Ancient Houses of Dublin

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 34, February 16, 1833

Harris in his "History of Dublin," has collected some interesting particulars respecting its ancient houses, as they existed in his time, viz. 1766, which cannot fail of being acceptable to our readers.

"The buildings of the City of Dublin, like those through other parts of the kingdom, were anciently mean and contemptible, erected of wattles daubed over with clay to keep out the cold, and covered over with sedge or straw. The Danes who fortified the city, applied their labours to make it defensible, and not ornamental; nor could this latter circumstance be expected to be considered by a people engaged in perpetual wars, undefended by laws, and in a flitting, shifting condition, ready to make room for the first powerful invader. The arts of peace, and the protection of laws, only can inspire the notions of making solid and confortable settlements. It was of such rude materials, that King Henry II., either out of necessity, or in conformity to the fashions of the country, (ad modum patriae illius, as Roger Hoveden expresses it), erected a royal palace with uncommon elegance, (miro artificio) of smoothed wattles, in 1172, in which his Majesty, with the Kings and Princes of Ireland, solemnized the festival of Christmas. The introduction and establishment of English colonies in Ireland, gradually introduced commerce, and the consequence thereof, wealth and politeness, which was followed by an alteration for the better in the buildings of the city; insomuch that both before and in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the citizens fitted up their houses in a more durable and convenient form, namely, of timber built in the cage-work fashion, elegantly enough adorned, and covered with slates, tiles, or shingles. Several of these houses erected in that Queen's time, as well as in the reign of her successor, have subsisted until late years, and one particularly in Cook-street was totally demolished on the 27th of July, 1745, to make room for new houses. On an oak beam carried over the door the whole length of the said house, was the following inscription cut in large capitals, and a fair Roman character, nothing damaged by time in the space of one hundred and sixty-five years, except in one part, where an upright piece of timber being mortised into it, had received the drip, and was somewhat rotted.


Thou who madest the heavens and the earth bless this house, which John Luttrel and Joan ---- caused to be built in the year of our Lord 1580, and in the twenty-second year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

"It is no way improbable, that John Luttrel, who was sheriff of Dublin, in conjunction with Gyles Allen, in the years 1567 and 1568, was the builder of this house.

"Next door to the former, lately stood a large and stately cape-work house, with this inscription over the door in Roman characters--


"This Robert Eustace was sheriff of the city, in conjunction with Thomas Allen, in the years 1608 and 1609.

"In a lane leading from Cooke-street to Merchant's-quay, called Rosemary lane, part of the wall of an old cage-work house stands, over the door whereof, cut in timber, are two escutcheons of arms, and between them a date, 1600, with the letters E. P., which may be conjectured to stand for Edmund Purcell, who two years before was sheriff of the city in conjunction with John Brice.

"An old cage-work house in Big-butter-lane, (now Bishop-street,) without the city, wherein Brigadier General Borr lately lived, is still the property of one of the name and family. It was, in the year 1641, the house of Sir Francis Willoughby, a gallant and experienced soldier, where he resided upon the breaking out of the rebellion, but left it to take on him the government of the Castle, to which he was advanced by the order of the Lord Justices.

"Several cage-work houses now remain in Patrick-street, without the walls of the city, which carry the face of antiquity; but as there are no dates visible on them, it is not possible to fix their ages. Among these there is one with this inscription, VICTORIA MIHI CHRISTUS, A. I. the last letters of the name, with the date, being defaced.

"A large house of the same form in Fishamble-street, many years inhabited by Mr. Pattin, a victualler, had on the front of it two coats of arms, one of Plunket, the other of Plunket impaled with his wife's: from whence it may be probably concluded, that some person of that family erected the said house, though (according to tradition) it was afterwards inhabited by the Anglesey family.

"But the oldest house of this sort now subsisting, is (for what appears, there being no date to aid an inquiry) that in Skinner-row, near the Tholsel, in a part whereof Dick's coffee-house was for a long time kept. It was called the Carbrie, and appears by history to have been inhabited by the Earl of Kildare two hundred and thirty-two years ago, and how much longer we know not. 'For in the year 1532, 'the Lord Deputy Skeffington, being displaced, was by his 'successor, Gerald, Earl of Kildare, suffered like a mean 'private person to dance attendance among other suitors, in 'his house in Dublin, named the Carbrie.' This house is called by the said name of Carbrie in ancient leases from that noble family, still subsisting, though upon the misfortunes attending it after the rebellion of Thomas Fitzgerald in 1534, it changed its proprietor, and was inhabited by the Earl of Ormond (as tradition says), until the restoration of the Earl of Kildare to the estate and honours of his family, the first by King Edward VI., and the latter by Queen Mary. In the eleventh of Elizabeth, it became again the property, and for a time the habitation of that family.

"Several houses of this kind are yet to be seen in Castle-street, High-street, the Wood-quay, Thomas-street, and other parts of the city and suburbs; but it is sufficient particularly to mention the foregoing. We shall conclude, therefore, this head with two general observations. 1. That before and during the reigns of Henry VIII. Edward VI. Mary and Elizabeth, most of the buildings for habitation here were of the cage-work fashion, and only castles, towers, churches, monasteries, and other buildings appropriated to religious or charitable uses, were built of lime and stone. That it may be doubted, from what has been said, whether any of the then modern buildings will continue for so long a period as some of the cage-work houses before mentioned have done.

"In the reign of King James I. upon the settlement of the nation after the rebellion of the Earl of Tyrone, the inhabitants of Dublin began to build their houses of lime, stone, or brick, and to cover them with slates or tiles, after a more elegant and convenient form than the cage-work houses before mentioned. The same fashion continued and was improved in the reign of that monarch's son and successor, and has been handed down, with some variation to this time. None of the houses built here in the reign of the former of those kings subsist to this day, that we know of, at least there are none that betray their ages by any inscription or date. Some of the houses built in the reign of King Charles I. remain, particularly a large one in Wine-tavern-street, opposite Cooke-street, which shows some elegance in the structure, and has on the front an escutcheon containing a coat of arms, on one side of which, on a tablet, are inserted the letters Rc. M. and another tablet on the other aide containing the date of the building (1641)."

Of the ancient cage-work houses existing in Harris's time, there is not even one now remaining. The last stood at the corner of Castle-street and Werburgh-street, and was taken down so late as the year 1813. Of this we have the pleasure of presenting our readers with the faithful view, prefixed to this article, from an original drawing, now for the first time engraved.

In a former number (p. 201) we remarked, in speaking of the modern appearance of our metropolis as compared with that of other ancient cities of the empire, that there is not at present remaining within its precincts, even a single house erected previous to the commencement of the last century: we should, however, have excepted the ancient Archiepiscopal Palace, in Kevin-street, now used as a police barrack, which is of considerable antiquity, and presents the castellated appearance usual in ancient houses of consequence.

In respect to the houses erected in Dublin in the reign of James the First and his unfortunate son, we think Harris errs in stating that they were sometimes of brick; we rather think that brick houses were not erected in Ireland till after the Revolution, and we believe there was not one of this material built in Dublin till the reign of Queen Anne.

Of the houses of that period we have even whole streets still remaining, of which Rainsford-street, in the Liberty, once the abode of a great portion of the wealth and respectability of the city, affords the most striking example. They are at once recognised by their fantastic gabled terminations, and their horisontal divisions of stories; and though their style, which is of Dutch origin, is not remarkable for good taste, it is at least more picturesque than the square and unadorned box-shaped houses of a later time, which are also inferior in costliness of materials, and excellence of workmanship.

As a characteristic and somewhat fantastic specimen of the houses of that period, we have prefixed an elevation of one which stood in Marrowbone-lane, in the Liberty, and which was taken down in 1813.

The tablet over the upper window was inscribed with the date, 1713, and the initials of the founder and his wife's names. Such conjugal mementos were usual, and derived from an earlier time, but are now wholly laid aside.