Of Cobblestones and Jostle Stones

Historian and local Cathy Scuffil looks at the history of urban horses in The Liberties


Life, Love The Liberties, Visit

As recently as 2014, an essential ‘must’ for many visitors to the Guinness Storehouse was a posed photograph on the cobblestones in Market Street. The central figure in these photographs was not the tourists themselves, but the well-known Crumlin native, Mr. Ollie Bolger sitting on hessian sacks filled with hay placed on his flat-cart dray pulled by his equally famous horse, Dobbin. Since Ollie’s sad passing in early 2015 , the tourist photograph opportunities had been replaced by the familiar sight of suited Jarvey’s, who – pre-Covid 19 – ferried visitors to and from the Guinness Storehouse and the city centre. The sight and sounds of these horses and their owners on the streets in and around The Liberties is the present-day continuation of a long history associated with horses, their care and welfare as well as a range of associated trades in the wider area. As with so much of the rich history and heritage of this special part of Dublin, evidence and artefacts of this history often hide in plain sight.

Cobblestones and Jostle stones
The very infrastructure of the streets and alleys of The Liberties even today, reflects an area that was built around the needs of horses as part of the transport infrastructure. Streets paved with cobblestones, a key feature of the roads especially around the Guinness brewery is one such example. Cobblestones allowed the carrying of heavy loads on these roads in all seasons, with the stone surface providing good drainage. The alternative at the time was a dirt road, which would often be prone to ruts, potholes and mud in rainy weather or in dry weather, simply revert to dust.

Another key feature which, thankfully, has, in part, survived the regeneration of The Liberties, are the jostle stones at the sides of gate piers or building corners that projected into the roadway. These were located to prevent damage to the building or structure from cartwheels, particularly in a tight turning scenario. Good examples can be found all over The Liberties. The Guinness brewery seem to prefer these in granite other organisations opted for metal or cast-iron versions.

The 1600’s – Brewer’s Horses and the Military
As the city became more militarised in the late 1600s, there were often shortages of horses in Dublin as the garrison regularly commandeered horses for their own use. This contentious action was highlighted in a publication advertised throughout the city. It noted that in 1689 there were 70 brewers in Dublin. It was ordered that a certain number of horses should be allowed to each brewer because several officers of his Majesty’s army “… have and daily do take liberty to seize on the said brewers’ horses and carry them away… the brewers were disabled from carrying their beer to their several customers to the great disappointment of this city… anyone who shall seize a brewer’s horse shall be proceeded against as robbers…”. Following this, John Pearson of St. Catherine’s Parish in the Liberties was allowed nine horses – the highest allocation. William Hall of Dolphin’s Barn was allocated six horses and there were only five brewers who were allowed more.

The Grand Canal
Construction on the Grand Canal commenced in 1756, with the harbour at Echlin Street opening in 1785. All construction on the canal was carried out manually using picks and shovels, with the excavated earth carried away by horse and cart. The canal infrastructure involved the inclusion of tow paths and rope poles for the horses to use. When the canal was operational, all boats and barges were pulled by horses, with the company regularly advertising for contractors to supply tow-horses for the barges. The Canal Company were fortunate in that the area south west of the harbour was relatively undeveloped, permitting a paddock, stables, a forge and facilities of the care and welfare of the company’s horses.

The Laundries
Over the years, industries – such as laundries – established, dependent on the canal not only for transport, but primarily as a water source. There were four laundries in the Dolphin’s Barn area alone, with the largest – the White Heather, located behind the village church adjacent to the canal dock. The White Heather Laundry had its’ own stables and harness room, and their horses were a regular feature at the Dublin Spring and Horse Show. Sally Ennis, a former resident of Dolphin’s Barn recounted “The laundry delivery vans were pulled by magnificent horses, the vans were newly painted, the horses beautifully groomed and the van men dressed in white laundered suits” The historian Éamonn MacThomáis, employed as a laundry boy at the age of 14 years, described in detail the care of the horses that were used to pull the laundry drays across the city. He says “We… currycomb and brush Daisy (the horse), oil her hooves, put on the harness and give her the nosebag. On Thursdays we oil and brasso the harness and wash the van..”

The Carriers
The densely populated and built-up area of The Liberties meant there were limited areas suitable as paddocks and stables for horses, with the exception of some older residences in Cork Street and Francis Street that had accessible courtyards purpose-built for stabling the owner’s horses. For this reason, larger concerns such as Guinnesses, Spence ironworks in Cork Street, Powers, Jameson and Roe Distilleries engaged independent carriers who had facilities in places nearer the rural hinterland, such a Dolphin’s Barn, where paddocks, fields and open-spaces were available for grazing and resting the animals.

One such company was W. & R. Richardson, who had their farm, stables, forge and paddocks at Springfield, Herberton Lane (now Road). Founded in 1830, in its heyday the company employed 70 men, including carpenters, blacksmiths and harness-makers making them an important local employer. Richardson’s provided four-wheeled horse-drawn carts and two-wheeled floats for hire. They contracted daily for Guinnesses. Every morning, a familiar sight in Rialto and Dolphin’s Barn were the well-groomed horses, with shining brasses, hitched to drays, on their way to the brewery at a smart trot. The same horses would return in the late evening, at a slow plodding pace, their days work done.

Richardson’s also had private carriages for hire. These were boarded on the side by a small platform mounted on a hinge, locked into position by the coachman. The coachman wore livery – a tall hat, silver buttons and white gloves. At the side of the coach was a holder for a long-lashed whip. Older residents recall the great decorum and grace always observed by the coachmen, especially at funerals. Richardson’s ceased trading in the early 1960’s, squeezed out by the increased use of motor vehicles. Later, somewhat appropriately, the former site of Richardson’s stable and forge became the premises for Silverdale Coaches Ltd. Telecom Eireann’s vehicle maintenance section was also located there, continuing a tradition of transport from this site.

Horses and horse-drawn vehicles were, until the early years of the 20th century, the only mode of road transport pre-motorisation. Indeed, the care of horses, and the manufacture of saddles, reins, harnesses together with blacksmiths, (two in Dolphin’s Barn village alone as late as the 1940s) carriage and cart building were proud family trades often handed down the generations among the artisans of The Liberties. This tradition of working with horses was also a contributing factor in the number of local men signing up as soldiers in World War 1. The British Army gave such men the opportunity to continue working with horses at a time when the trades and traditions were entering a decline in Dublin as transport became increasingly motorised.

Another horse transport company was located at 72/72A Cork Street beside Emerald Square. This was the premises of Matthew Patterson, cab and cab-owner, with horse-drawn hackney cabs for hire, a company founded in 1890. Patterson’s also provided horses and carts to the Dolphin’s Barn Brick Company on the Crumlin Road. The premises in Cork Street were later shared with Maurice Kavanagh, Blacksmith, who moved here when his premises at ‘The Hollow’ Dolphin’s Barn were taken over in preparation for the construction of Dolphin House Flats Complex in the 1940s.

Directly opposite Patterson’s was Keogh’s yard. It was from here that an unusual and often overlooked ‘victim’ of the 1916 Rising hailed. ‘Moggy’ or ‘Mocky’ Keogh, the yard owner, was ‘persuaded’ to part with his horse and cart to carry guns and provisions for the volunteers to supply the garrison at Marrowbone Lane Distillery during the Rising where the horse remained. Witness Robert Holland, who was present in the Distillery, recounted, in his witness statement: “..hearing this noise, like chains rattling. Something very heavy was being moved about. Saul shouted out “Halt!” but the movement still went on. I shouted “Halt or I fire” and we both shouted that we had it covered. We then decided to fire at the gate. Both of us fired and then a lot of confusion and noise ensued. A few minutes later Sergeant Kerrigan came up and shouted that someone in our wing had, shot and killed ‘Mocky’ Keogh’s horse. The horse had been rambling around the yard, nibbling the grass and throwing the collar and harness up around its head…”

Animals had a life-span, and the disposal of carcasses of dead horses was also part of daily life in the The Liberties. O’Keefe’s was the company who undertook this work from their (infamous) premises at Mill Street and associated yards in Blackpitts. The sight of dead animals and smells that permeated from these premises as work was in progress were nothing short of legendary, and are still recalled by many locals.

In Living Memory
The sight and sounds of the coalman with his jinnet and dray were, until recent times, a familiar scene in the area. Eamonn MacThomais in Gur Cake and Coal Blocks describes “ …the jinnett was pulling the cart and shaking its head as if to try and get rid of the coal bell that was tied to its neck, but the higher the jinnett threw its head the louder the bell sounded…” he continues “Mr. Howlett [the coalman] called, ‘Coal blocks, coal blocks’, and we [the local children] shouted after him, ‘What do yeh feed your mother on?’ – ‘Coal blocks, coal blocks,’ Mr. Howlett answered back.”

Horses, The Liberties today
Horses are still a part of life in the area, in recent years there has been a change in the style of horse used. Gone are the old dray horse, replaced by pie-bald ponies, many with poor harnesses, used for speed and racing, rather than transport. Unlike in the past, when the horse was essential for the day-to-day operations of the area, it is questionable as to whether horses should be held in an urban environment, raced on hard concrete and tarmacadamed surfaces in heavy motorised traffic and densely pedestrian areas. The need for stables, paddocks and grazing was always recognised as part of the essential care of the animals and this has not changed.

That said, the streets of the Liberties lend themselves to the jarvey and car and form part of the offering in an area that is becoming more and more tourist focused. The Liberties Cultural Association (LCA) recognised this when presenting their winning Pride of Place showcase in 2019, as they brought the judges on a carriage-ride from Blackpitts to Meath Street. Based on the long association with the horse in this area, it was fitting that this should form part of a pride of place event in an area with such pride in its history and heritage – The Liberties.


Cathy Scuffil is the Historian-in-Residence for the south city under Dublin City Libraries’ Community History Programme marking the Decade of Commemorations.

The Liberties: ‘Valentine’ is one of 12 crafted short films by Shane Hogan and Tom Burke, each focused on a different character within Dublin’s Liberties community.

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