On Thursday, 22nd August 2013 a new, if brief, ‘pop-up’ park staffed by volunteers was opened on Dublin’s north-side inner city. This is Granby park, the newest addition to many new exciting voluntary projects going on around the city. This is also an opportunity for us to reflect on the problems of lack of services such as parks and general recreational facilities, and of course, housing, for most of Dublin, especially in the recession-lashed Northside inner city.
Yet it is also an opportunity to reflect on the city’s past, and learn from it, as well as some of the mistakes and problems which have occurred when it came to making decisions about how to manage housing. It is an opportunity to reflect on the past greatness which the recently derelict site of Granby possesses. And it is an opportunity to reflect on the vivid and varied tapestry of humanity and stories of people who lived out their lives here, growing up, marrying, having children then finally passing away.
I will thus attempt to provide a brief history of Dominick Street, focusing on the area around Granby Park wherever possible.
A composite map of Dublin up till 1540. Note St. Mary’s Abbey as well as the few roads which would form the basis of the Northside. Courtesy: Ordinance Survey Ireland, and Richview library.
The area of Granby and Dominick Street did not exist before the 18th century. Before that, this area had been in the medieval parish of St. Mary’s Abbey, then the following church. Though it is hard to conceive now, the concrete-enclosed Dominick street area seems to have consisted mainly of orchards and vegetable gardens up till the 1720s at least.
The first construction work on the future Dominick Street was commissioned by Sir Christopher Dominick in the early 1720s. Dominick was a physician who had originally purchased the land in 1709. With other landlords already constructing housing estates around the local area, he built a large house on the present Dominick Street, and he leased an adjoining site to Lady Alice Hine.
This 1728 side-on map by Charles Brooking shows the area around Dominick Street as fields, with Trinity College (church tower on left) and Dublin castle (towers to the right) and the Dublin mountains in the background. This was at a time when this area was an expanding suburb not unlike noughties Dublin. Courtesy: Richview library and OS Ireland.
Dominick died in 1743 and his widow let in lots for building a new street which would be called ‘Dominick Street’ a decade later, though she kept a hold of the property in number 13. These lots were essentially carved up by different builder-speculators who were forerunners of today’s failed Celtic-boomers, though their works, unlike their distant descendants, were not destined for the ghost-town scrap-heap.
John Roque’s map of 1756, showing the first few houses of Dominick Street built on the future Granby Park, on the bottom south-east right hand side of the street. Note the Orchards and vegetable plots nearby. Courtesy: OS Ireland and Richview library, UCD.
The 1756 map of John Rocque above records five houses already constructed, on the present site of Granby Park. It is ironic that these first houses were amongst the first to meet the acquaintance of the wrecking ball during the later 1950s culls. Further building was proceeding along by 1757, with Dominick’s son-in-law, Usher St. George, letting out further lots.
Thus commenced the construction of one of the most beautiful Georgian areas of Dublin. In fact, up till 1957 Dominick Street was the grandest surviving Georgian Street north of the Liffey, long, broad and flanked by terraces of tall spare brick houses with pedimented stone door cases.
Amongst the most well-known builders was Robert West, who took on at least five plots on this street alone. Several of the surviving houses there were built and decorated by West (though it is possible his role in this is somewhat exaggerated), such as Nos. 39-43 and 21-22, which have surviving Rococo and Italianate frames.
No. 40 has a rather elaborate tripartite door case made of Portland stone with Scamozzian Ionic columns carved foliage panels above side lights. But the piece de resistance is at No. 20 lower Dominick Street. Its outside is very poor, but the inside sumptuously beautiful, with cherubs and various depictions of naturalistic scenes such as birds and garlands, angle cartouches, chinoiseries borders, strap work elements and busts. It was built by Robert West from 1758-1760 for the Hon. Robert Marshall, a justice in the court of Common pleas. Upper Dominick Street would have to wait and was only completed in the 1820s.
In the meantime, the area from which Granby Park itself takes its name was taking shape.
A block away to the East, the west side of Parnell square, originally known as Granby row, was laid out between 1758 and 1773 , with the first houses opening in 1766, though some sort of line had existed in Granby row as early as 1728. This Granby row was named after the then-famous Marquis of Granby, John Manners, (1721- 1770) a war hero from the Seven year’s war between Britain and France.
Granby led cavalry regiments with immense bravery during a charge at the battle of Warburg (Germany) in 1760 where they drove the French cavalry across the river Diemel, killing hundreds. His hat and wig were shot off during the battle, and he was forced to salute his commander without them. This was unusual – usually, officers had to be wearing headdress before they saluted officers. As a result, Granby’s cavalry regiment, the prestigious Royal horse guards (Blues) were allowed the tradition of saluting without their headdresses. Granby would go on to help win the battle of Villinghausen in 1761, and would eventually have numerous pubs named after him in England thanks to good treatment of troops who would go on to found these premises.
Granby lane and Granby place, which back on to Granby Park, were named after his son, Charles Manners, the fourth duke of Rutland (1754-1787) who was the viceroy and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, dying in Phoenix park lodge thanks to excessive claret (wine) consumption.
On this road, No. 29 was another house completed by Robert west in 1770. Ironically, No. 29 would supposedly be a safe-house for the Irish nationalist leader Michael Collins during the war of independence (1919-1921).
The area was heavily dominated by the aristocracy, however there was already a spattering of barristers, attorneys and physicians as well as other professionals, who would slowly become the dominant classes on these streets, because they (unlike most of the other lower classes) could afford the heavy rents.
In 1775 Emily Olivia St. George, who was the granddaughter of Sir Christopher Dominick, married the Second duke of Leinster, William Fitzgerald (1749-1804) and number 13 Dominick Street became Fitzgerald’s property.
According to Seamus Scully, the daughter of a caretaker in these two houses would later happily recount: ‘Number 13 was the residence, with lovely period furniture and a number of valuable pictures- original paintings by old masters – on the drawing and dining rooms. The hall, covered with black and white large tiling, held a cosy, covered ‘booth’ for the hall porter. Number 13’s mews were covered with an ornamental pear tree, number 14’s with Virginia creeper… a gravel path ran down the garden and there were lawns on each side, with two raised circular groups of ornamental shrubs. The Fitzgerald family, aunts, uncles, of the duke all stayed at number 13 when visiting or passing through Dublin…. they were charming people – kind, interested in their employees and their families’. Numbers 13 and 14 were the Leinster estate offices early on, with gardens running back to Granby lane.
This area was fully a part of greater historical events happening at that time, and it knew its fair share of scandal. No. 11 was occupied in the 18th century by Sir Hercules Langrishe, who helped form the Irish volunteers with Henry Grattan and Napper Tandy. However, in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion, when the act of Union (1801) had been pushed through the Irish parliament linking both countries ‘forever’ and demolishing any sense of home rule, it would transpire that Sir Henry had accepted a bribe to abstain from the momentous vote against it!
The act of Union would cause a property crash in Dublin as many of the nobility and lords who were connected with the Irish parliament were forced to go to London to join the parliament there, taking their money, and often many dependents with them, and property prices bottomed out.
This property crash would help cause the long-term flight of large numbers of the nobility from Dominick Street, and the street slowly became poorer, though the increasing population crisis which would lead to the Irish famine probably played its part along with other factors like the predominant flight of the nobility to the suburbs.
For the time being however, Dominick Street / the future Granby Park was still a prosperous area, and was increasingly occupied by working professionals like solicitors and surgeons. If we take number 1 lower Dominick street, this was occupied by William Dargan, a railroad contractor. 20 years later, Sandham Symes, an architect, and Robert Symes, a Barrister, were at number 58, though no. 13 remained in the possession of the Dukes of Leinster. The Earl of Howth had a house at no. 41, though it was eventually sold to the Carmelite friars in 1854. This house along with numbers 39-42 were converted to a school and from 1902 it was occupied by the Sisters of the holy faith. This property was only sold in 1981 following closure.
When the Broadstone railway station opened in 1847 up the road and near the entrance to upper Dominick Street, several hotels and boarding houses were introduced to the street catering to its passengers. For example the Midland hotel took on guests from the great Midland railway from Mullingar and beyond.
By 1850, the formerly ornate no. 20 had become the school for the parish of St. Mary’s, and Dominick Street also appears in some of the later Sean O’Casey’s writings, referring to a miserable and sadistic school run by the ‘scowl-faced, pink, baldy, whorey old-headed teacher, Slogan!’
From 1846-1861 the church of St. Saviour was laid down and completed in an elegant Gothic revival style, influenced by French designs by the architect James Joseph McCarthy and now the key church for the then-expanding Dominican order.
Records of the time indicate that the population was fairly varied. Granby lane in 1847 had an inspector-general for lunatic asylums, a surgeon and a vintner, amongst others, while George cook owned one of the local board and lodging houses.
For the local area, the most common surnames, in descending order of numbers, perhaps indicates the increasing importance of Irish – Catholic Irish – in the area as time went on: Byrne, Murphy, Doyle, Lynch, Moore, Kelly, Kennedy, Smith, Farrell, Martin.
No. 36 was the birthplace of Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), an Irish physicist and astronomer as well as mathematician, whose work included a re-assessment of the old Newtonian laws of physics and would help lead to new theories on electro-magnetism and eventually quantum mechanics. His daughters Laetitia and Eva Hamilton would go on to become Irish landscape painters.
JS Sheridan le Fanu (1814-1873), was born at 45 Lower Dominick Street into a family of Huguenots, and amongst many works he would complete one of the first modern vampire stories, Carmilla, which predated Bram Stoker’s own work by 25 years. It is a lurid tale of a vampire which winds its way into a family and starts feeding off of the daughter of an English officer.
But by then, conditions in the street were worsening. The creation of the slums started in the 1880s, and this has been blamed on the so-called slum landlords. These individuals bought the Georgian houses cheaply and sublet them, often with up to eighty people occupying one of the large houses so that they could gain maximum rent.
By 1900, half of Dominick Street had undergone a savage conversion into tenements and was essentially a slum. Often, large families (Census reports frequently indicate up to eight to a room) were reared in one room, poorly fed and clothed, and these were cruelly ideal conditions for disease.
This was not helped by an often fractious county council guided by Laisse-Faire as well as divide-and-rule policies (depending on the presiding British government of the time).
We still see glimpses of the past here, and the census reports of 1901 and 1911 along with other sources indicate that the situation was not simply a constant depression-wrought period of continuous social degradation with no hope at all reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes. Attempts were made to maintain and improve some of the dwellings there. For instance in no. 13, there was work done on the stables kept by the Duke of Leinster, probably by the contractor J and P Good around 1902-1903. Indeed, the Earl of Antrim, continued to live just around the corner in Granby row.
In 1914, two shops were reconstructed in no. 28-29 by the contractor W.A. Clarke, from Fairview. Even later on in the middle of the darkest days of the 1950s, number 24 would see the rear of a store there rebuilt so not everything was ‘Bug-Ridden, Rat infested’ doom and gloom as one later author would put it.
So what struggles did many of these, to us, seemingly anonymous individuals who lived there face? Did they find love? Did they serve in the Great War, the War of Independence, or the Civil War, either for or against any side or not care at all? Did they squander their meagre (or perhaps not-so-meagre) money, or slowly claw their way up the social ladder? Did they enjoy drinking or abstain? This cannot be answered here – but suffice it to say that for many, conditions were not pleasant. But it wasn’t always as simple as that.
At John West’s number 20, the former school, the Dominican order ran an orphanage there from 1927. Seamus Scully, who grew up here later, remembered ‘the scared children [from the orphanage] with shaven heads, clad only in unhappily uniforms and noisy hobnailed boots’
With independence, religious devotionalism was high in the 1920s, and many resorted to extreme asceticism to combat the scourge of drinking which had so badly affected many Irish people. A well-known incident involves Matt Talbot, (1856-1925) a reformed alcohol addict who had turned into an ascetic. On 7 June 1925 he apparently dropped dead on his way to the Dominican church in Granby Lane. He was found to be bound in chains and cord, revealing the full extent of the devotion to his god. He was known for his extreme devotion to the Virgin Mary and he is well respected – even revered – by religious Catholics both in Ireland and abroad and is regarded as a patron of men and women suffering from alcoholism for his battle with addiction and asceticism.
Later on in the 1930s, the Midland hotel was owned by a supporter of the Right-wing Irish politician / Soldier Eoin O’Duffy, where men would gather prior to being sent on the failed expedition to support Franco’s nationalists in the Spanish civil war.
By the 1950s the whole area was severely run-down, and moves were made to demolish much of Dominick Street so that the county council could construct new accommodation which would be better suited to the local’s needs. The demolitions started with the lower east side, then finished with the lower west side buildings.
The tenements which had been so vividly evoked by Sean O’Casey, former residences of lords and ladies past as well as the touchstones for so many stories of the great and good, were replaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s by undistinguished brick-clad galleried apartment buildings by Desmond Fitzgerald. Out of sixty-six houses recorded in 1938, only ten survived the tenement-pogroms of these once magnificent if shabby buildings.
An angered Desmond Guinness would bemoan the destruction: ‘In 1957 alone, Dublin has lost half of Dominick Street’. Nonetheless, No. 20 would survive and indeed, much of its stucco and plasterwork ceilings have recently been restored, thanks to help from the heritage council. It is currently the headquarters of the National Youth Federation.
The flats which replaced the Dominick street tenements themselves have received their fair share of criticism as being unsuited for modern living conditions, poorly fitted out, lacking in facilities and so on, and the housing project cannot really be considered a long-term success, though it has been considered that they provided ‘much needed’ accommodation for the residents. Until Now.
It is important to understand that the present plans of Dublin city council to regenerate the local economy and then placed in suspended animation due to the economic crash of 2008 is just the latest in a long line of similar debacles which were caused by unforeseen circumstances.
The planning of Dublin city’s housing has, much like any other city, been fraught with the danger of dealing with unexpected political events, environmental occurrences, and of course, recessions which can vivisect the most grandiose plans by hitting where it hurts: at the nation’s or individual’s purses.
For instance, in Eccles street prior to the 1798 rebellion, there had been plans for an extensive ring-road and railed park at the centre with roads radiating outward, yet this was scuppered unexpectedly by the death of its patron, Luke Gardiner or Lord Mountjoy, during the battle of New Ross as well as the following act of Union.
Similarly the development of the buildings around D’Olier Street which now house the Irish times was also delayed by the same act of Union which would help scupper Dominick street’s long-term prosperity, and it would hang in the air, undeveloped and looking for interested developers, for years.
Obviously, an appreciation of the history of previous failure and the consequences for residents is always something we should keep in mind – yet this is preaching a well-worn sermon that needs little further telling.
In any case, the visitors to Granby park should know one thing: they are arriving in the latest in a long line of developments of this area, however temporary. It will be exciting to see how the next chapter of Dominick Street and Granby Park will unfold. Perhaps, at last, it is time for Dominick Street to return to its former greatness.
# Please note that all map and photograph references are below the photographs themselves, and all efforts have been made to acquire permission from the relevant parties.
Douglas Bennett, The Encyclopaedia of Dublin.
Joseph V. O’Brien, Dear, Dirty Dublin: a city in distress.
Cristine Casey, Dublin, the buildings of Ireland.
Paul Clerkin, Dublin street names
Maurice Craig Dublin 1660-1860
Frederick O’Dwyer Lost Dublin
CT McReady Dublin street names
Peter Pearson, The heart of Dublin, resurgence of a historical city.
Seamus Scully, The Dublin Rover
Author unknown, The Dublin Almanac and register for 1947
Edel Sheriden, ‘Designing the capital city’, in Joseph Brady, Anngret Simms, Dublin through space and time
R.A. Stradling. The Irish and the Spanish civil war, 1936-1939: Crusades in conflict
Cathal Crimmins, Julia Crimmins and John Greene, ‘Architectural appraisal and environmental report on the former Irish times premises, D’Olier street and fleet street, Dublin 2’
Archaeological Survey of Ireland Map viewer :
http://webgis.archaeology.ie/NationalMonuments/FlexViewer/ , accessed 15/09/2013.
Census of Ireland 1901 & 1911:
http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/ , accessed 15/09/2013.
Dictionary of Irish architects:
http://www.dia.ie/ , accessed 15/09/2013.
Ordnance Survey Ireland online:
http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V1,591271,743300,0,10 , accessed 15/09/2013.
‘The battle of Warburg’ :
http://www.britishbattles.com/seven-years/warburg.htm , accessed 15/09/2013.
Special thanks to Julia Crimmins, Building conservationist, as well as the staff of Richview library, University college Dublin.
About the Author: Ronan Stewart
Independent researcher living in Dublin, recently completed a masters in History from the University of Cambridge.