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Dublin (from the Irish language Dubh Linn (literally, black pool). The modern city uses a different Irish language name: Baile Átha Cliath1 (literally, town of the hurdle ford)) is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Ireland.

Since the beginning of English rule in the twelfth century the city has served as the capital of the island of Ireland in the varying geopolitical entities that existed; the Lordship of Ireland (1171-1541) and the Kingdom of Ireland (1541-1801), the island within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1801-1922) and the Irish Republic (1919-1922). From 1921, following the partition of Ireland, it served as the capital of Southern Ireland (1921-1922) and the Irish Free State (1922-1937).2

Dublin's famous ha'penny Bridge
Beyond it, the dome of the eighteenth century Custom House and Liberty Hall, Dublin's tallest building
larger image

11th century Christchurch Cathedral
Seat since the 16th century of the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin.
close up of Christchurch Cathedral
Dublin has a population of 495,000 (2002 Census) within the official city boundary, though such a definition has become largely meaningless with the development and spread of suburbs and satellite towns over a wide surrounding area. The population of Dublin County (including the City) is in excess of 1,100,000 (2002 Census). Though there is no exact agreed definition of the "Greater Dublin" area it would be generally accepted as including all of the city and county and parts of Counties Wicklow, Kildare and Meath with the limits of the commuter belt stretching to a much greater distance.

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Founded by the Vikings in the 10th century, Dublin became the centre of English power in Ireland after the 12th century Norman conquest of half of Ireland (Munster and Leinster), replacing the gaelic polity's seat of the High King of Ireland, at Tara in Meath[?]. Over time, however, many of the Anglo-Norman conquerors were absorbed into the Irish culture, adopting the Irish language and customs, leaving a small area around Dublin called the Pale under direct English control. People outside this area were still considered savage, giving rise to the expression "Beyond the Pale".

By the beginning of the 18th century the English had re-established control and imposed the harsh Penal Laws on the Catholic majority of Ireland's population. In Dublin however the Protestant ascendency was thriving, and the city expanded rapidly from the 17th century onward.

From a Mediæval to Georgian City

Through Dublin was in terms of street layout a mediæval city akin to Paris, in the eighteenth century (as Paris would in the nineteenth century) it underwent a major rebuilding, with the Wide Streets Commission[?] demolishing many of the narrow mediæval streets and replacing them with large georgian streets. Among the famous streets to appear following this redesign were Sackville Street (now called O'Connell Street), Dame Street, Westmoreland Street and D'Olier Street, all built following the demolition of narrow mediæval streets and their amalgamation. Five major georgian squares were also laid out; Ruthland Square (now called Parnell Square) and Mountjoy Square on the northside, and Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square and Saint Stephen's Green, all on the south of the river Liffey. (See Georgian Dublin)

Though initially the most prosperous residences of peers were located on the northside, in places like Henrietta Street[?] and Ruthland Square, the decision of the Earl of Kildare (Ireland's premier peer, later made Duke of Leinster), to build his new townhouse, Kildare House (later renamed Leinster House after he was made Duke of Leinster) on the southside, led to a rush from peers to build new houses on the southside, in or around the three major southern squares. The massive northside houses ending up becoming tenements, into which large numbers of poor people moved in, often in the process exploited by unscrupulous landlords, who packed in entire families into each large georgian room. Only one area of the old mediæval city, called Temple Bar[?], located between Dame Street and the river Liffey, survived with its narrow mediæval street pattern intact. Perhaps what could be called the start of Georgian Dublin, though it predated the actual georgian era, occurred in one simple yet monumentally important decision taken by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under Charles II, the Earl of Ormond (later raised to Duke of Ormond) that buildings on Dublin's quayside would face the Quay rather than have their backs to it, as was the norm in many mediæval cities and had been the case up to that point in Dublin. That re-orientation fundamentally changed the view of Dublin seen by people, made the river Liffey and its quays an architectural focal point through its being lined with high quality frontages, and helped shape the new post mediæval metropolis.

Powerscourt House
Dublin residence of Viscount Powerscourt.
In the 1980s it was sensitively turned
into a shopping centre
Powerscourt georgian ceiling
interior georgian door
Until 1800 the city housed an independent (though still exclusively Protestant) Irish Parliament, and as mentioned it was during this period that much of the great Georgian buildings of Dublin were built. In 1801 under the Irish Act of Union, which merged the Kingdom of Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Ireland lost this parliament and with it much of its political influence. Though the city's growth continued, it suffered financially from the loss of parliament and more directly from the loss of the income that would come with the arrival of hundreds of peers and MPs and thousands of servants to the capital for sessions of parliament and the social season of the viceregal court in Dublin Castle. Within a short few years, many of the finest mansions, including Leinster House, Powerscourt House and Aldborough House, once owned by peers who spent much of their year in the capital, were for sale.


While the city grew, so did its level of poverty throughout the nineteenth century. Though described as "the second city of the (British) Empire" its large number of tenements became infamous, being mentioned by writers such as James Joyce. An area called Monto (in or around Mountgomery Street off Sackville Street) became infamous also as the British Empire's biggest red light district, its financial viability aided by the number of British Army barracks and hence soldiers in the city, notably the Royal Barracks (later Collins Barracks and now one of the locations of Ireland's National Museum). Monto finally closed in the mid 1920s, following a campaign against prostitution by the Roman Catholic Legion of Mary[?], its financial viability having already been seriously undermined by the withdrawal of soldiers from the city following the Anglo-Irish Treaty (December 1921) and the establishment of the Irish Free State (6 December 1922).

The End of British Rule

In 1914 Ireland seemed on the brink of home rule[?], however the outbreak of World War I led to its postponement. In April 1916 a small band of republicans under Padraig Pearse staged what became known as the Easter Rising. Though relatively easily suppressed by the British government, and initially faced with the hostility of most Irish people, public opinion swung gradually but decisively behind the rebels, most of whose leaders had been executed by the British military in the aftermath of the Rising. In December 1918 the party now taken over by the rebels, Sinn Féin, won an overwhelming majority of Irish parliamentary seats. Instead of taking their seats in the British House of Commons, they assembled in the Lord Mayor of Dublin's residence and proclaimed themselves Dáil Éireann (the Assembly of Ireland). Between 1919 and 1921 Ireland experienced the Irish War of Independence. Following a truce, a negotiated peace known as the Anglo-Irish Treaty between Britain and Ireland was signed. It created a self-governing twenty-six county Irish state, known as the Irish Free State. The remaining six counties had already been formed into a home rule entity called Northern Ireland under the British Government of Ireland Act, 1920. Though given the option in the Treaty of joining the Free State Northern Ireland chose not to do so, triggering off the creation of a Boundary Commission to set the borders between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.


Dublin Castle
Seat of British rule until 1922.
larger image
Dublin had suffered severely in the period 1916-1922. Many of its finest buildings had been destroyed; the historic General Post Office (GPO) was a bombed out shell after the Rising; James Gandon[?]'s Custom House[?] had been burned by the IRA in the War of Independence, while one of Gandon's surviving masterpieces, the Four Courts had been seized by republicans and bombarded by the pro-treaty army. (Republicans in response senselessly boobytrapped the Irish Public Records Office[?], destroying one thousand years of archives). The new state set itself up as best it could. Its Governor-General was installed in the former Viceregal Lodge, residence of the British Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, because it was thought to be one of the few places where he was not in danger from republican assassins. Parliament was set up temporarily in the Duke of Leinster's old palace, Leinster House. Over time, the GPO, Custom House and Four Courts were rebuilt. While major schemes were proposed for Dublin, no major remodelling took place initially.

Tackling the Tenements

In 1932, Eamon de Valera, senior survivor of 1916 and leader of the defeated anti-treaty forces in the Civil War, won power at the ballot box. With greater finances available, major changes began to take place. A scheme of replacing tenements with decent housing for Dublin's poor began. Plans were proposed for the wholesale demolition of many buildings from the georgian era, often because they were thought 'old-fashioned' and 'near the end of their life', often because they were seen as symbols of past English and British rule. The Viceregal Lodge was proposed for demolition, to make way for a new residence for the new office of President of Ireland, an office created in Bunreacht na hÉireann, the new Irish constitution which renamed the Irish Free State Éire. Merrion Square, with its large georgian mansions, was proposed for demolition, to be replaced on its three sides by a national museum, national Roman Catholic cathedral and national art gallery. Though plans were made, few were put into effect and those not implemented were put on hold when in September 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and the Second World War began.

Destruction of Georgian Dublin in the 1960s

Dublin escaped the mass bombing of the war due to Ireland's neutrality[?], though some bombs, allegedly accidental, were dropped by the German air-force and hit a working class district. (Many suspected that the bombing was deliberate in revenge for Éire's decision to send fire engines to aid the people of Belfast following major bombing in that city.) By 1945, the planned wholesale destruction of georgian Dublin were abandoned; the Viceregal Lodge (renamed in 1938 Áras an Uachtaráin) was restored as a presidential palace. (The Irish state was also in effect renamed in 1949, becoming the Republic of Ireland.)

The Spire of Dublin
Dublin's newest monument
is the world's largest sculpture.
However while georgian Dublin survived 1930s plans and World War II, much of it did not survive property developers in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The historic but now impoverished Mountjoy Square suffered heavily, with derelict sites replacing historic mansions. When in the 1950s a row of large georgian houses in Kildare Place near Leinster House was demolished to make way for a brick wall an extreme republican Fianna Fáil minister, Kevin Boland[?] celebrated, saying that they had stood for everything he opposed. He also condemned the leaders of the Irish Georgian Society[?], established to battle to preserve georgian buildings and some of whom came from aristocratic backgrounds, as "belted earls". In the 1960s, the world's longest line of georgian buildings was interrupted when the Electricity Supply Board[?] was allowed to demolish a chunk in the centre and build a modern office block. By the 1980s, road-widening schemes by Dublin Corporation ran through some of the most historic areas of the inner city around Christchurch Cathedral[?]. The nadir of this approach occurred in 1979 when Dublin Corporation destroyed the largest and finest viking site in the world at Wood Quay[?], in the face of national opposition, to build its Civic Offices for its civil servants.

In the 1980s and 1990s, greater efforts were made to preserve Dublin's historic fabric. Dublin Corporation's road-widening schemes were abandoned. Strict preservation rules were applied, keeping intact the remaining squares, though Saint Stephen's Green of the three southern squares had already lost much of its georgian architecture. Ironically one of the worst offender had been the Irish state itself, which had built its (by common agreement) hideous Department of Justice on the site of an eighteenth century building in the 1960s. Indeed the 1960s had seen one of the earliest battles to preserve Georgian Dublin, in what became known as the Battle of Hume Street whose corner opened onto St. Stephen's Green. There an ultimately successful attempt by a property developer to demolish a block of georgian houses hit the national headlines, and became a cause celebré as involving students, celebrities and future politicians battled to stop the destruction. Though the original buildings were lost, the developer ended up building georgian pastiche buildings on the sight.

By the 1990s a greater civic pride and a new management team in Dublin Corporation saw changes in how the city was run; among the results was the restoration of City Hall to its eighteenth century interior (removing victorian and edwardian additions and rebuilds), and the replacement of the famed Nelson's Pillar (a monument on O'Connell Street which had dominated the skyline until being blown up by republicans) by a new Spire of Dublin, the world's tallest sculpture, on the site of the old Pillar and which could be seen throughout the city.

The new awareness was also reflected in the development of Temple Bar[?], the last surviving part of Dublin that contained its original mediæval street plan. As late as the mid 1980s, Temple Bar was seen as a poor, run down segment of the city, stretching in terms of length from the Old Houses of Parliament in College Green to Parliament Street, which faced City Hall, and which in terms of width stretched from Dame Street to the city quays. In the 1970s, Corás Iompair Éireann[?] (CIE), the state transportation company, bought up many of the buildings in this area, with a view to building a large modern central bus station on the site, in the process replacing the mediæval streets and buildings (while the street pattern was mediæval, most of the buildings were not, dating from the eighteenth or nineteenth century) by one large bus station with a shopping centre attached. However delays in providing the financing led CIE to rent out the buildings at nominal rents. Most of the buildings were rented by artists, producing a sudden and unexpected appearance of a 'cultural quarter' that earned comparisons with Paris's west bank. Though CIE remained nominally committed to its planned redevelopment, the vibrancy of the Temple Bar area led to demands for its preservation. By the late 1980s, the bus station plans were abandoned and a master plan put in place to maintain the Temple Bar's position as Dublin's cultural heartland.

That process has been a mixed success. While the mediæval street plan has survived, rents have rocketed, forcing the artists elsewhere. They have been replaced by restaurants and a proliferation of bars which draw thousands of tourists but which has been criticised for over commercialisation and excessive alcohol consumption. Some of the more historic buildings in the area have been destroyed in this process, notably St. Michael and John's Roman Catholic Church, one of the city's finest and oldest Catholic church, which predated the repeal of the Penal Laws and Catholic Emancipation[?]. Its interior was gutted to be replaced by a tourist-orientated "viking adventure centre" which ran into financial problems. While the development of Temple Bar was far preferable to its obliteration under a 1980s multi-story bus station, many people have criticised some aspects of its development, arguing that the new Temple Bar tourist area has failed to show sufficient sensitivity to the potential that had existed. Temple Bar was used as a set for some of the exterior scenes in the film Far and Away[?].

Carraigmines Castle: the new Wood Quay?

If inner city Dublin was being preserved, the suburbs were lot as lucky. Poor planning decisions led to the creation of satellite communities, often ill served by transportation, education or infrastructure facilities. Allegations of improper planning procedures led to the establishment of a series of tribunals of inquiry which produced evidence of considerable political corruption, with land rezoned for development by a minority of councillors (largely though not exclusively by the governing Fianna Fáil party which long dominated local and national government) on the basis of political donations made to them by property developers and channelled through a former Government Press Secretary now working for developers. In 2003, a major issue arose over the plans by the National Roads Authority to run an orbital motorway (which had almost circled the city) through the historic mediæval Carraigmines Castle[?] site, the location of which though suspected had been found during the building of the road. Environmentalists and Án Táisce[?], (the equivalent of Ireland's National Trust) took a court case which halted the building, though as with Wood Quay, a government minister threatened to overrule the decision "in the interests of development."

National Government

Leinster House
18th century ducal palace now the seat of parliament.

Dublin City Hall
formerly the Royal Exchange

The Republic of Ireland's National Parliament (called Oireachtas Éireann) consists of the President of Ireland and two houses, Dáil Éireann (the House of Representatives) and Seanad Éireann (Senate). All three are based in Dublin. The President of Ireland lives in Áras an Uachtaráin, the former residence of the Governor-General of the Irish Free State in the city largest park, Phoenix Park. Both houses of the Oireachtas Éireann, meet in Leinster House, a former ducal palace on the south side of the city. The building has been the home of Irish parliaments since the creation of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

The Irish Government is based in the Irish Government Buildings, a large building designed by Aston Webb, the architect who created the edwardian facade to Buckingham Palace. Initially what is now Government Buildings was designed for use as the Royal College of Science, the last major building built by the British administration in Ireland. In 1921 the House of Commons of Southern Ireland met there. Given its location next to Leinster House, the Irish Free State government took over part of the building to serve as a temporary home for some ministries. However both it and Leinster House (originally meant to be a temporary home of parliament) became the permanent homes of the government and parliament respectively. Until 1990, the Irish government shared the building with the Engineering Faculty of University College Dublin, which retained use of the central block of the building, However following the building of a new Engineering Faculty at the UCD campus in Montrose, the Government took entire control, and remodelled the entire building for governmental use.

The previous old Irish Houses of Parliament of the Kingdom of Ireland is located in College Green.

City Government

Dublin City is governed by Dublin City Council (formerly called Dublin Corporation) which is presided over by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who is elected for a yearly term and resides in the Mansion House, which first became the residence of the Lord Mayor in 1715. Dublin City Council is based in two major buildings. Its headquarters is in Dublin City Hall[?], the former Royal Exchange taken over for city government use in the 1850s. Many of its administrative staff are based in the controversial Civic Offices, built on top of what had been one of the best preserved viking sites in the world. The Corporation's (as it was then) decision to bulldoze the historic site proved one of the most controversial in modern Irish history, with thousands of people, including mediæval historian Fr. F.X. Martin[?] and Senator Mary Robinson (later President of Ireland) marching to try to stop the destruction. The destruction of the site on Wood Quay[?] and the building of a set of offices known as The Bunkers (because of how they looked) is generally seen as one of the most disastrous acts against Ireland's heritage since independence, with even Dublin Corporation admitted subsequently that it was ashamed of its action.

County Dublin

The 18th century Four Courts
The headquarters of Ireland's High and Supreme Courts.
larger image from a different angle
Dublin (often referred to as County Dublin) was also the name of one of Ireland's thirty-two counties3 and a local government administrative unit. In the late twentieth century, was divided in four, producing four counties or administrative units, each with its own local administration, namely

  • Dublin City
  • Dublin County
  • Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown
  • Fingal

Northside vs Southside

Traditionally a north versus south division has existed in Dublin, with the dividing line provided by the river Liffey. The northside (written as one word) is generally poorer and more working class, while the southside is seen as middle and upper class and wealthier. This division dates back centuries, certainly to the point when the Earl of Kildare built his residence on the then less regarded southside and was promptly followed by most other peers. Paradoxically, while the southside is wealthier, the President of Ireland's residence, Áras an Uachtaráin, is on the northside, as is the residence of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin (and his Church of Ireland counterpart's until the 1920s), while one of Dublin's wealthiest suburbs, the Hill of Howth is also on the northside.

Dublin 4

Dublin's middle class liberal elite are often described as Dublin 4[?], referring to one of the city's wealthiest postal districts, in which the studios of Radio Telifís Éireann (Ireland's main broadcasting network) is located, as are a number of elite schools. (The modern campus of University College Dublin is located on the boundary of Dulin 4.) Many politicians and political commentators live in Dublin 4, while Dublin 4 traditionally takes a strongly liberal stance in referenda on issues like abortion, divorce, etc.


Famous Dubliners

See also

More Images

Áras an Uachtaráin (Garden front)
Ireland's presidential residence, formerly the residence of the Governor-General.

Government Buildings
Formerly the Royal College of Science, the House of Commons of Southern Ireland met here in June 1921.

Trinity College Dublin
Dublin's oldest university,
founded by Queen Elizabeth I.

See other images

County Dublin covers an area of 922 km2 and contains over a million inhabitants.


1There were in fact two settlements where the modern city stands. The viking settlement was known as An Dubh Linn (or Black Pool, referring to a black pool of water), which was located in what is known as Wood Quay, and a gaelic settlement, Átha Cliath further up river. Both existed approximately one millennium ago. The gaelic settlement's name is used as the Irish language name of the city, while the modern english name came from the viking settlement.
2Many of these states co-existed within the same timeframe, given that they were completing states, existing as rivals within either British or Irish constitutional theory.
3In fact the island of Ireland no longer has thirty-two counties, as all six northern Ireland counties were replaced by new smaller local governmental units or counties (26 in total) while a number of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland, most notably Dublin, were also divided into new counties.

Additional Reading

Maurice Craig, The Architecture of Ireland from the Earliest Times to 1880 (Batsford, Paperback edition 1989) (ISBN 0713425873)

Frank McDonald, Saving the City: How to Halt the Destruction of Dublin (Tomar Publishing, 1989) (ISBN 1871793033) foreword by Sir Bob Geldof

Edward McParland, Public Architecture in Ireland 1680-1760 (Yale University Press, 2001) (ISBN 0300030641)

External links [1] (http://www.openroads.net/editorials/IRE/region_0085_01.php3) contains explanation of English and Irish language names of the city.

Dublin is also a name of some places in the United States:

There is also Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania[?].

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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