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