street and who worked hard to improve Ireland’s economic position. For his work in the 1780s & 1790s the government buildings on College Green was commonly known as ‘Grattan’s Parliament’.

Henry Grattan Bridge

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