Tag Archives: french revolution

Pigeon House – Refuge from the storm

Pigeon House

Pigeon House

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

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.

Twin Towers

Twin Towers

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

The guns stayed silent

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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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Edmund Burke – A Great Orator

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke was born in Dublin on 12th January 1729 to a Protestant father, Richard and Catholic mother, Mary Nagle who was County Cork. Richard was a prosperous solicitor and he sent young Edmund to be educated in a Quaker school in Ballitore, County Kildare. Later, in 1744 he entered Trinity College and in 1747 established a debating society called the Edmund Burke Club. The society merged with the Historical Club in 1770 to form the College Historical Society which is the second oldest student society in the world.

He went to London 1750 to study law, and against the wishes of his father, soon gave up and decided to earn his living by writing. His first published work, A Vindication of Natural Society: A View of the Miseries and Evils Arising to Mankind (1756), attacked social philosophy, especially that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the great Swiss philosopher.

By the late 1750s he counted Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, David Garrick and Sir Joshua Reynolds among his circle of friends in London.

After a return to Dublin, where he acted as private secretary to William Hamilton, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he entered parliament in 1765. Over the following years he established himself as one of the greatest orators ever to speak in the House and his speeches have been studied ever since. He spoke out against Britain’s actions in America and thought war was the wrong path to follow. Subsequently, he attacked the French Revolution, for which he was criticised. However, many of his desperate warnings were borne out with the execution of Louis XVI and the rise of the despotic Napoleon.

A few of his many famous quotes:

  • Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting
  • Never apologise for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologise for the truth
  • You can never plan the future by the past

He died in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on the 9th July 1797 and is buried in the local churchyard with his infant son Richard, whose loss affected him deeply.

Statue in Trinity College, Dublin

Statue in Trinity College, Dublin

 

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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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Tailors’ Hall – living history

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'

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

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

Original stairs – over 300 years old

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