Dublin History Highlights

Then and Now as we discover it now and then.

Whenever we go to Dublin our time is limited so we carefully plan our itinerary for each day.  These pages are mostly notes researched and compiled by Karin in order to get the most from each stop.  We are indebted to Google, Wikipedia and the numerous sites that make such information available.  Photos mostly by Karin as well.  Map at bottom of page.

Starting at the Liffey River, the geographical basis for it all.

Half Penny Bridge  --  (Officially Liffey Bridge and before that Wellington Bridge) Built in 1916 to replace a private ferry operation it owes its unique construction to the requirement that if the city or public didn't like the bridge it had to be removed.  So it was made of cast iron for easy removal.  The owner was to keep the toll the same as for the ferry, a ha' penny.  Originally there were turnstiles at each end.  In 2001 the city rebuilt the structure so you can cross safely and for free.

Merchant's Arch  --  Step off the bridge and walk through the Merchant's Arch, once the formal entry into Temple Bar when it was the center of trading activity along the river.  The building was constructed in 1821 as a guild hall by the tailors and as gone through many uses before the current restaurant and bar.

Temple Bar --  This area, too, has had many lives that led to the creation of a modern concept in an old location.  Starting with the Vikings about 840 A.D. the city grew around this hub until modern times passed it by.  In the 1980's the area was so decrepit that the bus company bought up many blocks in order to build a central bus station.  Due to slow progress they began renting low cost space to small shops,Williams Street Dublin restaurants and art galleries.  Soon the denizens of this district were campaigning to protect the now quaint character of the area from the bus station development.  Architectural heritage won out and the city government provided funding and tax incentives to make this a vibrant boutique, restaurant and nightlife center.  In other words a prime tourist magnet.

College Green -- No longer green and no longer the Norse central assembly place.  Yet there is much history to be seen.  The big building on the north side was once the seat of Parliament; now it is the Bank of Ireland.  To the east is Trinity College and to the south various 19th century buildings.

Old Parliment building, now bank, DublinParliament Building claims to be the first purpose-built two-chamber building in the world with construction starting in 1727.  When the bank bought it in 1803, two years after the English abolished the Kingdom of Ireland, they were required to modify it such that it could never be used by a parliament again.
College Green contains two major statutes; one of Henry Grattan, a  member of that Irish parliament and Thomas Davis, an early Irish nationalist.  Also at #3 can be seen a portion of the facade of Daly's Club, an elegant hang out for members of parliament that has been mentioned in contemporary literature including Charles Dickens.

Trinity College -- Most famous for its elegant Old Library and Book of Kells, the college offers many interesting sites in a stroll around itsTrinity College, Dublin grounds.  Founded in 1592 and long maintained as bastion of the ruling Protestants, it wasn't until 1970 that the Catholic Church allowed its members to enroll without special permission from their bishop.  Among its graduates are writers Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Becket.

Molly Malone Statue copyMolly Malone Statue -- This delightful sight includes a cart and evidently moveable.  So you may have to hunt for it due to construction.  Eventually it is supposed to go back to the foot of Grafton St. but looks quite permanent on the grounds of St. Andrew's Church on Suffolk St.  I have to include some of its nick names:  "The Tart With The Cart", "The Dish With The Fish", "The Trollop With The Scallop(s)", "The Dolly With the Trolley", and "The Flirt in the Skirt".  It is actually a commemoration of the song known as Dublin's unofficial anthem. Click here to buy a copy from our affliate, The Irish Store.


Bewley's Grafton Street Cafe -- Now, if you are like us, its time for a coffee break. Despite its huge size and crowds we enjoy being part of history and tradition at this beautiful place.  Built in 1927 when oriental design and Egyptian architecture were the rage the building has been remodeled several times but the highlight remains the six stained glass windows created by Harry Clarke whose work also features in many churches throughout Ireland.  Go inside to see them even if you don't want to buy anything.

Now is a good time to plan your itinerary:  Coordinate your preferred stops to the map to save a lot of extra walking.  I have not attempted an efficient walking tour :-)

   stained glass window in Bewley's cafe, Dublin

So, now properly fortified you can go shopping on Grafton Street, one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world.  Yet we actually bought something there; competitively priced binoculars that we had not found elsewhere.

Or head off to the east side of Trinity College to Westland Row for more history. Or inside to the National Gallery which has an extensive, representative collection of Irish painting and is also notable for its Italian Baroque and Dutch Masters.

Or go by
Mansion House on Dawson St. --  built in 1710 by the merchant and property developer Joshua Dawson, for whom Dawson St. is named.  In 1715 it became the official residence of the Lord Mayor and retains this purpose to this day.  The Mansion House's most famous features include the "Round Room", where the First Dail assembled on 21 January 1919 to proclaim the Irish Declaration of Independence.  Externally, the distinctive metal portico over the main door was erected for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1900. Other famous visitors to the residence include: Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, and Pope John Paul ll.

Westland Row, No 21 -- Oscar Wilde's home:  Originally the home of the Wilde family where Oscar was born on October 16th 1854. It is a now a part of Trinity College's with classes in Irish Writing held there.

Westland Row, No. 36/38 -- Royal Irish Academy of Music -- Founded in 1848 by a group of music enthusiasts and moved to its present address in 1871.  The Academy is Ireland’s oldest musical institution.     

Merrion Square and Georgian houses  -- Merrion Square was laid out after 1762 and was largely complete by the beginning of the 19th century. Three sides are lined with Georgian red brick townhouses.  The west side abuts the grounds of the Leinster House, Government Buildings, the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery.

The poet W.B. Yeats lived at No 82, and Daniel O'Connell at No 58. A number of houses in the square have plaques with historical information on former notable residents, including A.E. (George William) Russell.  No 65 - Nobel physicist Schrodinger.

If you are a Yeats fan, you will enjoy this blog post of another fan in Dublin:  Artist and writer, Paula Rath

The Square contains a statue of Oscar Wilde, who resided in No. 1, Merrion Square from 1855 to 1876.  There are many other sculptures and a collection of old Dublin lamp standards.

Leinster House -- is a complex of buildings, of which the former ducal palace is the core, which houses Oireachtas Eireann (Parliament), its members and staff.  First built in 1745  by James FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare.  Its first and second floors were used as the floor model for the White House in DC as well as it's stone exterior. (White house architect was an Irishman)

Security does not allow one to see much.

Natural History Museum -- Houses specimens of animals from around the world. Its collection and Victorian appearance have not changed significantly since the early 20th century.  Is a part of the National Museum of Ireland.

St. Stephen's Church -- Upper Mount Street - Church of Ireland (protestant). Known as 'The Pepper Canister' because of dome/tower.   The name of Mount Street is thought to have been derived from a mound which once stood at the corner of Fitzwilliam and Baggot Street, where gallows were erected for the execution of criminals.

Grand Canal -- is the southernmost of a pair of canals that connect Dublin with the River Shannon.  Its sister canal is across the Liffey and is called the Royal Canal.  The canal opened in 1804 and the last working cargo barge passed through the Grand Canal in 1960.

Fitzwilliam Street Lower, No. 29 - Beatty House is a museum showing Georgian Life and History.  It exemplifies Georgian architecture. 

Fitzwilliam Street was once the longest unbroken line of Georgian houses in Europe.  The many colored doors of Georgian houses, some on this street, are on popular posters.  At one time, all of the exterior doors were the same colour. Research didn’t turn up exactly what colour that was, but it was most likely a neutral shade. 

Later, in order to set themselves apart, the residents of Georgian Dublin painted their front doors whatever color they fancied (“red was more durable”), added ornate knockers, elegant fanlights above the door, and wrought iron boot scrapers near the the entrance. Decorated iron coal-hole covers were often embedded in the pavement. Today, most of the houses have their original fanlights, some still with box shaped glass recesses in which a lamp would have been placed. There are also examples of a simple security device in the form of a fan-shaped arrangement of spikes set into the wall beside a window to foil burglars. Sometimes a similar device was inserted inside the fanlight.

Shelbourne Hotel -- Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
founded in 1824 by joining three adjacent townhouses and named after William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne.

If you are ready for another break or just like to ogle gorgeous interiors, I recommend popping into the Shelbourne.  If you are wealthy try their famous High Tea; if just moderately well off you can have coffee or tea and a pastry; if neither than just look around and move on to nearby Stephen's Green Shopping Centre. 

In the early 1900s, Alois Hitler, Jr. the half-brother of Adolf Hitler, worked in the hotel while in Dublin. During The Easter Rising in 1916, forty British soldiers were garrisoned at the hotel. Consequently, the Shelbourne came under regular fire. When fighting broke out on the Green on Easter Monday, afternoon tea was relocated to the rear of the hotel for safety.  In 1922, the Irish Constitution was drafted in room 112, now known as The Constitution Room.  In the Horseshoe Bar one of Ireland’s great traditional musical groups, The Chieftains, was formed.

St. Stephens Green, Dublin with Fusilier's ArchSt. Stephen's Green was a marshy common on the edge of Dublin, used for grazing.  That year the Dublin Corporation, seeing an opportunity to raise much needed revenue, decided to enclose the center of the common and to sell land around the perimeter for building. The houses built around the Green were later replaced by new buildings in the Georgian style and by the end of the eighteenth century the Green was a place of resort for the better-off of the city. In 1814 control of St Stephen’s Green park passed to Commissioners for the local householders, who redesigned its layout and replaced it's walls with railings. Access to the Green was restricted to local residents until 1877 when Parliament passed an Act to reopen St Stephen’s Green to the public at the initiative of Sir A. E. Guinness.  By way of thanks the city commissioned a statue of him, which faces the College of Surgeons.

  • During the Easter Rising of 1916, a group of insurgents established a position in St Stephen's Green and dug defensive positions in the park itself.  This approach differed from that of taking up positions in buildings, adopted elsewhere in the city. It proved to have been unwise when elements of the British Army took up positions in the Shelbourne Hotel, at the northeastern corner of St Stephen's Green, overlooking the park, from which they could shoot down into the entrenchments. Finding themselves in a weak position, the Volunteers withdrew to the Royal College of Surgeons on the west side of the Green.

Other notable features of St. Stephen's Green include:

  • the Fusilier's Arch at the Grafton Street corner which commemorates the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who died in the Second Boer War

  • a garden for the blind with scented plants, which can withstand handling, and are labeled in Braille - found in the northwest co - found in the northwest corner.

  • a group representing the Three Fates located inside the Leeson Street gate (a gift from the German people in thanks for Irish help to refugees after WWll)

  • the Yeats memorial garden with a sculpture by Henry Moore

  • a bust of James Joyce facing his former university at Newman House

  • a memorial to the Great Famine of 1845-1850 by Edward Delaney

  • a bust of Constance Markievicz on the south of the central garden

  • Royal College of Surgeons -- dates back to 1784 and is now Ireland’s largest medical school with over 3000 students from 60 countries.  During the 1916 Rising, the main college building was occupied by rebel Irish forces, led by Countess Markievicz.

Iveagh House --  built as a private residence of the Guinness family, the mansion had 26 reception rooms and 50 bedrooms (including those on the bachelors’ wing). Although they also lived in England, they retained their other Dublin home at Farmleigh, in Phoenix Park, which was eventually bought by the State in 1999 and is now a Government guest-house. The private Iveagh Gardens at the back of the house were given to University College Dublin in 1908. In 1939 the contents of Iveagh House were auctioned off and the building is now home to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Power's Court, Dublin from William St.Powerscourt Shopping Center - is a specialty shopping centre set in an elegant Georgian house centrally located just off Grafton Street. Formally, 59 South William Street was home to Richard Wingfield 3rd Viscount Powerscourt (1730-1788) and his wife Lady Amelia, who bought the townhouse to entertain guests during Parliament season; the ultimate Dublin party house.  Be sure to view the facade from William St. to sense the elegance of the bygone era.

Power's Court in 1800's. Dublin




We are just getting started; there are two more long pages.  Obviously too much for one walk or one day.  So, please do your research and pick and choose.

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