Our Ancient Capital (14) - Legends, Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland

Dublin Quays are likewise illustrated by great names. On Usher's Quay may still be seen the once magnificent Moira House; the princely residence of Lord Moira, afterwards Marquis of Hastings, Governor-General of India. A hundred years ago it was the Holland House of Dublin, sparkling with all the wit, splendour, rank, and influence of the metropolis. The decorations were unsurpassed in the kingdom for beauty and grandeur. The very windows were inlaid with mother-o'-pearl.

After the Union, the family in disgust quitted Ireland; Moira house was left tenantless for some years, and then finally was sold for the use of the pauper poor of Dublin. The decorations were removed, the beautiful gardens turned into offices, the upper story of the edifice was taken off, and the entire building pauperized as much as possible to suit its inmates and its title—"The Mendicity."

In the good old times the Lord Mayor treated the Lord-Lieutenant to a new play every Christmas, when the Corporation acted Mysteries upon the stage in Hoggin Green, where the College now stands. The Mysteries were on various subjects. In one, the tailors had orders to find Pilate and his wife clothed accordingly; the butchers were to supply the tormentors; the mariners and vintners represented Noah. At that period the Lord-Lieutenants held their court at Kilmainham, or Thomas Court, for Dublin Castle was not made a viceregal residence until the reign of Elizabeth. The parliaments, too, were ambulatory. Sometimes they met in the great aisle of Christ Church, that venerable edifice whose echoes have been destined to give back such conflicting sounds. What changes in its ritual and its worshippers! What scenes have passed before its high altar since first erected by the Danish bishop, whose body, in pallium and mitre, lay exposed to view but a few years since, after a sleep of eight hundred years. Irish kings and Norman conquerors have trod the aisles. There Roderick was inaugurated, the last king of Ireland; there Strongbow sleeps, first of the Norman conquerors, and, until the middle of the last century, all payments were made at his tomb, as if in him alone, living or dead, the citizens had their strength; there Lambert Simnel was crowned with a crown taken from the head of the Virgin Mary; there Cromwell worshipped before he went forth to devastate; there the last Stuart knelt in prayer before he threw the last stake at the Boyne for an empire; and there William of Nassau knelt in gratitude for the victory, with the crown upon his head, forgotten by James in his ignominous flight.

And how many rituals have risen up to heaven from that ancient altar, each anathema maranatha to the other—the solemn chants of the early church; the gorgeous ritual of the mass; in Elizabeth's time, the simple liturgy of the English Church in the English tongue; this, too, was prohibited in its turn, and for ten years the Puritans wailed and howled against kings and liturgies in the ancient edifice; there the funeral oration for the death of Cromwell was pronounced, entitled, "Threni Hibernici, or Ireland sympathizing with England for the loss of their Josiah (Oliver Cromwell)." Once again rose the incense of the mass while King James was amongst us; but William quenched the lights on the altar, and established once more the English Liturgy in its simplicity and beauty. But so little, during all these changes, had the Irish to do with the cathedral of their capital, that by an Act passed in 1380 no Irishman was permitted to hold in it any situation or office; and so strictly was the law enforced, that Sir John Stevenson was the first Irishman admitted, as even vicar-choral.

Many are the themes of interest to be found in Mr. Gilbert's "History of Dublin," concerning those ancient times when Sackville Street was a marsh, Merrion Square an exhausted quarry, the undulations so beautiful in its present verdant state being but the accident of excavation; when St. Stephen's Green, with its ten fine Irish acres, was a compound of meadow, quagmire, and ditch; when Mountjoy Square was a howling wilderness, and North Georges Street and Summer Hill were far away in the country, and when the Danes, rudely expelled by Norman swords from the south of the Liffey, were stealing over the river to found a settlement on the north side.

Our fathers have told us of Dublin in later times, before the Union, when a hundred lords and two hundred commoners enriched and enlivened our city with their wealth and magnificence. Dublin was then at the summit of its glory; but when the colonists sold their parliament to England, and the Lords and Commons vanished, and their mansions became hospitals and poor-houses, and all wealth, power, influence, and magnificence were transferred to the loved mother country, then the "City of the Dark Water" sank into very pitiable insignificance. The proud Norman spirit of independence was broken at last, and there was no great principle to replace it. Having no large sympathies with the Irish nation, no idea of country, nationality, or any other grand word by which is expressed the resolve of self-reliant men to be self-governed, the colonists became petty, paltry, and selfish in aim; imitative in manners and feelings; apathetic, even antagonistic to all national advance; bound to England by helpless fear and servile hope; content so as they could rest under her great shadow, secure from the mysterious horrors of Popery, preserved in the blessing of a church establishment, and allowed to worship even the shadow of transcendent Majesty. Then Dublin ambition was satisfied and happy; for there is no word so instinctively abhorrent, so invincibly opposed to all the prejudices of Dublin society, as patriotism.