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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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Liffey Bridges 3 – Sean Heuston Bridge

It is one of the most elegant bridges over the Liffey and was opened to pedestrian and horse-drawn traffic on 9th June 1829. It replaced a ferry service that had been operation for the previous hundred years and built to commemorate the visit of King George IV in August 1821. Daniel O’Connell was instrumental in raising funds for the bridge’s construction and the foundation stone was laid by the Marquis Wellesley on 12th December 1827.

Sean Heuston Bridge

Sean Heuston Bridge

It was designed by the English architect George Papworth (who designed other buildings in Dublin including the interior of the Pro-Cathedral on Marlborough Street) and built in less than a year. It cost £13,000. The engineering work was carried out by Richard Robinson’s company Phoenix Iron Works, Parkgate Street, its proximity helping the speedy construction.

Patrick Sarsfield

Patrick Sarsfield

Papworth’s design was chosen by King George and over the years it became known as King’s Bridge. It stayed that way until 1922 when it was changed to Sarsfield Bridge in honour of the great 17th military commander who fought against the Williamites until he left for France and fought in the army of King Louis XIV. He was wounded at the Battle of Landen, Belgium, on the 19th August 1693, and died three days later in Huy, and is buried in the grounds of St Martin’s Church. A plaque on a wall marks his approximate burial site. As he lay dying with his blood trickling away he is quoted as saying ‘Oh, if only this were for Ireland’.

Sean Heuston

Sean Heuston

The bridge name was changed in 1941 to its present one in honour of the youngest man to be executed in the aftermath of the Easter Rising. He and his thirteen volunteers occupied the Mendicity Institution, close to King’s Bridge, and surrendered when besieged by superior forces. He was executed on 8th May and buried in Arbour Hill with other executed leaders.

Weight restrictions were introduced after a review in 1980 which led to the construction of the nearby Frank Sherwin Bridge in 1982. However, a major refurbishment was carried in 2001-02 that allowed it to carry the LUAS light rail system, with the first trams crossing the Liffey in 2004. The bridge, thankfully, is still open to pedestrians.

 

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JH Foley – Master Sculptor

JH Foley

JH Foley

John Henry Foley (usually referred to as JH Foley) was born on 24th May 1818 at 6 Montgomery Street, Dublin. It was better known as ‘The Monto’ the street at the centre of the city’s red-light district and called ‘Nighttown’ in Joyce’s Ulysses. It was made famous by the  Dubliners when they sang George Desmond Hodnett’s song Monto (Take Her Up To Monto). It was subsequently renamed in honour of Foley’s work as the pre-eminent sculptor of his time.

The young Foley had plenty of artistic influence around him as his father Jesse, who came from Winchester, was a glass-blower and his step grandfather Benjamin Schrowder was a sculptor. His older brother, Edward, showed him the way as he had taken up a career in sculptor, and JH entered the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) in 1831. He was an ardent student and before long won a number of prizes and recognition, and left to join his brother in London three years later. He studied at the prestigious Royal Academy from 1835, and he exhibited his first piece there in 1839. In 1844 his sculpture Youth at a Stream won him fame and a steady line of commissions that remained for the rest of his life.

As he was based in London his studio was always busy and he won some very favourable commissions that included sculptures for the Mansion House; and one of the four stone groups on the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. Afterwards he was asked to make the bronze statue of the price that was the centre-piece of the memorial. His sculptures of military men, and most noticeably his carving of their horses is considered exceptional.

In Dublin his most prominent works are those of Daniel O’Connell on O’Connell St, and Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and Henry Grattan on College Green. A number of his statues, however, were considered ‘hostile’ to the newly emerging Ireland in the 1920s and they were either damaged or removed. Although this happened many years after his death, the mark he did leave upon his native city is considerable and much appreciated.

He died on 27th August 1874, was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral and left all his models to the RDS.

Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O’Connell

 

 

 

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Mansion House – at the centre of city life

Nighttime view

Nighttime view

In a few short years the Open House Weekend has become something of a favourite with Dubliners and tourists alike. The fact that we can gain access to buildings, houses and offices that are normally off-limits to the general public, is a great reason to get out and about and enjoy the ‘search’. Everywhere I went people studied maps, pointed this way and that and happily queued, cameras at the ready to snap a piece of history. There was, inevitably, lots of talk and much advice on offer as to which places to visit.

Sumptous interior

Sumptuous interior

The Mansion House is a place that I always wanted to see having,  like so many other Dubliners, passed it on countless occasions. It is, of course, the residence of Dublin’s  first citizen, the Lord Mayor, and it is one of the city’s most loved buildings with stunningly beautiful rooms. It is, in fact, the oldest free-standing house in Dublin and the only Mayoral residence in Ireland which is still used for its original purpose. And, it is the oldest Mayoral residence in Ireland or Britain as it provided an official residence  for its mayor fifteen years before London did! It was surprising to find out that in the 1930s and 1940s there were plans to demolish the place and other buildings on the block, but thankfully they were abandoned.

The guide, a former Lord Mayor, really knew the history of the building and made the whole experience memorable. It was built by Joshua Dawson (who built many of the buildings on Dawson Street & Nassau Street) in 1705 as his city residence. However, he seldom lived there and sold it to Dublin Corporation in 1715 for £3,500, and an annual rent of 40 shillings and an agreement to provide a loaf of double-refined sugar weighing 6 pounds, at Christmas!  He agreed to add a formal reception room which we now call the Oak Room. In here are the crests of all the previous Lord Mayors with Daniel O’Connell’s (1841) being the first. The distinctive metal portico over the front door was erected for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1900. And the Rotunda, or ‘Round Room’, was added for the visit of George IV in 1821, as there was no room in the city grand enough for him. Ironically, it was in this same space that the First Dáil assembled on 21st January 1919 and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence.

The Mansion House has been at the centre of the city’s history for 299 years, and next year will be a special one even for this historic building.

Mansion House in the sunshine

Mansion House in the sunshine

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Dublin – Walking With Words 1

What is the world’s tallest sculpture?

Well you might be surprised to know that it is The Monument of Light (better known as The Spire) on O’Connell Street, Dublin. It’s just one little gem of information that I found when I was researching my e-book ‘Dublin – Walking With Words’ which will be available in May/June!

Walking With Words - front cover

Trinity College – front entrance

The guide covers Dublin, and in it you meet many of its most famous sons and daughters and hear what the city meant to them – in their own Words. It takes you on a stroll through its history where you meet James Joyce, WB Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Elizabeth Bowen, Phil Lynott, Molly Malone and many others. You will find out where they lived and worked, and how the city influenced them in their artistic endeavors. Whether it was in the Georgian heartland of Merrion Square, along the Grand Canal, Trinity College or some favourite watering-hole, all these places have a story to tell, and with photographs and maps they are brought to life.

The guide is divided into five sections, each one taking about fifty minutes to complete – depending, of course, on how long you may decide to linger in some friendly pub or restaurant and enjoy the atmosphere!

So, if you have a little time in Dublin and wish to ‘get to know the place’ better than some of the locals, then put on your comfortable shoes and ‘Walk the Walk’.  (Check out the video below for a preview of your ‘Walk‘. I am very thankful to Derek Gleeson for his kind permission to use his composition as a soundtrack.)

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Open House Weekend

Mansion House

Mansion House

In a few short years the Open House Weekend has become something of a favourite with Dubliners and tourists alike. The fact that we can gain access to buildings, houses and offices that are normally off-limits to the general public, is a great reason to get out and about and enjoy the ‘search.’ Everywhere I went people studied maps, pointed this way and that and happily queued, cameras at the ready to snap a piece of history. There was, inevitably, lots of talk and much advice on offer as to which places to visit.

I began my walkabout with a visit to the Mansion House. The guide, a councillor and former Lord Mayor, really knew the history of the building and made the whole experience memorable. It was built by Joshua Dawson (who built many of the buildings on Dawson Street) in 1705 as his city residence, but sold it to Dublin Corporation in 1715 for £3,500! The Oak Room is lined with the crests of all the previous Lord Mayors with Daniel O’Connell’s (1841) being the first. There are many beautiful paintings in the Drawing Room where Eamonn DeValera, Michael Collins and others sat at the long table and discussed, no doubt heatedly, the division of Ireland.

A brisk walk took me to Dublin Castle where the queue for the State Rooms stretched almost around the Upper Castle Yard, and I decided it was a good idea to use my time and go elsewhere. I had not planned to visit Dublin City Hall but I’m happy that I did. Having, like many others, passed by the old place countless times, I had never given it much thought and walked on. But not today, thankfully. Formerly the Royal Exchange, built between 1769 and 1779, it has been the centre of municipal government since 1852. The building has recently been renovated to its former glory and it was well worth the visit. The rotunda was wonderful, especially when the sun shone down onto the colourfully tiled floors. And the ‘Story of the Capital’ exhibition in the basement is informative and well presented.

City Hall

City Hall

After that I walked the few yards across the cobblestones to the Rates Office. It was designed by Thomas Ivory in 1781 for the Newcommen Bank. Built of Portland Stone, in the style of John Adams, it was altered in the 19th century due to the demands for local road improvement. The renovated stairs was impressive as were the two oval offices that look down on the entrance to Dublin Castle. Eamonn Ceannt, a signatory the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and a leader in the Easter Rising of 1916, worked in the City Treasurer’s Department from 1900 to 1916.

Afterwards I made my way along Dame Street, past Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland, and squeezed into the lift that took me and my fellow passengers to the top of Liberty Hall. This is the tallest viewing area in the city and has been off limits for years. Built in 1965, the view from the roof terrace of what was Ireland’s first skyscraper was a real thrill, and I took the rare opportunity to click away at the panorama on offer. The Liffey sparkled as it snaked its way eastwards to the sea under the new bridges that have added hugely to the architectural landscape. To the west, the city spread out towards the Dublin Mountains, and the backdrop of a blue sky and puffy, white clouds was something special. Open House Weekends are fun and, hopefully, here to stay.

Atop Liberty Hall

Liberty Hall – what a view!

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Merrion Square – The Georgian Heart

Flower Garden

Flower Garden

Merrion Square is a jewel in Dublin’s crown, and as it celebrates its 250th anniversary, it is looking better than ever. The square was originally laid out in 1762 and landscaping went on for almost thirty years, and this attention to detail shows in the magnificent space that we can enjoy today. The square is surrounded on three sides by unbroken Georgian terraces and by National Gallery, National Museum – Natural History, and the manicured lawns of Leinster House on its West side. Nowadays most of the houses are occupied by professional offices and various institutes; namely, The Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (No. 8), The Goethe-Institut Irland (No. 37), Irish Traditional Music Archive (ITMA – No. 73) and many more besides. Its central location has always attracted people and many of its residents have telling contributions to Irish life and beyond. Daniel O’Connell, known affectionately as The Liberator for his championing the cause of catholic emancipation lived at No. 58 (South). A short walk away, on the same side, the Nobel award-winner, poet and founder of The Abbey Theatre WB Yeats resided at No. 82.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde – Dublin’s first rocker!

And, of course, its most famous resident Oscar Wilde lived, appropriately enough, at No. 1. He was born about three hundred yards away at 21 Westland Row on 16 Oct 1853, and his upwardly mobile family moved to the square two years later. His mother, Jane, was a poet and wrote political, revolutionary verse for The Nation during the stressful and turbulent years of The Famine under the pseudonym ‘Esperanza‘. Her famous, raucous Saturday afternoon salons were the talk of the town and left a deep impression on Oscar who would brilliantly recreate their atmosphere in his books and plays.  The  square (11.7 acres) is beautifully maintained and the central flower plot a joy to behold in the sunshine. There are many statues set randomly about the place and the colourful, reclining Oscar Wilde (opposite his old home at No 1) is a favourite with visitors and photographers. Another piece, The Joker’s Chair, is a memorial to Dermot Morgan, who played the part of Father Ted Crilly in the hit TV comedy Father Ted. I’ve heard many a laugh here as visitors sit, recite a funny line from the show and have their photograph taken. Also, in the artistic scheme of things, an Art Market is held every Sunday with artists displaying their work along the railings. The square, although 250 years old, is still the beating heart of classic Georgian Dublin and always interesting to visit, if only to stroll among its quiet trees.

Joker's Chair

Joker’s Chair

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