Our Ancient Capital (13)

The great Oliver Cromwell was the Lord-Lieutenant of the Parliament, and he in turn appointed his son Henry to succeed him. Dire are the memories connected with Cromwell's reign here, both to his own party and to Ireland. Ireton died of the plague after the siege of Limerick; General Jones died of the plague after the surrender of Dungarvon; a thousand of Cromwell's men died of the plague before Waterford. The climate, in its effect upon English constitutions, seems to be the great Nemesis of Ireland's wrongs.

Strange scenes, dark, secret, and cruel, have been enacted in that gloomy pile. No one has told the full story yet. It will be a Ratcliffe romance of dungeons and treacheries, of swift death or slow murder. God and St. Mary were invoked in vain for the luckless Irish prince or chieftain that was caught in that Norman stronghold; but that was in the old time—long, long ago. Now the castle courts are crowded only with loyal and courtly crowds, gathered to pay homage to the illustrious successor of a hundred viceroys.

The strangest scene, perhaps, in the annals of vice-royalty, was when Lord Thomas Fitzgerald (Silken Thomas), son of the Earl of Kildare, and Lord-Lieutenant in his father's absence, took up arms for Irish independence. He rode through the city with seven score horsemen, in shirts of mail and silken fringes on their head-pieces (hence the name Silken Thomas), to St. Mary's Abbey, and there entering the council chamber, he flung down the sword of state upon the table, and bade defiance to the king and his ministers; then hastening to raise an army, he laid siege to Dublin Castle, but with no success. Silken Thomas and his five uncles were sent to London, and there executed; and sixteen Fitzgeralds were hanged and quartered at Dublin. By a singular fatality, no plot laid against Dublin Castle ever succeeded; though to obtain possession of this foreign fortress was the paramount wish of all Irish rebel leaders. This was the object with Lord Maguire and his Catholics, with Lord Edward Fitzgerald and his republicans, with Emmet and his enthusiasts, with Smith O'Brien and his nationalists—yet they all failed. Once only, during seven centuries, the green flag waved over Dublin Castle, with the motto—"Now or Never! Now and for Ever!" It was when Tyrconnel held it for King James.

In the ancient stormy times of Norman rule, the nobility naturally gathered round the Castle. Skinner's Row was the "May Fair" of mediaeval Dublin. Hoey's Court, Castle Street, Cook Street, Fishamble Street, Bridge Street, Werburgh Street, High Street, Golden Lane, Back Lane, &c, were the fashionable localities inhabited by lords and bishops, chancellors and judges: and Thomas Street was the grand prado where viceregal pomp and Norman pride were oftenest exhibited. A hundred years ago the Lord-Lieutenant was entertained at a ball by Lord Mountjoy in Back Lane. Skinner's Row was distinguished by the residence of the great race of the Geraldines, called "Carbrie House," which from them passed to the Dukes of Ormond, and after many vicissitudes, the palace from which Silken Thomas went forth to give his young life for Irish independence, fell into decay, "and on its site now stand the houses known as 6, 7, and 8 Christ Church Place, in the lower stories of which still exist some of the old oak beams of the Carbrie House."

In Skinner's Row also, two hundred years ago, dwelt Sir Robert Dixon, Mayor of Dublin, who was knighted at his own house there by the Lord-Lieutenant, the afterwards unfortunate Strafford. The house has fallen to ruins, but the vast property conferred on him by Charles I. for his good services, has descended to the family of Sir Kildare Burrowes, of Kildare. In those brilliant days of Skinner's Row, it was but seventeen feet wide, and the pathways but one foot broad. All its glories have vanished now; even the name no longer exists; yet the remains of residences once inhabited by the magnificent Geraldines and Butlers can still be traced.

Every stone throughout this ancient quarter of Dublin has a history. In Cook Street Lord Maguire was arrested at midnight, under circumstances very similar to the capture of Lord Edward Fitzgerald; and "to commemorate this capture in the parish it was the annual custom, down to the year 1829, to toll the bells of St. Andrew's Church at twelve o'clock on the night of the 22nd of October."

In Bridge Street great lords and peers of the realm resided. The Marquis of Antrim, the Duke of Marlborough's father; Westenra, the Dutch merchant who founded the family afterwards ennobled, and others. It was the Merrion Square of the day. In Bridge Street the rebellion of '98 was organized at the house of Oliver Bond; and one night Major Swan, led by Reynolds the informer, seized twelve gentlemen there, all of whom were summarily hanged as rebels. Castle Street was the focus of the rebellion of 1641; Sir Phelim O'Neill and Lord Maguire had their residences there, and concocted together how to seize the Castle, destroy all the lords and council, and re-establish Popery in Ireland. But a more useful man than either lived there also—Sir James Ware, whose indefatigable ardour in the cause of Irish literature caused him to collect, with great trouble and expense, a vast number of Irish manuscripts, which, after passing through many vicissitudes, are now deposited in the British Museum. The French family of Latouche came to Castle Street about one hundred years ago, and one of them, in 1778, upheld the shattered credit of the Government by a loan of £20,000 to the Lord-Lieutenant. Fishamble Street has historical and classic memories, and traditions of Handel consecrate this now obscure locality.

Handel spent a year in Dublin. His "Messiah" was composed there, and first performed for the benefit of Mercer's Hospital. How content he was with his reception is expressed in a letter to a friend. "I cannot," he says, "sufficiently express the kind treatment I receive here, but the politeness of this generous nation cannot be unknown to you."