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Handel’s Messiah – Dublin’s Lucky Break

GF Handel

GF Handel

It is often said that ‘timing is everything’ and it certainly was the case when George Frideric Handel arrived in Dublin in November 1741. For he was carrying with him the work that was premiered five months later, and which forever ties the German composer and the city together.

The Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, invited Handel, who was at the height of his power and popularity, to play a series of concerts. Matthew Dubourg, the Irish violinist and concertmaster, arranged and selected the musicians. Handel’s concerts between December 1741 and February 1742 were a great success, and he decided to perform a free concert (no fee charged) to raise money for three charities when he would perform Messiah. Handel’s collaborator and librettist Charles Jennens had written the oratorio in the July 1741. The composer completed the music, all 259 pages, in just 24 days between August and September. And, luckily for Dublin, did not perform it.

Neal's Music Hall

Neal’s Music Hall

Dubourg arranged for singers from both Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral to take part and sing what would become the famous work,  Hallelujah.  Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s, did not approve of their participation on the grounds that he disliked Messiah and preferred ‘A Sacred Oratorio’. He relented and, as they say ‘the rest is history’.

St Michan's Church

St Michan’s Church

While in Dublin, Handel stayed in Lower Abbey Street and rehearsed much of the oratorio in St Michan’s Church. (The organ that he used is still in use.)   After the success of his earlier concerts there was a great demand for tickets, and over 700 patrons showed up at Neal’s Musick Hall, Fishamble Street on 13th April 1742. (Sadly, like so much ‘development’ carried out in the city over the centuries, the hall was badly treated and only the front arch of the original building remains.) Due to the expected crowding men were asked to ‘leave their swords at home, and women to refrain from wearing hoop skirts.’ It was a lively affair and in the words of one enthusiastic critic: ‘The sublime, the grand and the tender, adapted to the most elevated and moving words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished heart and ear.’  Handel was at the ‘top of his game’.

Messiah, written in stone

Messiah, written in stone

Handel led the performance and played the harpsichord, while Dubourg played violin and conducted the orchestra.And history was made. The oratorio was an immediate success, and Handel performed it again in July (for his own financial benefit) before returning to London. But what a leaving present he gave us. Hallelujah!

Hallelujah Chorus in Fishamble Street

Hallelujah Chorus in Fishamble Street

 

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Henry Grattan – Parliamentarian & Patriot

He was born on 3rd July 1746 in Fishamble Street and was a member of the Irish House of Commons. Although a member of the Anglo-Irish elite, he was a lifelong advocate and campaigner for Irish legislative reform. Famous for his stirring speeches in parliament he was described by one contemporary as: A superb orator – nervous, high-flown, romantic. With generous enthusiasm he demanded that Ireland should be granted its rightful status, that of an independent nation, though he always insisted that Ireland would remain linked to Great Britain by a common crown and by sharing a common political tradition.

Grattan went to Drogheda Grammar school, and followed that by attending Trinity College where he developed a love of Classical literature with a strong interest in the life and work of the famous orators of antiquity. This skill was to become his trademark and bring him fame and allow him pursue his desire for legislative reform. After college he studied at King’s Inns and was called to the bar in 1772, although with his growing interest in politics he hardly ever practised law.

Grattan's Parliament

Grattan’s Parliament

He was elected to the Irish Parliament in 1775, and due to his drive and outstanding oratory, he soon became the leader of the National Party. At that time Catholics and Presbyterians were excluded from public life under the brutal Penal Laws, while power resided in the hands of a small elite of Anglo-Irish families who were members of Anglican Church, and who owned most of the land. By the early 1780s, with pressure mounting for legislative independence, concessions were finally conceded by the British Government and Grattan was hailed as a patriot. As the influence of the American Revolution and later the French Revolution were felt Grattan achieved more freedoms, and the assembly became known as ‘Grattan’s Parliament’.

However, he vehemently objected to the Act of Union 1800 with its negative economic effect and subsequent cultural decline, and spent his final years in London where he died 6th June 1820. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Grattan Bridge (prev. Essex Bridge), rebuilt in 1874, was named in his honour, and his statue (by the renowned sculptor J H Foley) in College Green (across from the old Irish Parliament) shows him in all his oratorical glory.

In full oratorical flow

In full oratorical flow

 

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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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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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