Tag Archives: 1798 rising

Irish Parliament House – First and Last

The Irish Parliament House on College Green was the first bicameral (two chambers) building in the world. The foundation stone was laid by Thomas Wyndham, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, on 3rd February 1729 and construction took almost ten years. It was designed by renowned Irish architect Edward Lovett Pearce who sadly died in 1733, aged thirty-four, and never lived to see his most famous work completed.

Irish Parliament

Irish Parliament

It was built on the site of Chichester House (owned by Sir George Carew) and used as the Parliament House since 1673. The place was in bad condition and, moreover, lacking in space. Pearce’s building addressed these issues, and although its workings were often disliked the building itself was appreciated for the elegance of its fine Palladian lines.

From the 1780s after Henry Grattan had secured a number of concessions from London, allied to the dangerous influence of the French Revolution and the 1798 Rising, Westminster decided that Irish affairs should be in its control. A vote in late 1799 went against Westminster’s wishes, but a second one in February 1800 where there was widespread bribery and awards of peerages, won the day and the House of Commons voted for its own abolition. The last sitting of the House was took place in August 1800. The new law, the Act of Union, came into effect on 1st Jan 1801 with all authority now resting with Westminster. This soon led to an exodus of peers and wealthy merchants that had a major negative impact on the Irish economy and a sharp decline in Dublin’s status.

As a final gesture of defiance against vote, John Foster (of Foster Place fame), the last Speaker of the House of Commons, retained possession of the Mace. It is believed that he hid it under his bed at home on Molesworth Street, and nothing more was heard of it until 1937 when it was put up for auction by Christies, London. It was bought by the Bank of Ireland and it is now in a glass case in the House of Lords. The Mace belonging to the House of Lords is now on show in the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History in Collins Barracks.

Mace - House of Commons

Mace – House of Commons

After its abolition the building was variously used as an art gallery and military depot. In 1803 it was purchased by the Bank of Ireland (who bought it for £40,000) as its new headquarters. When the building was sold it was stipulated that both chambers (Commons & Lords) be dismantled (so that it could never be used again as a parliament house), but the Lords is today almost unchanged. All the original fittings, including the beautifully engraved oak fireplace, are in use, and the bright red Woolsack which the Chancellor of Ireland sat on during debates, has now been restored. The magnificent 1,233 piece chandelier is original, and its counterpart from the Commons can be seen in the Examination Hall, across the road in Trinity College.

Oak Fireplace

Oak Fireplace

Magnificent chandelier

Magnificent chandelier

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Donnybrook Fair – More than dancing at the crossroads!

It is rare that a place name finds its way into the dictionary and becomes part of common language, and Donnybrook has that singular distinction. It is defined as a ‘wild fight or contentious dispute; a free-for-all brawl’ and comes from the famous, or rather infamous, fair that was held in the neighbourhood for over six hundred years.

'Donnybrook Fair' - Erskine Nichols 1859

‘Donnybrook Fair’ – Erskine Nichols 1859

Sacred Heart Church

Sacred Heart Church

King John granted the Corporation of Dublin a licence in 1204 to hold a fair in Donnybrook, a border area on the banks of the Dodder. This was on the edge of Norman jurisdiction and, as a place for fording the river, was an important place where city dwellers and their rural neighbours met and traded. There was a church and graveyard nearby, places commonly associated with gatherings for religious festivals and burials.
The elements that are usually associated with such carnivals, namely, the indulgence in food and drink, music, gambling, sporting competition, were present. However, it was the unbounded permissiveness and increased violence that took place that it became known for, and for which the name is now attributed. This epitomised the wild, unrestrained behaviour of rural peasantry and by the late 1700s lurid reports began to feature in local newspapers. And by the mid-eighteenth century fighting between the south side Liberty weavers gang and the north side Ormond butchers was drawing negative attention.
The movement for reform began in the sixteenth century, and after the 1798 Rebellion and the impact of the French Revolution that was stirring a new class-consciousness, the authorities made a concerted effort to restrict the fair’s activities. Through the early 1800s the movement for abolition gathered steam with local merchants, the nobility and the church joining forces. The end came on 26th August (usual first day of the fair) 1866 when a new church, dedicated to the Sacred Heart in atonement for the sins committed at the fair, was opened only yards from the fair ground. The small crowd of fair goers soon slipped away quietly – and that was the end. The fair soon became a memory, and the fair green was later developed in 1881 as a rugby ground (the former home of Leinster Rugby) where both Old Wesley and Bective Rangers now play.

Site of legendary Donnybrook Fair

Site of legendary Donnybrook Fair

 

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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

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Poolbeg – Dublin’s Twin Towers

Great South Wall and Dublin Bay

Great South Wall and Dublin Bay

One thing leads to another, and the construction of the Great South Wall in the middle of the 18th century led to the erection of the Twin Towers at Poolbeg.

Ships arriving in Dublin Bay encountered a number of dangers; namely, a shallow estuary which was not only heavily tidal but also very exposed. It did not offer much safety, and many ships and crew were lost in sight of land. By the mid-1750s it was decided to construct a wall to stop the build-up of damaging sandbanks, and to dredge the south side of the river.

Construction began around 1760 with the large one-ton stones being quarried in Dalkey and then ferried to the site.  The distinctive, red Poolbeg Lighthouse was added in 1820.

Poolbeg Lighthouse

Poolbeg Lighthouse

During the wall’s  construction a storehouse for materials was built, and caretaker’s dwelling beside it. John Pidgeon, the caretaker, began to provide food, drinks and a bed for travellers, and soon the place became known as the Pigeon House. (It has nothing to do with the feathered kind!)

Twin Towers from Sandymount Strand

Twin Towers from Sandymount Strand

A military barracks was built close by after the 1798 Rising, and it stayed in use until 1897 when Dublin Corporation bought it as the site of the city’s first power station. Over the years the site has been developed, and in 1971 the first of the towers was constructed, followed in 1973 by its almost identical twin, which at 681’ 9” (207.8m) is one foot taller.

Although not much appreciated at that time the chimneys have become, possibly, Dublin’s most iconic landmarks and can be seen from almost any part of the city. They appear on T-shirts, TV shows, movies, videos, are painted by artists, have been celebrated in verse, photographed from all angles and, of course, a friendly sign to travelers arriving and leaving. They were decommissioned by the ESB in 2010. Recently, there have been proposals to demolish them, something which many people vehemently oppose. They are our Twin Towers and I, like lots of Dubliners, hope that they survive. SOS – Save Our Stacks!

SOS - Save Our Stacks!

SOS – Save Our Stacks!

 

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