Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category


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.

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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.

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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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159 Capel Street.

When buildings are undergoing considerable work, signs of previous incarnations can appear. At 159 Capel Street, the name Walsh’s is once again visible over the shutters of the premises (a better image here, from the excellent ‘Dublin Ghost Signs’). The people behind the Temple Bar seafood favorite Klaw have acquired the site, and it will be reopening to the public soon as PoKē.

While it’s great to temporarily get a look at the Walsh’s signage again, it isn’t only such signage which can reveal the history of buildings, and sometimes there are further clues of the past in the brickwork. Looking at this building earlier as I made my way up Capel Street, I wondered how I never spotted the faded ‘Stars and Stripes’ painted onto the exterior of the building.


159 Capel Street.

In a former life, the building was home to the American Hotel, which operated there in the 1930s. The proprietor was Michael Costello, “a noted athlete and hurler in his day”, who died at the address in 1938. It appears that the American Hotel was a short-lived venture, but more than eight decades on the flag remains visible on the premises.

While Walsh’s name will no doubt disappear once more in the weeks ahead, as a new business makes 159 Capel Street home, the fading reminder of the American Hotel will remain.


Irish Press, 1934.

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The brilliant resource ‘U2 & Dublin ’76 to ’80‘ published a photograph yesterday from the 1976 ‘Falling Asunder’ music tour which had never been digitised before.

The Boomtown Rats, Cheap Thrills, Nightbus plus Billy McGrath (tour organiser) and Phay McMahon (lights). July 1976

This groundbreaking ‘rock revue’ showcased The Boomtown Rats, Nightbus and Cheap Thrills  and was the first nationwide tour of Irish rock bands. A 29-seater bus toured all over Ireland in July 1976 taking in at least 15 different venues.

The ‘Much More Music Disco’ and the ‘Taylor Lightshow’ were part of the four-hour package. Admission was usually £1.

The Munster Express (16 July 1976) wrote

Each of these bands play a different and varied set musical set of which at least fifty per cent is original material. The Rats music has been described as a sound summit of Rhythm and Blues whereas others prefer the funky sound of Nightbus or the more pastoral mellow music of Cheap Thrills

JULY 1976
14th – Little Theatre, Gorey, Wexford
15th – Atlantic Ballroom, Tramore, Waterford
17th – City Hall, Cork
18th – Caroline Ballroom, Clonmel, Tipperary
19th – Town Hall, Killarney, Kerry
20th – Mount Brandon, Tralee, Kerry
21st – Glentworth Hotel, Limerick
22nd – Town Hall, Westport, Mayo
23rd – Hotel Ormond, Nenagh, Tipperary
24th – Teach Furbo, Galway
25th – The Crescent, Athlone, Westmeath
27th – ?, Newbridge, Kildare
28th – National Stadium, Dublin
29th – Town Hall, Dundalk, Louth
30th – White Horse, Drogheda, Louth

In terms of identifying the individuals pictured.

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Front row (from l-r)

1. Dave McHale RIP (Keyboards, Nightbus. Later ‘Stagalee‘ and ‘The Rats’)
2. Greg Boland (Guitar, Nightbus. Previously ‘Supply Demand & Curve‘ and later ‘Stagalee’)
3. ? Gary Dixon (Guitar, ‘Cheap Thrills’)
4. Bob Geldof (Vocals & Harmonica, ‘The Rats’)
5. Garry Roberts (Guitar, ‘The Rats’)
6. Pete Briquette in dark glasses (Bass, ‘The Rats’)
7. Eamon Doyle in front of Pete (Bass, ‘Nightbus’)
8. Deke O’Brien in baseball cap (Singer & Guitar, ‘Nightbus’)
9. Billy McGrath (Tour organiser & Manager)
10. Sean O’Reilly (Drums, ‘Nightbus’)
11. Unknown (?, ‘Nightbus’)
12. ? Brendan O’Keefe (Guitar, ‘Cheap Thrills’)
Back Row (l-r)
13. Simon Crowe (Drums, ‘The Rats’)
14. Johnnie Fingers (Keyboards, ‘The Rats’)
15. ? John Quinn (Singer & Bass, ‘Cheap Thrills’)
16. Gerry Cott (Guitar, ‘The Rats’)
17. ? Alan Dixon (Drums, ‘Cheap Thrills’)
18. Phay ‘Taylor’ MacMahon (Lights) [Later Production Management, Site Co Ordinator and Lighting Designer for many artists including Paul McCartney, George Michael, Meat Loaf, Def Leppard, Aerosmith and Westlife]

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In a very grim way, Mamie Cadden (1891 -1959) found her way into the folklore of Dublin city. Dublin’s most infamous ‘backstreet abortionist’, her name was almost synonymous with evil in the city for a generation, and she emerges in several memoirs of Dublin in the mid-twentieth century. Edna O’Brien remembered hearing of Cadden, “to some an angel of deliverance, to others a murderer, and who would die, declared insane, in a lunatic asylum in Dundrum.”


Mamie Cadden, photographed following one of several arrests.

Yet Mamie Cadden, whose story has inspired books (Ray Kavanagh’s Mamie Cadden: Backstreet Abortionist) and documentaries was just one part of a much bigger tale. In the Dublin of her time, there were many others who emerged as so-called ‘backstreet abortionists’, and across the city men and women like Cadden offered to provide terminations to women who found themselves in crisis pregnancies.

In 1941, The Bell noted that when faced with a crisis pregnancy, “The well-off young woman confesses to her parents; she is hustled off, normally to London, Paris, Biarritz, comes back without the baby, and nobody is any the wiser.” For working class women unable to travel to Britain for terminations, Dublin provided options, but to what extend did the authorities know this was going on, and what motivated people like Cadden and others discussed in this piece?

Exporting Abortion, “An English Solution to an Irish Problem”:

In his groundbreaking history of sex and Irish society, historian Diarmaid Ferriter clearly demonstrated that there is little new about Irish women traveling to the UK for terminations, noting that:

There were no prosecutions in Ireland for illegal abortions between 1938 and 1942…but as a result of the travel restrictions imposed during the war years, there were 25 cases prosecuted in Ireland between 1942 and 1946, while after the war the number of prosecutions decreased, with only 12 cases between 1947 and 1956.

The late 1930s witnessed the beginning of moves towards the liberalisation of British abortion laws (though it was still a long journey towards the 1967 Abortion Act) and it has been argued that “the trek of pregnant women from Ireland to England to have abortions really began in the late 1930s, not the late 1960s as is usually stated“. As British abortion laws changed in subsequent decades, and travel became more affordable, more and more women availed of the option of terminations in Britain. In 1975, June Levine wrote in the Sunday Independent that:

If England closed her doors to Irish clients, Ireland would be beset with a major problem of backstreet abortion. The savage treatment of single mothers in our society is in the main the cause of the abortion trek to England.

William Henry Coleman of Merrion Square:

Were it not for Cadden, perhaps William Henry Coleman would be the most widely known of Dublin’s ‘backstreet abortionists’ historically. Certainly, plenty of column inches went on reporting on trials of Coleman in the 1940s, as his Merrion Square clinic was on the receiving end of much police attention. As Cadden’s biographer has noted, “he was very different to Mamie Cadden especially in that he had no medical qualification whatever….He was an electrician with a criminal record. In 1933 he had been convicted of arson, attempts to procure money under false pretences and a bankruptcy-related charge, and had received three years penal servitude.”

Coleman advertised his services in Dublin newspapers, offering to deal with “psychological, nervous [or] sexual troubles.” There was nothing new about cryptic newspaper advertisements for such services, advertisements like Coleman’s had been appearing in the international press since Victorian times. His services were not cheap; Tim Pat Coogan has recalled hearing of Coleman’s business operation:

I later discovered that he had run a flourishing abortion practice, charging Dublin’s better-off women IR£60 a time, a very large amount of money in those days. Other well-known abortionists of the period charged approximately half that amount, but such fees were still utterly beyond the reach of working class women who lived in a world where labouring men earned two or three pounds a week….

Coleman and others like him benefited from the travel restrictions imposed here during ‘The Emergency’, which made it difficult for women to access terminations in Britain. In April 1944, Coleman was arrested and his premises raided. When he made it to the courts the Prosecution went as far as to say that “no fouler being has ever crossed the threshold of the dock: Your Lordship has never had before you a man so consummate in his infamy, so depraved and vile in his occupation and in so many aspects of his life.” Coleman was sentenced to fifteen years penal servitude, later reduced to seven years.


1945 press report on the conviction of William Henry Coleman.

Before the suppression of Coleman’s premises, an earlier police operation had closed a Parkgate Street abortion clinic, which was said to be the busiest in the city. On that occasion, a woman was sentenced for “nine counts concerning an illegal operation”, receiving ten years penal servitude. It was clear the authorities were cracking down.


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