The ‘royal feet’ in Howth
It is often the case during a presidential or royal visit for the person to leave a mark, be it by planting a tree or unveiling a plaque, but George IV took this to a new level when he came to Dublin. He arrived in Howth, according to contemporary reports, the worse for wear on 12th August 1821, his 59th birthday, having eaten too much goose pie and washing it down with plenty of Irish whiskey. He stumbled onto the quay and was assisted as a stonemason marked out his feet on the large granite block. Later, Robert Campbell cut out the exact marks, and you can still see the ‘royal feet’ at the end of the West Pier.
Sloping roof of the Round Room
Large crowds turned out to see and cheer the King along his journey into the city centre, at the head of two hundred carriages. It was the most popular royal visit as he took great pleasure in meeting local dignitaries and entertaining them and making many drinking toasts. It was the biggest occasion Dublin had seen since the Act of Union in 1800 which closed the Irish Parliament, leading to an exodus of many politicians and wealthy businessmen and landowners. Ahead of the visit a request was sent from London for those who wished to see the King should be dressed in clothes made in Dublin. This was a boon to local tailors and milliners who were suddenly busier than they been in years. And due to the number of people who were invited to meet the King the Round Room was constructed as an adjunct to The Mansion House because there was no room in the city big enough to cater for the crowd that attended.
King’s Bridge (Sean Heuston) today
Part of the reason for his popularity in Dublin was because he had previously married, illegally, Maria Fitzherbert, an Irishwoman and that he was close to the Dublin playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Daniel O’Connell, who was pushing for Catholic Emancipation welcomed the King, and after the visit organised a campaign to raise funds for a memorial. The money was subsequently used to construct a bridge across the Liffey near the Phoenix Park that came to be known as King’s Bridge (Sean Heuston Bridge), as was the neighbourhood.
Dun Laoghaire obelisk
He stayed in the Vice Regal Lodge (Aras an Uachtarain) in the Phoenix Park from where he attended races at The Curragh, a show at the Theatre Royal (now Hawkins House) and visited his mistress Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham, at her home in Slane Castle. He left from Dun Laoghaire on 3rd September, and a memorial in the form of an obelisk was subsequently erected opposite the point of his ship’s departure. Not long afterwards the town changed its name to Kingstown in his honour, and this remained until 1920 when it was changed to Dun Laoghaire.
Filed under Dublin, Ireland
Dublin Writers’ Museum
For a city that has given the world so much fine literature the Dublin Writers’ Museum tells a story through its collection of letters, books and personal possessions of many great writers. It was setup in 1991 and with an interesting, chronological layout it is easy to follow the development of Irish writing from the late 17th to Samuel Beckett who died in 1989.
The building, at 18 Parnell Square, dates back to 1780 when Lord Farnham was its first occupant. It changed hands a few times until George Jameson (of the Jameson distilling family) bought the house in 1891. Over the years he made major refurbishments, including the creation of the wonderful Gallery of Writers on the first floor.
Dracula – First Edition
In the first room you can find out about the beginnings of Irish poetry and storytelling with the emergence of Swift, Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan whose play The Rivals gave the world the word malapropism. There is a unique document with Jonathan Swift’s signature and a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And you can find out about Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu and the songs of Thomas Moore.
The second room concentrates of the works from the Irish Literary Revival at the end of the 19th century. The opening of the Abbey Theatre in 1904 was a pivotal moment with its productions of plays by playwrights WB Yeats, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey and there are many original programmes from the time. The signed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is worth the visit for any Joycean fan. There is plenty of interesting stuff to enjoy on Frank O’Connor and Sean O’Faolain, writers whose short stories elevated the art form. An original Cruiskeen Lawn column (from the Irish Times) by Brian O’Nolan (Myles na gCopaleen) was a delight.
Upstairs in the Gallery there are some fine portraits and glass cabinets with letters, papers and other personal items. The telephone that Samuel Beckett had in his Paris apartment that allowed him chose whether to speak to a caller or not is quirky. There is the piano that Joyce played regularly and the chair that GF Handel sat on when conducting Messiah at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street in 1642!
James Joyce’s piano
The museum is a popular visitor attraction and it’s easy to see why. It’s a wordy place.
Two for one is always good value, and the recent evening that I went to the Smock Alley Theatre was certainly that. The theatre was one of three built in 1662, two years after the Restoration of King Charles II. The others, in London, no longer exist, and Smock Alley became the first Theatre Royal in Ireland.
Smock Alley Theatre
Over the years it showcased the works of Oliver Goldsmith (She Stoops To Conquer) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals and School for Scandal, plays that are still part of the contemporary programme. Also, it was here that the greatest actor of the 18th century, David Garrick, first played Hamlet. It operated until the late 1780s when rivalry from newer theatres caused it to close down. It was used as a whiskey store for a number of years before being opened as a church in 1811. When the bell was rung it was the first Catholic bell heard in Dublin in almost 300 hundred years.
The church closed in 2002 and a full archaeological excavation was undertaken in 2009 that revealed part of the original foundations. The newly renovated theatre opened in May 2012 and it has become a popular and busy part of the city’s cultural life.
On the night I visited, John Connolly, the international best-selling author, was launching his new book The Wolf in Winter and being interviewed about his work by Tony Clayton-Lea (Irish Times). The Main Theatre was packed as he talked about his inspiration and the hard work required to ‘get the job done’. It was very interesting and food for thought for all the budding writers in attendance. Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Gutter Bookshop where a long queue of fans chatted as they waited to get their books signed. It was a very enjoyable evening, and although more than three centuries have passed since Smock Alley opened its doors it is still a vibrant part of Dublin’s artistic scene.
John Connolly (left) in interview