The Kevin Street Medley: 1. St Sepulchre’s Palace

If there is another street in Dublin that doffs its cap to as much history in five hundred paces as Kevin St does, I’d like to walk it. I can’t quite say why, but I think it is a peculiar street. Perhaps it is the awkward meeting of its Upper and Lower sections; once linked by the street Cross Kevin St., but now joined together by a serpentine junction. Or perhaps it is the lack of much street-level function; there is but a few number of shops on the street. Instead it is punctuated with large buildings which make it a street to go to, rather than to be on. But Kevin St is one of Dublin’s oldest streets, and deserves our attention. It is recorded on Speed’s 1610 map and its name—derived from the ancient church of the eponymous saint now accessed off Camden Row—hasn’t changed over those four centuries. That’s quite a feat.

St Sepulchre's Palace (click to go to NLI FLickr)

St Sepulchre’s Palace, 1771 (click to go to NLI FLickr)

Even if the name hasn’t changed, Gabriel Beranger’s gorgeous drawing of St Sepulchre’s Palace from around 1770, now the site of Kevin St Garda station shows how much the street has changed over the last two centuries. The palace is also marked on Speed’s map, although it was much older than 1610. It dates from the twelfth century, after the Synod of Kells increased the number of Archbishops in Ireland from two to four: Tuam and Dublin getting the loot. Bishop Gregory of Dublin subsequently became Archbishop Gregory, and the palace was built sometime over the next century. The church’s 74,000 acres of lands in county Dublin included the Manor of St Sepulchre, which consisted of the parishes now known as Crumlin, Donnybrook, SS Catherine. Nicholas and Peter, and Taney. The poor archbishop was bounced in and out of the palace over the centuries. Edward VI, Henry VIII’s son, dissolved St Patrick’s Cathedral and moved the Lord Lieutenant (“the Deputy of our Realm”) into the palace, with the Archbishop moving to the Deanery.

Dublin Mounted Police outside barracks at Kevin St

Dublin Mounted Police outside barracks at Kevin St

Edward’s sister Mary moved the bishop back in, but then the Earl of Sussex (Elizabeth’s Lord Deputy) moved him back out again, but this, again, appears to be short lived, for in Archbishop Adam Loftus’ time there at the end of the sixteenth century, it was described as “a semi-regal abode well pleasantlie sited as gorgeously builded“. St Sepulchre’s Library, originally part of the complex, obviously still exists— it is now known as Marsh’s Library.

After 41 Archbishops, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1806 transferring ownership to the Crown, and the palace became a barracks for the Mounted Police. The Archbishop moved to St Stephen’s Green (No. 16), probably as these quarters were more salubrious than what Kevin St had become. John Carr, writing in 1806 stated that:

“The palace of the Archbishop of Dublin is converted into Barracks and is situated in a close neighbourhood with a collection of more mud, rags and wretchedness than London can exhibit in its most miserable quarters”

kevinstmy4

What might have been… Probably just as well. (Links to Archiseek)

While the palace technically still exists, there isn’t much in Kevin St to relate back to the original structure, some interior detail aside. The unusually large gate-posts into the Barracks have been dated to about 1720.

The entire site is now a bit of a mess. During the boom, plans were well advanced for a new Garda station at the intersection of Kevin St Upper and Lower. Those plans came to a halt very abruptly, and all that remains of that is a large hole in the ground. Even the sign proclaiming the building that was meant to be has disappeared.

Kevin St Garda Station

Site for new Kevin St Garda Station, as seen from DIT Kevin St

The OSi 25″ map from the late nineteenth century shows both the size of the original complex, and I think, how much more lively the street was at that time—the number of houses both on Kevin St Upper and Bride St (now site of Large Hole) is substantial – a glimpse of those houses on Bride St is available at the photo on this Come Here to Me! article.

Kevin Street in the late 19th century (Ordnance Survey of Ireland)

Kevin Street in the late 19th century, showing Guinness Street (Ordnance Survey of Ireland)

The lane running between the barracks and the Deanery to the west was originally called Patrick’s Close, although the connection between the two ends looks like it would only fit a pedestrian in the earlier OSi map from ca. 1840. It has regained the name Patrick’s Close, but it is clear on the map shown that it was for some time known as Guinness Street. This is likely due to the substantial amount of money provided by Edward Cecil Guinness for the restoration of St Patrick’s in the nineteenth century. It’s hard to avoid his name when reviewing the Cathedral’s excellent history timeline on their website.

View of Marsh's Library from Cathedral Lane (Links to the National Gallery of Ireland)

View of Marsh’s Library from Cathedral Lane (Links to the National Gallery of Ireland)

Just opposite the entrance to Guinness Street, we can get a glimpse of what the house on the corner looked like from Flora H Mitchell’s pretty watercolour “Marsh’s Library from Cathedral Lane.” It shows a three storey building with a shop on the ground floor. This is number 15, which in 1911 was home to Michael Doyle, a “coal factor”, and his family. Back on the mid-nineteenth century, it was home to George Close and Sons, Saddlers and Harness Makers; perhaps more fitting given that the Mounted Police were in the Barracks across the road.

More to come on Kevin St!

 

Notes

Victor Jackson (1975) The Palace of St. Sepulchre, Dublin Historical Record, 28(3), 82-92.

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Hume Row and Smith’s Buildings now Ely Place

Stephen's Green East on Rocque's map, shows an unoccupied plot that would later become Hume St

Stephen’s Green East on Rocque’s map, shows an unoccupied plot that would later become Hume St (from cover of Lennon and Montague) 

Ely Place seems to have formed almost by accident in 1768. Rocque’s 1756 plan of the city shows that the east side of St Stephen’s Green had some vacant plots, including one plot that aligns with what is now Hume St. Perhaps spotting an opportunity to increase the earning potential of the land area, Gustavus Hume (the man who brought Richard Cassels to Ireland) constructed Hume St. With Ely House the first house to be built in 1771 at the end of Hume St, the connection from Merrion St turning the corner to Hume St—thus forming Ely Place—was a natural result of the new arrangement. The name Ely comes from the marriage of Gustavus’ daughter to the Earl of Ely. Maurice Craig notes—with some satisfaction I feel—that not only were these city streets adjacent, but the ancestral homes Ely Lodge and Castle Hume are also side by side in Enniskillen (Craig, 1952).

Updated version of Rocque's map by Scalé, 1773

Updated version of Rocque’s map by Scalé, 1773

Hume’s work was captured on Scalé’s update of Rocque’s map in 1773, although Ely Place was called Hume Row, until Ely House was built (Irish Builder, 1893). By the time Dublin was mapped again in 1789, it is recorded as Ely Place. Since then, Ely Place has enjoyed a significant status. Even as the shift away from Dublin hit St Stephen’s Green in the 1820s and 1830s, Ely was quoted as being “more select” (McCabe, 2011).

Ely House, by Fiona H Mitchell (National Library of Ireland)

Ely House, by Flora H Mitchell (links to National Library of Ireland catalogue)

Ely House, now Nos. 7 – 8 is the largest house on the street. It was the first to be built, and is clear to see on Scalé’s map, facing Hume St. No. 7 was home to the physicist and Trinity Fellow George Francis Fitzgerald, and there is a plaque in his honour, the first of three plaques at this junction.

Much more interesting for me though is next door, No. 6, which was bought from the Earl of Clare by the 4th Viscount Powerscourt, prior to selling up his very grand townhouse on South William St. Poor Lord Clare, the Lord Chancellor, was attacked by a mob in College Green during riots of 1795, according to a story retold by his sister in 1807:

My late brother the Earl of Clare was always an active, faithful servant to his king and country and ever supported the Protestant interest both in Ireland and England… on the day Lord Fitzwilliam was re-called [prompting the riots], when my brother, was returning from the Castle, after having assisted in swearing in the newly-arrived Lord Lieutenant, a ferocious mob of no less than 5,000 men and several hundred women, assembled together in College green, and all along the avenues to my brother’s house. The male part of the insurgents were armed with … every other weapon necessary to break open my brother’s house: and the women were all of them armed with aprons full of paving stones. They wounded my brother, in the temples in College green; and if he hand not sheltered himself by holding his great square Official Purse before him, he would have been stoned to death. [Irish Builder, 1893]

No. 6, Ely Place Lord Powerscourt had to retrieve his paintings in a van while his step-grandmother was away. No. 6 is the first house past the white railings (from McCullough, 1989)

No. 6, Ely Place. Lord Powerscourt had to retrieve his paintings while his step-grandmother was away. (from McCullough, 1989)

The Earl escaped further injury by dressing up as a kitchen maid once he arrived at the back door of his house. Having escaped this drama, he died in 1802 and the house was sold to 4th Viscount Powerscourt. This Lord Powerscourt, one of only five Irish Lords to oppose the Act of Union (that is my tenuous link to the previous post about Pitt St) died in 1809 and the house became the dower-house of his second wife, Isabella, the Dowager Viscountess Powerscourt. A formidable woman, she lived there until 1848, out-living not only her step-son but her step-grandson, who was just eight when his father died. When he came of age, one of his duties was to retrieve paintings and furniture from the house at 6 Ely Place taken from the house at Enniskerry by Isabella. In his memoirs, Mervyn, 7th Viscount describes the operation (Wingfield, 1903):

All the family pictures now at Powerscourt… had been removed by Dowager Lady Powerscourt sometime in my father’s minority and before his marriage. He was determined to recover the pictures, and on occasion when Isabella, Lady Powerscourt, was absent he went to the house with a van and carried off all the pictures and brought them back to Powerscourt.

Hume House,birthplace of Richard Griffith taken in 2012.

Doorway of Hume House,birthplace of Richard Griffith taken in 2012.

Powerscourt did however install a new staircase in the 1830s. Soon after the Dowager’s death in 1848, No. 6, along with its pair No. 5 (Glentworth House) had a very different use—they were given over in 1859 to the Offices of the General Valuation and Boundary Survey of Ireland under Sir Richard Griffith, becoming the nerve centre of his enormous land valuation survey. Griffith’s birthplace was just opposite, at the junction of Ely and Hume. Marked with an old plaque, it is now neglected—a sad testimony to the man involved in every major undertaking in 19th century Irish administration: Bog Surveys, Ordnance Survey, Griffith Valuation, Census. For good measure, he is also father of Irish geology, having been Professor of Geology and Mining at the Royal Dublin Society. The Valuation Office moved out in 1998 to the Irish Life Mall.

Quoin at No. 1 Smith's Buildings, Ely Place

Quoin at No. 1 Smith’s Buildings, Ely Place

The extension of Ely Place towards the Royal Hibernian Academy was originally called Smith’s Buildings, with Thomas Dodd Smith, builder living at No. 1. Not sounding grand enough, its residents opted instead for the name Ely Place Upper. A stone quoin with the engraving “Smith’s Buildings” is visible at No. 1, of the 5-block terrace at the end of Ely Place Upper.

The third plaque is dedicated to George Moore, who lived at No. 4 Ely Place Upper, and apparently made use of the garden at No 15, opposite, now the site of the Royal Hibernian Academy (Moore, 1966). The Tinker, by Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland, was played in the garden in 1906, as Gaelige (Daly, 1945). It seems everywhere you look on this street, there is something to commemorate with a plaque!

Three plaques in this area, George Francis Fitzgerald, Sir Richard Griffith, and George Moore

Three plaques in this area, George Francis Fitzgerald, Sir Richard Griffith, and George Moore

Further reading and notes:

Pettigrew & Oulton’s Dublin Directory 1842Dublin Street Directory

Pettigrew & Oulton’s Dublin Directory 1842
Dublin Street Directory for Ely Place. The Dowager is at No. 6.

  • If plasterwork is your thing, Christine Casey (2005) has a lot to say about that, along with Ros Kavanagh, both of which feature a picture the staircase at Ely House. (Christine Casey,2005, The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press, Ros Kavanagh, 2007, Irish Arts Review, 24(3), 80 – 83).
  • Niall McCullough’s gorgeous book also has a lot about the architecture of Ely Place, including a picture of the kitchens at Ely House, architectural plans for No. 5 and No 6, and pictured here, the impressive entrance hall and staircase at No. 6. (Niall McCullough, 1989, Dublin: an urban history, Anne Street Press).
  • Old Dublin Mansion Houses, The Irish Builder, 1893, XXXV, May 1, 100 – 102.
  • Maurice Craig, 1952, (2006 repr), Dublin 1660 – 1860: The shaping of a city, Liberties Press.
  • M. H. Daly, 1945, La Touche Bridge to Hoggen Green, Dublin Historical Record, 7(4), 121 – 133.
  • Colm Lennon and John Montague, 2010, John Rocque’s Dublin: A Guide to the Georgian City, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.
  • Desmond McCabe, 2011, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin, 1660–1875, Government Publications, Dublin.
  • Desmond F Moore, 1966, The Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin Historical Record, 21(1), 28 – 37.
  • Mervyn Wingfield, 1903, A Description and History of Powerscourt.

Edited 29 March to insert photograph of quoin at Smith’s Buildings and amend text that said I couldn’t find it… 🙂

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.