14 Incredible Hidden Facts You Never Knew About Dublin City
This place is a treasure trove of trivia
It's easy to forget that Dublin is a treasure trove of trivia, hidden gems and long-lost stories – particularly as we get caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of city life.
But a new book, which hits the shelves today, should help us rediscover the low-key beauty all over again.
Dublin Strolls is written and illustrated by Gregory and Audrey Bracken – and it's not only a guide to some slick architectural trails around the city, but also an absolute MINE of tidbits about our fantastic city.
Here are just 14, plucked from its pages...
1. Lord Ardilaun was a dick
It is said that Lord Ardilaun insisted the bandstand in Stephen’s Green be located where it is so that the music would annoy his brother, Lord Iveagh, who lived across the road in Iveagh House.
What a hero.
2. The Pro-Cathedral was once occupied by spirits. Literally
Before becoming home to the remains of prominent Catholics, the vaults of the Pro-Cathedral were used by the Inland Revenue to store spirits. As in, the alcoholic kind.
3. Surgeons were not to be trusted
The watchtowers on the walls of Glasnevin Cemetery are not decorative but were built to guard against body snatchers, hired by surgeons in the days before bodies could be donated to science so they could practise their skills.
4. Even before Coppers, people went to great lengths to avoid crossing Harcourt Street
A tunnel used to link Clonmell House on Harcourt Street with its garden, today’s Iveagh Gardens, across the road.
5. Jonathan Swift was sound
St Patrick’s Hospital was set up with a bequeath from Jonathan Swift; his will stipulated that the funds be used to set up a mental hospital, saying: ‘no nation needed one quite so badly’.
6. The truth is out there
The Irish Crown Jewels disappeared from Dublin Castle under bizarre circumstances in 1907 (involving a secretive clique of aristocratic homosexuals, including Frank Shackleton, the ne’er-do-well brother of explorer Ernest Shackleton); they were never recovered.
7. Hell exists
The crypt of Christ Church Cathedral used to be rented out to shops and taverns, some of which were so notorious that the small gateway leading to them was nicknamed ‘hell’.
8. George Bernard Shaw was also very sound
The royalties from My Fair Lady (based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion) were bequeathed to the National Gallery and have helped keep it going since his death in 1950.
9. We run the world. Kinda
The pediments over Leinster House’s first-floor windows are odd because they are a mix of curves and triangles. This has led some to speculate that they might have been an influence on Irish architect James Hoban’s design for the White House in Washington.
10. We’ve always been resourceful…
One of the first photographs ever taken in Ireland was at Kilmainham Gaol: it shows the leaders of the 1848 rebellion, Thomas Francis Meagher, William Smith O’Brien and Patrick O’Donoghue.
The picture proved so popular that another had to be taken. Unfortunately some of the prisoners had been transported to Australia so actors were used.
11. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ was the order of the day for Catholics
In order not to upset the Protestant Ascendancy, Catholic churches in the nineteenth century, like St Teresa’s off Grafton Street, or St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, tended to be built close to, but never actually on, important thoroughfares.
12. … and we've always been family-friendly
Sir Winston Churchill lived in the Phoenix Park when he was a child in the 1870s (in Ratra House, formerly known as Little Lodge). His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was Private Secretary to his own father, the Duke of Marlborough, then Lord Lieutenant.
13. Despite Ireland’s neutrality, we didn’t fully escape the effects of the War
Connolly Station suffered a direct hit in a German air raid in 1941, killing 34 people. Supposedly an accident, there was speculation that it might have been in retaliation for Taoiseach Éamon de Valera sending fire brigades to Belfast to help after a particularly heavy bombardment.
14. You don’t want to get too close…
The statues on the Custom House were designed to be seen from the street, meaning that to look at them face on their heads and shoulders would seem grossly out of proportion.
About the book
Dublin Strolls: Exploring Dublin’s Architectural Treasures by Gregory and Audrey Bracken is published by The Collins Press, price €12.99. Available in all good bookshops and from Collins Press.