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Dublin Castle – Centre of power

Record Tower

Record Tower

It has played a part in Irish life for centuries and Dublin Castle had its origins back in time of the Vikings. It was originally settled on the high ground close to the Poddle and Liffey rivers and provided excellent an defence. However, with the Norman invasion in 1169 the old structure was demolished and a more permanent building was erected. King Henry II implemented this phase, which was completed in 1230 and was the beginning of the ‘Castle’ as we know it today. The Poddle was diverted underground and its water used to fill the moat that surrounded the fortress. Typical of Norman design there was a tower at each corner and the Record Tower (1228) is the only surviving one.

Over time many other buildings were added, especially in the Georgian period. The Treasury Building in the lower yard, the first purpose built office space in Dublin, was completed in 1714. In the upper yard the Bedford Tower, named for the Duke of Bedford who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was constructed in the 1750s. And it was from here in July 1907 that one of the most infamous events in the Castle’s history took place when the Irish Crown Jewels were stolen on the eve of the visit of King Edward VII. They have never been recovered.

Bedford Tower

Bedford Tower

As the centre of British power it was often challenged with it coming under attack during Robert Emmet’s short-lived rising in 1803 and Easter 1916. British power ceased on the 16th January 1922 when Michael Collins took possession on behalf of the new Irish Free State.

Sandman Sam

Sandman Sam

An exhibition of sand statues is now held every August in the upper yard. It has become a favourite with locals and tourists alike, with different characters and themes being addressed. While taking a photograph of Samuel Beckett a man beside me commented that ‘Becket was not only a sound man, but now he was a sand man, too.’ The striking image of the ‘Feet of Sand’ seemed very appropriate in a place with such sensitive political overtones.

Feet of Sand

Feet of Sand

Also in the upper yard are the State Rooms which were originally constructed for the Lord Lieutenant’s personal accommodation and entertainment. Nowadays, these lavishly furnished rooms – St Patrick’s Hall, Throne Room, State Drawing Room and State Corridor – are used for Government engagements including the inauguration of Presidents and State visit ceremonies.

St Patrick's Hall

St Patrick’s Hall

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Royal College of Surgeons – A cut above

During the recent Heritage Week I took the opportunity of visiting ‘Surgeons’, a place that I, and many Dubliners, pass daily but never enter. The site was previously an abandoned Quaker graveyard, with the first College building erected in 1810. The beautiful Georgian building you see today is anextension of that and was finished in 1825.

William Dease

William Dease

The College dates back a little further to 11th February 1784 when it received its charter from George III, and it held its first meeting in the boardroom of the Rotunda Hospital on 2 March. Among those present on that auspicious day were the first president, Professor Samuel Croker-King, and William Dease, the first professor of surgery. It is important to note that admission was not barred on sectarian grounds, as was the custom of the time. In fact, Dease was one of a dozen Catholics to become president of the college. (Curious thing: Dease committed suicide and there are at least three different versions as to the circumstances, but nobody knows for sure. However, he cut his femoral artery, and his statue (in the Main Entrance) shows a dark line at exactly where the fatal cut may have been made!)

Sir William Wilde

Sir William Wilde

Over the years many of the college’s former students have made famous contributions to medicine, and beyond. William Wallace (1791-1837) studied dermatology in London under Thomas Bateman, and it was here that he learned about inoculation and vaccination. When he returned to Dublin he opened the first hospital in the British Isles to treat skin disease. Charles Cameron (1830-1921) was as the forefront of hygiene and public health, and was granted the Freedom of Dublin for his work. The McDonnells, father John (1796-1892) and son Robert (1828-1889) both made significant medical firsts. John is known as being the first person in Ireland to use ether as inhalation anaesthesia during the amputation of an arm in the Richmond Hospital on New Year’s Day 1847. And, on 20th April 1865 Robert preformed the first human blood transfusion in Ireland on a young girl in Dublin’s Jervis Street Infirmary. He was elected President of the College in 1877.
Sir William Wilde (father of the playwright Oscar), founded St Mark’s Ophthalmic Hospital, and it was later amalgamated with the National Eye hospital to form the well-known Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital. Oliver St John Gogarty, a surgeon renowned for his dexterity and speed, had a few more strings to his bow. He was a Free State Senator; wrote books, plays, poetry and is forever remembered as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan (a medical student!), the first character we meet in James Joyce’s Ulysses. His poem Tailteann Ode won a bronze medal at the 1924 Olympic Games. And there is a fine paining of him by one of Ireland’s greatest artists, Sir William Orpen, in the President’s Room.

Bullet hole

Bullet hole

During the Easter Rising the building on St Stephen’s Green was occupied by members of the Irish Citizen army, under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz. Gunfire from Crown forces based in the Shelbourne Hotel raked the building, and numerous marks can be seen on its front. One smashed into a door  in the Board Room and its mark is still there.   Volunteers stayed in place until the final order to surrender was given. A few, however, did leave a mark by carving their names into a pillar.

The College began a long period of expansion from the mid-1960s under the guidance of Harry O’Flanagan. The old Mercer Hospital was acquired and it houses a library, college archives, heritage collections and student accommodation. Other properties on York Street (opposite the College) have been acquired and are currently being re-developed. Beaumont Hospital is now the main centre for medical training, and advanced research work. And the international aspect has increased in recent years with schools in Bahrain and Malaysia. The college is recognised as a world centre of medical excellence, and there are over sixty countries represented in the current study body.

'Surgeons' - St Stephen's Green

‘Surgeons’ – St Stephen’s Green

* Sir William Wilde photo courtesy of RCSI

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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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