The pretty network of little streets between Francis St and Patrick St arose out of significant chaos. The most substantial of these is John Dillon St, which runs along the east of St Nicholas’ to the Iveagh Markets. A description of the area in the late 18th century by Rev. James Whitelaw, vicar of St. Catherine’s on Thomas Street, reported that on approaching the Liberties from the east of the city, a “general declension in both streets and houses was perceptible”. Houses were crowded together, and while some were the residences of shop-keepers, most were “occupied by working manufacturers, by petty shop keepers, the labouring poor, and beggars, crowded together, to a degree distressing to humanity”.
The extent of this over-crowding was recorded on Plunket St in 1798. Plunket St consisted of what is now John Dillon St, Dillon Place, and probably Thomas Davis St South, or some parallel street. The 1798 survey reported that the 32 houses there contained 917 inhabitants, an average of nearly 29 people per house (the typical occupation across the Liberty was 12 – 16). Some of the shops on the street in the mid-eighteenth century have been recorded in the account books of “a Dublin Lady” (Mrs Katherine Bayly). These included The Churn, where she bought bacon, The Parrot, which supplied coffee and cocoa, and Adam and Eve, where the nature of business is not identified – perhaps an inn or tavern of some sort.
Plunket St had a Meeting House, clearly marked on Rocque’s map of 1756. Kenneth Ferguson—really I owe the man royalties at this stage—reprints an extract from a contemporary account that says the church was
for several years in a very low state, that the sentiments and preachings of the ministers who officiated were extremely unpopular and but ill adapted to preserve the church from a languishing condition.
Grappling with such problems, the church closed soon after, and the building was acquired by Lady Huntingdon, who financed the repair and reopened the church in 1773. In 1797, William Cooper came to Dublin and became connected with the church. It subsequently became known as Cooper’s Tabernacle and enjoyed the patronage of the La Touches and Town Major Henry Charles Sirr, who presented Cooper with a silver cup for use at the Tabernacle.
By the 1880s, this part of Dublin joined others in being redeveloped by the Dublin Artisan’s Dwelling Company (see article on Reginald St). The Meeting House had closed in 1882, and by 1885, the area was cleared and redeveloped, giving us the pretty cottages that are there today.
The area was further developed in 1906 with the construction of the Iveagh Markets. This covered market was built by the Iveagh Trust to replace a market area removed on the construction of the park beside St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The building includes the use of the distinctive Portmarnock red brick.
These clearances meant that the name of the street also changed, and it is surprising (to me) that the new name took that of John Dillon MP (see correction below*). We are of course used to the large number of changes to street names that followed independence (see article on Hogan Place), but Dillon, an Irish nationalist and advocate of Home Rule appears to have been a much earlier example. Perhaps this, and his long life meant that he may have missed out on getting his name on one of the grander streets of Dublin, which his role in Irish history surely justifies. Nevertheless, this is a pretty little street, and more unusual in that it includes the full name of the man it is dedicated to.
*Correction: Having since read Seamus Conboy’s article (“Changing Dublin Street Names, 1880’s to 1940’s” in Dublin Historical Record, 2011, Vol. 64(2), 205-225) it appears that John Dillon St was named after Dillon’s father, John Blake Dillon, a Young Irelander in 1886. The point about surprise at being named after a nationalist at this time still stands!
- The current status of the Iveagh Markets was covered in a recent Irish Times Buildings at Risk article.
- H. F. Berry (1898) Notes from the Diary of a Dublin Lady in the Reign of George II. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 8(2), 141-154.
- Kenneth Ferguson (2005) Rocque’s Map and the History of Nonconformity in Dublin: A search for meeting houses, Dublin Historical Record, 58(2), 129-165.
- Donal T. Flood (1974) The Decay of Georgian Dublin, Dublin Historical Record, 27(3), 78-100.
- Joseph W. Hammond (1941) Town Major Henry Charles Sirr, Dublin Historical Record, 4(2), 58-75.