Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category

Alan 1990s

Alan at anti-fascist demo in the 1990s. Credit – WSM.

We learned at lunchtime today of the tragic news that Alan MacSimoin has died. It was sudden and hit us hard. Alan was a social historian, political activist, trade unionist and great supporter of the Come Here To Me! project from day one.

Alan first became interested in politics in the late 1960s as a young teenager in Dublin. Paddy Healy recalled a very youthful Alan approaching him outside the GPO to buy a copy of the Young Socialist newspaper.

Alan said back in 2011:

I remember it as a time of optimism, modern ideas were challenging the conservative ones, the civil rights movement had brought out tens of thousands across the North, the Vietnamese were beating the mightiest military power on earth, the women’s movement was winning very real reforms.. Big change seemed possible.

While a secondary school student at Newpark Comprehensive School in South Dublin, Alan joined the youth wing of Official Sinn Féin. He recalls that the Special Branch visited his home and school in attempt to intimidate him as was a common tactic back then. Alan was centrally involved in the Irish Union of School Students in the 1970s which at its height had 7,000 paid up members.

Red Rag cover, 1975. Credit – Irish Anarchist History project

17-year-old Alan and a friend, both members of the William Thompson Republican Club, published a political magazine entitled ‘Red Rag‘ in 1975. Shortly later Alan resigned from the Official Republican Movement “because of its decision to regard the Soviet Bloc countries as “actually existing socialism” and to describe the 1956 Hungarian uprising as fascist.”

Alan then became interested in libertarian socialist/anarchist politics and remained committed to these ideals until the day he died. In the 1970s, he was also active with the anti-Nuclear movement and the Murrays Defence Committee.  Alan went to London and helped the Anarchist Workers Association produce a two sided special edition of their paper focusing on the Murrays. He took part in a demonstration outside the Irish Embassy on 24 July 1976.

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Libertarian Struggle magazine, January 1976.

He helped form the Dublin Anarchist Group (1978) and later the Anarchist Workers Alliance.

Alan. Anarchist Worker 1979

Alan’s contact details for the Anarchist Workers Alliance, 1979

User Battlescarred on Libcom.org has written:

In the 1970s as national secretary of the Anarchist Workers Association, I corresponded with a young man in an Irish Republican youth organisation who had started considering anarchist ideas. This was Alan and he went on to working with us to setting up an anarchist organisation in the Republic. This eventually became the Workers Solidarity Movement. Alan parted with the WSM some years ago but he remained an active anarchist till the end. He was bright and acerbic and always well dressed whenever I met him. A great loss to the movement and to the world.

A still from a recent television documentary showed Alan at a counter-demonstration in the face of a large anti-Traveller march in Tallaght in 1982:

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Alan with leather jacket and long hair in Tallaght, 1992

Here is a wonderful photograph of Eddie Conlon (left) and Alan (right) at Dunnes Stores strike picket in 1984.

Eddie Conlon (left) and Alan (right) at Dunnes Stores strike picket, 1984. Credit – The Irish Times

In 1984, Alan was a founding member of the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement and for the next 26 years was involved in countless campaigns around trade union rights, migrant solidarity, anti-racism, anti-apartheid, anti-war and anti-Bin charges.

In the early 1990s, he acted as spokesperson for the Dublin Abortion Information Service and was active with the campaign for divorce in the 1995 referendum.

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Letter to the Irish Times, 6 June 1996

A life-long historian, Alan was involved with SIPTU’s Dublin District Committee in its 1913 and 1916 commemorations and was a founding member of the Stoneybatter & Smihfield People’s History Project. Launching the website irishanarchisthistory.com in 2011, this pet project of his was an amazing resource of Irish anarchist material from the 1880s until today.


Alan at Mayday march in Belfast, 2006. Credit – Sam

In the last couple of years, Alan was heavily active with the Stoneybatter Against the Water Tax and the Dublin Central branch of the victorious Together For Yes campaign that repealed the 8th amendment.

Alan was a political mentor and strong supporter of Come Here To Me! since we launched in 2009. He will be truly missed. A giant of a man, he managed to retain close friends from all strands of left-wing politics in Ireland.

Alan at launch of CHTM! book 1 in December 2012. Credit – Paul Reynolds

Our deepest condolences to his partner Mary Muldowney and his extended family.

Funeral details can be found here on RIP.ie

Alan MacSimoin (25 June 1957 – 5 December 2018)

  • 2013 recording of Alan speaking at a public meeting about his involvement in radical politics in 1970s/1980s Dublin. Starts about 5mins 30secs in. Link.
  • 2014 recording of Alan speaking about Irish Squatting history. Starts about 12mins in. Link.
  • 2015 interview of Alan speaking about his early entry into politics. Link.
  • 2017 recording of Alan speaking at Peter Graham memorial meeting. Link.


  • 2018 post from the Working Solidarity Movement marking his passing. Link
  • 2018 post from Look Left Magazine (Workers Party) marking his passing. Link.



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The Dublin Castle homosexual scandal of 1884 is a complex story. It involves more than a dozen characters that were introduced over a series of separate criminal trials. All sections of society were involved. The upper echelons of serving police detectives, eminent civil servants and British Army captains. Aspirational middle-class bank clerks and Trinity college graduates. Right down to the semi-blind brothel-keepers and young male prostitutes who were described as “persons of the lowest class of life”. All of these men were accused in newspapers and in court of having same-sex physical relationships. Irish society was shocked.

My main interest is in one specific aspect of the scandal – the backgrounds and post-prison lives of three men who were convicted of running homosexual brothels in the city in 1884.

But before that, a very brief background.

Tim Healy (Irish Nationalist MP) accused two high-ranking British establishment figures, of being homosexual in the United Irishman newspaper edited by William O’Brien MP. They were:

  • James Ellis French (43) (1842-?), Detective Director of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and County Inspector for Cork, who lived at Bessborough Terrace off the North Circular Road
  • Gustavus Charles Cornwall (62) (1822-1903), Secretary of the General Post Office (GPO) who lived at 17 Harcourt Street.

Gustavus Cornwall photographed by Camille Silvy in 1861. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Both men had little choice but to sue the newspaper to uphold their reputations. French backed off as there was multiple evidence of his sexual relationships with young police officers. He retired from the RIC on the grounds of being medically unfit.

Cornwall, who was known by the nickname ‘the Duchess’, pressed on with his libel action and it went to court on 2 July 1884.

O’Brien’s solicitors and his private detective managed to convince three men to give evidence against Cornwall. They were:

  • Malcolm Johnston (21) known as ‘Conny’ or ‘Connie Clyde’ or ‘Connie Taylor’. A Trinity-educated student of ‘private means’ whose father ran a bakery business in Ballsbridge which later became ‘Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien’.
  • Alfred McKiernan/McKernan (25), from Pembroke Road, who was employed as a clerk in the Munster Bank for 16 years
  • George Taylor (33) known as the ‘Maid of Athens’. A former Royal College Surgeons medical student who was employed as a clerk in the British and Irish Steam Packet Company for four years

Another ‘Dublin Castle’ figure who was accused of being homosexual in court was:

  • Captain Martin Oranmore Kirwan (37) (1847-1904) of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, (aka ‘Lizzie’), who lived at 42 Upper Mount Street

Cornwall denied all the allegations. The trial lasted five days but the jury took only an hour to find Cornwall guilty. He was charged with buggery and with conspiracy to corrupt young men.

Headline from ‘Flag of Ireland’ newspaper, 1 November 1884.

O’Brien’s supporters held street parties in celebration outside the offices of the United Ireland newspaper and bonfires were supposedly lit around the country.

As a result of the evidence given in this trial, James Ellis French was arrested and brought to trial on 5 August 1884. He was charged with the attempted buggery on George Taylor and the soliciting of Malcolm Johnstone.

Kilmainham Prison Court Registry (5 August 1884) listing Cornwall, French, Pillar, Kirwan, Considine and Fowler. via FindMyPast.ie

Malcom Johnstone, Alfred McKiernan, George Taylor – the witnesses from the first trial – were charged along with James Ellis French and two other individuals:

  • Major Albert de Fernandez, a British Army surgeon in the Grenadier Guards
  • Johnston Lyttle (20), son a Protestant clergyman, and employee of Jameson’s distillery, Bow Street

Many other men fled the county to escape arrest including Charles Fitzgerald (26) of Dalkey, whose father ran a wine business in Brunswick Street; Police Inspector Esmond of the B Division and Richard Boyle, Chairman of the Dublin Stock Exchange.

The cases against Malcolm Johnston and Lyttle were dropped; Cornwall was acquitted; de Fernandez was found not guilty and French was found guilty and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour in December 1884.

The trial was a political victory for Irish Nationalists like Tim Healy and William O’Brien. As Jonathan Coleman has written, it was their “masterful, practiced rhetoric” that led Dublin Castle to be portrayed in the hearts and minds of the Irish public as “a bastion of corrupting, leprous perverts preying on the literal flesh of young Ireland—a powerful image for Irish nationalists.”

Prominent opponents of landlordism during the Land Wars William O’Brien (left – throwing papers into the fire) and Tim Healy (right – holding a large bottle of “Healy’s Disinfecting Fluid”) are pictured ‘disinfecting’ Dublin Castle. via http://www.dublincity.ie

It was revealed in court that liaisons and meetings took place between the various characters in the many locations around Dublin – the hothouses at the Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin; at a ‘musical party’ in a house on Raglan Road; the back seats of the Queen’s Theatre and the Gaiety Theatre; the urinal behind the Moore statue; laneways off Brunswick Street and Cornwall’s home. A lot of other activity happened in three brothels ran by three middle-aged men who were convicted in the August 1884 trial. Who were they and what happened to them?

Daniel Considine (41), a blind Protestant basketmaker and former school teacher, who was charged with keeping a room “for the purpose … of buggery” at his lodgings at 10 Great Ship Street in the shadow of Dublin Castle. He was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum punishment of two years hard labour.

– Robert Fowler (60), a Protestant toymaker, who lived in nearby 43 Golden Lane who was charged and found guilty of the same offence.

– James Pillar (63), a married Quaker grocer and merchant, who pleaded guilty to the charge of buggery and was sentenced to twenty years penal servitude. Pillar’s business premises at 56 Lower Rathmines Road beside Portobello Barracks was revealed to be a key meeting point for this homosexual network. Was it his Quaker beliefs that led to him pleading guilty to the charge? We can only guess.

All three men died before the century was out, two in desolation in the workhouse.

I’ve mapped out the locations of brothels and private residences of Considine (purple), Fowler (green) and Pillar (blue):

Daniel Considine was born in 1843 in Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin. In May 1884, he was charged with assaulting a police officer and sentenced to a fortnight’s imprisonment. Later that year, he was charged with running a brothel at 10 Great Ship Street. Considine told the court that in his youth he used to perform in drag at balls and at “little parties” in Dublin Castle.

Evidence from Daniel Considine. Belfast Newsletter, 22 August 1884.

The prison records described him as blind, 5ft 10inches with grey hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.

Assuming he served his full sentence, Considine was released from prison on 4 August 1886. Two years later he charged with assault but the case was dismissed in court.

In April 1898, Daniel Considine of 31 Jervis Street was admitted into the North Dublin Union workhouse. He died there on 18 April 1898 aged 55 of bright’s disease (chronic inflammation of the kidneys.). He was described as a ‘dealer’ and single.

Death certificate of Daniel Considine (1843-1898) of 31 Jervis Street, Dublin. Irishgenealogy.ie

Robert Fowler was born in 1823 or 1824 in London, England. The first records of him in Dublin date from July 1843 when he was charged with “attempting to violate” a woman named Mary but was found not guilty in court. In August 1864, he was described as a basket maker of 1 Bride Street when up on the charge of breaking glass of an unknown premises and sentenced to 10 days imprisonment.

In 1884, he was charged with running a brothel at 43 Golden Lane and it was revealed that his friends and lovers knew him as ‘Mother Fowler’.

The prison records described him as 5ft 6inches with grey hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion.

Assuming he served his full sentence, Fowler was also released from prison on 4 August 1886. In December of that year, Robert Fowler (63), a toymaker of 42 Upper Kevin Street, was charged with ‘vagrancy’ (i.e. homelessness) and sentenced to one month hard labour. He was convicted of the same offence in March 1889.

Robert Fowler died in the South Dublin Union workhouse on 1 September 1889 aged 65. His death certificate listed his occupation as ‘artist’.

Death Certificate of Robert Fowler (c. 1824 – 1899) of [42] Upper Kevin Street, Dublin. Irishgenealogy.ie

James Pillar was born on 2 February 1822 in Culkeeran, Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Griffith’s Valuation shows that he had a wine and grocery business at 56 Lower Rathmines Road, Dublin from at least 1850.

He married Susanna Pillar (née Hudson) (1822 – 1894) in 1847 and had three children: Charles Henry Pillar (1851-1910), Frederick James Pillar (1852-?) and Susanna Pillar (1857-1928).

The Pillar family in the Quaker records (1884) via FindMyPast.ie

At the time of the 1884 scandal, the Pillar family were living at 63 Palmerston Road. He was known to his friends and lovers as ‘Papa’ or ‘Pa’.

Advertisement for James Pillar’s business. The Irish Times, 28 Jan 1860.

Pillar was charged with committing buggery with Malcolm Johnston; George Taylor; Villiers Sankey; Private Odell and with conspiring with Clarke; Daniel Considine; Robert Fowler; Michael McGrane; Thomas Allen and William Carter.

The Richmond prison records described him as 5ft 6inches with grey hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.

Dublin Quaker record book announcing that Pillar’s name would “to erase his name” from their membership list. September 1884. via FindMyPast.ie

Pillar served half of his 20 year sentence according to author Glenn Chandler and was released in 1894. He didn’t last very long on the outside. Records show that James Pillar died in Mercers Hospital, Dublin on 24 November 1894 aged 72. He was a listed as a merchant of Ballin?, Wicklow.

Death certificate of James Pillar (1822-1894) of County Wicklow. Irishgenealogy.ie

Further reading

The Dublin Castle scandal offer a fascinating glimpse into the underground gay scene of 1880s Dublin which cut through all sections of society. It’s also significant for preceding a number of other key LGBT milestones – the Oscar Wilde libel trials (1895) in London; the Cleveland Street scandal (1899); the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels (1907) which revealed a homosexual network within Dublin Castle and the emergence of the Roger Casement diaries (1916).

+ Glenn Chandler – The Sins of Jack Saul (Grosvenor House, 2016) – Chs. 8-10

+ Jonathan Coleman – Rent: Same-Sex Prostitution in Modern Britain, 1885-1957 – Ch. 3

+ Averill Earls – Queer Politics: The Dublin Castle Scandal of 1884 (2018 Podcast)

+ Brian Lacey – Terrible Queer Creatures: Homosexuality in Irish History (Wordwell Books, 2008)- Ch. 11

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A hundred years ago today, it finally ended. A war that had coughed and spluttered along since 1914 came to a halt. For men like my great-grandfather, who survived the Somme and Passchendaele in the uniform of a Royal Dublin Fusilier, a nightmare had passed. Or, at least, one form of it. There is still something haunting about the words of writer and radical Liam O’Flaherty, who suffered severe shellsock in the war: “You have to go through life with that shell bursting in your head.”

On the streets of Dublin, the news of the end of the conflict was greeted with jubilation. Flags flew in the breeze, a mock funeral for the Kaiser made its way through the streets and great crowds thronged around public spaces, eager to celebrate. Over the following days however, tensions grew and real scenes of violence on the streets highlighted the political turmoil in the capital and beyond. Besieging Sinn Féin headquarters on Harcourt Street, the Mansion House and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union HQ at Liberty Hall, mobs made their hostility to separatists, who they regarded as ‘Pro German’, perfectly clear.

1918 was a year of eventful days in Dublin. There was the impeccably observed general strike against conscription, the defiance of Gaelic Sunday, and the day Ireland went to the polls in December. Armistice Day was another day that demonstrated something profound.


Freeman’s Journal, 12 November 1918.

In the days before the Armistice, there had been remarkable scenes on the continent. On the streets of Berlin, workers sick of the conflict and the poverty it had brought into their lives made a stand against the war that grabbed the attention of the world. According to one eyewitness report:

On the morning of November 9th they churned out following the calls of their leaders, the immense working masses came from the outskirts, from the factories where they had gathered, toward the interior of the city. Armed troops marched at the head of the mass. New troops continuously joined them. From the small businesses, from the houses now flowed a never-ending stream of them, adding to their number. The whole of proletarian Berlin, the grey impoverished mass that had starved and bled for four years, rose up.

Such radicalism was absent in Dublin, which was in a  more joyous mood. All across the island, flags were the order of the day. On the nationalist Falls Road in West Belfast, it was reported that American stars and stripes flew alongside the green flags of the Irish Parliamentary Party. America was a theme of much of the celebration, with President Wilson taking pride of place on the Freeman’s Journal as the “peoples’ peacemaker.” Nationalist Ireland perhaps believed her place at the table was certain in any post-war conference. For others, the flag of choice was the Union flag, and celebrations were first and foremost about the victory of Britain and not the United States. After all, it was in the ranks of the British armed forces that so many Irish had fought.

Over the city, planes took to the sky, performing loop-the-loops and “gracefully gambolling in a cloudless sky, their wings flashing in the sunlight.” Back down on the street, there was a moment of light relief when students of Trinity College Dublin staged a mock funeral for the Kaiser, commandeering a hearse, in which “was laid the remains of the Kaiser, wearing a gas mask. The funeral, preceded by a number of students and followed by a large crowd of laughing soldiers and civilians, created general amusement, and added considerably to the hilarity of the proceedings.” Some newspapers failed to mention that the effigy of the Kaiser was wrapped in a “Sinn Féin flag.”

The city was described as being “delirious with joy”, with the Freeman’s Journal maintaining that “the rejoicings were continued far into the evening, and it was midnight before the crowds had dispersed…..The quays were bedecked with flags. The Allied ensigns were flown from the ships in port and from the various shipping offices. Rockets were fired from the London and North Western steamers”.  As the day wore on, and presumably as the drink flowed, things got a little more sinister.

Reading the statements of republicans in the Bureau of Military History collections, I think some, after decades had passed, may have misplaced some of the violence that occurred over subsequent days on Armistice Day itself. Certainly, the 12th and the 13th were days of more considerable violence in Dublin. There was an attempt to storm the Sinn Féin office on Harcourt Street on the 11th, which would become a repeated target over the following nights. Joseph O’Connor, remembering some of the crowd from the first night to be Trinity College students, recounted:

When the mob arrived and found it impossible to enter they proceeded to attack the place with stones and broken bottles. That failed and they attempted to set fire to the place by igniting some materials at the hall door. This failed also and after some time they desisted in their attacks.

Volunteer Simon Donnelly, inside the building at the time of the first attack, recounted that “a volley of stones through the window heralded their arrival”, and that Sinn Féiners, ready and waiting with “hurleys and sticks”, became entangled in a row in the hallway, where “skull cracking was the order of the day.” Coal, returned stones and even boiling water was hurled from the windows. Harry Boland, on the premises during one attack, may not have helped proceedings by goading the crowd from the windows, telling them that while they may wreck the building they would never wreck Sinn Féin.

The distinguished writer and journalist Seamus O’Kelly, working at his desk at the time of the riots, became an unlikely casualty of the days of celebration. On 13 November the building was again ransacked. A contemporary of James Joyce in University College Dublin, O’Kelly attempted to fight off the mob, but collapsed during a melee, some accounts suggesting he may have had a heart attack amidst the panic. Taken to the Jervis Street Hospital, he died of a brain hemorrhage on 14 November.


Photograph of George Clancy, Professor Edmund Hogan, and Seumas O’Kelly,” held by UCD Library Special Collections. © University College Dublin. Digital content: © University College Dublin.

The violence escalated over subsequent nights, but undoubtedly the worst violence was at Liberty Hall. The Irish Independent reported on “a large gathering of soldiers, sailors and civilians carrying flags, singing Rule Britannia and shouting Liberty Hall, observed coming down Eden Quay. A series of trade union meetings were being held in the Hall, when the crowd, without warning, sent a fusillade of bricks and stones through the windows”. The president of the ITGWU condemned those who attacked a “non-political and purely trade union organisation.” Undoubtedly, the memory of James Connolly’s famous banner, thundering that WE SERVE NEITHER KING NOR KAISER BUT IRELAND, was not forgotten,and this was an act of revenge. Shots were fired at Beresford Place, perhaps saving the building, with numerous Citizen Army men recounting their role in the “defence of Liberty Hall” during the Armistice Day riots in their later pension applications. At the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor of Dublin was considerably less prepared, and windows were broken there too. The violence was a two way street, and several soldiers and policemen were reported injured in the press, some seriously.

It was all widely condemned, and negatively contrasted with the largely peaceful scenes of the 11th. Just who was blamed varied from paper to paper, reflecting various editorial lines. To the Freeman’s Journal:

If all mobs are dangerous, soldiers who have got out of hand are the most dangerous mob of all, and it certainly does not speak well for discipline that certain elements in the Dublin garrison were permitted to plunge the city into turmoil and confusion. Fortunately, civilians kept their heads, if the soldiers lost theirs, and saved what might have developed into a very ugly situation by their calmness and self-restraint.

Certainly, emotions were high and would remain so. As early as 1918 and into the following year, those who made it back from the war would begin debating its meaning. Some three thousand veterans of the war, aligned to the Irish Nationalist Veterans’ Association (INVA), would refuse to march in the subsequent victory parade, with the widow of Tom Kettle, Irish Parliamentary Party MP in the years before his death on the Western Front in 1916, proclaimed that “the men who went to France have been betrayed.” For others however, the war was viewed as a noble cause and a supreme sacrifice deserving of commemoration. There would be other violent November confrontations in the years that followed.

In memory of Thomas Howard (Royal Dublin Fusiliers) and all Dubliners who gave and risked their lives in the First World War. For a world without war.

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At night we lie in filthy beds
Scratching our aching lousy heads.
Broken by the thought of rent
For a room in a stinking tenement.

-excerpt from ‘The Workless’ in Republican Congress, 30 June 1934.


Iconic image of Republican Congress delegation partaking in commemoration. “Shankill Road Belfast Branch: Break The Connection With Capitalism.”

The Republican Congress occupies an important, though disputed, place in Irish left-wing memory. In existence from 1934 until 1936, the organisation emerged from a split within the ranks of the IRA, proclaiming boldly at its inception that “we believe that a Republic of a united Ireland will never be achieved except through a struggle which uproots capitalism on its way.”

Torn apart by internal ideological disagreement from the beginning, there is a certain romanticism attached to the Congress owing to its ability to organise some Belfast Protestant workers into its ranks and the fact some of its leading lights were killed on the battlefields of Spain (the Spanish Civil War remaining one of the few occasions in human history where history has very much been written by the defeated protagonists). Yet while much has been written on the anti-fascist activities of the Congress and its contribution to the ranks of the International Brigades, other aspects of its political activities are often overlooked. If Congress enjoyed success on any frontier, it was certainly in its abilities to organise in both Dublin slumdom and emerging suburbia with the emergence of Tenants Leagues, winning a number of victories over landlords and an embarrassed Dublin Corporation. Many of its tactics, from rent boycotts to the occupation of houses, would be adopted by later generations of housing activists.

A changing tenement landscape

The tenement landscape of 1930s Dublin is something we have previously examined on the website. In an irony of history, many of the tenements occupied what was once the splendor of a Georgian city. As Jim Larkin Jr. would recount, Dublin stood upon the Liffey as “a city of fine Georgian houses which had been slowly rotting away for a hundred years and which had become an ever growing cancer of horrible, inhuman, dirty, vermin infest tenements, unequaled by any modern city in Europe.”

The period witnessed some significant advances in public housing in the capital, thanks in no small part to the approach taken by Housing Architect Herbert George Simms, responsible for the construction of some 17,000 new dwellings in his time in office. New flat dwellings were constructed in the city, while suburban development pushed ahead. Taking Cabra as an example of growth, the population there increased from 5,326 in 1926 to 19,119 in 1936. Cabra on the northside and Crumlin/Drimnagh on the southside represented the most ambitious suburban developments of the still relatively new Free State. Fianna Fáil had made housing an election issue in 1923, referring to the out-going first government of the state as a “rich mans government” who had failed to provide for the working classes of Ireland’s urban centres.

Still, images like this one recently posted on the blog show how there was still much work to do. Right alongside the new developments of Simms and Dublin Corporation, tenements like those shown there in Mary’s Lane remained a reality for many. Conditions were poor in early Dublin Corporation inner-city housing schemes like Corporation Buildings, but they were worse still for those at the mercy of private landlords.

‘We, The People Of York Street’

From the very beginning of the Congress, its newspaper, Republican Congress, focused its attention on conditions in tenement Dublin. An edition of the paper in June 1934 reported on the refusal of residents of York Street to pay rents until conditions improved:

The slum dwellers of York Street have been the first section of the working-class to petition the people of Ireland to right the insufferable, shocking,inhuman conditions under which they live. Here is an appeal to the conscience of the Irish working-class that should strike a deep, momentous note of response. Terrible indignation should burn up in the breast of every worker at a system that condemns our brothers and sister to crawl to an unholy death in such cesspools of misery and abomination. Dublin landlords stand forth in this area as the most soulless, greedy, despicable exploiters of their class.

The paper called for the refusal of rents to be extended into other areas where housing was inadequate, insisting that “York Street is the first; where is the next? Extend the area! Broaden the struggle! Compel the Corporation to house the workers, whether they are able to pay or not. Houses first; talk of rent afterwards….Already it is done in English cities controlled by Labour Corporations.”

The paper encouraged tenement dwellers to “appear in your hundreds at the next Corporation meeting! Demand immediate action to clear these areas and transfer the tenants to Corporation houses and flats.” At the time, Alfie Byrne was Dublin’s Lord Mayor. Byrne had long enjoyed a strained relationship with the labour movement, stretching back to the days of Larkinism. The tenants marched onto the Mansion House, making their demands for “the  stopping of eviction proceedings now pending, and immediate steps by the Corporation to house the workers of the areas in suitable surroundings.” Byrne was in unfamiliar territory, the ever-popular politician now in a hostile crowd. While he met with a delegation from the York Street tenements, he emerged to an unfamiliar audience:

When the deputation appeared with Byrne on the Mansion House steps, the crowd refused to hear Alfie Byrne and shouted for Congress speakers. In response, Charlie Donnelly said that when the Congress led the tenants of Magee’s Court, York Street and Gloucester Place to the Mansion House did not give them the undertaking that the Lord Mayor would have any solution to their problem. The Congress had told them that the Corporation was a landlord Corporation, that it served the interests, not of the tenants, but of the landlords (cheers)

The landlords’ Corporation could not solve the workers’ housing problem because under the present system, houses were not built for workers’ use but for landlords’ profit (cheers).


Charles Donnelly, a young Congress activist centrally involved in the Tenants Leagues.


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River House (1973-2018)


Former motor tax office, Chancery Street (Aug 2018)

The removal of the motor tax office on Chancery Street has been a reminder of just how divisive the building is. River House has been empty for more than a decade, and in recent years there have been some anti-social problems around the complex. A Dublin City Councillor told the press that “from a local point of you, it has been a scourge, whether you’re talking about looking at it or otherwise. It has been a source of a lot of anti-social behaviour and criminality.” Its replacement, unsurprisingly at present, is to be a hotel. It seems everything is to be a hotel.

River House replaced the old motor tax office on Coleraine Street, which might better be described as a prefab. Few lamented its loss, and it was generally viewed as not fit for purpose. River House was completed in 1973, yet within a few short years there were demands for a second motor tax office on Dublin’s southside. Among various complaints were an absence of parking for members of the public around River House, it what was then still a thriving market district.


Sunday Independent image of River House, 1973.

In recent times, River House has been repeatedly described as ugly in the press, The Sunday Times labeling it a “brutalist eyesore.” Frank McDonald, a champion of good architecture of all  different schools and styles in Dublin, described it as an “incoherent building” in his classic study The Destruction of Dublin.

I feel it has some redeeming features, but is lacking by comparison to other brutalist structures of the period, certainly it has none of the robust glory of more celebrated buildings. The work of Patrick J. Sheahan & Partners, it never won the same praise as buildings such as the magnificent Berkeley Library of Trinity College Dublin or Fitzwilton House, described by @brutalistdublin as a “cathedral to concrete”. While a chorus of voices called for Fitzwilton House to be saved, the removal of River House occurs with no real voice of opposition. The controversies around its construction, and the fact it served as the much hated motor tax office, perhaps never really endeared the structure to Dubliners.

Writing for Architecture Ireland in 2016 on the subject of Fitzwilton House, architect noted that:

Those who remember the damage caused to the fabric of the city by the construction of these buildings may find it difficult to shed a tear when these too are threatened but it is unfair to judge the quality of a building by the circumstances of its inception. We are in danger of stripping the city of the remnants of modernism in favour of a built environment that has more to do with maximizing ‘return on investment’ than it does with architecture. And these buildings in turn will be replaced by newer shinier replacements in a wasteful cycle of destruction and reconstruction.

Regardless of what one thinks of River House, perhaps we can all agree on opposition to the city becoming one giant hotel.


Former motor tax office, Chancery Street (Aug 2018)

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What’s the news the newsboy yells?
What’s the news the paper tells?
A British retreat from the Dardanelles?
Says the Grand old Dame Britannia.

-From the contemporary song The Grand Old Dame Britannia.

In popular memory, the War of Independence is more synonymous with the hilly terrain of rural Ireland than Dublin’s urban landscape, despite a number of key events occurring in the capital, such as the burning of the Custom House and the drama of Bloody Sunday. In reality, ambushes were a feature of life in the capital too.

Nowhere was this truer than in the area of Aungier Street, Camden Street and Wexford Street. Essentially one long continuation linking the city centre at Dame Street to Portobello Barracks, it was a route frequently taken by British soldiers into the city.  Particularly dangerous was the area where Wexford Street once narrowed into Aungier Street, creating a bottleneck ideal for ambushing parties. It was British forces who christened the district ‘the Dardanelles’, drawing parallels to the First World War Gallipoli campaign.

The name remained in colloquial use in Dublin post-independence, and even survived road widening which transformed the appearance of Redmond’s Hill, removing the historic bottleneck. A writer in the Evening Herald in 1940 noted that some bus conductors did not believe in “scrapping the colloquial expression”, still intoning “we are at the Dardanelles.”


Bartholomew’s 1909 Plan of Dublin showing the area that became known as the Dardamelles.

In recounting the historic layout of the area, Volunteer Sean Prendergast recalled that:

Certain thoroughfares in Dublin had become prominent in the military sense due to the number and intensity of street bombings. One of these was Redmond’s Hill and Wexford Street in the 3rd Battalion Area….a short narrow street that divided Aungier Street and Camden Street. Those streets were habitually used by British forces flying from the city to Portobello Barracks and vice versa. Several streets jutted from the north entrance of Redmond’s Hill, Digges Street, Bishop’s Street and Peter’s Row….The strange feature about Redmond’s Hill was that it was a bottleneck. Ambushing at this point was carried out with such recurring frequency as to cause it to be regarded and called the Dardanelles.

There were many living in the district for whom the Dardanelles meant only one thing, the far off battlefields of World War One. The high loss of life among the Irish in the Dardanelles campaign would make its presence felt at home in the aftermath of the Rising, with the Freeman’s Journal proclaiming the Dardanelles to be “where Irish troops were sacrificed by blunders.”

A number of major employers in the area had proactively contributed to the British war effort, in particular Guinness and Jacob’s. At the time the First World War broke out, the workforce of Guinness stood at 3,650 people, of whom more than 800 would serve in the war effort. The brewery paid half wages to the dependents of these men, while also committing to reemployment upon return from the war. From Jacob’s, almost 400 employees had enlisted in the British Army. The presence of many so-called ‘Separation Women’ in the vicinity was a source of annoyance to the Irish Volunteers during Easter Week, and Bill Stapleton recounted of the first day of the Rising:

This was a very hostile area. We were booed and frequently pelted with various articles throughout the day. We were openly insulted, particularly by the wives of British soldiers who were drawing separation allowance and who referred to their sons and husbands fighting for freedom in France. As dusk as falling, about 8 or 8 o’clock, we retreated from the barricades to our headquarters at Jacob’s factory, at the Bishop Street entrance, and while waiting to be admitted we were submitted to all sorts of indignities by some of the local people. It was difficult to preserve control due to the treatment we suffered from these people.

As Prendergast rightly recounted, Dublin was an unfavourable field for military action; the “mobility, speed and characteristics of the armoured cars…afforded a certain amount of protection for the British forces… Add to that the feature that they generally operated in populous areas on the main thoroughfares and you get a fair picture of the difficulties facing the IRA in pursuing action against them.”



British forces leaving Portobello Barracks following its handing over in 1922 (Image Credit; Nationa lLibrary of Ireland)

As much as rifles and handguns, the IRA’s Third Battalion (for whom this area was pivotal) were dependent on a supply of grenades to lob into passing army vehicles. Throughout the guerilla war the IRA maintained a proactive GHQ, which included a Director of Chemicals, Director of Munitions and Director of Purchases, all tasked with different but important missions in arming the IRA. Clandestine grenade factories operated across the city, including one we previously looked at in Temple Bar. Michael Carroll, a Section Commander with the Third Battalion, recounted that the grenades were not always reliable, remembering an evening in Wexford Street when “an armoured turret car was passing along at medium speed, and James Harcourt lobbed a grenade into the open turret. A few seconds later the same grenade was thrown back on the roadway. It was a dud.”

In Carroll’s account of the district during the War of Independence, it was at a meeting on Stephen’s Day 1920 in a flat on Aungier Street that plans were discussed to carry out frequent ambushes in the locale, and “section leaders were told to inspect the area and to show the men quick exits after attack. All previous training in bomb throwing and rifle practice was of very little use at this period,as the whole method of street fighting now adopted changed completely.” The mission was simple: “It would not be possible for me to describe all the actions, as they were carried out in a hit and run manner. The main idea was to throw the grenade at the armed vehicle and get away as soon as possible.”

In a densely populated civilian area, there was always a risk to civilian life. Carroll recalled a gang of men outside a pub who were politely advised to move on before an attack near Wexford Street, but who refused to budge, only later to run away when the action began:

One Saturday evening we were tipped off that a lorry with British soldiers was moving along from Portobello Barracks direction, and some of the section were directed into Montague Street, also on the opposite side to Camden Row. Jimmy Keogh and I saw some young men loitering outside Sinnott’s public house and we quietly advised them to move away, explaining the reason.They refused to do so and gave out abuse, so we told them to stay where they were. Jim and I went across the street and stood at the corner of Montague Street. The vehicle was now approaching and Jim ordered me to cover him, while proceeding to throw the grenade….A couple of seconds later, a second grenade, thrown by Christy Murray, followed in, and both exploded inside, shaking the lorry from side to side as it sped down Wexford Street. Jim and I hurried to join the remainder o f the patrol in Montague Street. As we did so, the men who were loitering at the publichouse could be seen sprinting like hares along Camden Row. This was their last appearance at Sinnott’s exterior.

The British responded to the grenade attacks on armoured cars and other patrolling vehicles in a number of ways. Some British patrols began carrying republican prisoners, something that was done with notice in the hope of preventing attacks, though this was widely reported in the press and condemned across the political spectrum. Joseph McKenna notes in his history of guerilla warfare tactics in Ireland that when grenade attacks continued, “to prevent them from entering the vehicles, the British army trucks were covered in mesh. The IRA responded by attaching fishing hooks to the grenades, which would catch in the mesh and explode.”

Into the Civil War, both sides were conscious of the dangers posed by the district. Many in the Free State armed forces were former republicans, who had themselves partaken in ambushes on British forces in the War of Independence. In his history of the Civil War in Dublin, John Dorney notes that the new National Army found the Dardanelles a dilemma, one officer pondering: “Would it be worthwhile to put a small post on the Dardanelles. You remember how we often used it for ambushing cars in former times?” A republican ambush on Free State forces in January 1923 went disastrously wrong, wounding a number of innocent civilians. It was the sad end of ambushing days in the Dardanelles.


Newspaper report of 6 January 1923.

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If there is anything more depressing than a study of Dublin’s slums in detail it is a study of Dublin’s slum-dwellers…They look like people who have no healthy interests, no fresh and natural desires, nothing that the wildest imagination could call dreams; people who go through life as a narrow, burdensome, unintelligible pilgrimage; they have lost the capacity of sympathy, understanding and hope.

-From William Patrick Ryan’s The Pope’s Green Island, 1912.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the death of Herbert George Simms, Dublin’s pioneering Housing Architect. We have previously examined Simms in this piece on housing in 1930s Dublin. Much can be taken today from the work of Simms, who was responsible for the construction of some 17,000 new working class dwellings in his time in office, ranging from beautiful Art Deco flat schemes in the inner-city to new suburban landscapes. Speaking to a housing inquiry in 1935, Simms outlined his belief that “you cannot re-house a population of 15,000 people, as in the Crumlin scheme, without providing for the other necessities and amenities of life.” Future decades and failed projects have proven those words correct.

The death of Simms in September 1948 was tragic, with the architect throwing himself in front of a train near Coal Quay Bridge. His suicide note, which was rather curiously reprinted in the Irish Press newspaper, said “I cannot stand it any longer, my brain is too tired to work any more. It has not had a rest for 20 years except when I am in heavy sleep. It is always on the go like a dynamo and still the work is being piled on to me.”

To mark the anniversary of his passing, today we post this stunning image from the collections of Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive. It shows a familiar Dublin landmark, in the form of St. Michan’s Church, but also the meeting of two ages of housing in the Irish capital. On our right, we see the construction of the Greek Street flats. These flats were described in the press as being of “the most modern type….to us they recall photographs of municipal flat schemes from Berlin,Moscow or Vienna.” On the otherside, the tenement slums of Mary’s Lane remain. The image appeared in the Evening Mail, and captures the beginning of the work of Herbert Simms for Dublin.


Image Credit: Dublin City Public Libraries and Archives.

Simms will be honoured in October with the Simms120 conference, open to the public though registration is required:




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