Memory Lane: O’CONNELL STREET, DUBLIN

     
Posted: 23/04/2020 16:57:43


Welcome to our first Memory Lane blog which we hope will inform and enthral you with all sorts of facts and insights into the streets we walk through on our daily beat.

We thought we would start with the very street GeoDirectory are located – Lower o'Connell Street.

This street known back then as Sackville Street formally came into existence in 1757 with Sackville Street Upper being built before the Lower end came into existence. It was named after Lionel Sackville a gentleman who held the titles of 1st Duke of Dorset and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (a role which was essentially the man at the top of the power chain in Ireland whose job was to ensure the king/queens wishes were carried out).

In 1924 the newly installed ‘Free-State’ Government changed the name of this major thoroughfare in honour of the great liberator and campaigner for the restoration of rights to Catholics and other religions, Daniel o’ Connell.

The original Sackville Street itself was very basic with no paving an essentially a dirt track that horse and cart rode up and down. Later of course proper paving and footpaths would be added to make it a far more accessible area for transport and people, with the massive redevelopment of the Customs house being a key factor in this development. It was in fact another ten years after the street being completed that O’Connell Bridge came into existence, to coincide with the opening of the new Customs House.

In 1777 the ‘Wide Streets Commission’ came into being and it led to a major transformation of the area we now call Dublin City Centre. At this time of the most desirable areas of the time was Oxmanstown Road up beside the Phoenix Park and development initially sprawled from there on the Northside of the Liffey, before the construction of Leinster House moved things Southside. This is also why Ormond Bridge came to be the first proper bridge built across the river. The population of Dublin City was only 10,000 in 1700 but by 1850 it had rapidly expanded to 750,000.

A key feature of this street for many years was Nelson’s Pillar which was built to honour British victories in wars against France. It was blown up on March 8th 1966 when a massive IRA bomb was detonated.

It would be another 36 years before a replacement was located at the site, with the Spire being constructed and officially unveiled in 2002. As is customary to our capital city, the wit of it’s citizens once again came to the fore with some christening it “the Stiletto in the ghetto”, among other (unrepeatable!) monikers.This large pointy structure made it to the top three of the British Construction Industry Awards in 2004.

In 1815 renowned architect Francis Johnson oversaw the building of the General Post office at a then cost of £40,000 (Over €40M in todays’ money!)
A gentleman by the name of Edward Lees was the first manager of the GPO and along with his family and servants, occupied a number of apartments on the top floor. In contrast many workers lower down the floors had to work in cramped rooms with no windows or fireplace.
The most famous event to have occurred at this magnificent building was of course the 1916 Rising, at which the ‘Proclamation of the Irish Republic’ was read out. A total of 508 Volunteers (of the over 2000 who saw ‘active service’ during Easter week) were present.
Among them were five of the seven members of the so called Military council/Provisional Government of Ireland, most notably Padraig Pearse and James Connolly. Visitors can now partake in the “1916 Witness History” Exhibition which brilliantly chronicles what happened on that Easter week.

Statues of the famous Trades Unionist Jim Larkin, founder of the Young Ireland movement William Smith o’ Brien and the noted Physicist Sir John Gray stand proud and tall in the middle of the street. Larkin is most famous for his leadership of the mass strike that became known as the 1913 Lockout, o’ Brien for his promotion of the Irish language and participation in a failed rebellion against British rule in 1948 which saw he exiled to Australia (when known as ‘Van Diemen’s land’) and John Gray also had a long stint as an MP for Kilkenny City.
 
Another famous evet in the annals of the history of Dublin took place on April 7th 1963 when the Beatles played a gig in the Adelphi Cinema. This venue was located on Middle Abbey Street and Is now part of Arnotts Department Store, where the Car Park Exit is located. Also popular with the youth of the 60’s was The Metropole Ballroom a venue upon which all the major acts in Ireland, such as The royal and Capital Showbands played to enthusiastic crowds. This is where you will now find Eason and Pennys Department Store.
Many a Dubliner laments the loss of the Department Store Clerys. This was where I went as a nipper to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what I wanted for Christmas, with half an eye on my mother in case she told some home truths as I informed Mr Claus that I was the BEST boy and was so well behaved.
It was originally called “The Palatial Mart” when it opened in 1853, but changed to the name we know all too well when a Michael J Clery took over the premises 30 years later. It was one of the first buildings to be burnt to the ground during The Rising. The store was bought by owners of Guiney’s in 1941, but they decided to keep the existing name over the door. While Denis Guiney passed away in 1967 his wife Eileen remained on the board until her passing in 2004 at the ripe old age of 103. Many a couple are married today thanks to both meeting under the famous Clerys clock which was a famous spot for famous couples to meet in the days before mobile phones and when many wished to keep their dalliances secret from their parents!


So the next time you walk up this key thoroughfare in Dublin city maybe you’ll stop for a bit to admire your surroundings such as the buildings and statues that inhabit it.


After the sad news that Bewley's is closing its cafe doors, we thought we'd reminisce and pay homage to this institution in our latest blog. Read here.


Photo credits:
TodayFM.ie
Gpo Witness History
Irish Times