Dublin is a city steeped in cultural significance and hosts some of Ireland’s finest national treasures including the Book of Kells and the fine cathedrals of Christ Church and St Patrick’s. Dublin’s medieval streetscape is faithfully preserved around Temple Bar, where it provides the backdrop to a vibrant cultural quarter. Stretches of the City’s walls can still be found in Wood Quay and at St Audoen’s Arch.

Book of Kells

The first known settlement was Áth Cliath, which took its name from a major ford across the tidal River Liffey. Around the sixth century a monastery Duiblinn (Irish for ‘blackpool’) was founded due south of the tidal pool in the River Poddle, a tributary of the Liffey on the south bank. Later on, the bay and the pool attracted the Vikings. Having settled nearby they corrupted the Gaelic name into Dyflinn. In the course of the tenth century a recognisable town developed here.

By the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1170 the town had a street pattern, defensive walls and suburban development outside the walls and on the northern bank of the river Liffey, a cathedral, parish churches and monastic houses. Dublin became the capital of the English Lordship of Ireland from 1171 onwards and was populated extensively with settlers from England and Wales.

The early 16th century was a turbulent time and Henry VIII’s split with the church brought more trouble to Dublin. He plundered and broke up the religious institutions that remained loyal to the Pope, ordering relics to be burnt in the streets. The closure of the monasteries brought about a revolution in landholding in the city, including the adaptation of All Saints into Trinity College, Ireland’s first university.

Dublin and its inhabitants were transformed by the upheavals of the 16th and 17th centuries. While the English community of Dublin and the Pale were happy with the conquest and disarmament of the Irish, they were deeply alienated by the Protestant reformation that had taken place in England, being almost all Roman Catholic. By the end of the seventeenth century, Dublin was the capital of the Kingdom of Ireland, ruled by the Protestant New English minority.

The Duke of Ormonde

In 1661 James Butler Duke of Ormond was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland by Charles I. He was one of the most important and influential figures in the last quarter of the 17th century in Dublin. The most important legacies of the late 17th century associated with him include the Phoenix Park (from 1662), the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham (1680), as well as Ormond Quay and Capel Street.

The Williamite victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 set in motion measures to exert more control over the Catholic majority in Ireland. These culminated with the oppressive Penal Laws, which were implemented vigorously during the Georgian Period. For the city, the 18th century was more peaceful and prosperous than at any time in its previous history. The Protestant Ascendancy was thriving, and the city expanded rapidly from the 17th century onward. By 1700, the population had surpassed 60,000, making it the second largest city, after London, in the British Empire.

Medieval Dublin -- From Vikings to Tudors

The 1800 Act of Union which created the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland is considered by many to have had an enormous impact on Dublin and been the cause behind its decline. Its Golden Age was over. The loss of the parliament in Dublin meant that much of the Ireland’s governing class, the aristocracy and gentry left for London or travelled back to their Irish estates. Dublin slowly became more distinctly middle class and mercantile. Its Parliament House was sold to the Bank of Ireland (who remains there to this day). Dublin continued to develop, but more slowly and less dramatically than before. Smaller houses, still adhering to the Georgian tradition were constructed, this time for merchants, doctors, lawyers and bankers.

The striking loss of confidence in the city can be seen in the development of suburban Dublin around along the southeast coast from Sandymount to Killiney and inland to Ranelagh and Rathmines. The glorious Victorian suburbs emerged as the places to live. The city centre became the place where business was done, but where the destitute lived. Dublin’s tenement era had begun and this was nowhere more acute than in the north Georgian city.

1834 portrait of Daniel O’Connell by George Hayter

The politics dominating the Ireland of the 19th century are characterised by constitutional, social and revolutionary struggle. The campaign to repeal the Act of Union and restore self-government had Daniel O’Connell as its leading protagonist. Later in the century the Home Rule movement under Charles Stewart Parnell, eventually led to the culmination of modern Irish political history, the struggle for independence, which played itself out dramatically on the streets of Dublin. The 1916 Rising, the Irish War of Independence (1919), the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 and the Civil War the following year all left their mark on the city. The destroyed areas were rebuilt and Dublin became a capital once again.

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