The Brewer’s House on Ardee St still stands despite all around it descending into chaos. To the west and north, new apartment complexes with pint-sized sitting rooms and now-vacant office blocks were thrown up in the boom. To the south and east, the brownfield remains of the Newmarket Square complex, where rebuilding in the 1990s has, in the words of Christine Casey, “if anything worsened matters than what was there before”. Still the house stands tall, even if one side of it has plastic sheets dangling from it, protecting the chimney stack of its old next door neighbour, ripped away by St Luke’s Avenue, the extension to Cork St. The house and ruined buildings to the rear are the legacy of what was one of Ireland’s oldest breweries: Watkins.
Watkins’ Brewery dates from the early eighteenth century, and along with Jameson Pim & Co probably pre-dates their more famous neighbour at St. James’ Gate. The brewery was located on Lord Meath’s estate; who is still remembered by some street names: Brabazon Place off Newmarket Square, at the rear of the site, Meath St nearby and of course Ardee St itself. Watkins were particularly well known for their XX Stout and their porter; eagle-eyed among you will spot an advertisement for Watkins’ Extra Stout in this image from the National Library of Ireland. But the continuing rise and rise of Guinness meant that the competition steadily closed down. In 1904 Watkins merged with Jameson Pim & Co, and by 1937, the company intended to go into voluntary liquidation. It must have been a hard decision for Alfred E Darley, descendant of Joseph Watkins, to end his family’s business. That the company lasted this long is a testament to its success in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the company had a profitable export business. What happened after closure is unclear to me. In 1943 The Irish Times carried an article about a High Court order allowing Dublin Corporation access to the basement of the premises, still owned by the company. The basement had been designated by the Corporation as an Air Raid Shelter, and the company were refusing access.
On the north side of the intersection with Cork St., there are a row of cottages known as Watkins’ Buildings, which were built by the company to house workers locally. Casey describes them thus: “rows of attractive artisan dwellings in brown and red brick of c. 1880.” These houses therefore were built in a similar period, if not slightly earlier, thank those built on Bride St and St Patrick’s by the Guinness Trust.
The Eighteenth Century: Crooked Staff
A map of the site where Watkins’ buildings are now located exists. Drawn in 1749, it is called Booter Park (Lawlor, 1931) and was bound by the Coombe to the north, Ardee St to the west and “bounded towards the East and the South upon the lands now in the tenure of the Right Hon Henry the Earle of Meath”, according to a document from 1669. The Coombe is visible in the bottom left (north-east) of the map. This was the heart of the Earl of Meath’s “Liberty”, which was a fashionable quarter during the eighteenth century. The Earl of Meath had a townhouse, Ardee House, located near the Coombe Hospital. The name Ardee itself comes from the fact that the Sir Edward Brabazon was elevated to the Peerage of Ireland by King James I as Baron Ardee in 1616. He established Killruddery at Bray soon afterwards. Edward’s son was subsequently elevated again by King Charles I as Earl of Meath in 1627. The patchwork of land ownership in this area is clear from a map setting out the plan for Newmarket itself (Frazer, no date), which distinguishes between “Earle’s Land” and “Church Land”.
Both of these maps show that Ardee Street originally had the name is “Crooked Staff” (you have to read Staff twice to check you don’t read Street). I wonder if this name comes from the area’s proximity to St Patrick’s Cathedral, whose Dean owned the land. Looking at Rocque’s map from a decade later, it’s clear that the street has a kink in it right about where the present-day Cork St intersects it.
Plaque commemorating 1916 site
Regular readers of this blog (I always wanted to say that) will know that I like to connect a plaque with the street being discussed. The Irish Times reported in October 1949 that in a ceremony presided over by W. T. Cosgrave, four plaques were unveiled on buildings
occupied by volunteers during the rising of 1916. The buildings were South Dublin Union, Roe’s Distellery, Marrowbone Lane distillery and Watkins brewery. The plaques bear the inscription: “This building was occupied by Volunteers of the 4th Batallion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, against British forces, during Easter Week, 1916. Commanding officer for the area of occupation: Commandant Eamonn Ceannt.”
Watkins’ Brewery itself was occupied by Captain Con Colbert, but on the Tuesday evening of Easter Week, Colbert took his his company to join those at the Jameson Distillery site on Marrowbone Lane (National Library of Ireland). The plaque no longer exists on The Brewer’s House that I can see.
Three of the four corners of the crossroads between Ardee St and Cork St were redeveloped during the boom. A model of what was planned for the fourth corner, incorporating the Brewer’s House and the site still exists. Although it will probably be a few years before we go as mad again, it is interesting to look at what might have been the final piece of the jigsaw.
- Christine Casey, 2005, The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press
- William Frazer, Newmarket and Weavers’ Square, Dublin City Council Heritage and Conservation Booklet, Link to PDF (2.4 MB).
- H. J. Lawlor (1931) Booter Park, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Seventh Series, 1(2), 151-155.
- National Library of Ireland, The Main Sites of Activity During the Rising, online exhibition, Link to PDF (843 kB)