history and architecture walking tours of Dublin
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Arran Henderson | Dublin Decoded
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See you on tour!
It was a slow start to our year, what with snow in March, then a broken bone in my foot early April! But once we did get going with our walking tours, we barely drew breathe for the next seven months.
One particularly exciting tour early in our schedule was to 9/9A Aungier Street. Now concealed behind a later 18th century facade, this is actually a house from the 1600s, and in fact one of the oldest surviving houses in Dublin.
9/9A is still undergoing a hugely complex restoration process. We are extremely grateful therefore, both to the owner, and to the conservation architect, Sunni Goodison for allowing us special access for this visit, and putting on such an illuminating, fascinating talk, of this venerable, deeply historic building. Among other treasures we heard of a small shoe, left in the ancient timbers of the buildings, then found in the restoration process. This hiding of a shoe was a common superstition of the Early Modern period (the 1600s) – done to ward off witches and evil spirits!
March and April, with the weather still not hitting the sunny heights it did later in 2018, we held some of other Spring-time tours indoors, including several visits to the National Gallery, both for our signature How to Read a Painting Tour (above) and on a special one-off visit to the Denis Mahon archive (below) Huge thanks to NGI Mahon archivist Leah Benson, and her team, for hosting us there.
April saw a whole plethora of highly varied tours. An early example was walk around some of the architectural gems of South-East central Dublin, including those on Kildare Street and Kildare Place, on Dawson and Kildare Streets and St Stephens Green. This tour concluded on Harcourt Street, and & visit inside the former HQ of old Sinn Féin during the Revolutionary Era, number 8, Harcourt St. It is now home to Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) and I am indebted to the archivist there, Cuan O’Seireadáin, for the superb talk he provided. (Picture below)
The weather was better a few days later for our next Dublin Decoded event, when we walked a section of the “Dub-line” the stretch that follows the ancient Slí Mor along High Street, Cornmarket, Thomas St and James St. That tour concluded with a visit to the stunning Edward Worth Library, a fossil library established in the early 1700s and left untouched ever since. A truly magical place. (See pictures below) We are always treated there to a welcoming and scholarly talk on its history, and its extraordinary collection of rare precious books, by the head Librarian Dr. Elizabethanne Boran. It has thus become something of a Dublin Decoded tradition to visit the Worth Library (within old Steevens Hospital) every 12 to 18 months. I have no doubt we will visit again sometime in 2019.
One more bad day in June, when we debuted a brand new, and very different walk, a tour of the architecture and retail history of Grafton Street. A story full of surprises. As you can see in the picture below, the weather was less obliging, alas! All my hardy guest git soaked to the skin. But everyone was such a good sport we somehow had a really enjoyable excursion nonetheless.
Around the same time we debuted a brand new tour we’d been preparing for several months, of the architecture and retail history of Grafton Street. This it turns out is a story full of surprises. As you can see in the picture below, the weather was less obliging, alas! All my hardy guest git soaked to the skin. But everyone was such a good sport we somehow had a really enjoyable excursion nonetheless.
We ran the Grafton Street a few more times over the year, including one version for the IGS in June and another two for Culture Night in September.
From May onward however the weather improved dramatically, as Dublin and Ireland experienced one of our hottest, driest summers for 40 years. Day after day of blue skies and baking sun. It made for great walking weather!
Next we went to Temple Bar, giving it the “Decoded” treatment. It turns out even the best known parts of Dublin are full of surprises.
Our next tour brought us to the North West quarter of the city, on a tour of the fascinating area on and around Grangegorman. With its old Work Houses, Asylums, and the Women’s Penitentiary, this is one of the most fascinating yet least understood area of Dublin. Accordingly this has become one of most popular tours and during 2018 we led tours for our own Dublin Decoded members, as well as the Rathmines Historical Society and the Irish Georgian Society.
We were proud to continue our valued association with the Irish Georgian Society (IGS) this year. In fact it is a association that continues to grow. Not only did we lay on a number of different walking tours for the IGS during 2018, they also invited us to design and lead a new, entirely unique tour, designed around their key exhibition of the year Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland” a large, prestigious exhibition focused on the art and groundbreaking exhibitions of the Society of Artists from 1764- 1780.
(below: pictures from the Society of Artists exhibition, by Francis Wheately)
(above and below: pictures on show at the Society of Artists exhibition, these by Francis Wheately, including the Volunteers at College Green, image courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland. Below, the Ambush and Blinding of Parolles, by the same artist, Private collection)
Our approach was to hold half our tour among the art within the exhibition, and then to spend the second half out and about on the streets, tracking down the lodgings and stuios and other general whereabouts of the original 18th century artists, such as Robert Hunter, Thomas Roberts and Hugh Douglas Hamiliton . It was a challenging but rewarding tour to research, plan and put together. The terrific reward was that our guests seemed to get an awful lot out of it.
Around this time we did another Grangegorman walk, as they are always in demand. Then we changed gears again and explored one of my absolute favorite themes, and my favourite approach to any walk, Dublin’s Medieval Walls. This was a really fun day out. Here we are by the former church of Saint Nicholas Without.
Later the same afternoon saw us hosted royally by the superb OPW guides at the ancient church of Saint Audoen, including a superb talk on the medieval Portlester Memorial. (Below)
All this time of course, right through the year, we took on various private groups and private family and small group tours. So here I am below for example with the utterly charming Nozaki family from Japan, pictured first inside the University Church, then later at the National Gallery of Ireland.
and here below is another wonderful family group I’d the pleasure of guiding for four wonderful days, this time from the Flemish part of Belgium. (We were on a visit to Marsh’s Library at this point, as you may see!)
I had better warp it up there although i will say there were also a couple of very interesting late season tours to the River side quays, Grand Canal Dock and Hanover Quay. It is of course an extraordinary district, chock full of fascinating architectural, engineering, commercial and maritime history.
It is also an area that continues to change, very rapidly. I suspect we will pay at least one further visit in 2019. Keep your eye out on the mailing list.
I didn’t even mention the two great Dutch groups we hosted. Nor my sense of extreme privilege to partner up for one day and collaborate with the great Shane O’Toole. Nor that Dublin Decoded were also honoured to be chosen to host and lead a group from the London Art History Society, for all four days of their tour here to Ireland. It was a total pleasure. Here they are, in Edward Lovett Pearce’s extraordinary House of Lords, inside the old Parliament buildings. Huge thanks as always to Bank of Ireland for accommodating visits such as this on their premises. It is always appreciated.
Very finally, we were extremely honoured for our two last tours to be asked to lead two extraordinary tours, first a Renaissance-themed tour for the Royal Hibernian Academy and Temple Bar Studio and Galley’s (TBG+S) collaboration, the Winter Seminar, Lives of Artists. (This is one of the Renaissance paintings we discussed on that tour, Marco Palmezzano’s Madonna and Saints in the National Gallery of Ireland. image courtesy of the National Galley of Ireland)
Just a week later we led a second tour for TBG+S, this time at the invitation of the brilliant Ellen Rowley and TBGS curators Cliodhna Shaffrey and Orla Fitzpatrick. This secoind walk was on the theme of books and libraries, traveling from the Chester Beatty, to Marsh’s Library, then the lanes around Temple Bar and Castle St. It was fantastic! I was honoured to be invited to lead tours like this, as you can well imagine.
So to sum up? Well, once again, at the end of 2018, I suspect I may very well have the best job in the world. And once again, for another year I would like toi thank all of my guests through the whole last 12 months, for your custom but also for your great company, your humour, patience, and un-ending intellectual curiosity and sense of fun. You are, undoubtedly, what makes it all worthwhile! I wish you all a very happy festive season and hope to see many of you again next year in 2019.
Happy Christmas and new year everybody. We shall see you on the other side!
Arran Henderson – Dublin Decoded.