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The area around the Grand Canal Theatre (I refuse to call it anything else, sorry Bord Gáis) is largely speaking unknown territory to me with regards the history of the city. Recently I was taken aback by a street sign informing me I was standing at ‘Misery Hill’, a name that seems totally at odds with the fashionable area around the theatre today. In a time before theatre and cappuccinos the area looked rather different indeed, and one writer in the Freeman’s Journal in 1920 wrote:

How many Dubliners know Misery Hill? The name itself is a stroke of genius,whoever invented it, and the bare thoroughfare, running between grimy walls, over which peer huge gasometers, with in the distance orange plums of acrid smoke drifting from the chimneys of a chemical factory, shows that Dublin, when it sets itself to it, can outrival Wigan!

"Misery Hill Is Closed."  (Image by William Murphy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/4446399832 )

Misery Hill Is Closed. (Image by William Murphy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/4446399832 )

Paul Clerkin’s wonderful little book Dublin Street Names (Published in 2001 by Gill and Macmillan and right up the street of a lot of CHTM readers I imagine) gives good insight into this bizarre name, noting that “in the early 13th century, there was a leper hospital close to the junction of modern Townsend Street and Hawkins Street. Sufferers who were unable to gain entrance to the hospital would spend the night at Misery Hill, well away from the town and its citizens.”

The inimitable Éamonn Mac Thomáis spoke about Misery Hill in a paper for the Old Dublin Society in the late 1960s,  and like Clerkin points to the historic leper hospital, stating that “it was sometimes referred to as Lazor Hill, Lazy Hill, Lazars Hill and Lepers Hill.” He also states however that another possible meaning for the name comes from the fact that those executed on Gallow’s Hill (“a common place for execution”)   often had their bodies taken here,  where morbidly enough “they were left hanging in chains for a period of six months to a year.” The example Mac Thomáis provided were  two pirates name Gidley and McKinley, whose bodies were hung up here in 1766.

Google Maps showing the location of Misery Hill in Dublin's docklands.

Google Maps showing the location of Misery Hill in Dublin’s docklands.

An interesting short history of  leprosy in Ireland, mentioning Misery Hill, has appeared on the Facebook page Wistorical and can be read here, and it includes a lot of interesting detail on the history of the disease in Dublin.

A historic street sign for Misery Hill pops up briefly in this video of Ronnie Drew performing Ratcliffe Highway, at 00:56. This is a great video I’d not seen before, and my thanks to Shane Fitzgerald for pointing it out to us on Facebook.

A nice little nod to the streetname comes from Dublin band Tujacques, who in December 2013 used the street sign for an EP cover. That the title of a previous EP was Obedientia Civium Urbis Felicitas (the somewhat ironic city motto of Dublin, implying that obedient citizens make for a happy city) makes us think they’ve a soft spot for the history of Dublin too!

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(Image from: A history of the County Dublin; the people, parishes and antiquities from the earliest times to the close of the eighteenth century" (1902))

(Image from: A history of the County Dublin; the people, parishes and antiquities from the earliest times to the close of the eighteenth century” (1902))

Recently I found this 1902 illustration of the ruined building that stands on top of Mountpelier Hill in the Dublin mountains, uploaded to Flickr by the Internet Archive book images.  We’ve long been interested in these ruins and wandered up to them in December 2012, something I’d recommend for any readers who haven’t done it.

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The history of the ruins is mysterious, and a belief that the site is haunted dates right back to the eighteenth century. Joseph Holt, an important figure in the revolutionary United Irishmen, hid there while on the run in 1798 and wrote about his experiences:

I lay down in the arched room of that remarkable building, on Montpelier Hill. I felt so confident of the protection of the Almighty, that the name of enchantment, and the idle stories which were told of the place had but a slight hold of my mind; I thought there could be nothing worse there than myself, and having returned thanks, and praying for a continuance of God’s blessing and protection, I composed myself, and soon fell into as profound a sleep as if I had been, as formerly, reposing in my own comfortable bed, in quiet times, with my happy family about me.

In his wonderful book ‘Blasphemers and Blackguards: The Irish Hellfire Clubs’, David Ryan noted that it “remains uncertain if there was an actual connection between the club and this building”, he noted that “in the 1820s there were rumours that a murder had been committed there” quoting one contemporary source which stated about the hill “on the crown of this hill is a lodge falling to ruin, not having been inhabited for thirty years: it is called the haunted house, and the hill Bevan’s Hill: local tradition states  that in this house a man, named Bevan, murdered his wife.”

Ryan notes in his book that the lodge was constructed for William Connolly, speaker of the House of Commons, and that “the lodge may have been designed by Edward Lovett Pearce, architect of Connolly’s mansion, Castletown House in County Kildare, and the Parliament House on College Green.” Ryan’s work tells us that by early twentieth century this ruin was very much central to the folklore of the Hellfire Club, and that by the late twentieth century it was even appearing as ‘Hell Fire Club’ on Ordnance Survey maps of the area.While the Hellfire Club may never have utilised the site, other stories in the immediate area of the ruin and the mysterious nature of the site himself ensure it’s still a spooky trip. The wall around the lodge, shown in the 1902 illustration, is no longer there, and this great aerial shot from South Dublin County Libraries collection gives some idea how it has changed:

South Dublin County Libraries aerial view of site. (Credit – source.southdublinlibraries.ie.)

South Dublin County Libraries aerial view of site. (Credit – source.southdublinlibraries.ie.)

Lastly,  when I posted the above illustration on CHTM’s Facebook (Give us a like as we post a lot of content there) the first reply referenced a rave that occurred at the site in the 1990s, one of many. This sparked a wave of coverage in local and national media, and we’d be interested in getting our hands on some of this if anyone has any of it! It’s an interesting part of the history of the ruin. A comment on the CHTM Facebook page remembered a rave in the 1990s.

I remember there was a good crowd up there, and there was strobe lighting emanating from windows of the ruins. At one point during the night at least 3 cop cars arrived at the summit. This resulted in lots of people dancing in the headlights

A great video giving a tour of the ruin can be found on YouTube, uploaded by thebettyfordclinic who have uploaded some excellent videos of abandoned buildings in Dublin.

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An 1816 illustration of the Ha'penny Bridge, the year the bridge opened to the public.

An 1816 illustration of the Ha’penny Bridge, the year the bridge opened to the public.

Since May 1816, Dubliners have been walking over what we now popularly know as the Ha’penny Bridge, though the bridge is formally known as the Liffey Bridge. Today, it carries an average of 30,000 of us from one side of the city to the other on a daily basis.  Contemporary sources praised the bridge at the time of its unveiling, with one noting “it has a light and picturesque appearance, and adds much to the convenience and embellishment of the river”. At £3,000, the bridge was a costly replacement for a ferry service operated at the site previously, though costs were recuperated  through the half penny toll, which would give the bridge its popular title. The mooring point for the historic ferry service on the south bank was as Bagnio Slip, with the historian Frank Hopkins noting that “the name bagnio is believed to originate from an early eighteenth-century Temple Bar brothel.”

The bridge in 1929, decorated to mark the centenary of Catholic Emancipation (Image: Dublin Tenement LIFE)

The bridge in 1929, decorated to mark the centenary of Catholic Emancipation (Image: Dublin Tenement LIFE)

The idea for the construction of the bridge came from John C. Beresford, a member of Dublin Corporation, and William Walsh,  the ferry operator. The bridge was  to be christened the Wellington Bridge, in honour of the Duke of Wellington, victor of the Battle of Waterloo only a year previously and a native Dub. The Dublin Evening Post, barely able to contain themselves, reported on the opening of the bridge that:

A testimonial to the Hero of the British Army has at last been erected – a Testimonial at once creditable to the name with which it is to be honoured,greatly ornamented to the City of Dublin, and eminently useful to her inhabitants. We allude to the arch of cast iron thrown over our river, from Crampton Quay to the Bachelor’s Walk, opposite to Liffey Street, and which, we understand, with the express permission of the Illustrious Duke, is to be called Wellington Bridge. This Arch, spanning  the Liffey, is one of the most beautiful in Europe: the excellence of its composition, the architectural correctness of its form,the taste with which it has been executed, and the general airiness of its appearance, renders it an object of unmixed admiration.

Wellington, a son of Dublin, after whom the new bridge was to be named.

Wellington, a son of Dublin, after whom the new bridge was to be named.

Interestingly, for something so associated with Dublin, the bridge itself was cast at Shropshire in England. Some Dubliners refereed to it not as the Wellington Bridge but rather the Triangle Bridge, which Frank Hopkins has noted was bestowed on it owing to the controversial background of John C Beresford, one of the men who had brought the bridge into being. Beresford was a former Tory parliamentarian who had twice sat in Westminster, but controversially was also active in a yeomanry which opposed the United Irish rebellion of 1798. His riding school premises in Dublin became synonymous in the mind of republicans with torture and the practice of flogging rebels upon a triangular scaffold.

The practice of torture was described in one nineteenth century history of Ireland thus:

The triangle was a wooden instrument made in the form of the letter A, about twice the height of a man, to which the person to be punished was tied, hands and feet, and lashed with wire cords knotted. In the midst of this torture, questions about the conspiracy were asked, and if the answers not satisfactory, the punishment was renewed!

In 1861 a letter writer to The Irish Times asked if the “miserable impost” of the fee to cross the bridge would ever be abandoned, insisting that “the general public are often obliged to go out of their way in going from one side of the city to the other to avoid the payment of the toll.”

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Below is the excellent 1976 RTÉ documentary on Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War (Spanish Anti-Fascist War, 1936-1939) uploaded by our good friend and grandson of brigadista Michael O’Riordain, Luke in the last couple of days. Presented and produced by Cathal O’Shannon, the documentary features contributions both from Irishmen who fought for the International Brigades on the Republican side and those who travelled with Blueshirt Eoin O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade to support Franco and Fascism.

The documentary title was inspired by poet Charlie Donnelly, who remarked that ‘even the olives are bleeding’ shortly before he died fighting for the Republic at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937.

The documentary features some amazing footage, including an Eoin O’Duffy address from the balcony of the Ormond Hotel on Dublin’s Ormond Quay. Other notable contributions, apart from those with Michael O’Riordan and his great comrade Bob Doyle, came from Terry Flanagan, ex-baker and Saor Eire member and Alec Digges, a brigadista who returned to Ireland from Spain, before going on to fight in the Second World War, where he lost a leg.

Mural of Brigadista, Bob Doyle, installed on the Cobblestone Bar, Smithfield, (since removed.) From An Phoblacht.

On the fascist side, there is contributions, amongst others, from George Timlin, an NCO in the Irish Army who gave his reasons for going to Spain as “the spirit of adventure” and to quote “to oblige a friend… Eoin O’Duffy who wouldn’t have asked me if he didn’t want me to go” and Padraig Quinn, veteran of the War of Independence and the Civil War who, encouraged by the anti-communist sermon of his local bishop, joined Eoin O’Duffy’s legion.

Its sometimes easy to forget that there were Irishmen on both sides in an at times brutal war, and this documentary gives a good account of both.

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Hopefully the first of many this, from the very excellent Paul Duffy, one of the illustrators who is helping us out with the CHTM! book.  All this as well as being the drummer for Dublin hardcore band 20 Bulls Each. You can find more of his artwork at Duffy’s Dastardly Doodles. What a man.

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Bit much eh? Cans of fizzy drinks. Cheers to Adam K for the image.

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I’m fascinated by Dublin’s shopfronts, ranging from the beautiful and hand-painted to the gaudy and horrific ‘temporary signs’ that have found their way even to our busiest streets. I’m hoping to photograph a few that grab my eye and boot them up in small groups of five or so with some regularity. On a recent walk that took me from the city centre to Stoneybatter, I thought I’d start with these….

M.Deegan, South Anne Street.

Oifig An Poist, Ushers Quay.

T.P Nolan, Ushers Quay.

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