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

Experimental Justice on Grangegorman Lane

There is something vaguely Gothamesque about the name Richmond Penitentiary. It was first mooted when some land was purchased at the time of the development of Richmond Asylum nearby. Both were named after Charles Lennox, 4th Duke of Richmond, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1807 – 1816. In one of those nice symmetries Irish history throws up, Richmond went on to become Governor General of British North America, a role later assumed (in the form of Governor General of Canada) by Charles 4th Viscount Monck. Monck’s uncle (and father-in-law, don’t ask) was Henry, 2nd Viscount Monck, later Earl of Rathdown, who originally sold the land for Richmond Penitentiary in the first place.

Richmond Penitentiary

Richmond Penitentiary

South of the site of Richmond Penitentiary, Rocque 1757.

South of the site of Richmond Penitentiary, Rocque 1757. Stanley St is shown in the south-west corner.

The land for the penitentiary had been occupied by Andrew Quinn, who kept an orchard or some form of market garden. It is clear from Rocque’s plan of the city that the entire area was farmed in some way. Grangegorman Lane, on which the penitentiary was built, is just about discernible on the 1757 map. Channel Row—visible at the bottom of the extract shown—was soon to become Brunswick St, so we can use this as a guide to follow the lane north until it peters out, entering into what must have been Quinn’s plot of 3½ acres. 40 years later, the site was a little more developed, with Grangegorman Lane marked (see map). It’s worth noting here some street names in the area: Stanley Street (visible on Rocque) and Monk (sic) Place (visible on 1798 map). These are obviously connected to the Monck family. Stanley is especially important: Sir Thomas Stanley was a Cromwellian soldier who had the lands at Grangegorman. His daughter and heiress Sarah Stanley married Charles Monck, an ancestor of those we discuss here. Stanley St was once a tree-lined avenue to the Manor of Grangegorman, now it is a lane to a Corporation depot, or a “Scavenging Depot and Destructor”, according to one OSi map.

OSi Map showing Richmond Penitentiary, ca 1838

OSi Map showing Richmond Penitentiary, ca 1838

After the sale, Mr Quinn sold his last batch of apples in July 1812, and the wood from the orchard was sold that December. Monck banked £1,100 and a peppercorn (nominal) rent for the land. Francis Johnston was taken on to design the building, having already been employed as the asylum architect. The early nineteenth century was a time when there was a zeal to reform, and rather than send prisoners to far-flung corners of the globe, those with any hope (or potential for Protestantism) were marked for possible redemption and sentenced instead to a local penitentiary, thus the desire for a building in the first place. However, from the time the site was chosen in 1810, it took another decade for the prison to open. The weather vane on the cupola had a date of 1816, and in 1818 the building was used briefly as a fever hospital during a cholera epidemic. The building cost at least £40,000, but was repeatedly criticised for its design (prisons were not part of his repertoire). Johnston’s characteristic “fan” shaped design is visible on the OSi map from the 1830s. Prisoners began their sentence in solitary confinement on the outer confines, and gradually moved towards the centre as their sentence progressed, until they arrived at the workshops at the centre. Each of the cells were 12′ 4 square and 11′ high.

From the outset, the prison was embroiled in the religious debates of the 1820s, similar to those occurring in education, and culminating in Emancipation in 1829. Several boys were transferred from Smithfield in 1821, and the orphans among them were assumed to be Protestant. This was successfully contested by the Roman Catholic chaplain. The tone of the decade in the prison was set. In 1826, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Rev Dr Murray, submitted a memorial on behalf of ten prisoners. The nine men and one woman complained that they had been ill-treated because of their religion, and that proselytism in the form of cruelties, punishments, deprivations and tortures was rife. A 39-day inquiry ensued, which found that while there was mass conversion, torture was not used. Instead, it was ascribed to the “entrance week” that new inmates spent in solitary confinement. After this time, prisoners were asked to state their religion, and it was felt that they may have declared to be Protestant in the hope of an easier time.

Things got worse in the prison after the inquiry. The Roman Catholic chaplain had acted on behalf of the prisoners, so understandably he and the governor were not going to be best of friends afterwards. Conditions in the prison deteriorated and prisoners began to take advantage of low staff morale, and resulting lack of discipline, by committing further “outrages”. At some point it was decided to end the experiment, and just 8 years after it opened, Richmond began to prepare to close. The process took about two years, and the prison closed in 1831. It returned to its former temporary use as a Fever Hospital in time for the Cholera Epidemic of 1832.

The "Clock Tower Building" from the Grangegorman Development Agency

The “Clock Tower Building” from the Grangegorman Development Agency website.


  • H. Heaney (1974) Ireland’s Penitentiary 1820-1831: An Experiment That Failed, Studia Hibernica, 14, 28-39.
  • T. K. Moylan (1945) The District of Grangegorman: Part II, Dublin Historical Record, 7(2), 55-68.

Reginald Street, The Coombe

The very pretty Reginald Street and Gray Street and their associated squares were built in 1880-1882 by the Dublin Artisan’s Dwelling Co. The company was established in 1876 and was chaired by one of the great Victorian philanthropists, Sir Edward Cecil Guinness. It went on to build over 3,600 dwellings around Dublin, which were intended to house the working class of Dublin. Initially, rental costs meant that they were only feasible for skilled labourers, although a (cursory) analysis of the 1911 Census shows that the majority employer of the residents was the brewing industry, so Guinness’ plan to house his workers appears to have worked out well.

Reginald Street

Reginald Street

The small squares off the Reginald Street/Gray Street result in the whole forming a cruciform pattern. Houses in these squares are single storey and likely followed the typical three room plan; front door into the living room with a contained scullery leading out into the rear yard, and two bedrooms off to the side. Despite being a couple of minutes from a very busy Meath Street, the whole area exudes calm.

The Sacred Heart Statue at Reginald and Gray St was a fountain

The Sacred Heart Statue at Reginald and Gray St was a fountain. The plaque reads: “Erected by the Parishioners of St Catherine’s to honour the glory of God and in commemoration of the centenary of the Emancipation 1929

The street names give plenty of notice that this was the Earl of Meath’s Liberty. Reginald Brabazon was the 12th Earl of Meath when the complex was built. No matter how much the romantic in me wishes that Reginald married a Gray, the street he intersects, this is not the case, and Gray Street is more likely to be named after Sir John Gray, the man responsible for bringing clean water supply to Dublin from the Vartry reservoir in the Wicklow mountains. Rather appropriately, the intersection of Reginald and Gray featured a fountain. This was replaced with a statue of the Sacred Heart in 1929, ostensibly to commemorate the centenary of Emancipation, although it can’t just be a coincidence that this is also the year of the death of Reginald, an arch-Unionist and Imperialist. Divine intervention couldn’t save the statue from collision with a lorry, and the current version was that restored to mark the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1975. More on the statue and the pope’s visit, including some attractive photos, are on the Built Dublin Site.

Reginald has the last laugh though. The eponymous street ends in Meath Terrace, and he is also remembered in three of the four squares in the complex: Brabazon Square, Reginald Square and Meath Square. For good measure, the eastern edge is flanked by Meath Street, and Earl Street is nearby. Vota vita mea

Brabazon Square


Christine Casey has more details on the Artisan’s Dwelling Co, including some sketches of typical houses and a floor plan of a bungalow, described above. Casey, C (2005) The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press