Archive for the ‘Dublin History’ Category


JSA Architects image of ALDI Terenure, incorporating the old DUTC tram terminus on left and right into the modern design. (Image Credit: JSA)

Before Nelson’s Pillar trams slowed, shunted, changed trolley started from Blackrock, Kingstown and Dalkey, Clonskea, Rathgar and Terenure, Palmerston Park and upper Rathmines, Sandymount Green, Rathmines, Ringsend, and Sandymount Tower, Harold’s Cross.

The hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company’s timekeeper bawled them off:
– Rathgar and Terenure!
-Come on, Sandymount Green!

While forever immortalised in Ulysses, there are still remnants of the Dublin United Tramways Company to be found around Dublin city today, including the former premises of the DUTC on Marlborough Street, which the name of the company in the stonework still.


1914 image of trams in Terenure. Notice The Eagle House on the left, still going strong today. (Image: National Library of Ireland)

At Terenure,the old and the new meet in a curious way, with historic features of the DUTC tram terminus incorporated into the ALDI development. Not being from the area, but living nearby, stepping inside the ALDI and looking at its surroundings gave me a sense there was a longer history to the site than a supermarket. At the nearby The Eagle House pub, the location where Joyce’s mother was born, pictures on the wall show the local streetscape at a time when trams were a part of life there, the familair red triangle of the No. 15 which serviced Terenure and its environs. Today, Terenure is serviced by the 15 route of Dublin Bus, a nod towards the historic tram route.


The 15 tram for Terenure in Rathmines.

The Terenure tram depot opened in February 1872, at a time when horses were still utilised by the DUTC. As Joseph V. O’Brien notes, the introduction of electric trams into the city at the very end of the ninteenth century was considered “one of Dublin’s minor glories”, and while critics felt the minimum fare was too high (twice that of Glasgow, a city of considerably more industry), electric trams were widely praised. By January 1900, most of DUTC’s system had moved to the electronic system. It was to be a system which lasted less than a half century. The DUTC made it to the mid 1940s, when – under the banner of ‘progress’ – the tram system in Dublin ground to a halt, with the exception of the Hill of Howth tram which would carry into the subsequent decade. The final tram to pull into Terenure did so on 31 August 1948. Dozens of miles of tram track would dissappear in subsequent decades from Dublin. In time, the city would lay down tramlines once more, but many parts of Dublin once serviced by the DUTC don’t see trams today.

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Liffey Street commemorative plaque to Hector Grey, unveiled in1988.

Passing through Upper Liffey Street recently, I was surprised to see the transformation of the street, with the demolition of a row of buildings that included the site of one of Hector Grey’s Dublin shops. This is to accommodate the construction of another hotel in Dublin, this time a 310 room budget hotel.

Born Alexander Scott in 1904, the name Hector Grey was borrowed from an Australian jockey,an interesting character in his own right who had been banned from horse racing on more than one occasion. Having married Annabelle, a Dubliner from the dockside, he moved to Dublin in the hungry 1920s. Any Dublin memoir from the second half of the twentieth century which fails to mention Hector is incomplete. Journalist Gene Kerrigan captures him best:

He was a big, heavy man, balding, glasses, a strong Scots accent after decades in Ireland, a distinct voice honed on years of street selling. “I’m not asking for three pounds or two pounds! I’m not even asking for a pound!” and we knew he was going to bring the asking price down to ten shillings and the adults considered the wisdom of making a purchase. Yes, it was reasonable value at ten shillings, but did they really need it?

While Hector’s former shop is no more, a small plaque on Liffey Street by the Ha’penny Bridge marks the location where he began trading. Grey’s empire would expand in time to include shops in Liffey Street, Mary Street and the Crumlin Shopping Centre. At the time of his death, an obituary noted that “even when he was a millionaire he came back to this bank of the Liffey to sell from a box anything from Korean umbrellas to Penang penknives.”

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Evening Herald, November 1976.

Beside the Ha’penny Bridge, Hector ran a sort of auction, offering the goods to those willing to pay the highest price. The key to Grey’s success was exploring foreign markets for materials to sell here, as “by exploring the cheap markets of the East he brought many consumer goods to within the reach of the underprivileged.” The form of selling shifted when Hector opened his stores, which became a sort of Aladdin’s Cave offering just about everything you could imagine at knockdown prices. The empire grew to employ more than a hundred people,from John Kearney and Ernie Fields who helped Hector at the Ha’penny Bridge to Joe Flaherty, who became the retail manager of a growing empire. In 1977, the Irish Press noted Grey sold something in the region of a million pounds worth of toys each Christmas.

Recently ,I asked on Twitter for any recollections of Grey and his empire of shops. The thread produced some excellent and personal responses. From Mary Buckley, on the magic of the place:

Kids’ paradise. Crammed with small metal toys in bright colours with movable parts. No computer chips or screens for us then. A clockwork train was the stuff of dreams. Hector made xmas for families with little money that wanted to give their kids nice gifts

Historian Terry Fagan recounted:

Lots of memories of Hector Grey. I remember my father worked on the docks, the boat that came into Dublin Port at Christmas time loaded with toys for Hector Grey & other shops was called “The Blue Funnel” my father & other Dockers got toy’s for their children

Hector died in 1985, and the fact a plaque was unveiled only three years later in his honour says something about his standing in Dublin, a ‘street character’ in his own lifetime. The family continued the business into subsequent years. Long after closing, the name of Hector Grey remained on Liffey Street, as documented by the brilliant builtdublin.com.


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Remembering Seán Treacy


The unveiling of a plaque to Seán Treacy at the Republican Outfitters, Talbot Street (Irish Press, 1937)

While the focus of many people in Dublin is firmly on the coming challenge of Kerry in the All Ireland Football Final, tomorrow will see a showdown of a different kind, when Tipperary and Kilkenny take to the field of Croke Park.

Those in Dublin at noon should take a stroll down Talbot Street, where a tradition plays out every time Tipperary reach the final. Gathering in honour of Seán Treacy, hundreds will pay their respects at the spot where he was killed before making their way on to Croke Park.

Treacy, born in West Tipperary in 1895, had been a participant in the Soloheadbeg Ambush of January 1919, often considered to be the beginning of the War of Independence, though there had been fatalities on both sides in the years following the Easter Rising and before that ambush. Dan Breen recounted:

…we took the action deliberately, having thought over the matter and talked it over between us. [Seán] Treacy had stated to me that the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces … The only regret that we had following the ambush was that there were only two policemen in it, instead of the six we had expected.

Living in a Dublin safehouse in October 1920, Treacy was caught in a firefight on Talbot Street with Gilbert Price, part of a British Secret Service surveillance team monitoring the Republican Outfitters and seeking wanted men in the capital. The bodies of both Price and Treacy were photographed lying in the street, and while the conflict was primarily being fought in rural terrain, it was a reminder that a war of espionage was being fought on the streets of the capital too. Treacy became one of the most commemorated figures in the aftermath of the conflict. Desmond Ryan, 1916 veteran and later historian of the revolution, wrote on his anniversary that:

Twenty years after his death, his very name is sufficient to dissipate many dark clouds of disappointment and disillusion among those who knew him, to bridge Civil War differences, to dispel the questionings and weariness with which many regard the aftermath of the recent wars of Ireland.


Memorial card for Seán Treacy

Gathering to honour Treacy at the spot where he died is a tradition now among Tipp fans, one of few commemorative rituals in Ireland which seems to grow with time rather than diminish. Where once flowers were quietly left, now the national anthem is sung, as well as a ballad in honour of Treacy and a decade of the rosary. In 2016, one participant told the Irish Independent that “I don’t think it makes a difference on the game but it represents us and where we come from.” For those of Tipperary blood in the capital too, it is an important celebration of identity.

Video of the 2014 ceremony:

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A visitor to Bruxelles today couldn’t help but notice the rich musical pedigree of the pub, with framed memorabilia honouring the connection of the establishment to Phil Lynott, whose statue takes pride of place in Harry Street outside the pub.

Bruxelles has layers of history to it however, beginning life as The Grafton Mooney in the 1880s. The unusual Victorian design of the pub was the work of architect J.J O’Callaghan, who has left a rich architectural legacy across the island of Ireland.


J.J O’Callaghan’s Harry Street design (Dublin City Library and Archive collection)

In 1947, The Grafton Mooney was rebranded The Zodiac Bar, described in the press as the “newest and quaintest cocktail bar in Dublin”. By then, cocktails were very much in fashion, panicking some. In the words of one temperance association that same year:

Due to modern influence, human respect and lack of moral courage, many of our young people are cultivating the cocktail habit, imagining that it charmed away the possible evil consequences of strong drink. Gin was gin, whether it was taken in the ‘Lady in Pink’ or the ‘Lady in Green’

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1947 advertisement for The Zodiac.

At a time when ladies were increasingly accepted in Dublin’s public houses,cocktail focused bars like The Zodiac were opening in the city. More peculiar about the bar than serving cocktails was the iconography of the bar, bedecked with unusual tiled designs “showing the ancient signs of the Zodiac”,which remain behind the main bar today, shown here by DublinTown.

The novelty of cocktail bars (the Evening Herald wrote of the “frivolous, flighty, feather-brained creatures often encountered in American social life” who hung around such establishments) passed of course, and in time the Zodiac was a regular boozer, both like and different from McDaid’s across the street. In the 1970s, at the time of Ireland joining the European Economic Community, the public house was once again rebranded, this time taking the name Bruxelles. The flags of the EEC member states would adorn the walls, as well as tiled features showing the EEC flag, but the zodiac symbols remain for those who look hard enough.

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What is that in your hand?
It is a branch.
Of what?
Of the tree of liberty.
Where did it first grow?
In America.
Where does it bloom?
In France.
Where did the seeds fall?
In Ireland.

-Catechism of the United Irishmen.


Theobald Wolfe Tone, central to Bastille Day celebrations in 1790s Ireland.

To Edmund Burke, the French revolutionaries were “the swinish multitude”, and his Reflections on the Revolution in France set in motion one of the greatest ideological debates of human history. Without it, we would never have had Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, a spirited defence on the revolution and its necessity which was labelled the “Koran of Belfast” by Theobald Wolfe Tone, such was its influence here.

Politics,then as now, played out on the streets as well as in the chambers of power. There could be no greater expression of support for the revolution in France than participation in Bastille Day celebrations, which people here did in their thousands in 1791 and 1792. The presence of uniformed men in military procession, banners thundering support for the revolution and marching bands in both Dublin and Belfast made it evidently clear that while Burke may have been horrified by the spectacle of revolution in France, many others embraced it.

Enthusiasm for the French Revolution in Belfast, and to a lesser extent here, coincided with an age of remarkable change in print media, and the availability of affordable mass produced pamphlets. The Northern Star, pamphlets like Paine’s and Tone’s Arguments on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland all played their part in shaping public discourse and opinion.

Across the island of Ireland, but in particular in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, the words of Paine had an electrifying effect, selling more than forty thousand copies. Paine’s eternal optimism, and his declaration that “it is an age of Revolutions, in which everything may be looked for” appealed to a young and politically hungry generation. There was no greater way of demonstrating your support for that vision than taking to the streets.

The armed Volunteer movement played a central role in the Bastille Day events in Belfast and Dublin in 1791.In Dublin, they paraded to St Stephen’s Green behind a banner bearing the words ‘The Rights of Man’, with a cannon discharged in the Green. Of Belfast, Jemmy Hope recalled that:

The company to which I belonged, marched into the field in coloured clothes, with green cockades. We had a green flag, bearing for a motto, on one side— “ Our Gallic brother was born July 14, 1789. Alas! we are still in embryo”; and on the other side— “Superstitious galaxy”. “The Irish Bastille: let us unite to destroy it.”

Parades, dinners and military processions marked the day. Banners borne in the northern procession linked Belfast to the politics of the day globally, with one asking ‘Can the slave trade though morally wrong be politically right?’ Another banner carried the image of Benjamin Franklin, alongside the words that “where Liberty is – there is my country.” In a city that was coming to pride itself on its political cosmopolitanism, the day had strong international connotations beyond just the Bastille. The incredible scenes in Belfast were noted in France. From the National Assembly of France came the reply to a sent declaration:

LIBERTY OR DEATH! . . . Citizens of Belfast! you have celebrated that Triumph of the human mind, and you have done it with such splendour, as renders you truly worthy to partake of the hatred with which we are honoured by crowned tyrants… we swear to preserve it in our archives.

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Illustration of 1791 in
Belfast. Notice American and French flags flying.

Those who marched in Dublin that year were denounced in the pages of the contemporary press, with the Freemans Journal mocking the class of the men who celebrated the event, as “the French Revolution may give the shop boy a pleasing opportunity of appearing in the disguise of a military officer, or enable the merchant’s clerk to personate a hero.”

In 1792, there were wild scenes in the Falls area of Belfast, where Wolfe Tone rode out of the city centre with some 790 Volunteers behind him, parading down High Street. Tone’s biographer Marianne Elliott note that “some 20,000 spectators were gathered” for proceedings. Marching back into the city later in the day, “the parade was preceded by boys in national uniform carrying banners representing America, France, Poland, Great Britain and Ireland – the last bearing the motto ‘Unite and be free’.” They marched to the White Linen Hall, “fired three feux de joie and assembled inside.” Tone’s address in the Linen Hall demonstrated his political radicalism, maintaining that “no reform would answer to this gathering’s ideas of utility or justice, which should not equally include all sects and denominations of Irishmen.”

By 1793, such public expressions of support for the French Revolution were no longer possible, and the United Irish movement found itself driven underground. Clandestine commemoration and celebration of the storming of the Bastille continued in Belfast, moving to the mountains and to more hushed gatherings in taverns and meeting rooms. When all was said and done, and blood was spilled, the authorities had little doubt of what had motivated so many to join the United Irish cause in the first place. In the words of one report read before the House of Commons, the blame rested firmly on “those destructive principles which originally produced the French Revolution.”

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Surrey House, Leinster Road (July 2019)

Tomorrow morning, a new plaque will be unveiled on 49b Leinster Road, a house of enormous significance to the history of the Irish revolution in Dublin. As the home of Constance Markievicz, the house often operated as a sort of headquarters for the Na Fianna Éireann youth movement of which she was a founding member and important patron. The ‘Surrey House Clique’ was the name bestowed on a group of young Na Fianna activists who grew particularly close politically to the Countess, and who maintained a near constant presence at the home in the lead up to insurrection.

From October 1911, Contance Markievicz lived in this Rathmines house with her husband and their family. The coming and going of individuals from the home was often watched closely by the intelligence police operatives of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Markievicz was anything but discreet in her political pronouncements, with Fianna member James Nolan recalling seeing a tricolour flying from the home on his first visit there, something which may have been in contrast with popular political feeling in Rathmines at the time, a district which would even return a Unionist in the 1918 General Election. Mocking the feeling of the locals, Fianna member Seán Prendergast would recount:

The existence of such a noisy place as Surrey House, with its noisy callers and its equally noisy musicians and songsters, disturbed the peace and quietude of Rawthmines. Surrey House was an intrusion and a challenge to the dignity and respectability and “loyalty” of Leinster Road.


Theo Fitzgerald (left) who painted the flag of the Irish Republic at Surrey House, Leinster Road. Image: Na Fianna Éireann history blog.

At Leinster Road, the Irish Republic flag which would fly over the GPO at Easter Week was painted by Theo Fitzgerald (full-name Theobald Wolfe Tone Fitzgerald, a young Fianna Éireann activist), with accounts suggesting Poppet, the beloved dog of the Countess, made the task difficult. A Fianna activist recalled that “the flag was on the wall of the top back bedroom for about a week previous to Easter 1916.” It was perhaps unwise to keep such seditious items in a house so frequently raided by the authorities. Of a raid in early 1916, The Workers’ Republic newspaper noted that “no one was in the house except the servants and a few of the boys of the Fianna who make the place their headquarters. While the search was going on these boys and girls kindly entertained the police with songs, music and comforting remarks. Unfortunately, the G-Men have no ear for music.”

The house was frequented by labour leader James Connolly, with Seamus Reader (a leading light of Na Fianna and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Glasgow, centrally important to the importation of arms into Ireland) recalling:

Most of the talking I had with Connolly was in Surrey House in the morning or at night. He more or less told me about the Rising. In November and December, I knew definitely from the Countess and Connolly that there was going to be a rising or a tight. Connolly told me to be prepared for things that would be expected of me. He talked about Trade Unionism and how they were going to run the fight, what was going to happen and what to expect.

In the aftermath of the Rising, Surrey House was badly looted by Britsh forces, with a Fianna Éireann banner among the artefacts taken from the home, while much of its beautiful antique fittings were destroyed. As the biographer of the Countess notes, “furniture was broken, books, ornaments and pictures strewn everywhere. Someone had even taken the trouble to smash every single one of a collection of lantern slides. The garden had been dug in a search for arms.”

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Interior of the George’s Street Arcade, 1950s. (Image: Dublin City Library and Archives)

Dublin Fire Brigade’s Chief Officer Thomas Purcell was only weeks in the job when the South City Markets complex went up in flames, creating panic in the city and drawing huge curious crowds into George’s Street and the surrounding area. All human life was there, as “ladies with Macknintoshes spread over their brilliant evening dress crowded on the pavement with denizens of the Liberties.” The following day, the press would label the fire “one of the most destructive remembered in Dublin for a long time.” In the words of one reporter:

The centre of the markets where the fire orginated became speedily enveloped in flames, which gradually extended before a strong wind in the direction of Drury Street. The flames gained in volume every minute, and stall after stall was caught up by them and reduced to ashes.

The George’s Street Arcade, as we know popularly know it today, stood little chance against the flames of 27 August 1892. Purcell’s men fought bravely and saved what they could, but “the woodwork of the markets offered an easy prey to the fire.” The firefighters could hold their heads up high walking away from the destruction, thanks to their efforts, the bonded stores of Powers whiskey contained within the South City Markets escaped the flames. In a city where the ‘whiskey fire’ of the 1870s was still a living memory, things could have been much worse.


George’s Street and Fade Street corner view of the markets (National Library of Ireland)

Originally dating from 1881, the George’s Street Arcade was Ireland’s first purpose-built shopping centre, and one of the first on the continent. Designed by Lockwood & Mauson architects, the sheer scale of the market complex is sometimes lost on Dubliners today, forgetting that it compromises not just the central core that we stroll through from George’s Street to Drury Street, but surrounding businesses such as Dunnes, the Market Bar (situated at the site of a nineteenth century abattoir) and others. As architectural authority Christine Casey notes, “the scale and ambition of the market building are remarkable, even by modern standards.” There was initially some hostility to the market locally, owing to the use of English materials and labour in its construction. In the words of The Irish Builder, it was “an English enterprise built by English architects and by English labour.”

In a city more defined by her Georgian heritage, the market structure, constructed in a truly Victorian-Gothic style, is a rare nineteenth century gem in the city. While its exterior is much the same as upon opening, the interior of the market core is the work of W.H Byrne, the architect who initially came second in designing the market, but who was tasked with its refurbishment following the blaze.

From the beginning, the market prided itself on the diversity of its offerings, with 1881 advertisements promoting all from Dublin Bay Oysters to confectionery. Into the living memory of the city, the markets had the feel of a more traditional market place, boasting stalls selling fruits, vegetables, flowers and even two butchers shops and a fishmongers within it into the 1970s. The fortunes of the market dipped in the late 1970s, and it required a significant overhaul, to the tune of £300,000, in the early 1980s, though it was noted that “meticulous in their restoration, the developers showed great reverence for the old Gothic style which they incorporated in the new woodwork, street lamps, etc.”

There is still a great diversity on offer today, with long established Dublin institutions (independent record shop Spindizzy,Simon’s Cafe and Stokes Books coming to mind as our favourites) and new arrivals like the Cheesemongers and wine shop Loose Canon.

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