Towns and Cities: Dublin

Maurice Craig visits the Irish capital.

Dublin, like London or Paris but unlike Madrid or Washington, is a natural capital. It is central; it is on the sea and has a good harbour; it commands Leinster, the richest of the four provinces. Though the Liffey is not a very large river, the fact that its mouth faces towards England has given it a great advantage over the Shannon, the Lee or the Foyle.

Though there was a Celtic settlement in Dublin, its history as a town begins with its Scandinavian founders, who maintained a Kingdom of Dublin for three hundred years. The Anglo-Norman invaders took over the town soon after their arrival in 1169, and from then until the end of the sixteenth century it was the capital of the Pale, that strip of eastern seaboard which fluctuated greatly in its dimensions, but remained always under the control of the English Crown. It had been granted for re-founding by Henry II to the men of Bristol, and it became an entrepot, an administrative centre, a garrison town and, in 1592, a university town also.

Medieval Dublin was well inland from the mouth of the river, and it was very small. The medieval walls enclosed about one-ninth of a square mile on the south bank of the river. In the centre of this area was Christchurch Cathedral, and in the south-east corner Dublin Castle. The bridge was at the north-west corner, and until 1670 this was the only bridge.

Very little now remains of medieval Dublin. Parts of the thirteenth-century Christchurch Cathedral, rather more of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, without the walls to the south, various towers in the Castle, now masked by later work, one parish church, St. Audoen’s, now three-quarters ruinous, the chapter-house and slype of St. Mary’s Abbey, Oxmantown, and a few fragments of city wall almost complete the total. The interest of Dublin lies in its post-renaissance development.

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