St Stephens’ Green
On our second day of walking Dublin to see the sights, we decided to start off by visiting another large, landscaped park that happened to be just down the road from our hotel, St Stephen’s Green. Parks are not only great places to highlight the natural beauties of a city, they are a great place to locate memorials to significant events in a country’s history. After our visit the previous day to the Dublin Post Office, we didn’t think we would encounter any more tales of the Easter uprising of 1916 again but St Stephen’s Green was one of the places the rebels set up a defensive position. 200-250 insurgents belonging to the Irish Citizens Army dug trenches here to defend their rebellion but unfortunately British troops took up positions in surrounding buildings. The rebels retreated elsewhere. There is no Easter 1916 memorial in the park but there are plenty of other monuments here.
As we entered the park, we passed two challenging sculptures that commemorated two major milestones in the history of Ireland that the sculptor argued led eventually to the Easter uprising. On the left below is the statue of Wolfe Tone who led the 1798 uprising where he had gained the support of the French, but gales stopped their fleet from landing; the uprising failed and he was sentenced to death by hanging. The second set of sculptures on the corner of St Stephen’s Green was one of the Great Famine (1845-1850). The sculptor of both pieces, Edward Delaney, argued that the failure of the 1798 uprising is causally connected to the Great Famine; he made the point that if the English had been forced out of Ireland at the end of the 18th century, the policies that led to the devastating famine would not have existed. Not everyone agrees with Delaney’s views; his statue of Wolfe Tone was blown up in 1971 by members of the Ulster Defence Association.
St Stephen’s Green as a concept started way back in 1663 and has changed and developed over the many years since then. It was for a couple of centuries a private park for the use of the local residents but it became a public park, open to all citizens in 1877. It is a beautiful place to take a stroll, past the lakes, the gardens and the many monuments.
After exiting St Stephen’s Green, we made our way down one of Dublin’s main shopping areas, Grafton Street. Apart from the window-shopping that ensured a slow pace, we also had the opportunity to admire the bronze sculpture of Molly Malone that was erected here to celebrate the city’s first millennium in 1988. Over the centuries Dublin has produced many significant memorial sculptures that with changing times either get blown up, removed by changing political climates or redeployed elsewhere when a site needs to be reused for transport infrastructure. Since we saw Molly Malone selling her seafood in Grafton Street, she has been moved further down the road and round the corner to Suffolk Street. If her being moved along wasn’t sufficient offense, Dubliners have taken to rename local statues of women with humorous nicknames; Molly has been given the choice of the “Tart with the Cart” or the “Trollop with the Scallops”.
From Grafton Street our next stop was Dublin Castle, the centre of Dublin history for the last millennium. Given its long history, it is a many-layered site that reflects the significant changes that have started here and flowed out to the rest of Ireland. The name ‘Dublin’ in early Irish means ‘black pool’, referring to the original tidal pool where the River Poodle entered the Liffey River and this junction now flows in tunnels underneath the Castle gardens today. (Red Hugh O’Donnell escaped through the sewers of Dublin Castle in 1591, presumably the remnants of this tidal pool that harked back to the first structures built on the site.) A Viking settlement was built here from about 841 and Viking rule over the area around the mouth of the Liffey lasted for around 3 centuries.
In 1170 the Normans from across the Irish Sea arrived and captured Dublin. In 1204 a decision by King John of England led to the construction of Dublin Castle; the image below right gives an idea of what the original structure would have looked like. The image also indicates through dashes where the Black Pool was situated near the castle. It was a fortress with four corner towers linked by curtain walls and survived until 1684 when a fire caused considerable damage to the building.
The current Upper Castle Yard sits basically where the medieval castle yard existed. The image below shows the only tower of the original Norman Castle that has survived…with some adjustments. During the 17th and 18th centuries Dublin Castle was slowly modified from a medieval fortress to a ‘Georgian’ Palace. Next to the ‘Record’ tower is the Chapel Royal that was added in the 19th century.
From its initial construction in 1204, Dublin Castle was the centre of British Rule in Ireland until it was formally handed over to the Irish Free State in 1922. One anecdote about the handover of Dublin Castle to Michael Collins relates that Collins was late for his appointment and was chastised by the English Viceroy for this breach of protocol. Unimpressed, Collins is said to have replied, “We’ve been waiting 700 years, you can have the seven minutes.”
You can take a self-guided tour of Dublin Castle most days and it’s well worth the time. There are always exhibitions as well as tours; visiting the Viking Excavations, the Chapel Royal (above right image) and the State Apartments should be high on any visitors list.
Christ Church Cathedral
From the map of our day’s walk printed earlier in this article, it shows it is a fairly lengthy walk parallel with the river to get to Christ Church Cathedral from Dublin Castle. There are two major cathedrals in Dublin and Christ Church is the oldest, having been founded around 1028, well before the Normans arrived in Britain and changed the structure of English society for ever. Christ Church remained a Roman Catholic cathedral until 1539 when Henry VIII instructed that it change its adherence to Rome and recognise that he was the leader of the Church in England. To this day Christ Church Cathedral is claimed by both Roman Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Dublin as their Cathedral; however it remains firmly a Church of Ireland building. In the image to the right below can be seen a fenced off stone-lined remnant of the original priory that is part of the Christ Church precinct. The sign next to the excavation states, “This was the Chapter House of the Augustinian Canons whose priory was at Christ Church from 1163 to 1537”.
The first church built on this site was founded by the Vikings. The Norse king at the time, Sitriuc Silkenbeard, decided on the construction after a pilgrimage to Rome. The Cathedral’s most famous Archbishop was Laurence O’Toole who took over Christ Church in 1160 and was responsible for building the priory next to the Cathedral and this institution lasted until it was dissolved, like all the other monasteries throughout England and Ireland, under the direction of Henry VIII. Laurence O’Toole was canonised as a saint after his death and his heart was preserved and placed in a reliquary that has been kept in Christ Church ever since…except for the 6 years between 2012-18 when it had been stolen from the Church. Somebody had hidden in the Church over-night, broke through the bars that protected the icon and removed it. It was recovered in a park six years later and police (as far as I know) have not released the details of where St Laurence’s heart stayed during those missing six years.
Christ Church Cathedral is a beautiful, ancient church that is well worth going to visit to explore both inside and outside. If you have time, duck down into the crypt of the Cathedral where there is an exhibition of curiosities such as the disappearing heart of St Laurence. There is also a set of old stocks there that used to be set up in the square outside the Cathedral to punish criminals in the 17th and 18th centuries. As the sign to the left indicates, there is also on display a mummified cat and mouse who died after a pursuit in the organ pipes of the cathedral ended tragically. Unsurprisingly, no one has yet stolen the cat and mouse.
St Patrick’s Cathedral
From Christ Church Cathedral, it is only a couple of blocks walk down to St Patrick’s Cathedral. The image to the left below shows the Cathedral in1904. If you take the Red Bus Tour of Dublin, your bus will drive along beside the beautiful lawns and gardens that take up a huge area along the front of the Cathedral. Originally the Cathedral was built amongst the crowded streets and alleys of Dublin but today it lies sandwiched between two major roads.
St Patrick’s was built around 1191 over a century and a half after Christ Church Cathedral but is the taller and larger of the two buildings. A two-cathedral city is an oddity, both belonging to the Church of Ireland. The agreed distinction appears to be that St Patrick’s is the National Cathedral of all Ireland and Christ Church Cathedral is the mother church of the Dublin Diocese. Despite owning the two major cathedrals in Dublin, the statistics of Religious affiliation show that only 2.6% of the population of the Republic of Ireland affiliate themselves with the Church of Ireland (2016 statistics). 78.3% of the population affiliate with the Catholic Church. The seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Ireland is St Mary’s Church in Marlborough Street Dublin; there is no Roman Catholic Cathedral in Ireland.
Like Christ Church, St Patrick’s has a rich history. The site was chosen based on the story that there was a Sacred Well here in pre-Christian times and St Patrick used it to baptise his followers. There is evidence for this story as in the 19th century a Celtic Cross was found buried in the grounds and it was believed that it originally marked the site of a Holy Well. The effects of the Reformation on St Patrick’s Cathedral were complex but it didn’t prepare the Cathedral for the impact of Thomas Cromwell’s arrival in Ireland (1649-53). Like other churches in Ireland, St Patrick’s was used as a stable for the horses of his troops, a technique of righteous invaders to insult local religious practices since well before the Romans conquered the Mediterranean world.
St Patrick’s saw better times in the next century, perhaps one reason being that it was graced with a Dean of the Cathedral (1713-45) who was none other than the writer and satirist Jonathan Swift. Most people know Swift as the writer of Gulliver’s Travels. However his output was much wider…for those interested in a short read of Swift whilst in Dublin, get a copy of his ‘Modest proposal’, a shocking but hilarious commentary on how to resolve the poverty of so many people in Ireland at the time…eat them! “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragout.” As part of his role as Dean of the Cathedral, he assisted in the funding of a local alms house and St Patrick’s Hospital. His grave and epitaph are to be found inside the Cathedral.
The Cathedral suffered significant neglect over the last few centuries but this great medieval building was renovated and restored between 1860-65 and so is still with us today. Ireland and St Patrick’s are never far from the curious impact of its religious divides, an example being when the funeral of Irish president, Douglas Hyde, took place here in 1949. All the members of both the government and the opposition had to stay in the foyer of St Patrick’s as the Catholic Church forbade its members from entering churches of another Christian tradition.
It was a long, tired walk back to our hotel from St Patrick’s Cathedral but we were very satisfied with our fascinating day’s tour of some of the most famous sites of Dublin.