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.

Notes

  • 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.
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Was it St Kevin’s Abode, now Camden St?

Camden St sign

What’s in a name?

Nothing like a disagreement to spark a bit of interest. In his article in History Ireland in 2005, Patrick Garry wrote about the disappearance of Irish forms of street names in the then recently published Dublin City Streetnames. Among those he mentioned was Camden St:

Another saint connected with the diocese of Dublin, St Kevin, is also to be removed from his ancient location in Camden Street. Port Caoimhin will cease to exist and will become Sráid Camden. The loss to local history of these names is immeasurable.

Not so, says Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill, of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, in a letter to History Ireland later that year. The department was responsible for providing the Irish names for the Streetnames book. Written in the tone of a man not used to being disagreed with, he states:

If Camden (Street) was in fact derived from St Kevin or Caoimhin (earlier Caeimhghin), one would expect to find direct evidence of this. Can Mr Garry provide us with examples of this ancient place-name Port Chaoimhghin from which Camden Street mystically emerged about 1778?

The “origin” of a lot of these alternative Gaelic names, Ó Cearbhaill says is an over-zealous avoidance of the use of English names. Unfortunately there is no follow-up article to this, so the case of Garry vs Ó Cearbhaill is unresolved.

Is there evidence for Port Chaoimhghin? The Historic Town Atlas lists the references to Camden Street mentioned in a series of maps and records it as Keavans Port (1673), Cavan’s Port (1709), St Kevan’s Port (1714), Keavan’s Port (1728) and St Keavan’s Port (1756) on good old Rocque. Whatever the original name, in 1778, it became Camden Street, probably as part of the overall work scheme which included the creation of Charlotte Street. Camden was yet another of Pitt’s men, he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland seeing through the Act of Union. He didn’t get this position until 1794, so I am not clear whether Camden St is in his honour or his fathers, a man involved in the repeal of the Dependence of Ireland on Great Britain Act 1719, repealed in 1782.

Gorevan's (Links to the website Archiseek.com)

Formerly Gorevan’s Department Store (links to Archiseek.com)

Whatever about the name, Camden Street has some real gems. Numerous buildings are in the city’s List of Protected Structures. One of the most notable is what is known as the Irish Nationwide building, now a convenience store and gym. This was Gorevan’s Department store, owned by draper Michael Gorevan and his brother(s). The building is by RM Butler and TJ Byrne and is dated 1925  (Casey, 2005). Gorevans store was on the street before this however, with reference to his drapers in the early 1920s in a dispute about whether drapery firms would allow their employees to join a union (Irish Times, 20 June 1920, 29 June 1921). The new building may have been prompted by compensation Gorevan received from the state (one assumes that is arising out of the Civil War), which awarded £300 for damages to the building and goods taken away.

Gorevan's (Links to the website Archiseek.com)

No. 91, Lower Camden Street (Peter Byrne Butchers)

According to the 1911 Census, the Gorevans, are recorded at 1, Camden Street, hailed from Sligo, with brothers John (46), James (42), Patrick (38) and Michael (36). Also listed in this building are nine draper’s assistants, eight draper’s apprentices, a house keeper and four domestic servants.   The four brothers and a significant number of staff are also recorded in 1901.

Opposite is one of the oldest buildings on the street, No. 91 (Byrne’s Butchers). The unusual fan window on the top floor may be due to the building’s original design-it is proposed that it was originally a Dutch Billy.

Laurence Byrne (28), butcher, appears in the 1911 Census along with his sister (25), who both lived in what was then No. 56, Camden Street. This butchers, along with McDonnell’s of Wexford St, was a Gentile butchers, catering to the local Jewish community (O’Gráda, 2006).

Plaque at junction of Camden Street and formerly Charlotte Street

Plaque at junction of Camden Street and formerly Charlotte Street

A plaque that brings together worker relations and the local Jewish community is that on Upper Camden Street, which marks the building that was between 1912 and 1916 the headquarters of the International Tailors, Pressers and Machinists Union. Despite the grand name, this was a small grouping—Census data show that about 17% of Jewish community over 40 were tailors, whereas 38% of those under 40 were, indicating that as the community aged, it was more likely to move from artisan to trader (O’Gráda, 2006).

After some years of decline, Camden Street appears to be on the up again with some fashionable bars and restaurants—or should I say in Íarnród Éireann parlance: Bar Sneacanna—locating here. There’s plenty of life in the old Port yet.

Notes

  • Christine Casey, 2005, The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press
  • Cormac O’Gráda, 2006, Jewish Ireland in the age of Joyce: a socioeconomic history, Princeton University Press. 

Pitt Street now Balfe Street

balfe plaqueThe strange little laneway that runs by the front of the Westbury Hotel is called Balfe Street. I didn’t know that either, but on Clarendon St, at the back of the Westbury, there is a plaque commemorating Michael Balfe, composer, which says that he grew up on a house nearby on Pitt St. Pitt St is now Balfe St in his honour—though exactly why this plaque is on Clarendon St is anyone’s guess.

The evolution from a street remembering the Prime Minister who saw through the Act of Union to a street recognising one of Ireland’s great composers (I’m told) happened after a resolution was passed by Dublin Corporation in January 1917,  having been proposed (and unopposed) by a Unionist member of council. A letter writer to The Freeman’s Journal remarked a few days later:

I, as a ratepayer, and speaking for all the other ratepayers, hasten to say how pleased we are. Balfe, to whose honour the street will now be dedicated, is a very appropriate name. Although the street is not much either in length or respectability, still it is the best we can do at present for the great Balfe. The street, just like Pitt himself and his foul work, the Union, has gone into decay and rottenness.

Balfe the House

No. 10, Pitt Street, by Flora H Mitchell (National Gallery of Ireland)

No. 10, Pitt Street, by Flora H Mitchell (National Gallery of Ireland)

The Corporation’s resolution was the latest effort to honour Michael William Balfe. After his death in 1870, there appears to have been a flurry of activity. A bust was unveiled in the National Gallery in July 1878. The delay appears to be due to the fact that a stature was desired, but the £2000 required for that could not be raised. In any case, the bust, by Thomas Farrell RHA, was presented to the Gallery by the Lord Mayor. That same month, Mr William Logan, a contrabasso performer wrote to the Irish Builder wishing it to be known that:

I am the owner of the house, 10 Pitt-street, in which Balfe was born. I take a pride in living in that house… May I take the liberty of asking you to make public the fact that “Balfe’s House” is in the possession of a Dublin musician… who will place a medallion of Balfe on the front of the house, at his own expense.

Thanks to Mr Logan, a marble plaque was placed on the front of the house, as can be seen on Mitchell’s painting.

Balfe the Street

Extract from Roque's map of Dublin City, 1756

Extract from Roque’s map of Dublin City, 1756

Rocque’s map of Dublin City (1756), as reproduced in Lennon and Montague’s Dublin, shows a tantalising glimpse of the area of interest. Harry St runs southwest on a diagonal from Grafton St, through what appears to be open ground. By 1797 though, the orientation of the street was set as we now know it today, with just a component of the diagonal remaining. Pitt, yet to unleash his damage on Dublin and Ireland, is honoured with the new street name.

1797 Map of the area showing Pitt St

1797 Map of the area showing Pitt St

Its proximity to Grafton St means that it gets more mention than it might expect otherwise. No. 12 housed the “First Irish Lithographic Establishment“, mentioned in 1824—the first suggesting that the process had just been introduced to Dublin (MacDowel Cosgrave, 1907). Balfe was not the first musician on the street. John Field took lessons here as a boy from the pianist Giordani (de Valera, 1986).

Pettigrew & Oulton's Dublin Directory 1842Dublin Street Directory

Pettigrew & Oulton’s Dublin Directory 1842
Dublin Street Directory

The street was also home to the Opthalmic Hospital from 1829 to 1834, founded by Arthur Jacob, housed at No 8 and 9. It closed after the opening of an eye-ward at the Royal Dublin Hosptial, and No 8 and 9 were rebuilt. The Institute for Sick Children, fore-runner to the National Children’s Hospital at Harcourt St was also on the street.  (Somerville-Large, 1964). A survey of a house plan from the records of the Wide Street Commissioners also exists for Pitt St in 1840, for the holding of James Hanan.

Pitt St, from the 25" OSi map (www.osi.ie)

Pitt St, from the 25″ OSi map (www.osi.ie)

The street must gone into decline towards the end of the 19th century, as suggested by our first letter writer. By 1901, despite its length, about 250 people were crammed into its buildings. The 1911 Census recorded about half that number. We can get a sense of how many houses were there both from the Census and from the 1890 OS 25″ map. I count nine houses on the western side, of which only Sheehan’s pub on the corner is likely to be the only remnant. On the eastern side, there were fewer buildings, the block dominated by one large central building (the site of the former hospital or lithographic works, perhaps?). What is now No. 4, Harry St, directly opposite Westbury entrance/Bruxelles was built in 1880 by Dublin Corporation as a Weights and Measures Office, and is captured by this map (Casey, 2005). It looks like the remaining buildings were cleared in the 1920s; there are two relevant entries in the DIA for Balfe St, construction of a school for the sisters of the Holy Faith in 1921 and construction of a factory in 1923 for HAP Taylor. The dominant presence on the street is now the Westbury Hotel.

Perhaps we could re-instate the latest memento to Balfe back to its home on Balfe St?

Notes

  • Christine Casey,2005, The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press.
  • Terry de Valera, 1986, Grafton Street: A Collage of Time and PeopleDublin Historical Record, 39(4), 122-131.
  • Colm Lennon and John Montague, 2010, John Rocque’s Dublin: A Guide to the Georgian City, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. 
  • Birthplace of Michael Balfe, The Irish Builder, July 1878, Vol. XX, no. 446, p. 202.
  • E. MacDowel Cosgrave, 1907, A Contribution Towards a Catalogue of Nineteenth-Century Engravings of DublinJournal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 37(1), 41 – 60.
  • John O’Gahan, Letter to The Freeman’s Journal, Jan 11, 1917.
  • L. B. Somerville-Large, 1964, Dublin’s Eye Hospitals in the 19th CenturyDublin Historical Record, 20(1), 19 – 28.