Ambulances which were sent to Spain were first blessed by members of the clergy in Dublin. This image from February 1937 shows the blessing of three ambulances.

Ambulances which were sent to Spain were first blessed by members of the clergy in Dublin. This image from February 1937 shows the blessing of three ambulances.

This article appeared in the last issue of Rabble. I have expanded on it here and included plenty of images.

If there was a monster under the bed for conservatives in 1930s Ireland, it was called communism. Among those to the right of the political spectrum, there existed a belief that Moscow was gaining more and more ground in international politics, and when coupled with the emergence of new left-wing organisations in Ireland like the Republican Congress and the rise of revolutionary forces in Spain, this was enough to spark a red scare.

Of the various anti-communist groups that emerged, the Irish Christian Front was undoubtedly the most significant. Not only did the group do its best to whip up anti-communist hysteria in Ireland, it openly championed fascist leader General Franco’s coup in Spain, by lobbying Irish political parties to recognise him as the legitimate leader of Spain, and by sending ambulances and other supplies from Ireland to the frontlines of the Spanish Civil War.

An October 1936 street meeting in Howth.

An October 1936 street meeting in Howth.

The Irish Christian Front first emerged in 1936, and in many ways was a more significant threat to the left in Irish society than organisations like it that had come before, such as the Saint Patrick’s Anti-Communist League. Crucially, the organisation was led by Patrick Belton, a veteran of the Easter Rising and a respected member of the Dáil. Irish Christian Front rallies were often addressed by members of parliament, including not only Fine Gael T.D’s but also representatives of Fianna Fáil, and even the Labour Party on occasion. Trade union bands were to found performing at some I.C.F rallies, perhaps eager to dissassociate themselves with communism.

The first meeting of the organisation took place at the Mansion House on 28 August, and was addressed by a certain Alfie Byrne. Known in the city as “the shaking hand of Dublin”, he was elected Lord Mayor nine times consecutively between 1930 and 1939. The new organisation was given strong support by the Irish Independent, who printed its manifesto after the inaugural meeting, which noted that “the Irish Christian Front has been founded by Irish working men and women to unmask Communism and to give a lead to Irish workers.”

Poster for a Rathmines meeting of the Irish Christian Front, via Irish Election Literature (www.irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com)

Poster for a Rathmines meeting of the Irish Christian Front, via Irish Election Literature (www.irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com)

Huge demonstrations followed the inaugural meeting. At College Green, nearly thirty thousand people mobilised on a cold October evening, and were told “we repudiate Communism as an alien importation, opposed to the religious, economic and political liberties of the Irish people.” At a meeting in Cork, reports on which were collected by Gardaí for security purposes, the Right Rev. Dean Sexton told a crowd that a “renegade Jewish gang in Russia” was seizing control of European society. This was a time when the radical left was unable to mobilise in any significant numbers on the streets without facing the risk of physical confrontation. In 1936, for example, there had been physical attacks on socialists partaking in an Easter commemoration at Glasnevin Cemetery. Jack White, a founding member of the Irish Citizen Army, recalled in the aftermath of this that “The pious hooligans actually came inside the cemetery and tore up the grave rails to attack us.”

When the first issue of the Irish Christian Front newspaper appeared, it didn’t hold back. It’s banner proclaimed that the organisation stood for “co-operation and not class war”, while the paper contained a highly alarmist article on the “red horrors” and “devilry” underway in Spain. It was reported that:

Where the Reds are in control there is murder, outrage and burnings. The Red horrors are so so far beyond description that it is no wonder that the Holy Father calls them ‘Satanic’. They are not the things that happen in any war. They are devilry. They are the climax of the campaign of devilry devised by Moscow, and carried out ever since the Republic was established. GOD SAVE CATHOLIC SPAIN.

Coverage of the Spanish Civil War in the Irish Independent. The paper labelled Franco's forces as "patriot forces" during the conflict.

Coverage of the Spanish Civil War in the Irish Independent. The paper labelled Franco’s forces as “patriot forces” during the conflict.

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If any readers haven’t yet taking the time to do it, I really recommend a walk around the Soldiers and Chiefs exhibition in the National Museumm of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The exhibition aims to tell the story of the Irish at war, from revolutionary movements at home like the United Irishmen of the 1790s to international conflicts such as the American Civil War. Centuries of history are presented here, with everyone from King William of Orange in the 1690s to B-Specials in the 1960s making an appearance!

Two Irish veterans of the International Brigade, Michael O'Riordan and Bob Doyle, with the banner now contained in the National Museum of Ireland (Image: AFA Ireland Facebook)

Two Irish veterans of the International Brigade, Michael O’Riordan and Bob Doyle, with the banner now contained in the National Museum of Ireland (Image: AFA Ireland Facebook)

One of my favourite items in the exhibition is a banner in honour of Irishmen who fought in the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. While the numbers of Irishmen who fought within these Brigades and in defence of the Spanish Republic are relatively small when compared to those who traveled to Spain from Ireland with Eoin O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade, the men who fought against fascism in Spain endured many losses on the battlefield, something which stands in sharp contrast with the experiences of O’Duffy and his men, who found themselves entangled in a fatal friendly fire incident soon after their arrival in Spain and who saw little fighting beyond it. Fearghal McGarry, a leading historian of the Irish dimensions of the war in Spain, has noted that:

The Irish Brigade was blighted by bitter infighting between O’Duffy and his officers while Franco was unimpressed by its lack of military expertise. The Brigade’s first battle in February 1937 was with another Nationalist battalion who mistook them for the enemy while their next (and final) action ended in failure when the Brigade’s officers mutinied, refusing an order to attack the well-defended village of Titulcia. Drunkenness and indiscipline added to these problems and the Brigade was disarmed and ordered out of Spain by Franco.

I was aware I had seen this banner before, but decided to dig a little and see what could be found out about it. The banner was first unveiled in Dublin in November 1938, at a time when the war in Spain was still ongoing. Molesworth Hall was the location for the unveiling of the banner, and the occasion was the two-year anniversary of the establishment of the International Brigades. The banner was described in The Irish Times as being “a memorial banner to the 44 Irish members of the International Brigade who were killed in Spain.”

A detailed image of the banner showing the vivid colours within it. Taken from Michael O'Riordan's book 'Connoly Column'.

A detailed image of the banner showing the vivid colours within it. Taken from Michael O’Riordan’s book ‘Connoly Column’.

The unveiling of the banner was performed by Father Michael O’Flanagan, a fascinating figure in the history of radical politics in Ireland, as he was one of very few Catholic priests willing to support the Spanish Republic. An outspoken leftist, O’Flanagan is sometimes remembered as “the Sinn Féin priest”, and his involvement with the Republican movement in Ireland stretched right back into the revolutionary period. Vice-President of Sinn Féin, Flanagan was invited to recite the invocation at the first meeting of the Dáil in 1919 at the Mansion House. He was vocal in his opposition to the Catholic Church support for General Franco’s coup in Spain, and while on a speaking tour of North America in defence of the Spanish Republic he made his feelings perfectly clear, noting that “when the Church tries to step outside of its own activity, which is to preach the gospel, it is very likely to do wrong.” Recently the British Pathe archive uploaded footage of Father O’Flanagan speaking in 1920 during the War of Independence period.

O’Flanagan stated at the unveiling of the banner that “those present that night were honouring themselves by coming to do honour to the members of the Irish unit of the international Brigade, becaue in doing so they required if not physical then moral courage.” He was adamant that the men who traveled to Spain to fight with the Brigades had saved the reputation of the country, stating that “they ought to congratulate themselves that there were some men in Ireland who had the intelligence to do the correct thing and the instinct to follow the best traditions of the Irish people to go to Spain and take part in the fighting in the international Brigades” While Father O’Flanagan spoke at the meeting, it was presided by Roddy Connolly, son of the executed 1916 leader James Connolly. Several returning members of the International Brigades were present too, one of whom, Terry O’Flanagan, reminded the crowd that Frank Ryan was now a prisoner of General Franco’s and that all efforts should be made to save his life. Two minutes of silence were observed at the meeting in honour of those who had died. Over two hundred people attended the meeting, which did not suffer from any of the jeering or physical confrontation that marred other left-wing meetings in the city during this period.

Roddy Connolly. who chaired the meeting at which the banner was unveiled, shown with V.I Lenin in Petrograd, 1920. (Via: https://www.facebook.com/IrishRepublicanMarxistHistoryProject/photos/pb.618026518228391.-2207520000.1418120818./849167988447575/?type=1&theater)

Roddy Connolly. who chaired the meeting at which the banner was unveiled, shown with V.I Lenin in Petrograd, 1920. (Via: https://www.facebook.com/IrishRepublicanMarxistHistoryProject/photos/pb.618026518228391.-2207520000.1418120818./849167988447575/?type=1&theater)

Manus O’Riordan, son of International Brigade fighter and lifelong communist activist Michael O’Riordan, has discussed the banner before at the National Museum of Ireland itself, and during a talk there in 2009 he told a crowd:

This Memorial Banner was painted at the back of Kelly’s shop in Dublin’s Amiens Street. It was executed by a group of art students led by Maurice Cogan, acting under the supervision and according to the design of the artistic daughter-of-the-house, Aida Kelly [1915-1979]. Aida’s husband, Maurice MacGonigal, would become an internationally acclaimed artist. Their son, Muiris Mac Conghail, became a renowned documentary film maker, while his son, Fiach Mac Conghail, is currently Director of the Abbey Theatre.

O’Riordan’s talk also gave great insight into just where the banner had been between its unveiling in 1938 and its display in the National Museum of Ireland:

It was my father who, on behalf of his fellow International Brigade veterans, had been custodian of that Banner since the 1940s, preserving it in James Connolly House. Its awkward size and vulnerability rendered it unsuitable for use in commemorative events. Instead, we use a smaller banner made by Jer O’Leary, which I have brought along to show you, and which suitably consists of the red, yellow and purple flag of the Spanish Republic, bearing the words – in Gaelic script – Connolly Column XV Brigada Internacional.

On the banner, the names of many of those who fell in Spain are visible, including UCD student and poet Charlie Donnelly and Tommy Wood, who we have previously looked at on the site. Wood was only seventeen at the time he gave his life in Spain, making him the youngest Irish fatality of the Spanish Civil War. Before leaving for Spain, he explained his logic for doing so in a letter to his mother. He told her “we are going out to fight for the working class. It is not a religious war, that is all propaganda. God Bless you.”

Image Credit: @ccferrie

Image Credit: @ccferrie

Recently I read a fascinating discussion on Twitter where people were debating some of the more controversial (shall we say) buildings in the city of Dublin. Hawkins House and the Central Bank naturally made an appearance in the discussion, but there was also reference to the O’Connell Bridge House beside (obviously enough) the O’Connell Bridge. I was unaware that the architect behind the project, Desmond Fitzgerald, had sketched two buildings in his original proposal for the site, and the Irish Architectural Archive posted a quick snap of his drawings. Architect Ciarán Ferrie put the image above together quickly to give us an idea just what it may have appeared like had Fitzgerald’s plans come to fruition.

Fitzgerald, who oversaw the construction of the contemporary building in the 1960s, was Professor of Architecture at University College Dublin since 1951, and had once remarked once that technology would have little relevance to architecture in Ireland, as “Ireland is a very backward country and most buildings that are required here can be built by a handyman, his son and a ladder.” Of his own work, his finest achievement was undoubtedly the 1937 airport terminal building at Dublin Airport, described by Archiseek as “the most important pre-war Irish building in the International Style.”

"The changing face of Dublin" - Trinity News printed this great image of the demolition of the Carlisle House building in 1961 (Image: www.trinitynewsarchive.ie)

“The changing face of Dublin” – Trinity News printed this great image of the demolition of the Carlisle House building in 1961 (Image: http://www.trinitynewsarchive.ie)

In his hugely important study The Destruction Of Dublin, Frank McDonald noted that O’Connell Bridge House, “twelve storeys high and bestriding the bridge like a colossus”, had a controversial beginning. The site on which the building stands today was purchased by Kerry-born property developer John Byrne, who would become one of the richest men in Ireland. Byrne purchased the Carlisle Building, which had stood at the site prior to the contemporary office block, for a relatively small sum, a total of just £53,000 spent by 1961 in acquiring one of the most prominent sites in the capital. Just how much did O’Connell Bridge House cost in material and financial terms? McDonald has written that the project

…consumed 500 tons of structural steel, 90 tons of steel-reinforcing bars and no less than 7,500 tons of concrete – not to mention the Portland stone cladding. It cost £1 million, kept more than fifty men at work for two whole years an, in the end, stood at 145 feet tall – eleven feet higher than Nelson Pillar. So much for that handyman, his son and ladder.

McDonald believed that “the most incredible fact about O’Connell Bridge house is that it was built at all.” The building contained 45,000 square feet of office space, but not a single car parking spot, despite the fact Dublin Corporation were adamant at the time that there be a carparking space for every 500 square feet of office space.

Irish Press report on the opening of the O'Connell Bridge Bulding

Irish Press report on the opening of the O’Connell Bridge Building

When O’Connell Bridge House opened to the public in the 1960s, contemporary newspaper reports noted that the office block included a rooftop restaurant offering views over the city. Evidently it was envisioned that the building would fulfill many roles, serving not merely as another office complex in the heart of the city. It is probably best known to Dubliners not for its ill-fated restaurant however but the hugely expensive advertising signage upon it. Having previously promoted both Guinness and Coca Cola, in recent years it has become synonymous with the Heineken advertising upon it. Not too long ago I heard two Dublin young lads standing at the traffic lights beside the building refer to it as “the Heineken building”, proof that advertising works.

A view of the Carlisle Bridge House as it appeared. It was ultimately replaced by the O'Connell Bridge House (Image: http://www.irishtimes.com/bridges-of-dublin-1.1554914)

A view of the Carlisle Bridge House as it appeared. It was ultimately replaced by the O’Connell Bridge House (Image: http://www.irishtimes.com/bridges-of-dublin-1.1554914)

Five Star Internet Cafe (Talbot Street)

Five Star Internet Cafe (Talbot Street) Image by Ciaran (CHTM)

Covered in graffiti, the Five Star Internet Cafe on Talbot Street is an interesting building to look at from outside. Inside it is taken over by computers, telephones and pool tables, which give no real hint of the former life of this building.

This building was once a church – a Welsh Presbyterian Church to be precise. The foundation stone of the church was laid in 1838, and as Howell Evans has written “its original intention was not for the Welsh in Dublin, but mainly for the Welsh visiting the city.” Its proximity to the docks of Dublin ensured that visiting Welsh seamen would avail of the church. A contemporary sailors magazine noted that  “In Dublin, English and Welsh seamen hear the Gospel preached to them several times a week, in their respective languages.” Another article in a sailors magazine noted that “the inhabitants  [of Dublin] are friends of seamen, as evinced by the lofty colum erected to the memory of Nelson, with its colossal statue of that hero on its summit, which stands in the centre of one of the finest streets in Europe.”

While very little has been written on this Dublin church, Einion Thomas has described how the background of the men who visited the church greatly influenced customs within it:

The gallery was called the ‘Quarter‑Deck’ and only sailors were allowed to sit there. On the ground floor (or the ‘Main Deck’ as it was called) the men sat on the ‘starboard side’ (the right) and the women on the ‘port side’ (the left). It also included some surprising accessories such as spittoons near some of the men’s seats and in the early years smoking was permitted!

The church attracted some Irish language advocates owing to the fact services were conducted in Welsh, and Thomas has noted that Ernest Blythe was one such visitor. Blythe was born into a Presbyterian and Unionist family near Lisburn, and over the course of a long and colourful political career he would later become a key figure in the Army Comrades Association, or Blueshirt movement. Of the Welsh church he remembered:

When I joined the Gaelic League and began to learn Irish, one of my fellow members told me, almost with bated breath, that the Welsh community in Dublin had its own church in which services were conducted in Welsh. I went there one Sunday morning to revel in the sound of a language closely related to Irish.

In June 1944, the Irish Independent (nowadays located just across the street from the church) reported that “a regrettable break in the few remaining links binding the Irish people with their fellow Celts, the Welsh, will follow on the closing down of the Welsh Church, Talbot Street. This church, the only one of its kind in the country, will be offered for sale on June 20.” The paper noted that the last Minister in the church was Rev. John Lewis, who was Minister from 1894 to 1934, serving forty years. The report gives the impression that the building had been scarcely in the period between that and the publication of the paper.

What became of the building between church and internet cafe? For many years it served as a shoe shop, operating under the name Griffiths. A ‘ghost sign’ remains today in the form of the tiling leading into the internet cafe which still says Griffiths.

Griffiths Shoes (Image; Dublin City Public Libraries, http://dublincitypubliclibraries.com/content/091-griffiths-shoes )

Griffiths Shoes (Image; Dublin City Public Libraries, http://dublincitypubliclibraries.com/content/091-griffiths-shoes )

In March 2013, Colette Kinsella put together a short but fascinating audio report on the church which can be played here. Einion Thomas’ interesting article is here.

Earlier on tonight I joined Ciarán Deeney and Myles Dungan on RTE’s ‘The History Show’ to discuss the brilliant ‘Man on Bridge’ product which Ciarán has been working on. The ‘Arthur Fields: Man On Bridge’ project celebrates the work and output of Arthur Fields, the street photographer who spent decades photographing Dubliners and visitors to Dublin on the O’Connell Bridge and O’Connell Street. I’m something of an O’Connell Street anorak now giving the book on Nelson’s Pillar earlier in the year it would seem!

The discussion can be heard here, and it was the first item on the show.

Arthur Fields standing on O'Connell Bridge with the Nelson Pillar visible in the background.

Arthur Fields standing on O’Connell Bridge with the Nelson Pillar visible in the background.

A documentary examining Fields and his work will air on RTE television over the Christmas season, but if you’re interested in Arthur Fields and the history of street photography in Dublin check out the exhibition currently running in the Gallery of Photography, Temple Bar. The exhibiton sees images taken by Arthur between the 1930s and 80s displayed.

Arthur Fields exhibiton in the Gallery of Photography (Image: Arthur Fields: Man on Bridge page)

Arthur Fields exhibiton in the Gallery of Photography (Image: Arthur Fields: Man on Bridge page)

Me Jewel And Darlin' Dublin (1874, O'Brien Press)

Me Jewel And Darlin’ Dublin (1974, O’Brien Press)

With the cinema release and hugely popular RTE screening of documentary ‘One Million Dubliners’, which tells the story of Glasnevin Cemetery, there has been very considerable media coverage of both the cemetery and its late resident historian, Shane MacThomáis. One of the most moving moments of the documentary focuses on Shane’s father, Eamonn MacThomáis, the well-known historian and television presenter. Eamonn is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery right beside Frank Ryan, fitting as both men were editors of republican newspaper An Phoblacht.

While Ryan contended with state repression of the newspaper in the 1930s, MacThomáis was himself jailed for his editing of the publication in the 1970s, which raised considerable controversy at the time, and led to a debate on the rights of journalists in political spheres. MacThomáis had transformed the Sinn Féin newspaper having assumed editorial duties in October 1972, not long after the publication took up residence in 44 Parnell Square. The paper became a weekly from March 1973, and boasted a circulation of 40,000 copies per issue.While imprisoned for his editing of the newspaper, he would produce ‘Me Jewel and Darlin’ Dublin’, a classic work of Dublin folklore and history.

A 1988 image of Eamonn MacThomáis, then a well-known tour guide and writer in the city, clutching the ceremonial mace of the Old Irish House of Lords!

A 1988 image of Eamonn MacThomáis, then a well-known tour guide and writer in the city, clutching the ceremonial mace of the Old Irish House of Lords!

In July 1973, following Garda raids on the Sinn Féin premises at 44 Parnell Square, MacThomás was arrested at home in Ballymun and charged with being a member of the IRA. A newspaper report from the time noted that  “when asked if he was seeking bail, MacThomáis said he refused to recognise the court. The only thing he did recognise was that the court in which he now found himself was the same court in the Sheares Brothers, Robert Emmet, O’Donovan Rossa, the Invincibles, Sean MacStiofain and Joe Cahill had been convicted. If it was a court of justice, let justice be done.”

The evidence to try MacThomáis included the fact he has taken part in a press conference on 13 July 1973, where leading members of the Provisional IRA were present to launch a pamphlet which claimed that the organisation was in a strong fighting position in the North and not crippled as some were claiming. Among those who spoke at the press conference was Seamus Twomey, who would later escape from Mountjoy Prison by helicopter in October 1973. An image of MacThomáis speaking at this press conference, which appeared in the Irish Press, was produced in court. While the Special Criminal Court felt that the caption and article in the Irish Press were not strong enough to “prove the guilt of the accused”, the evidence of a Garda Chief Superintendent, and MacThomaís’ own address from the dock in which he did not deny the charges before him, were deemed enough to convict him to 15 months imprisonment. In the courts, there was some jeering of the Judge from the public gallery, leading to men being hauled before him by Gardaí and being given the option of either apologising for their behavior or accepting fines!

Kevin Barry Hall, 44 Parnell Square. This is the premises that was raided by Gardaí. (Image: Archiseek)

Kevin Barry Memorial Hall, 44 Parnell Square, shown on the right. This is the premises that was raided by Gardaí. (Image: Archiseek)

The responses from journalists in Ireland varied, with some calling for immediate condemnation of the arrest and conviction of the editor of a publication. The journalist Seamus O’Kelly was one of the most vocal, writing to the Irish Press that:

The State had again interfered with the right of a journalist to put forward the editorial policy of the paper of which he is the editor….. It is time for all members of the profession to stand up and be counted, if we are not to become the slaves of any political hack who dares to tell us how to carry out our duties as members of the Fourth Estate.

In prison, MacThomáis would begin work on his study of Dublin, which would become the first book to carry the O’Brien Press imprint. In a letter to Tom O’Brien, founder of the O’Brien Press and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, MacThomáis joked that “James Joyce locked himself in the tower at Sandycove for twelve months to write his book – I don’t see much difference between the tower and Mountjoy.” O’Brien was eager to bring MacThomáis book to the public, telling him in his first letter to the imprisoned writer that “I can see it now. I can feel it now. It’s a book that will live forever. People won’t want to read it, they’ll be satisfied just to read the chapter titles.” The book was collected from Mountjoy Prison by Michael O’Brien, son of Tom, who recalled twenty years later that “I collected the book, hand-written in a series of ‘ledgers’ when I visited Eamonn in the ‘Joy’ – what a start to a publishing career!” Having served his time for his 1973 conviction,MacThomáis was again jailed for fifteen months in October 1974, after less than two weeks out of prison, this time for possession of IRA documents. On this occasion he was sent to Portlaoise, which ensured he would miss his own book launch. In his absence, the book was launched by his wife Rosaleen in The Stag’s Head on 15 November 1974. It became an instant success, despite the refusal of one major distributor to supply the work owing to MacThomáis’ conviction. Hundreds of copies flew off the shelves of the O’Connell Street Easons in days.

Irish Times report from October 1974, detailing the trial of MacThomáis.

Irish Times report from October 1974, detailing the trial of MacThomáis.

An interesting dimension of the story regarding the documents that were in Eamonn’s possession comes from Osgur Breathnach, whose father Deasún was working as a sub-editor and journalist at the time.

In the mid seventies, in the war years, Eamonn was the part-time editor of An Phoblacht, the official organ of Sinn Féin. My father, Deasún, a journalistic contributor, was a sub-editor in the Irish Independent, an Irish national daily newspaper.

Once a month Deasún received by post a copy of a monthly litany of all the press releases issued by the IRA. Nothing unusual in that as all Irish and some international media, foreign embassies and many journalists also received the same document.

My father handed his copy to Eamonn, who unfortunately was stopped shortly thereafter by the Special Branch, searched and arrested The document was used as evidence against Eamonn to sustain a charge of Irish Republican Army membership.

In the Special Criminal Court, which sits without a jury, Eamonn refused to recognise the authority of the court, as was the want of many republicans at the time.

My father, Deasún, wrote to the court explaining his original possession of the document, how he had received it and that he had handed it to Eamonn and that it could not, therefore, constitute proof of IRA membership.

The Dublin Branch of the National Union of Journalists at first voted by 50 votes to 37 not to offer support to MacThomáis during his imprisonment, though MacThomáis himself held membership of the NUJ. Niall Connolly, chairman of the Dublin Branch, complained that “I attempted to visit this journalist in Portlaoise Prison while he was on remand. The governor of the prison refused me permission to visit Mr. MacThomáis. No reason for the refusal was given.”Reviews of his book were hugely favourable, with the Irish Press going as far as to say “Only James Joyce and Flann O’Brien have caught the mood of Dublin as well as Eamonn MacThomáis.” When MacThomáis was granted parole to visit his wife in hospital, the media noted that “MacThomáis, author of the current best-selling non-fiction book in the country, Me Jewel and Darlin’ Dublin, is due to return to Portlaoise next Saturday morning.”

The book detailed Dublin characters like the nineteenth century street poet Zozimus, places of interest like the Liberties and detailed old customs and trades in the city. He detailed great Dublin stories with great Dublin wit, ensuring that the book would go on to see a remarkable ten reprints.

Eamonn MacThomáis signing copies of a later book in Easons (Image from the Facebook page Eamonn Mac Thomais, A legendary Dubliner)

Eamonn MacThomáis signing copies of a later book in Easons (Image from the Facebook page Eamonn Mac Thomais, A legendary Dubliner)

Following his release from prison, MacThomáis went on to produce a number of further works on the city of Dublin. His next release was ‘Gur Cake & Coal Blocks’ in 1976. Despite the controversies that surrounded him as editor of An Phoblacht, he became a hugely popular figure in the city of Dublin, with his walking tours of the city becoming legendary. He was frequently to be found also in the Bank of Ireland on College Green, showing visitors around the Old Irish House of Lords. In tribute to him, his picture is displayed in the eighteenth century parliament today, which is open to visitors. Much of his televised output is today available on YouTube, for example this episode of his popular ‘Dublin: A Personal View’ which examined the Liberties. He died in 2002 Speaking of his funeral, his son Shane recalled that “lollypop women stood beside Trinity professors, while balladeers and newsreaders looked at each other’s shoes.”

‘Me Jewel And Darlin’ Dublin’ remains a classic study of the city of Dublin, written in the most unusual of circumstances.

Tailors Hall, Back Lane (Image: Paul Reynolds)

Tailors Hall, Back Lane (Image: Paul Reynolds)

Tailors Hall at Back Lane in the Liberties is an often overlooked building of great importance in the heart of the city. For over 300 years it has served as an important place for meetings and assemblies in the city. It was constructed between 1703 and 1709 by the builder Richard Mills, and Robin Usher has written that “a bust of George III was placed over the external doorcase in 1771.”

In  the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a variety of such guild halls could be found in the city, for example not far from Tailors Hall was the Weavers Hall in the Coombe. Tailors Hall became known as the ‘Back Lane Parliament’ in the 1790s when those seeking improved rights for the Catholic majority in Ireland met here in 1792. It would also become a popular meeting spot for the Society of United Irishmen in the city. Despite its important history, the building was allowed fall into disrepair, as was sadly too often the case in Dublin. In a 1983 article in The Irish Times,  campaigners stated that:

For well over a year now, Tailors Hall has stood empty, cold, damp and open to the elements, the windows open, doors broken and with many break ins. It is a sitting target for anyone who wished to burn it down and for those who wish to vandalise it.

Today, it is home to An Taisce, and the guild hall is open to the public.

Tailors Hall in the 1970s, image from An Taisce (www.antaisce.org)

Tailors Hall in the 1970s, image from An Taisce (www.antaisce.org)

A brilliant account of attending a meeting of the United Irishmen at Back Lane was published in the book Sketches of Ireland Sixty Years Ago, from 1847. In it a student of Trinity College Dublin talked about watching a meeting of the society at first hand, and below we have republished the account. His descriptions of some of the people present are brilliantly colourful.

Image Credit:  James Napper Tandy, from National Portrait Gallery http://www.npg.org.uk/

Image Credit: James Napper Tandy, from National Portrait Gallery http://www.npg.org.uk/

I entered college in the year 1791, a year rendered memorable by the institution of the society of the United Irishmen. They held their meetings in an obscure passage called Back Lane, leading from Corn Market to Nicholas Street. The very aspect of the place seemed to render it adapted for cherishing a conspiracy. It was in the locality where the tailors, skinners, and curriers held their guilds, and was the region of the operative democracy.

I one evening proceeded from college, and found out Back Lane, and having inquired for the place of meeting, a house was pointed out to me, that had been the hall in which the corporation of tailors held their assemblies. I walked in without hesitation, no one forbidding me, and found the society in full debate, the Hon. Simon Butler in the chair. I saw there, for the first time, the men with the three names, which were now become so familiar to the people of Dublin: Theobald Wolfe Tone, James Napper Tandy, and Archibald Hamilton Rowan.

The first was a slight, effeminate-looking man, with a hatchet face, a long aquiline nose, rather handsome and genteel-looking, with lank, straight hair combed down on his sickly red cheek, exhibiting a face the most insignificant and mindless that could be imagined. His mode of speaking was in correspondence with his face and person. It was polite and gentlemanly, but totally devoid of any thing like energy or vigour. I set him down as a worthy, good-natured, flimsy man, in whom there was no harm, and as the least likely person in the world to do mischief to the state.

Tandy was the very opposite looking character. He was the ugliest man I ever gazed on. He had a dark, yellow, truculent-looking countenance, a long drooping nose, rather sharpened at the point, and the muscles of his face formed two cords at each side of it. He had a remarkable hanging-down look, and an occasional twitching or conclusive motion of his nose and mouth, as if he was snapping at something on the side of him while he was speaking.

Not so Hamilton Rowan. I thought him not only the most handsome, but the largest man I had ever seen. Tone and Tandy looked like pigmies beside him.His ample and capacious forehead seemed the seat of thought and energy; while with such an external to make him feared, he had a courtesy of manner that excited love and confidence. He held in his hand a large stick, and was accompanied by a large dog.

I had not been long standing on the floor, looking at and absorbed in the persons about me, when I was perceived, and a whisper ran round the room. Some one went up to the president, then turned round, and pointed to me. The president immediately rose, and called out that there was a stranger in the room. Two members advanced, and taking me under the arm, led me up to the president’s chair, and there I stood to await the penalty of my unauthorized intrusion. I underwent an examination ; and it was evident, from the questions, that my entrance was not accredited, but that I was suspected as a government spy. The ” battalion of testimony,” as it was called, was already formed, and I was supposed to be one of the corps. I, however, gave a full and true account of myself, which was fortunately confirmed by a member who knew something about me, and was ultimately pronounced a harmless ” gib” and admitted to the honour of the sitting.


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