There is no doubt that The Liberties holds a special affection for many Dubliners and in fact people from all over Ireland. But why the fascination? And why the allure and aura that seems to surround the area? Many locals will tell you that it’s because they are ‘the real Dubs’; that this is where the story of Dublin started over 1,000 year ago and unfolded. Certainly, The Liberties has an undeniable charm and character, largely focused on the people of the area and their social history and strong sense of community.
Songs and stories and personal histories are all around you on the streets of The Liberties. If you know where to look, you’ll find connections to some of the pivotal moments in Ireland’s history – the rebels and revolutionaries who marked the years of the 19th and 20th centuries. Uncover the layers of past communities such as Huguenots and Quakers who left an indelible legacy on the area. And discover the street characters of yesteryear, many of whom remain fondly remembered.
The young revolutionary Robert Emmet was famously executed for high treason outside St Catherine's Church on Thomas Street in September 1803. Emmet had led a failed rebellion against British rule in Ireland in July of that year. Inspired by the ideals of French and American revolutionaries, Emmet was a fervent Nationalist and gifted orator, but the revolt he led was farcically organised and quickly petered out. Emmet fled to the Dublin Mountains but was soon caught and lost his head after a noted trial. His 'speech from the dock' at his trial remains one of Ireland's great political orations. A monument to Emmet stands in front of St Catherine's Church.
The Brabazon family became the effective owners of much of the area known as The Liberties in the 16th century and their connection to the area continues - albeit more modestly - right to the present day. Sir William Brabazon was the first of the family, taking over what were then religious-owned lands in the 1530s. The family were later ennobled as Earls of Meath and place names such as Meath Street, Brabazon Street and Ardee Street reflect their ownership. The 12th Earl, Reginald Brabazon and his wife made great efforts to develop quality housing in the area in the Victorian period, and you can still see one of their landmark schemes at Gray Street, just off Meath Street.
Biddy Mulligan, the Pride of the Coombe' is a well-known folk song written in the 1930s by Seamus Kavanagh and made famous by the music-hall singer and performer Jimmy O'Dea, who was himself from The Liberties. Biddy was the representation of the traditional sellers who plied their wares on streets in the area, usually with working class repartee and the wisdom of the street. Street selling continues in the area to the present. "You may travel from Clare to the county Kildare From Francis Street back to the Coombe; But where would you see a fine widow like me? Biddy Mulligan the pride of the Coombe, me boys, Biddy Mulligan the pride of the Coombe."
Lemuel Gulliver's 'Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World' or Gulliver's Travels is among the most famous works of Irish satire, written by Jonathan Swift in 1726. Jonathan Swift was made Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral in 1713 and remained so until his death over 30 years later. His most famous novel, while appearing an almost fantastical tale, was actually a satire on the petty rivalries of European politics of the time and the nature of corruption. Swift remains one of Ireland's greatest writers. A Swift Festival takes place each November to mark his unique contribution to literature, politics and the human mind.
Over the years, The Liberties has given the city plenty of 'characters', quirky individuals with nicknames such as Damn the Weather, Hairy Lemon, Johnny Forty Coats and The Bird Flanagan. For many Thomas Dudley, fondly known as Bang Bang remains the best known, a harmless man obsessed by cowboy films (the 'bang-bangs'), who would often get into mock gunfights with strangers on the street. His weapon of choice: a trusty old church key. Passers-by would regularly return fire with their finger, take cover in doorways and even fall 'dead' on the street. Bang Bang rarely missed!
Looking past the big attractions and places of interest in The Liberties, there's great community history to uncover; the experiences of those who call The Liberties home. In Our Shoes Walking Tours is a recently established social enterprise that aims to engage visitors to The Liberties with everyday life and 'the locals'. Maps and guidebooks, apps and tourist products will never compete with the authentic experience of a charming local guide revealing the secrets and gems of their own area. In Our Shoes run tours daily and by appointment.
Inside St Patrick's Cathedral you'll happen across a door with a hole in it. The door stems back to a famous incident in 1492 between two long feuding families, the Ormonds and the Kildares. At one point James Butler, the Earl of Ormond sought protection in the cathedral from his arch foe Garret Og Fitzgerald, the Earl of KiIdare. Fitzgerald saw the nonsense of their interminable feuding and sought to make peace with Butler. In order to prove his bona fides, he cut a hole in the door and thrust his arm through it, to offer his hand in friendship. Butler could have cut his arm off, but instead accepted the overture and made peace with Fitzgerald. The incident gave rise to the phrase 'to chance your arm'.
Over the centuries, many smaller religious groups have made The Liberties their home, including Dublin's Quaker community (more formally known as the Religious Society of Friends). The city's earliest Friends Meeting House was established on Meath Street in 1686. A small burial ground on Cork Street was used by the Society up until the mid-19th century. And the Quakers left their mark on the area with a number of charitable institutions serving the area's many poor. The prominent 18th century banker, Joseph Fade, who financed much of the city's grand Georgian expansion, built himself a fine townhouse on Thomas Street in the 1730s. The building later became a department store and was recently restored as part of a student accommodation scheme.
Its reckoned that a weaving industry was based in The Liberties right back to medieval times, however it was the 17thC influx of French Huguenots who really estabished the area as a textile powerhouse. Many streets in the area reflect this French influence, albeit corrupted into English. So Marrowbone Lane was Marie le Bon Lane, while Cow Parlour was corrupted from Coupiers (or cutters). The textile industry thrived into the early 1800s, but competition from cheaper markets saw it gradually decline and largely disappear. However even today you may find yourself sitting on a Liberties-made train or airline seat, courtesy of the area's last surviving weavers Botany Weaving of Cork Street.
Michael J Moran (ca. 1794 – 1846), popularly known as Zozimus, was an Irish street rhymer and resident of The Liberties. Popularly known as the “Blind Bard of the Liberties” and the “Last of the Gleemen”. Stony Pockets and Bernard Warfield tell his story (video courtesy of www.storymap.ie).
Dublin's oldest library sits alongside the iconic St Patrick's Cathedral
Reckoned among the finest venues in city and country, Vicar Street has witnessed hundreds of memorable shows since it opened for business on Thomas Street…
The National Archives collects, manages and preserves the public record of Ireland, ensuring its availability both as a resource and to safeguard citizens’ rights.
The Edward Worth Library is an early eighteenth-century collection.
Explore Dublin's Viking origins with this multimedia exhibition and visitor attraction
The best of Liberties hospitality
IMMA, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, occupies the historic Royal Kilmainham Hospital.
A local group established to inform and preserve the heritage of our ”Liberties” in Dublin
This is a fully guided tour from Dublin City Centre out as far Kilmainham Gaol and back. This route takes in some of the major…