By the mid-1750s entry to and from Dublin Bay was a hazardous operation and the city governors decided something drastic needed to be done to improve the situation. So a plan was drawn up to construct a wall into the bay that would stop the silting up of channels and provide a safe place for passengers to board.
Great South Wall
This work to build the Great South Wall took over thirty years and was complete in 1795 with safer passage for travellers and an improvement in trade. During the lengthy construction John Pidgeon was the caretaker of the storehouse for the equipment used during the building, and he began selling refreshments to travellers who often waited for days until the weather improved to travel. As a smart businessman he also offered trips around the long wall which was one of the longest in the world when completed.
Business improved and Pidgeon (the ‘d’ in his name was dropped a long time ago) built a small hotel to cater for the needs of the growing number of travellers. In 1793, years after John Pidgeon had died, a new building was erected and operated for many years. This building still stands and lies in the shadow of the twin towers of the Poolbeg Station. Not long afterwards with the whiff of revolution in the air and the 1798 Rebellion a recent memory a fort was constructed near the hotel and it became known as the Pigeon House Fort. Today, the canon guns outside the entrance to the ESB power station were originally facing out to sea anticipating a possible French invasion that never came.
The place also made its literary mark on a young James Joyce. In his first great work Dubliners he tells of two boys playing truant (no doubt he was one of them!) as they went to the exotic building and the long wall that stretched seemingly forever into the bay in his short story An Encounter:
We arranged to go along the Wharf Road until we came to the ships, then to cross in the ferryboat and walk out to see the Pigeon House.
The guns stayed silent
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.
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 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
Filed under History, Ireland
It is over three hundred years old, the oldest surviving Guild Hall in Dublin, and like a patient brought back to life after a near fatal illness, the Tailors’ Hall is thriving and looking great. Since 1983 it has been home to An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland), who did a wonderful job in restoring the almost derelict property to its former glory. This work was recognised when it won a Europa Nostra Award in 1988.
Tailors’ Hall – ‘The Back Lane Parliament’
The building was erected in 1706, and until 1841 was the headquarters and meeting place of the Guild of Merchant Tailors, when the guild system was abolished. Tradition had it that the Tailors’ Guild was the oldest one in operation, its first charter being granted by King John in 1207. There is no existing evidence for this, and the oldest charter on record was granted by King Henry V in Trim in 1418.
The Great Hall
Over the years the building has acted as a meeting place for other guilds, an army barracks, a court and a place for society balls. In 1792 the Catholic Committee, with Theobald Wolfe Tone acting as secretary, held meetings in the Great Hall. Because of these meetings the place was referred to as the ‘Back Lane Parliament’. This group, which was comprised of local merchants like Oliver Bond and the wonderfully named Napper Tandy, had come together to seek relief from the Penal Laws which many people considered out of date and an obstacle to economic improvement. In 1798 a more strident group, the United Irishmen was setup by Tone, and they sought to use the turbulence of the French Revolution as an opportunity to strike against England. Sadly, a number of things, including bad communications and treachery, went wrong and the rebellion was brutally crushed by the Crown Forces, with many volunteers being hung, drawn and quartered – a particularly brutal execution that was meant to scare onlookers as much as kill the accused.
The renovated building, which still has many original features, including the magnificent Great Hall, is a real Dublin gem that I was happy to finally visit.
Original stairs – over 300 years old