Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category

Gang violence has featured on Come Here To Me before; with the Pinking Dindies, the Liberty Boys and the Ormond Boys of the 18th century, through the various fracas’ of the Animal Gangs and on to the Black Catholics in the 1970’s and 80’s and onwards all making an appearance. Dublin has always had its fair share of troublesome groups and there’s always plenty to write about them.

One event we haven’t yet covered that jumped out at me recently while reading John Edward Walsh’s “Rakes and Ruffians,” was a three day riot involving both the Liberty Boys and the Ormond Boys which brought Dublin to a standstill in mid- May, 1790. Accounts of Dublin from the late 18th/ early 19th century are rarely without mention of the two groups whose infamy is still regarded to this day. Injuries, maimings and deaths are all purported to have taken place in this encounter, making it one of their bloodiest.

According to J.D Herbert’s Irish Varieties, for the Last Fifty Years: Written from Recollections, the Ormond Boys were the “assistants and carriers from slaughter-houses, joined by cattle drivers from Smithfield, stable-boys, helpers, porters, and idle drunken vagabonds in the neighbourhood of Ormond Quay,” whilst the Liberty Boys were, “a set of lawless desperadoes, residing in the opposite side of the town, called the Liberty. Those were of a different breed, being chiefly unfortunate weavers without employment, some were habitual and wilful idlers, slow to labour, but quick at riot and uproar.”

Weaver’s Square, home of the Liberty Boys, from John Roque’s map of 1754. Taken from http://irishhistoricaltextiles.files.wordpress.com

The Liberty Boys notoriety spread further than Dublin, and references to them can be found in several newspaper articles from across the water, including one in the Leeds Mercury from January 1867 which refers to them as French Huguenots who have “degenerated physically.” “They are the Liberty Boys of Dublin, the dwellers in ‘The Coombe,’ or hollow sloping down to the river, famous for their lawlessness, their strikes, and their manufactures of poplin and tabbinet. They do not seem at all favourable specimens of humanity as you watch them leaning out of windows in the tall, gaunt, filthy, tumble down houses around and beyond St. Patrick’s.”

The hostility between the two gangs often led to full scale riots between upwards of 1, 000 men and these occurred several times a year, but especially in the run up to the Mayday festival. The city would be brought to a standstill, with businesses closing, the watchmen looking on in terror, as battles raged for the possession of the bridges over the Liffey. Walsh’s book reports the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Emerson as saying “it was as much as his life was worth to go among them” regarding such riots.

Essex Bridge and Ormond Quay, where the main battles took place.

The battle this piece refers to though began on May 11th 1790 and lasted several days. The riot coincided with an election in the city, although an opinion piece in the Freeman’s Journal on the Thursday of that week described the violence as wanton, saying:

“The situation of the capital on Wednesday night was dreadful in the extreme; it was shocking to civilisation, for outrage was openly and without disguise directed against the civil protection of the city. On other occasions, grievance, from sickness of trade, from injury by exportation of foreign commodities, from the high price of provision and the low rate of labour, grievances from the want of employ and a variety of other causes were usually alleged for the risings of the people, but on the present occasion, no grievance exists, and the fomenters of disorder are without such a pretension. “Down with the police” is the cry and demolish the protection of the city is the pursuit.”

“In different parts of the town, prodigious mobs of people were assembled and the avowed purpose of their tumultuous rising was declared in the vehemence of their execrations against the police. “Down with the police, five pounds for a police man’s head.” They were the shouts which filled the streets.”

“In Mary Street, no passenger could escape the shower of brick bats and paving stones intended for the police. In St. Andrew’s Street, the scene was if possible more dreadful, for the mob not content in driving the Police watchman before them proceeded to pull down the watch house in which he took refuge. .. (The Men) were obliged to fire and three of the rioters fell.”

The riot only came to a conclusion on the Thursday due to military intervention, when a “party of men on horse dispersed the rioters and stood guard for the remainder of the night which prevented more bloodshed and massacre…. The blood of the unfortunate wretches who met their unhappy fate rests at the door of those few incendiaries who stimulated by their playful insignias unthinking persons to destruction.” And people think Love Ulster was bad!

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The Stoneybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project are doing wonderful work in Dublin 7 promoting both the history of the area and broader Dublin history.  After many months of planning and fundraising, they have now announced their ‘Street Stories Festival’ for September. The Facebook page is here.




Running over a full weekend, there will be talks, gigs, walking tours and more from September 26 to 28. The Friday night event,  with the photographer David Jazay,  should appeal to many. His great pictures of Dublin in the 1980s and 90s include many shots of Dublin 7, an area which has changed greatly in recent times:


The event will kick off on Friday night with a talk by David Jazay on his photographic story of inner city Dublin in the 1980s and ’90shttp://davidjazay.com/?page_id=2. This will be followed by a music session in the Cobblestone.

On Saturday we have talks throughout the day on a wide range of subjects from the Mother and Baby homes, to Dublin in World War I, from Life in Medieval Smithfield to the Massacre in North King Street during the 1916 Rising and lots more.

Saturday night will see Dublin’s favourite ska/reggae band The Bionic Rats rocking the Back Room of the Cobblestone, after which we will keep the dancing going with some guest DJs.

Sunday will be a relaxed day of walking tours and film showings.


On Good Friday I did a fundraising walking tour of Smithfield and the area around it for this festival. There have since been other walking tours examining women’s history in revolutionary Ireland and the 1798 connections of Dublin 7 and its environs. John Gibney of History Ireland, and author of an excellent biography of 1916 leader Sean Heuston, will be giving a walking tour on  August 9th for this good cause:




(Apologies for the lack of updates of late, these are busy times!)

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Plaque at Glasnevin Cemetery.

Plaque at Glasnevin Cemetery.

A new plaque to Shane MacThomais was unveiled yesterday at Glasnevin Cemetery. Shane was the resident historian of the cemetery for many years, and the author of an excellent history of the important site,  Glasnevin: Ireland’s Necropolis.   A  documentary about the cemetery, entitled One Million Dubliners , recently won the Best Irish Feature Documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh, and thankfully it will be airing in a number of Dublin cinemas later in the year. The plaque will be placed just inside the main entrance to the Cemetery opposite the museum.

This recent video captures Glasnevin  using a drone camera, giving some beautiful views over the historic site and should be all tne encouragement any reader who hasn’t yet visited the cemetery will need to make the trip:


One thing the  new documentary explores is the manner in which certain graves attract huge attention, in particular the final resting place of Michael Collins. Some others are almost hidden away.  Shane once remarked to my father that Ernie O’Malley’s grave was one that fell into the later category, rarely attracting the attention  of visitors. O’Malley’s huge contribution to the revolutionary period in Ireland is like something from a Hollywood blockbuster at times, and his fantastic memoirs of the period, in particular On Another Man’s Wound, played no small part in developing my love of Ireland’s history. We thought that perhaps the best tribute to Shane would be to leave flowers on Ernie’s grave yesterday.




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Article on 'Grille' from Trinity News (31 October 1968)

Article on ‘Grille’ from Trinity News (31 October 1968)

On the 27th of August 1968, a group of left-wing Christians were attacked and harassed by local parishioners in St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row after they attempted to hold a public prayer meeting.

The meeting, organised by the Irish Christian Socialist magazine ‘Grille’, was attended by around forty-five people including my uncle Michael and my granny. The first issue of this magazine was launched the previous month and had sold 1,000 copies. It was produced by a nine member editorial board made up of John Feeney (Secretary), John Byrne (Co-Ordinator), William Ledwich, Aoife Kearney, Erwin Struntz and four others.

Grille pray in  (Indo, 26 Aug 1968. 3jpeg

A parishioner questions activists from ‘Grille’ while they read from the Bible. Credit – Irish Independent, 26 August 1968

The meeting was held to draw attention to the fact that ‘much publicity’ had been given ‘to the advice of right-wing Catholics on the birth control issue.’ The Christian Socialists hoped to add their voice to the debate and help correct ‘the imbalance of this situation.’

They were not granted permission to use the church nor did they ask for it as they felt all practising Catholics were already part owners of all churches.

After gathering in a side alcove, a member of the group opened the proceeding with The Lords Prayer and then read from the Gospel According to St. Matthew. At this point, a man jostled him and knocked the bible out of his hand. A woman, who later transpired to be the aggressors wife, tried to calm the situation telling her husband ‘You’re making a show of yourself. Let them go on with it. It’ll all fizzle out’.

Grille pray in (Aug 26, 1968 IT)

Two middle-aged parishioners look menacingly at one Bible-reading ‘Grille’ radical. Credit – The Irish Times, 26 August 1968

Meanwhile a group of ten men, moved in on the ‘Grille’ group pushing them about, throwing punches and pulling women’s headscarves off their heads. Activist John Byrne was punched in the mouth as he was singing a hymn.

The mob bombarded the young Christian radicals with questions: ‘Are you Irish? Are you Catholic? Are you from this parish? Are you a communist?’

A certain Francis Mayer from Ringsend told an Irish Times journalist:

If this happened in our parish, we’d get them by the scruff of the neck and throw them out. Look at their faces; they’re not Irishmen at all. They’re a pack of foreigners

Grille pray in  (Indo, 26 Aug 1968

Scuffles break out at the ‘Grille’ pray-in. Credit – The Irish Independent, 26 August 1968


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Image Credit: William Murphy (Flickr. http://tinyurl.com/nmnkpeb, under Creative Commons)

Image Credit: William Murphy (Flickr. Many more images of Dublin:  http://tinyurl.com/nmnkpeb,  Creative Commons copyright)

Given the never-ending controversies that came with his O’Connell Street column, many Dubliners may be surprised to hear there is a Nelson Street in the city today, named in honour of Horatio Nelson. Located in Dublin 7 in the north inner-city, I walk by it on an almost daily basis, though Sráid Nelson didn’t catch my eye for quite some time.

The renaming of streets in the Irish capital was already long underway by the time Irish independence was achieved in 1922, with an increasingly nationalist Dublin Corporation from the late nineteenth century onwards attempting to reflect nationalist history on the streets of the city. A 1921 ‘Report of the Paving Committee’, contained within the minute books of Dublin Corporation, advocated the following changes among others:

That Capel Street be renamed Silken Thomas Street.

That Beresford Place, home of trade union headquarters Liberty Hall, be renamed Connolly Place.

That Gardiner Place and Row be renamed Thomas Ashe Street.

Some suggested street name changes put before the Corporation at the time were accepted, for example renaming Great Brunswick Street to Pearse Street.

Certainly, the issue of renaming particular streets and locations in Dublin continues to pop up to this very day. In recent years some have advocated for example that the quays be renamed after Irish writers, something that was proposed by Gay Mitchell in 2006. This was something Mitchell had first proposed in 1991, and speaking in support of the plan at the time, Tony Gregory remarked “I feel that most Irish people have a pride in their own cultural heritage and very few would have any great interest in the old imperial legacy of Wellington and Essex. I don’t think Burgh Quay is named after Chris de Burgh!”

While the Corporation has proven quite willing to rename streets historically, a few interesting ones like Nelson have survived long into the days of independence.

Nassau Street. Its historic blue street marking is still visible under the contemporary sign. (Image: smirkybec, www.wikipedia.org, Creative Commons)

Nassau Street. Its historic blue street marking is still visible under the contemporary sign. (Image: smirkybec, http://www.wikipedia.org, Creative Commons)

That Nassau Street managed to retain it’s name is surprising, as the street was only thus named in the eighteenth century, after the coming to power of King William of Orange, who belonged to the House of Orange-Nassau. J.T Gilbert in his classic history of Dublin wrote that in the eighteenth century a life-sized bust of King William III was to be found on this street.

Very oddly, the Irish language name for this street has appeared as both Sráid Nassau and Sráid Thobar Phadraig,  with the later reflecting the streets historical name of St.Patrick’s Well Street, after a 12th century well found there.  It’s unusual that both names have appeared in street signage historically, and indeed at the very same time on different ends of the street!

One family who are more than honoured in Dublin are the Wellesley’s, and in particular Arthur Wellesley, better known as the Duke of Wellington. Wellesley Place, Wellington Road,  and Waterloo Road, after the Battle of Waterloo, all reflect the contribution of this family to history.  While Dublin folklore suggests Wellington remarked “being born in a stable does not make one a horse”,  nowhere on record did he actually make this remark, so perhaps he would actually approve of streets named in honour of him and his family in this city!

It is likely that sheer familiarity alone prevented many streets in the city from being renamed, for example Talbot Street, named in honour of  a former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the third Earl of Talbot Charles Chetwynd. We’ve previously looked at the movement to rename this street in the 1940s after Irish republican Sean Treacy,  a campaign which led to a sustained campaign of flypostering the proposed name over the streetsigns in the area and interruptions of Corporation meetings.

On November 1st 1943, members of the Ailtirí na hÁiseirghe  organisation created uproar at a meeting of Dublin Corporation, by shouting from the public galleries while the Corporation was sitting. At the time of the interruptions, the Corporation was discussing the planned removal of Queen Victoria’s statue from Leinster House. One man rose and shouted: “Get rid of all the symbols of slavery in the streets! We demand that Talbot Street be renamed Sean Treacy street. Young Ireland is awakening.”

Often we walk down our streets without knowing who or what their names commemorate,  but in a city with such a troubled relationship historically with monuments and statues – it’s interesting that our British past is still often commemorated in the street names around us. Something to think about as you walk down Horatio Nelson’s street.

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Ballsbridge IRA memorial. Credit - Sam

Front view of the Ballsbridge IRA memorial. Credit – Sam (CHTM!)

A stones throw away from a US Embassy is an odd location for a memorial to a revolutionary guerrilla army.

But this is the case for the plaque and celtic cross at the corner of Herbert Park and Clyde Road in Ballsbridge dedicated to the memory of the officers and men of the IRA’s Third Battalion Dublin Brigade.

Significance and context

On the 13th of May 1973, in one of his last public appearances in office, President Eamon De Valera unveiled the IRA memorial in front of a crowd of several hundred. A little over a month later, and at the grand age of 90, De Valera retired from political office.. Commandment of the Third Battalion in the lead up to and during Easter Week 1916, De Valera died in the Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock on 29 August 1975 aged 92.

During the 1916 Rising, the Battalion saw action at nearby Boland’s Bakery on Grand Canal Street, Haddington Road Railway Bridge, Clanwilliam House on the north side of Mount Street Bridge, St. Stephen’s School and the Parochial Hall on the south side of bridge and No. 25 Northumberland Road. After their surrender, De Valera and his men (infamously he allowed no members of Cumann na mBan to serve with him) were held in horse-boxes in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) just a few minutes from the present day memorial.

The main focus of the Third Battalion during the post-Rising revolutionary period was the area around Northumberland Road, Mount Street Bridge,  Pearse Street, Bolands Mills, Dame Street and the district known as the Dardanelles, including Aungier Street and Wexford Street.

IRA veterans march in formation to the memorial unveiling. Credit - Irish Independent (14 May 1973)

IRA veterans march in formation to the memorial unveiling. Credit – Irish Independent (14 May 1973)

The timing of the unveiling is obviously significant. It took place during the height of the conflict in the Six Counties – in the shadow of 1972, the bloodiest year of the ‘Troubles’ in which nearly 500 people lost their lives.

A memorial to the IRA, unveiled by the President of Ireland, during the summer of 1973 has serious implications. On the day of the ceremony, two members of a British Army foot patrol were killed when a remote controlled bomb hidden in a disused factory was detonated by the IRA on the Donegall Road, West Belfast. While in The Diamond, near Coagh, County Tyrone,an IRA member was shot dead as he drove through an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) check point.

Broe Family

The memorial was fashioned by sculptor Dermot Broe. A second generation sculptor, his father Leo Broe (1899–1966) was an IRA veteran who saw active service in the Camden Street area with C Company, 3rd Battalion I.R.A during the Tan War. A well-known monumental sculptor and artist, he was responsible for many IRA monuments including the sixteen foot Phibsborogh Volunteer opposite the Library on the North Circular Road unveiled in 1939.

Another sculptor son Desmond, who died suddenly in 1968, was responsible for the commemorative plaque over the birthplace of Patrick and Willie Pearse at 27 Pearse Street (known as Great Brunswick Street until 1924) and the Kevin Barry memorial in Rathvilly, Carlow (unveiled in 1958).

Plaque outside 27 Pearse Street. Credit - michael7000.files.wordpress.com

Plaque outside 27 Pearse Street fashioned by Desmond Broe. Credit – michael7000.files.wordpress.com

Daughter Irene (1923 – 1992), another sculptor, produced busts to Donogh O’Malley and the Masalsyian prime minister Abdul Rahman.

Memorial and unveiling

On 13 May 1974 De Valera, in heavy rain, first inspected the guard of honour which was drawn from the Second Battalion, Cathal Brugha Barracks and the Eastern Command Training Depot under commander Captain Peter Archibald.

Accompanied by Colonel Sean Brennan. his senior aide-decamp, he was then escorted to seats beside the memorial, which was set in a railed area off the pavement and surrounded by tulips and other flowers in the adjoining private gardens.

Liam Kavanagh, who served as a volunteer in Bolands Mill in 1916, gave a brief address to the crowd. He paid tribute to the “courage, endurance and devotion to duty of deceased members, some of whom died in action, others from imprisonment, and other hardships and some on the scaffold.”

The Army Number One Band then played the Last Post as a small group of veterans of his the Brigade saluted their dead comrades. Later De Valera inspected the memorial with Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Leo Kelly, secretary and treasurer of the Old Dublin Brigade. Finally, the cross was blessed by the chaplain of the Old Dublin Brigade, Fr. Tom Walsh, O.P.

Eamon De Valera formally unveils the memorial. Credit - Irish Press (14 May 1973)

Eamon De Valera inspects the memorial. Credit – Irish Press (14 May 1973)

The memorial has been diligently described by Michael Pegum as a:

“Stone Celtic cross on oblong plinth. Plinth width 69cms, depth 48cms. Total height approx 240cms. A black marble panel on the base of the cross records the unveiling. Behind the cross are three black marble slabs with inscriptions in Irish and English. Height 99cms, width of each side panel 95cms.”

Interestingly it is dedicated to men of the 3rd Battalion who ‘died for Ireland in 1916 and since’. This is interesting wording as it encompasses members of the battalion who fought and died in the Tan War, Civil War and possibly in later military action.

Ballsbridge 2. Credit - Sam

The text of the Ballsbridge IRA memorial. Credit – Sam (CHTM!)

The Embassy of the United States in Dublin (to give it its full title) was constructed between 1962 and 1964 on a triangular site at the intersection between Elgin Road and Pembroke Road.

So at the time of the IRA memorial unveiling, they had been there for a decade while the nearby British embassy was opened just six months afterwards.

The British Embassy has been based at 29 Merrion Road, Ballsbridge since December 1974. They were forced to relocate after their previous premises, 39 Merrion Square, was besieged for three days and attacked for 24 hours by thousands of people in response to the Bloody Sunday murders in Derry on 30 January 1972.

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West Pier, Howth.

West Pier, Howth.

One thing I’ve wanted to see with my own eyes for a long time are the footprints of King George IV, recorded for posterity at Howth’s West Pier. It was there that  he first set foot on Irish soil in August 1821. On his own birthday (he had just turned  59), he was said to arrive in very high spirits. ‘Very high spirits’ , of course, a polite way of saying he was pissed drunk.  George, contemporary reports noted, “was received with the utmost enthusiasm by the inhabitants of Dublin.”


Standing beside the very small footprints of King George IV.

Standing beside the very small footprints of King George IV.


Historian Turtle Bunbury has noted that “Dublin rose to the occasion with banners, flags and bunting strewn across the city in a fantastic display of Royal pageantry. By night, every public building was illuminated while fireworks exploded into the sky and the citizens guzzled hogshead after hogshead of free porter.”

George stayed in Ireland for a number of weeks, departing the country via  Dún Laoghaire, which was renamed ‘Kingstown’ in the aftermath of his visit. It would remain under that name until independence in 1922,  and while the name has reverted, there is still a trace of the visit to be found there, with a monument commemorating the visit still standing. A bombing of the obelisk did minimal damage in 1970, but did lead The Irish Times to remark “It is a harmless enough relic – indeed, in some ways, a pleasantly absurd one. Fifty years after independence perhaps we could afford to leave it alone”

George IV monument at Dún Laoghaire. Illustration via www.archiseek.com

George IV monument at Dún Laoghaire. Illustration via http://www.archiseek.com


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All readers are more than welcome to pop along to this on Monday night. The guest speaker is the brilliant Pól Ó Duibhir, who provided me with many of the photographs in the book and on the blog of Nelson’s demise.



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Lody in Naval uniform. Credit - pinterest.com

Lody in Naval uniform. Credit – pinterest.com

It was reported today in the Daily Mail (sorry for the link but they’re the only news service covering the story) that a letter written by Carl Hans Lody (1877–1914) has been unearthed, nearly 100 years after his execution.

Lody was the most famous German spy of World War One and the first out of eleven to be executed. He was shot by firing squad on November 6, 1914 in the Tower of London becoming the first person to be executed there for 167 years.

Carl Lody's Final Letter, 5 November 1914. Credit - dailymail.co.uk

Carl Lody’s Final Letter, 5 November 1914. Credit – dailymail.co.uk

On the day before the execution, he wrote to the guard’s commanding officer:

I feel it my duty as a German officer to express my sincere thanks and appreciation towards the staff officers and men who were in charge of my person during my confinement.

Their kind and considered treatment has called my highest esteem and admiration as regards good fellowship even towards the enemy and if I may be permitted, I would thank you for making this known to them.

The letter had been stored at the Guards Museum at Wellington Barracks, but has now been uncovered as part of an exhibition at the museum on the First World War, and the role of the Foot Guards during the conflict.

Born in Berlin, Lody joined the German Navy in 1900 – serving for a year before he was transferred into the First Naval Reserve. He then went on to enter the merchant navy, where he served on English, Norwegian and American ships. After a period of working as a tourist guide on the American-Hamburg line, Lody (who spoke fluent English with an American accent) traveled to Britain as a spy at the outbreak of war in order to observe and report back on the country’s naval fleet.

From Edinburgh, posing as a tourist and using an American passport under the name of “Charles A. Inglis”, he sent telegrams and letters to an address in Stockholm which was used as a cover for German intelligence. His first coded message read:

Must cancel. Johnson very ill. Lost four days, Shall leave shortly, Charles.

He was reporting that there were four ships being repaired at the Firth of Forth dock, and that several others were about to head out to sea. The Germans dispatched an U-21 submarine which attacked the HMS Pathfinder becoming the first ship ever to be sunk by a torpedo fired from a submarine.

After this first success, Lody’s lack of training started to show, and he began to make mistakes – putting his address on his letters and writing them in German. Most significantly and unbeknownst to Lody, M15 were intercepting all of his correspondence.

In September 1914, he traveled to Dublin via Liverpool. From the Gresham Hotel, he wrote a detailed letter in German describing the military ships in Dublin Bay and useful conversations that he had overheard in the city. MI5 decided to act and ordered his arrest.

Enroute to Cobh (Queenstown),which was then the largest British naval station in Ireland, Lody stopped off in Killarney, Co. Kerry. On October 2nd, he was arrested by Inspector Cheeseman of the Royal Irish Constabulary while staying at the Great Southern Hotel.

Lody after his arrest. Credit - .josefjakobs.info

Lody after his arrest. Credit – .josefjakobs.info

The police discovered Lody’s true identity when they found a tailor’s ticket in his jacket bearing his real name and an address in Berlin. He was taken to London and detained at Wellington Barracks, before being convicted of espionage following a court martial, and sentenced to death.
On the morning of his execution, he was reported to have said to the officer who escorted him from his cell: “I suppose that you will not care to shake hands with a German spy”. “No,” the officer replied; “but I will shake hands with a brave man.”

He was executed  at the Tower by an eight man firing squad made up of members of the 3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards. Lody was first buried in the Tower of London and later disinterred and transferred to the East London Cemetery in Plaistow then finally to Highgate Cemetery, north London.

In May 1934, the Nazis unveiled a memorial to Lody in his northern German city of Luebeck.

Lody memorial pictured in 1938. Credit - Wikipedia.

Lody memorial pictured in 1938. Credit – Wikipedia.

A part of the memorial, embedded in the medieval Burgtor town gate, can still be seen today:

Lody memorial today. Credit - Wikipedia.

Lody memorial today. Credit – Wikipedia.

An intriguing tale of espionage in which Dublin played an important part.

For more information on Lody, check out these articles published on the BBC, M15 and the Independent.

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While Trinity College Dublin was founded in 1592 with the Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I, women couldn’t actually study there until 1904. Certainly, there was a belief among some in authority within the university right up until that point that the admission of female students was strongly undesirable, with the Board warning in 1895 that “If a female had once passed the gate….it would be practically impossible to watch what buildings or what chambers she might enter, or how long she might remain there.”

In January 1904, the short notice that “the Board of Trinity College have received a letter from the King authorising them to admit women to the degrees of Dublin University” appeared in several Irish newspapers. This was the end-product of many years of debate among the Board of Trinity College Dublin and university society more broadly speaking.

The first female student to enter the institution was Isabel Marion Weir Johnston.  She hailed from the north of the country, and was the daughter of Sir John Johnston, who had been a prosperous businessman in Derry and was a former president of the ‘Londonderry Chamber of Commerce’.

In a 1964 article on the subject of Trinity’s earliest female undergraduates,  G.C Duggan wrote that “those women undergraduates of her time who are still alive have vivid memories of her remarkable personality shown not so much in brilliance in examinations as in outstanding character symptomatic of the new world of the 20th century.” Johnston organised dances,  tennis tournaments and established the Elizabethan Society, an important society as women were barred from the major societies right into the 1960s.

George Salmon, the Provost of Trinity College Dublin from 1888-1904.

George Salmon, the Provost of Trinity College Dublin from 1888-1904.

Certainly, the final Provost of Trinity College Dublin in the years prior to the admission of female students  had opposed any change in the admissions policy for much of his reign. George Salmon, who today gazes over the square of the university,  ran the institution on fiercely conservative lines which included opposition to female students, though he dropped his veto on the matter  when the Board of Trinity voted in favour of female admissions in the early twentieth century.  The popular Dublin story has it that Salmon remarked “women will enter Trinity College over my dead body”. While I’ve never quite been convinced Salmon made this remark, it’s interesting just how long people have been attributing it to him. Susan M.Parkes, in her fascinating article ‘A Danger to the Men? Women in Trinity College Dublin in the First Decade, 1904 -1914′, quotes from Johnston herself who recalled:

I had to keep my terms by examination and was not allowed to attend lectures. Dr. Salmon had said that women would only enter TCD over his dead body, and when I arrived in Dublin in January 1904 I was informed that as he had died that day, the examination had been put off until after the funeral.

There were very real restrictions on Isabel Marion Weir Johnston and other early female students in the university, who were essentially shielded away from the male student populace, and who did not enjoy many of the same rights of their fellow students, such as the use of dining facilities.  The graduation of the first female students from the university was reported in December 1905, with the Provost of Trinity College Dublin addressing female graduates and their guests in the dining hall the institution, a place ironically normally off-bounds to them.

Isabel was not there however. She did not complete her degree, instead marrying Stephen Kelleher, a young Fellow of TCD who lectured in Classics, and later settling down in England. Only a few short years after Isabel in 1909, the following short news-item appeared in The Irish Times:

10 April 1909

10 April 1909

While women may have entered Trinity College Dublin as students as early as 1904, there were restrictions on their rights as students right into the 1960s, which included a ban on joining major societies, and being off-campus by 6pm. Speaking in the 1950s, Dr. Owen Sheehy-Skeffinton told one Trinity College newspaper “women form half the society with which one has eventually to come to terms.”   Today, there is a female majority in the student body of Trinity College Dublin.

A 1955 'Trinity News' headline reporting on the banning of women from societies in Trinity College ( www.trinitynewsarchive.ie )

A 1955 ‘Trinity News’ headline reporting on the banning of women from societies in Trinity College ( http://www.trinitynewsarchive.ie )


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Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

Thankfully, my The Pillar: The Life and Afterlife of the Nelson Pillar was recently released, it should be sitting on the shelves in all good bookshops at the moment. One of my favourite aspects of the book is the fact it is loaded with new photographs that haven’t been put into print before, many of the taken by Pól Ó Duibhir, who I first came into contact with some years ago thanks to the blog.

I thought I’d post a few of Pól’s images on here today to mark the fact we have settled a launch date for the book, which is  July 7th in Hodges Figgis at 6.30pm.

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

A personal favourite image is this one below, showing the souvenir hunters who  onto descended O’Connell Street, taking anything they could from the once imposing monument.

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

The image below as used for the cover of the book, and it shows the remains of Francis Johnston’s Pillar from the vantage point of Francis Johnston’s (rebuilt) GPO. As Pól has noted “the photograph shows that thanks to its perspective, the GPO column appears to dominate that of Nelson for the first time ever. It was to be a temporary little arrangement however as Nelson’s Pillar was destined to soon bite the dust.”

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

Image by Pól Ó Duibhir

These are only a small selection of Pól’s images, and I am indebted to him for contributing them. There are plenty more inside the book.

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Earlier in the month, we posted a piece looking at the George II monument in St. Stephen’s Green, which was bombed in May 1937.  The monument stood in the centre of the Green from 1758 until the eventual destruction of the work, which was not the first bombing carried out against it.

Since publishing the piece I picked up this great original press image of the scene following the attack. Gardaí, photographers and journalists mingle and the total destruction of the monument is clearly visible:

Press photograph showing the damage to George II monument.

Press photograph showing the damage to George II monument.


Press description on back of image.

Press description on back of image.

Every Saturday morning at 11.30am I do a tour of St. Stephen’s Green park at 11.30am from the Little Museum of Dublin. Poor old George II is one of the stories told on this tour. More information available from the Museum website.

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