The Liberties in Black and White

Photographs from the Liberties area of Dublin City - Click on the images for larger views

        What exactly are the famous Liberties of Dublin? The name refers to an area in the south-west of the capital which formerly contained ancient manorial jurisdictions or 'liberties' distinct from the main portion of the city governed by the municipal authority, Dublin Corporation (now Dublin City Council). These Liberties were historically four in number, namely, the Liberty of St Sepulchre or the Archbishop's Liberty, the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore or the Earl of Meath's Liberty, the Liberty of St Patrick's Cathedral and the smallest, the Liberty of Christ Church (Kenneth Milne, The Dublin Liberties, 1600-1850, Dublin 2009, pages 8-10). All these jursidictions had their origins in medieval times when the English Crown granted ecclesiastical bodies rights of self-government within Dublin and its suburbs.
        At the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, St Sepulchre's Liberty, St Patrick's Liberty and Christ Church Liberty came under the control of the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin and the respectively named cathedrals. In contrast, the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore was granted to Sir William Brabazon, ancestor of the Earls of Meath, hence the alternative name for this jurisdiction and street names such as Meath Street, Brabazon Street and Ardee Street (for more information on the Brabazons see 'Killruddery in Black and White'). The Liberties survived with their own courts and local officials until abolished by the Municipal Corporations Act 1840, when Dublin Corporation took over these districts. However, such was the impact of these ancient jurisdictions on public memory that the name 'Liberties' survived and continues in use today, referring broadly to the south-west area of the city running from Christ Church to the Guinness Brewery.
In 2012 Dublin Civic Trust launched a plan to regenerate what is probably the principal thorougfare of the Liberties, Thomas Street, demonstrating how much of the old architecture survives and is capable of restoration. Alas, the dereliction, neglect and destructive road-widening which characterises so much of Dublin are in evidence in the Liberties also, but somehow a more vibrant community spirit and historical atmosphere seem to have survived there. People obviously still live as well as work in the Liberties, with modest dwellings, small shops and street stalls surviving to a greater extent than any other area of the inner city.
        For our photographic tour we start at St Patrick's Cathedral and the statue of Benjamin Lee Guinness, a benefactor to the cathedral who died in 1868. We then move to the Iveagh Markets, another product of Guinness patronage, featuring the famous carved heads representing nations of the world, two of which are illustrated, and the good news is that there are plans to reopen this long-closed facility. The preserved facade of the Widows' House of the Protestant Parish of St Nicholas Without and St Luke contrasts with the now derelict church of the name, marooned above the new St Luke's Avenue. This brings us to the striking Church of St Nicholas of Myra in Francis Street, which in penal times was the city's Roman Catholic Pro-Cathedral, before St Mary's in Marlborough Street took over this function (how strange that Dublin has no Catholic Cathedral proper, but two Protestant Cathedrals, St Patrick's and Christ Church).
        One of Dublin's last surviving gabled 'Dutch Billies' at 10 Mill Street is also portrayed and it is noted that there are plans to conserve this house as part of a new construction project. Reflecting a remarkable resurgence of the whiskey industry in the Liberties, the Teeling Distillery and visitor centre in Newmarket opened just this year, with others in the process of being constructed (see below). Warrenmount, 
Alderman Nathaniel Warren's attractive eighteenth-century house and formerly part of the convent of the same name, is now a community education centre (thanks to Maria for briefing me about this historic building).
        Number 10 Ardee Street used to be part of the Watkins Brewery, reminding us that the mighty Guinness firm at James's Gate was not the only representative of the trade in the Liberties. Our next photograph is of an unspoiled laneway adjoining St Catherine's Protestant Church in Thomas Street, while of course the Catholic counterpart dedicated to the same saint can be found in Meath Street nearby. Our last image is a detail of the tomb
in St James's Graveyard of Sir Toby Butler (1650-1721), who served as Solicitor-General under King James II. Dr Pearse Lyons of Alltech is in the process of having the adjoining disused Protestant St James's Church converted into a whiskey distillery and visitor centre. Note that the nearby Catholic St James's Church remains in religious use, and reflecting the customs of the penal era, most of those buried in the Protestant St James's Graveyard were in fact Catholic. In conclusion, reviewing these images one has a sense that not only has the Liberties retained a remarkable portion of its historic fabric and community spirit but that it is also currently undergoing a process of significant renewal.

Sean J Murphy
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
E-mail (remove 'SPAMOUT')
20 July 2015