Saturday, April 07, 2018


Click on any image for a larger version

The occasion was a talk by Diarmuid Ó Gráda on Georgian Dublin - The Forces that shaped the City and it took place in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) library on 4 April 2018.

The illustration above is of the cover of Diarmuid's book which was published by Cork University Press and launched in the Royal Irish Academy by then Lord Mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, in 2015. I mention this because Diarmuid's talk proved to be a wonderful skim through his book, all 390 pages of it.

Lord Chesterfield

I had not attended a function in these premises before and if I had let myself I could have found my surroundings quite intimidating. There is that hush of entitlement where members silently glide about the place while visitors are afraid to audibly clear their throats lest they draw attention to themselves.

I could have been put off when I encountered Lord Chesterfield, former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and President of the RDS, on my way to the loo (Gentlemen's Cloakroom to you).

However, as guests began to arrive, I was reassured to see the good lord bend his dignity to take on cloakroom duties and serve as a hatstand for the duration. A sign, no doubt, if one was needed, of the ongoing democratisation of this venerable royal institution.

So I felt quite at home and relaxed when I entered the magnificent spacious library where the talk was to take place. In any event, hadn't I been to school all those years ago with the speaker's older brother.

David Dickson

The talk was introduced by David Dickson, whose own magnificent magnum opus Dublin - The Making of a Capital City had been launched in the Dublin City Library and Archive in 2014.

David was lavish in his praise of Diarrmuid's work and in passing drew attention to copies on sale at the back of the hall. Diarmuid, in the course of his talk, reciprocated, praising David's book and acknowledging his debt to David's work.

If you were brought up like me where history is definitive and you just have to learn it off and regurgitate it as appropriate, you could be forgiven for your amazement at how much new work is being undertaken and published on this hitherto "settled" subject.

In the political sphere much of it is unfairly disparaged as revisionism whereas in the archeological and social sphere it is classed as enrichment. In any event, much modern historical research is leading us to question who we are and this, while sometimes quite disturbing, is also very exciting.

David specifically mentioned a collection of drawings of Dublin street scenes from 1760 entitled The Cries of Dublin by Irish painter Hugh Douglas Hamilton which were only discovered in 2002 and were published a year later.

Diarmuid soon got into his stride and took off on a whistlestop tour of Georgian Dublin. He must have been very happy to have had his book published by Cork University Press and launched in the RIA, and now this talk in the RDS.

Before I forget I should say that the place was packed. And I should take the opportunity to compliment the RDS on the wonderful venue and on the high quality sound, including Diarmuid's head-mic which allowed him move about and physically point out things on the big screen.

Diarmuid Ó Gráda

I have referred above to Georgian Dublin's underbelly and that may be a bit contentious as Diarmuid deals with a wide range of aspects of Georgian Dublin. But what his book, and the talk, bring to the table is the result of a career of research on how the man in the street fared in this city, the second in the Empire.

Much has been written on the architecture of the period, on the doings of important people, and on the very dramatic politics of the period. But what was it like for the ordinary citizen, for the artisans or casual traders, for women and for blaggards?

This is all explored in great detail and with great accompanying illustrations.

A Crippled Beggar
from Hugh Douglas Hamilton 1760 (private collection)

Looking at the beggar, you wonder how he got to his present state. Perhaps he lost his legs in a war? Diarmuid then draws our attention to his two hand grips. These allow him to move along without his flesh coming into contact with the dirty, and perhaps diseased, street.

A Parish Watchman
from The Cries of Dublin

There wasn't much of a police force in those days. Each parish had to organise its own watchmen and the smaller and poorer parishes could not afford much on this front. The job could also prove quite dangerous for the watchman.

Drunken grandees attacking the parish watch in Dame St.
from A Real Paddy [Pierce Egan] Real Life in Ireland 1821

It appears that a regular sport among the grandees was beating up the parish watch. Clearly a policeman's lot was not a happy one.

Three Papist Criminals going to Execution
from Hugh Douglas Hamilton 1760 (private collection)

Nevertheless, "justice" was done after a fashion. These three ladies are handcuffed and praying to the Lord on their way to their deaths.

Robert Emmet's Execution
by F W Byrne 1877 (private collection)

And, speaking of execution, here is the Bould Robert Emmet.

If this is the same famous painting I have seen many times before, then I'm staggered. I have only been familiar with it in black and white and this coloured original is amazing. There are all sorts of details standing out, including the huge military presence and the way they are keeping the crowd at bay, mounted horsemen with drawn swords.

Diarmuid made an interesting point in relation to the choice of location for the execution. Apparently criminals were often executed at the scene of their crime.

Although Diarmuid didn't, I couldn't resist showing this detail from the painting. Emmet has clearly been hanged and cut down, decapitated on the block and awaiting his quartering, after which his quarters would be dispatched to the four quarters of the Empire.

If you get a chance do examine this painting in detail.

This is probably the place to mention the excellent quality of the illustrations. It is one thing to have quality digital illustrations on a screen, as we had, but a significant feature of the book is the quality of the illustrations, as you can probably gather from those I have reproduced here. I have taken them directly from the book but only used those which Diarmuid used in his talk.

Displaying the Hat
from James Malton,
A Picturesque and Descriptive View of the City of Dublin 1799

A shopkeeper brings out a hat to show to the lady in her carriage. Quite apart from any class angles involved, the lady will not leave the carriage for fear of soiling her clothes on the dirty street.

A Chimney Sweep
from Hugh Douglas Hamilton (private collection)

This wee boy, unlike his master, does not look in great shape. These children were actually sent up chimneys, often while there were still embers in the fire below. Many of them eventually died of diseases, including cancer, from inhaling the fumes.

Looking South from O'Connell St.
by Henry Brocas

Always the town planner, Diarmuid included this view of the work of the Wide Streets Commissionners. Of course the balance they achieved has since been broken by the construction of O'Connell Bridge House on the corner of Burgh Quay and Dolier Street.

Dublin Brothels 1747 - 1800

Diarmuid has listed all the brothels between 1747 and 1800, giving us the name of the madame, the year(s) of operation, the location, and notes on happenings. The map above gives a graphic representation of locations.

Diarmuid's only comment on this was to mention Temple Bar. I could think of a few more.

This model illustrates the forces influencing urban expansion.

So, if you were offered a choice, would you really like to go back and live in Georgian Dublin?

Not me, certainly not after Diarmuid's talk, and, of course, having read the book.

It is a tribute to Diarmuid's holding power that he did not lose the attention of a single member of his audience despite the hanky panky going on in the aisle thoughout his talk.


Póló said...

In the post above, I said "I had not attended a function in these premises before". To my mortal embarrassment my friend Felix Larkin reminded me that I had, and that was a talk he gave entitled "The Law's an Ass" looking at the history of cartoons about the law.

It was a great talk, which I blogged at the time,, and my only excuse for my memory lapse must be that the talk was so overwhelming that I was oblivious of the location thereafter.

An alternative explanation, which I'm sure neither of us would wish to subscribe to, is that the oul head is finally starting to pack it in, and I had better begin making my peace with the Lord, in whom I would first have to cultivate a belief.

So, all in all, the first explanation is preferred. Well done Felix and thanks for the memory.


Thanks, Póló. Don’t worry about it - lots of things slip our memories. I was delighted to make use of, and to acknowledge, your work on Gordon Brewster in my legal cartoons lecture. Felix