Creating History – exhibition & a tour Thursday 15th December


Creating History is a superb exhibition and is the National Gallery of Ireland’s principal contribution to the Decade of Centenaries. For reasons of space constraints however, it has a surprisingly short run, having just opened recently on Tuesday 11 October and running only to 15th January .  It’s showing in the Beit Wing Galleries, with admission free. Entrance is of course via the Millennium Wing, with doors on Clare St.

The exhibition, subtitled “Stories of Ireland in Art” is a clever one. It uses over 50 works to illuminate Irish history from the Battle of Kinsale to the Irish Free State, while at the same time making us keenly aware that none of these artworks are, nor ever were, neutral documents of some imaginary, impartial eye witness. The view of history presented by each is of course determined by political viewpoints. In presenting such versions of Ireland’s history (for contemporaries and for posterity alike) artists and patrons were, quite literally “creating History”.

The curating of the exhibition is artful, works are arranged not chronologically but thematically, with sections entitled Testimony, Conflict, Assembly, Allegory and Lamentation.  Some paintings from the Gallery’s permanent collection have not been seen for years, William Turner De Lond’s work for example, perhaps since themes like “George IV, King of England, entering Dublin” 1821,  have hardly been the most popular for most visitors in recent years. Other are far more familiar, for example Francis Wheatley’s Dublin Volunteers on College Green of 1779 (below) or Edwin Hayes’ The Emigrant Ship, (1853).   All these quirks of curatorial history tell their own tale.  Indeed they are themselves part of “creating history”.

NGI 125

Above;  Francis Wheatley (1747–1801) The Dublin Volunteers in College Green, 4 November 1779, 1779–80.  Oil on canvas. 175 x 323 cm. National Gallery of Ireland, NGI.125.  Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

The NGI’s own works in this exhibition are complemented by loans from both public and private collections in Ireland and overseas, including a second spectacular work by Wheatley; The Irish House of Commons, of 1780. You may well have seen this lovable image in reproduction or engraving, but unlike Wheatley’s Volunteers painting, you are unlikely to have met it in person before as it normally resides in Leeds, as befits a property of Leeds Museums and Galleries. You have to see this picture in the flesh to get its full power and political impact. This exhibition offers us a once in a lifetime chance to do so. The picture is very unusual and in fact very funny, speaking to the great vanity of its subjects, and to the greed and opportunism of its artist.

Another works in this show are owned by the NGI but usually hang elsewhere, out on long-term loan.  Notably this includes Jan Wyck’s Battle of the Boyne (1693) Not only is this picture usually hung in the shadows at Malahide Castle, it hadn’t been cleaned for years. It has recently undergone extensive conservation and is revealed here in all its glory.  The best known and most contemporaneous depiction of Ireland’s perhaps most iconic, certainly most internationally significant battle.  Again, this is a work that must be seen in the flesh.

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above: Jan Wyck (c.1645–1700)  The Battle of the Boyne, 1693 Oil on canvas.  219 x 302 cm. National Gallery of Ireland, NGI.988  Photo © National Gallery of Ireland

This exhibition will only run until January 17th.  It will as we say “be over before you know it”. I highly recommend seeing it. Pop in any time, admission is free. For those who like to combine their art viewing with a little  discussion, of both art and history, I’ll be leading a small,  informal sociable evening tour, from 6pm to 8pm on the evening of Thursday 15th of December (2016).  There are up to 14 spots available.  Tickets may be booked on this link.   Those who would like to attend should buy tickets as soon as possible and should then met me 5-10 minutes before the start of the tour please, say at 5.50 or 5.55pm Thursday 15th. I will be on the bench outside the NGI bookshop, which is of course in the foyer area of the Millennium Wing.  The entrance is on Clare St. (All this information is repeated on the ticket page)

Among paintings we’ll discuss is the topographical work The Battle of Kinsale: This is an extraordinary artwork, sort of half-painting/half map which defies many of our expectation of what painting is. We’ll also look closely at Jan Wyck’s Battle of the Boyne and both of the remarkable Francis Wheatley works.  The Irish House of Commons with its rich cast of minutely, painted real life characters (a hundred-plus tiny virtuoso portraits) is full of stories and of homour. We’ll discuss the 19th century depictions of poverty, famine and Catholic Emancipation (such as Joseph Patrick Haverty’s, The Monster Meeting at Clifden, c.1844) and images of and from the Celtic Revival. In the context of the early 20th century, we’ll discuss pictures of the First World War and the Revolutionary Era including of course the 1916 Easter Rising.  A rich and varied feast in other words. I hope you’ll join us.  Alternatively as I say, the exhibition is on display in the Beit Wing, runs until 15 January 2017 and normal admission is free. I can not recommend it highly enough.   Images have a powerful effect on the way we view history.   Viewing this exhibition one is reminded of the words of Walter Benjamin who stated that when it crystallizes in our minds- in our collective and individual understanding- history crystallizes, not into words and text, but into images and pictures.  It’s through picture, not words, that we imbibe, share and understand the past, from our earliest and most formative years, until the end of our life.

Make sure you see this show.


above:  John Lavery (1856–1941)  High Treason, Court of Criminal Appeal: the Trial of Sir Roger Casement, 1916, Oil on canvas.  194.5 x 302.5 cm © UK Government Art Collection

Treasure Hunts Temple Bar, grown-ups & family versions, Fri & Sat 30th & 31st Dec


Fish and horses, lions and dragons, swords and stars and hidden miniature bicycles.  Temple Bar is packed with an extraordinary, often overlooked  world of decorative detail. The best way to explore  and discover it is to search the objects out yourself, armed with just a list of clues and a map.  In other words: a Treasure Hunt!

Our first-ever  Dublin Decoded Temple Bar Treasure Hunt for adults was Tuesday November 1st and it went down a storm.  Our first kids’ version of the treasure hunt ran on Sunday 20th (for a private trial group of family and friends).   But these were just the trial runs.  The good news is that over the Christmas & New Year festival period. we are running both grown ups, and kids versions,  four times times in total, once each at 11.30AM (for kids) and again 2.30 (for grown ups) on both Friday 30th December and on Saturday 31st December (2016)  We hope you’ll find the time to join us.

But the offer gets even better, because these events have been commissioned by and subsidized by the wonderful Dublin New Years Festival, an annual celebration of culture, history and music in Ireland capital at the turning of the year. Accordingly, tickets are just a €6 for grown ups and only €3 for children,  an unbeatable offer, strictly for these 4 special dates only.

You can find information about the kids’ version of the Treasure Hunt, at 11.30AM on both Friday 30th and on Saturday 31st December on the festival website here.   Or if you’ve read enough you can go direct to the tickets  (including key information and ticket sales)  for the kids version 11.30AM Friday 30th and/ or Saturday 31st December (for family with children 6-13 only)  here.   Please note tickets are non- refundable, and non-transferable across the 2 dates. (Fri/Sat).   So please select your correct ticket type (family/kids/parents 11.30)  or grown up (at 2.30pm) and please check the date (Friday or Sat) before you book and pay.  Many thanks.   More information about the adults grown -up  version of the Anybody without children can take part in the grown-up Treasure Hunt, 2.30PM  (to approx 4pm) both Friday 30th and Saturday 31st December.  You can find all the grown up information here.  Or go direct to tickets  (including info and ticket sales) for the grown up version directly  here.     This page is for the grown up version only, but both dates (Fri & Sat) are available for selection via this page.

These December/New Year Treasure Hunt events are sponsored by the New Year Festival of Dublin and Failte Ireland so tickets are subsidized, at just a remarkable €3 or €6 each. Places limited and must be booked in advance.

We look forward to seeing some of you there!  And please feel free to spread the word about this unique new event. Sharing buttons are just below.

From mid- January 2017 it will be possible to book the Treasure Hunt as a private event for private groups, including team building, corporate or client entertainment event.  There will also be a number of Treasure Hunts for the public each year.  Inquiries for private events to  please.  Please note we often can not answer email queries about public events.  A free monthly ezine goes out most months with notification of all walks, talks, treasure hunts and events, with dates and ticket links.  To join the mailing list and receive the monthly email newsletter, with all our great Dublin Decoded events, please sign up  via this link. 


Dublin Decoded’s Great Temple Bar Treasure Hunt, Tuesday November 1st.


Fish and Horses, Lions and Dragons, Bicycles and Submarine Portholes.  Every time you stop and look up and around in Temple Bar, you’ll see an extraordinary world of decorative detail.  It’s an area packed with history and details, with incident and story.  And the best way to explore it all ?  ….through a Treasure Hunt!

On Tuesday November 1st  is the Dublin Decoded Great Temple Bar Treasure Hunt.  Places limited. All tickets must be booked in advance (via Green buttons above) Single and double tickets are available.

How it works. In Part 1- you will be paired up with at least one other team mate (Or buy two tickets, and bring your own team mate with you if you wish)  Either way, we’ll give you a set of questions, clues and directions.  leading to approximate location of around 20 different details, images and artifacts around the Temple Bar area.  You’ve just 60 minutes to find the objects and answer the short questions on your sheet to prove you’ve found them.  Because we meet again after that 60 minutes. Now in Part 2 we’ll walk the route again this time as one big group. We’ll find the artifacts together and check your answers, while learning a little more of the history, architecture, and symbolism behind the objects in traditional Dublin-Decoded style.   We’ll also reveal which team or pair got the most correct answers and even award the winners a very enviable prize.

All sound good?

Tickets for the Treasure Hunt can purchased here, But please read the below carefully before you buy.

Meet point /start point: Rory Gallagher Corner, the North Entrance to Meeting House Square, This entrance is next to the National Photo Archives (NMI)   There is a bronze guitar, set into the red brick wall up on the wall, just above our meet point.

Start Time: Event starts 3pm sharp Tuesday 1st November.  Please meet from 2.45/2.50pm please.

Please note that Tuesday 01 is the day directly following the Halloween Bank Holiday Monday.

The events two separate parts, (one hour each approx).  Total run time is 2 hours and 20 mins approx

Single or double ticket?  You can buy either a single ticket (for one person) or a double ticket (for 2), as required.

Please read and note the following terms & conditions before purchasing:  Unfortunately places strictly limited, so we can’t accept late or extra booking, or walk ups on the day.  Please also note: Dublin Decoded have a no-refund, no-exchange policy on this event, so please check your diary and availibilty before purchasing your tickets.

Please also note that this event, on this occasion,  is for grown-ups only.  Event is not for anyone under 13. Teenagers 13-18 allowed but must be accompanied with an adult-parent,  or we will not issue the question sheet.

We will however run another Temple Bar Treasure Hunt, especially for parents and kids, very soon.  So if you are interested in that please make sure you’re on our Newsletter mailing list!.  Sign-up is easily found, either via our Dublin Decoded website,  or via our Dublin Decoded Facebook page, or sign up now,  via this link. 

We look forward to seeing you soon, or on November 1st.  Tickets for the Treasure Hunt can purchased here,






South City Stroll- Dublin Decoded’s mystery tour- Wed 26th Oct.



Our next Dublin history and architecture walk takes place afternoon of Wednesday 26th October (2016). It starts 2.15pm, meeting at the Campanile of Trinity College. (Meet from 2.05PM, please present tickets, walk departs 2.15 sharp.)   The tour goes for around 1 hour, 45 minutes (approx) Tour finishes up around 3.55pm, in the general area of Harrington St/ Camden St.  Along the way we shall explore parts of the South City Centre and discuss a number of distinctive buildings and their varied histories, including Government and departmental buildings, Commercial premises and signage and, in particular, Ecclesiastical Architecture, mostly from 1850 onward. Some of the buildings on our route are well known and acknowledged masterpieces, like Newman’s stunning University Church on Stephens Green or the Department of Trade and Industry (pictured above) Other far less known, and there even may be a few surprises and mysteries along the way. We shall visit at least two Victorian masterpieces, and also, towards the end, a tiny hidden chapel, a place rarely glimpsed by anyone these days and in fact, hardly known about, where among other things you can learn te story of this beautiful window (below).

No more clues or information here, this is a magical mystery tour!

Tickets can be got via this link. Places are of course limited so please book ahead; we may not be able to accommodate extras on the day. Definitely however a tour not to be missed.

We look forward to seeing some of you there.

Arran | Dublin Decoded.




History & Architecture Walk, Hugh Lane Gallery to Grangegorman, 2pm, Tues 30th Aug. a unique one-off tour.


Meeting 2.15PM, outside front door Hugh Lane Gallery, (Dublin Municipal Gal) Parnell Square.  Tickets should ideally be booked in advance please:  here.

Grangegorman has been well described as the “Forgotten” quarter of Dublin. Now that’s all set to change. With huge, city shaping transformations afoot, this is a timely moment to explore, discover and discuss this neglected yet remarkable corner of Dublin.

Our group will meet outside front door Hugh Lane Gallery 2.15PM, Tuesday 30th August (2016). From there, walking gradually North and west, we’ll view historic civic, residential and ecclesiastical buildings on our way to the park in front of Gandon’s magnificent Kings Inns. From that vantage point, we will view another masterpiece, John Skipton Mulvaney’s sublime Broadstone station and consider the extraordinary developments now taking place there, including the new LUAS light railway extension and future cycle track: both vital new links connecting the city to Grangegorman.

From there we’ll loop down to Kings St then Brunswick St, pausing at stages to discuss  local history and architecture. Then up Grangegorman Lower, arriving at Francis Johnston’s Clock Tower (the former Richmond Penitentiary) and- just across the road- the stunning new DIT campus. Here, for the second half of our tour, we will explore this remarkable adaptation of the old Richmond Asylum (formerly St Brendan’s Mental hospital) and the manner in that architects, planners and designers have triumphed using a mix of repurposed 19th century buildings (including two splendid Victorian chapels) mixed with built and planned modern architecture to create this brand new University campus.   In this part of our tour we’ll be joined by Dr Terry Prendergast, joint author of the Grangegorman master plan, and lecturer in Planning, DIT. In conversation with you and our group, she’ll help us explore the campus buildings, gardens, amenities, parkland and architecture of the new site, how it all fits into the large urban context of its immediate area and community, and indeed, into Dublin as a whole.

Grangegorman is perhaps the least known of Dublin quarters, yet from transport to workhouses, hospitals and transport, remains full of deep historical significance.  And now, from being the forgotten quarter, it now looks set to become one of the most fashionable, thriving and dynamic areas anywhere in the capital. This is a rare opportunity to see an area on the very cusp of transformation, and to see how cities evolve, develop and reinvent.

This Dublin Decoded city walking event is open to all.  It promises to be a remarkable tour.  We look forward to seeing some of you there.

Please book tickets here.

1 Grangegorman Campus - former St Brendan's Hospital buildings

2 Aerial of An Croí & Cultural Garden

3 Clock Tower - formerly the Richmond Penitentiary

above, from top:  1- former men’s and women’s houses, and the men’s and women’s infirmaries, whole complex now part of DIT campus Grangegorman;  2- aerial view of same complex of buildings; 3- the Clock Tower – formerly the Richmond Penitentiary, designed Francis Johnston.  Pictures courtesy Grangegorman Development Agency.  

Please meet your guide Arran Henderson, of Dublin Decoded, outside the Hugh Lane gallery 2pm – 2.15 Tuesday 30th August (2016)  Walk leaves from outside the galery, at 2.20 sharp.  Tickets should ideally be booked in advance on the link above, although a limited amount of walk up tickets will be available on the day.  (€20 walk ups, subject to availability)



2 free Medieval Mass to Georgian Splendour walks for DFoH Sept ’16, from Dublin Decoded.


Dublin Decoded are proud to partner Dublin City public libraries and their superb annual two week-long event, the Dublin Festival of History (DFoH) which takes place 23rd September to 08 October this year.

Many of you will already know well the Festival of History, a packed annual programme of public talks, lectures and interviews with some of the leading names in Irish, European and international history studies. In the last three years alone, speakers and events have included Tom Holland (Rubicon) Simon Schama (the History of the Jews)  and Trinity College Dublin’s Professor of Modern history John Horne, interviewing the great Hew Stachan on the First World War. The middle weekend each year in particular, is a smorgasbord of delights for all lovers of history. In short, this is is one of our favourite events of the year, so we’re frankly thrilled (and not a little proud) to be associated with the festival.  To celebrate, we have collaborated with DFoH to bring you a free historical walking tour,  led by Arran Henderson of Dublin Decoded, and this is available to you free of charge, on two alternative dates, (one weekend and one weekday).
The walk and talk- Medieval Mass to Georgian Splendour-  will explore City Shaping in the area immediately around Dublin Castle, the historic centre of Dublin from the Viking to Medieval period and beyond. On our walk we’ll discuss how the mass, building stock, streetscape and even topography of the city has changed and constantly been re-shaped in the last 1200 years, from c840AD to the present..  For booking details, please see below.

medieval Dublin, courtesy of artist Iain Barber

Tickets for the events are free, places however are limited to around 28 per walk and places should please be reserved in advance  via the two separate links below.
There are two stagings of the (same) walk: firstly at 2.15pm, Wednesday the 28th September and 11AM Saturday 24th September. (Please note the differing start times, If by chance you are available on both dates, we’d politely request you to book the Wednesday walk date please, (only if convenient)   In both instances the walk leaves from the steps outside of the Print Works, Dublin Castle, (formerly the Revenue Commissioners building) Lower Yard, Dublin Castle.  It is not necessary to print out your tickets, we are more than happy to see them on your phone.

To book for the the 2.15PM Wednesday afternoon walk on 28th September, (2016) please follow this link to the Wednesday 28th ticket page.  Once there press the green button on the top left of that page to book for the 2.15PM Wednesday 28th September walk and book your tickets, (up to a maximum of 4).

To book instead for the Saturday morning version 11AM on Saturday 24th September, please go here instead.

Once you’ve booked tickets, please meet your guide Arran Henderson of Dublin Decoded, on the steps of the Printworks, Dublin Castle, This building was formerly the Revenue Commissioner building.  It is in the Lower Yard of Dublin Castle.  Access to Lower Yard is via the Upper Yard,  or via Palace Street, (off Dame St)  Please meet 5 minutes before the stated time of the walk.  The walking tour takes 1 hour 35mins to 1hour 50 mins.  (All times are approximate only)  Neither walk is suitable for under-15s. Please dress for the weather, and please wear appropriate footwear. Walk covers approx. a 2K walk in a circuit, starting and finishing Dublin Castle.

We look forward to seeing you then.  To see other walks and events by Dublin Decoded see our website or best of all, please sign on to our free monthly newsletter, here.

header image: Medieval Dublin, artist’s impression, from a (superb) original painting by Iain Barber,   Courtesy and kind permission of the artist, Iain Barber.

other image: (below)  a map of the walls of Dublin, by Leonard Strangeways, map c1900.

DFoH BEST MAP cArranHenderson Dublin Decoded





Walking Tour of Rathmines: Saturday 11th June 11am-1pm.


Dublin Decoded offers an excellent walking tours of Rathmines which explores the lovely main street, residential roads, churches and public buildings of this affluent, attractive suburb just outside of Dublin’s city centre.  Rathmines is full of fascinating history and wonderful architecture and our sociable walk delve deeply into both aspects.  The tour is available two ways,  1-as a private event for your group, on flexible dates subject to availability. Private tours can be arranged with an email to (Please us a subject header with Rathmines + your preferred dates, if emailing about a private tour enquiry)  2- We also do occasional public tours (around 2-3 times per year) which are of course open to all. We’re delighted to say we have a public version of the Rathmines walk coming soon.  Our tour starts at 11am on Saturday 11 June, 2016.   Tickets are around €16 p/p.  We’re even more delighted to say this next trip includes a visit to a little known Rathmines church.  The tour runs for 2 hours approx in total.  11am -1pm approx.  Meeting place and all other practical details are on the ticket page on this ticket link.



Tour content:  Rathmines is primarily a mid to late 19th to early 20th century district and features some fantastic examples of the many styles from this long and diverse period, buildings across many typologies and in many styles, including neo-Gothic, romantic and Tudor revivalism..


… fine late Georgian and Victorian villas, and a couple of really fine churches, as well as an enticing hodge-podge of much more.  Libraries, schools, barracks, one of the largest and grandest churches in Dublin, with its iconic, towering dome, Rathmines is a treasure trove of all that’s best in architecture from the last 180 years.   Come and join us as we explore it together, in the usual, highly sociable Dublin Decoded style.



above: front of of the Church of Saint Mary, Refuge of Sinners, Rathmines showing the magnificent portico, which survived the terrible early 20th century fire, and the old dome, which of course which did not!   Today’s (replacement) dome, an icon of the Dublin skyline, is much bigger.  It was cast in Glasgow and was reputedly first ordered and cast for a church in pre-revolutionary Russia!

How to Book a Dublin Decoded Tour


DublinDecoded LogoPublic tours: Dublin Decoded run from 1-3 scheduled, public tours most months, March to November.  Everyone’s welcome on these tours which are advertised both here on this site as well as often on  We typically only schedule and advertise our public tours 5-10 days in advance (of the tour).   When you see information on tour, simply follow booking directions there, which will bring you to a ticket link.  Monthly Newsletter:  However, the best way to get reliable, prior advance notification of public tours, is to subscribe to our free monthly newsletter.  Our newsletter gives advance notice once a month, telling you about our 1, 2 or 3 public tours taking place.  The newsletter is recommended for anyone interested in Art, Architecture, and/or History walking tours and especially those living or based in Dublin, or who are frequent visitors. If you’d like to join this rather nice gang, and get the heads-up when our sociable walking tours take place.  Links to tickets are also included in each monthly newsletter mail-out.  The quick subscribe form again is here. 

Private tours: all of our public tours as seen on home page are available as private tours for pre-booked groups/individuals (e.g. families; groups of friends organizing their own get-together; schools and colleges; corporate, activities, incentives etc).  If you wish to book a private tour, please send us an email to    Please include your preferred date /dates in the subject header please, to ensure a speedy reply.  Thank you in advance.    Other useful information is number of guests (even if that’s provisional or approximate) Nationality, Language, and approximate Age of the visitor/visitors, please, and disability or mobility issues, if any. Thank you.

Custom tours: Dublin Decoded also offers fully customised tours for pre-booked groups/individuals.  These tours can take place on any flexible dates, subject to request.  To inquire about a custom tour for any pre-booked group, thge procedure is the same as above,  please send us an email to  Please include the following *the type of the tour or tours you are most interested in,  *your preferred date or dates.  *the number, nationality and approximate age of the visitor/visitors.    For the best and speediest response, please include your preferred date in your Subject Header:  eg:  Medieval Walls tour, (group of 4/5) November 21st?  

Schools and College:  For the Georgian Leaving Cert tour, and other school and college tours,  please follow the same procedure as above, especially the subject header. Many thanks.   We have a lot of extra support material for Leaving Cert Art History groups and their teaching wishing to gain a better understanding of Georgian architecture.    For a full account of what’s available to Leaving Cert groups and their teachers, please see here .

Time of weekday tours:  Please note we can not currently offer morning tours on Monday to Friday, due to teaching and lecturing commitments.  Monday to Friday tours generally start at 2.10pm or 2.15pm, depending on start point. Tours are generally last between 1.8 hrs -3 hours.   Tours at weekends can start earlier (or later)

About Dublin Decoded:   Dublin Decoded is one of highest-rated small walking tour companies in Ireland.  Lead guide Arran Henderson has led multiple tours for the Irish Georgian Society, Irish Architecture Foundation, Culture Night, Open House, RTE, and other leading cultural events and institutions, as well as many schools and colleges and even, Failte Ireland, the state’s own tourism agency.  We enjoy excellent relationships with the OPW, IGS, and with various custodians of many other historic sites, (some of them rarely seen, and rarely accessible). We have public liability insurance to over €6 million and are governed by extremely high standards of probity and best practice.  Our public tours are averagely priced, at between €15-25 per adult, depending on tour content. Prices are clearly advertised, as each tour is announced.

Standard rates for a privately booked custom tour start at €140 for the first 1-4 people Monday-Friday (afternoons); generally €10 each for each person over 4.  On weekends, €160 for the first 1-4 people on weekends, then generally €10 each for each person over 4.    Please note higher start rates, and higher p/p extra rates apply to Corporate Groups.  Much Lower rates apply to School and College groups.     See here for a full account of what’s available to Leaving Cert groups and their teachers)

Leaving Cert Art History:  Teachers of Leaving Cert Art History may wish to contact us in relation to our Georgian East or West tours, or indeed Historic Painting tour, all specially adapted for school and college groups, at reduced rates and with additional supports provided.  (Please see tour summaries, at foot of page)

Popular tour itineraries:  At the foot of this page are brief precis of 6 of our most popular tour itineraries (for both public and private groups)  complete with links to the fuller tour content and images.

Duration:  In all cases tours last for approximately 2 hours, sometimes longer by arrangement. Remember that Irish weather can be unpredictable in all seasons, so please dress appropriately for outdoors tours.   Once again, if you are resident in Dublin, subscribe to our newsletter to see our public and sometimes special occasion tours too, which often take place on bank holidays and at other times: The quick subscribe form again is here.

Using our calendar (don’t!) :   The calendar on the “booking page”  is for Reference only.  Despite the name, it’s unfortunately not currently possible to book a tour using the “booking calendar”.   Pressing on a calendar date sends us an alert, but does nothing else. If you wish to attend a public tour, please view the details of that tour as advertised on our homepage, (click on the tour title to expand the information)  then follow booking directions there. If you wish to book a proivate tour, write to us, following the guidelines above and below.  Thank you. 🙂

To book a private tour,   please peruse the home page first, to see the full list of tours.  Then please Email us to inquire about group rates.  available on flexible dates by arrangement.  Immediately below is are super-brief precis, of 6 of our most popular tour itineraries (for both public and private groups) complete with links to a longer illustrated page with more notes on each tour contents. If you do write to us, your subject header is everything!  🙂

                            Our most popular tours.

    • Georgian East:  College Green, the old Parliament, Trinity College, and streets around, complete with a summary of Dublin’s Golden era “Augustan Age”, its conflicts, religion, politics, architectural glories,  its history and social history.
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    • Tour 3
    • Georgian West: this tour is also accurately known as “From Medieval Mass to Georgian Splendour” charting as it does the whole early, Viking and Medieval history of Dublin, as well as the start of the Georgian Golden Age.   Depending on time and availability we sometimes visit an historic church or two. Includes many wonderful buildings.  We also discuss the extraordinary story of Dublin’s Wide Streets Committee. 
    • Cole Alley & Hooey Court (Swift)
    • MaltonCH
    • Georgian North West:   Starting from Essex Street West, and a Restoration Theatre, we travel across the River Liffey and up through medieval markets and the story of a powerful, almost vanished monastery, to see Victorian marvels, 18th century courthouses and prisons,  and many other streets and stories around the area, ending up at some the most magnificent of all Dublin’s Georgian marvels.
    • Kings Inns
    • Georgian North East:  Starting from the top of O’Connell Street we take in the  architectural marvels of a 18th century hospital complex and its extraordinary story, then tour the Northern and eastern section of the remarkable Gardiner Estate,  dazzling in its scope and visionary ambition.  Includes a hidden lake,  palatial, aristocratic townhouses and many hidden wonderful details of architecture, history and social history.  We sometimes finish with an impromptu private trip to an art gallery,  housed in a Georgian townhouse.
    • North Georgain 6 Blessington Basin
    • Medieval Walls.  We follow the complete circuit of Dublin’s medieval walls, with its vanished gates and watch towers, using it a a vehicle for story-telling of many of the extraordinary events, now often forgotten, that shaped Dublin’s history from its Viking origins up to around 1690.   This tour has someting of  treasure hunt appeal, as we usually issue maps with this walk, so guests can follow the course of the walls and see all the key buildings, towers, castles and religious foundations that once marked the route.  Like all our tours, this is highly recommended by dozens of former guests on TripAdvisor.
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    • Or
    • River walk.  We normally recommend this walk on Sundays or a Bank Holiday Mondays as it works best when the quays are peaceful from the usual flow of traffic.  The river Liffey is the lifeblood of Dublin.  We use its long course and its views over the city as a vehicle to explore the history of Ireland capital.
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    • Or
    • How to Read a Painting :  One for the art lovers, this is a unique workshop at the National Gallery of Ireland, focused on learning more about old master paintings, (from Renaissance Italy to 17th century Dutch Art like Vermeer)  You will also learn a lot about how to read iconography, in other words the traditions and conventions of symbolism in western art.
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    • Other bespoke and custom made tours.  This is just a sample of our most popular tours.  If you have other requests or special interests, anything in mind for your private tour from a tour of Saint Patrick’s cathedral, to historic libraries;  from Ireland in the First World war to Classical music to Graffiti,  just drop us a line.  You can see an additional cross-sample of other ideas here ,  all available as private/custom tours F inquiries for pre-booked groups/individual tours, just email    Please include your preferred date in subject header.   Thank you.
    • Thank you for reading.   We look forward to welcoming             you on tour sometime.
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Walking Tour of Dublin South-West City Centre


In this lovely tour we explore and discuss in depth – and some humour – the extraordinary historic and architectural heritage dating from circa 1690-1830 in the south-west section of Dublin City centre.

The walk covers Dublin Castle, Cork Hill, Werburgh’s Street, the Four Courts and around.   As we will discover, there is a vast amount of hidden history in this much-storied district of old Dublin.

A tour not to be missed.

15 Arran Dublin Decoded walks


North-West Dublin City Walking Tour


Kings Inns Ext 1

A fantastic tour of Dublin’s North-West Georgian district featuring the spectacular King’s Inns and much more.

Tour Description: on this two-hour walking tour of Dublin’s North-West Georgian district, we explore the River Liffey and quays, then cross the river to the Northside of the old city winding through traces of medieval markets and monasteries and an 18th century courthouse and prison, discussing history and buildings, on our way up to the second half (and highlight) of our tour – Henrietta Street and the majestic King’s Inns.

This section of the tour includes the stunning interior of the Inn’s separate Law Library, and then an extensive interior tour of the King’s Inns itself, including the superb dining room, the “benchers’ room”, the grand major hallways, staircases, sculptures, furniture and stained glass of the Inns.   We’ll also get a chance to touch on one or two highlights from the Inn’s surprisingly rich and historically fascinating Art collection.

Yet the real star is the building itself.  James Gandon is the most famous and most revered of the great architects from Dublin’s Georgian era.  Here’s a chance to understand why, with a rare opportunity to visit the most intact of his masterpieces.

This Georgian North-West walk forms one part of a quartet of four different Georgian masterpieces city walks run by Dublin Decoded – each walk named after a point of the compass: NE/NW/SE/SW.   For those who are interested in seeing a menu of all 4 different Georgian tours all the details can be found here.

 KIngs Inns INt 1

An interior shot of the Law Library, on Henrietta Street.

Kings INNs LIBRARY INT 2Law Library,  Henrietta Street.

Kings Inns INT WindowInterior detail, a special window with an interesting history at the Kings Inns.

Kings Inns Dining 1

Walking Tours of Georgian Dublin: Overview


At Dublin Decoded we run a number of different walking tours concentrating on the most iconic part of Dublin’s built heritage: the Georgian era.


Ireland’s capital city is of course famous for its abundance of magnificent and beautiful buildings from the 18th and early 19th century, the Georgian era (named for the four Hanoverian Kings of that age, reigning 1714-1830).  Many of these buildings are already very familiar for Dubliners: a comforting backdrop of everyday life.  But how well do we really know them?


In our walking tours we visit and explore the true genius behind the design, history, and ornament of Dublin’s best Georgian buildings.  We think you’ll find lots of new secrets and delights to savour and enjoy.

We run four main Georgian tours: Georgian South East, Georgian South West, Georgian North West and Georgian North East. Each walk covers a different area of the city centre and views different Georgian buildings. To an extent the walks are themed differently also.  For those with the luxury of doing all four, taken together they will give you a far more complete and rounded vision of Dublin, its development, history, shape and heritage as a whole.

Among the luminous architects featured on the Georgian South East walking tour are pioneer Edward Lovett Pearce, Richard Cassels, Thomas Burgh, William Chambers and the sheer genius of James Gandon.


For those who want to explore more Georgian heritage, the Georgian South West tour explores 18th century heritage in the rich architectural history around Dublin Castle, focusing on the many beautiful Georgian era buildings in the area, including works by: Sir William Robertson; Thomas Burgh; Thomas Ivory; James Gandon and others.  We look at how the “Castle” itself became the very first part of Dublin to receive a neo-classical treatment in architecture (and why). We also take a broader view of city-shaping to focus on the hugely powerful work of the Wide Streets Committee, how this mighty agency transformed the shape and the destiny of the capital forever.   As well as all this, we focus on several outstanding individual buildings including the Upper Yard of Dublin Castle and the Chapel Royal by Francis Johnston, among others. We also look at how Cork Hill boasts not one, but two architectural masterpieces – City Hall (the former Royal Exchange) and the beautiful Newcommen Bank – and how both buildings conceal secrets you may not be quite aware of.

We’ll then either stroll down to the riverside for an exterior view and appreciation of James Gandon’s sublime Four Courts and/or we might even have a special extra, secret treat in store for you on the day.   No advance hints or guarantees though.  Sorry!  You’ll have to come along on the day to find out 🙂

St Werburg's Arran

Our Georgian North West tour is a wonderful, intriguing and highly sociable walk, featuring medieval markets and monasteries, glorious Henrietta Street and the superb interiors of the King’s Inns including its stunning Library, Dining Room and much more.  It’s not every day one gets the chance to view the interior of King’s Inns (also featuring superb additional design work by Gandon’s fellow brilliant Georgians: architects Fredrick Darley, Henry Aron Baker and Francis Johnston).  This walk is highly recommended.

To complete the set, or make “the Georgian Square”, come on our Georgian North East tour including Parnell Square (formerly Rutland Square), the many secrets of Cavendish Row, the Rotunda Hospital and the Rotunda complex, including the Lying-In hospital, the Gate and Ambassador, along with Eccles Street, some city surprises, Mountjoy Square, and even perhaps a trip to a Art gallery or two!

Kings Inns Dining 2

KIngs Inns INt 1


Tour 7

Art Tour: The Genius of Dutch Art at the National Gallery of Ireland


With several of the paintings that Sir Alfred and Lady Beit left to Russborough House recently threatened with imminent sale abroad and much in the news recently, it seems a timely moment to explore, cherish and celebrate those other exceptional paintings from the Beit collection given to the National Gallery of Ireland back in 1986.

In this unique tour we focus on one of the strongest elements of the Beit 1986 bequest, the superb tranche of Dutch Art from the 17th century, and a few other works from the same glorious era aptly named the Dutch Golden Age.


Everyone is very welcome, you certainly don’t need to be any sort of art historian or  connoisseur to participate.  Dublin Decoded tours are informal, guided discussions, aimed at making the best ideas accessible and interesting.  This tour is no exception as we take our time to enjoy and appreciate works ranging from Biblical scenes by Rembrandt to School-rooms by van Steen, a snowy winter scene by Lastman, mysterious interiors by Vermeer and Metsu or a glorious landscape by van Ruisdale.

Van Ruisdale’s stunning work Castle at Beintheim is a good example of how our focus on just a handful of paintings works.  This mighty castle dominating a landscape of richly forested hillside and tiny houses is something of a miracle, both microscopic and epic in its depiction, with the smallest figures painted in a single stroke, sometimes from one hair of a paintbrush.

How did the artist, how did so many Dutch artists of the time, achieve their unparalleled level of virtuosity and verisimilitude?  On a deeper level, what might such works tell us about Dutch culture of the time, their values and attitudes, strengths, fears and hopes?

van Ruisdale

van Ruisdale detail

We’ll also look at Dutch interiors, such as the quiet beautiful “domestic” spaces of Johann Vermeer and Gabriel Metsu.  These legendary pictures seem deceptively simple. They can of course be enjoyed for their quiet, enigmatic beauty.  But they also sometime reveal a surprisingly layered, rich web of clues and symbols, telling stories or meditating on morals, with their beautifully elusive, subtle use of allegory marking them out as works of singular genius.   With patience and application, we’ll tease out such clues and meanings,  and  increase our appreciation along the way.

Metsu symbols

In short there will be plenty of hidden details and surprises.  Every tour is a special experience, relaxed and convivial, and this in particular is one not to be missed.

Hendrick Avercamp Scene on Ice

Reviews of our Art events, history and art tours may be found on TripAdvisor under our banner Dublin Decoded.

Vermeer NGI


Medieval Walls, Castle and churches of Dublin walking tour


We’re delighted to invite you on a rare Sunday edition and very special version, of our very favourite walk, the Medieval walls tour.   Taking place  the afternoon of Sunday 17th May
It’s hard to visualize or even credit today, that Dublin was once a small yet densely packed Viking town behind a wooden stockade.

It’s even harder perhaps to visualize or even credit today today that that Dublin then became a bustling walled medieval Anglo-Norman city, with mighty stone gates, castellated watch-towers, and the heads of traitors, often displayed on spikes.

Many of us are unaware of the long incident-packed history of fires, wars, rebellions,  plague visitations, and even a huge foreign invasion, that marked the ancient city before the early modern period.
That;s partly because, apart from a few fragments, in the two cathedrals and around Dublin castle, Ireland’s capital appears to have lost most of its ancient past.

But in fact, there are clues aplenty, when we learn how to read them, and know where to look.

If you’d like to get some sense of how the old city stood then, and how it withstood this extraordinary, often violent history join our Medieval walk this Sunday 17th of May.

Among other tricks and treats,  we use facsimiles of Leonard Strangeway’s wonderful map of the old city.  So there’s a sense of the treasure hunt about this walk too.


Among other things we’ll walk the lines of the city walls, glance at the disatnt Viking past, show you how to read a two different types of map; interpret city topography, and visit Dublin’s oldest continuously-operating church.

You’ll also learn how to decode place & street-names amid other clues, to knit the present to the past.
Our tour often includes either St Audoen’s Church  (depending on dates) and/or the ancient foundations of the old Powder Tower, buried and hidden beneath ground at Dublin Castle.

North Dublin City Centre Georgian Architecture walking tour


A special one-off tour from Dublin Decoded.  A sociable and fascinating 2.2 hour walking tour, revealing some of the extraordinary 18th century heritage of Dublin’s North Georgian Quarter.  From 2pm – 4.10pm pm approx.  On Sunday 22 March.  This tour will also link (as an optional extra) with a super concert (starting 4.30) in an historic interior in Mountjoy Square.  All details, and booking, just below.


from Parnell/Rutland Square to Mountjoy Square and around, a Historic & Architectural Walking Tour with Arran Henderson of Dublin Decoded.  An exploration of the extraordinary heritage and social history of the area.  Linking afterwards with the lovely concert, by AtTheDrawingRooms, presenting the Elva McGowan ensemble, at a historic interior at Mountjoy Square. 

Mountjoy Square

Please note, There are 2 options, walk only, concert only and walk + concert combined ticket.  Link just below is a walk-tour only ticket, for €20. Purchase ticket via EventBrite.   Meet 1.55pm Sunday outside the Ambassador Theatre, facing down O’Connell Street and the back of the Parnell monument.   Talk/walk commences 2 sharp.  Please bring print-out of your ticket, just prior to 1.55pm.  Link to walk-only ticket Here.

 To purchase walk + concert combined ticket, for special combined price of €30,  please go to AtTheDrawingRooms presents page on EventBrite on this link, and press option-3: Walk + Concert combined ticket.  Concert-only tickets also available that page. (option 1)

whatever you choose it promises to be a special afternoon and evening.  We look forward to seeing you there.


Dublin Northside watercomour panorama

Dublin Decoded history walk, music, poetry & wine.


Image2 Drawing Rooms Photo credit Declan Hackett

Dublin Decoded are proud and delighted to collaborate with architectural & music historian Aine Nic an Riogh and her At the Drawing Rooms project. They stage beautiful concerts  in some of Dublin’s loveliest historic spaces.  For our part, 3 times over the next 3 months we’ll lead walks (listed below)- followed by programmes and recitals, curated by at the Drawing Room’s Aine Nic an Riogh.

Sunday afternoon March 22nd:   the Drawing Rooms presents the Elva MacGowan Ensemble, at 25 Mountjoy Sq.  Concert 16:30 to 18:00   For concerts-only tickets see this link.     Dublin Decoded lead a special walk to link with this event, North Georgian Splendour.  Details: Meet & staring at 2pm, Parnell Monument, top of O’Connell Street, we’ll explore together and discuss the adjoining areas, including an architectural appreciation of the Rotunda, Ambassador and Gate Theatres, Parnell Square, then on to the Black Church and around, onto Denmark Street, Belvedere College, the whole tour with detail, annecdote  design and social history.  Includes visit and exploration of an historic 18th century interior, (either on North Great Georges Street, or Mountjoy Square itself).  Walk conclude 4pm, approx 30 minutes before concert, to allow a rest. We’ll finish at or very close to concert venue in Mountjoy Square.  “Walk-only” ticket normal €20, (incl booking fee) but -25% reduction  walk + concert joint ticket, at combined price of €30.  For combined tickets please see this link, and press 3rd option: “walk + concert”.

Then, Sunday April 19th:  Dublin in the First World War, a history walk.

QUIZ 10  Dublin DEcoded Picture Quiz 10

Dublin Decoded collaboration with the Drawing Rooms takes place Sunday April 19th.     Meet 2pm at Campanile, middle of Front Square, Trinity College, for a special walk discussing Dublin in the First World War, especially this central-south area from Trinity college to Stephen’s Green and St Patrick’s Cathedral.  We’ll explore how the war was perceived, commemorated or denied, how it divided and polarized or united, and how it intersected with the dramatic events of Easter Week in 1916.   Tour finishes at South William Street, with a short 30 minute break, to continue and dovetail with a wonderful concert and performances there…

Aerial engraving

“Words and Music from the First World War”,  in the lovely Octagon Room at the Irish Georgian Society/ City Assembly Rooms, South William Street.  Starts 20 minutes after conclusion of our walking tour.   Please note you can book tour only €20 (inc booking fee) at this link:      But for joint walk + concert combined ticket at special total price €30, please look for the 3rd option after you press on this link.

a month later, on Sunday 31st May:  Dublin Decoded, walk of the North Georgian City, followed by a concert at Number 12 Henrietta Street

Nrth Georgian Watercolour

featuring the 18th century Rotunda Lying-In hospital, including Ambassador and Gate theatres; Parnell Sq (formerly Rutland Square) as well as Charlemont House; the King’s Inns and a history of Henrietta Street itself.  Walk commences 2pm.  Meet at the Parnell monument, top of O’Connell Street.  Finishes 4pm, to allow a quick 20 minute rest- break before the concert…     where…   @TheDrawingRoom with the Association of Irish Composers presents,  Anne-Marie O’Farrell – harpist and composer, in the spectacular Georgian interior of number 12 Henrietta Street.  Concert Sunday, 31 May 2015 from 16:30 to 18:00 (Irish summer time)    This wonderful concert is preceded by the Dublin Decoded walk of the North Georgian City, as above.    To purchase tickets for walk + concert at special combination price of €30, please look for the 3rd option “walk + concert”.  after you press here.

Image1 Drawing RoomsPhoto credit Declan Hackett



Georgian architecture for Schools & Leaving Cert Art-History Classes.


The tour. The Dublin Decoded Georgian architecture walk is a 2 hour approx. walking seminar for Leaving Cert Art History groups.

By concentrating on relatively small group of key buildings, terms, ideas and architects from the Georgian era, (approximately 1720 to 1830) it helps understanding and bring the era, concepts and creative personnel to life. It is designed to give teachers and students an edge in forthcoming exams.

The “walk and talk” takes place in and around the College Green and Trinity College area. Architects and designers include Thomas Burgh, Edward Lovett Pearce, James Gandon, Richard Cassels and Hugh Darley among others.

The tour features the origins and underlying principles of the Georgian style, as well as notes on materials, and a glossary of terms and ideas.

Interpretation and discussion of buildings is by Arran Henderson, an art historian and writer who conducts tours for the Irish Georgian Society and many other leading cultural organizations.

The tour. The Dublin Decoded Georgian architecture walk is a 2 hour approx. walking seminar, focused for Leaving Cert Art History groups.  Please note the tour runs from 2.15pm (available most weekday afternoons by prior arrangement)  and lasts for approx 2 hours, up to 2hrs, 15 mins approx.  [ie: 2.15pm-4.30pm available weekday afternoons]  Fee is €8 per/student based on groups over 15.  All other details, on tour and worksheets, and the full tour spec,  below.

College Green Dublin Decoded


To assist teachers and classroom/exam performance, the tour concludes with two useful study sheets.   One is handout for students, a summary of notes on key Georgian Dublin buildings, both those featured on the tour and other important examples of the style. The other sheet is a “refresher” test. This is given to teachers/ group leaders at the end of the tour, for follow-up work later back in the classroom.

Aerial engraving

Fees and notes:

Generally, schools offer this tour to students as an extra-mural activity. Fees are thus paid by parents and delivered by the teacher accompanying the class-excursion.

For educational groups of 18 pupils upwards, fee €8 per/student.   For smaller educational groups (17 pupils and less) a flat fee of €150 applies.

Please note that all fees are collected prior to tour by the teacher. Schools or groups who wish or prefer to pay in advance via electronic payment are welcome.


How to enquire and book.

With Leaving Cert preparation germane only to late May, demand could be high next 3 months. March limited already, although some slots remain. Please note the following if making an enquiry.

All tours on Weekday afternoons, available times slots are generally on Monday, or Wednesday or Friday afternoons.    To enquire or to reserve a tour, please choose a Monday, Wednesday or Friday afternoon, then please email   If you include the words Georgian school Tour + the preferred date in the subject header, that is greatly appreciated and assists a timely response.

eg: Subject header:   “Georgian school Tour, available Monday 06/04/15. ? “

Final note: Variations, two-stage and bespoke tours.

The tour is also relevant for Leaving Cert History groups, giving insights into 18th and early 19th century Irish politics and society.  Note that teachers bringing History, (rather than Art history) groups should specify this in the first contact email, as we adjust content and often our route accordingly.

Some teachers, including Leaving Cert History or Art History teachers, may wish to do the alternative route Georgian West tour, around Dublin Castle and adjoining area.  For Art History groups, this route focuses more on (1) the transition from Medieval to Enlightenment/early Georgian street plan and design, and (2) on the crucial role of the Wide Streets Commission, 1753 onwards. For history groups content can include the above, as well as notes on medieval Dublin, on the early Modern period, and relationship between Dublin castle and the Irish Parliament up to the Act of Union.

We are naturally anxious to help in any way and will discuss and accommodate any specific requirements or emphasis you may have.  Leaving Cert History/ Honours History teachers, Third level; A or S-Level teachers/tutors and lecturers should please contact Arran at the same email as above to discuss requirements. The same applies to any teacher handling Language Colleges, special language needs or disability.

If you know of a teacher in a school who may benefit from the information all the social media sharing buttons are below. Thank you.

Other Dublin Decoded events for visitors to the city and for recreational or historical interest groups, should see our main home with art history and architectural walks page here.

the guide:   Arran has written and researched  on aspects of visual culture, art history, architectural and design history for various publications including the Irish Arts Review.   25+ teaching experience, with many ages and abilities however allows him to make material accessible and engaging for students and young people.

As guide he has led walks for the Irish Georgian Society, the leading agency for advocacy, education on and protection of Ireland’s 18th century architectural heritage. He has also conducted tours for Open House; the showpiece event of the Irish Architectural Foundation; and Culture Night and other leading cultural and state institutions, including Failte Ireland.

Arran’s firm Dublin Decoded is rated by visitors among the best in the capital, around #6 according to the tourism site TripAdvisor, (from 300+ cultural activities listed in Dublin).  

Leaving Certificate Art History Teachers may also be interested in another excursion, discussing religious (and secular) symbolism in historic paintings at the National Gallery, from Italian Quttrocento and Renaissance to 17th century Dutch Art.  Please see here.

Reynolds Parody Sch of Athens

Tour 1 | How to Read a Painting |Thursday evening 23rd April


Gabrille Metsu at the National Gallery of Ireland Arran Henderson

Demystifying the language of Art at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.  Have you ever looked at saints in a church or a altarpiece, or in a painting at a museum, and wished you knew who they were?    Or ever wondered what exactly a painting was about?  This unique tour- subject of countless rave reviews on TripAdvisor and elsewhere-  is probably for you.

Tour details:   The tour features in-depth discussion of around 8-12 individual paintings selected to illustrate different aspects of “how to look at” and how to understand the great art of the past. You’ll learn how to look at paintings in the same ways a trained Art Historian looks so that all of your future gallery and museum experiences will be enhanced.

Jacques Yverni Nat Gal Arran

This includes ideas on:

  • Genre, types of painting.
  • the “function” of different types of works, from portraits to landscape to still life, religious and devotional works.  What are paintings “for”?
  • Technique, materials, ideas in art:  we’ll teach you the difference between Mathematical and Atmospheric perspective, and much more.
  • Symbolism and iconography: How exactly do artists use symbols within their work to construct meaning?  How can we learn to read these symbols today?

We’ll introduce to you to examples of symbols, including the unique “attribute”-type symbols for different saints in the Italian and French Renaissance of the 15th century.

We’ll discuss what “Iconography” is, and how it works.  We’ll look at the importance of “convention” – in composition, in symbols, even in the lighting within paintings, and how this contributes to the meaning of paintings themselves.

PalmezzanoDEtailWe will look at how many different elements of a painting,  from symbols to light to landscape to “gesture” to composition,  are used by artists to construct larger meaning within the painting as a whole.


We’ll also look at symbolism in secular (non-religious) paintings like 16th and 17th century German,  Dutch and Flemish works.

Conrad faber Nat Gallery Arran Henderson






Through guided discussion and observation, you’ll begin a new lifelong relationship with art everywhere, exploring the churches, cathedrals, galleries and museums of Europe, with confidence as well as curiosity.

You’ll never look at paintings the same way again.

How to attend this tour:  The next edition of this tour is this Thursday evening,  23rd April-  at the National Gallery in Dublin.  Meeting just inside the Clare Street entrance, (outside the bookshop window)  at 5.55pm.  But please note numbers are limited by agreement with the gallery, (and to allow better viewing of works) thus all tickets should please be purchased in advance, using this link. 

How to attend Dublin Decoded tours in general:   Dublin Decoded tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  If you don’t see a date advertised above, then to see when  next scheduled tour of this type open to public goes ahead, (and when all our all scheduled tours go each month)  subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

Alternatively,  if no dates suit you and if you are already in a group,  you may wish or prefer to make a custom group booking.  The How to Read a Painting tour and all our tours, can be be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups.   Available days are usually Monday afternoon,  at weekends, Or on a Thursday evenings  (in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour ) .  This private group booking option is one we recommend, even for quite small groups as it’s quite economical to book your own tour.  Rates for pre-booked tours are €100, for the first 2-4 people, then €10 p/p after.  With groups over 6 people upwards this works out cheaper than (joining) a scheduled tour,  plus you  choose your own tour and dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  please send us a short email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date/ dates in subject header if possible,  and how many visitors and any other enquiries or requirements within your email.  Thank you.

Make a booking enquiry.

Read our Trip Advisor reviews.


Tour 2 | How to Read a Cathedral



On this tour we scratch behind the surface to decode some of the many and varied stories hidden in the art and history of Ireland’s largest Cathedral, the 800 year old Saint Patrick’s;  the resting place of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels.



St Patricks Cathedral cpyright Arran Henderson

Topics for discussion include early Christian & medieval foundation;  the Anglo-Normans, & the extraordinary story of the two cathedrals;  as well as iconography & reading the Boyle memorial- power & intrigue in Elizabethan & Jacobean London & Ireland;  17th century political & religious upheaval, knights, warriors, archbishops, and much more.  Please contact Arran on to enquire about our schedule,  (please include your preferred dates)  or to simply pre-book a tour.

As always with Dublin Decoded, we’ll be using the rich artifacts of this amazing cathedral, saturated in history, as signpost to decode our way through the complex yet fascinating history of Dublin and Ireland itself.

The cathedral is still the national cathedral and still the largest church in the country.  It is both a fascinating mirror of Ireland, and has even served as an actor and player in the often troubled and traumatic drama of the nations history.

Artifacts, topics and discussions include:

  • Saint Patrick’s well
  • The church on the island
  • The Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork memorial
  • Elizabethan and early Stuart Ireland
  • Cannonball!
  • 17th century Ireland and the Williamite War
  • Dean Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels
  • The order of the Knights of St Patrick
  • War memorials in Saint Patrick’s
  • Presidents and Peace Makers
  • Independence and changing Ireland

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral offers especially rich pickings for those who like their history deep and rich.  There are stone markers from the very earliest Celtic-Christian period in the 5th century; the sarcophagus of at least one early medieval archbishop,  and countless other treasures.   The Dublin Decoded experience keeps a sense of narrative and history alive.

One of the stand-out features of Saint Patrick’s is the huge wealth of war memorials, with the tombs of soldiers from medieval knights, to the faux-medieval heraldry of the Order of the Knights of Saint Patricks, back to real soldiers, like causalities of every conflict from 19th century wars in China, Burma, Egypt and South Africa (both Boer Wars)  to  Spitfire pilots who fought the Battle of Britain in the skies above Kent in 1940.

But of course many of the bloodiest conflicts represented here were fought in Ireland itself, from the Ulster Rebellion, and the Confederate Wars, to Cromwell’s bloody revenge, and the later 17th century conflict called the Williamite War.   The artifacts of Saint Patrick offers an amazing chance to get away from dry history books and websites, and gain some insights up close with the original materials,  into the extraordinary complexity and ironies of the late 16th to late 17th century, when the history of Ireland was forged,  and without which any understanding of Irish history in the modern era is doomed.

How to attend the tour:   These tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  But if you don’t see a date advertised above, then to see when  next scheduled tour of this type open to public goes ahead, (and when all our all scheduled tours go each month)  please just subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

If you can already see when the next scheduled tour goes ahead, please use the booking calender on the “Tour calender and booking” page, to simply book yourself in, on the relevant date.  We will be in touch to confirm your place in due course.  There is currently no deposit, as we work on a trust system, so please, don’t book unless you’re sure you can and will attend.  Thank you.

Alternatively,  you may wish to to consider making a custom group booking.  The Cathedral tour and all our tours, can be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups, usually either on Monday afternoon or at weekends, (or on a Thursday evenings in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour ) .  This private group booking option is one we recommend, even for quite small groups, as it’s quite economical to book your own tour. . Rates for pre-booked tours are a minimum of €100, for the first 2-5 people, but then €10 p/p after.  With groups over 6/7 people and upwards, this can easily work out cheaper than joining a scheduled tour.  Plus, crucially, you choose your own tour and own dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  just send us a short email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date or dates,  and how many visitors, in your email or in subject header.  Thank you.

and remember, if you wish to join the monthly newsletter, the subscription form is here.


Make a booking enquiry.

Read our Trip Advisor reviews.






Tour 3 | Medieval Walls, Gates and Watchtowers: next tour date: tba. Tour available flex dates pre-booked groups


Medieval Walls, Towers and Prisons is an interactive treasure hunt. Walking with our “treasure maps” in hand, we examine how to read the city street-scape and other clues to seek out and trace the lines of the old walls, towers and gates of the ancient city.  (Maps are provided for the duration of the tour.)   More details, and a flavour of the tour below…

In 1660, the year of the Stuart Restoration, Dublin was still a densely crowded network of ramshackle medieval mass, scooped out with only a network of tiny streets, courtyards and alleys.


Over the next 150 years, it would transform into one of the finest neo-classical cities in Europe, as it did so, much of the old medieval city was knocked down and swept away, not least by the developments controlled by all-powerful Wide Streets Commission.

Samuel Brocus View of College Green

So how can we look back today, to read, imagine and visualise what was here before?

This tour offers a guide to reading the medieval past and medieval city scape,  locating the ancient walls, gates and towers of medieval Dublin.  There are many fragments and many clues, if we know where to look … Join us, as we walk the route of the ancient city walls, gates, watchtowers, prisons and ancient churches of the old city,  map in hand,  discovering half forgotten stories, from daring escapes to devastating explosions, from war and famine to plague, invasion and revolution.

Section of Medievel city:map, Dublin Decoded   IMG_5930

How to attend the tour:   These tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  But if you don’t see a date advertised above, then to see when the next scheduled tour of this type open to public goes ahead, (and when all all scheduled tours go each month)  please just subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

Alternatively,  you may wish to to consider making a custom group booking.  The Medieval tour and all our tours can be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups, usually either on Monday afternoon or at weekends, (Or Thursday evenings, in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour ) .  This private group booking option is one we recommend, even for quite small groups, as it’s quite economical to book your own tour.  Rates for pre-booked tours:  With groups over 6/7 people and upwards, this can easily work out cheaper than joining a scheduled tour.  Plus, crucially, you choose your own tour and own dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  just send us an email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date or dates,  and how many visitors, in your email.  When possible, we appreciate it if you put your preferred date in your subject header.   Thank you!

and remember, if you wish to join the monthly newsletter, the subscription form is here.


For reviews of Dublin Decoded Tours on TripAdvisor, see here.

Tour 4a & 4b | Masterpieces of Georgian Dublin | 2 different Georgian routes available.


Starting slowly around the late 1680s, then gathering speed from the 1720s, Dublin transformed into one of the finest neo-classical cities in Europe.

Samuel Brocus View of College Green

How on earth did it happen?  This tour is a sort of story, the evolution of and the “who, why and  “how” of Enlightenment and Georgian Dublin.

Samuel Brocas The College of Surgeons

Dublin Decoded is proud to have collaborate this year with the Irish Georgian Society, one of Ireland’s leading and oldest promoters and protectors of our architectural heritage on these two wonderful Dublin city tour routes from June to October this year.  This arrangements will resume in June or July next year, 2015.   In the meanwhile it’s still possible to book this tour on most afternoons (bar Tuesdays) as a private tour for you or your group.   Information on fees, availability and contact details all below.

please note: there are two Georgian walking tour routes, Georgian East and Georgian West.      “East” takes in the old Parliament on College Green and various buildings in Trinity College (including work by by Thomas Burgh, William Chambers and Richard Cassels) among other masterpieces


Georgian West” travels the other direction featuring work by Thomas Cooley, Thomas Ivory, Thomas Burgh, (lots of architects called Thomas in 18thC Dublin!) and by that Giant of the Georgian era, James gandon.  Buildings include  City Hall; Newcommen Bank;  sections of Dublin Castle; Saint Werbugh’s church (including interior when possible) and a view and discussion of James Gandon’s Four Courts.  The “West” tour also focuses in more depth on the vital role of the all-powerful Wide Streets Commission.

Brocas 4 Courts & Liffey

Important Tour information:  With sufficient notice it’s possible to book all our tour for most weekday afternoons (bar Tuesdays) as a private tour for you or your group.  The usual start time, unless otherwise specified/arranged,  is 14.15  (2.15pm)  We recommend arriving 5 minutes earlier.    Unless otherwise specified, walks meet in front of the wonderful the City Assembly Rooms, itself a masterpiece of the Georgian style.    The tour takes approx 1 hour and 50 minutes.  Please note we tour regardless of weather, so please wear suitable clothes and footwear!

As there are two Georgian tour options, (East and West) when making a booking enquiry, please stipulate which tour you want as well as your preferred date or dates.    It’s helpful and greatly appreciated if you can put your tour title and your date in the subject header as well.     The more information you give us, the better we can help, so  please put any other important information – such as number of visitors, main language, general age and any mobility issues-  within your email.  Thank you.

Fees: The fee structure is simple: for corporate clients, for private individuals, families and groups:  €100 for the first 1-5 people, then €10 p/p after 5.    For educational groups of younger people over 10 students (in schools, colleges etc) it’s  €7.50 per student, to be collected by the teacher or group leader prior to start of tour. 

To inquire about dates for private group tours:  email to    When possible please include the tour title and your preferred dates in your subject header.  Thank you.

Arran's Custom House Dublin DEcoded tour pic


For reviews of Dublin Decoded Tours on TripAdvisor, see here.

Have you looked at the home page yet, with details of all our 8 different tours?   If we have a  public, scheduled tour going ahead, then you will see it advertised on the tour title on the home page, and/on on the booking calender.  We only run 3-5 public scheduled tours a month during November to April.  So if you don’t see a date visible during your visit, remember all our tours can be booked as private or custom tours, on flexible dates, via an email to   Fees as detailed above.

To use the booking calender below:  to see which dates scheduled tours run, or to see which dates are free to book/inquire about your own, private pre-booked, group tour:  hover your cursor over the information button on date in the calendar below.


Arran at NGI cUp

Tour 5 | Great Victorians


On this tour we explore the rich legacy of beautiful, spectacular buildings, with their applied arts, detail and decor, from the second half of the 19th century, the Victorian era. We decode gargoyles and arches, shimmering ceramic and virtuoso stone sculpture and find out about remarkable characters including a neglected 19th century genius.

We often associate Dublin with 18th century Georgian architecture, and Ireland in general perhaps with the monastic-era, early Celtic church. But on this Victorian tour we’ll view some of simply the best applied art and architecture ever executed in this country,  including  shimmering ceramic, columns of richly coloured marble; virtuoso carved decorative stone sculpture, and stunning paintings in a neo-Byzantine style.

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We also look at the extraordinary influence that critic and thinker John Ruskin exerted on 19th century British and Irish architects and designers, manifest in almost every street and building in these islands.

Throughout the tour we decode,  as we always do,  setting aspects of architecture and design into the context of the Ireland and Dublin of the time, as well as the distinctive mindset of the Victorian era generally, be that political, religious, artistic or intellectual.


How to attend the tour:   These tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  But if you don’t see a date advertised above, then to see when the next scheduled tour of this type open to public goes ahead, (and when all all scheduled tours go each month)  please just subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

If you can already see when the next scheduled tour goes ahead, please use the booking calender on the “Tour calender and booking” page, to simply book yourself in, on the relevant date.  We will be in touch to confirm your place in due course.  There is currently no deposit, as we work on a trust system, so please, don’t book unless you’re sure you can and will attend.  Thank you.

Alternatively,  you may wish to to consider making a custom group booking.  The Victorian tour like all our tours can be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups – usually either on Monday afternoon or at weekends, (Or Thursday evenings, in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour ) .  This private group booking option is one we recommend even for quite small groups, as it’s quite economical to book your own tour.  Rates for pre-booked tours are a minimum of €100, for the first 1-3 people, then €10 p/p after.  With groups over 6/7 people and upwards, this can easily work out cheaper than joining a scheduled tour.  Plus, crucially, you choose your own tour and own dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  just send us an email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date or dates,  and how many visitors, in your email or in subject header.  Thank you.

and remember, if you wish to join the monthly newsletter, the subscription form is here.

Read our Trip Advisor reviews.

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Arran's Dublin Decoded Tors Vic-Pic   L1020345

If you wish to alert a friend, details of this tour can be shared via the social media buttons below.


Tour 6 | The South East City Centre Pot-Pouri


 A walking tour of South East Dublin city centre and its details,  Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares, St Stephen’s Green, Kildare St and Trinity College.

Monkeys350The area around Grafton Street and St Stephen’s Green has been considered Dublin’s most fashionable district for 150 years. This guided tour is designed as a meander – because what better way to enjoy a city? We’ll take in Merrion and Fitzwillam Squares, St Stephen’s Green, Kildare Street and Trinity College to decode the area’s sheer concentration of fine architectural exteriors and interiors, delightful décor and details, and more oddities than in any other quarter of Dublin including a giant deco sculpture of Celtic Gods.


How to attend the tour:   These tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  But if you don’t see a date advertised above, then to see when the next scheduled tour of this type open to public goes ahead, (and when all all scheduled tours go each month)  please just subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

If you can already see when the next scheduled tour goes ahead, please use the booking calender on the “Tour calender and booking” page, to simply book yourself in, on the relevant date.  We will be in touch to confirm your place in due course.  There is currently no deposit, as we work on a trust system, so please, don’t book unless you’re sure you can and will attend.  Thank you.

Alternatively,  you may wish to to consider making a custom group booking.  The South East meander tour, like all our tours can be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups – usually either on Monday afternoon or at weekends, (Or Thursday evenings, in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour ) .  This private group booking option is one we recommend even for quite small groups, as it’s quite economical to book your own tour.  Rates for pre-booked tours are a minimum of €100, for the first 2-5 people, but then €10 p/p after.  With groups over 6/7 people and upwards, this can easily work out cheaper than joining a scheduled tour.  Plus, crucially, you choose your own tour and own dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  just send us an email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date or dates,  and how many visitors, in your email or in subject header.  Thank you.

and remember, if you wish to join the monthly newsletter, the subscription form is here.

Read our Trip Advisor reviews.

Tour 7 | River Walk | occaisonal Sundays or Bank Hol Mondays.


A Dublin river walk along the Liffey,  featuring architecture, literature and history.

To celebrate bank holidays, or occasional Sundays, when the beautiful quays, normally busy with traffic, are quiet and peaceful, we are offering a special river walk along the River Liffey.  We will decode the quays, the buildings and history that line the river, walking first from Centre to West, then back West to East,  finishing up at the exciting newly, redeveloped,  Canal Basin area.

This tour normally runs as a private pre-booked group tour, but we occasionally run it as a scheduled event open to all.  For dates, notifications and/or booking details, see below pictures..

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Brocas 4 Courts & Liffey  IMG_2491

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How to attend the tour:   These tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  But if you don’t see a date advertised above, then to see when the next scheduled tour of this type open to public goes ahead, (and when all all scheduled tours go each month)  please just subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

If you can already see when the next scheduled tour goes ahead, then just please use the booking calender on the “Tour calender and booking” page, to simply book yourself in on the relevant date.  We will be in touch to confirm your place in due course.  There is currently no deposit, as we work on a trust system, so please, don’t book unless you’re sure you can and will attend.  Thank you.

Alternatively you may wish to to consider making a custom group booking.  The River tour like all our tours can be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups – usually either on Monday afternoon or at weekends, (Or Thursday evenings, in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour ) .  This private group booking option is one we recommend even for quite small groups, as it’s quite economical to book your own tour.  Rates for pre-booked tours are a minimum of €100, for the first 2-5 people, but then €10 p/p after.  With groups over 6/7 people and upwards, this can easily work out cheaper than joining a scheduled tour.  Plus, crucially, you choose your own tour and own dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  just send us an email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date or dates,  and how many visitors, in your email or in subject header.  Thank you.

and remember, if you wish to join the monthly newsletter, the subscription form is here.

Read our Trip Advisor reviews.

Tour 8 | North by North-West


Broadstone Station Dublin Decoded, North by North west walking tour Arran Q Henderson 1The North-West district of the city is possibly the most neglected quarter of Dublin and the most underrated.  Yet it boasts a buried Medieval abbey; copious fabulous Georgian architecture; the splendid Victorian city markets with their wonderful terracotta decor, a forgotten, buried harbour, (yes, a buried harbour) and many more amazing sights and stories.

Join us as we explore and decode the North City quays, Ormonde Square, the City Markets, and St Mary’s Abbey.

Later on we’ll view James Gandon’s magnificent King’s Inns and Braodstone Station, called “the last Dublin building to partake of the sublime”.  Along the way we’ll absorb subtle details; everything from architectural décor to graffiti and street furniture.

Tour 8 210x150

How to attend the tour:   These tours often run as scheduled events, open to all.  But if you don’t already see a date advertised above, then to see when the next scheduled tour of this type open to public goes ahead, (and when all all scheduled tours go each month)  please just subscribe to monthly newsletter.   The quick subscribe form is here. 

If you can already see when the next scheduled tour goes ahead, please use the booking calender on the “Tour calender and booking” page, to simply book yourself in, on the relevant date.  We will be in touch to confirm your place in due course.  There is currently no deposit, as we work on a trust system, so please, don’t book unless you’re sure you can and will attend.  Thank you.

Alternatively,  you may wish to to consider making a custom group booking.  The North by North west tour like all our tours can be booked for custom (private) pre-booked groups – usually either on Monday afternoon or at weekends, (Or Thursday evenings, in the case of the How to Read a Painting tour ) .  This private group booking option is one we recommend even for quite small groups, as it’s quite economical to book your own tour.  Rates for pre-booked tours are a minimum of €100, for the first 2-5 people, but then €10 p/p after.  With groups over 6/7 people and upwards, this works out cheaper than joining a scheduled tour.  Plus, crucially, you choose your own tour and own dates.

For enquiry about for your own group tour,  just send us an email to     This is the general email for all enquiries to Dublin Decoded tours- so please specify the tour title, your preferred date or dates,  and how many visitors, in your email or in subject header.  Thank you.

and remember, if you wish to join the monthly newsletter, the subscription form is here.


Read our Trip Advisor reviews.


Valentine post, part II- who in fact was Valentine?


In the last post  we explored how the relics of Saint Valentine, a 3rd century Roman,  ended up in the church of the Carmelite White Friars here in Dublin.

S Valentine wi

But we never really answered the other, second part of the question we posed, Who exactly  was Saint Valentine?  Where did he live,  and die, and what did he do to make his so famous, and romantic?

A quick look first at the dreaded Wikipedia, (that first resort of all lazy researchers, of whom I’m avowedly one) tells us Valentine is a saint venerated in both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.  So far, so good.


mosaic of Valentine, in the eastern, Byzantine tradition.

But wait.  Although approved for veneration in the Latin Church, and wildly popular for many centuries, he is not currently part of the Catholic Calendar of Saints.  What’s that?- you ask.

Well, this calendar is the officially-sanctioned-and-documented list by the Vatican.   The Vatican revises it every few decades, (most recently in 1969).

What does it do?  It contains the main approved saints, along with the calendar of their feast days.   note the way the Catholic subject matter seems to have kick-started me into full Catechism-style Q&A mode here, must stop it)

Anyway, this odd reticence by the Holy See to include Valentine on its A-List of saints, so to speak, is simply because so little is known.

It’s definitely not because there are no early Christian martyr of that name.  Oh no.  It is because there are too many.

There seems to have been up to three holy persons of that name; a priest in Rome; a martyr from Africa; and a bishop from Terni in Umbria,  central Italy.    To further confuse the picture, aspects from all three may have been conflated into “one person” over the centuries.  This can form a confusing picture.   The more one researches, the more the head spins.


Was for example, “Valentine the presbyter” the exact same Valentine who the 5th century Pope Gelasius I approved for worship?  (A ‘presbyter” by the way,  is a preacher or Bishop-like leader in the early church.)   Or were these two different figures?  One of them may, or may not have been buried on the Via Flamina outside Rome.

Confused yet?  It get worse, because additionally,  there’s a Basilica San Valentino in Terni, where also they claim Valentine as their own.  Glasgow too, yes, in Scotland,  also claims to have Valentines bone.  Ah yes,  but which Valentine, eh?

Valentine 2 anddisciples oversees basilica, 14C French MS

Depiction of Saint Valentine (one of them) from a 14th century French MS.  This is the Valentine who built a basilica at Terni, which appears here in the picture during construction.

Lets roll back a little.   First of all, very inconveniently, neither of the two Italian Valentines appear in the first list of Roman Christian Martyrs, compiled during late-ish Imperial times (354)

However, before we get discouraged and start thinking Dublin has been fobbed off with some dubious second-rate variety of saint, it’s worth noting that early as 496, Valentine was already a popular figure for Christian devotion.  He has form and yes, history and legions of fans around the world, and has had for a very very long time.   Did you know he is the patron saint of epileptics, as well as lovers?


St Valentine, healing epileptics, and rebuking worshipers of false gods. 

We know that Valentine was already a popular figure , because due to popular demands and devotion, in the year 496 AD Pope Gelasius I honoured him on a special list of less-known-about saints, and established his feast day,  on of course- February 14th.

At this same time, the Pope put him on this list of saints who were extremely popular, but whose lives frankly, were not terribly well documented.  The Pope dutifully acknowledged this hazy provenance with the beautifully tactful phrase describing the saints:  “…whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God” .

saint and Pope Gelasius i

Pope Gelasius I, now St Pope Gelasius, who approved somebody named Valentine for worship.    A tactful sort of Pope.

Today of course, for all this air of mystery, Valentine is firmly established with a highly distinctive, unique feast day, when cards, chocolates and flowers are sent and given in vast quantities.   Why?

How did Valentine acquire this famous association with romance? 

Well, legend records Valentine (the Presbyter) died a martyr’s death by execution, during pogroms against Christians in the reign of Emperor Claudius II.   (also called Claudius Gothica)  Valentine had risked his life to perform Christian marriages for couples who’d come to him.  That of course is romantic.  Oh yes.

The saint was captured and sentenced to execution.   He spent some time in prison,   awaiting this beastly fate.  Look here he is below in prison, with his fellow captives.  Comforting the fellow Christians, probably converting a few pagans too.


Accounts say while in prison, he also, miraculously,  restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailor.   He sent this daughter a note, apparently signed “from your Valentine”.  This then, was the world’s very first Valentine’s card.

Although there’s no suggestion that Valentine and the jailor’s daughter were in lurve,  (sorry, I mean in love)   the church of S. Valentine in Terni,  now a Mecca for love-strickened couples, is as one might expect, an uncritical and enthusiastic proponent of his romantic credentials.  (Have a look at their website for heaven sake)

They say Valentine was executed on February 14th then firmly state  that he has “been celebrated by lovers, from the earliest time”    Earliest times”  Really?   Finding independent proof of this is difficult.  But then, as always in such matters, separating truth from later embellishment is vexed.

Some scholars- the old sticks in the mud-  have theorised that the real reason Valentine is associated with love is only because his Day fell at the same time of the year as the very old Roman (or possibly even pre-Roman) spring fertility festival of Lupercalia.

Originally associated with the She-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, this bacchanalian extravaganza saw the well-born youths of ancient Rome running naked around the streets whipping people. Such scourging was meant to be a cure for current barrenness and a protection against future infertility.   The whole thing sounds like quite a lot of fun really.   lupercalia-domenico-beccafumi-1-e1329246602207

“Lupercalia ” by Domenico Beccafumi

Anyway, since Valentine’s Day fell conveniently around the same date, the same historians surmise it was thus used by the church to displace the bawdy old pagan festival of fertility,  yes to replace the earthy pagan notions of sex and fertility,  with more seemly Christian ideas of love.   In fairness, this wouldn’t be the first time the church appropriated an older pagan festival for its own ends.  Nearly every Christian festival is built on the back of, and to replace, an older pagan event.

Others have gone further, to debunk Valentine’s links to romance.  One America scholar, who I found in earlier research but who name now escapes me, (profuse apologies to him, and to you) has argued there was no prior association between Saint Valentine and Love for the entire first thousand years of Valentine’s cult!

No, in fact, up until fourteenth century England.  He claims this link was invented only then (11 hundred years after Valentine remember) by poet Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle.


Geoffrey Chaucer, poet.

According to this school of thought, the link it was fabricated to illustrate romantic medieval notions of courtly love.  In fact courtly love, even romantic love as whole, is sometimes thought to be a cultural construct, invented by poets and troubadours of the medieval era for the courts of Western France and Plantagenet England.  Love as a poetic cult and innovation. So there you go.


Whatever the truth, to my way of thinking, the most interesting thing about Saint Valentine is not his air of enigma, nor the countless tons of cards, flowers and chocolates he’s invoked to sell each year, but the fact that he’s ended up in Dublin of all places, in the wonderful church of White Friars.

In strict historical terms, Valentine may remain a slightly hazy figure. Yet his name has commanded popular devotion for over 17 hundred years, and been associated with love for very least seven hundred.   Even if old Chaucer did fabricate the link to love, well there are worse authors, since the author of the Knight’s Tale was not exactly a shabby poet.    All our myths must start somewhere.

In any case, love is the most apt, generous attribute for any saint, real or later attached.  What possible better resting place then, for this elusive saint, than the warm and generous sanctuary, the church-friary of the Carmelite White Friars?


Adapted from my unpublished book, Hidden Dublin.    Book originating in my Hidden Dublin articles, published 2003-2006 in Totally Dublin magazine.

Arran Henderson is a trained art historian and critic, who specializes in interpreting art, and using buildings and architectural details as a way of reading history.  Apart from his writing, articles and two blogs he also offers leads Dublin walking tours under the banner Dublin Decoded.  To see a list of tours please go to to this list.

“1916 Ballsbridge” historic tour: 6-8pm, Tues 26th April, Booked Out, see notes.

Aided by a generous grant from the Dublin City Council Commemoration Fund, and assisted by the library of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS)  by the RCSI Royal College of Surgeons and by Vermilion design, Arran Henderson of Dublin Decoded leads a historic walking tour, bringing guests on a 2-hour evening amble through the leafy area of Dublin 4 through Ballsbridge to the banks of the Grand Canal.   This walk is free, but you should book a ticket, although you do not need to print it out (the ticket)  We will have a list of our guests on the night.  Please don’t book/reserve a spot on walk until or unless you are confident you will attend, these events have been ridiculously popular so you may deny somebody else a place.  Please do wear suitable footwear (the route is 1.5- 2 kms) and suitable clothing; (we walk in all weathers!)   This is the last of 3 free 1916 walks we will run in March and April.  The other two were so popular, so oversubscribed, and were so enjoyable, we’ve decided to run one more.  This may be the last of the 1916 free public tours, but if you wish to hear about other &  future walks, (some free, others not) and if you don’t already subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the link is here, on our Dublin Decoded website (kook around the top right of this page).

The location, meet point and all other practicalities on the 1916 walk are below, and repeated again on the EventBrite link.  Please read them carefully as unfortunately we can’t always respond to individual inquires.  Many thanks in advance-  Arran.

Start/ Meet Point:  please meet Outside the RDS Members’ Entrance from 5.50pm.  This is part of the main facade of the RDS on Merrion rd.  Members entrance is directly across the road from the “Horse Show House” Pub.  Please meet from 17.50PM.  Walk departs 18.00  (6PM) sharp. Walk is 2 hours approx.    END POINT Mount St Bridge, at 8Pm approx

Please wear suitable footwear and suitable clothing; we walk in all weathers!     Tour content / description,  continue below..

The walk, with a few fascinating detours along the way, essentially follows the route taken by the Sherwood Foresters Regiment, as they attempted on Wednesday of Easter week 1916 to march into the city centre to confront the rebels. After less than a mile, long before they’d reached the Grand Canal, they were subjected to withering fire from a series of rebel outposts, stretched along Northhumberland Road, including a house manned by Michael Malone and Jim Grace. Similar treatment awaited troops attempting to leave the army’s nearby Beggar’s Bush Barracks or those attempting to take the bridge over the Grand Canal.  Those troops that did reach Mount Street Bridge were shot down as they attempted to cross, mown down,  by yet more rebel positions. All these rebel fighters had been deployed by Eamon de Valera, commander of the Boland’s Mill (bakery & dispensary) battalion of rebels and, much later in life, President of the Irish Republic.

De Valera’s own role is just one part of this extraordinary tour.  We’ll explore all this 1916 history, and more, in some detail that will make aspects of the battle clear, and bring other dimensions to life in perhaps a new light.  The main part of the Battle of Mount Street occurred late on 26th April 1916.  Our walk is precisely 100 years later, and in the evening, Accordingly, some of the events described will have happened 100 years before.  To the minute, in some cases.

In general we’re confident you will find much to interest you along the way.  We look forward to welcoming you then.

The link to free April 26th tickets is here.   Please don’t reserve spots until or unless you are confident you will attend. You may deny other people a place on the tour.

For those who can’t attend this last free tour, this event is also available as a private walk for groups, subject to fees and via inquiry to   If you are inquiring about a private group tour, please put the words “Private 1916 tour” + your preferred day + date, in the subject header of emails.  eg:  “Private 1916 walk- September Wed 21st?”  or “Private medieval walk? Aug 2nd?” etc or to that effect.   We’re a tiny ship and get scores of emails each day.  This sort of header always facilitates a speedy reply.   Thank you in advance.



“How to Read a Painting” our private evening tour at Nat Gallery Ireland, Thurs Eve, 14th April

Looking at Art | the Art of Looking.

We’re leading a rare public edition of our legendary How to Read a Painting tour at the National Gallery of Ireland, on Thursday Evening, 14th April. The tour is a private tour, taking place with the kind permission of the National Gallery.  It covers and explains ideas that will help guests read old master paintings better in future, and better interpret symbols, iconography, and to recognise saints and stories in Art.  The tour runs from 6PM to 8PM approx,  Thursday night, 14th April.   There are 9 tickets left at the time of writing.  We’d love to have some Dublin Decoded readers along.  So if you’d like to join us please book your ticket here.

Practicalities:  Tour starts after work on a Thursday evening.    Meeting time from 5.50pm, Thursday 14th.  Tour commences 6pm, lasts approx 2.2 hours.  (The gallery does not close until 8.3o on a Thursday, so our tour may well run slightly over 8PM).  Places strictly limited to 15 people max, due to gallery restrictions,  Fee €23 p/p plus EventBrite booking fee +€2 euro.   But this is a small tour, and you’ll never look at Art the same way again. Once you’ve your ticket booked, please meet you guide Arran inside the foyer of the Clare St section, from 5.50PM.  Meet near the door of the National Gallery bookshop, just inside the Clare St entrance.   There’s no need to print ticket.  You can either show it on your phone if you like.  We’ll have a list of the guests in any case.



The tour aims to  help non-specialists build confidence looking at old Master Paintings. It is a guided- discussion, an approach over the last 5 years or so.

We explore “iconography” -meaning symbols, especially religious symbols in Art

We’ll also learn some tricks and hints how to recognise various saints & symbols.  We’ll glance at supposedly tricky notions like the “picture plane”  and the vital importance of conventions in depiction, and how all these ideas helps us to “read” pictures.

We’ll discuss the key role and changing nature of artistic patronage too, and many other ideas & concept amid our conversation.

In short,  how are the many different elements of a painting, from symbols to light to landscape to gesture to composition used by artists, to construct meaning?

No prior knowledge is required!  The idea is to build confidence through a stronger framework of understanding;  learn a few useful concepts, and maybe develop a few good habits, when we engage with art.  The tours is very good fun and  sociable!   This tour has been the subject of something like 100 5-start reviews on TripAdvisor, which you can see under our Dublin Decoded banner there  It’s also just a very nice way to spend a couple of hours chatting about art, surrounded by gorgeous, old master paintings.




directly above: a detail from Gabrille Metsu,  at the National Gallery of Ireland.

National Gallery of Ireland, Art with Dublin DEcoded

If you can’t make this small public event on Thursday 14th April,  you can book it as a private tour for your own group as a present for somebody, or as a company event.  The tour is available for private, pre-booked custom groups, generally also on Thursday evenings 6-8pm, on flexible dates, by prior arrangement.  For enquiry about this or any other private tours, please send an email to    It’s very helpful if you specify the tour title and your preferred date (or dates) in the subject header please?  Subject header tour title & date helps facilitate a speedy response.

Price for private tours fee €150 for custom family/friends/private groups up to 1-6,  (regardless of number 1-6 guests)  then please add €10 p/p above 6 guests.   Corporate rates x 2.5 normal family and friend rate.  Corporate rate €375 per tour, for 1 up to 6 persons included, then €35 p/p over 6 people.  Please note: group size is 15 guests max. on this tour.

National Gallery of Ireland, Art with Dublin DEcoded 3

If you wish to keep an eye out for future public events by Dublin Decoded or led by Arran Henderson, the best way by far is the monthly email newsletter.  The quick sign up form is here.

Thank you for reading.

Uncover the meaning of paintings

a taste of Dublin Decoded, our 2015 tours in pictures

“A Year in the Life”: 2015 in pictures –  photos from research for our historical and architectural walking tours and of course,  from the tours themselves.  Thank you to everyone who came on 2015 Dublin Decoded tours and/or who supported us during the year.   Here’s our 2015, looking around churches, old factories, the former sites of vanished rivers, canals and priories.   Here’s our year, in pictures,  and a warning: If you were on our tours, you may spot yourself below!  We hoped you enjoyed it as much as we we did.

Here’s our year, one month at a time..

January. – the Liberties. 

Liberties TOUR

Officially our tour season runs March to November.  In reality, works starts almost straight away, as requests for private tours (as opposed to our scheduled public ones) start coming in straight away. One hardy couple from Minnesota in the U.S. finds Dublin Decoded on TripAdvisor and promptly books a January tour of the Medieval Walls and around the historic Liberties (see our Medieval “treasure map” above).  An early start to the year: cold, but fun!

Steph and dane, January

February: Art tours.  We resume our tours of Art and Symbolism at the National Gallery of Ireland for both private groups and for schools.  These  continue throughout the year.  Below: snaps from the April and July NGI tours, plus a detail from a stunning Gabriel Metsu’s 17th C painting.


Uncover the meaning of paintings


February: Art and Music!  Also in February, we are honoured to get two invitation to collaborate. One is from the Olivier Cornet Gallery.  Oliver’s gallery has since moved,  (see June below) but was then at number 5 Cavendish Row (Parnell Square East).  The invitation/idea is to co-curate an group exhibition. This show will be themed around the history and architecture of the area.  The show will take place in summer.  Naturally I accept the challenge! Part of my role is preparing a sort of dossier of information for the participating artists, to be ready 2-3 months before the show.  The clock is already ticking…

The other invitation comes from @TheDrawingRoom.  This is a wonderful project that presents small, intimate concerts of high quality musicians in some of Dublin’s most beautiful historic interiors.  Over the next 4 months that collaboration spans four different walks and concerts.    Each walk is themed and run to coincide with the concerts, ending at the venue 20 minutes or so before the music begins.  Venues include 18th century houses on Mountjoy Square and Henrietta Street and the old City Assembly Rooms. I can not convey enough my admiration for @TheDrawingRoom or indeed recommend their lovely, intimate concerts highly enough.  They looks set to go again in 2016, find their home page here.


March,  Starting to get very concerned about the plight of the Russborough paintings.   Start frantically writing to everyone and anyone, including newspapers, the Minister concerned and both to and across any media we have access to.   The paintings threatened with sale include this beautiful head of a bearded man, by Peter Paul Rubens (below)

Rubens pic

April.   Schools, Music and War.   We do the second edition of a new tour, a Georgian tour specially adapted for Leaving Cert students.  A question on Georgian architecture comes up every year in the Leaving Cert Art History exam.   So this tour is to give students the confidence to tackle it, and an edge going into the exams.  Here you see a group of students from Pipper Hill College on the steps outside City Hall/The Royal Exchange.  For reasons to do with awareness, advocacy and education and conservation,  Dublin Decoded are very keen in general to get young people engaged in historic architecture.  School tours are offered at a significant discount on normal prices.  DEIS schools qualify for further discounts.  Leaving Certificate Art or Art History teachers who wishes to make an enquiry, please see here.

Pippers Hill April Tour

Music & War.   The walks we run in conjunction with @TheDrawingRoom concerts are themed, such as April’s one on Commemoration and Ireland in the First World War.  This picture below is from one of our stops on that tour, a memorial stained glass window in St Anne’s Church on Dawson Street, to an Irish soldier, RL Bell who died at Sulva Bay in Gallipoli.

R.L Bell Suvla Bay

The concert itself, of songs and music from the First World War, takes place at the magical Octagon Room at the old City Assembly Rooms, these days  home to the Irish Georgian Society (the IGS).  For more on the IGS, see below.

May.   A hectically busy but hugely fulfilling time.   Where do we start?  Well, with 2 tours of the National Museum, including this group of Dutch students from the Hague.

Nat Museum MAY

Another walk, of the North-West Georgian quarter, includes a privileged look inside the King’s Inns.



The extra research done for the summer’s Art exhibition at Olivier’s gallery (see above and below) comes in handy.   The unfortunate artists are about to get a 35- page dossier.  On the other hand, our chatty walking tours provide the perfect vehicle to present the mass of information, in more sociable, and digestible form!

May Medieval.  another Dublin Decoded walk, this one around the city’s ancient medieval quarter.   This turns out to be one of my favourite tours of the whole year.  Many of our very loyal, kind supporters come back to us for this one.   I see for example, Ellen Bonelli and John Tierney in the picture below.  I hope you won’t mind me naming you John or Ellen!


Another great thing about our Medieval tour in May was how it included special access to the amazing under-croft of Dublin Castle’s Powder Tower, with its Viking and medieval Anglo-Norman foundations.

Another stop on the same tour was the ancient and magical Saint Audoen’s church, seen both above and below.   Below you some of my guests listening to a super talk in St Audoen’s from its passionate custodian, Tony Gilroy of the OPW.


May is the busiest month I’ve ever had to this point of the year.   Ominously, it isn’t even high season yet.  Another memorable tour in May is for guests of our National Broadcaster RTE.   Here you see them at the wonderful Sweney’s Chemist, reading from Ulysses.



June,  July and August,  It’s high season.   Already busy, Dublin Decoded now goes into hyper-drive.  Our regular Dublin Decoded public tours continue while now, at the same time we resume our partnership from last year with the IGS (Irish Georgian Society) running tours on their behalf.

We’ve learned from experience there are too many 18th century masterpieces, and far too much story and detail, to cram into a single tour.   Our solution is to run a “Georgian East” tour (around Trinity College, the old Parliament and beyond) alternating with a separate walk called ‘Georgian West”, showcasing 18th century masterpieces from the other direction.  For our own “Dublin Decoded” Georgian tours, we actually divide the city in 4 quarters called after the 4 points of the compass, from NW, NE to SE and SW.

QUAYS, Arran, Inns, Ormonde, Usher

below:  some of the guests from a Georgian West and East tours, led by us on behalf of the Irish Georgian Society:

HOUSE oF LORDS Dublin Decoded August Tour for IGS


Separately, the IGS organise another tour for members,  a wonderful glimpse into the historic interiors of 9/9A Aungier Street, a townhouse from the 1600s now being restored.  This turns out to be a real treat.


Just a week later one of my own favorite tours is for this family of 4 sisters and a brother, below.   They find our Dublin Decoded website and chose a tour called “South East Potpourri”   This is sort of  “best of” walk, showcasing highlights of the Stephens Green and adjoining area.   Here you see them amid the glories of Newman’s University Church on the Green, a Victorian masterpiece of stone-carving, wall paintings and multi-coloured marble.


In addition to all that,  the show at Olivier Cornet’s gallery is about to open….  We have a stroke of luck as a friend of mine, Dennis Goodbody, man of many parts, including being host of a terrific local history programme on DublinCityFm, “Dublin Explorer” records one of his programme with me,  just prior to the opening day.   On the programme, Denis and I explore the Parnell Square area on air.  Later in the show Olivier speaks about the artists in his show and how they use history in their work.

Below, Oliver and Denis, at Olivier’s old gallery on Cavendish Row, Parnell Square, Oliver surrounded with the work he has just hung, and Denis with his sound equipment.

Oliver and Dennis Goodbody

Just a day or two later is the opening itself.   I have to give a speech. Yikes. The work on show however is fantastic.  The exhibition includes artists like Kelly Racthford, Eoin Mac Lochlainn, Mark Doherty;  a stunning stone sculpture called “eblana” by Michelle Byrne, and this extraordinary piece below, “Radio Michael” by Catherine Ryan, with it’s extraordinary, intense use of mixed media, all layered up over maps of the area.

Michael Collins radio piece

This small, iridescent piece is not only beautifully detailed but also very apt.  Collins used this very building, as one of his safe houses.  He also kept an office on the top floor of number 5.   With my love of maps, this is my kind of art.  The more you look, the more you see…

Michael Collins radio piece 2

Michael Collins radio piece 3

It was an honour to be associated with the show and give the opening address at the opening day reception.    Olivier’s wonderful gallery is now at Denmark Street.  Pay a visit when you can.  We sometimes end our Georgian NorthEast tours there too, a very fitting end point, in this aristocratic 18th century townhouse, now owned by Belvedere College.

Meanwhile,  back south of the river,  the final summer tour we lead for the IGS is also great fun.   It includes a fascinating discussion at the old House of Lords, plus over an hour inside the amazing interiors and history of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

Dublin Decoded August Tour for IGS

September.   Always one of my favourite months of the year.  On Friday the 18th, back north of the river again, I lead two tours of the North Georgian Quarter for Culture Night.   I get a bit of a shock when speaking about how run-down the centre of Parnell Square is behind the Rotunda Maternity Hospital.  Amid my diatribe, about how the Department of Health has to take some of the blame, I realise the actual Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, is standing looking at me, and is a guest on the tour.   Not something one expects.

Not easy to recover either.   But I do my best!   In fairness to Mr Varadkar he’s very decent about it.  With a bit of prompting he even speaks about the future of this important heritage site.   (Thank you Minister, you could have made it so much worse.    🙂

Later in September more public walks, and some private ones, including this one below for an American couple, where we get a rare glimpse of this tiny graveyard behind a very old and famous church.

GRAVES at Saint Werburghs

Guests at St Werburghs

September also means the Dublin Festival of History.   It’s time to relax a little and go to some of the fantastic talks, lectures, interviews and other events, most of them free.  The festival is brilliantly organized.  The whole thing is a monument to civilization in my view!   One of the nicest events is for kids, which naturally I drag my partner and her 6 year old daughter to.  It’s an activity where families build a street of Georgian Houses and decorate them with colours and cut-outs.

Only one family are obsessive or competitive enough to draw, then individually colour in every brick on their facade.    Oh yes.   Look at this picture below,  and Guess which was our house…

Mini Georgain Houses at Dublin Castle


our mini Georgain House, close up

Would love to say I’m embarrassed by my unseemly OCD rendering of every brick.   But that would be a lie.

It’s October now.   More tours for schools and colleges,  more tours in the National Gallery.  more chances to look at Gabrile Metsu’s work again.

Metsu NGI

Also, since the evening of Culture Night, back in September,  yes that very evening when I was caught criticizing the Department of Health by the actual Minister for Health, an idea has been stewing.   I’ve been thinking of a new walk.  In truth I’ve been thinking about it for for over two years;  of getting out of the old historic city centre to one of the more “outlying” 19th century residential districts, like Clontarf, Ballsbridge, Dun Laoghaire or Rathmines.   But a direct request from a guest called Stephen on the evening of Culture Night finally tips the scales.   I commit to the walk and to a date.   Leaving the old centre for the first time, “Dublin Decoded” will venture out to…  Rathmines!   I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like much of a departure.  It is nothing:  in terms of distance.  But every notable building there now needs to be researched, dated, analyzed or apprised in some way,  so we can interpret the area for guests.   Believe me, that means weeks in different libraries, hundreds of pages of notes.   Oh Lord..

No rest from now on!   By mid-October I’m spending four afternoons a week in the superb city archive at Pearce Street, or the equally wonderful Architectural Archives of Ireland (AAI) on Merrion Square.   The rest of the time I spend wandering around Rathmines, looking at maps, buildings, topography, street names, local history and so on.

Rathmines 3

Rathmines 1

Rathmines Dublin Decoded tour

Rathmines Dublin Decoded tour 2

It’s an amazing area, and albeit this was one of the most solidly middle class of areas, it still has a lot to teach us about Dublin in the 19th century.   The buildings reflect the sense of civic pride, and offer a sort of catalogue of building styles and typologies from the 1850s to the 1990s.

November:   The long-awaited Rathmines tour goes ahead.   It sells out over a week before.   For almost the first time I have to turn people away, which I hated doing.  They may have been the lucky ones however, because we will certainly run this tour again in April or may of 2016, and in our November 2015 version, on the day the weather is awful!

Rathmines in the wet Dublin Decoded tour

Fortunately, despite the dire conditions,  people are fantastic.  Everyone is a great sport,  not just showing up and braving the elements but entering the whole thing in great spirit and humour, despite the utter drenching we all get! I myself look like a drowned rat, well before the end!

Rathmines in the wet Dublin Decoded tour 2

Yet we all somehow have fun.    Highlights include the old Kodak factory, one of the best surviving examples of Art Deco in Ireland, and the lovely interiors of Mary Immaculate Refuge of Sinners, the largest parish church in Dublin and, without doubt, the most majestic dome in the city.

Dome of Mary Immac rathmines Tour Dublin Decoded

We run out of time before getting to the Trinity Church by John Semple, or the wonderful Rathmines Post Office.   But we do follow much of the course of the now-buried Swan River and its tributaries, looking at how the river formed both land-boundries and the shape of streets themselves, including the lovely Bessborough Parade.   Later on, we also look at some fantasric old mews houses, and later again, outside the childhood home of Lafcadio Hearn, one of our guests, Trevor White from the Little Museum, says a few words about this most enigmatic of writers.

Rathmines 4 Lafacadio Hearn

Believe me,  we’ll be back to Rathmines in 2016, so keep your eyes out, on the monthly newsletter.   Or if you’re not already signed up, for heaven sake subscribe here.  We shall return.  Because there are plenty more wonders there to see.

Rathmines Tour Dublin Decoded

Rathmines detail

Rathmines Post Office Dublin Decoded tours

Holy Trinity Church by John Semple, Rathmines tour Dublin Decoded

Ten days later sees our last public tour of the year:  “Liberties and Library”.  We’ve come full circle, ending the year where we began, in the historic Liberties.  Here we focus on a handful of churches, on early industry and on philanthropic housing.  We also pay special attention to two old, now- vanished bodies of water, the former terminus and harbour of the Grand Canal by the Guinness brewery, and the even older city basin.

Old Grand canal Mainline Harbour

The last part of our final 2015 tour is in the extraordinary Edward Worth library  from the very early 1700s,  packed with rare antique books, where we are treated to a talk on the collection by Dr ElizebethAnn Boran.

Edward Worth Library with Dublin Decoded 1

Edward Worth Library with Dublin Decoded 2

Edward Worth Library with Dublin Decoded 3


Deep Winter now,  a chance to calm down a little bit and catch a breath.  A few private tours.  Public tours are finished.  A handful of private tour requests coming in, although eventually I make a decision to take 3 weeks off all tours over the Christmas and New Year period.  It’s important to avoid burn-out.

On the eve of Christmas, as we nearly always do, I attend the service of Nine Lessons and carols, at Saint Patrick’s cathedral with my mother.


The cathedral, pretty much mine and everyone’s favorite place in the city, is full of Dublin people for a change.  It is full of beautiful music too, sung by the choir and choir school scholars,  from the choir school (founded 1432).  The Cathedral is looking particularly beautiful.  A rich Dublin tradition, and a magical experience, as always.

St Patricks Dublin Christmas carols 1

St Patricks Dublin Christmas carols 2

St Patricks Dublin Christmas carols 3

That’s it, the end of our 2015.

If you’d like to be on the mailing list for walks and events in 2016,  once again, please use this sign-up to receive our monthly newsletter.   It is the free, best and sometimes only way to hear about our tours in time.

Thank you for reading.   Happy New year everyone, and hope to see you again sometime in 2016.

Arran-  Dublin Decoded.

Liberties & Worth Library Tour

This is a great tour consisting of a one-hour sociable walk of the historic Liberties area of Dublin full of detail and social history, followed by a rare chance to visit the stunning Worth Library – perhaps the most interesting collection of books in Dublin housed within the 18th century Steevens’ Hospital.

File:Steevens 1800

Any visit to the historic Worth Library is a rewarding encounter on many levels.  The volumes themselves are old and beautiful.  They are contained moreover in a rather lovely 18th century room almost certainly designed by Edward Lovitt Peace, the pioneer who introduced Palladian architecture to Ireland and architect of several magnificent palazzi on Dublin’s Henrietta Street, as well as Castletown House in Co. Kildare and the old Irish Houses of Parliament.  Seeing old printed illustrations – from across Enlightenment Europe and Renaissance France – of maps, of plants, wild animals and ancient cities also tends to be pretty exciting.

There is more information on the Worth Library just below.

Matthioli titlepage detail

Most of the books in the Worth Library date from the 17th to early-18th century, the Age of Enlightenment when learned Europe shook off the vestiges of medieval superstition and religious dogma to embrace scientific enquiry in all forms.  Other tomes date from the Renaissance era.  These were already old and valuable even before this remarkable library was formed.

The man who assembled it was Dr. Edward Worth (1678-1733). He was a typical learned product of his era, having matriculated from Oxford, then completed further degrees in medicine at Leiden and Utrecht, before returning to Dublin a doctor and building a successful practice here.  He was also an Member of Parliament and knew many of the most celebrated people of the age, including Jonathan Swift.

Worth head and shoulders

Dr. Worth was highly esteemed by his peers; evidenced by his election as head of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, as a Fellow of the Royal Society and Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons, representing New Ross.

He was appointed a Trustee of the board of Steevens’ Hospital, guiding the construction of the new charitable institute.  In fact, it had barely opened by the time of his death.

Although Steevens’ in no longer a working hospital, they still maintain his library. The renowned Georgian architect Edward Lovitt Pearce (of Dublin’s old Parliament-fame) was first commissioned to design the room.  But Pearce died around this time too so it’s unclear today how much influence he exercised on the final result, a space which – save for a carpet and some discreet modern lighting – has barely changed since 1733.

That is strangely fitting since, quite apart from the quality of the individual books, another unusual and highly distinctive feature of the library is just how unaltered it remains as a whole, effectively frozen in time, with not a single volume added or taken away.   That in itself makes it a fascinating resource for scholars interested in the materials and the transmission of ideas during, the early modern period.  It is also fascinating for what it can teach us about the thoughts and preoccupations of that age. Dr. Muriel McCarthy, writing in 1984 for The Irish Arts Review, described it as “a fossil library, in the best sense”.


A large oil portrait of Dr. Worth (see above) hangs high over a substantial, classically-themed carved oak fireplace (which possibly is to a design by Pearce).  From within it Worth looks down upon on his treasured collection, his stern face reminding today’s readers of their responsibilities and duty of care, while a plaque hangs from the wall, above a second oak door with a Latin inscription.

Arran Dublin Decoded Worth Library

The inscription reads: –

For the curing of the ill and wounded,

Richard Steevens, M.D. presented the revenues,

His surviving sister Grizel this building,

And Edward Worth, head physician, the library you see here,

Scholarly, glittering and polished.

Edward Worth collected books on a vast scale.  There are around 4,400 volumes in the Worth library.  Many date from his own era, when books – even in new editions – were still expensive, luxurious items.  Others were already old, rare or sometimes unique even back when purchased.  Worth was also an accomplished mathematician, familiar and current with the latest thinking, including Newton’s theories on Gravity and Optics, and indeed with the new forms of calculus Newton developed to support those theories. (To find out more see the ‘Newton at the Worth Library’ webs exhibition:

Newton portrait 1726 edition

Because of the size and quality of its collection, which is in superb condition, the Worth library is – you will not be surprised to hear – of enormous interest to antiquarians in the field of bookbinding and to scholars of book-history generally.



The book below for example, is early to mid-16th century (High-French-Renaissance) text and binding and, moreover, very probably commissioned and owned by a member of the court of king Francois I.  And that makes this particular volume a rather special book.

Herodotus front cover

François (r. 1515-47) was the king who presided over the great humanist court of scholars and intellectuals preeminent in Renaissance France.  It was he for example, who brought the ageing Leonardo de Vinci to France, to an honoured retirement in Amboise.  (The Mona Lisa incidentally came with the great artist, and so hangs in the Louvre today)

It was also king Francois and his circle of nobles and scholars, who also snapped up the wave of different codex coming west, following the defeat and collapse of Byzantium from 1453.     Many of these volumes contained as you know, ancient knowledge, previously unknown or lost to Western Europe.

The French humanists translated from the ancient Greek, (or Arabic, Hebrew or Aramaic) into Latin, the language of scholarship, while the glittering French circle also paid for or undertook themselves, the accompanying commentaries, illumination and interpretations.

In doing so they brought classical knowledge and literature, drama, mathematics, science, architecture, history, geography et al from ancient Greece and Rome back to life, and almost as an afterthought, made France preeminent in Humanist Europe.   Their work shaped our idea of their own era too, the Renaissance–  the term they coined.     Significantly perhaps, even the Italian term Rinascimento is a translation from the French word  –not the other way around.

This dazzling cultural achievement of 16th century France created a by-product, marking the “Golden Age of the Book”.    Not merely the book “as text” but as material object: typography, paper, covers, bindings, illuminations and illustrations, maps and so on.

As an avid collector and connoisseur, Worth would have been excited to find and purchase this special edition of Herodotus, commissioned by a member of this French court, accompanied by a 16th century commentary and interpretation by two famous humanist scholars.

Herodotus, the ancient writer from the Greek settlement of Halicarnassus (modern-day Bodrum in Turkey) was author of the history of the wars between ancient Greece and Persia – the famous Pelponnessian Wars.  His achievement, the first attempt at balanced, written history,  often sees him credited as the first historian-proper and led the roman Cicero to confer on Herodotus the title of “Father of History” .


As well as the histories of Herodotus, the same Renaissance book contains a biography of Homer, as well as additional material about the near and middle east.  As the icing on the cake, it comes complete with illustrations, in delightful little foldout pages to the back, which I now get to see.    One is an artist’s impression of ancient Babylon, based on Herodotus’ description.

Babylon from Worth

While the other  (below) is of that most celebrated edifice in that ancient and fabled city, the Tower of Babel.

Tower of Babel

So, the Tower of Babel as illustrated in Renaissance France at the court of king François I (patron and friend of Leonardo) sits before me.  And I know it is based directly on an ancient surviving description from 2,500 years ago by Herodotus, contemporary and acquaintance of Pericles, and first great historian of the ancient world.

Not a bad book to have here in Dublin, one would venture    In fact, let us be blunt.  This is something extraordinary.  Yet here it is, right here in Dublin. And all thanks to Edward Worth and his beautiful frozen library.

So, we owe the good doctor an acknowledgement of debt, for this room and these beautifully bound, fabulously expensive gifts of the mind.  In this fossil library we see here today, still scholarly, still ‘glittering and polished”.

Hevelius Fig F

The writer is indebted to Dr. Elizabethanne Boran for the information in this article.  Any remaining errors are, of course, entirely my own.  Please note that all illustration here from and of books are courtesy of the Trustees of the Edward Worth Library and many if not all are under copyright.   Therefore please do not use or reproduce without explicit, written permission from the Worth Library.

I’d urge anyone with even a passing interest in old illustrations and book art or in the history of science to pay a visit to the regular online exhibitions curated by the Worth Library.  This link, for example will bring you straight to the gallery page of an exhibition on Botany,  And here’s another online exhibition, this time on Astronomy and astronomers: