Wednesday, April 15, 2015

All Quiet on the Western Front

Cathy Scuffil with 1911 map of her native Dolphin's Barn
Click any image for a larger version

Last night the Southside ventured Northside to educate the natives on that well known boulevard the South Circular Road (SCR). They learned that it wasn't really circular; that it was originally built by the military to join up some of their emplacements (barracks/jail); that houses were only gradually built along it, initially in small terraces, the names of which are almost lost; and that it was never finished. It was conceived along with the North Circular Road to ring the city but the two never joined up and are still separated by the Phoenix Park.

The southsider, was Cathy Scuffil, who had done her masters thesis on the SCR and the northside location was St. John the Baptist Centre in Clontarf, home to the Clontarf Historical Society.

Dolphins Barn postcard 1910

Cathy was born and raised in Dolphin's Barn, so she had a head start in her study. But, as she told us, the area she thought she knew, she didn't know at all, and her thesis was a voyage of discovery.

She wanted to study her own area and her supervisor required her to take a substantial piece of road, so she chose the SCR and focussed on the then newly released digitised 1911 census.

The results were fascinating, not just looking at a freeze frame of those living on the road in 1911 but chasing up their lives, with particular emphasis on a number of families.

For years the road was identified in sections such as SCR Portobello, SCR Dolphin's Barn, and this was reflected in the numbering system. In fact, before those sections were consolidated, habitations along the road consisted of individual isolated terraces, each with its own numbering system. Now it is just numbered from one end to the other and lots of interesting features have gone.

Leonard's Corner
looking east to St. Kevin's church c. 1911

The Poddle river, which eventually flows into the Liffey, has been culverted since way back. Cathy showed us pictures of the no man's land laneways under which the river now flows.These pathways once represented parish boundaries and they have not been built on because, in theory at least, nobody owns the river.

We heard of industries such as the White Heather Laundry and its covert purchasing of rat poison; of the tramline which never quite reached Rialto; of the Wicklow widows who had married locals after coming to town for work; and of Monsignor Kennedy whose territory stretched from James's St. to Dolphin's Barn and who came to a sticky end after falling down the front steps of the Parochial House. I have a carte de visite picture of him from my granny's papers.

Leonard's Corner
looking west towards Dolphin's Barn c. 1911

The SCR at Leonard's Corner is intersected by Clanbrassil St. which was a major shopping street for the nearby Jewish community.

Much later, in the 1940s, a granduncle by marriage, and my godmother, lived in a house just out of shot at the left of the above picture. When they moved in it was a Jewish house, but as the Jews died off or emigrated and as the Christian family gradually took up more of the house, it ended up a fully Gentile house, but not before the family became accustomed to performing Shabbos Goy services for their co-tenants on their sabbath.

If you want to take a more systematic look at the SCR in 1911 you should read Cathy's book The South Circular Road, Dublin, on the eve of the First World War.

My own associations with the road are from a more modern era, as you will gather from the above. So I hope Cathy will revisit this area and bring us up to date on its later goings on.

A final remark: Cathy was not the only crosser of the Liffey in the context of the SCR; the road itself ends up on the north bank at Islandbridge.

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