The First Baronet

Sitting in the winter sun on the south side of St Patrick’s Cathedral is a statue of Benjamin Lee Guinness. Named after his maternal grandfather, he was the third son of Arthur Guinness Jr and Anne Lee, after William, a clergyman, and Arthur Lee. After the latter’s death in 1839, Benjamin Lee assumed control of the family business from his father in 1840. He transformed the brewery from the largest in the city to the largest brewery of porter in the world.

Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness Bt

Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness Bt (Photo: B)

As his fortune amassed, Benjamin Lee moved the family home from Number One, Thomas St (now marked with a plaque) to Stephen’s Green. Here he combined two houses in what Dickson calls a “kind of opulent Victorian palace not otherwise seen in in the city”. The transfer can be observed in street directories: in 1832, No. 1 was home of Arthur Guinness, Esq., in 1862 it was listed as a Brewer’s house, as the original brewery stood behind it. The family had lived in No. 1 since its construction in the 1750s-1760s. Casey describes the now seven bay building as much extended.

Guinnes Plaque, No 1 Thomas St

Guinnes Plaque, No 1 Thomas St

While philanthropy to varying degrees was common among the gentlemen of the early nineteenth century, Benjamin Lee brought this to new levels, spending £110,000 on the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with the aim of restoring it to its “medieval magnificence”. The aim was to create a national cathedral. The building, like its neighbour at Christchurch had fallen into disrepair, and according to Cullen, demolition was considered in 1805. As the century progressed, some work was completed, but as disestablishment of the Church of Ireland was imminent, any significant state investment was unlikely. One could consider that the cathedral would not have survived but for his investment. The work was not without controversy—no architect was hired, and Guinness himself directed the project. A view of the Cathedral from 1739 demonstrates how much work was done subsequently.

St Patrick's Cathedral, 1739. Reproduced in Stalley.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, 1739, by J Blaymires. Reproduced in Stalley.

He also began the restoration of Archbishop Marsh’s library. For this work and more, Benjamin Lee Guinness was created 1st Baronet Guinness of Ashford Castle in 1867. It was evidently a popular decision. A book of memorials from the citizens of Dublin ran to two volumes. As mentioned previously in the article on St Sepulchre’s Palace, the street in front of Benjamin Lee’s statue was for some time called Guinness St, before reverting to St Patrick’s Close. What a pity the name changed back!

St Patrick's Close on the OSi 25" map - "Sch" marks the location of the School

St Patrick’s Close on the OSi 25″ map – part of the street is called Guinness St

Benjamin Lee Guinness died in 1868, a few months before his 70th birthday. His worth was put at £1.1 M at the time. An astute businessman, his will declared that the company could not be split, a decision which perhaps prevented his two sons with remaining interest from doing so. The Guinness empire continued to grow. His son Arthur, 2nd Baronet Guinness, and was later created 1st Baron Ardilaun, completed the work on Marsh’s Library, opened Stephen’s Green to the public (commemorated by a statue of Lord Ardilaun in the Green, facing the Royal College of Surgeons), and rebuilt the Coombe Hospital in 1880. He also initiated interest in the Dublin Artisan’s Dwelling Company (see article on Reginald St), that his brother would later take up in the form of the Iveagh Trust.

In 1876, Arthur sold his share to his brother Edward Cecil, a man who did much to transform the city of Dublin. He was created 1st Baron Iveagh in 1891, and the Viscountcy and the Earldom soon followed. There is plenty more to write about him of course, but for now we can say that a good claim to fame is that the two “cunning brothers” appear in Ulysses: 

“a crystal cup full of the foamy ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.”

No. 1 Thomas St, to the left of the entrance of St James Gate Brewery (Photo: informatique on Flickr)

No. 1 Thomas St, to the left of the entrance of St James Gate Brewery (Photo: July 2012 by informatique on Flickr)

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Notes

The amount spent on St Patrick’s Cathedral varies with the source. Dickson quotes £110,000.

  • Christine Casey (2005) The Buildings of Dublin, Yale University Press.
  • Frank Cullen (2015) Dublin 1847: City of the Ordnance Survey, RIA (Dublin).
  • David Dickson (2014) Dublin – The Making of a Capital City, Lilliput (Dublin).
  • Roger Stalley (2009) St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, Irish Arts Review 26(3), 116-119.
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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.