Monday, November 13, 2006

Dublin in the rare oul times

I recently came across an exhibition celebrating the life and death of Dublin's Theatre Royal which closed after 141 years on 30th June 1962. I enjoyed many pantos and films in the Royal, which was the largest theatre in Ireland.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was a first cousin, once removed, and by marriage, to one of the Royalettes - the resident troupe of dancing girls.

The demise of this iconic premises was seen by many as the beginning of the end of "the rare oul times". This magnificent living and breathing theatre was replaced by a plastic-and-glass box full of civil servants.

It got me thinking about the nature of change and development.

Sure, you can't keep everything the same forever, but things can often change for the worse. The picture above is typical of many of the city centre façades today, as dereliction reigns while developers assemble propeties to build yet more anonymous glass edifices.

Dirty old town

I felt an affinity with the older Dublin.

I went to school in Parnell Square, walking up every day from Tara St. station, through O'Connell St. with its monuments, or Moore St. with its street sellers, and coming back through Liffey St., for a dalliance in Hector Grey's "emporium of all a young boy ever wanted", even if the most of it was cheap imitative manufacture from Japan. I bought my first guitar there for £3, or was it 30/- ?

The Pillar, dead centre of the city, site of the old tram terminus, meeting point for city dwellers and visiting country folk alike, is now gone. Replaced by a shining needle without a haystack. A modern version of Jack's beanstalk.

Real estate

Since I started delving into my family history I have been taking a greater personal interest in various parts of Dublin and the fate which has befallen some of its lesser known buildings.

The premises in which my great grandfather worked as a shoemaker in the 1860s is now the site of vast new Civic Offices. Yes, you guessed it: Wood Quay. At that time 15 of the Quay's 22 premises housed shoemakers.

When the area was being controversially redeveloped in the 1960s I had no idea of any family links with the site.

This may, however, have been a better fate than befell the premises in which he first opened his own business, in 1873, at 122 James's St. just in front of St. James's (Protestant) church.

It fell into ruin around 1884; was demolished around 1900; and finally finished up as a parking space in the church grounds. As a further twist, the church closed for business in 1963 and the addresses of the former Nos. 121 and 122 have been appropriated by the lighting emporium which now trades from the old church premises.

Parnell St. has changed radically. The premises in which my great grandmother was in domestic service, in the household of Sir John Barrington, sometime Lord Mayor of Dublin, is now part of the Parnell Centre: the precise part which was, recently, and briefly, the site of Peter Stringfellow's unsuccessful foray into Dublin's "nightclub" scene. A different sort of domestic service entirely from that provided by great grandmother Sarah Rankin.

Meanwhile, still in Parnell St., but just on the other side of O'Connell St., another great grandmother worked in Ellen Berry's milliner and dressmaking establishment. Mary Anne Connely, as she then was, surely had no idea that, some forty years later, she would be related by marriage to Sarah Rankin from the other end of the street, when her son, Patrick Mortimer, married Sarah Rankin's daughter, Sarah Burgess. Ellen Berry's shop is now a coffee bar.

Both these great grandmothers had the distinction of being married in the Pro Cathedral, not due to their exalted status but because it was their local parish church.

Little did I know when I was in school in Parnell Square, that I was only a stone's throw from where two of my great grandmothers lived and worked.

The other side

There were some aspects of the rare oul times that could have done with being a little rarer.

This is Eden Quay on the north side of Dublin's River Liffey. It was here that my grandfather was found drowned in 1918.

From my reading of the newspapers of the day, along with a clatter of Coroner's reports, it seems that drownings were two-a-penny in those days. While that may have been less subversive of society than today's murder-a-day, it is still a dark side which should temper our often unquestioning nostalgia for things past.

This is great grandfather Joseph the Carpenter's unmarked grave in Glasnevin.

Joseph and Mary Anne (see above) were married in 1861, presumably with some expectations of being happy ever after.

Before the end of that year they had lost a newborn baby, and by the time Joseph died some 14 years later, they had lost two more children, each just over a year old, due to infant cholera and teething inflammation.

A living city

So now, when I walk the streets of Dublin, they come alive with the ghosts of my ancestors and their families. The more I delve, the more streets come alive.

It doesn't really change the present and it can give rise to a spurious sentimentality, but it is nice to know a little of what was going on before you came along and it can help keep your feet on the ground.

No man is an island, but beware the Tsunami !

1 comment:

Póló said...

The more you delve, the more you learn.

I now know that I was related, by marriage, to three of the Royalettes and not just one.

Cheer you up, that would.