Cosgrave: North Dublin City and Environs

Pdf Cosgrave, Dillon. North Dublin City and its environs. Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1932.
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North Dublin City And Its Environs was first published in 1909 and it gives an insight into the people, places and centuries of history of North Dublin which the author, Dillon Cosgrave, believed had been neglected by previous historians. The work is especially important as it was written on the eve of momentuous events of the Irish revolutionary period of 1916-1923 and the establishment of an independent Irish state. The book describes in fascinating detail a city that has since experienced profound social, political and economic change. It features local content and the perspectives of the people creating a fascinating snapshot of a largely vanished era.

Dublin or Dubh Linn was established by the Vikings in the 9th century and despite their defeat by the forces of Brian Boru it remained in their hands until the 12th century Norman invasion. Dublin became the administrative centre of English rule within an area known as the Pale. To protect the city and region from the Gaelic Irish, Dublin Castle and a number of outlying fortifications were built. Plague and warfare devastated the city over the following centuries until the 17th century when the Gaelic Irish were finally subdued.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Dublin expanded in size and population becoming the second largest in the British realm. During the Georgian period major rebuilding resulted in a city of elegant streets of red brick terraced townhouses, beautiful parks and impressive public buildings such as the Custom House and the Fourt Courts. Many of the rich and wealthy lived in the north inner city in particular at Rutland Square (later known as Parnell Square) and Mountjoy Square.

However when the Earl of Kildare moved to the then unfashionable south side where he built Kildare House (later known as Leinster House and Dáil Eireann) many of the rich and wealthy followed him. In the decades that followed Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square became the heart of Georgian Dublin. The 1798 rebellion and the Act of Union 1800, brought the Irish Parliament to an end as its MPs now travelled to London. Aristocrats sold their houses in north Dublin and moved to London. As the fortunes of Dublin declined Britain became increasingly industrialised and the Georgian terraces became slums taken over by the Catholic poor.

By the time of Cosgrave's book, north Dublin was said to have the worst slums in all of Europe, with chronic shortage of housing, employment and poverty although O'Connell Street was considered a fine boulevard. The urban area did not extend much further than the the Royal and Grand canals that encircled it. Outlying areas of County Dublin featured rural villages and towns and agricultual land decades before they were swallowed by urban sprawl. The contrast with wealthy south Dublin was dramatic with many of the largely Protestant wealthy and professional middle classes moving out to new southern suburbs to escape the city.

In the years immediately following the publication of Cosgrave's book, the 1913 Lockout, a major stand off between wealthy powerful employers and the working classes led by trade union leaderJim Larkin heralded trouble to come. A year later thousands of the north Dublin poor joined the British Army after the outbreak of World War I in order to provide an income to feed their families. Dubliners suffered heavy casualties on European and Middle Eastern battlefields.

During the 1916 Rising fighting between Irish rebels led by Patrick Pearse and James Connally and British forces caused the destruction of much of the O'Connell Street area. The Custom House was burned to the ground during the Irish War of Independence that soon followed. In the subsequent Irish Civil War, fighting between Free State and Republican forces caused yet more destruction.

In the decades that followed Irish independence, successive governments began a program of demolishing slums and creating new suburban housings estates in formerly rural areas of north County Dublin. However many of the social problems of the slums continued in the new housing estates due to persistant unemployment and poverty.

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