“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.
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
below: some of the guests from a Georgian West and East tours, led by us on behalf of the Irish Georgian Society:
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.
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.
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…
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).
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s it, the end of our 2015.
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Thank you for reading. Happy New year everyone, and hope to see you again sometime in 2016.
Arran- Dublin Decoded.