Hibernian Magazine, May 1782.

Reading Joe O’Shea’s excellent study Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem – The Blackest Hearted Villains From Irish History recently introduced me to Captain Luke Ryan, a character who is largely unheard of today, but whose story is entangled with that of Benjamin Franklin and the time of the struggle of the American Colonies for independence from Britain. A real, living, breathing pirate, Captain Ryan from Rusk was a Dubliner who risked life and limb harassing British ships and capturing their crews, first for commercial gain and then in the paid service of the Americans.

Born in Rush on 14 February 1750, Luke Ryan came to prominence for his involvement with the Black Prince, essentially an American privateer during the war with Britain which caused mayhem along the coasts of England and Ireland, and whose crew were denounced in the Irish press as little more than “renegade pirates”. Ryan’s life at sea had begun earlier, when the Black Prince sailed under the name Friendship, which smuggled “French brandy, Dutch tea, arms and other assorted materials between Dunkirk and Dublin.”  The Friendship was once described in the Freeman’s Journal as sitting proudly along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, “ready to sail, being completely armed and manned, carrying 14 carriage guns and 60 as brave hands as any in Europe”.

The Friendship became the Black Prince in the summer of 1779, sailing from Dunkirk and with an American Commission, as the Americans (spearheaded by Benjamin Franklin in Paris) sought means to harass the British at sea. As O’Shea has written:

The Black Prince went to work, sailing from Dunkirk in June 1779 and quickly snapping up eight British prizes which were sailed back to the French port of Morlaix. In July, Ryan and his ship captured a further thirteen British coastal trading vessels, which were stripped of their cargoes and then ransomed back to the English owners. A Waterford brig (a quick and highly-maneuverable ship with two square-rigged masts) called the Sally-Anne was one of eighteen vessels brought into the ports of Morlaix and Dunkirk after a particularly productive cruise to the waters off the South West coast of England.

Ryan and his men didn’t merely attack British ships – on occasion, they even attacked coastal towns and islands, which was widely reported in Ireland where he became a hate figure to panicked Loyalists. The Freemans Journal told their readers in 1780 that “Luke Ryan, Commander, landed at Stornaway, in the island of Lewis, and after plundering the town, carried off the principal inhabitants as hostages”. The man from Rush was captured in time, attempting to convince the courts he was French, before a series of witnesses that included numerous relatives gave the game away.

The story of Ryan’s life, which would take a few more dramatic turns, is well told by Joe O’Shea in three parts on his blog, as well as by Eugene Coyle in History Ireland.

Late last year, and into 2017, I had the pleasure of working on a project entitled ‘Around The Table’, which was part of Dublin City Council’s National Neighborhood project. In different parts of the city, people looked at different aspects of life and community there and produced interesting things, ranging from songs to theatrical efforts, all in conjunction with local groups.

In the area I worked, Dublin Central, we focused on the history of food. From East Wall to the Markets area, Dublin Central is strongly bound to the story of food production in the city, and the story of foods arrival and departure. We interviewed dockers, chip shop workers, slaughterhouse staff, street traders, market workers and more besides for what became a beautiful oral history production.

A digital PDF of ‘Around The Table’ is available online from here. Any serious history of food in Dublin can’t come from the newspaper archives alone of course, but has to be drawn from the memories and experiences of those who have worked in the field of feeding Dubs.  It is a piece of social history I think we captured well, and thanks to those who agreed to me sticking a recorder in front of them.


Dockworker Pat Behan describing exotic food on the docks of Dublin. (click to enlarge)


Cadbury’s worker Pat Glynn. (click to enlarge)


Remembering the Andreucetti chipper and ice cream shop, which became a loved part of the East Wall Community. (click to enlarge)

My thanks to Jennie Moran and Ida Mitran (responsible for the beautiful illustrations in the book and more besides), photographer Jeanette Lowe and Bernadette Larkin for all their work on this project.


1970s postcard of Liberty Hall.

Higher than a county lark
Can fly, a speck that sings,
Sixteen-floored Liberty Hall
Goes up through scaffoldings

So wrote Austin Clarke in his poem ‘New Liberty Hall’, composed in the 1960s as the trade union headquarters along the quays witnessed an incredible transformation. Gone was the crumbling Liberty Hall of the Larkinites, purchased in 1912 and created in what was once the Northumberland Hotel,and here was something new entirely. A skyscraper by Dublin standards, a more regular office block to some of the cities of the world.

I recently acquired this great 1970s postcard image of Liberty Hall, then still new along the quays.  The building looks familiar yet strikingly different from today; as Archiseek note:

At the time of its construction, it was fitted with non-reflective glass which gave the building a much-more translucent effect. However a bomb explosion in 1972 blew out most of the glass which meant that the glass was replaced but with a reflective variety and the viewing deck was closed.

The only building of its scale in the very heart of the city, surprisingly few have engaged with Liberty Hall and the opportunities its scale offers. In 2013 and 2016, tapestries of work by the artist Robert Ballagh decorated the building, to mark the centenaries of the Lockout and Easter Rising, events to which the earlier Liberty Hall was central.

Between 24 September and 11 October 2009, the project Playhouse transformed the union office “into a giant 50 metre, low resolution, TV screen.” This innovative and popular art project was part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. Tetris appeared on the building, along with love hearts and messages, and it was interactive too, allowing the public to directly engage.


Playhouse, 2009 (Image Credit: Dublin Theatre Festival Archive)


Liberty Hall under construction, 1960s (National Library of Ireland on Flickr)


Crampton Buildings, Temple Bar.

When we think of the Dublin Artisan Dwelling Company (DADC), Portobello and Stoneybatter come to mind first. In both places you’ll find rows of redbrick artisan cottages that are synonymous with the semi-philanthropic housing body who transformed the face of parts of Victorian Dublin.

Still, there is evidence of their work right in the heart of the city too, including the recently restored Crampton Buildings of Temple Bar. Located on Asdill’s Row, you could easily miss this housing scheme amidst the hustle and bustle of what is now Tourist Mecca, but at the time of their construction in the early 1890s was very much an industrial quarter.

The DADC, created in the mid 1870s, was intended to construct houses for Dublin workers at reasonable costs and with affordable rents. In the absence of Dublin Corporation housing projects (the first Corporation housing project was undertaken on Benburb Street in the late 1880s), workers were almost entirely at the mercy of private landlords, a rather unscrupulous group in Victorian Dublin which even included elected Councillors. It was a former Dublin Lord Mayor, Alderman Joseph Meade, who would gain much from subdividing homes on Henrietta Street.


Google Maps view of Crampton Buildings while under major restoration. The scheme has a ‘U shape’, with residential units entered from Asdill’s Row. Elephant and Castle and other businesses occupy the commercial units. (Image Credit: Google Maps 3d view)

As Murray Fraser has noted in his history of public housing in Ireland, the DADC  was backed by “the city’s Unionist business elite”, which included Arthur Edward Guinness, Edward Cecil Guinness (later Lord Iveagh, who would play his own part in constructing social housing with the Iveagh Trust), William La Touche and John Jameson. Fraser notes that while the body received some state assistance, “from the outset the DADC was run as an efficient business and paid a dividend of between 4 and 5 percent to shareholders.” It may have set out to building affordable houses for the working class of Dublin, but it was a business.

By 1900 the company had built about 2,500 separate dwellings, though as Joseph V. O’Brien noted, “the Dwellings Company generally conducted its operations outside the so-called central areas of poverty and dilapidated housing.” DADC homes were far superior to the tenements that dotted the city centre, but the rent tended to exclude ‘general labourers’, and meant that as such they attracted tradesmen, skilled labourers, and those lucky enough to enjoy regular employment with companies like Guinness, a far-cry from the precarious nature of much work in the city.

For some, the DADC houses came at just the right time. As Cormac Ó Gráda has noted in his study of Jewish Ireland, “the brand-new houses in Portobello came on the market at exactly the right time for clusters of Jewish migrants ready to pay the 6s to 8s weekly rent.”

The Asdill’s Row scheme, named Crampton Buildings, consists of 54 flats, with 27 each units each across the first and second floor levels. It was completed in 1891, and was constructed with retail usage at ground level in mind. At first they struggled to fill these units, perhaps unsurprising given the very different nature of the district at the turn of the nineteenth century. As with most DADC schemes, the Crampton Buildings outlived the body,  and were purchased in the 1990s by Dublin City Council, who recently undertook major restoration of the scheme. Having been hidden beyond view by hoardings for much of last year, this great DADC project is visible once again, and looking better than ever.


Jacob’s signage, Bishop Street.

Today, the Dublin Institute of Technology (Aungier Street) and the National Archives of Ireland dominate Bishop Street, but the Dublin street was once home to Jacob’s, one of the largest employers of female workers in the city for generations.

On 20 May 1987, Dubliners woke up to the news that the former biscuit factory site had been “badly damaged in a spectacular fire.” Twelve units of the Dublin Fire Brigade battled the blaze, and the Irish Press reported that “a thick pall of smokes hung over streets as far away as half a mile.”

By 1987, there were no more biscuits being made on Bishop Street. Like Cadbury’s across the Liffey, Jacob’s had long left the city for suburbia. As historian David Dickson has noted, there was something of an “industrial flight to the suburbs” at the time. Having merged with Boland’s Biscuits, Tallaght became home to Jacob’s from the 1970s, and the building on Bishop Street had sat empty for some time before the flames ravaged it.

Passing Bishop Street, you could miss the ‘W.R Jacob & Co. Limited’ branded brickwork, which has been nicely incorporated into the DIT campus building, even receiving a nice lick of gold paint before the 1916 centenary.  A tower of the original factory remains too, now incorporated into the National Archives of Ireland building. These are interesting reminders in the modern urban landscape of what was once an economic powerhouse, and one of the few industries open to women in significant numbers.


1960s image of Jacob’s factory from commemorative 1916 booklet. The tower remains today. (Image Credit: Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive)

Dublin in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries suffered greatly from a lack of skilled employment in a broad sense. As Joseph V. O’Brien noted in his classic study Dear Dirty Dublin: A City in Distress:

A remarkable feature of labour in Dublin was the predominance of the class of ‘general labourers’. They numbered over 14,000 in 1901, between one-quarter and one-third of the male industrial work force, a proportion suggesting that this class of worker arose, not as in England or Scotland from the needs of the established trade, but out of the general lack of varied and widespread industrial employment.

While things were bad for male workers, there were little options for women too. A staggering percentage of female workers are listed as ‘domestic servants’ in 1901 and 1911 census returns, with “over 14,000 of them in 1901 representing about 40 percent of all female workers in domestic and industrial employment.”

Unlike in Belfast, where the linen industry was a significant employer of female labour, the textile and clothing industries in Dublin were nowhere near as significant. As Rosemary Cullen Owens notes in her social history of women in Irish society, “outside the textile and clothing industries” it was Jacob’s that emerged as the largest employer of women in the capital.

Jacob’s on Bishop Street emerged from the W & R Jacob company in Waterford, who operated a small biscuit factory on Bridge Street from the early 1850s. To the good fortune of Dublin (if not Waterford) the company established their headquarters at Bishop Street and Peter’s Row in Dublin, providing work to thousands.


Earlier twentieth century image of Jacob’s, from the collection of the National Library of Ireland.

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I’ve always been curious about the origins of the term ‘Jackeen’, which is leveled against Dubliners primarily in a sporting context today. A few weeks ago at the Division 1 final in Croke Park, a few Kerry fans who had found their way onto the Hill beside us got good mileage out of the term. It seems the popular theory is that it has something to do with pro-British sympathies among Dubliners historically, as the Jack in the term is popularly believed to come from ‘Union Jack’. Terence Dolan’s great work, A Dictionary of Hiberno-English: The Irish Use of English, notes it to be a pejorative term for “a self-assertive Dubliner with pro British leanings.”

Looking back however, it seems that the term was used firstly more generally as a pejorative term for city dwellers of a certain class, though it certainly took on new meaning in time.

In the archives, the term appears to have come into popular usage here around the 1840s, though on the other side of the world, an article in the New York based The Dollar magazine from the time is still good for a laugh and a little indignation. It described a ‘Dublin Jackeen’ as “a fellow who does very little for a living, and wants to do less.”


From The Dollar magazine, August 1841.

Across two pages, the article managed to insult almost every aspect of an ordinary Dubliners existence, noting that:

The dialect of a Dublin Jackeen is as peculiar as everything else about him,and as different from that of his countrymen in general, outside of the Circular Roads, as chalk is from cheese, or Bog Latin from Arabic. The Jackeen for instance, says ‘dis’,’dat’, ‘dough’, ‘tunder’ and the like – while all other manner of Irishmen make a great capital out of the th, and stick it like grim death, shoving it even into such words as ‘murther’, ‘sisther’, ‘craythure’ and every place else where they find a convenient chance.

The Dollar seemed to use the term to describe a certain kind of lawless Dubliner of the lower order, claiming that “A Dublin Jackeen is the least of a cosmopolitan of any man in the world”, rarely venturing beyond the chaotic and drunken Donnybrook Fair. The piece was clearly written for laughs, though it made no mention to any kind political connotations to the term.

Before The Dollar, The Irish Monthly Magazine gave a somewhat different description of what a ‘Jackeen’ was, describing them as being “a personage, who in our metropolitan society, supplies the same place which the conceited cockney does in the great capital of the sister island, or the Bourgeois dandy in that of France.” To them, a ‘Jackeen’ was “the affected puppy of the middle ranks”, though someone “who will never be mistaken for a gentleman.”  Like The Dollar, the term was associated with a certain lawlessness, though the social class was different.

One of the earliest references to the term I can find with any kind of British overtones is from The Kerry Examiner of February 1854, where it was noted that “During the last general war, Dublin contributed more than its quota to the ranks of the British army and military records could attest that no better soldiers served than the ‘Jackeens’ of the Irish capital.” Also from Munster, the Cork Constitution suggested seven years later that a ‘Jackeen’ was someone who ‘hates his own country, and is forever making vain and painful efforts to imitate the English, for whom he professes a violent admiration, and by whom is cordially despised.’

As time progressed, the term began to become synonymous with the idea of Dubliners holding pro-British sentiment. While it may have been used in earlier times to describe city dwellers, by the early twentieth century it had taken on one particular meaning. When John Patrick Henry published A Handbook of Modern Irish with the Gaelic League in 1911, the term ‘Seóinín’ was noted to mean a “Shoneen or Jackeen” described as “a West Briton who copies the English and cringes to them.”


The GPO before independence, complete with Union flags.

One of the few Bureau of Military History Witness Statements (essentially the recollections of participants in the Irish revolution, collected decades later) that references the term ‘Jackeen’ comes from Kevin O’Sheil, who also described the peculiarities of those in districts which were more decidedly Unionist in outlook:

The typical Rathminsian, and even more so the typical Rathgarian, was a remarkable type. To begin with, he had developed a most peculiar accent which, immediately when he opened his mouth, revealed his venue. It is quite impossible to describe the accent in mere words, and it is greatly to be regretted that it disappeared before the coming of the recording.

In more recent times, ‘Jackeen’ is primarily a term in jest between GAA fans, but it has also been used politically on occasion still. In 1990, a Dáil Deputy told a meeting in Castlebar that “The dignity of the people is being trampled on by Dublin ‘Jackeens’ who don’t understand how small farmers in the West of Ireland operate.” Just like the tired talk of the ‘Dublin Media’ and ‘Dublin Establishment’, Jim Higgins was merely using it to differentiate a Dublin based government from the ‘Plain People of Ireland’.

In time, the term ‘West Briton’ (and later ‘West Brit’) became the preferred insult to level against those deemed Unionist in political outlook, or somehow ashamed of Irish identity. Unlike ‘Jackeen’, it could be applied to anyone on the island. In Westminster, the Unionist MP Thomas Spring Rice made it clear in 1834 that “I should prefer the name of West Britain to that of Ireland.” Captain R. Henderson remembered in his Bureau of Military History Witness Statement that at the time of the Rising, “the West Britons were resentful at this revolt against English domination, the British Army Separation Allowance element in its then ignorance was infuriated against the soldiers of Irish freedom.”

Regardless of what it may have meant in the past to different people at different times, Dubliners would come to embrace the term ironically. In the glory days of 1970s GAA in Dublin, the homemade banners proclaimed that ‘The Jacks Are Back’. While we’re not sure where it came from, it’s a term that is likely to stick around as a light-hearted jibe towards Dubs.

Thanks to Frank Hopkins for the Cork Constitution comment of 1861.

Football For All.

Póg Mo Goal, the independent Irish football magazine and website, continues to go from strength to strength. To date, they have released three beautifully designed magazines, covering everything from “the Curse of the Square Crossbar” to the historic tensions between the GAA and association football. I’ve contributed a few features, including a profile of Easter Rising rebel and FAI President Oscar Traynor, and some of my favourite articles on the site have examined things as diverse as Martin McGuinness and his support for Manchester United, Con Houlihan’s relationship with Saint Patrick’s Athletic and the passion of Prague derby days.

I have an article on the website today that may appeal to readers of this blog, examining the history of women’s football in Ireland.  Of course, the central influence for writing this was the recent controversies around the women’s international side. The piece looks at the rise of women’s football in Britain against the backdrop of World War One and how this impacted on Ireland too. It runs right through to what many would argue were the glory days of women’s football here, the 1970s, when Inchicore local Anne O’Brien made it to the European stage, playing for French club Stade de Rheims and Italian giants Lazio. Anne told one journalist in Dublin Airport before departure that she’d been informed “the only alcohol we are allowed is locally-sourced champagne.” At home, clubs like the wonderfully named Suffragettes FC of Finglas thrived, and the future looked good.

The piece is available to read here.


Anne O’Brien (right) lines up for Lazio (Image Credit: LazioWiki)

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