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.
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.
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.