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St Stephen’s Church – The Pepper Canister

St Stephen's Church

St Stephen’s Church

Nicknames are something that Dubliners are good at handing out, usually to friends and acquaintances, but it is rare that buildings are so honoured. So, I was really looking forward to visiting St Stephen’s Church, a place that I had passed many times but never entered and, like most people, called ‘The Pepper Canister’.

By the early 1800s with the city spreading out into new suburbs there was a need for a church to serve the growing community beyond Merrion Square. The Earl of Pembroke, a significant local landowner, gave the site for the church for free and an additional £700. And he, like many other parishioners, had their family pew, indicated by a brass nameplate. Over the years some of the well-known church attendees included; the poet and Senator WB Yeats, writer Sheridan La Fanu, a young Duke of Wellington, wit and dramatist Oscar Wilde and Thomas Davis who founded The Nation newspaper and wrote the ballad  A Nation Once Again. The church’s address is Mount Street Crescent and this too has an interesting story to tell. The word mount is derived from the mound at the junction of Baggot Street and Fitzwilliam Street where a gallows once stood!

Pembroke Family Pew

Pembroke Family Pew

St Stephen’s was one of the last Georgian churches built in Dublin and was designed by John Bowden who also responsible for the church of St Philip & St James, Booterstown. Sadly, he died during construction and the work was completed by Joseph Welland. It was consecrated by the Archbishop of Dublin, William Magee on 5th December 1824 and the final cost was £5,169!

The original building was rectangular and the colourful apse (East end) was added in 1852. But it is the front (West end) that is the most attractive and giving an unbroken view, across Merrion Square south side, to Leinster House. It is a beautifully realised feature, unchanged in almost two centuries. The cupola at the top of the church is a model of the Choregos of Lysicrates in Athens and where we get the familiar nickname.

Apse

Apse

Inside, there are wonderful stained glass windows which were not original features but added in Victorian times. A piece by the renowned Beatrice Elvery and another in honour of Dr Joliffe Tufnell, a former President of the College of Surgeons, look great in the sunlight. The organ dates from the 1750s and the carved rosewood pulpit is particularly attractive. Upstairs I noted a plaque in honour of Captain Charles King a man who survived the Battle of Balaclava (1854). I definitely hadn’t been expecting that. Wonderful.

Downstairs

Downstairs

 

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Wellington – The Iron Duke

6 Upper Merrion Street

6 Upper Merrion Street

One of the most decorated soldiers in history was born in 6 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin in 1769 (now the Merrion Hotel). The son of a  noble, but impoverished family, Arthur Wesley (later changed to Wellesley by his eldest brother who became Governor General of India) did not show much flair for anything other than playing the violin when he joined the army as an ensign in 1787, having been withdrawn from Eton due to a downturn in the family’s finances.

He sat in the Irish House of Commons as member for Trim, Co. Meath. After his proposal of marriage to Kitty Pakenham had been turned down he applied himself to military life with a determination of purpose that was to be his trademark and strength. After his first taste of action in Holland he was left with a distinctly low impression of many of his commanding officers, an experience that only increased his awareness of the value of preparation and attention to detail. Suitably prepared, he used his skill to good effect while in India, after which he had become a rich man and had been promoted to major-general.

Back in England he renewed his relationship with Kitty and eventually, not having seen her for ten years, married her in what he later described as the ‘biggest mistake of his life’. Difficult though the marriage was, he craved and immersed himself in the security and familiarity of the army. This is where he was at his best and within a short time he was back in action – this time against the armies of Napoleon (who coincidently was also born in 1769).

He led the British Army that fought against the French in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular Wars. His scorched earth policy, allied to superb defensive positioning, allowed the opposing army little freedom of movement and significantly reduced its ability to feed itself and inhibit its fighting capability. This led to the French being expelled and Wellesley occupying Toulouse in 1814, whereupon he was promoted to field-marshal and made Duke of Wellington. He was subsequently appointed as Ambassador to Paris, from where he travelled to negotiate the Congress of Vienna 1814-15.

While in Vienna he learned of Napoleon’s escape from his island prison on Elba, and the subsequent gathering of his once proud army in France. Wellington was put in charge of the British and Dutch forces that left Brussels for Waterloo (8 miles to the south). June 18th 1815 has gone down as one of the most momentous days in European history, when late in the day, Wellington, who was facing Napoleon for the first time on the battlefield, survived enormous early attacks and won the day with the late and critical arrival of Marshal Gebhard Blucher’s Prussian army. Irishmen fought that day on both sides with 10,000 in the British ranks alone, and it is reckoned that almost 50,000 men were killed or injured in the bloody battle. It was a crushing blow for Napoleon who resigned as emperor four days later. His transportation to the remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic brought French expansionism to an end, and allowed Britain to ‘rule the waves’ and gain a position of pre-eminence in trade and influence.

A political career beckoned and Wellington became a minister in 1819 and Prime Minister in 1828. It was during his time in Downing Street that Catholic Emancipation was granted (1829). Various offices, such as the Chancellor of Oxford University and Commander-in Chief of British forces, were bestowed upon him. Apart from these he was also made a prince in Holland, a duke in Spain and a marshal in seven European armies. Parliament, in recognition of his service, granted him funds to build a home, Apsley House, which later became known as ‘No. 1 London’. In late life he led a simple and austere existence in his castle in Walmer, Kent where he died in September 1852. His wish to be buried nearby was ignored, and he was finally laid to rest with all the pomp and circumstance that could be mustered in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

'Waterloo' relief on Wellington Monument

‘Waterloo’ relief on Wellington Monument

The good people of Ireland (in fact, he denied his Irishness by proclaiming ‘that not everyone born in a barn was a horse’) had already showed their respect by raising over £20,000 for the erection of the Wellington Monument, designed by Sir Robert Smirke. The Lord Lieutenant, Lord Whitworth, laid the foundation stone on the site of the Salute Battery, in the Phoenix Park, in June 1817. Unfortunately the funds dried up and the obelisk was finished but nearly fifteen feet short of the desired height. The reliefs around the base of the monument, which tell of his military victories and political reforms, were cast from captured cannon guns, appropriate indeed when they recount the heroic life of one who is known to history as ‘The Iron Duke’.

Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

Wellington Monument in the Phoenix Park, Dublin

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Bewleys Cafe – a flavour of Dublin

Even as it approaches its ninetieth year, Bewleys Café is as familiar as a best friend and a place I have always enjoyed. From the moment you approach the shop, depending of course on the direction of the wind, the aroma of fine coffee is enticing. It’s unique, and is appreciated by the patrons who daily pack the quirky, old building.

Egyptian-inspired decoration

Egyptian-inspired decoration

 

Famous pupils

Famous pupils

It opened for business in 1927 after extensive refurbishment, and was inspired by the great Paris and Vienna cafes.   The exterior Egyptian decoration reflects the contemporary discovery of Tutankhamen’s Tomb in 1922. The stained glass windows that Harry Clarke created are the highlight of the café, and are really appreciated when lit by strong sunlight. In the late 18th century the building housed Whyte’s Academy, the school where Arthur Wellesley (future Duke of  Wellington) and Thomas Moore attended. Robert Emmet, from St Stephen’s Green, a scone’s throw away, was another famous pupil.

Harry Clarke's wonderful windows

Harry Clarke’s wonderful windows

Originally a supplier of tea Bewleys later developed its coffee business, and it is now the biggest café and restaurant in Ireland with a million customers annually. It’s coffee (Arabica beans) is all Fairtrade sourced. The green beans, from Central and South America, are roasted on the premises and soon produce the familiar aroma and flavour. Add this to the in-house made bread, cakes, pizzas and salads and it is easy to see why it is has been Dublin’s favourite restaurant since it opened. It has also been one of Dubliner’s most popular meeting places, and is mentioned in James Joyce’s Dubliners. Other literary figures like Sean O’Casey and Samuel Beckett liked to sit and watch the world go by. That hasn’t changed, and with the hum of lively conversation in my ears, I feel it’s not likely to happen…for a long, long time!

Beans, means.....great coffee!

Beans, means…..great coffee!

 

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