As Old As Dublin Itself
The city of Dublin grew from two small settlements at the confluence of the River Liffey and one of its tributaries, The Poddle. The original settlements were known as Áth Cliath (The Ford of Hurdles) and Dubh Linn (The Black Pool), later anglicized to Dublin. In medieval times, the city was walled for its protection and administered by a corporation and guilds, which controlled trade and commerce within the city, administered justice, and levied tariffs and taxes to run and protect the city. You can still see remnants of the old City Wall of Dublin today at Cornmarket and in St Audoen’s Park, and Cornmarket was once the location of the New Gate, the main westerly approach to the city. Outside of the walls, areas outside of the Corporation’s control were established called liberties.
The area now known as The Liberties developed to the west of the Norman city of Dublin, along the main western approach known as the Sligh Mor. In the 12th century, a royal abbey was established in the townland of Donore and given extensive estates in counties Meath, Dublin and Wicklow, including an area of its own jurisdiction and certain privileges and entitlements to regulate trade and commerce within the ‘liberty’. And hence the name, The Liberties. At its height in the 15th century, the abbey would have formed one of the largest complexes in the city, with its main commercial throughfare – Thomas Street – lying to the north. Image by Stephen Conlon, courtesy of Dublin City Council.
In the 12th century, King Henry II of England ordered an Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr to be established at a site close to the modern church of St Catherine. The Augustinian monks of the Abbey were given extensive lands to the west of the city, as well as in counties Dublin, Meath and Wicklow, and certain privileges and powers to control trade within their ‘liberty’ and as a result the Liberty of St Thomas Court & Donore became extremely wealthy. The abbey in turn gave its name to St Thomas Street, the main street of the area, which itself ran along the alignment of the ancient western route into the city of Dublin. It quickly became a bustling market place and trading street, lined with mills, hostelries and various providers all serving the growing city.
With the dissolution of monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century, the abbey’s lands passed into the ownership of Sir William Brabazon, an ambitious courtier of the king. The Brabazon family, who later became Earls of Meath, dominated the area as landowners for the next 300 years and different generations of the family were responsible for many of the urban developments we recognise today. The great market space at Newmarket was laid out in the 1620s by the second Earl of Meath and his townhouse was located closeby. A later earl supported some of the pioneering Victorian-era housing developments for the working class. Today, streetnames such as Meath Street, Brabazon Street and Ardee Street evoke the family connection.