I must confess, that from time to time I do buy books based on their covers alone. Sometimes, it can be because of who the illustrator is, and other times for what the books capture of Dublin past. I couldn’t resist Terence de Vere White’s A Fretful Midge (1957) recently when I stumbled across it.
The front of the book shows 12 Aungier Street, today home to JJ Smyth’s pub, and the birthplace of the poet Thomas Moore. There is a great blog post on Architecture Ireland about this building through the ages. The building once had a bust of Thomas Moore in its exterior, visible in the illustration above, but it is no more today:
On the 28 May 1779, the house became the home of Thomas Moore. His father, John Moore, was a grocer and wine-merchant and ran the business from the ground floor of the family home. Moore passed the first twenty years of his life in the house, where the ‘entertainments given by my joyous and social mother could, for gaiety, match with the best.’
12 Aungier Street as we see it today is a very different building from that of the 1780s, when Moore grew up within it. As the Architecture Ireland post notes, the 1960s brought great changes to the streetscape:
However, the arrival of the sixties heralded a period of economic growth in Ireland and historic buildings all over the city were pulled down to make way for office blocks and housing complexes. Unfortunately, number 12 did not escape the destruction, and in 1962 it was largely demolished by Dublin Corporation, despite the pleas of those who wished to have it preserved. The following year it was reconstructed to appear as it had when Moore occupied it. Some of the original features were restored, including two hall doors, however, very little authentic fabric remains. The large paned Victorian windows were replaced with Georgian replicas and the bust of Thomas Moore was again removed from the façade.
This unfortunate demolition resulted in the loss of a historic monument. The house’s reconstruction failed to respect the layering of fabric that had built up over time, telling the story of the building. Today, it appears that the house has all but lost its connection to Moore, with only low-lying plaque in the wall indicating the site’s cultural significance.
Now I’ve admitted to buying the book just because I liked the illustration on the front, I should give it its rightful praise. Inside, it has proven a great read.Terence de Vere White (1912-1994) was a lawyer, writer, playwright and literary editor of The Irish Times from 1961 to 1977. The book has some very colourful insights on twentieth century Dublin, for example describing how a family that were loyal in their political convictions responded to the Rising:
We were living in Marlborough Road when the Easter Week Rebellion of 1916 took Dublin by surprise….That action, call it what you please, was resented by the vast majority in Dublin at the time. We went in broad daylight with our nurse to the barricades in Donnybrook and gave food to English tommies. All round us others were doing likewise. No one protested. It must have seemed the most ordinary and normal of actions or we would not have been allowed to go out with our nurse to perform it.
From the back windows of our house we could see the tower of St Mary’s in Haddington Road.From talk overheard I thought there were snipers up in the tower and I looked at it with awe as I was going to bed; with too, too,I hope, for the lonely men up there in the tower, now a dark shadow against the flaming sky of the city which a gun-boat in the bay was pounding to rubble.