Contributed by Grace O’Keeffe
In celebration of 800 years of development and change in the Liberties and Dublin, from the 1210 date of King John’s second visit to Ireland, and first as king, the St Nicholas of Myra Heritage Project are currently holding a photographic exhibition in their parish centre, Carmans Hall, just off Francis Street, Dublin 8.
The exhibition which runs daily until 17 September was researched and mounted with the assistance of the Liberties Heritage Association and Maintenance Projects, under the supervision of John Gallagher, Bernard Warfield and John Brogan. John Gallagher’s association with this celebration and exposition of the city is an apt one, three decades ago he refused the summons ordering him to exit the infamous Wood Quay excavation and he subsequently became one of the last to occupy the site.
Although ostensibly focused on the Liberties area (a term which originally referred to the various liberties, or ecclesiastical jurisdictions of local government in Dublin, including Thomas Court and Donore, later the earl of Meath’s liberty, and the liberties of the two medieval cathedrals, St Patrick’s and Christ Church), the exhibitors did not restrict their display to only the history of this area. Arranged by century, from the twelfth to the twentieth, the changes in the Liberties are set against political and social developments in Dublin and Ireland.
Starting with the late twelfth century and the new wave of settlement in the city, perhaps inspired by the 1171×2 charter of King Henry II, granting the city of Dublin to his faithful men of Bristol following the capture of the city by the English, the exhibition uses photographs of people, places and documents to demonstrate the changes in one of Dublin’s oldest areas. The fourteenth century displays the devastation of the Black Death using photographs from the Dublinia exhibition to demonstrate how the unfortunate victims were carted off to a common mass grave.
Fifteenth-century Dublin witnessed the crowning of Lambert Simnel as King Edward VI in Christ Church in 1487, the crown used for the coronation is reported to be that which adorns the statue of Our Lady of Dublin, currently housed in Whitefriar Church on Aungier Street. The crown lasted much longer than Lambert’s month as king. In 1430 the religious guild of St Anne was established, its chantry chapel located in St Audoen’s Church, which also received new bells in 1433, in addition to a private chapel funded by Sir Roland FitzEustace, Lord Portlester. The cenotaph erected in 1482 by Portlester displaying the recumbent effigies of himself and his wife Margaret can still be viewed in the church today. A photograph of the now blocked Foundling’s Door of St Audoen’s tells the story of how impoverished women of the Liberties could leave their babies in a basket in the door which revolved inwards. The children were then placed in orphanages by the church.
The Dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the sixteenth century and the subsequent Reformation had an enormous impact on the Liberties due to the concentration of cathedrals, monastic houses and churches in the area. Henry’s vice-treasurer of Ireland, William Brabazon was buried in St Catherine’s Church on Thomas St and is still remembered today in the naming of Brabazon Square and as the ancestor of the earls of Meath who took over the liberty of the dissolved St Thomas’ Abbey.
The ‘Dutch Billy’ houses of the Liberties were a testament to the followers of William of Orange who settled in Dublin, but also to the many Huguenot immigrants who settled in the area. Oliver Cromwell is remembered by the ‘Cabbage Patch’, a Protestant cemetery opposite St Patrick’s Deanery where he planted cabbage to feed his troops.
Cultural expansion in the area in the eighteenth century is represented by the performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Music Hall on Fishshamble Street, the construction of Marsh’s Library and Jonathan Swift’s time as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral.
As one of the oldest areas in Dublin, the Liberties gave the city plenty of characters, not least ‘Bang Bang’. Thomas Dudley became known around Dublin in the 1950s and 60s for the mock shoot-outs he staged, inspired by his love of cowboy films, but with a large church key in place of a gun.
Those who volunteered their time to the research and compilation of this exhibition have much to be proud of, and it is hoped that once its current run is over in Carmans Hall it will be moved to the Rotunda of City Hall.