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“The pirate buses used to go around to all different routes. Oh, they could go anywhere they liked. They weren’t confined to one route – a free-for-all! There was no bus stops, anybody could just put up their hand and stop you anywhere. Oh, they’d cut one another’s throats.” (George Doran in Dublin Street Life and Lore, Kevin C. Kearns)

Prior to the Dublin United Tramways (Omnibus Services) Act, 1925., Dublin’s streets were akin to the high seas with privateers commanding routes at will in their ships (buses) with names adorning their sides such as the Whiteline Bus Co., the Blueline and Excelsior Bus Company and the Old Contemptible Omnibus Company. The act empowered the Dublin United Tramways Company to ‘provide and maintain omnibus services in the city and county of Dublin’ and was to spell the end for the private (or as they became known, pirate) bus companies as one by one they dropped off or were consumed by DUTC. The act was in part a response to the marauding pirates who, free from regulation were a law onto themselves. Their presence was seen as an affront to the city’s traditional tramlines, and a perhaps a signal of the demise of her once famed tram system.

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“THE PIRATE BUS WILL LEAVE FOR DUBLIN AT 3 A.M. AFTER THE DANCE.”

The pirates had several tricks up their sleeves and at all times were on the make- their goal was to pick up as many customers as possible and free from the constraints of the electric lines required for lighting and moving the carriages used on the tramways, were better able to navigate Dublin’s streets. Because of this, the buses were known to slowly drive along lines, delaying trams and allowing their colleagues to race ahead and poach customers. In response, tram drivers would sandwich buses front and back and refuse to move until they had emptied.

The pirates were notorious for their ill behaviour- not just against the tram drivers but also among themselves. In the words of  tram driver William Condon, “Oh they were a desperate gang. They wore their own clothes, no uniforms. And they’d blow their horns at one another and hurling words and shaking their fists at one another. The attitude in the pirate business was, ‘I’ll do it my way,’ and rough language.” (Dublin Voices: An Oral Folk History, Kevin C. Kearns.)

The Old Contemptible Omnibus Company formed in 1924 and was owned by a Kathleen Gilbert of Clontarf. Its initial route ran from Eden Quay to Abbeyfield in Killester,  “primarily to serve the ex-servicemen’s housing estate built there in the aftermath of the first World War.” (Irish Times, April 4th 2016.) Their drivers tended to be veterans of the war and their fantastic name stems from military lore, with survivors of the British Expeditionary Force post WWI dubbing themselves “The Old Contemptibles” due to a dismissive quote by Emperor Wilhelm II.  Their routes would later expand to Philipsburgh Avenue, Howth and Dollymount using 26-seater and 32-seater buses manufactured by Guy Motors in Wolverhampton.

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An alleged Contemptible Omnibus in Fairview

The Old Contemptibles weren’t the only soldiers on the road, with the same article stating “after the end of the Civil War in 1923, some ex-servicemen used their demobilisation gratuities to buy a small bus, taking advantage of the lack of regulation to compete with each other and with the tramway company and railways.”

The Company was not averse to the ill feeling between the privateers and the DUTC, with both appearing in Dublin Circuit Court in April 1927 pursuing counter claims against each other for an accident that happened the previous October. Reading from the Court Notes, it appears a ‘Contemptible’ bus and a ‘DUTC’ bus were involved in a collision near Liberty Hall, as they both looked to be racing for the same spot on the road. “On behalf of the tramways company it was submitted that as their ‘bus emerged from the archway, the ‘Contemptible’ bus was obviously making for the same archway, and was only about 50 feet away. The tramway ‘bus came to a stop without any danger or trouble, but the other driver made no attempt to avoid it and crashed into it. The driver of the ‘Contemptible’ ‘bus was, it was stated, on his wrong side and was not going for the proper arch at all.” (Irish Times, April 8th 1927)

In time, the DUTC would vanquish Dublin’s pirates, little by little buying out the myriad of companies and it would be over 80 years until their descendants in Dublin Bus would relinquish control of their routes to privateers again.

 

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There’s not much left by the way of pre-boom buildings on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Row upon row of mis-matched shining steel and glass structures tower over the few remaining Victorian warehouses and enginehouses, relics of an era when Dublin’s docks bustled with industry. One warehouse that has managed to survive, a double gabled redbrick building that sits where the Samuel Beckett bridge meets the Southside boasts two unusual and very original features.

The warehouse at 30- 32 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay was built in the 1890’s and was once home to the Dublin Tropical Fruit Company, who occupied the premises for decades. It has played host to plenty of drama in its lifetime; in the mid-thirties, a young teenager fell to his death from the roof, the sixties saw a long running strike on the premises and the eighties saw a fire come close to gutting the building. On 16th April 1950, a ship named the Abraham Lincoln arrived into Dublin bearing tonnes of bananas bound for the warehouse. When the ship made port, it was discovered that its cargo of fruit was already too ripe for sale, leading the company to refuse it and the ship’s crew to dump tonnes of black skinned bananas overboard. Alexandra basin was lined with scores of people waiting for the chance to grab any that might float ashore, whilst rowboats set out from Ringsend with the aim of getting to the booty first. Gardaí struggled to maintain order as hundreds of children tried to force entry into the basin. (Irish Press, 17/4/1950.) The building later housed offices belonging to U2 and is now home to a software company.

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Representation of Anna Livia, photo credit- Simon Conway

Anyway, to the point of the piece. Over the doors of the building, hang two recognisable figures- two granite keystones representing Anna Livia and the Atlantic, replicas of which appear elsewhere along the River Liffey. Originally sculpted by the eminent (though self-effacing as some records state!) Edward Smyth, they had once adorned the archways of Carlisle Bridge, the structure that predated what we now know as O’Connell Bridge. The bridge was remodeled in the late 1870’s and the granite keystones were removed- Carlisle Bridge having had three arches with a hump rising high above the water below, Anna Livia and Atlantic were deemed too large to fit the lower elliptical arches of the bridge. The new bridge had arches which sat much lower over the water, and the keystones would need to be replaced. They were remodeled by Charles W. Harrison and the originals sculpted by Edward Smyth somehow ended up on the facade of the warehouse on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay.

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Representation of The Atlantic, photo credit- Simon Conway

Smyth (1749- 1812) was a sculptor and modeler who served an apprenticeship under Simon Vierpyl (Clerk of Works  for the Casino building in Marino) and later worked for a Dublin stone cutter named Henry Darley. His work was mainly ornamental, according to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, that is until Darley recommended him to one of the leading architects working in Ireland at the time, none other than James Gandon in the early 1780’s. James Gandon being one of the most sought after architects of the time, Smyth rose to prominence under his patronage and went on to sculpt some of the most recognisable features on some of Dublin’s most famous buildings. From humble beginnings he was to become a wealthy man.

The building at Sir John Rogerson's Quay, photo credit- Simon Conway

The building at Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, photo credit- Simon Conway

Looking out over College Green from the roof of the Old Parliament, stand his figures of Justice, Wisdom and Liberty. His works are dotted around the Custom House; the 14 keystones representing 14 Irish rivers on the building are his, along with the Arms of Ireland- a Lion and a Unicorn standing either side of the Irish Harp. He was also responsible for work on a number of churches throughout Dublin, ornaments, statues and coats of arms at Kings Inns and you can add his name to the debate on something we’ve looked at before- who sculpted the anthropomorphic figures playing billiards and other parlour games on the windows of The Kildare Street Club? In her “This Ireland” column in the Irish Times in March 1975, Elgy Gillespie noted that it wasn’t until the 1950’s that discovery of Smyth’s keystones on the building at Sir Rogerson’s Quay was made, quoting Harold Leask (architect responsible in part for the reconstrucion of the GPO) in the Royal Society of Antiquaries Journal on their discovery. That column, and anything I’ve read on the subject, neglects to mention how the heads managed to make their way from Carlisle Bridge and onto the facade of a building on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Another reason why, when walking around this city, you should keep your head up because who knows what you might find!

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Gang violence has featured on Come Here To Me before; with the Pinking Dindies, the Liberty Boys and the Ormond Boys of the 18th century, through the various fracas’ of the Animal Gangs and on to the Black Catholics in the 1970’s and 80’s and onwards all making an appearance. Dublin has always had its fair share of troublesome groups and there’s always plenty to write about them.

One event we haven’t yet covered that jumped out at me recently while reading John Edward Walsh’s “Rakes and Ruffians,” was a three day riot involving both the Liberty Boys and the Ormond Boys which brought Dublin to a standstill in mid- May, 1790. Accounts of Dublin from the late 18th/ early 19th century are rarely without mention of the two groups whose infamy is still regarded to this day. Injuries, maimings and deaths are all purported to have taken place in this encounter, making it one of their bloodiest.

According to J.D Herbert’s Irish Varieties, for the Last Fifty Years: Written from Recollections, the Ormond Boys were the “assistants and carriers from slaughter-houses, joined by cattle drivers from Smithfield, stable-boys, helpers, porters, and idle drunken vagabonds in the neighbourhood of Ormond Quay,” whilst the Liberty Boys were, “a set of lawless desperadoes, residing in the opposite side of the town, called the Liberty. Those were of a different breed, being chiefly unfortunate weavers without employment, some were habitual and wilful idlers, slow to labour, but quick at riot and uproar.”

Weaver’s Square, home of the Liberty Boys, from John Roque’s map of 1754. Taken from http://irishhistoricaltextiles.files.wordpress.com

The Liberty Boys notoriety spread further than Dublin, and references to them can be found in several newspaper articles from across the water, including one in the Leeds Mercury from January 1867 which refers to them as French Huguenots who have “degenerated physically.” “They are the Liberty Boys of Dublin, the dwellers in ‘The Coombe,’ or hollow sloping down to the river, famous for their lawlessness, their strikes, and their manufactures of poplin and tabbinet. They do not seem at all favourable specimens of humanity as you watch them leaning out of windows in the tall, gaunt, filthy, tumble down houses around and beyond St. Patrick’s.”

The hostility between the two gangs often led to full scale riots between upwards of 1, 000 men and these occurred several times a year, but especially in the run up to the Mayday festival. The city would be brought to a standstill, with businesses closing, the watchmen looking on in terror, as battles raged for the possession of the bridges over the Liffey. Walsh’s book reports the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alderman Emerson as saying “it was as much as his life was worth to go among them” regarding such riots.

Essex Bridge and Ormond Quay, where the main battles took place.

The battle this piece refers to though began on May 11th 1790 and lasted several days. The riot coincided with an election in the city, although an opinion piece in the Freeman’s Journal on the Thursday of that week described the violence as wanton, saying:

“The situation of the capital on Wednesday night was dreadful in the extreme; it was shocking to civilisation, for outrage was openly and without disguise directed against the civil protection of the city. On other occasions, grievance, from sickness of trade, from injury by exportation of foreign commodities, from the high price of provision and the low rate of labour, grievances from the want of employ and a variety of other causes were usually alleged for the risings of the people, but on the present occasion, no grievance exists, and the fomenters of disorder are without such a pretension. “Down with the police” is the cry and demolish the protection of the city is the pursuit.”

“In different parts of the town, prodigious mobs of people were assembled and the avowed purpose of their tumultuous rising was declared in the vehemence of their execrations against the police. “Down with the police, five pounds for a police man’s head.” They were the shouts which filled the streets.”

“In Mary Street, no passenger could escape the shower of brick bats and paving stones intended for the police. In St. Andrew’s Street, the scene was if possible more dreadful, for the mob not content in driving the Police watchman before them proceeded to pull down the watch house in which he took refuge. .. (The Men) were obliged to fire and three of the rioters fell.”

The riot only came to a conclusion on the Thursday due to military intervention, when a “party of men on horse dispersed the rioters and stood guard for the remainder of the night which prevented more bloodshed and massacre…. The blood of the unfortunate wretches who met their unhappy fate rests at the door of those few incendiaries who stimulated by their playful insignias unthinking persons to destruction.” And people think Love Ulster was bad!

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I was down on Charlemont Street yesterday to take some pictures of the going’s on down there, namely the tearing down of the flats, as well as Ffrench- Mullen House, named after Madeline Ffrench Mullen, the republican activist and feminist, and driving force behind the construction of nearby St. Ultan’s Hospital for Women and Infants in 1919. Ffrench- Mullen House has yet to be touched by the jaws of the machine below, but has been stripped back to a shell and it’s only a matter of time.

2charl1The demolition of the buildings is a controversial one, for while there was a planning application submitted for a regeneration and redevelopment project incorporating housing, offices and commercial units, permission has yet to be gained for all aspects of the plans.

2charl2Proximity to a main road, nearby homes and offices means the demolition is slow work, with the machine slowly munching it’s way through the roof and brickwork as seen in the images below.  Unlike yesterday, there weren’t many around watching the work, apart from a few women watching from balconies nearby. 2charl3

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2charl6Work, weather and interest permitting, I’ll try get down each evening until they’re gone.

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As reported by our good friends across at Rabble, the Charlemont Street flats started to come down this week. Tuesday saw demolition begin on Ffrench- Mullen House, designed by Michael Scott, one of the most renowned Irish architects responsible for amongst others, Busaras and the Abbey Theatre. I dropped by on my way home from work, as the day was drawing to a close and workers were beginning to down tools. Will try get along tomorrow to see how far along they’ve gotten.

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I was hanging around the site for half an hour or so. In that time, dozens of people walked around, took a look at the flats, a couple of pictures and headed off. Most of them knew each other so I’m guessing they were from the area. These lads stayed here throughout, as did the women below, who looked like they were being interviewed. One of them called a workman over and asked for a bit of the rubble, just managed to get a shot off in time.

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The last picture is of the front wall of Ffrench- Mullen House, mentioned in the intro. The poster is of course, by the good man Maser, whose work adorns the walls of the Bernard Shaw not far away.

Anyways, as I said, I’ll try get over tomorrow for another look.

 

 

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Thursday, April 20th 1916, and with days to go until the Easter Rising, the Aud arrived in Tralee Bay, two days earlier than expected. The Rebellion was imminent, and with this in mind, Padraig Pearse along with his brother Willie made his way to Rathmines; with St. Enda’s not far away, they turned down Castlewood Avenue and into Doran’s Barbers. There they sat in silence as one after the other got their hair cut for the last time; it’s not so hard to believe that one of the brothers at least knew his fate.

 They did not speak much as they awaited their turn in the chair: but then, they never did, he remembers; and, whatever thoughts were in the minds of Patrick and Willie Pearse, the 20-year-old John had no foreboding that he was giving the brothers their last haircut.

John Doran, interviewed in the Irish Independent, March 28th, 1973.

The Pearse brothers are only a small part of the history of a business stretching back over a century. John’s brother James opened the shop on January 2nd 1912, then aged twenty four. The 1911 census lists him as a hairdresser, as it does John quoted above, fifteen when the census was taken. They were sons to Christina, (listed a widow on both the 1901 and 1911 census returns) and lived in a house on Chancery Lane, not far from Christchurch Cathedral. Their father was a hackney owner, and kept horses stabled nearby until his death sometime prior to 1901. John and James were just two of a family of thirteen.

Annual rent on the premises at Castlewood Avenue in 1912 was £52, and on opening, a haircut in the shop cost fourpence and a shave thruppence. Along with his wife, four girls and two boys, James lived above the barbers until the early 1930’s when the family moved around the corner to Oakley Road; born and reared above the shop, Jimmy and William  would go into the family business. Their father James didn’t retire until his late seventies and it wasn’t until then in 1966 and at fifty years of age that Jimmy took on the role of proprietor.

James and Willie Doran

James and Willie Doran

Jimmy, born in 1916, started cutting hair in 1930 at fourteen years old, with Willy starting at the same age five years later. Rathmines, and Castlewood Avenue was a different place then, the number 18 tram with it’s red triangle identifier passing the front door of the shop. The township of Rathmines existed as a seperate entity to Dublin City until 1930, when it was amalgamated into Dublin City Council.

I was born upstairs eighty six years ago, in 1916. I’m not a Dubliner though, I’m a Rathmines man. The oldest one around they say, though I’m not saying that. Dublin didn’t come here, to Rathmines, until the 1930’s. Rathmines Urban District Council made their own electricity until then.

Jimmy, in an interview with Rose Doyle, Irish Times, October 16th, 2002.

The tramlines were taken up in the forties, but Jimmy and the shop remained, unchanged. In the same manner as his father, Jimmy worked in the shop for sixty eight years, only retiring in 1998 and passing on the mantle to the shops current owner Robert Feighery who served his time in the Merchant Barbers, itself running for over half a century. Jimmy remained a regular visitor to the shop after retiring, dropping in a couple of times a week for a chat with the barber and his customers until his death on New Years Eve, 2010.

Doran Barbers.

Doran Barbers, estd. 1912.

The shop remains largely as Jimmy left it, with a polished wood floor, benches lining two walls, two wash basins and a large collection of historical memorabilia connected with the shop including framed electricity meter reading cards dating back to the shop’s opening, stamped with “G.F. Pilditch, M.I.E.E. at the Electricity Works, Town Hall, Rathmines,” a picture of Jimmy and Willie with Brendan Gleeson, and various clippings of the shop from books and newspapers it has appeared in.  Also on the wall is a large portrait of Padraig and Willie Pearse, and a selection of Bohs newspaper clippings, including one from the day after the League win in 2001; the Red and Black exterior evidence of Robbie’s footballing allegiance.

In the same interview with Rose Doyle quoted above, given in the shop in 2002, Jimmy said:

Sometimes a fella comes in and says ‘you cut my hair 30 years ago.’ Some are fifth generation customers, and there a number who are fourth generation. Famous people come and go, but everyone’s the same importance here. When a fella pays, and goes out the door, he’s all the same!

The Waldorf stakes a brave claim that it is Dublin’s oldest barbers, but I don’t think it can beat that.

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The first post from me in a while this, and a bit of a mixed bag. The first four are from the Tivoli carpark, post-this years grafitti/ skate jam. The second two are dropped in to break up the post, the first a sign  spotted at the council offices in Rathmines, and the second, a group of workers abseiling down the side of Liberty Hall. The second lot of graf pictures is from the back of the Bernard Shaw, easily the best spot in Dublin for ever changing talent. Inside and out, the walls are covered with pieces from Dublin’s best artists, including our good friend Maser; the “Swim” piece is his, and was a work in progress at the time the below was snapped.

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