Monthly Archives: September 2016

Sir John Gray – The water bringer

On O'Connell Street

On O’Connell Street

Once described as a Renaissance Man and by being a doctor, surgeon, journalist, newspaper proprietor and politician the commentator was ‘spot on’. It is rare that a person should excel in so many different disciplines but then John Gray was the exception to all the rules. He was born on 13th July 1815 in Claremorris, Mayo and entered Trinity College, Dublin where he studied medicine. In 1839 he graduated as a Master in Surgery from Glasgow University, returned to Dublin, married Mary Dwyer and worked in a hospital on North Cumberland Street.

Although from the Protestant ruling class Gray became the political editor of the nationalist newspaper The Freeman’s Journal and was co-owner from 1841. He used the newspaper to discuss important issues and in 1843 backed Daniel O’Connell’s call for the Repeal of the Act of Union and both men were sentenced to prison. However, due to the impetuousness of the prosecutor who challenged Gray’s defence to a duel, neither he nor O’Connell went to gaol.

At Vartry Reservoir

At Vartry Reservoir

In 1850 he became sole proprietor of The Freeman’s Journal and reduced the price and considerably increased its readership. With his interest in local politics he was elected an alderman of Dublin Corporation in 1852. He put the issue of clean water for the city at the top of his agenda and did everything to promote the Vartry Scheme. This was a massive project and necessitated building a series of water pumping and filtering stations from the Vartry River to Dublin. Due to chronic overcrowding and bad housing conditions in the city the introduction of clean water was vital in defeating the regular outbreaks of typhus and cholera that claimed so many young lives. On the day the project came into operation, 30th June 1863, Gray was knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

Reservoir and Tower

Reservoir and Tower

In 1865 he stood as a Liberal Party candidate in the general election and was elected as MP for Kilkenny City. During his time at Westminster he was a busy and successful campaigner for the reforms espoused in The Freeman’s Journal, such as the disestablishment of the Anglican Church of Ireland, improving the educational opportunities for Catholics and reform of the land laws. His fight for the provision in the new Landlord & Tenant (Ireland) Act 1870 of fixity of tenure gathered great support and was eventually conceded by Prime Minister Gladstone.

Vartry Reservoir

Vartry Reservoir

He died in Bath, Somerset on the 9th April, 1875 and his remains were returned to Ireland. As a man held in the highest esteem he was honoured with a public funeral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery. And, shortly afterwards, a public subscription raised the necessary funds for a statue on O’Connell Street. It was unveiled in 1879 and is dedicated to the ‘appreciation of his many services to his country, and of the splendid supply of pure water which he secured for Dublin’.

Through the gate

Through the gate

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Druids Glen – A place of history

Woodstock House

Woodstock House

In the year that we are celebrating the Easter Rising I was reminded of another great struggle when I recently visited Woodstock House in Wicklow. The Pikeman statue, a tall and arresting symbol of the 1798 Rebellion and a reminder of brave and bloody times, stands guard in front of the fine Georgian house.

The Pikeman

The Pikeman

It was built by Sir John Stratford in the 1770s and was designed by the famed architect and stuccodore Robert West who worked on many of the countries great houses. It has been faithfully maintained and a visit is a veritable walk through history. In the basement there is a museum showing what it was like in the ‘big house’ and the circular gallery offers a history of Ireland. Upstairs in the Yellow Room there are some fine paintings of Irish heroes, including Michael Collins, CS Parnell and Robert Emmett.

The Hall

The Hall

The tiled hall with its tall golden columns is particularly well preserved with the Dining Room off to the side. It was interesting to find out that due to its superb acoustics that none other than Rod Stewart and the Thompson Twins each used the space for recording in the 1980s.

Nowadays the house is the centre of Druids Glen Golf Course, one of the best and most beautiful courses anywhere and a regular on the ‘must play’ list for golfers. I saw it described as the ‘Augusta of Europe’ and on the day that I visited – a warm day under a bright, blue sky – I could only agree with the scribe. From the roof the view down the coast and over to the Wicklow Mountains beyond was stunning.

And of course there is more history in the name – Druids Glen. Apparently during the construction of the golf course a Druids’ altar was discovered near the lake (by the 12th hole). I don’t know what the Druids think of golf but they would certainly have been happy with what I saw the other day. It’s a magical place!

The Druids' Altar

The Druids’ Altar

 

 

 

 

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