A Short History

of Dublin's

Temple Bar

By Sean Murphy

Copyright © 1994-2002 Centre for Irish
Genealogical and Historical Studies
Carraig, Cliff Road, Windgates, Bray, Co Wicklow, Ireland
E-mail
seanjmurphy@eircom.net
Contents may be reproduced freely offline for
personal and educational use

Introduction

Dublin's Eastern Suburbs

Seventeenth-Century Expansion

Naming of Temple Bar

Streets of Temple Bar

Architecture of Temple Bar

Decline and Revival of Temple Bar

References

 

Introduction

Temple Bar is a colourful quarter of Dublin City which, almost accidentally it could be said, over the years developed a bohemian 'Left Bank' character, while retaining in its cobbled streets and old buildings a charm no longer to be found in many other parts of the city. The Temple Bar district extends from Fishamble Street in the west to Westmoreland Street in the east, and from the River Liffey in the north to Lord Edward Street-Dame Street-College Green in the south. The bulk of the Temple Bar area is within the boundaries of St Andrew's Parish, while portions to the west are in St Werburgh's and St John's Parishes.

It should be stressed that 'Temple Bar' is not an actual historic name for the quarter, but rather one selected relatively recently for convenience, from the name of the street on which the area is roughly centered. Having been saved from destruction in circumstances described more fully below, the Temple Bar quarter was entrusted in 1991 to the administration of a government-sponsored body, Temple Bar Properties Ltd. The 'mission' of Temple Bar Properties was 'to develop a bustling cultural, residential and small-business precinct that will attract visitors in significant numbers'. (1)

The present webpage grew out of the writer's interest in Temple Bar and a booklet published in 1994, which gave a brief account of the area's history and associations for the benefit of visitors, residents and others interested in the area. The booklet and the webpage also express the writer's concern that the history of Temple Bar is not adequately understood and studied, and that some of the quarter's unique features have been neglected or sacrificed needlessly in the course of redevelopment. As a general principle, and one that has been borne out many times in Dublin, it can be stated that there is a deadly linkage between acts of planning vandalism and historical ignorance or apathy.

The Temple Bar Properties prospectus manages to compress 1,000 years of history into the following masterly precis: 'Temple Bar has been a part of Dublin since Viking times and has become what it is through the intervention of many different people'. This skimpy historical review is supplemented with a comment on 'radical interventions' in the area in the past and an implied promise of more to come, which together with a notable lack of specifics in relation to architectural conservation, should have set alarm bells ringing. (2) There is also an official illustrated history of Temple Bar which is not without merit, but it stumbles somewhat in endeavouring to explain how the quarter's principal street received its name, making an irrelevant reference to a 'sandbank', and its uncritical tone leaves room for a different approach. (3) Finally, it should be acknowledged that a good deal of the research on which the present webpage is based was originally performed for Temple Bar Properties, and although unfortunately it failed to impact much upon that organisation, the work is published with its kind permission.

 

Dublin's Eastern Suburbs

Gaelic Ireland did not contain towns as such, although its monastic settlements might be considered 'proto-towns'. Dublin in Gaelic times actually appears to have been composed of two settlements, one called Dubh Linn, the Black Pool, located where the River Poddle meets the Liffey, and the other called Áth Cliath, the Ford of the Hurdles, in the vicinity of the present day Fr Matthew Bridge. While these settlements gave rise to the official English and Irish names of the city, Dublin and Baile Átha Cliath, the foundation of the city itself was due to the Norse, who established a longphort in 841. (4)

The most prominent monument left by the Norse was the Thingmount or Thingmote, a large mound used as an assembly point for public debates and legal proceedings, which was located on the east side of present day Suffolk Street and survived until the seventeenth century. In the ninth and succeeding centuries Dublin developed as a Hiberno-Norse town, its Norse rulers generally acknowledging Gaelic overlordship, with the exception of intermittent periods of conflict. In 1170 Dublin was captured by the combined forces of Dermot MacMurrough and Richard Fitzgilbert de Clare, or Strongbow as he is more commonly known. The city was henceforth an Anglo-Norman stronghold, the Norse inhabitants being driven north of the Liffey to Ostmanstown, now Oxmantown.

The existing Norse walls of Dublin were strengthened and expanded by the Anglo-Normans, and in 1204 the building of a castle was commenced on the site of the original Norse stronghold. The channel of the Liffey was narrowed by a process of reclamation employing revetments or retaining walls, and this and other features of the developing medieval city are being revealed by ongoing archaeological excavations. The district that was to be Temple Bar was part of the eastern suburbs, outside the city walls, though most of the portion north of Dame Street was still unreclaimed.

The area was sufficiently populous to be served by a church, St Andrew's, and in addition to this church and the Thingmount, the most important features of the area included Hoggen Green, St Mary de Hogges Abbey and the Augustinian Holy Trinity Friary. Holy Trinity Friary was founded about 1282, and its site is believed to be marked by Temple Lane, Temple Bar, Fownes Street Upper and Cecilia Street. (5) Fascinating glimpses of life in the medieval Friary are provided by a reconstruction of a gruesome murder case there in 1379, when Friar Richard Dermot was murdered by some fellow Augustinians and his body hidden in a well. (6)

St Andrew's can be considered the first of Dublin's suburban parishes, and was probably founded during the Norse era. The medieval church was located by the Castle in Dame Street, on the site of the present Allied Irish Bank. St Andrew's was attached to St Patrick's Cathedral from 1219, and the parish appears to have declined in succeeding centuries due to its exposed position outside the walls, which rendered it vulnerable to attacks by the native Irish. In the middle of the sixteenth century St Andrew's parish was united with St Werburgh's, and St Andrew's Church fell into disuse, eventually being converted into a stable for the viceroy! (7)

 

Seventeenth-Century Expansion

From the early seventeenth century on our knowledge of the processes whereby the Temple Bar area was developed becomes more detailed, and ongoing archaeological investigations should provide further information. The reclamation by the developer Jacob Newman in the early 1600s of a small amount of land in the area of Parliament Street, involving the enclosure of the Poddle-Liffey confluence, facilitated further eastward expansion. (8) The land between St Stephen's Green and the old city became increasingly fashionable for house building in the Stuart era, and some of the new dwellings had gardens stretching down to the Liffey. (9)

Among the prominent families living in the Dame Street area in the early seventeenth century were Temple, Eustace and Anglesea, all still commemorated in street names (although the more complicated position with regard to Temple is explained below). The original line of the Liffey shore was marked by Essex Street-Temple Bar-Fleet Street, but land beyond was progressively walled in and reclaimed. Unusually, the reclaimed land was not quayed initially, but had houses adjoining the water's edge, and it was not until 1812 that these houses were replaced by Wellington Quay. Bernard de Gomme's Map of Dublin 1673 shows the major reclamation and new building which had taken place in the eastern suburbs south of the Liffey in the course of the seventeenth century. De Gomme's is the earliest map or document specifically to refer to Temple Bar, and other familiar streets in the area are Dammas (Dame) Street and Dirty (formerly Hogges, now Temple) Lane. (10)

As a result of this seventeenth-century expansion, it was considered necessary to revive St Andrew's as a separate parish in 1665, and Sir John Temple and Arthur Earl of Anglesea were appointed as the first churchwardens. In 1670 a new St Andrew's Church designed by the architect William Dodson was built to the east of the old church, on the site of the present church adjoining Suffolk Street. (11) Dodson's 1670 church was round or more properly oval in shape, the only Dublin church so unusually constructed, and it has been pointed out that there was a tradition of building circular churches dedicated to St Andrew.

The oval St Andrew's Church was reconstructed without altering its shape in the 1790s, the work being completed in the early 1800s under the direction of the famous architect Francis Johnston. The reconstructed church was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1860, following which the third and still surviving conventional church was built. One does not have to be an occultist to consider that the intriguing old 'Round Church' of St Andrew was laden with symbolism. The church was shaped like an eye which peers at you from the map, its 'St Andrew's Cross' (X) diagonals harmonised with the compass-like shape of St Andrew Street and Suffolk Street, and the effect was completed by the 90 degrees (though off-centre) square of the southern churchyard walls. While curious coincidence may be advanced as an explanation, the all-seeing eye and the square and compass were favourite symbols among Hermeticists and Freemasons, as well as being employed more practically by architects and cartographers.

 

The Naming of Temple Bar

Most sources agree that Dublin's Temple Bar was named after the Temple family, and specifically after Sir William Temple, whose house and gardens were located there in the early seventeenth century. The official Temple Bar Guide goes one better by adding that 'a bar was the name for a walkway by a river, so the path used by the Temple family became known as the Temple Bar', (12) which of course is simply naive. Sir William Temple first came to Ireland in 1599 as secretary to Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex. Temple appears to have had some complicity in Essex's rising in London in 1601, for which Queen Elizabeth I had the Earl executed. Essex had been prominent in pressing the claims of Scotland's King James VI to succeed the aged Elizabeth, and when the Scottish monarch became James I of England in 1603, Essex's reputation was to some extent restored. Thus while Temple's career initially suffered a setback as a result of his involvement in Essex's rising, in 1609 he was appointed Provost of Trinity College Dublin, a post he held until his death in 1627. His son Sir John Temple and his grandson Sir William Temple also had illustrious careers, as Master of the Rolls and diplomat respectively. (13)

The writer first had doubts that Dublin's Temple Bar was simply named after the Temple family when he noticed that there is also a Temple Bar in London. Furthermore, London's Temple Bar is adjoined by Essex Street to the west and Fleet Street to the east, and streets of the same names occupy similar positions in relation to Dublin's Temple Bar. It seems almost certain therefore that Dublin's Temple Bar was named firstly in imitation of the historic Temple precinct in London. However, a secondary and equally plausible reason for using the name Temple Bar in Dublin would be a reference to one of the area's most prominent families, in a sort of pun or play on words. Or as it has been put more succinctly, Temple Bar 'does honour to London and the landlord in nicely-gauged proportions'. (14)

Fleet Street in London was named after the river Fleet, and as there is no such river in Dublin, the naming of Fleet Street here was just plain imitation. Essex Street in London was named after Essex House, the residence of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Essex Street in Dublin is usually stated to have been named after a later Earl of Essex, Arthur Capel, who was Irish Lord Lieutenant from 1672-7, and who significantly was acquainted with members of the Temple family. The title of Essex was peculiarly ill-starred, as the first holder, Geoffrey de Mandeville, died in 1144 of a wound received while in rebellion (and was buried in the London Temple), Robert Devereux died on the block in 1601 as already mentioned, and Arthur Capel was to cut his throat in the Tower of London in 1683 when imprisoned on suspicion of involvement in the Rye House Plot against Charles II. The fact that the earliest documented reference to Dublin's Temple Bar is dated 1673, during Capel's lord lieutenancy, lends weight to the claim that Dublin's Essex Street, Gate, Quay and Bridge were named in his honour, but again a secondary imitation of the London street name and therefore an association with William Temple's old patron Robert Devereux cannot be ruled out.

The term 'bar' in the London context meant a barrier or gate closing the entrance to the London property of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, or Knights Templar for short. The centre piece of London's Temple precinct is a still surviving round church built in imitation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, apparently often confused in medieval times with the Temple of Solomon. The military-religious Templar Order was founded in 1118 with the primary purpose of defending travellers to the Holy Land, and was suppressed in sensational circumstances after 1308, when its members were accused, probably unjustly, of offences including blasphemy and sexual deviancy. The dramatic destruction of the Templars had a profound effect on the popular mind, and a powerful mystique crediting the order with occult powers and underground survival has lasted to the present day, as witnessed by publications by Baigent and Leigh and Umberto Eco. (15)

Given that several European cities had Templar precincts, including London and Paris, it would be surprising if the order did not maintain some sort of premises in such an important city and port as Dublin, although its Irish headquarters were at Clontarf, County Dublin. Bristol, which had close links with Anglo-Norman Dublin, possessed a Templar quarter known as the 'Temple Fee', in which was located an oval church. It is not known if the first St Andrew's Church in Dublin was oval like the second, but it could well have been. Definite evidence has been found of a Templar presence in St Andrew's parish in 1239, when a sum of 12 pence of silver was to be paid annually in respect of property there to the 'House of Clontarf'. (16) That the Templars retained an interest in property in the area is indicated by the fact that after the order's suspension in 1308, there was due to it arrears of rent being paid by the 'nuns of Hogges', whose nunnery was on the site of the present St Andrew's Church. (17)

When it is considered that the surname Temple originally designated residence in or near a Templar house, the apparently inescapable Templar associations arise again. Furthermore, Freemasonry, a largely Scottish invention with roots in Renaissance Hermetic and occult thought, (18) has long possessed an addiction to romantic Templarism. Freemasonry itself was probably introduced to Ireland after or shortly before the accession of James I in 1603, while Masonic Templarism can also be traced back to Scotland. It has been suggested plausibly that Scottish planter families such as the Hamiltons brought Freemasonry and Templarism with them to Ulster, (19) and James Hamilton, later Earl of Clandeboye, also resided for a time in Dublin as a teacher and political agent of the future James I. Hamilton was appointed one of Trinity College's first fellows in 1592, and we have seen that Sir William Temple was appointed Provost of the university in 1609. Coincidentally or not, the earliest documented manifestation of Masonic organisation in Ireland was in Trinity in 1688. (20)

While it must be stated that no evidence has yet been found that the Temple family possessed Masonic links, both Freemasonry and Masonic Templarism had strong connections with Dublin's Temple Bar area in the eighteenth century, as will be demonstrated below in the account of its streets. If we were to allow ourselves to be intoxicated by the Templar mystique, we would immediately conclude that Dublin's Temple Bar must also have been named after an important medieval foundation of the mysterious Templar Order, the existence of which had been forgotten by all but a few initiated adepts of a surviving underground. Alas, the absence of any documented evidence for such a Templar foundation, and the fact that the name Temple Bar appears in Dublin records only from the late seventeenth century, mean that such a conclusion would be fanciful. Hyper-sceptics will criticise us for raising the subject at all, but we consider the cult of Templarism worthy of serious investigation, and must allow the possibility that its resonances at least may have influenced those who named Dublin's Temple Bar in the seventeenth century. However, we must reiterate our earlier conclusion that the main motivations for naming the Dublin street would have been imitation of a London street name and commemoration of one of the area's most prominent families.

 

The Streets of Temple Bar

At this point we shall take a look at the various streets which comprise the Temple Bar quarter, explaining how they were named, listing some of their principal associations and noting other points of interest. (21) The writer has recommended several times that attractively designed commemorative plaques should be erected on the identifiable houses or sites of houses of the most notable residents, as this would add an additional feature of interest and information for visitors to Temple Bar. Regrettably, there is more than a suspicion that the failure to erect such plaques is due to the well-founded belief that they would limit freedom of action in terms of demolition work. It should be added that the Temple Bar area is dotted today with shops, restaurants, bars and cultural centres which are of interest to visitors, but which it is not within the scope of the present publication to itemize in detail (for information on such facilities see Dublin City guides and websites). Proprietors of the, perhaps a little too numerous, public houses or bars in the Temple Bar area should consider reviving historic tavern names - indeed it is noted that some now have - and a fair selection of these is given below.

The Temple Bar district is bounded on the west by Fishamble Street, so called because it was the medieval location of the city's fish markets, and it also contains the site of the Music Hall where Handel's Messiah is stated to have been first performed in 1742. James Grattan, father of the patriot Henry Grattan, resided in Fishamble Street until 1757. Among the taverns in Fishamble Street were the 'Swan', 'Ormond's Arms' and the 'Bull's Head', the latter much frequented by Freemasons in the 1730s. The urban legend that the famous Molly Malone was a real person who resided in Fishamble Street in the seventeenth century is considered elsewhere on this website.

Essex Street West and East, Essex Gate, Essex Quay and Essex (now Grattan) Bridge were all named after Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1672-7, although as noted above, imitation of the name of the London street may have played a part. Essex Street West was formerly named Smock Alley, where was located the famous Smock Alley Theatre, and the writer suggests that it might be a good idea to restore such a historic street name and mark the site of the theatre, the structure of which apparently survives in SS Michael and John's Church. Among the many printers and publishers based in Essex Street were Nathaniel Gun, the Jacobite Edward Lloyd, and George Grierson, appointed King's Printer in 1727. Taverns and coffee-houses in Essex Street included the 'Elephant', the 'Crown Tavern', the 'Three Nags' Heads', the 'Merchants' Coffee-House' and the 'Globe', and on Essex Bridge, the 'Freemasons' Coffee House'. The medallist William Mossop resided at Essex Quay from 1784.

Exchange Street Upper and Lower were named due to the fact that they led on to the Royal Exchange, now the City Hall, and were formerly known as Blind Quay Upper and Lower. Again, it seems a pity to lose such a colourful street name, and Exchange Street Lower at least might have the name Blind Quay restored. Copper Alley is said to have taken its name from the copper money coined there in 1608 by Lady Alice Fenton. Lord Edward Street is named in honour of the 1798 patriot and son of the Duke of Leinster, Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Cork Hill takes its name from the fact that Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork, had a mansion in the area, known as Cork House. The old 'Eagle Tavern' was located on Cork Hill, and Richard Parsons, Earl of Rosse and first recorded Grand Master of the Irish Freemasons, is stated to have established a Hell-Fire Club in the tavern about 1735. James Esdall, printer of the works of the patriot Charles Lucas in 1749, was in business on Cork Hill at the corner of Copper Alley (Lucas's statue can be seen in City Hall in Dame Street).

Wellington Quay of course commemorates the great Duke of Wellington, victor at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The old Custom House and Custom House Quay were sited at the western end of Wellington Quay. Parliament Street owes its name to the fact that it was built with the aid of a grant of the Irish Parliament in 1757. George Faulkner, printer and publisher, friend of Swift and publisher of his works, resided in Parliament Street at the southern corner of Essex Street. Dame Street derives its name from Dame's Gate, the eastern gate of the city adjoining the Church of St Mary del Dame. There were many printers and publishers based in Dame Street in the eighteenth century, including Peter Wilson, founder of Dublin's first trade directory in 1752, Abraham Bradley, Edward Exshaw and Samuel Powell. Taverns in Dame Street included the 'Duke's Head', the 'Robin Hood', the 'Rose and Bottle', and 'Daly's', from which evolved 'Daly's Club'. The sign of the Ouzel Galley Society, forerunner of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, can be seen affixed to the side of the reconstructed Commercial Buildings facing Dame Street. Crane Lane is named after a public crane located near the old Custom House. Sycamore Street, formerly Sycamore Alley, possibly referred to the species of tree or more probably to a tavern bearing the name.

Eustace Street was named after Sir Maurice Eustace, Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Chancellor, who died in 1665 and whose house and gardens stood on the site of this street. The Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) Meeting House in Eustace Street has been converted into the Irish Film Centre, and the old Presbyterian Meeting House has been refurbished as The Ark, a children's cultural centre. A well rediscovered in the course of roadworks, said to be dedicated to St Winifred, can also be seen in Eustace Street. Temple Bar Properties' headquarters, and the Temple Bar Information Centre, are to be found in the restored number 18 Eustace Street. Taverns in Eustace Street included the 'Punch Bowl', the 'Three Stags' Heads', and the famous 'Eagle Tavern', where met Freemasons, Masonic Templars and Irish Volunteers. The inaugural meeting on 9 November 1791 of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen was also held in the 'Eagle', with Simon Butler as chairman and Napper Tandy as secretary.

The site of the 'Eagle Tavern', near the present Irish Film Centre, was pinpointed by Jack O'Brien with the assistance of the Quakers and the Dublin City Archivist, and shortly afterwards independently confirmed by the present writer. As a result of this rediscovery Temple Bar Properties erected a plaque on the site of the 'Eagle' in 1991 to commemorate the bicentenary of the United Irish inauguration in Dublin. Alas, the writer's recommendation to commemorate also the associations of the 'Eagle' with the less fashionable Irish Volunteers went unheeded, and with it an opportunity to highlight the milieu in which Irish republicanism flourished. It is hoped that the present webpage will help to underscore some of the more subtle elements of the Temple Bar area's history, and an appeal is once again made to Temple Bar Properties to include properly researched historical exhibitions and publications on its cultural agenda.

As explained above, Temple Bar itself was named firstly in imitation of the London street or rather gate of this name, as well perhaps as carrying resonances of the cult of Templarism. It can also be accepted that Dublin's Temple Bar, together with the intersecting Temple (formerly Dirty and also Hogges) Lane, commemorate secondarily the Temple family, and in particular Sir William Temple, Provost of Trinity College Dublin who died in 1627, and whose house and gardens were located on the site. Printers and publishers in Temple Bar included Christopher Dickson and James Carson, and among notable taverns were the 'Punch Bowl' and the 'Turk's Head Chop House' (the latter name now revived).

Crow Street is named after William Crow, owner of the site of the suppressed monastery of St Augustine in the late sixteenth century. The Dublin Philosophical Society, the Irish counterpart of the Royal Society of London, and with which were associated Sir William Petty, William Molyneux and other illustrious figures, met in 1684 at the building in Crow Street known as the 'Crow's Nest'. It is known that some prominent members of the Royal Society of London were Freemasons, and it is possible that there could have been a similar overlap in the case of the Dublin Philosophical Society.

Fownes Street Upper and Lower take their names from Sir William Fownes, Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1708. Taverns in Fownes Street included the 'King's Arms' and the 'Shakespeare', while the part of the street adjoining the Liffey was formerly known as Bagnio Slip, after a bagnio or brothel in the area. Cecilia Street is usually stated to have been named after St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, but there has been a recent (unsourced) suggestion that it was in fact named after a member of the Fownes family. (22) Cecilia House is on the site of the famous Crow Street Theatre, and was built in 1836 by the Company of Apothecaries, later being taken over by the Medical School of the Catholic University of Ireland. Cope Street is named after Robert Cope, who married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir William Fownes. It is suggested that Crown Alley derived its name from a tavern with the sign of the crown. Merchants' Arch, the most striking and attractive entrance to the Temple Bar area, is named after the adjacent Merchants' Hall. Merchants' Hall has an interesting oval room to the rear, top-lit with an eye-like roof window, in a way reminiscent of the old oval St Andrew's Church.

Asdill's Row is stated to have taken its name from a wealthy merchant, John Asdill. (23) Bedford Row takes its name from the fourth Duke of Bedford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1757-61. Anglesea Street commemorates another prominent resident of the area, Arthur Annesley, created Earl of Anglesea in 1661. This Earl was great-grandfather of James Annesley, the principal figure in the famous Anglesea peerage case who died in 1760. Notable residents of Anglesea Street included the architect Thomas Cooley, who died at his house there in 1784, and Richard Edward Mercier, publisher of Anthologia Hibernica and other works. The Irish Stock Exchange has been located in Anglesea Street since 1878.

Crampton Quay and Court are named after Philip Crampton, a wealthy bookseller and Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1758. Aston Quay and Place probably take their names from Henry Aston, a prominent Dublin merchant in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Price's Lane is named after an individual so far not traced. Fleet Street, as explained above, is named after the London street of the same name. Foster Place commemorates John Foster, Speaker of the Irish House of Common when the Irish Parliament was abolished in 1800, and of course the adjacent Bank of Ireland building was formerly the Parliament House. Parliament Row was named from its proximity to the former Parliament House. College Green, formerly Hoggen Green, takes its name from the facing Trinity College Dublin, which was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592. This brings us to the eastern boundary of the Temple Bar district, which is marked by Westmoreland Street, called after the tenth Earl of Westmoreland, Lord Lieutenant 1790-4.

 

The Architecture of Temple Bar

As noted by An Taisce, there is a great variety of building types within the Temple Bar area, most built to a high standard of design and well constructed. (24) The oldest type of house is perhaps early to mid-eighteenth century in date, such as those in Fownes Street and Eustace Street. They are usually brick-built, three or four stories in height and two windows in width, with panelled front door and handsome cut stone surround, and the rooms are frequently wood-panelled. With their dormer windows, the Fownes Street houses are particularly attractive, and although they might have been restored more exactly, they help to offset the brutal bulk of the overhanging Central Bank.

It had been hoped that the future of Temple Bar's old buildings had been rendered completely secure, but in an action which shocked and outraged conservationists, five Georgian houses on Essex Quay were demolished virtually without warning in May 1993. There have also been questions concerning the standards of craftsmanship and authenticity of some restoration work carried out, and worries about the architectural quality and suitability of some new buildings being constructed to infill vacant sites. In connection with the latter, and observing that there is no surviving example of pre-Georgian architecture in the area, the writer suggested that an replica of Dublin's last Tudor cagework house might have been erected on a vacant (repeat vacant) site within the Temple Bar area, perhaps with sponsorship from the country's developing timber industry.

Of the most important focal buildings in the Temple Bar area, the most striking is of course the Bank of Ireland in College Green, which as noted was until 1800 the Irish Parliament House. Merchants' Hall on Wellington Quay, built in 1821, and the adjoining Merchants' Arch facing the Halfpenny Bridge, are seen as best encapsulating the spirit of the area. The Commercial Buildings were originally built in 1799 facing on to Dame Street, but have since been re-erected at right angles to the street to facilitate the new Central Bank (see below). Other buildings worthy of particular mention include Cecilia House in Cecilia Street and the Olympia Theatre in Dame Street.

Temple Bar contains many interesting brick-built warehouses, most dating from the eighteenth century and some also of the nineteenth century. Good examples of these may be seen in Temple Lane, Cecilia Street, Temple Bar and Crown Alley. In the course of the nineteenth century, many older buildings were replaced or converted to facilitate businesses such as printers, stationers and wine merchants, and many possess impressive facades or fine shopfronts. Read's Cutlers in Parliament Street was formerly Dublin's oldest continually run shop, and its closure in recent years was seen as evidence of the lack of interest in tradition on the part of those who control Temple Bar. Of the bars or public houses in the area, the Foggy Dew in Fownes Street, the Norseman in Eustace Street and the Palace Bar in Fleet Street provide good examples of Victorian-style decor. The Sunlight Chambers, one of Dublin's most charming buildings, stands at the corner of Parliament Street and Essex Quay, and its famous frieze portraying the history of soap manufacture, for some years ironically somewhat grime-covered, is now painted up and well worth a look.

There are only three church buildings within the designated Temple Bar area, none of which is currently used for religious purposes. As noted above, the Quaker Meeting House and the Presbyterian Church in Eustace Street have been converted to other purposes. The Catholic Church of Saints Michael and John on Exchange Street Lower, built in 1815, was still used for religious services even as the Temple Bar project got under way. (25) An Taisce and others severely criticised the gutting of the unique interior of Saints Michael's and John's Church in the course of its conversion into a Viking Adventure Centre. In the light of the rise in Temple Bar area's resident population, it seems a pity that St Michael's and John's could not have been maintained unspoiled and shared by various denominations, as well as being a visitor attraction in its own right. The Viking Adventure Centre, an ersatz 'heritage' experiment of its time, closed in April 2002.

Of modern architecture in the area, the most prominent example is Sam Stephenson's Central Bank, facing, or as some would say threatening, Dame Street across a windswept space. The controversy surrounding the erection of this overpowering building in the 1970s culminated in the discovery that the height conditions of planning permission had been breached, so that the top of the building had to be left uncompleted, and indeed has only relatively recently been allowed to be clad in copper. The adjoining Commercial Buildings, re-erected in an effort to mollify opponents of this Leviathan, stand as a constant reproach to the inability of many modern architects to build to an appropriate scale and with respect for urban streetscapes.

 

The Decline and Revival of Temple Bar

The Temple Bar area as we know it today was thus largely built up in the eighteenth century, and became a flourishing centre of trade, crafts and commerce. Though the eastern end with the Stock Exchange and the Bank of Ireland continued to be well-heeled, the western portions increasingly became unfashionable in the twentieth century, and more prestigious firms either moved out or were not replaced when they closed. Yet a significant core of clothing and other enterprises remained, and it must be stressed, still remains in the area.

As the district headed for what seemed inevitable dereliction, the fate of so many other historic areas of Dublin, it was earmarked by CIE, Ireland's transport authority, as the site of a central bus station. While awaiting the completion of its plans, CIE responsibly decided not to demolish buildings but to lease them in the short term at low rents to small restaurants, art galleries, clothes shops and so on. The resulting influx of young people and 'arty' types led to the Temple Bar area being dubbed Dublin's 'Left Bank', adding an interesting and hitherto not well developed feature to the city's life.

Meanwhile, members of An Taisce, the national conservation association, began to examine the architectural heritage and streetscapes of Temple Bar, which almost miraculously had survived virtually intact for over 200 years. In a report published in 1985, the association recommended that this unique quarter of Dublin should be preserved, and the plan for a bus station abandoned. (26) This call was supported by traders and residents of the area, and in what was to prove to be a turning point, the Taoiseach or Prime Minister, Charles Haughey, pledged during the general election campaign of 1987 that Temple Bar would be preserved. This pledge was duly followed by government action, funding and tax incentives were put in place and Temple Bar Properties was established in 1991 to carry through the scheme of conservation and renewal.

Conservation and renewal are not necessarily incompatible aims, but perhaps inevitably fears soon began to be expressed that an incorrect approach was being taken to preserving and restoring buildings in Temple Bar, and that existing traders and residents might in time be forced out by a policy of high rents and 'yuppification'. The above mentioned destruction of five Georgian houses on Essex Quay in May 1993 was carried out on the orders of Temple Bar Properties. This action was reminiscent of the kind of behaviour which had characterised uncultured and poorly educated developers in the 1960s, and showed how commercial pressures for 'new build' can undermine conservation plans. In addition to needlessly destroying attractive old buildings and replacing them with ugly short-life constructs, the building industry has been particularly irresponsible in its dumping of waste in landfill sites, with little or no recycling of materials.

It is true that some worthwhile restoration schemes have been proceeding in Temple Bar, including Temple Bar Properties' own conversion of 18 Eustace Street as its headquarters. However, it would be fair to say that Temple Bar Properties forfeited the trust and goodwill of many conservationists, and indeed persistently shied away from recommendations such as those made by City Councillor Ciaran Cuffe, 'to draw up an architectural and historic inventory of properties in Temple Bar, and to establish a code of practice in relation to matters of conservation'. (27) Temple Bar Properties' policies also favoured the opening of a plethora of new drinking places, with consequent problems of drunken disorder, so that the wags dubbed the district 'the Temple of the Bars'.

This is the point at which we take our leave of Dublin's Temple Bar, but we might conclude by stating the obvious truth that fine old buildings are things which are either neglected and ultimately demolished, or are cared for and survive. Discerning visitors to Temple Bar may be struck by pretentious new buildings more in tune with the modern ugliness of the Central Bank, rather than being impressed by carefully restored Georgian and Victorian buildings and sensitive infills of vacant sites in keeping with the character for which the area has become famous. Signs of decline have become evident, one recent report noting that 'Temple Bar's drinking culture is now drowning out other elements and derelict sites are starting to appear on increasingly shabby streets'. (28) Temple Bar has admittedly fared far better than other areas of Dublin blighted by redevelopment, but had An Taisce's original blueprint been followed, the area could have been a much more attractive one both to visit and in which to live.

Sean Murphy
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies

 

References

(1) Temple Bar Properties Ltd, Development Programme for Temple Bar, Dublin 1992, page 7.

(2) Same, pages 8, 16.

(3) Pat Liddy, Temple Bar, Dublin: An Illustrated History, Dublin 1992, pages 9 and generally.

(4) H B Clarke, Editor, Medieval Dublin: The Making of a Metropolis, Dublin 1990, pages 52-69.

(5) Dublin Corporation Planning Department, The Temple Bar Area: Action Plan, Dublin 1990, page 4.

(6) F X Martin, 'Murder in a Dublin Monastery, 1379', in Keimelia: Studies in Medieval Archaeology and History, Galway 1988; perhaps someone on the literary side may be tempted to give this episode an Ecoesque treatment.

(7) C L Falkiner, Illustrations of Irish History and Topography, London 1904, pages 160-70.

(8) Clarke, Editor, Medieval Dublin, pages 142-61.

(9) Niall McCullough, Dublin: An Urban History, Dublin 1989, pages 24, 37.

(10) National Library of Ireland, Historic Dublin Maps, Dublin 1988.

(11) J T Gilbert, A History of the City of Dublin, 3, Dublin 1978 Edition, page 306.

(12) Temple Bar Properties Ltd, Temple Bar Guide, Dublin 1992, page .

(13) Dictionary of National Biography.

(14) Maurice Craig, Dublin 1660-1860, Dublin 1980 Edition, page 43.

(15) Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, The Temple and the Lodge, London 1990 Edition; Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum, London 1990 Edition. While the frequently credulous content of Baigent and Leigh has been properly criticised, there is less awareness of the factual limitations of Eco's much-lauded literary approach.

(16) Gilbert, History of Dublin, 1, pages 82-84.

(17) Herbert Wood, 'The Templars in Ireland', in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 26, C, 1906-7, page 365.

(18) David Stevenson, The Origins of Freemasonry, Cambridge 1990 Edition.

(19) Baigent and Leigh, Temple and Lodge, page 200.

(20) J H Lepper and Philip Crossle, History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, Dublin 1925, pages 36-37.

(21) The principal sources for this section are C T McCready, Dublin Street Names Dated and Explained, Dublin 1987 Edition, and Gilbert, History of Dublin.

(22) Liddy, Temple Bar, page 8.

(23) Same, page 74.

(24) Dublin City Association of An Taisce, Dublin, the Temple Bar Area: A Policy for its Future, Dublin 1985.

(25) Craig, Dublin, pages 115, 291, 328.

(26) An Taisce, Dublin.

(27) Irish Times, 17 May 1993.

(28) Sunday Times, Irish Edition, 14 July 2002.