Memory Lane: Henry Street, Dublin

For this next instalment of our ‘Memory Lanes’ Series, we will be taking a 2-minute walk from the GeoDirectory HQ inside the GPO to one of the foremost thoroughfares in Ireland’s capital city – Henry-Mary Street.

During the festive period, the street is awash with the cries of the various hawkers selling their Christmas stocking fillers intermixed with the bunkers belting out an Adele or Beatles number. 

Henry Moore

Starting with Henry Street, it owes its name to one Henry Moore, who held the titles of 3rd Viscount Moore and 1st Earl of Drogheda. He owned the land the streets were established on, hence why the adjacent street is Moore Street.

The 1st Earl of Drogheda passed away in 1676, while construction of the thoroughfares that were to bare his name, were still being built. They finally came into being in 1728, 52 years after his passing, but they have ensured Henry Moore’s legacy would live on in the memory of many a Dubliner, centuries later.

Initially it started off, like it’s neighbour Sackville/O’Connell Street as a residential thoroughfare, but later it would morph into the commercial hub one sees today. In time it would become a hub of businessmen selling all sorts of confectionary, fashion and homeware, and it was also the home of Dublin’s “Wax Museum” at one point. It is reckoned that this museum opened sometime around 1890, with one of the star attractions being a real life person who went by the moniker of “Marcella the Midget”, a short woman who would regale patrons with some of the popular songs of the day.


1916 Rising

In the transcriptions of the memories of citizens who were involved in the 1916 Rising, mention of the Henry Street Wax Works may also be found This event had a profound effect on the city, if not the county as a whole and many buildings on Henry Street were ablaze as shells from the HMY Helga overshot the GPO. The reconstruction of the GPO began in 1925 and this building which formed a central part of Henry Street reopened in 1929. As well as housing the city’s main post office, it was also to become the first home of Radio Eireann, which later became part of Radio Telefis √Čireann; which then moved to Donnybrook in 1971. For more information on the GPO, please see our Memory Lane on O'Connell Street here.


Arnotts Department Store

As mentioned previously, Henry Street has grown to become one of the main retail hubs in Dublin city and one of the premises that is synonymous with this thoroughfare is Arnotts Department Store.

First opened in 1843, in a much smaller premises compared to now, the Arnott name was first placed over the door in 1865, as Scottish businessman named Sir John Arnott bought out the remaining shareholders in the company. At this stage, the store which was based at 12 Henry Street, bought no. 13 next door and the shop soon doubled in size.

A blurb for the store in 1875 (which had been expanded even further) speaks of it having “two refreshments and dining areas for ladies, with dressing rooms and Lavatories”.  In 1894, the department store suffered great damage due to fire, but having the resources to offer premium rates to Tradesmen etc., the shop was quickly rebuilt and by 1904 had been further extended.

It is said that prior to entering the GPO in 1916 to occupy it, Padraig Pearse popped into Arnotts en-route to settle his account. After world War II was over and the “emergency” was lifted, a beauty room was added, to cater for the ladies of the city who loved to be kept abreast of the latest style trends. Arnotts remains a key attraction which draws many to Henry Street to purchase a designer handbag and then meet a friend for lunch at one of the many eateries located in the store.


William Roche

By the mid 1920’s, a person who walked out of Arnott’s and back onto Henry Street was now greeted by another, tantalising, rival clothing toys and housewares establishment; as Cork’s famous Roches Stores opened an outlet in the capital.

William Roche’s outlets became the byword for high quality goods and excellent customer service and many a communicant or confirmant were fitted out in their special garb in their stores. The company was bought out by Debenhams in 2007. This news was greeted with great sorrow across the country, such was the affection many had for its stores.

In 1971, a key moment in the life of Henry Street was put in place, as the city became pedestrianised and (delivery trucks to shops besides) was made a vehicle free thoroughfare. This was initially for a trial period, but so successful did it prove that it has remained in situ to this day. When officially opened as a new car-free thoroughfare, it contained benches for people to sit on and trees in the middle of the street.


Frank Woolworth

If one talks to elderly relations about their memories of Henry Street, many will mention the large store that was commonly referred to as “Woolies”. Today as you pass the entrance to the GPO Arcade, you will find for shops side by side, including Clarks Shoes and JD Sports.

These now four separate units on the street and 3 inside the GPO Arcade itself, were once one single store; belonging to the behemoth that was Woolworths. Owned by Frank Woolworth, it once spanned over 800 stores between the UK and Ireland (and many more worldwide). When, in the 1930’s, large scale freezers became the latest in retail technology. Woolworths were among the first to use them in Dublin as they started selling ice-cream that people could buy in tubs and bring home. I’m told large queues formed outside the shop as people queued to buy Hughes Brothers (HB) ice-cream.
Ilac Shopping Centre

Fast forward 10 years later where, in 1981, the city was abuzz with great excitement as a new futuristic looking shopping centre was opening its doors. The Ilac Centre - now housing 46 shops and 18 eateries - would ensure Henry Street was now truly giving Grafton Street a run for its money, as it sought to become the primary shopping street in the capital.

So as you walk down Henry Street, taking in the sound of a busker waxing lyrical about “A Rainy Night in Soho”; while enjoying your purchase from Gino’s Gelato, you might raise your cone to the memory of one Henry Moore, the 1st Earl of Drogheda.

If you enjoyed this blog, you may be interested in our Memory Lane through O'Connell Street.

If you're looking for a fun festive read, check out the Christmas Movies We Love To Watch or our Top 5 Christmas Breaks.
Posted: 20/12/2021 11:22:39

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