Monthly Archives: September 2014

St Michan’s Church – A cryptic history

St Michan’s Church, on Church Street, is the oldest parish church on the north side of the Liffey, and the building dates from 1686. The church was originally founded in 1095 and operated as a Catholic church until the Reformation. Since then it has  served Church of Ireland parishioners for over three hundred years.

Gates of no return

Gates of no return

The church is most famous for its crypts where the limestone walls have kept the air dry and helped preserve the remains. When our guide removed a heavy chain and pulled back the strong, iron door it creaked loudly and made a few of my fellow visitors a little less comfortable. I suspect if we visiting on a dark winter’s day the atmosphere would have been really heightened. Along the corridor there are a number of recesses where coffins rest, some on top of one another, and at the end we met The Crusader. The state of preservation is amazing, and once upon a time visitors used touch his long, bony hand – for luck! In another recess are the remains of the Sheares Brothers, John & Henry, who were executed for their part in the 1798 Rebellion. You can also see their Execution Order, and in the back is the death mask of Theobald Wolfe Tone. It is no surprise that Bram Stoker (the creator of Dracula) is believed to have visited these subterranean vaults. It is also reckoned that the body of Robert Emmet (leader of the failed 1803 Rising) was buried in an unmarked grave in the graveyard, but it has never been identified.

Mummified remains

Mummified remains

Inside, the church still retains its beautiful gallery and the stained glass window looked great with sun behind it. But most impressive of all is the organ which was built by John Baptiste Cuville between 1723-1725, and cost around £550 – a lot on money back then. Legend has it that George Frideric Handel composed and practised his famous oratorio Messiah on it, before its first performance at the New Music Hall in Fishamble Street on 13th April 1742. Thinking about the composer sitting there, in the candle light, as he worked away on his great work, was quite a good way to end my visit to one of Dublin’s most interesting places.

Magnificent interior & organ

Magnificent interior & organ

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin

Royal College of Surgeons – A cut above

During the recent Heritage Week I took the opportunity of visiting ‘Surgeons’, a place that I, and many Dubliners, pass daily but never enter. The site was previously an abandoned Quaker graveyard, with the first College building erected in 1810. The beautiful Georgian building you see today is anextension of that and was finished in 1825.

William Dease

William Dease

The College dates back a little further to 11th February 1784 when it received its charter from George III, and it held its first meeting in the boardroom of the Rotunda Hospital on 2 March. Among those present on that auspicious day were the first president, Professor Samuel Croker-King, and William Dease, the first professor of surgery. It is important to note that admission was not barred on sectarian grounds, as was the custom of the time. In fact, Dease was one of a dozen Catholics to become president of the college. (Curious thing: Dease committed suicide and there are at least three different versions as to the circumstances, but nobody knows for sure. However, he cut his femoral artery, and his statue (in the Main Entrance) shows a dark line at exactly where the fatal cut may have been made!)

Sir William Wilde

Sir William Wilde

Over the years many of the college’s former students have made famous contributions to medicine, and beyond. William Wallace (1791-1837) studied dermatology in London under Thomas Bateman, and it was here that he learned about inoculation and vaccination. When he returned to Dublin he opened the first hospital in the British Isles to treat skin disease. Charles Cameron (1830-1921) was as the forefront of hygiene and public health, and was granted the Freedom of Dublin for his work. The McDonnells, father John (1796-1892) and son Robert (1828-1889) both made significant medical firsts. John is known as being the first person in Ireland to use ether as inhalation anaesthesia during the amputation of an arm in the Richmond Hospital on New Year’s Day 1847. And, on 20th April 1865 Robert preformed the first human blood transfusion in Ireland on a young girl in Dublin’s Jervis Street Infirmary. He was elected President of the College in 1877.
Sir William Wilde (father of the playwright Oscar), founded St Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, and it was later amalgamated with the National Eye hospital to form the well-known Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital. Oliver St John Gogarty, a surgeon renowned for his dexterity and speed, had a few more strings to his bow. He was a Free State Senator; wrote books, plays, poetry and is forever remembered as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan (a medical student!), the first character we meet in James Joyce’s Ulysses. His poem Tailteann Ode won a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympic Games. And there is a fine paining of him by one of Ireland’s greatest artists, Sir William Orpen, in the President’s Room.

Bullet hole

Bullet hole

During the Easter Rising the building on St Stephen’s Green was occupied by members of the Irish Citizen army, under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz. Gunfire from Crown forces based in the Shelbourne Hotel raked the building, and numerous marks can be seen on its front. One smashed into a door  in the Board Room and its mark is still there.   Volunteers stayed in place until the final order to surrender was given. A few, however, did leave a mark by carving their names into a pillar.

The College began a long period of expansion from the mid-1960s under the guidance of Harry O’Flanagan. The old Mercer Hospital was acquired and it houses a library, college archives, heritage collections and student accommodation. Other properties on York Street (opposite the College) have been acquired and are currently being re-developed. Beaumont Hospital is now the main centre for medical training, and advanced research work. And the international aspect has increased in recent years with schools in Bahrain and Malaysia. The college is recognised as a world centre of medical excellence, and there are over sixty countries represented in the current study body.

'Surgeons' - St Stephen's Green

‘Surgeons’ – St Stephen’s Green

* Sir William Wilde photo courtesy of RCSI

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin, James Joyce, Science

Patrick Kavanagh – A poet for everyman

Taking it easy, beside the canal

Taking it easy, beside the canal

One of the country’s favourite poets, Patrick Kavanagh, was born in Inniskeen, County Monaghan on 21 October 1904. He worked on his father’s farm and as a shoemaker, while he began writing poetry, and had his first work published in the Dundalk Democrat in 1928.
He submitted work to the Irish Statesman but it was initially rejected by the editor George (AE) Russell, a leader of the Irish Literary Revival, who encouraged him to continue writing. Kavanagh was inspired by this and walked to Dublin to meet Russell, who gave him books to read, and eventually published some of his work.
In 1938 Kavanagh’s novel The Green Fool, which was loosely based on his own life in the country and his aspiration in becoming a writer, brought him international recognition. A year later he settled in Dublin, and in 1942 wrote The Great Hunger that described the tough, day-to-day demands of rural life. This long poem which set out the everyday struggles of peasant life was as odds with those who espoused the noble, simple life, and it raised the hackles of the establishment. So much so that all copies of The Horizon magazine, in which it was published, were seized on orders of the Minister for Justice. The poem is considered by many to be his finest work and the NY Times Book Review said that it was ‘a great work’.

The Wellington - a popular spot

The Wellington – a popular spot

He lived at 62 Pembroke Road, liked to have a drink in The Waterloo  pub and referred to the neighbourhood as ‘Baggotonia’. Close by, is Raglan Road, which is the name of his most popular poem. It was later put to music, firstly, by the Dubliners, and since  by Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Mark Knopfler, Billy Bragg, Roger Daltrey and many others. His Lines written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin are heartfelt and inspired his statue, one of the city’s favourites.
O commemorate me where there is water
canal water preferably, so stilly
greeny at the heart of summer. Brother
commemorate me thus beautifully.

The Grand Canal - 'stilly greeny'

The Grand Canal – ‘stilly greeny’

2 Comments

Filed under Dublin

Marked Off – First TV interview

Well, time is moving on, and I will soon be busy editing Marked Off with the publishing company. After winning the prize (RTE Today Show & New Island Publishing – Get Your Book Published Competition) in March, I have been looking forward to this moment, and I am sure that it will be interesting and informative.

Marked Off will be published in February 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Book Reviews, TV & Radio, Dublin

Liffey Bridges – Part 2

Ha'penny Bridge - first footbridge

Ha’penny Bridge – first footbridge

The unique and charming Ha’penny Bridge was Dublin’s first pedestrian bridge, and it is also one of the world’s oldest cast-iron bridges. Thomas Telford designed his famous Iron Bridge over the River Severn in 1781, and when Dublin City alderman John Beresford proposed a new bridge it was decided to use the technology. The bridge was designed by John Windsor (of Coalbrookdale, Shropshire) and was opened in 1816. It was the only footbridge across the Liffey until the Millennium Bridge opened in 1999.
It was originally called the Wellington Bridge in honour of the Duke of Wellington (born in Dublin 1769), but due to the toll charged it soon became known as the Ha’penny Bridge. It was re-named the Liffey Bridge in 1922, but Dubliners have not, and are unlikely to, change the habit of generations. A recent, major restoration was carried out (re-opened on 21st December 2001) and over 85% of the original cast-iron was retained. This work was recognised when it received a Europa Nostra Award in 2003. Over 30,000 people use it each day.

Grattan Bridge - looking very pretty

Grattan Bridge – looking very pretty

Grattan's Parliament

Grattan’s Parliament

Grattan (or Capel Street) Bridge opened in October 1874 and was a replacement for an early structure. There had been at least two bridges on the same site for two hundred years, but the increase in business and general traffic demanded an improved structure. Bindon Stoney, the Port Engineer, was in charge and he made the bridge flatter to  accommodate the demand of horse-drawn carriages. He increased the width of the footpaths and embellished them with wrought-iron parapets, and added the distinctly,  beautiful lamps. The original bridge was named Essex Bridge, but after Stoney’s work was completed it was renamed Grattan Bridge on 1 January 1875, in honour of the great parliamentarian Henry Grattan (1746-1820). He would definitely have approved, as he was a local boy born only a stone’s throw away in Fishamble Street. It is one the Liffey’s prettiest bridges, and it is no surprise that it is also one of the most photographed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dublin