Temperance on Townsend St

Terence Dooley mentions in passing in his wonderful new book that an announcement was placed in The Freeman’s Journal in May 1877 advertising an excursion from The Coffee Palace on Townsend St to the home of the Dukes of Leinster at Carton, Co. Kildare (Dooley, 2014).

The Coffee Palace was run by the Dublin Total Abstinence Society. The Society’s Honorary Secretary was Thomas William Fair, who returned to Dublin in 1869, having spent time in Australia (where Coffee Palaces would also become popular). According to records of the Temperance Movement, Fair devoted his spare time to abstinence, or at least the promotion of abstinence, and was the founder of several ‘coffee booths’ throughout the city. After raising money through public subscription, the Coffee Palace was built on Townsend St. This building was large, and included a “temperance hall with room for 500 people.”

Townsend St was not the first such building.The Irish Times reported meetings of people interested in “Improvement of the Working Class” as early as 1862, listing those who had provided money towards Coffee Palaces. By 1864, a “Coffee Palace and Temperance Refreshment Rooms” were being advertised at 2 Marlborough St. Benjamin Benson, the proprietor, opened from 7 am to 10 pm, and hot joints were served from 12 – 5 pm.

By 1875, moves were well underway to establish the Townsend St premises, perhaps prompted by the return of Fair to Dublin. A tender was placed in The Irish Builder to complete the building, designed by Frederick Morley. One of many fundraising Bazaars was held by the Lady Mayoress in May that year to “further the completion of the Temperance Coffee Palace at 6 Townsend St.” Innocent amusement and intellectual recreation were promised. By September, The Irish Times carried an advertisement signed by our man Thomas William Fair to declare that the Coffee Palace was open on and after Saturday 18th September 1875. Hundreds of events at the Palace were listed, and it was evidently very active in the late nineteenth century. The twentieth century was not so kind, and by November 1915, The Irish Times reported from the Court of Chancery that the Coffee Palace was to be wound up. The Society was unable to pay its debts, “owing to a change in times.”

The building was later demolished along with the destruction of Theatre Royal on Hawkins St, and the New Metropole Cinema, now the Screen Cinema, eventually took its place.

Terence Dooley (2014) The Decline and Fall of the Dukes of Leinster 1872-1948, Dublin.