Nighttown: Dublin’s Monto

The Mabbot street entrance of nighttown, before which stretches an uncobbled transiding set with skeleton tracks, red and green will-o’-the-wisps and danger signals. Rows of flimsy houses with gaping doors.

Ulysses, James Joyce

Entry under occupation for Maud Hamilton, 1911 Census (National Archives of Ireland)

Entry under occupation for Maud Hamilton, 1911 Census (National Archives of Ireland)

In the 1911 Census, the occupation of two Dublin women is entered as prostitute. One was Maggie Boylan living as a boarder on Faithful Place, the other—whose original entry of “unfortunate” was amended by a clerk—was Maud Hamilton on Elliott Place. Both Faithful Place and Elliott Place were off Purdon St, now completely disappeared. At the time of the Census, it was a street running parallel to, and north of, Foley St.

Purdon St with Elliot Place and Faithful Place highlighted (OSi)

Purdon St with Elliot Place and Faithful Place highlighted (OSi)

Foley St was called Montgomery St, and this gave the name to the small area just west of Connolly Station that was once one of Europe’s largest red-light districts: the Monto. The Monto came to prominence in the late nineteenth century, and lasted well into the twentieth century, until the new State, prompted by the Legion of Mary, effectively shut it down.

There is no specific boundary for the Monto, but it is considered to be within the boundaries of Gardiner St (to the left/west), Talbot St (to the south), Amiens St (to the east) and Gloucester St to the north.

There is no specific boundary for the Monto, but it is considered to be within the boundaries of Gardiner St (to the left/west), Talbot St (to the south), Amiens St (to the east) and Gloucester St to the north. This map ca. 1840 shows many street names before they were changed. The red cross marks Montgomery St.

Oddly, my awareness of the Monto came about through a gift of the book Science and Technology in Nineteenth Century Ireland, which contains an essay by Tadhg O’Keeffe and Patrick Ryan. They write that there is little surviving of the Monto today, with streets, houses, and street names cleared away. They have used the Ordnance Survey maps of the city to trace the growth and decline of prostitution in this small area.

Why did the Monto come about? Early nineteenth century records suggest that prostitution was more prevalent on the south side of the city; with one of the city’s better known Madames, Margaret Leeson, setting up shop in Pitt St, now Balfe St, site of the Westbury Hotel (and the subject of this blog’s first post). In a second essay, O’Keeffe and Ryan propose three reasons why this small part of the north inner city became one of Europe’s most notorious red-light districts. Firstly, the area was far enough from respectable eyes to enable the containment of prostitution away from upper and middle-class residential districts. From the 1870s, there was no shortage of powers  available to the police to shut down brothels and arrest their occupants. But they were not used, and the area was openly acknowledged to have ‘open houses’ in a publication of high repute as Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ths is not to say arrests didn’t take place. Luddy reports the Dublin Metropolitan Police records: 2,849 arrests in 1838, 4,784 in 1856; and running at about 1,000 per year from the 1870s. A low of 494 was recorded in 1899.

Secondly, the area was a slum, meaning rents were low. And thirdly, and most likely crucially, the area was perfectly positioned next to Amiens St station, Dublin port, and Aldborough House. Amiens St likely provided plenty of young women from the country looking for work. The port and Aldborough house—converted from a school to a military barracks during the period of the Crimean war—provided plenty of clientèle along with the demand of locals.

Elliot Place, 1930s, from the Frank Murphy Collection (Old Dublin Society). Reporduced in Luddy and O'Keeffe and Ryan.

Elliot Place, 1930s, from the Frank Murphy Collection (Old Dublin Society). Reporduced in Luddy and O’Keeffe and Ryan.

Keeping track of street names in the area is no mean feat. Looking at Rocque’s map from 1756, the area is mostly undeveloped. The extract from Rocque shows Mabbot St running roughly N-S, with “Worlds End Lane” running east-west along what became Montgomery St. O’Keeffe and Ryan suggest that this name indicates that even then, the area “had a long-standing reputation for the darker side of life.”

Rocque's Map, 1756, showing Worlds End Lane, which would become Montgomery St

Rocque’s Map, 1756, showing Worlds End Lane and Great Martin’s Lane, which would become Montgomery St and Mecklinburgh St.

As the area began to be laid out in the mid-Georgian era, Great Martin’s Lane became Mecklinburgh St in 1765. Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburgh had married George III a few years earlier. This street ran through and beyond the Monto’s (loose) boundaries. Residents on the Upper part of the street, describing themselves as “respectable working classes”, lobbied to have the name changed so as to lose the association with the area, and this part of the street became Tyrone St in 1886. But just two years later, the residents in the Lower part had their street name changed to Lower Tyrone St. A medical student walking down Tyrone St in 1904 observed that “in no other European capital have I seen its equal. It was a street of Georgian houses and each one was a brothel”. The Upper and Lower Tyrone streets subsequently became Waterford St and Railway St in 1911, the latter name survives today.  Montgomery St had substantial slum clearances in 1905 and the street’s name was changed to Foley St, albeit with the same reputation. Mabbot St—immortalised by Joyce as the entrance to “Nighttown”—is now called James Joyce St. Are you keeping up?

The “other-worldliness” of the Monto, captured by Joyce in his expression of Nighttown is elaborated on by O’Keeffe and Ryan. This area of the city was the inverse of its surroundings; coming to life when Dublin slept, being run by women rather than men; public expressions in the most intimate of places.

Magdalen asylum in the Monto (OSi)

Magdalen asylum in the Monto (OSi)

While the growth of the Monto may have been due to the turning of the cheek by the law, religious groups were not so unobservant. The all-male and Protestant White Cross Vigilance Association organised patrols from 1885, keeping watch outside “evil houses”. Bizarrely, the neighbours of brothel owners and prostitutes in the Monto were the nuns: the Sisters of Charity, who took over the Magdalen Asylum established on Mecklinburgh St in 1822.But it was the Association of Our Lady of Mercy (Legion of Mary), founded by Frank Duff in 1921 which had the greatest impact on shutting down prostitution in the Monto. Their actions included the persuading of women to leave brothels and take up paid employment elsewhere. The new State’s police force could no longer turn a blind eye and in the Spring of 1925, a large raid resulted in significant numbers of arrests. While this did not shut it down completely, activity petered out over the following years. Street clearances and renamings means that there are no physical marks on the landscape recording this district’s history; the only thing that remains is a white tiled cross on the back of a Magdalen building awaiting demolition and reconstruction.

White tile cross over a gateway on the back of the former Magdalen Laundry on Railway St (Google, 2014)

White tile cross over a gateway on the back of the former Magdalen Laundry on Railway St (Google, 2014)


This lapse in abstinence of blog posting is a form of birthday present to a friend and supporter of the blog: Happy Birthday! :)

Updates, as they may come in the future, can be sent to your email address by subscribing below. 

  • Tadhg O’Keeffe and Patrick Ryan (2009) At the World’s End: The Lost Landscape of Monto, Dublin’s Notorious Red-light District, Landscapes, I, 21-38.
  • Tadhg O’Keeffe and Patrick Ryan (2011) Representing the imagination: a topographical history of Dublin’s Monto from Ordnance Survey maps and related materials, in Science and Technology in Nineteenth Century Ireland, Julia Adelman and Éadaoin Agnew (eds), Four Courts Press: Dublin.
  • Maria Luddy (2007) Prostitution and Irish Society: 1800-1940, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

The end of the line

This is the final post for the foreseeable future. Thank you to the many subscribers and visitors to the blog. I leave for now with a note on Heuston Station.

The King's Bridge by George Petrie (1832). Crawford Gallery, Cork (link to source)

The King’s Bridge, Dublin (West View) by George Petrie (1832). (Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. Click on image to go to source)

Although the establishment of a Commission for the development of a railway network in Ireland in 1836 was motivated by military needs, the subsequent lines built saw the end of canal passenger transport in 1852 and crushed the long distance coach business. With the establishment of The Great Southern and Western Railway Company in 1844, there was a need for a site to act as a terminus for all lines from the south and west parts of the country converging in Dublin. The site at Heuston, selected by Sir John MacNeill, was attractive given that it approached the centre of the city; a contemporary pamphlet advocating this site remarked that the Liffey “divides [the city] into two nearly parts. The terminus at King’s Bridge, will therefore be on the centre line of the city.” It was also convenient to the Royal (now Collins) Barracks, and thus allowed for easy deployment of troops by rail.

Heuston Station (thanks to B)

Heuston Station (thanks to B)

The first sod was cut in a field near King’s Bridge (named after George IV in 1828) in January 1845 in a ceremony attended by among others, the Duke of Leinster. According the the Irish Railway Gazette report that month: 

His Grace, amid the loud cheers of the assembled crowd, took off his coat and in his shirtsleeves, with the skill and goodwill of an able workman dug up six sods which he threw into a wheel-barrow, and rolled off to some distance. The bonhomie the Duke of Leinster displayed elicited the utmost enthusiasm, and a country fellow turning to one of his companions said with the utmost glee, that he would now die happy, as he had seen a duke work like any common man.

The ceremony was concluded with a very elegant dejuner.  

Kingsbridge Station, by Sancton Wood (1848)

Kingsbridge Station, by Sancton Wood (1848). Reproduced in Craig.

The station terminus itself was designed by Sancton Wood and built by Cockburn and Williams of 179 Great Brunswick St (now Pearse St) using native stone. Completed in 1848, it was Dublin’s third railway terminus, following Westland Row (1834) and Amiens Street (1844). It is a substantial building, 107 feet wide, with wings projecting 53 feet each. Two panels on the front, “VIII VIC” and “1844” indicate the Act of Parliament under which the railway company operated. Between these are the three coats of arms of the cities served by the railway: Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. Descriptions of the architectural significance of the building abound, but I like Craig’s best:

…a delightful building, a renaissance palazzo, gay and full-blooded, with fruity swags and little domed towers on the wings, a thoroughgoing formal composition, excellently articulated. It is the fashion nowadays to sniff slightly because it is not as good as Broadstone: but by these standards few buildings would escape whipping.

In what sounds like a familiar tale, after the terminus of the Dublin and Wicklow Railway was built at Harcourt St in 1859, there was a desire to link up the termini at Kingsbridge, Westland Row, and Harcourt St. In 1867, the City of Dublin Tramways Co. was empowered to develop such a link. The proposed track was to run from Kingsbridge along the South Quays to Westland Row, and on to Earlsfort Terrace. Although work began on Aston Quay, it was quickly abandoned after a row caused by track being used, which left a depression in the roadway between the rails.

Map of Dublin (1847) showing the (unfinished) station terminus at Kingsbridge.

Map of Dublin (1847) showing the (unfinished) station terminus at Kingsbridge. (From Cullen, 2015)

The first trip from the station was made in August 1846—they didn’t hang about in those days. A train left Dublin for Carlow at 9 am with carriages of all classes densely crowded with passengers. A trial run had been made the day before to the Curragh, with among others Sir John MacNeil, the man responsible for the enormous railway sheds at the rear of the building terminus, Peter La Touche, Mr Brooke (Governor of the Bank of Ireland), and the Chairmen of both the Paris and Rouen Railway and the Orleans Railway. A dejuner was again served at the Curragh; railway travel clearly being an activity that requires food. Although Independence brought a name change for King’s Bridge, to Sarsfield Bridge in 1923 and Seán Heuston Bridge in 1941, Heuston Station had to wait until 1966 to follow the name of the bridge. A tram now links the station to Amiens St (Connolly) and the missing link to Harcourt St is imminent. All change!   If you’d like to follow my street adventures in a new city, keep an eye out for my new blog later in the summer. In the mean time, enjoy this great song from Boy and Bear: End of the Line.  

Plaques for Sancton Wood and John MacNeill are at the entrance to Heuston Station

Plaques for Sancton Wood and John MacNeill are at the entrance to Heuston Station


  • Cullen (2015) also shows Petrie’s East View of King’s Bridge, which shows the Royal Barracks in the background.
  • Maurice Craig (1952, reprinted 2006) Dublin 1660-1860: The Shaping of a City, Liberties Press (Dublin).
  • Frank Cullen (2015) Dublin 1847: City of the Ordnance Survey, RIA (Dublin).
  • William J Jacob (1944) Kingsbridge Terminus, Dublin Historical Record, 6(3), 107-120.
  • Francis J Murphy (1979) Dublin Trams 1872-1959, Dublin Historical Record, 33(1), 2-9.
  • Michael J Tutty (1981) Bridges over the Liffey, Dublin Historical Record, 35(1), 23-33.

In Nicholas’ Shadow

In the shadow of Saint Nicholas of Myra,

Where salt waits, oil in its cruse.

You will find your own way out of this maze.

Harry Clifton, A Son! A Son!

Parish School of the Parish of St Nicholas Without, on New St.

Parish School of the Parish of St Nicholas Without, on New St.

In the Protestant parish of St Nicholas Without, a small complex of schools existed on New St, a short street linking what is now Clanbrassil and Patrick Sts. The early Ordnance Survey map marks the school’s location and Sir John Gilbert lists details of schools in the city, most likely gathered from one of the many, many Irish Education Inquiries the Government established to try to decide what to do with education provision. He states that the school on New St had a yard and playground that was spacious. This was not common – compare, for example with St Nicholas Within, which had no yard, and a “dirt hole and necessary” on the ground floor. The school had dormitories which were airy and clean, but the school room itself was “small, dark, and inconvenient”. There were 20 boys boarding; the parish had a population of over 12,000 at the time.

1844 Petigrew and Olsen Street Directory

1842 Petigrew and Olsen Street Directory

We can trace the school pretty easily using street directories. By 1834, there were Male, Female, and Infant Schools on the site, with the children taught by James Farrell, Miss Moore, and Miss Macnamara. By 1842, the male and female schools were run by Jenkinson Hudson and his wife. Now I should say that Jenkinson is something of an old friend, as he cropped up in my study of Wicklow schoolhouses during the Georgian era. There we find him teaching in a school in Calary, aged 20 in 1823. Calary is as remote as you get in Wicklow, on upper plains between Kilmanacogue and Roundwood. It must have been quite a change for him and his wife to move to the city. Jenkinson was replaced at Calary by John Nelson Darby, so it is likely that he conformed with the evangelical ethos of that school, and perhaps this made him a suitable candidate for the school at New Street. This is further confirmed by the fact that while the school received support from the (secular) Kildare Place Society, it was not formally associated with it (see An Education at Kildare Place). Jenkinson had received training from the Society in 1823.

A little walk

Of course, following the relaxation of penal laws in 1785, most Catholic children were openly educated by Catholics, either in hedge and pay schools, or schools established on church lands. A short walk away from New St, the Roman Catholic schools for the parish were on Francis St. This walk is different today, with New St leading directly onto Patrick St. Then, a Wide Street Commissioners map informs us, New St fed into Kevin St, with a small alley named Three Stone Alley linking New St with Patrick St. The triangle now occupied by a large junction and abandoned subterranean toilets was once a compact cluster of houses.

Three Stone Alley, linking Patrick St to New St (from Dublin City Library collection – click to go to source)

On Francis St

St Nicholas of Myra Church and schools (OSi)

St Nicholas of Myra Church and schools (OSi)

St Nicholas of Myra Roman Catholic Church was built in the years following Emancipation in 1829. While there is a substantial amount of information on the church, very little appears to exist on the schools that were built on the church grounds. We know of the existence of these schools from the Ordnance Survey map which shows that by the end of the nineteenth century, at least two schools were present just north of the church.

The provision of education in early nineteenth century Ireland resembled a chaotic auction where various religious societies tried to outbid each other offering support to nascent schoolhouses. Support came with the obligations that a school would operate under the moral guidelines of a particular society, use their textbooks, and crucially, follow their interpretation of the Bible. Amid this chaos, the Kildare Place Society emerged, and became the major supporter of secular education in Ireland (see An Education at Kildare Place). The Society was formed in 1811, and from the 1820s, was the dominant Irish educational society, receiving £30,000 from Government to support schools.However, the Kildare Place Society was under attack from the Catholic bishops, and after a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1826 and Emancipation in 1829, the money previously directed to Kildare Place was used to establish the Board of National Education in 1831. Ireland had a National School system.

The Commissioners of Education Office and Training School was at Malboro' Street (National Archives of Ireland)

The Commissioners of Education offices and Training School were at Malboro’ Street (National Archives of Ireland)

Having petitioned for its formation, the Roman Catholic church quickly began to associate schools it currently supported as well as new schools with the National Board. This involved applying to be connected with the Board, through support of teacher salary, request for desks, books, etc. These applications are now kept in the National Archives of Ireland, and they are a rich source of information on localities. The earliest record for St Nicholas Without is an application in 1842 for a Female School. In this, the correspondent Fr Matthew Flanagan reported that the school house, consisting of two rooms, each thirty by forty feet, had just been completed, having been built by private subscription. Later documents make it clear that this building was in fact a school for boys and girls, with a room for each. The application was approved, and the school became popular. An application for further assistant in 1868, from Fr E McCabe, requested a salary for Eliza Saunders, aged 18. Her qualifications included a “Certificate of Professors”. She would join Mary Ledwidge, principal teacher, Julia Shalvey, Margaret Dowling, Kate Macken and M. A. Shalvey (both junior monitors). There were at that time 190 boys and 190 girls on the rolls, with average attendance of 116 boys and 116 girls.

Application for St Nicholas Without Infant School Assistant Teacher Salary, 1862 (National Archives of Ireland)

Application for St Nicholas Without Infant School Assistant Teacher Salary, 1862 (National Archives of Ireland)

The complex grew, and as well as girls and boys, the parish applied for assistance with an infant schoolhouse in 1853. The application by Fr Flanagan requested money for payment of teacher’s salary and for supply of books. He stated that the schoolhouse was newly built, with brick and slate in the cottage style, 65 feet long and 18 feet wide, standing close to the church on Francis St. It was furnished with a gallery and capable of accommodating 170 children, who were taught by Elizabeth Murphy, aged 44. Daily hours were 10 to 3, with hours devoted to religious instruction 12 to 12.30. Books used were those of the National Board. A salary of £10 was granted to Elizabeth and books for 150 children provided.Again this school was successful.Several applications for further assistance followed; within a decade there were 234 boys and 131 girls on the roll, with an average daily attendance of 138 boys and 60 girls.

St nicholas Carmans Hall statueWhile the Roman Catholic schools of the parish embraced the National School system, there is no record of the schools at New Street joining the system.Initially schools with a Protestant ethos were reluctant to join the National School system, and they continued with the support of the Kildare Place Society, which later became the Church Education Society. However, by the 1850s, money began to run out, and schools tended to drift into the National system. It is likely therefore that in the absence of any application, the schools at New Street closed.

Roman Catholic schools clearly continued on with some success, and in the 1930s, a new schoolhouse was built at Carman’s Hall, a narrow lane linking Meath and Francis Streets, just in front of St Nicholas of Myra church. Casey describes it as a simple modernist building by Robinson and Keefe, with statues of the Virgin, St Nicholas, and original Irish signage. Like its predecessors, it is now closed. The footprint of the schools around the church at Francis St is now occupied by a modern building housing Francis St CBS.
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St Nicholas of Myra National School, Carman's Hall

St Nicholas of Myra National School, Carman’s Hall

 Francis St ChurchNotes

  • The records of the National Board of Education are available in the National Archives of Ireland. There is a card index. The files accessed for this article included: ED1-29-136, ED1-29-118, ED1-29-1. Those eager to follow up the schools’ histories are encouraged to examine the ED2 records.
  • A contemporary image of the intended elevation of St Nicholas of Myra Church is available in Dublin Penny Journal, reproduced at Dublin City Library. Meanwhile, I enjoyed this letter from Sgt. Brace in 1977 to The Irish Times
  • Christine Casey (2005) The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press.
  • Michael Seery, Education in Wicklow; From Parish Schools to National Schools, 2014.This book is free to read on Google Books.
St Nicholas of Myra School and Church, from Carman's Hall

St Nicholas of Myra School and Church, from Carman’s Hall

The First Baronet

Sitting in the winter sun on the south side of St Patrick’s Cathedral is a statue of Benjamin Lee Guinness. Named after his maternal grandfather, he was the third son of Arthur Guinness Jr and Anne Lee, after William, a clergyman, and Arthur Lee. After the latter’s death in 1839, Benjamin Lee assumed control of the family business from his father in 1840. He transformed the brewery from the largest in the city to the largest brewery of porter in the world.

Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness Bt

Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness Bt (Photo: B)

As his fortune amassed, Benjamin Lee moved the family home from Number One, Thomas St (now marked with a plaque) to Stephen’s Green. Here he combined two houses in what Dickson calls a “kind of opulent Victorian palace not otherwise seen in in the city”. The transfer can be observed in street directories: in 1832, No. 1 was home of Arthur Guinness, Esq., in 1862 it was listed as a Brewer’s house, as the original brewery stood behind it. The family had lived in No. 1 since its construction in the 1750s-1760s. Casey describes the now seven bay building as much extended.

Guinnes Plaque, No 1 Thomas St

Guinnes Plaque, No 1 Thomas St

While philanthropy to varying degrees was common among the gentlemen of the early nineteenth century, Benjamin Lee brought this to new levels, spending £110,000 on the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with the aim of restoring it to its “medieval magnificence”. The aim was to create a national cathedral. The building, like its neighbour at Christchurch had fallen into disrepair, and according to Cullen, demolition was considered in 1805. As the century progressed, some work was completed, but as disestablishment of the Church of Ireland was imminent, any significant state investment was unlikely. One could consider that the cathedral would not have survived but for his investment. The work was not without controversy—no architect was hired, and Guinness himself directed the project. A view of the Cathedral from 1739 demonstrates how much work was done subsequently.

St Patrick's Cathedral, 1739. Reproduced in Stalley.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, 1739, by J Blaymires. Reproduced in Stalley.

He also began the restoration of Archbishop Marsh’s library. For this work and more, Benjamin Lee Guinness was created 1st Baronet Guinness of Ashford Castle in 1867. It was evidently a popular decision. A book of memorials from the citizens of Dublin ran to two volumes. As mentioned previously in the article on St Sepulchre’s Palace, the street in front of Benjamin Lee’s statue was for some time called Guinness St, before reverting to St Patrick’s Close. What a pity the name changed back!

St Patrick's Close on the OSi 25" map - "Sch" marks the location of the School

St Patrick’s Close on the OSi 25″ map – part of the street is called Guinness St

Benjamin Lee Guinness died in 1868, a few months before his 70th birthday. His worth was put at £1.1 M at the time. An astute businessman, his will declared that the company could not be split, a decision which perhaps prevented his two sons with remaining interest from doing so. The Guinness empire continued to grow. His son Arthur, 2nd Baronet Guinness, and was later created 1st Baron Ardilaun, completed the work on Marsh’s Library, opened Stephen’s Green to the public (commemorated by a statue of Lord Ardilaun in the Green, facing the Royal College of Surgeons), and rebuilt the Coombe Hospital in 1880. He also initiated interest in the Dublin Artisan’s Dwelling Company (see article on Reginald St), that his brother would later take up in the form of the Iveagh Trust.

In 1876, Arthur sold his share to his brother Edward Cecil, a man who did much to transform the city of Dublin. He was created 1st Baron Iveagh in 1891, and the Viscountcy and the Earldom soon followed. There is plenty more to write about him of course, but for now we can say that a good claim to fame is that the two “cunning brothers” appear in Ulysses: 

“a crystal cup full of the foamy ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.”

No. 1 Thomas St, to the left of the entrance of St James Gate Brewery (Photo: informatique on Flickr)

No. 1 Thomas St, to the left of the entrance of St James Gate Brewery (Photo: July 2012 by informatique on Flickr)

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The amount spent on St Patrick’s Cathedral varies with the source. Dickson quotes £110,000.

  • Christine Casey (2005) The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press.
  • Frank Cullen (2015) Dublin 1847: City of the Ordnance Survey, RIA (Dublin).
  • David Dickson (2014) Dublin – The Making of a Capital City, Lilliput (Dublin).
  • Roger Stalley (2009) St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, Irish Arts Review 26(3), 116-119.

Last Post on James’ St

Having served the area since 1891, James’ St post office recently closed and is currently for lease. It was one of several post offices designed by “the always interesting” J. Howard Pentland. Others in Dublin include Ballsbridge, Phibsborough (demolished and rebuilt in 1960), and Blackrock in 1909.  Maire Crean’s magnificent book “Lost Post” provides substantial detail on James’ St post office, including the original proposal of the floor plan, now kept in the National Archives.

James’s Street Former P.O.; Part Original Ground Floor Plan (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean)

James’s Street Former P.O.; Part Original Ground Floor Plan (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean).

James’s Street Former P.O.; Original Elevation (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean).

James’s Street P.O.; Original Elevation (National Archives of Ireland, reproduced in Crean).

The public office is visible to the left of the plan, and the sorting office to the right. Crean also treats us to the original elevation – clearly it was originally intended to be a Gothic affair. The door to the public office is on the left on the plans, but from the existing building, we can see it is on the right.

The existing building is part of a trio of red-bricked buildings on the site: two at the pavement, and one in between; a three-storey building recessed from the road. Casey seems doubtful that such a grand building could be for a postmaster, and I can’t find anything in the 1901 Census to counter her opinion. The Post Office in that Census was given number 106, and was of course uninhabited. Using that numbering system, 105 and 104 are the adjoining buildings, and they too were unoccupied in 1901. By 1911, the numbering had shifted to what we currently have: the post office at no. 109, and the large house at 108 was a boarding house for four brewers from England and four domestic servants. 107 remained unoccupied.

Penny Post History

Stafford Johnson gained a substantial amount of information from two pieces of paper found in a bin. Most other remaining archives were destroyed.

Postal history can be traced back to James’ St much earlier than 1892. Dublin had an innovative and efficient postal system known as the “Penny Post”, which was established in 1773. The city joined London to be unique in the world with such a system, although according to Stafford Johnson—who has provided us with one of the rare monographs on this topic—Dublin “has some matter for pride in the fact that it maintained the general character of the Penny Post unaltered until the end.

The Penny Post operated in parallel to the pre-existing General Post system. From 11th October 1773, letters not exceeding four ounces could be delivered from the Penny Post Office in the GPO yard or any of eighteen Receiving Houses around the city, at a cost of one penny. The receiving houses were named in the original correspondence and included Mr. Charles Wren, Hosier, at the Sign of the Stocking, Francis-street near the Combe, Mr. Bredberry, Grocer, at the Sign of the three Swedish Crowns, George’s Quay and Mr. Bourke, Grocer at the Black Boy and Sugar Loaf, Capel-street near Essex-bridge. By 1810, there were 54 receiving houses in the city, and 29 country receiving houses, the extra distance to the country (suburban areas) costing 2 pence.

Doorway, James St Post Office

Doorway, James’ St Post Office (Photo: B)

The original system involved a pre-payment of one penny which was given in to the Penny Post Office or receiving houses. Letters that did not have the accompanying penny were opened and returned to the sender. A plea was made to be as precise as possible with the address, and those intended for lodgers were to name the landlord or the sign (on the building) to assist the post men.These men wore a distinctive uniform from 1810, and like their colleagues in the General Post system, rang a bell when on collection duty.

In 1810, the pre-payment system was abandoned. The official reason isn’t known, but Stafford Johnson offers with some confidence his theory that pre-payment ran counter to the public sentiments of the time. Payment on delivery would be preferred as it secured a safer delivery, and poorer people could take advantage of the system by refusing to accept delivery (and hence avoid the charge) while learning who the letter was from. Apparently secret codes were used so that the recipient could interpret the message with accepting the letter. Nonetheless, the system was a successful and efficient means of communication in the city. The post-masters general were eager to highlight the benefit of their system and regularly published the notice:

So expeditious and regular is the dispatch and delivery of letters by this Office that two persons residing in the most distant parts of the City from each other, may write four letters and receive three answers in the day for the trifling expense of one penny on each.

James St Post Office (Photo: B)

James’ St Post Office (Photo: B)

Back at James’ St, a receiving house opened on the street in 1809/10, and we can propose that this house is a precursor to the post office mentioned at the head of the article. The listing of a receiving house at No. 75 in the 1862 street directory adds some weight to this proposal. Here, William Madden, M.D. operated his medical practice, and acted as a Post Office Receiver. In addition to the house on James’ St, a second receiving house opened on Echlin Lane (now Echlin St) after 1810. The latter joined receiving houses at Broadstone Hotel and Portobello Hotel linking the city system with the Royal and Grand canal harbours (see In the fields off James’ St).

The Penny Post system ended in 1840, because of a combination of factors, not least the duplication with the General Post system. Stafford Johnson closes his article with the following:

Looked at as a whole, the Penny Post was worthy of the City and fulfilled its functions truly and well. For 66 years it gave a service which for cheapness and quickness has never been equalled. All this was done by men on foot, and to-day, in spite of the advantages of modern science, there is nothing to come up to that old system of which all that remains is a memory and some faded old letters.

Letter Box on No 107 James St

Letter Box on No 107 James’ St (Photo: B)

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In the fields off James’ St

Grand Canal Place
at the second hour.
Live lights on oiled water
in the terminus harbor.

Thomas Kinsella, St Catherine’s Clock

Walking around between the Guinness Storehouse and St James’ Hospital, there are some aqueously named streets: Grand Canal Place, Basin View, Basin Lane Upper. Water, water, everywhere. But neither eyes nor satellite show any sight of a drop.

Rocque to the rescue, as always. Tucked away in the south-western corner of his 1756 plan of the city is “City Bason”. The Bason, or Basin was a reservoir supplying this area of the city-especially the ever growing number of breweries and distilleries-with water. It was also a place for local residents to escape the confines of the city’s streets.

Rocque's map of the city - the "city bason" is just on the southern edge of the extract shown.

Rocque’s map of the city – the “city bason” is just on the southern edge of the extract shown.

With the aid of your monocle, it can be seen that a tree-lined walkway is shown around the basin, and the area was popular as a promenade, so much so that it had already been included as a panel of interest in Brooking’s map of 1728. In addition, it was a venue for musical performances. A concert in aid of the Meath Hospital advertised for August 1756, the date of Rocque’s map, promised a performance of Ellen-a-Roon by Mr Pockrich, playing musical glasses:

Mr. Pockrich hath, (in consideration of so useful a Charity) condescended to exhibit a NEW and CURIOUS Musical Instrument, invented by him very lately, the Effects of which it is impossible to describe, as being entirely different from all either Wind or String Instruments …

It would appear on this particular occasion, that Mr Pockrich’s performance didn’t go well. A subsequent apology appeared from the man himself in the following week’s newspaper: the cause of disappointment was his adding a Glass too much to his instrument. 

Ordnance Survey of Ireland map of area south of James' St. (Map: OSi)

Ordnance Survey of Ireland map of area south of James’ St. (Map: OSi)

We digress. The City Basin, Frank Cullen tells us in his fantastic new book was built in 1724, and indeed by the date of the Ordnance Survey map over a century later, the tree lined promenade was still present. A guide to the city in 1835 reported that:

The City Bason is the pleasantest, most elegant and sequestered place of relaxation the citizens can boast of; the reservoir, which in part supplies the city with water, is mounded and terraced all round, and planted with quickset hedges, limes and elms, having beautiful green walks between, in a situation which commands a most satisfactory prospect of a vast extent of fine country to the south. The entrance is elegant, by a lofty iron gate, and the water that supplies it, is conveyed from the neighbouring mountains.

The basin is important for the next part of the story. Its location probably directed the choice of the end of the Grand Canal adjacent to it, completed in 1785. The Canal would serve to keep water flowing to the basin, and hence to the city. (It wasn’t until 1790 that the canal was extended along the South Circular Road to the Liffey.)

Thus the terminus in the quote from Kinsella above makes sense. Quite an extensive harbour and dry docks are visible in the Ordnance Survey map, and the whole complex meant that this became an important link between Dublin, especially the Liberties and surrounding area, and the rest of the country via the canal. It’s probably no coincidence that the street running east from the harbour, that which now runs along by the entrance of the Guinness Storehouse, is called Market St. Gloriously, a sketch of the area published in the Illustrated London News and reproduced by Cullen gives us a picture of the locality in 1846.

City Basin and Grand Canal Harbour, Illustrated London News, 1846, reproduced in Cullen (2015)

City Basin and Grand Canal Harbour, Illustrated London News, 1846, and reproduced in Cullen (2015). The South Dublin Union Workhouse is visible to the west.

At this time, the area east of the Basin and south of James’ St had not been assimilated into the Guinness empire and one can see (pass the monocle again dear) on both the map and the etching that the area is primarily residential. In this final part, we’ll consider two developments that emerged in the nineteenth century.

Rocque's 1757 map showing what became known as "Old James's Gate Chapel" on the corner of Watling St, erected 1749.

Rocque’s 1757 map showing what became known as “Old James’s Gate Chapel” (marked with a cross) on the corner of Watling St, erected 1749.

The first is Echlin St, dominated on the east by St James’ Church. This is the third incarnation of the church; a Chapel of St James was erected by Canon Matthew Kelly in what was known as Jennet’s Yard. This lasted until 1749, when Richard Fitzsimons PP built a church on the corner of Watling St. (Rocque kindly marks a building with a cross at this location.) In August 1852 the present St James’ Church was opened by Dr, later Cardinal Paul. A notice outside the church says that Daniel O’Connell laid the foundation stone. Echlin St links James St with Grand Canal Place. Previously named Echlin Lane, it sourced its title from Rev Henry Echlin, who was the vicar of St James until his death in 1752.

St James' Church from Grand Canal Place

St James’ Church from Grand Canal Place

Secondly, the large curved building wrapped around Grand Canal Place is not present on the maps or views of the 1840s. This building, which Cullen describes as warehouses and Casey describes as experimental maltings were built by Guinness in 1863; in either case a convenient location on the water’s edge for distribution nationwide.  Facing inwards towards the canal, which like the basin beside it is now filled in, it is the last remnant of the enormous water complex that supported this industrial quarter of the city. One can contemplate Kinsella’s Live lights on oiled water in the Harbour Bar pub just across the road.

At Grand Canal Place

At Grand Canal Place. The Harbour Bar is the white building to the right.

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  • There is a photo essay of this area on the Irish Waterways History website.
  • Brian Boydell (1991) Mr. Pockrich and the Musical Glasses, Dublin Historical Record, 44(2), 25-33.
  • Christine Casey (2005) The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press.
  • Frank Cullen (2015) Dublin 1847: City of the Ordnance Survey, RIA (Dublin).
  • Desmond F. Moore (1960) The Guinness Saga, Dublin Historical Record, 16(2), 50-57.

A little Off

Off Lane, which appears on Rocque’s 1756 map was so named by Henry Moore, 3rd Viscount Moore, 1st Earl of Drogheda who came into possession of lands in this area around what is now the Spire on O’Connell St in 1661 following the Restoration of the Monarchy. Laying out the streets, Henry was clearly a man who wished to leave a legacy. He named some of his new streets Henry St, Moore St, Earl St (now North Earl St), Drogheda St, Mellefont Place (which was Tucker’s Row and became Cathedral St). A small lane, now called Henry Place, linking Moore St to Henry St was called Of or Off Lane. Clearly Henry had used every other combination of his titles, and was left with using the prepositions.

Rocque's Map of 1756 showing Moore's legacy: Moore St, Henry St, Off Lane, Drogheda St and Earl St are all visible.

Rocque’s Map of 1756 showing Henry Moore, Earl of Drogheda’s legacy:  Henry St, Moore St, Earl Street, Off Lane, and Drogheda St

This entire development was laid out before 1728 on what was called Ash Park by the monks of St Mary’s Abbey, where the Earl of Drogheda had taken the Abbot’s House as his city residence. After laying out his new streets, the Earl built Drogheda House, a mansion situated between Earl St and the next street north, now called Cathedral St. The Earl, clearly not wanting to waste an opportunity, called this street Mellefont Place (he was also Baron Moore of Mellefont). A fountain was situated at the front of the house, “pouring water into Drogheda St”. Drogheda St, linking Sackville St (northern end) to the river was by then only a narrow lane, and indeed on Rocque’s map, did not continue to the river.

Sackville St and Gardiner's Mall, c. 1760, by Oliver Grace

Sackville St and Gardiner’s Mall, c. 1760, by Oliver Grace

Wide Street Commissioners Map of planned alterations to Sackville St - compare the width of Sackville and Drogheda Streets. (Dublin City Library - click image to go to source)

Wide Street Commissioners Map of planned alterations to Sackville St – compare the width of Sackville and Drogheda Streets. (Dublin City Library – click image to go to source)

An important map in the Dublin City Library Wide Street Commission archives is shown, outlining the commission’s plans to extend and widen the thoroughfare from the end of Drogheda St through the connection with Abbey St and onto the river. Just 30 years earlier, this was a haphazard cluster of houses. Having widened the section from the river to Abbey St, and the previous widening in 1749 of what became Sackville St, Drogheda’s days were numbered, and the entire length was widened in the 1790s, becoming Sackville St (after a brief time as New Sackville St). This was achieved by Luke Gardiner, later 1st Viscount Mountjoy.

The change from Drogheda to Sackville reflects also the earlier changing land ownership. Drogheda’s reign came to an end following the death of the Earl. The lands passed through the hands of Sir Humphrey Jervis, who sold them to Luke Gardiner around 1714. It was he who laid out Gardiner’s Mall, and the northern stretch of Sackville St; the name coming from Lionel Cranfield Sackville, 1st Duke of Dorset, who was viceroy for the periods 1731-37 and 1751-6.  Gardiner also called his younger son Sackville, so we can assume the families were friendly. As mentioned we had to wait until his grandson Luke continued the street to the river later that century, and Drogheda St disappeared from the map.

Sackville St eventually became O’Connell St, although not as soon as planned. Dublin Corporation, in a rash of apparent nationalism in 1884 (see John Dillon St) opted to rename the street after the Liberator, but was prevented by a court injunction taken by the street’s residents, clearly more loyal to their peers. It wasn’t until independence that O’Connell finally superseded the Viscount and the Earl that preceded him.

Sackville St in the early 19th century (Original image from National Library of Ireland - click to go to source)

Sackville St in the early 19th century (Original image from National Library of Ireland – click to go to source)


  • Christine Casey (2005) The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press.
  • Mrs. James F. Daly (1957) O’Connell Bridge and Its Environs, Dublin Historical Record, 14(3), 85-93.
  • Seamus Scully (1972) Ghosts of Moore Street, Dublin Historical Record, 25(2), 54-63.
  • Maura Shaffrey (1988) Sackville Street/O’Connell Street, Irish Arts Review, 144-149.

Samuel Whyte’s School on Grafton St

If thou must write and would’st thy works disperse, Write novels, sermons, anything but verse 

Samuel Whyte, from an engraving by Henry Brocas (National Library of Ireland - click to go to source)

Samuel Whyte, from an engraving by Henry Brocas (National Library of Ireland – click to go to source)

The quote above is from a letter from Samuel Whyte to aspiring poetess Henrietta Battier in 1790. Sheila Hamilton writes that Whyte was not being cruel in offering this opinion, rather he was injecting a dose of realism: women had no formal education and hence found it difficult to be taken seriously as poets. (She continues that some still tried).

References to Whyte and his school—officially named the “Seminary for the Instruction of Youth”—on Grafton St permeate the literature about many of the great names of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He was born about 1733, and attended what was a famous school at Golden Lane, run by schoolmaster Samuel Edwards. He was the son of Solomon Whyte, and after a poor inheritance (Solomon’s nephew Richard Chamberlain getting the loot), Samuel was encouraged by Thomas Sheridan to open an English grammar school. In 1758, he opened his school on Grafton St., with school rooms on Johnston’s Court, now the site of Bewley’s. His own master’s house was across the school yard. He quickly rose to some acclaim, and it became one of the premier schools in the city. Whyte’s reputation (and association with the Sheridan family) led to him being offered a professorship of English at the Hibernian Academy in 1759. He declined, and devoted his clearly substantial talent to developing his own school.

Whytes Academy Grafton StAs previously mentioned on this site, the Duke of Wellington was educated here, along with Thomas Moore—whose father had recently moved from Johnston’s Court to Aungier St—and the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, all commemorated on the plaque on the building. Moore wrote:

As soon as I was old enough to encounter the crowd of a large school it was determined that I should go to the best then in Dublin, the grammar school of the well known Samuel Whyte whom a reputation of more than thirty years standing had placed at that time at the head of his profession.

A medal for performance in writing (1783). The rim has the engraving: Saml. Whyte Exar. Ajudged And Gave It To Joseph Turner Decr. 17 1783 No. 36 (Whyte's Auctioneers)

A medal for performance in writing (1783). The rim has the engraving: Saml. Whyte Exar. Ajudged And Gave It To Joseph Turner Decr. 17 1783 No. 36 (Whyte’s Auctioneers)

Moore was of course a star pupil. The Dublin Chronicle reported in 1790:

The Public Examinations at Mr. Whyte’s school in Grafton Street closed on the 22nd instant, with an uncommon degree of splendour. A Master Moore, a boy not more than ten years old, distinguished himself in a remarkable manner, and was deservedly the admiration of every auditor.

Whyte’s own interest in poetry and theatre was inculcated in his pupils. After they performed a play on Christmas Eve 1771 at a private house on Capel St, the Marquis of Kildare suggested that they perform regularly for the public, with proceeds going to charitable institutions. Thus, on Jan 2nd 1772, a play was performed at the Theatre Royal on Crow St, with proceeds (£262) applied to liberate eighty debtors from the Marshalsea. Bravo!

From 1792, Whyte’s son Edward Athenry Whyte joined him in managing the Academy. Of course like much else, the school suffered greatly from the repercussions of the Act of Union. Whyte died on 4th October 1811, and Edward continued to manage the Academy until its closure in 1824.

You can receive email updates when a new post is published by subscribing below. A campaign is currently under way to highlight the heritage associated with the Bewley’s building on Grafton St, as covered recently in The Irish Times.


  • John Gilbert (1859) A history of the city of Dublin (Vol 3)
  • Sheila Hamilton (1988) Rescued and Recognised Pillars of the House: An Anthology of Verse by Irish Women by A. A. Kelly, Fortnight, 261, p. 22.
  • Ronan Kelly (2008) Bard of Erin: The Life of Thomas Moore, Penguin UK.

The Luxembourg School at Aldborough House

Gregor von Feinaigle. Line engraving by J. H. Lips after D. Lavater

Gregor von Feinaigle. Line engraving by J. H. Lips after D. Lavater (Wellcome Images)

In 1813, Professor Gregory (von) Feinaigle arrived in Dublin. His life to this point had been quite varied. Formerly a Cisterican monk, he had been expelled from the Monastery of Salem during the Napoleonic Wars, and after a brief dalliance as an industrialist, he moved into the education. He established himself in Karlsruhe, then moved to Paris, continued touring France, and arrived in London in 1811. After tours to Glasgow and Edinburgh, Feinaigle arrived in Dublin in January 1813. He would never leave.

Feinagle’s speciality was mnemonics, and their use as a tool in learning. Anxious to cultivate confidence among the nobility and gentry of Dublin, he quickly advertised his talks within a few weeks of his arrival. Proceeds from his talk held in the Rotunda rooms on his New System of Mnemonics  were given to aid the Fund for establishing the Dublin Female Penitentiary and the Richmond National Institute of the Industrious Blind. Feinaigle clearly had a sense of how to get his name out among the classes willing to pay for his services; the latter talk was attended by the Duchess of Richmond. Announcements carrying details of the talk included information for those interested that a course on:

the Principles of Mnemonics and Methodics, will likewise begin next Wednesday the 15th of January new private lectures on the Latin language principally intended for children of former subscribers of such pupils as will be presented by them. These young pupils will at the same time be instructed in other important objects of learning, such as History, Geography, Arithmetic, etc., and may receive further instruction in other languages. The price of these private lectures is one guinea a week. The subscription to be made at No. 12 Upper Sackville Street.

"The New Art of Memory" (1813)

“The New Art of Memory” (1813)

Something of a craze for Feinaiglianism quickly emerged. The self-styled Professor was encouraged to establish a school, and by August 1813, Saunder’s News-Letter carried an advertisement announcing that two contiguous and eligible houses at Clonliffe had been acquired to house a seminary for the education of youth after the system of Professor von Feinaigle. Information and enquiries about the school could be obtained from Bindon Blood of Charlemont St, Richard Williams of Drumcondra Castle (both trustees), Thomas Williams of Bank of Ireland, or Dr Harty of Gloucester St.

Engraving of Aldborough House, Dublin Penny Journal,  February 1836.

Engraving of Aldborough House, Dublin Penny Journal, February 1836.

Such were the numbers interested in applying, the Clonliffe houses were deemed too small, and Feinaigle himself advanced £4,800 to purchase Aldborough House, then unoccupied. The Clonliffe houses were retained for the female school. Forty subscribers paid £100, and £15,000 was expended on fitting the school up. This included the erection of a large hall and chapel as wings to the original building.

The school had three assistant lecturers (Rev William Lawler, Rev Piers Gamble, Mr Flynn), and named lecturers in Drawing (Mr Sandford), Natural and Experimental Philosophy (Rev Lawler), Chemistry (Michael Donovan), a Physician (William Harty), a Surgeon (Arr. Collis), and an apothecary (John Donovan). Prof Walter Wade of the Dublin Society was a  guest lecturer delivering courses in botany and agriculture.

After moving into Aldborough, the name of the building was changed to The Luxembourg, and indeed is marked as such on one map of Dublin (1821). It became one of the most successful Protestant schools in Ireland, providing students for Trinity College Dublin. Pupils called it “The Lux”, and among several pupils recalled in an 1874 article in the Irish Builder were James Caulfield, future Earl of Charlemont, Abel La Touche, Sir William and Sir Croker Barrington, as well as boys from Kilkenny, Donegal, Cork, and France.

The school had become a success quickly and was now a significant provider of expensive education for children of wealthy parents. Feinaigle decided to marry, and chose for his bride a widow, a former matron at the Rotunda. Sadly his success came to an abrupt end with his sudden death in 1820. He left a significant legacy at the time. Enrolment in the school was about 130, and schools after his system were being established in other towns in Ireland. Feinaigle’s own son Charles Gregory graduated from The Lux and entered Trinity College in 1834. However, Dublin was changing; this part of the city was deteriorating quickly, and a new master (Feinaigle’s step son) intent on pursuing an overtly religious curriculum put many parents off. The school closed and Aldborough House was abandoned once more until it was taken over by Dublin Castle to house soldiers during Daniel O’Connell’s monster meeting at Clontarf.

The Feinaiglian system never gained the acceptance that the Lancaster “monitorial” system did; the latter becoming standard in classrooms around the country. But Feinaigle is immortalised in Don Juan by Byron (1818), which includes in its first canto:

Her memory was a mine; she knew by heart

All Calderon and greater part of Lopé,

So that if any actor missed his part

She could have served him from the prompter’s copy;

For her Feinaigle’s were an useless art,

And he himself obliged to shut up shop

He could never make a memory as fine as

That which adorn’d the brain of Donna Inez.

The current status of Aldborough House is well documented on the Irish Aesthete’s website. You can receive email updates when a new post is published by subscribing below.


Michael Quane (1964) The Feinaiglian Institution, Dublin, Dublin Historical Record, 19(2), 30-44.

The Kevin St. Medley: 5. The Choir School

Founded in 1432, St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir School is the oldest existing school in Ireland. While the Cathedral’s grammar school is likely to be older, it is in its recent form dated to a mere 1547. The choir school was founded when Richard Talbot was Archbishop of Dublin (1418-1449), owing to the need for a steady supply of young choristers for the cathedral. Six minor canons and six choristers were part of the new “college” and the six boys would have been charged with singing the plainsong of the daily Lady mass. Minor canons received 10 marks and choristers 4 marks per annum for their efforts.

St Patrick's Close on the OSi 25" map - "Sch" marks the location of the School

St Patrick’s Close on the OSi 25″ map – “Sch.” marks the location of the School (under the C of Cathedral)

The original location of the school was probably to the west of the present Deanery. In 1546, it was described as having a hall, kitchen, and sixteen bed-chambers. During the Reformation, Edward VI closed the choral school and converted it to a grammar school. However by 1615, the choir school was restored. While writing about all of this in 1820, William Monck Mason says that the ruins of the ancient school were still visible at that time. Glory be to Monck Mason, who provides us with a contemporary map showing the arrangement in the early nineteenth century. The Vicar’s Choral Ground is visible bordering Kevin St.

Plan of the Cathedral from The History and Antiquities of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St Patrick. William Monck Mason, Dublin 1819 (From Dublin City Library Collection - click to go to source)

Plan of the Cathedral from The History and Antiquities of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St Patrick. William Monck Mason, Dublin 1819 (From Dublin City Library Collection – click to go to source)

West Front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, James Malton, 1793 (NLI - Click image to go to source)

West Front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, James Malton, 1793 (NLI – Click image to go to source)

The choir school likely had a close connection with Christ Church Cathedral as well at various points in its history. It is noted that following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 (the interregnum being the second of two times the school closed in its history) Richard Hosier held the position of “master of the song and tutor of the boys” at both institutions. Hosier’s successor Nicholas Sanderson got into trouble for his teaching methods. He was admonished for teaching the boys to “sing not by art but by rote” (Boydell).

Arrangements for those attending the “song school” were quite formal. Choristers were apprenticed to a master of song, who trained them and housed them with his family. In return he received allowance for laundry and haircuts! In more recent centuries, choristers also attended the Grammar School. The report on endowed schools in 1856—not one to hold back criticism— stated that “this is a good school”.

39 Kevin St., formerly the Cathrdral Choir School

39 Kevin St., formerly the Cathedral Choir School (Photo: B)

After the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, the cathedral was no longer required to support the school. Support up to this point involved master’s salary, accommodation, etc. In the nineteenth century, it was more common to use schoolmasters who ran schools in the locality, as the accommodation had deteriorated so much that it would have been difficult to attract a resident master; the salary not being the most generous. While there was no onus to support a school, there was a need for choristers, and the Dean (Dean West)  built a new Choir School at 39 Kevin St in 1870. We can see from Monck Mason’s map above that this building was built on a plot marked as “Dean’s Ground”. Originally an alley ran along the west; noted as Mitre Alley on Monck Mason’s map (and indeed as Myter Alley on Rocque’s 1756 map), but later named Chapter Close by OSi. An alley of sorts still exists—it is now part of the school yard with the gateway to the left of the house shown terminating the south end.

For reasons unknown, the building remained as a school for just a decade, when it became a master’s private house. The Choir School moved into the Deanery school on St Patrick’s Close, likely that one marked on the map above. There was some additional accommodation for choir practice in a room on Patrick’s St. An assessment of the school in 1909 remarked:

“The singing of this choir is admirable in every respect, and is marked by refinement and finish”.

School Doorway (Photo: B)

School Doorway (Photo: B)

Unfortunately the report for the standards in other subjects were not as ebullient. The school buildings were in a poor state and decayed over the course of the twentieth century. The choir school became part of the National School system in 1974, and in 1981, a new building with musical facilities were completed. Later the Grammar School also acquired new buildings, opened by Charles Haughey in 1988. These brick buildings bookend a handsome, much older, building, with a fairy-tale blue door. Behind it, is nearly six centuries of history.

More posts on Kevin St are listed in the Table of Contents. You can receive email updates when a new post is published by subscribing below.


  • Barra Boydell (2004) A History of Music at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Boydell Press.
  • Rex Cathcart (1994) In the Shadow of St. Patrick’s, Dublin Historical Record, 47(1), 71-76.