Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category


Evening Herald, 15 May 1968.

Much will be written in the weeks ahead internationally about May 1968, and the student demonstrations which gripped France. They have achieved something of a legendary status in popular culture,  with the striking graphic posters and slogans of the student movement finding their way into mainstream consciousness. La barricade ferme la rue mais ouvre la voie appeared on Parisian walls, declaring that ‘the barricade blocks the street but opens the way.’

The Stone Roses later adopted the iconic lemon logo of the band on the basis of singer Ian Brown’s obsession with the May ’68 events, learning that lemons were carried by student demonstrators who believed them to nullify the effects of tear gas. Brown recalled that:

When we were in Paris we met this 65-year-old man who told us that if you suck a lemon it cancels out the effects of CS gas. He still thought that the government in France could be overthrown one day; he’d been there in ’68 and everything. So he always carried a lemon with him so he could help out at the front. Sixty-five – what a brilliant attitude.

Of course, angry students were not confined to the occupied universities of Paris in 1968. In the United States, students formed an important part of the Civil Rights movement, while in the North of Ireland People’s Democracy emerged in the later stage of the year, primarily from young activists in Queens University Belfast. To be a student in 1968, it seemed, was to be an activist.

 For what it’s worth, the students in France didn’t think much of the Ireland of the day. At several occupations, they watched the film The Rocky Road to Dublin, Peter Lennon’s great documentary that asked the fundamentally important question of “what do you do with your revolution once you’ve got it?” The film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival, which came to an abrupt end that year owing to the discontent that swept the country. It inspired more than one fierce debate in an occupied classroom.

In Dublin, Trinity College Dublin students made headlines in 1968 for their opposition to the visit of King Baudouin of Belgium to the university. It was a time when there was something of a buzz around the Left on the campus, with John Stephenson later recalling how “in the mid-sixties there was a pronounced progressive tendency in the student body.  Not since the Forties Prometheans had there been such a strong Leftist surge.” Central to the story were the Internationalists, a small Maoist grouping on campus who troubled the college authorities and puzzled some in the press beyond the walls of the university that had produced Edmund Burke and Edward Carson. Nusight reported that they “lived communally, shared all their earnings, rose at a certain time for pre-breakfast study sessions, and often worked an 18 hour day bill-posting around the city or stapling magazines.”


Trinity News coverage of the event.



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The crossroads of Ballybough Road and Clonliffe Road will be known to many Dubliners who make their way to and from Croke Park to watch Dublin compete. Today dominated by large advertising boards on what is prime advertising real estate, there is nothing to indicate the rather macabre history of the corner, which it seems was once home to a so-called ‘Suicide Plot’. This was essentially an unconsecrated burial location in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for those who took their own lives, as well as the occasional outlaw. It has entered local folklore, and was even mentioned in the Dail in 1990 by a TD who commented “there is also a suicide burial plot in the area and it is said that spirits are still in the park beside the Luke Kelly Bridge.”


Google Street view of the corner in July 2014. It has since been improved and includes recreational seating.

Ballybough’s name derives from the Irish language ‘Baile Bocht‘, meaning ‘poor town’. Before urban development, the district from Ballybough to North Strand was known colloquially as Mud Island, with the Rev. John Kingston noting in a 1950s piece that “Ballybough had an evil reputation during the eighteenth century…Beside the bridge was a noted suicide plot, where the bodies of suicides were interred in the time honoured fashion, transfixed with stakes, which according to belief, effectually prevented these unhappy beings from wandering about and alarming the public.”

There was little sympathy or understanding in most cases for those who took their own lives in earlier centuries. In an interesting History Ireland feature on Theobald Wolfe Tone, who made the decision to take his own life rather than face the death of a criminal, Georgina Laragy rightly notes that “At the time of his death suicide was a mortal sin, condemned by both Catholic and Protestant churches, and a crime under common law. It was punishable by burial at the crossroads with a stake through the heart, and the confiscation of one’s goods and chattels (both these punishments were overturned by legislation in 1823 and 1872 respectively).” Tone, a formidable political figure, was buried in consecrated ground at Bodenstown in Kildare, which very much defied the norm for such a death.  Felo de se, or ‘Felon of himself’, was the archaic legal term used to describe those who took their own lives.

Curiously little has been written about the site, with most of what has appeared in print bring rooted primarily in local lore. In his popular Dublin history The Labour and the Royal, Eamonn MacThomáis talks of Larry Clinch, an early nineteenth century highwayman figure, who was hanged in the vicinity following a shootout with militia men in November 1806: “The bodies of Larry and his gang were left lying on Clonfliffe Road to warn all other highwaymen. Later they were buried at the end of Clonliffe Road, at Ballybough Crossroads. Down the years many people have reported seeing a strange horseman rising up and down Clonfliffe Road late at night.”

B265 - 1960 Anti -Jewish signs in Dublin

A 1939 local history feature from the Irish Independent eludes to Larry Clinch and the “suicides’ ground at Ballybough.”

In Dublin, facts need not always interfere with stories of course, and the manner in which the plot is remembered (and even geographically placed) by locals is important in itself. It is certainly something most locals of a certain vintage seem to have at least heard of, which is interesting given the absence of a historic marker. The excellent East Wall for All blog has speculated on its potential literary importance, but there is undoubtedly a lot more work to be done.


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Dublin’s newest plaques were unveiled today on the Frank Flood Bridge, Drumcondra. They commemorate a young and fearless IRA Active Service Unit commander, a mere 19 years of age at the time of his execution. A student of University College Dublin, Flood was among the ‘Forgotten Ten’, buried in Mountjoy Prison until a state funeral in 2001 saw the men reburied in Glasnevin cemetery.

I was asked to say a few words today to put Frank Flood in context and to explain the importance of the Active Service Unit in the War of Independence:

Frank Flood, in some ways, was an unlikely radical. The son of a policeman, he was a very capable student of the same university attended by his friend Kevin Barry. Before this, he had been a student of the CBS North Richmond Street school, and perhaps therein lies the answer. This remarkable school was attended by republicans as diverse as Ernie O’Malley, Seán Heuston, Éamonn Ceannt and Sean Lemass. It was an atmosphere that nurtured nationalism.

If radicalism was found closer to home, it was in his siblings. Seán Flood, a brother, was a member of the 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, serving under Ned Daly in 1916 and throughout the subsequent years of struggle. Young Frank, born in December 1901, joined the Volunteer movement in the aftermath of the Rising in 1917. The family lived at 19 Summerhill Parade. Six Flood siblings played a part in the revolutionary period.

Flood proved capable of balancing student life with his involvement in the Republican movement. An active member of the college Literary and Historical Society, he involved himself in college life, in a university that could count Seán MacBride, Sean Ó Faoláin, Kevin Barry and Todd Andrews among its student body.  On the day Kevin Barry was hanged, young Seán MacBride was among those to raise a tricolour to half mast over the university, leading to a military raid on the college.

Flood was a quick rising star of the IRA, which found itself operating in difficult terrain in Dublin city centre, far removed from the rural hills and valleys of the Flying Columns. Flood was among the men who raided King’s Inn’s for arms in June of 1920, securing a Lewis gun among other captured items. Such acts were a morale boost to the movement, as well as providing crucially important arms.

Flood was among the participants in the Church Street Ambush in September 1920, when British soldiers at Monks Bakery were fired upon by an IRA party, resulting in several fatalities. A young Kevin Barry, hiding under a lorry in the confusion that followed the attack, was captured at the site. Barry’s sister later recalled Frank Flood’s heartbreak at Barry’s detention, insisting to her on several occasions that he and his comrades would do all in their power to break him out.

The creation of the IRA’s Active Service Unit in Dublin was a landmark moment in the conflict. As James Harpur recalled, “it was the intention of the Army Council to increase the activities of the I.R.A. and to counter increased British activities in Dublin, and to this end the Active Service Unit was being formed.” Harpur recounted being addressed by Oscar Traynor, and “he informed us that the
British were becoming a bit too ‘cocky’ in the city and were being allowed too much freedom of movement to carry out their policy of subduing the population, and that it had been decided to counter this activity on their part by giving them battle on our own ground.” It was dangerous and stressful work; ASU member Patrick Collins recalled Traynor telling the men “if any man felt that the work now or in the future would cause him too great a strain he was free to withdraw at any time without any reflection on him.”

Flood immediately took a prominent leadership position in the northside ASU’s. On the 21 January 1921, Flood led an IRA ambush party near to here. Dermot O’Sullivan, a surviving participant, recounted the events of that day in his Bureau of Military History Witness Statement:

On the 21st January, 1921, No. 1 Section was detailed to take up positions at Binn’s Bridge, Drumcondra, at 8.30 a.m. and to ambush a party of Black & Tans which usually came into the city at that time from Gormanstown….

 …The  Section Commander’s instructions for the attack on the Tan lorry were that the lorry was to be allowed to pass through our first pair of men and when it came in line with the -pair located on the north side of Binns Bridge they were to open fire on it. We were all to fire simultaneously likewise when it came abreast of our positions. The entire Section remained in position until 9.30 and as no Tan lorry came our way within that time the Section Commander decided to withdraw to a position further down the Drumcondra Road in the vicinity of Clonturk Park.

 The detection of the IRA men in the area by a passing police man created a dilemma, and the DMP man continued on his way, no doubt altering authorities. O’Sullivan recalled their decision to  attack a military van which approached from the Whitehall direction. O’Sullivan’s Witness Statement tells us:

Almost simultaneously with the arrival of the van we noticed that an armoured car and a few lorries of military were coming in our direction from the city and another armoured car and some lorries were also approaching our position from Whitehall direction. It was clear to us then that someone must have summoned the aid of the military and Tans as the place seemed to be surrounded. We saw there was nothing for it but to get out as quickly as we could, so we made our way down Richmond Road in the direction of Ballybough with the intention of cutting across country towards Clontarf. As we reached the junction of Gracepark Road we saw two tenders of Black & Tans approaching us from the Ballybough direction. We wheeled up Gracepark Road and into Gracepark Gardens. At that time Clonturk Park was open country. A Lewis gun which had opened fire at some of our section crossing Clonturk Park (which was not then a built-up area) could have brought us under fire. In fact, one of our men, McGee, was killed as he was trying to get away.

Hopelessly surrounded, most of the remaining the men  surrendered. The following day they were interrogated by intelligence agents from the Castle, with O’Sullivan recalling Frank Flood was “Struck across the face with a butt of a revolver and told to take the grin off his face.” Despite their efforts, their interrogators learned nothing of the inner-functions of the ASU, which was quickly attacking crown forces on the streets of the capital again.

O’Sullivan lived to tell that tale, his life being spared on the basis of his youth, though one could hardly consider Flood and his comrades old men. Four of the party which participated in the planned ambush were executed on the 14 March 1921. They were:

Patrick Doyle, aged 29

Francis Xavier Flood, aged 19

Thomas Bryan, aged 24

Bernard ‘Bertie’ Ryan, aged 21.

The crime for which Frank Flood was executed was ‘High Treason’, yet he had acted not out of any sense of treason, but loyalty to the idea of the Republic proclaimed at Easter Week, and reaffirmed in the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil. In the words of Canon Waters inside the prison, these condemned men “walked to the scaffold like lions.”

In recognition of their contribution, the men were rightly reburied in Glasnevin cemetery in 2001. Let this new memorial, like their prominent resisting place there, remind Dubliners of their bravery and heroism.

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Allow me to tip my Magee cap in the direction of Simon Conway. Man about town, DJ, promoter and publican (behind Lucky’s on Meath Street and The Yacht in Ringsend) his insistence led to us putting together this forthcoming evening of chat.

Ringsend is an area with a strong football heritage, the birthplace of both Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers. It is also associated with some remarkable players and footballing figures like Billy Behan, recently examined on the blog.

This forthcoming night is a chance to talk about some of that history. Eoghan Rice is the author of We Are Rovers, which remains one of the finest League of Ireland books, right up there with There’s Only One Red Army (examining the other SRFC).Fergus Dowd from the Patrick O’Connell memorial fund will talk about the forthcoming documentary ‘The Man Who Saved Barcelona’ and the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund. We’ll be showing the extended trailer for that forthcoming documentary, as well as the wonderful ‘In My Book, You Should Be Ahead’, which examines Shels.

The poster is a magnificent tribute to both the beautiful game and Ringsend, all credit to Manus Jude Sweeney.

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The Turkish Baths of 1860, Lincoln Place, Dublin. Our story today concerns an early forerunner of these Turkish Baths. (Image: Archiseek)

In the Dublin of the late eighteenth century, Achmet Borumborad cut an unusual shape. A tall Turkish man sporting a fine beard and wearing traditional Turkish attire, Jonah Barrington (judge, lawyer and Dublin socialite) remembered him as “being extremely handsome without any approach to the tawdry, and crowned with an immense turban, he drew the eyes of every passersby; I must say that I have never myself seen a more stately-looking Turk since that period.”

Borbumborad was literally followed through the streets of the capital by the curious, with Barrington relating how “the eccentricity of the doctor’s appearance was, indeed, as will be readily be imagined, the occasion of much idle observation and conjecture. At first, wherever he went,a crowd of people, chiefly boys,was sure to attend him, but at a respectful distance”.

A doctor by profession with immaculate English, Borbumboard quickly made his way into the upper echelons of Dublin society, wining and dining with the elite of the College Green Parliament, gaining a reputation as a fine conversationalist who was “pregnant with anecdote, but discreet in its expenditure.” He is mentioned in contemporary publications, with a poem entitled The Medical Review from 1775 describing “his foreign accent, head close-shaved or sheard. His flowing whiskers, and great length of beard.”

While the period calls to mind the privileged dueling ‘Bucks’ of Trinity College, sedan chairs on College Green and the occasional riot in the Smock Alley Theatre, eighteenth century Dublin had its fair share of poverty and misery too, evident from primary sources like the survey census of the city carried out by the Reverend James Whitelaw in the summer of discontent that was 1798. Whitelaw was horrified to report:

I have frequently surprised from ten to 16 persons, of all ages and sexes, in a room, not 15 feet square, stretched on a wad of filthy straw, swarming with vermin, and without any covering, save the wretched rags that constituted their wearing apparel. Under such circumstances, it is not extraordinary, that I should have frequently found from 30 to 50 individuals in a house.

While groundbreaking work on the infectious nature of disease (such as that carried out by Oscar Wilde’s father, Sir William Wilde) remained a long way off in the distance, many contemporary observers in the eighteenth century were aware of the poor health of the less well-off inhabitants of Dublin. Borbumborad, the man from God knows where, was among such voices. Barrington recounts how “he proposed to establish what was greatly wanted at that time in the Irish metropolis, ‘Hot and Cold Sea-water Baths’, and by way of advancing his pretensions to public encouragement, offered to open free baths for the poor on an extensive plan, giving them as a doctor attendance and advice gratis every day in the year.”


Jonah Barrington, responsible for some of the most entertaining and colourful memoirs of late eighteenth century Dublin.

With public subscription, Borbumborad succeeded in opening his Turkish Baths beside Bachelor’s Walk in October 1771, supported by dozens of parliamentarians, surgeons and physicians. The baths were a great success, Barrington proclaiming that “a more ingenious or useful establishment could not be formed in any metropolis.” Borumborad constructed “an immense cold bath…to communicate with the River, it was large and deep, and entirely renewed every tide. The neatest lodging rooms for those patients who chose to remain during a course of bathing were added to the establishment, and always occupied.”


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Noel Hughes, Moore Street 2017. (Image: Las Fallon)

Like many people we were saddened to hear of the passing of Noel ‘Chalky’ Hughes this week.

A veteran of the ‘Operation Harvest’ Border Campaign of the 1950s, Noel was a committed republican and a very proud Dubliner. For many years he conducted walking tours of Glasnevin Cemetery, and also provided tours of the Dublin 7 area which was his home through many decades. We were lucky enough to set out on one of these tours with Noel, from the familiar setting of The Cobblestone, taking in the Smithfield Market,Church Street and more besides. Chalky was centrally involved to many commemorations in the capital over decades, where he was a familiar sight with the ‘Dublin Brigade – Oglaidh na hÉireann’ flag.

Noel contributed two videos to the Storymap oral history project, recalling his youth in the Coleraine Street/Smithfield area:


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George Desmond Hodnett (Image Credit)

Next Sunday marks the centenary of the birth of George Desmond Hodnett, a man who lived a colourful life on several fronts. A guest on the first ever edition of The Late Late Show, he was part of the Bohemian set of 1950s Dublin, primarily known as a pianist and composer at the popular Pike Theatre.  He was also a distinguished music critic with The Irish Times, with an unrivaled knowledge of jazz music. Known to many as Hoddy, a review of his appearance on The Late Late Show noted:

Hoddy brought to the show a splendid touch of almost baroque eccentricity. Now  living in London, he was snaffled for the Late Late Show at a few hours notice. He entertained both studio audience and the viewer at home with a delightful line of talk about everything from the proceeding vulgarisation of O’Connell Street  to his own view on copy-writing, a job he is currently doing in London.

A Dubliner by birth, he enjoyed a decidedly middle class youth, educated at the private Catholic University School on Leeson Street and Trinity College Dublin. He never finished his studies at Trinity, instead falling into the Dublin set of the day, frequently to be found in McDaid’s or the so-called Catacombs where drinking could continue into all hours.

Irish Times journalist Deaglan De Breadun remembered of him:

A talented composer and musician, he played jazz piano, trumpet and, of all things, zither. Perhaps he learnt to play it from his Swiss-born mother, Lauré. The instrument became briefly fashionable thanks to the Orson Welles movie, The Third Man and, at the time, George was probably the only zither-player in the country.

He cut a most unusual shape, and Frank Kilfeather recalled that “from his dress, to his conversation, to his peculiar habits, Hoddy was a character. If he hadn’t existed, the most brilliant fiction writer couldn’t invent him. He always wore two overcoats and two jumpers, even in the middle of summer.”

In the 1950s, Hoddy was a loved part of the repertoire of the Pike Theatre, penning and performing satirical tunes for revues at the venue, where he worked as resident pianist. I won’t say much about the Pike Theatre, because it will be returned to again on the blog, but it was a necessary institution in the Ireland of its day that pushed boundaries and offered a platform to sometimes sidelined voices. In the words of Brian Fallon, writing about the 1950s (a decade that is  often wrongly considered a grey one in Irish culture), “most of the laurels for the decade belong to the gallant little Pike: for its staging of Behan’s masterpiece, for mounting Beckett’s Waiting for Godot the following year and for its 1957 performance of Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo which led to its actors appearing in court under a police prosecution for indecency.” Located in Herbert Lane, the theatre was the great vision of Alan Simpson and Carolyn Swift. It was making an impact at a time when the mainstream theatre world was offering little. In Spiked: Church-State Intrigue and The Rose Tattoo, it’s noted wryly that “when the Abbey burned down in 1951, it was popularly joked that the fire was the first flame of any kind to light the place up for many years.”

One great Hoddy original was Monto, popularly known now as ‘Take Her Up To Monto’. In his own words, it was a satire of many folk songs of its day, though he noted in one interview that its popularity reached a point “when it has become the folk song it originally aimed at satirising.”

If you somehow haven’t heard it here it is in all of its glory:


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