Thursday, February 11, 2016


City Crest in the Mansion House pediment

That makes it twice in the one week, as I set out for an event in the Oak Room in Dublin's Mansion House, official residence of Sinn Féin Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh.

The occasion was the launch of a book on the paving and lighting of Dublin at the end of the 18th Century. How obscure can you get, you may be thinking. Not at all, say I, because this was a period which had a vision of shaping Dublin, which was very successful and which we have in many ways been undermining ever since.

Anyway, in the context of the paving, I was to hear the Lord Mayor advise us to look down when we're out and about in town. Of course, with the lighting bit you'd be more inclined to look up, which is just what I did as I approached the Mansion House.

Otherwise I could have missed the beautifully illuminated city crest in the pediment at the top of the façade (see, I'm learning). I have to take it that the choice of colour is on purpose.

Mary Clarke, Críona Ní Dhálaigh & Finnian Ó Cionnaith

The ubiquitous City Archivist, Mary Clarke, kicked off the function. I use the term ubiquitous in its most constructive sense.

Mary Clark - Dublin City Archivist

The Dublin City Archive has been steadfastly feeding many voracious research projects in recent years and Mary's presence at so many functions is testimony not only to the success of the projects but to her own, and the archive's, efforts to share this rich resource.

Lord Mayor Críona Ní Dhálaigh

Bean a' Tí then set about launching the book. This is where she told us to make sure to look down beneath our feet and appreciate what remains of the Wicklow paving stones which sparkle in the sunlight. Some of them are still living on as kerb edgings.

And where have all the cobblestones gone? Well, the City gave a load of them to Trinity for use in the quad and Críona was very careful, in advertising this, to include a female health warning - high heels and cobblestones just don't mix.

She told us that when high heeled girls/ladies/women come across the street from the restaurants to have a sit down on the steps of the Mansion House they always take their high heels off as the front space here is also cobbled.

Kieran Feighan - Vice President, Engineers Ireland

With the book launched, guest speaker, Kieran Feighan, Vice President, Engineers Ireland, seamlessly took up the theme.

He reminded us that there was a gap of some 200 years between, on the one hand, the period of The Paving Board with the emergence of that planned Dublin, with all its work for engineers and architects, and, on the other hand, more recent times which saw a burgeoning of new architecture and other major projects in the city. Very little had happened on that front during that two centuries' gap.

He also reminded us of Dublin's importance as a European city of stature, along with London and Paris. Dublin was one of the principal cities of Europe at that time in terms of its population.

I think I heard him mentioning brown envelopes in relation to the earlier period, but I am told my hearing is no longer the best and I do get distracted very easily these days.

Finnian Ó Cionnaith - author

We then finally got to the author himself, who gave us some idea of the contents of his book.

He stressed that the story was told in large measure through anecdotes, which is the way to do it in my view, and it was also significant that the story is told through the life, times and work of surveyor Thomas Owen, who, while he may not have been the most important man in the world of his day, was involved in a vast range of what went on in terms of city development.

Mary Clarke had earlier told us that. quite apart from its excellent research, the book was a most enjoyable and informative read.

And it all sounded quite exciting as Finnian told it. No shortage of modern parallels either. All this development was to be paid for by taxes on property owners, so there was great pressure on Owen and the Board when it came to resourcing their projects.


No launch would be complete without a raft of signings and Finnian proved he was up to signing on the fly, so to speak.

Four Courts Press

And, of course, the book itself was on sale at a knockdown introductory price of €20 for the hardcopy.

I can't leave this post without, once more, praising Four Courts Press which has, over many decades, published consistently high quality, well illustrated, academic books.

They are continuing the great work of their late dedicated founder Michael Adams (1937–2009), in whose memory a mass is to be held in Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, Merrion Road,on Saturday, 13 February 2016, at 10.00 a.m.

Frank McNally has a nice piece in his Irishman's Diary in the Irish Times of 12/2/2016 (for as long as it remains accessible).

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