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In a post-Sackville Lounge world, I have little reason to wander down Sackville Place, the street to the side of Clery’s department store. Indeed, Clery’s itself is now no more, and last winter some its historic signage disappeared without trace.

Thankfully still affixed to the building is a plaque in honour of Paweł Edmund Strzelecki (1798 -1873). An explorer and geologist of considerable fame abroad, Strezelcki’s contribution to the distribution of Famine Relief in the west of Ireland during the Great Hunger is remembered on the plaque in English, Polish and As Gaeilge. It is a beautiful tribute, unveiled in March 2015 at a ceremony that was attended by members of the Polish community in Ireland and representatives from the city of Poznan.

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Sackville Lane, March 2017.

There are many stories of international assistance and interventions in the story of Ireland’s Great Hunger. Some, like the assistance of the Choctaw Nation of displaced Native Americans, have been well remembered and commemorated. There were also numerous interesting individuals who were moved to action by the calamity in Ireland; French chef Alexis Soyer would establish a soup kitchen at the site of what is now the Croppies Acre memorial, feeding thousands. Strzelecki’s story is much less widely known than Soyer or the Native Americans however, but was brought to prominence by the Polish community in Ireland in recent times.

Born in Głuszyna (near Poznan) in 1797, Strzelecki lived a remarkable life on a number of fronts. Firstly, he served within the Prussian army for a period, though his service was brief, and he was instead destined for exploration. Denis Gregory, author of Australia’s Great Explorers, has noted that traveling around Europe he developed “an interest in science, agriculture and meteorology. History notes that he had a look around the mines in Saxony and Mount Vesuvius in Italy.” Such travel and intellectual curiosity was the preserve of only a small wealthy elite of course,and his travels were not confined to the European continent. He traveled widely in North and south America, and made it to New Zealand in the early months of 1839.

As an explorer, he is best remembered for his time in Australia. On the invitation of the Governor of New South Wales, Strezelecki conducted a mineralogical and geological survey of the the Gippsland region, where he discovered gold in 1839, yet his finding was suppressed by the Governor, who “feared the social disruption that a gold rush would inevitably cause in what was still demographically a convict colony.” Strezelecki would chronicle some of the remotest parts of Australia, and an impressive monument in his honour stands today in Jindabyne, New South Wales.

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Sackville Lane, March 2017.

The failures of the British State in relation to the suffering of the Irish peasantry throughout the years of the Great Hunger is well documented. Sir Charles Trevelyan, a senior British civil servant and colonial administrator, believed that:

The judgement of God sent the calamity the teach the Irish a lesson,that calamity must not be too much mitigated…The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.

Such beliefs were not those of some hack, but rather a political administrator who could directly impact on the lives of the suffering masses. As Melissa Fegan has noted, Trevelyan and many of those around him were “convinced that the Famine was providential in nature, and even if political economy had not forbidden a radical intervention in the markets, who could challenge the hand of God?”

Despite such abhorrent views from some in authority,  huge sums of money were raised for the purpose of Famine relief in Britain. This came from migrant Irish workers, Quakers, sympathetic businessmen and a wide cross section of society. The most significant body to operate in Ireland during this period was the British Relief Association, described by historian Christine Kinealy as the body which provided “the greatest amount of relief” in Ireland. It was for this body that Paweł Edmund Strzelecki laboured over a period of eighteen months, overseeing the distributing of relief in the west of Ireland, which was worst affected by the failure of the potato crop. At first, Strezelecki had responsibilities for the Mayo, Donegal and Sligo regions, and he was one of only twelve agents working on behalf of the British Relief Association in Ireland. As Enda Delaney has noted, “his confidential reports to the committee in London chronicled the descent of this region into complete starvation”. He wrote that:

The population seems as if paralysed, and helpless, more ragged and squalid; here fearfully dejected…stoically resigned to death; then, again, as if conscious of some greater forthcoming evil, they are deserting their hearths and families. The examination of some individual cases of distress showed most heart-breaking instances of human misery, and of the degree to which that misery can be bought.

In Dublin,things were miserable too. The Freeman’s Journal reported in May 1847 of a woman named Eliza Holmes, arrested by the police while begging on Sackville Street with her dead infant child in her arms. Refugees from the country side flooded into the urban centres. Many were, of course, destined to leave the island via the port of the capital. As David Dickson has written,this was in many ways to the benefit of the city, as “if access to either Britain or North American ports had been denied to Famine refugees during the late 1840s, Dublin would have been catastrophically overwhelmed by those seeking institutional protection”.

Strezelecki both lived and worked in the Sackville Street area during some of his time in Ireland, basing himself in the Reynold’s Hotel in Upper Sackville Street. For a time he himself was incapacitated by ‘Famine Fever’, but he continued to carry out important administrative work from Dublin.

For his troubles, the Polish explorer was made a Knight Commander of the Honour of Bath in 1848. Remarkably, so too was Trevelyan. Unlike Trevelyan, Strezelecki received and sought no payment for his work in Ireland during the Great Hunger. One early historian of the period would later note that “the name of this benevolent stranger was then, and for long afterwards, a familiar one if not a household word in the homes of the suffering poor.”

Strezelecki died in October 1873, and he was buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. In 1997, his remains were returned to Poland. It is fitting that he is remembered on the streets of Dublin today.

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Historic postcard of Great Brunswick Street, today Pearse Street (Image Credit)

I was delighted to see this historic postcard posted on Facebook recently. While the focus of the photographer was probably the Army Recruitment Office on Great Brunswick Street (or Pearse Street to me and you), they accidentally captured what would become an interesting bit of Dublin social history. At 22 Great Brunswick Street, we get a great view of Dublin’s first chipper, opened by Giuseppe Cervi, who arrived here in the 1880s.

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22 Great Brunswick Street.

Today, the takeaway section of popular restaurant Super Miss Sue is named ‘Cervi’s’ in his honour. His humble takeaway booth on Great Brunswick Street stood on what is now the site of the Dublin Fire Brigade headquarters, though the Cervi family later established a proper premises at no. 22, which we can see advertised “Fried Fish & Chips” to all. Italians had been arriving here long before Cervi; as Vinnie Caprani has noted, “many of the Italian immigrants who arrived in Ireland in the middle and latter half of the nineteenth century were stonemasons, church decorators and terrazzo tile workers.”

Tony Cervi, a son of Giuseppe, remembered his father in a 1976 Evening Herald feature on Dublin’s Italian chipper community, recalling that “there were very few Italians living in Dublin when my father first arrived here. My father was illiterate to the end of his life, yet he could do the most difficult accounts in his head, and never come out wrong. He loved horses and horse racing, and could out odds and prices to the very last penny.”

The Italian community would become synonymous with Dublin’s takeaways and ice cream parlours, and by 1910 the city could boast of twenty chippers. While most  of Dublin’s big chipper names came from the Frosinone region of central Italy, the Cervi’s came from Picinisco. Cervi’s wife is credited with coining the Dublin phrase ‘One and One’, still used to describe a fish and chips meal. She would ask customers ‘Uno di questo, uno de quello?’, meaning one of each. By the early twentieth century, the Italian community was significant enough to see the area around Little Ship Street, where Giuseppe and his family lived, become known as ‘Little Italy’. Tony Cervi remembered that:

The area around us – off St. Werbrugh Street, Chancery Lane and Whitefriar Street was known as ‘Little Italy’. If someone came to Dublin and wanted to locate a particular Italian, he would more often than not be directed to ‘Little Italy’. The place was filled with barrel-organ men, ice cream men who traveled the city with their barrows and  marblemen. My mother usually ‘put up’ traveling Italian or Greek terrazzo workers of craftsmen, and Italians who came here to erect altars and suchlike. They’d be given our address and know my mother would give them good Italian food.

Dublin Inquirer x CHTM.

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Dublin Inquirer, April 2017.

Dublin Inquirer first burst onto the scene in June 2015, as an online news website covering all aspects of life in the capital. With a particularly keen eye for civic politics and culture, it caught our attention right from the start. Evidently many others liked it too, allowing it to grow into a monthly print publication while retaining a strong online presence.

Independent media of all shades has an important part to play in the life of any city. With this in mind we continue we have actively contributed to Rabble magazine since its inception, and have been lucky enough to have the wonderful Dublin Digital Radio air our last ‘Dublin Songs & Stories’ event.  All of these outlets are doing great work in providing spaces to alternative voices.

When asked to contribute a monthly historical feature to DI I jumped at the chance. From the April issue onwards (which should be appearing on the streets in the days ahead) there will be a regular contribution, which will be exclusive to the print edition of DI and which will be new material, i.e not published previously on this site or the DI website.

The first feature is a look at the sometimes strange intersections of the Russian and Irish revolutionary periods, and the widespread enthusiasm in Dublin for the Bolshevik revolution in its immediate aftermath. It was largely inspired by the recent condemnation from some quarters of Dublin City Council’s decision to invest on a programme linked to the Russian Revolution centenary as part of the on-going Decade of Centenaries. As this piece argues, events in Russia did impact directly and indirectly on revolutionary Ireland.

You can pick the physical newspaper up (€3) from the following places, which includes a few friends of ourselves (Bang Bang, Connolly Books and more besides).

  • Wigwam – 54 Abbey Street Middle, Dublin 1
  • Connolly Books – 43 East Essex Street, Dublin 2
  • The Library Project – 4 Temple Bar Street, Dublin 2
  • George’s Street Arcade – 2 South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2
  • Little Museum of Dublin – 15 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2
  • Books Upstairs – 17 D’Olier Street, Dublin 2
  • Bark Coffee at Alan Hannah’s Bookshop – 270 Rathmines Road Lower, Dublin 6
  • Village Bookshop – 101 Terenure Road North, Dublin 6W
  • Back Page – 199 Phibsborough Rd, Dublin 7
  • Urbanity Coffee – The Glass House, 11 Coke Lane, Dublin 7
  • Bang Bang – 59A Leinster St North, Dublin 7
  • The Pupp Cafe – 37 Clanbrassil Street Lower, Dublin 8
  • The Green Door Market – 18 Newmarket, Dublin 8
  • Smallchanges Wholefoods Store – 40 Drumcondra Road Lower, Dublin 9

An Unusual Prisoner

Ernie O’Malley has always appeared as somewhat of an enigma to me. A veteran of the War of Independence and the following Civil War, he remained puritanical in his vision for an Irish Republic and held an uncompromising belief that any violence used in attaining same was soundly and morally justified. His politics never deviated from the creation of the Republic, his head never turned and he was happy to play the part of the consummate soldier.

His works on the War of Independence (“On Another Man’s Wound”) and the Civil War (“The Singing Flame”) are easily two of the best books on the Revolutionary period, his style a descriptive pose capable of painting a vivid scene. Covering the period July 1921 to July 1924, The Singing Flame commences around the 1921 Truce and runs right through to the death of Liam Lynch and as such the cataclysmic aftermath of the split and all it entailed feature heavily and heartrendingly.

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Jack B. Yeats and Ernie O’Malley, from the 1948 Capuchin Annual.

 

For the purpose of this article though, the book goes into great detail about the occupation, defence of and surrender of the Four Courts during the Battle of Dublin (in which O’Malley’s younger brother also fought, under Oscar Traynor in ‘The Block’ on O’Connell Street.) There are articles to be written about that event in detail and no doubt there will be given the upcoming centenaries but an interesting character jumped out on my last reading of the book that I can find no record of anywhere else- a well coiffured American Dandy gun-runner who had somehow been taken prisoner in the Four Courts.

Already we had one prisoner near the guardroom. He was a professional gun-runner. He entertained us with stories of Mexico and of the South American Republics. He passed comments on the hotels in Dublin; there was only one where a person could eat in comfort. I expect the food from the Officer’s Mess was not much to his liking. He was rather tall, well dressed, with light fair hair and a slight mustache varying between fair and white, well pointed at the ends, he must have used some kind of grease. He was accused of trying to double cross some of our agents in Belgium and Germany who were attempting to purchase arms. He protested vigorously. This was an outrage, it was the first time he had ever been arrested. He was told it might be the last time, and his smile, showing a few gold teeth, dwindled away. His nasal voice was not raised so often now.

After O’Malley’s escape from Dublin, he describes making his way to Bray where he encountered the prisoner again.

What South Dublin had been doing since the attack on the Courts I could not imagine. A man walked over from the hotel door. He was the American gun-runner whom we had released a few hours before the attack on the Four Courts began. He inquired for Liam Mellows and Paddy O’Brien. ‘I liked them well,’ he said. ‘I sure am sorry about O’Brien. They were good boys in there.’ He flashed his gold- toothed smile. ‘I’m waiting for the next boat, glad to go; this country of yours is too sharp for me.’ ‘If you send us a consignment of trench mortars,’ I said, ‘no one will quarrel with you about your excess profits.’

The Easter Rising and the War of Independence have their fair share of tales of foreign influence, accounts of which can be drawn down from the Bureau of Military History’s Witness Statements and the Military Service Pensions Collection. The Civil War, given the Republican side’s principled refusal for the most part to deal with the Free State relies on O’Malley’s own collection “The Men Will Talk to Me” for any anecdotal evidence relating to the period. I’ve searched several other sources relating to the Four Courts occupation but can’t find any other references to the prisoner- any help would be appreciated!

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Grafton Street, c.1860 -1880, From the Stereo Pairs Photography Collection, National Library of Ireland.

Any discussion of prostitution in Dublin historically will inevitably focus on the so-called ‘Monto’ district of the north-inner city, the area around Montgomery Street which became notorious enough to warrant mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1903:

Dublin furnishes an exception to the usual practice in the UK. In that city the police permit ‘open houses’ confined to one street; but carried on more publicly than even in the south of Europe or in Algeria.

Yet while ‘Monto’ emerged in the late nineteenth century, there was nothing new about prostitution in the city, indeed all that tended to change with time was the localities where prostitution was to be found. In earlier decades,and in particular throughout the 1860s and 1870s, Grafton Street and its environs was regarded as a centre of prostitution in the city. This infuriated sections of Dublin society, who complained repeatedly in the letters pages of newspapers that the street had become “impassable to virtuous women.” In the words of one writer to the Freeman’s Journal in 1870:

Let some half-dozen men of the G Division (Dublin’s intelligence police) parade Grafton Street at the hours of four to six. This was found very successful in Sackville Street during last summer, and I have no doubt we shall soon be free of these social pests, and can again escort our wives and daughters through one of our finest streets.

An earlier letter writer to the same paper described how the street “literally swarmed with women of loose character.” It is worth considering if the emergence of the later ‘Monto’ district was tolerated to a degree, on the basis that it removed the sight of women working in the Grafton Street area, something which clearly troubled some.

While the above letter calling for the G Division to be deployed against prostitutes bore little sympathy for the women themselves, others avoided such loaded and vindictive terms as “social pests”. A letter write who signed a piece of correspondence as ‘Strike At The Root’ instead referred to the women as “poor unfortunates”, and insisted that it was not “motives of avarice or sensuality” which drove most women to the streets.

Certainly, there were two very different versions of Grafton Street. While some, like our letter writers above, believed the street was in decline, guide books to the city throughout the 1860s and 1870s praised it, with one insisting that “the elite of Dublin…will be found in Grafton Street…This street…is the brightest, cheeriest street in Dublin. It is the fashionable shopping street. Equipages in the very perfection of good taste may be seen in long lines at both sides of the street in front of the principal shops.” This description of the street was at odds with that of a priest in 1877, who described:

Dozens upon dozens of females belonging to that class truly designated unfortunate, the majority of them not eighteen years of age….passed me, using language and openly flaunting a shame the very mention of which is enough to bring a blush to the cheek of virtue.

The sheer number of women working in Dublin in this period as prostitutes was quite remarkable. Take this table from Joseph V. O’Brien’s study of Dublin at the turn of the century. It wasn’t that numbers were proportionately higher than cities like London and Manchester, they were higher in general. In 1870 for example, London witnessed 2,183 arrests for prostitution, Manchester 1,617 and Dublin 3,255.

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From Joseph V. O’Brien’s classic study Dear,Dirty Dublin:A City in Distress 1899-1916 (California, 1982)

Continue Reading »

Way back in the distant past of 2012, we noted the continued deterioration of Thomas Read’s on Parliament Street. Established in 1670, Read’s was one of the oldest cutlers in the world, and it was the oldest shop in the capital before its closure some years ago.

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Producing cutlery, surgical instruments and swords, the shop once opened onto Crane Lane, but in 1766 this changed with the opening of Parliament Street, thanks to the endeavors of the Wide Streets Commissioners, who truly transformed the urban landscape of Dublin. With this, Read’s address changed from 3 Crane Lane to 4 Parliament Street. The origins of the business were with a sword maker, Edward Read, who worked at Blind Quay before establishing his premises on Crane Lane.

When interviewed in 1984,the then-owner Jack Read Cowle told a newspaper reporter that while Dubliners always told him they were glad the business was still in existence, he would joke that “you’d better make the most of me, because I won’t be here much longer.” Great footage of the Read’s interior survives, thanks to the digitisation of a classic Éamonn MacThomáis television series:

Passing Parliament Street recently, it was clear that recent work on the building has been truly transformative. The brickwork has been restored beautifully, and the general sense of decay around the building is no more. ReadsCutlers.com provides insight into the restoration work underway, while a glance at the interior contents in possible on the Read’s Cutlers Instagram account, including beautiful 18th century cabinets. It looks like this important piece of Dublin will reemerge in the near future.

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Thomas Read’s, March 2017.

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Thomas Read’s, March 2017.

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Thomas Read’s, March 2017.

The Other Proclamation.

150 years ago today, the Fenian Rising commenced.

Less than ten years after the founding of the Fenian Brotherhood in New York and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Dublin, armed men assembled across Dublin and in other parts of the country. The insurrection is synonymous with Tallaght, where thousands of Fenians mobilised for action, but there were outbreaks of violence in other places too. At Stepaside and Glencullen, men led by the American Civil War veteran Patrick Lennon carried a green flag into battle emblazoned with the words ‘REMEMBER EMMET’.

The insurrection quickly collapsed; William Domville Handcock, a Tallaght landowner and Magistrate for County Dublin, wrote dismissively of “the Fenian Battle of Tallaght as it was called, though it was unworthy of the name.” Even some later separatists dismissed what occurred in 1867; Bulmer Hobson, the maverick IRB organiser who would do so much to revitalise the Fenian movement in the early 20th century, referred to the 1867 rebellion in his Bureau of Military History Witness Statement as “a pitiful demonstration.”

Despite its military failure, one interesting dimension of the rebellion was the Proclamation issued by the Fenian leadership, and delivered to the offices of The Times newspaper in London and other media outlets. To mark the anniversary of this historic event, we are reproducing it in full below.

It called for “absolute liberty of conscience, and complete separation of Church and State”, and appealed directly to English workers, encouraging them to take up arms and to “remember the starvation and degradation brought to your firesides by the oppression of labour.” In many ways, it is a document more radical than the much more celebrated Proclamation of Easter 1916.

Lastly, we wish to express our sadness at the passing this week of historian Shane Kenna, who had done so much in recent years to highlight the role and importance of the Fenian movement in Irish history. Shane was a talented writer, a wonderful tour guide and one of the nicest people in the small community of historians in Dublin. He was laid to rest yesterday in Tallaght, only one day short of the anniversary of the Fenian Rising there. We express our condolences to his family and friends, and we are grateful to have known him.

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The 1867 Proclamation, reproduced by historian Pádraig Óg O Ruairc for a recent event in Limerick exploring 1867.

I.R

-PROCLAMATION-

THE IRISH PEOPLE TO THE WORLD.

We have suffered centuries of outrage, enforced poverty, and bitter misery. Our rights and liberties have been trampled on by an alien aristocracy, who treating us as foes, usurped our lands, and drew away from our unfortunate country all material riches. The real owners of the soil were removed to make room for cattle, and driven across the ocean to seek the means of living, and the political rights denied to them at home, while our men of thought and action were condemned to loss of life and liberty. But we never lost the memory and hope of a national existence. We appealed in vain to the reason and sense of justice of the dominant powers.

Our mildest remonstrance’s were met with sneers and contempt. Our appeals to arms were always unsuccessful.

Today, having no honourable alternative left, we again appeal to force as our last resource. We accept the conditions of appeal, manfully deeming it better to die in the struggle for freedom than to continue an existence of utter serfdom.

All men are born with equal rights, and in associating to protect one another and share public burdens, justice demands that such associations should rest upon a basis which maintains equality instead of destroying it.

We therefore declare that, unable longer to endure the curse of Monarchical Government, we aim at founding a Republic based on universal suffrage, which shall secure to all the intrinsic value of their labour.

The soil of Ireland, at present in the possession of an oligarchy, belongs to us, the Irish people, and to us it must be restored.

We declare, also, in favour of absolute liberty of conscience, and complete separation of Church and State.

We appeal to the Highest Tribunal for evidence of the justness of our cause. History bears testimony to the integrity of our sufferings, and we declare, in the face of our brethren, that we intend no war against the people of England – our war is against the aristocratic locusts, whether English or Irish, who have eaten the verdure of our fields – against the aristocratic leeches who drain alike our fields and theirs.

Republicans of the entire world, our cause is your cause. Our enemy is your enemy. Let your hearts be with us. As for you, workmen of England, it is not only your hearts we wish, but your arms. Remember the starvation and degradation brought to your firesides by the oppression of labour. Remember the past, look well to the future, and avenge yourselves by giving liberty to your children in the coming struggle for human liberty.

Herewith we proclaim the Irish Republic.

THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT.

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