Summaries of talks given at Foxrock Local History Club

William Sealy Gosset – The Mystery “Student”    1876 – 1937

By  Liam Doyle     

18 April 2017

William Sealy Gosset was born in Canterbury in 1876, attended Winchester College and afterwards Oxford College where he graduated in Mathematics and Chemistry. In 1906, William married Marjorie Surtess Philpotts, an international hockey player and they had three children.

In Dublin, Cecil Guinness (1st lord Iveagh) of Guinness’ Brewing Company was endeavouring to operate the production of porter/stout on a scientific basis in order to ensure consistency of the porter/stout and hence expand its markets. They decided to employ scientists from Oxford and Cambridge and William Sealy Gosset was among the successful applicants.

William arrived in Ireland in 1913 and lived at Hollyville Park (now St Patrick’s Boys’ National School where there is a plaque to his memory), a large detached house on considerable grounds with a long driveway leading to a fine granite walled and gated entrance off  Newtown park Avenue. A housing estate is now built on the grounds and the grand entrance is the only original feature of the property now remaining – it forms the entrance to Orchard Estate.

William met the challenge of his research by using Statistics – a new idea in quality control. The scientific study of the raw materials used in the production of porter (eg hops, barley, water, yeast and hops) involved gathering a series of data using surveys and experiments. The experiments/surveys involved examining the variety and hops, barley, water etc, the grain sizes, where they were grown etc, consulting with professional tasters and then drawing “bell curves” to represent the collected data and this enable the producer to make credible predictions about taste and quality based on scientific evidence provided by the bell curve graphs. Lord Iveagh was obviously pleased with William’s research and allowed him to study for a year in England under Karl Pearson, father of Statistics. Under Pearson’s guidance the research progressed rapidly. William then decided to publish his results but due to commercial sensitive information Guinness refuse to allow him publish his real name. Instead, William published 22 scientific papers under the pseudonym “Student” dealing with moderate quality assurance. He never resented not being allowed use his own name because he never felt the need for academic recognition.

William returned to London in 1935 where he died later. ES Beavan wrote his obituary in the London Times revealing the true identity of “Student”.

During Q & A, Liam was praised for his in-depth research and wonderful presentation about this largely forgotten statistical genius and scientist who introduced statistics to research in industrial and commercial quality assurance.


The Stone Bridges of Dublin       History and Heritage”

Revised by Rob Goodbody

18 April 2017

Twenty-five years ago, two retired engineers, Peter O’Keeffe and Tom Simington, published an amazing book called “Irish Stones Bridges, History and Heritage” but copies were quickly sold out and in recent times it became extremely rare. Rob was invited to revise and extend and republish the book and this is how he became involved in the project.

Rob began by explaining the different types of bridges – her said most of us are unaware of the bridge type when we cross over – that we need to look underneath. Bridge types depend on the type of arch: Medieval Gothic, Semi-circular, Eliptical, Three-centred and Segmental and which type is used is determined mainly by the span and height. Information regarding age of old bridges can be obtained from old maps such as Rocque’s Map 1760 where bridges such as Ballsbridge, Donnybrook and pack-horse bridge etc are shown. These maps also identify bridges which are no longer used, some partly demolished or overgrown eg King John’s Bridge at the Esker which is now just an abandoned partial arch, Grace Dieu Bridge in North Dublin, a medieval bridge which is now overgrown and Pack-horse Bridge in Milltown which was built in the early 17th century and is the oldest bridge in South Dublin. Roque’s Map 1760 also shows a ford at Milltown before the present road bridge was built in 1820. Many original bridges were widened to allow for increased traffic eg. Lissenhall Bridge, Swords. Bridges over the Dodder at Ringsend often collapsed due to floods and a muddy estuary. The present bridge at Ringsend, built in the early 18th century, is a full elliptical arch bridge, half of the arch above the water carrying the traffic and other half built below the water line supporting the bridge. Skew bridges posed engineering problems but road bridges could avoid this by building the bridge perpendicular to the river. However, skew bridges could not be avoided with canal and railway construction and had to be built eg. Three Arch Bridge, Grand Canal and this is an unique example because only one arch is visible from below – however the other two arches are hidden one of them forming the inside of an adjacent restaurant. Some bridges do not appear to cross anything eg the hump-back bridge on Hanover Street which has not been used since 1820 – it transpires that this bridge once crossed Where previously was a rope walk. Many bridges on closer inspection have a series of holes drilled into their bases – these were part of the Defence Line during WW2 and were drilled to hold explosives so that they could be blown up in the event of an invasion. Rob spoke about the nearby Lehaunstown bridge, part of the Harcourt St Rail Line, which was blown up during the Civil War, 1922, and rebuilt in concrete and the small bridge at Cabinteely House estate which was built in the 18th century.

The vote of thanks praised Rob for a very interesting and excellently researched talk which give the audience a glimpse of the magnificent and mysterious world of stone arches and stone patterns hidden under our bridges.





“The Young Ireland  (Newtown Park) Fife & Drum Band in the Great War”

By Conor Dodd

21 March 2017

At the turn of the 20th century, Newtown Park was a small rural village, built by the Byrnes of Cabinteely, half way along what is today Newtownpark Avenue which it is now part of the ever expanding suburbs of South County Dublin. Just before WWI there was a band movement flourishing throughout Ireland and Newtown Park, like many of its neighbouring villages and towns, had its own Fife & Drum Band. The band was formed in 1902 and Conor’s great grandfather, Richard Dodd was a member and this prompted Conor to do this marvellous piece of research. From its formation, the band was supportive of the Home Rule movement in Ireland and in 1910 it won the Junior All-Ireland Championship Prize in a competition to raise funds to erect the Parnell Monument we see today at the top of O’Connell Street. The band actively supported the 3rd Home Rule Bill and performed at many meetings, organised by the local nationalist MP William Field, in and around Blackrock. Such was its popularity, it led the local St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Blackrock in 1914 and Fr Gleeson, who was based in Blackrock at the time, celebrated mass in Irish in the local church. Fr Gleeson would later become famous for being chaplain to the Royal Munster Fusiliers during WWI – there is the famous 1915 painting at Rue De Bois, France, of Fr Gleeson on horseback and wearing a British military chaplain uniform granting the Last General Absolution to the Munsters before they went into battle.

In 1914, the Great War started and everything changed for the band. Initially the band supported recruitment rallies but soon the band members themselves enlisted and went off to war. Among those who enlisted were Conor’s great grandfather Richard and his brother William Dodd. Two days before the Easter Rising, the Saturday Herald published a veiled recruitment article titled “A band of Heroes” about the heroism and bravery of the Newtown Fife & Drum Band members who had joined the British army and showing individual pictures of the men, some in military uniform.  Richard survived the war but his brother was killed during the Battle of the Somme Offensive, the bloodiest offensive of WWI. William had been home on leave in 1915 and got married. When he returned to duty, his wife was pregnant – unfortunately her heartache did not end with William’s tragic death – their baby son died shortly after, aged six months. Another band victim, Jack Fleming, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was killed near the end of the Somme Offensive. So proud was Jack of the band, he had brought the band’s mace and banner with him and after his death his brother, who survived the war, brought the mace and banner back home. Another band member and one of the last victims of the war, Private John Mahon, was killed in November 1918 and buried in St Symphorien Military Cemetery, France. However, the majority of the band members who enlisted survived.  One of these, Robert Lesley, served with the Royal Irish Rifles until he got severely wounded in his right arm and was sent home. Once home, Robert was treated and rehabilitated in the Military Hospital Blackrock where he was fitted with an artificial arm. Conor showed a silent film of Robert demonstrating his newly fitted artificial right arm to carry out various carpentry jobs – sawing a plank, hammering a nail etc. This ensured Robert would be able to go back into the workforce after the war.

The war had a great impact on the band. After 1918, the impetus and popularity for the Newtown Fife and Drum Band waned and finally it was disbanded. The Newtown Fife and Drum Band’s mace and banner remained in the Fleming family until two weeks ago when the Flemings presented them to the Lord Mayor of Dublin for safe-keeping. The Lord Mayor passed them on to Dublin City Library where there is a collection of paraphernalia and literature associated with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers – so a century after WWI the memories of the once very popular “Newtown Park Fife and Drum Band” and its heroic deeds are now truly safe for future generations.


“Grand Canal Revival – Royal Canal Restored”

By    John McKeown
21 March 2017

John McKeown, Eastern Regional Manager of Waterways Ireland, gave a fascinating insight into the two major canal systems in Ireland, the Royal Canal running northwards from the River Liffey linking Dublin to the Shannon at Longford and the Grand Canal running southwards from Dublin connecting with the Shannon near Banagher. The idea of connecting Dublin to the Shannon was proposed by an Act of (Irish) Parliament in 1715. Building the two canals was greatest engineering feat and the most expensive public works ever undertaken in Ireland up to that time. The purpose was to improve freight and passenger transport between the capital city, Dublin, and vast areas of midland and western Ireland (at a time when Irish roads were in a very poor state) and therefore promote the country’s economic activity.

Construction of the Grand Canal began in 1756, staring near Dublin and stretching across the country to the Shannon. It proved to be a very expensive project, particularly navigating through the Bog of Allen (the biggest obstacle of all) which at the time people thought impossible but it was achieved albeit at a very high cost. In 1763, Dublin Corporation took over the project because they wanted canal water for the city and put up money to complete the canal into the city. The canal from Sallins to Dublin opened for passenger service in 1779. The circular canal line from Portobello to Grand Canal Docks (biggest dock in Ireland) at Ringsend was started in 1790 and opened in 1796. The Grand Canal (212km) was officially opened in 1804. John Killaly was an Irish engineer employed by the Grand Canal Dock Company and his expert skills were particularly apt when navigating the central bog-lands. His son, Hamilton, emigrated to Canada where he became a well-known canal engineer.

A disgruntled director of the Grand Canal Company resigned and started construction of the Royal Canal in 1790.  It ran from Spenser Dock, on the north side of the Liffey, through a series of locks behind the back of Mountjoy Prison, on towards Maynooth and by 1806 the canal had reached Mullingar. In 1817 the Royal Canal, measuring 154km in length, reached the Shannon.

In 1845, the Midland Great Western Railway Company purchased the canals in order to build railways along its tow paths and they became in time a strong competitor of the canals.

By the late 1800s and early 1900s the canals began to go into decline. In the 1920s, road transport became a fierce competitor of the railways, especially the motor lorry. There was brief revival in the 1940s when canals were used to transport large quantities of turf by barge to Dublin. After the war the two biggest canal customers were Guinness and the Carlow Sugar Factory. In the 1960s, CIE finally closed the canals and the swing beams operating the lock gates were cut off to ensure locks could not be used again.

In 1986, Waterways Ireland began opening the canals and tow paths as a public amenity and for recreational purposes eg barge and boat touring, canoeing, cycling, swimming, walking, running etc Waterways Ireland encountered many obstacles during the restoration such as blocked and overgrown canals and locks, collapsed canals due bog subsidence etc, unfit bridges, rotten lock gates, issues with property holders etc. These obstacles were overcome by careful planning and negotiation, expert engineering, modern construction methods, and most of all a political will and lots of public money. The canal project has proven to be an amazing success both for the Irish public and visitors to this country who love active tourism, Irish landscape and scenery. Well done, Waterways Ireland.

“Manning Robertson and the 1936 Dun Laoghaire Survey and Plan”

Michael Cregan              

21 February 2017

Manning Robertson was born in London, his mother was from Co Carlow and he was educated in English Public Schools before training as an architect. He practised in London from 1915 until 1925.

Manning married Nora Parsons, had four children and came to Dublin in 1925. He lived on Raglan Road for a time and then Huntington Castle, Co Carlow.

He devoted his professional life to developing town Planning in Ireland and was instrumental in forwarding the “Town Planning Act, 1934”. His 1936 Dun Laoghaire Survey and Plan” was the first of its kind in Ireland. He advocated the need for open space planning as the most important part of a town planner’s work because it was so often neglected. As well as public parks, he advocated the need for proper public(social) housing and is responsible for a number of public schemes in County Dublin and elsewhere around the country – Temple Hill, Blackrock (43 cottages); St Begnet Villas, Dalkey (56 houses); Monkstown Farm; Dargle Valley in Bray and also schemes in Co Carlow and Limerick.

He published articles on town planning in magazines such as “The Irish Builder” etc and wrote numerous books – “Foundations of Architecture”, “Town Planning in Ireland” etc. These publications were the first serious comments on architecture and town planning in Ireland. He also designed the Yeats Memorial in Drumcliffe Graveyard, Co Sligo.

His “1936 Dun Laoghaire Survey and Plan” raised awareness of the high levels of poverty in and around Dublin. The 1914 census shows that many of the 63% working class population in the city lived in slum houses. In spite of hostility to town planning, Manning sought to address problems of slum housing and overcrowding by pulling down large masses of buildings and organising the growth of new planned towns which “should look like part of the surroundings rather than something dropped down ready-made”. His plan for the “Future of Dublin” was delayed due to the 1916, however it was an opportunity to redesign the city and develop suburb planning. The first public scheme was “Marino”. Manning asked the question: ”Will our suburbs be robbed of any natural beauty?”. At the time, the word “Amenity” in town planning was being used apologetically. Manning advocated good practice and the orderly progressive development of cities and towns. However, there was hostility to his views and the weakness of the “1934 Planning Legislation” was that it was not obligatory. Also in 1930, the population of Dublin was only half a million citizens and so there was no urgency for town planning.

In 1945, Manning Robertson died and his legacy translated into the “1963 Planning Act” It advocated the coastline development of Dun Laoghaire – new bathing areas, 100m swimming pool, cafes, bandstand etc. The book, “History and Scenery “, describes the Borough of Dun Laoghaire at the time and it enthusiastically highlighted the pleasures awaiting visitors to the town – its economic value as a holiday resort and pleasant climate.

Constantine Curran, friend of James Joyce, summed up the hostility to town planning as follows: “the unbridled aggressive short-sighted actions of private interest and the penny-wise attitude of constituted authority”.

During the Q&A session, one member of the audience referred to the recent newspaper report of a single house in the locality rented to seventy South American and East European immigrants and wondered whether modern Ireland was returning to the overcrowded slums of the early 20th century.


“The Nelson Family of Kells, the UK and the Argentine … and their South Dublin connections”

Michael Richardson           


21 February 2017

Michael began by saying that his interest in the Nelson family began when a large silver cup, discovered in St Werburgh’s Church, Chester, presented by Mr T C Nelson in 1909 (for sports competition between two parishes in Chester) was brought to his attention and he decided to do some research into the Nelson family.

The story begins in a local graveyard in Kells, Co Meath where there is a fine memorial to the Nelson family. According to Griffith’s Valuation 1848, John Nelson and his family lived on Canon Street and were wealthy cattle breeders and graziers.

Twenty-eight members of the Nelson family are buried among the Great and the Good of early 19th century Ireland in Glasnevin Cemetery, in vaults facing the base of the round tower where Daniel O’Connell is buried.

One of his sons, James (1821 – 1896), emigrated to Liverpool and started importing cattle into the UK. He married Elizabeth McCormack and had 10 children, 4 daughters and 6 sons, all of whom ended up in the business which expanded into a chain of a thousand butcher shops throughout the UK. The UK cattle market could not supply sufficient meat to his shops and so James decided to import meat from Argentina. He bought his first refrigerated ship “Highland Scot” in 1890 and established his own shipping line– The Nelson Line – mostly to import meat but also for carrying passengers. In those days, it took three weeks to sail to Argentina. The business expanded quickly and by 1910/11 ten more refrigerated ships were purchased. In 1913 the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company bought the Nelson Shipping Line and kept the Nelson name. It was a cheaper alternative to the Royal Mail Ship. In 1932 the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company collapsed and during WW2 most of the ships were commandeered by the British War Office.

James’ son, (Sir) William Nelson, lived at Acton Park, Wrexham and was created 1st Baronet Nelson of Acton Park. He was a high-profile race horse owner and left £1m in his will. William’s second son, James married a wealthy American, Isabel Valle but then divorced her in 1919. He subsequently got married again to Cathleen Bryan who was charged with manslaughter in 1932 but later acquitted. Apparently, she knocked down and killed a Civic Guard with her motor car. Lady Cathleen Nelson also learned to fly & became a prominent aviator of her time.  Sir William’s daughter Violet married three times. One of her husbands was the 2nd Duke of Westminster. She died in 1983.

James Nelson returned from Liverpool on retirement and  lived in “Cooldrinagh”, a big house in Leixlip. He was very much involved in the building of the new Lucan Spa Hotel. Samuel Beckett’s mother, May Roe, was born and reared in this house. When May married Bill Beckett, she had their newly built house in Foxrock called after her childhood home in Leixlip.

Elizabeth Oswaldina Nelson married Joseph Michael Redmond in 1898 and lived at Gortmore, Dundrum.   She was a founder member of “Women’s National Health Association” – a branch was opened in Cabinteely.

Thomas Cormac Nelson married in the Pro-Cathedral but lived in Glasgow. In 1933, his son, Edward Hugh Cormac married Eileen Keane in St Joseph’s Church, Glasthule but Edward was killed in a train crash in 1937. Eileen’s adopted son, Brian Nelson owned the Monte Carlo garage in Dundrum. In 1972, he drove his Ford Anglia van from Dublin to Russia and the following year, 1973, he drove to Timbuktu – quite an achievement at the time! However, taking into consideration the huge successes in business and social climbing achieved by previous generations of Nelsons these two great motoring adventures probably pale into insignificance.





17 January 2017

“History of the Development of Traditional Irish Music & Song”

Presented by Siobhan Ni Chonoráin, Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann,

on Flute and Tin Whistle

Accompanied by:

Mary Kelly,                         on Harp

Anne-Marie McGowan,     on Fiddle

Tom Nolan                           sean nós songs

There was a full house for this amazing historical evening of Irish Culture, Music and Song. The trio were ably lead by Siobhán Ní Chonoráin who narrated mainly in English to facilitate the entire audience and gave a most interesting, concise and insightful account of the evolution and development of Irish traditional music throughout the centuries. She referred to the role of Ceoltas Ceoltóiri Éireann which is the premier organisation fostering and nurturing Irish Culture, music, song and dance at home and abroad. Siobhán played the flute, the whistle and performed with passion, elegance and style and she explained traditional and folk music and how both were transmitted orally and aurally and like other folk art forms, they were rooted in the communities and the people. Before the 17th century music was not written down and therefore there are no primary sources. Old songs were handed down orally from composer to collectors and then on to translators and publishers resulting in variations (often regional) in title, lyrics and music to same song.

Mary Kelly, a leading harpist and wearing the traditional dress, played the cruit (the Irish Harp) with such accomplishment that even the Sean Nós songs, which are normally in the Irish language and without accompaniment, were enriched and enhanced by her accompaniment. Because it has no peddles, the Irish harp is unique and at the centre of Irish traditional music; hence it is one of the most recognisable emblems of Ireland. In the 13th and 14th century centuries the role of the harper consisted of entertaining the Clans in their castles and big country houses.

Anne-Marie McGowan, playing the fiddle with great agility and virtuosity, completed the trio. Of course, as explained by Siobhán, in a traditional Irish music context, the violin is always referred to as the fiddle – otherwise the two instruments are the same – whereas with classical music it is referred to as a violin.

The trio performed a variety of traditional compositions and before each Siobhán talked about the structure, style, background and historical context: “Miss Hamilton”, “Clan March, March of the King of Laois”, “An Raibh Tú ag an gCarraig” – meaning Were You at the (Mass) Rock.

Siobhan went on to talk about the evolution of traditional Irish dance e.g. Sean Nós, Irish Step dancing, Jigs, Céili, and River Dance etc. Dance evolved in the 17th century when the big country houses employed dance masters to teach the steps. Today, Set dancing is very popular all over the world even among non-Irish communities. The dance itself is very enjoyable and great exercise. The trio performed “The Blackbird”, a traditional Irish set dance, “The Rocky Road to Dublin” a jig made famous in song by the Dubliners, “Wild Geese” an instrumental piece and traditional Irish waltz.

The trio performed Irish ballads which tell the stories relevant to the people at the time: “Slán Abhaile” meaning Safe Home – an Irish saying used to bid goodbye to someone travelling home, “The West’s Awake” a ballad composed by Thomas Davis – the song has an unique melodic structure and laments the changing of Ireland’s Celtic Nation especially in the West. Finally, Tom Nolan, accompanied by the trio, sang “Anac Cuan” a haunting song about a boating tragedy in Galway.

This concluded a most enjoyable and wonderfully entertaining evening of Irish History, Culture, Music, Song and Dance. To Siobhan, Mary and Anne-Marie – Go raibh  míle maith agaibh, Siobhán agus do Cháirde.


18 October 2016


“The University of Revolution”

By  Eanna DeBurca

Eanna DeBurca talked about his father, Frank Burke who, like many nationalists of the time, later changed his name to “Feargus DeBurca” in the spirit of the Gaelic Revival prevalent in early 19th Century Ireland. Feargus was born in Carbury, Co Kildare into a middle class rural background and during his childhood was greatly influenced by his mother whose family had connections with the Fenian movement.

During his second level education, he was a boarder in St Enda’s, Rathfarnham which was run by the Pearse family and soon came under the influence of Pádraig and Willie. After finishing his secondary education he attended UCD but continued as a boarder in St Enda’s. After graduation, he was offered a teaching position in St Enda’s and taught alongside teachers such as Thomas McDonagh. He joined the Irish Volunteers and fought in the GPO during the 1916 Rising.

1,600 Irish Volunteers took part in the Rising but afterwards over 2,500 men around the country, including Feargus DeBurca, were rounded up by the British army and transported to internment camps in England. Feargus was interned in Frangoch, originally a WW1 German POW camp, which was a cold, lonely, isolated place located in a valley in N-E Wales surrounded by a 12 ft perimeter fence. The commandant was Col. Heygate-Lambert who was described as a cranky, critical and fault-finding individual who insisted on things being done his way. The guards were mostly elderly because the younger men were all fighting at the front and even the guards disliked Heygate-Lambert. The men lived in dormitories (South Camp) or huts (North Camp) – the huts were particularly cold in winter and a German POW died from severe cold in one of the huts before the camp was occupied by the Irish. Feargus shared one of the huts with another notable rebel and future iconic political figure, Michael Collins.

The day for prisoners began with a roll-call at 5.30am followed by mass and then a reasonable good breakfast at 7.30am. At 11 o’clock there was an inspection of prisoners followed by fatigue duties under their own officers. Dinner at 12.30pm consisting of bully beef, herrings, soapy potatoes which was for the most part inedible. Families and friends sent food parcels to supplement the prison diet but these were frequently contaminated by the time they reached the prisoners. There were 3 forced marches per week through the Welsh countryside which the men apparently enjoyed and often returned to the camp well before their guards who because of their age struggled to keep up, some prisoners apparently even helping their guards’ carry their guns!  Leisure and sports times were allocated and because the prison population included 12 Kerry county players and 8 Louth players the GAA allowed them to play the final of the Wolfe Tone League in the camp It had been cancelled due to the Rising,– Kerry won. The president of the GAA was also interned in Fongoch which may have been the reason why the politically neutral GAA allowed the match to go ahead.  The men had tea at 5.30pm and afterwards the men played games e.g. chess or attended classes. The classes were very important opportunities for prisoners to gain “degrees” in “The University of Revolution” learning guerrilla warfare tactics which were effectively used after their release in their struggle against the British during the War of Independence which succeeded in liberating Ireland.

All but 600 prisoners were released when Lloyd George became Prime Minister

On 22 December 1916, the 600 prisoners were unexpectedly informed they were going home for Christmas. They were taken by train from Frongoch to Holyhead and then by boat to the North Wall in Dublin – there was great excitement and singing throughout the journey. In Dublin the men attended mass and after breakfast Feargus took the train to Carbury, Co Kildare. The men were in high spirits and there was a great sing-song on the train and as it passed through the countryside where everything looked magical with a candle burning in the window of every household which was the custom on Christmas Eve  – a welcome for the Holy Family. When Feargus finally approached his home late in the evening he could see a candle burning brightly not only in one window according to tradition but in all nine front windows – he must have immediately recognised the symbolism – Failte Abhaile Feargus.

(Summary by Michael O’Flaherty)


18 October 2016

“100 Years of Division in Kingstown, 1816 – 1916”

By  Tom Conlon

Tom Conlon’s lecture gives a clear insight into the rigid social class system and divisions therein prevailing in the premier seaside township of Kingstown in the 19th and early 20th century. On one hand, there were the privileged classes living their fine Georgian and Victorian mansions and elegant terraces enjoying life to the full and employing large numbers of poorly paid servants to tend all their domestic household duties such as cleaning, cooking, laundry etc and looking after their employers every whim. Many of the female servants were from the country (outside Dublin) because employers felt local girls would be more prone to gossip. On the other hand, there were the “invisible poor” who etched out a miserable existence working long hours in  low paid menial jobs e.g. labourers on the railway and harbour, charwomen, fishmongers etc and who lived in filthy overcrowded ghettos called courts, in poorly built substandard housing with no sanitation, no running water and consequently causing frequent outbreaks of cholera, typhoid etc among the poor in these areas.

Tom began his lecture with a brief history of Kingstown using numerous maps, pictures & drawings pertaining to the period, 1816 – 1916: 1820 -Plan of the harbour which was sanctioned by parliament in 1816; 1856/9 – laying of the railway to the Carlisle pier with the Royal St George Yacht Club in the background; 1859 – Lifeboat Station at the end of the East Pier, Harbour Master’s Office all on its own overlooking the seafront, Kelly’s Royal Hotel, the Congregational Church on Northumberland Ave (now demolished), Victoria Wharf (now St Michael’s Wharf), East Pier (surface was about 10 ft lower than at present), Gresham Tce. (demolished & replaced by the Shopping Centre carpark). Tom also mentioned a daily ferry running between Kingstown and the Dublin to carry workmen – apparently the railway company disapproved of workmen using their trains. A picture c1870 of Upr. George’s St. showed the road with tramlines but no overhead wires because in 1870s the trams were horse drawn, the building occupied by Brian S Nolan today and beside it the Office of the Irish Times now the site of the Bank of Ireland and at the corner of Marine Rd there were two shops which were later bought by the church and demolished leaving the open plaza we have today. At the end of the 19th century, the leases on shops became due for renewal and as a condition of the renewal of leases the ground landlords, Longford and De Vesci, insisted that shop owners must rebuilt the shop fronts in an uniform red-brick style. Hence many shop fronts in Dun Laoghaire today look distinctly Edwardian rather than Victorian/Georgian. Tom also showed a picture of the Pavilion, an exclusive palatial wood and glass building, erected in 1903 for the wealthy citizens of Kingstown to enjoy dinners and concerts and outside there were tennis courts and a band stand where members could enjoy popular live music. However, the ordinary working class citizens of Kingstown were excluded – this venue was the preserve of town’s privileged classes.

Thackeray visited Kingstown in 1842 and obviously didn’t like what he saw – he described Kingstown as shabby, shabby and shabby. Even though the wealthy lived in grand houses there was no housing provision for poorer people who couldn’t afford to rent proper accommodation. Owners of shops, especially on Lr George’s St., Cumberland St. etc took advantage of this the scarcity of affordable housing by building little single storey huts and lean-to’s in the yards and stables behind their shops and renting them out. These cramped poorly built clusters of houses/huts, known as courts, became ghetto developments with no running water or sanitation and fertile grounds for the spread of diseases. The courts were deliberately hidden behind the shops and visitors/holiday makers to the town couldn’t see them from the street – the courts were invisible – and so the high reputation of Kingstown as a tourist destination and one of the most affluent towns in Ireland was protected.  The court owners also commanded high rents but provided little in the way of services and fixity of tenure. The ground landlords, Longford and De Vesci, could have stopped the development of courts but they didn’t – they also gained financially from the situation.

Griffith’s Valuation 1849 gives information regarding 49 courts and 11 lanes in Kingstown.  The OSI maps 1867 shows the courts in Kingstown. Tom show the Lr George’s Str at the site of the old Carnegie library. The courts shown on the map: Bradleys, Flynns, Burks etc all have entrances at the side of the front house bordering the street – none have independent entrances.

However, some prominent citizens tried to highlight the problem. In 1867, Charles Haliday, a wealthy merchant living in Monkstown, wrote a pamphlet identifying 644 deficient houses. At the time the population was 12,000 and by Tom Conlon’s estimation, about 45% of them lived in courts. Dr John Byrne Power, in 1874, wrote: “the town had the worse features of a town of decaying industry”. In 1900, a civil servant, Dr Thomas Browne, carried out a survey of the town where he identified 1,007 houses of the poorer classes among them 355 tenement houses (family in each room) and Crofton Courts consisting of 12 houses serviced by only one WC and one bin. Tom reminded us that at the time there was no welfare state and poor people were left to fend for themselves.

In 1903, the town council developed “The Kingstown Improvement Scheme 1903” under the “Houses of the Working Classes Act” and, from 1903 to 1908, demolished some of the courts and built a series of red-brick houses on Convent Road, Cumberland Str etc. The houses were terraced and consisted of two doors – one entering the ground level house and the other leading to the house above it. The houses were relatively small, about 500 sq ft, but having running water and a wc were a great improvement on the courts. However, the rent of 4 shillings per week was considered high for poorly paid people and therefore some people were forced to continue living in the courts. The council made a profit on two of the streets where the houses were built.

In 1915, the “Local Government Investigation” reported people still living in 441 houses in the courts – much done, a lot more to do.

At question-time, Padraig Laffan, chairman, reminded everyone that regrettably even today after a century of progress in affordable housing there are still over 1,000 homeless families living in Ireland.

(Summary by Michael O’Flaherty)


15 November 2016
“Rev Thomas Goff, 1772 -1844, of Carriglea Property, Propinquity & Protestantism”

By  David Doyle

David Doyle is a staff member of the IADT (Institute of Art, Design and Technology), Dun Laoghaire and he gave a fascinating account of the life and times of the Rev Thomas Goff who lived at Carriglea Park ( IADT) in the late 17th and early 19th century. The account is based on the Rev Thomas’ diaries. In 2007, an Englishwoman, Pamela Gooding, gave the diaries to the IADT for safekeeping, transcription and digitalisation. David became interested and decided to use the them as the subject matter of his MA thesis.

How diaries survived after the Rev Thomas’ death, 1844, is quite intriguing. First, they passed to his son, William Goff, an Anglo-Irish gentleman and MP for Roscommon. Next they passed to Clarence Edward Goff, educated at Eton and Oxford and whose wedding in London to Lady Cecilia Willowby was reported in the newspapers as a “Society Wedding”. They lived on their large country estate at Carrowroe Park, Co Roscommon. Major Goff fought with the British army in the Boer War and The Great War. In 1920, the Goffs sold all their estates in Ireland and moved to England. Following Major Goff’s death in 1949, his daughter, Elizabeth Moyra Goff, inherited the diaries. Subsequently, Pamela Gooding acquired them and decided to take them back to Ireland.

David then outlined how the Goffs accumulated their vast fortune – equally fascinating. One of the Rev Thomas’ grandfathers was a certain Thomas “Guff” in Roscommon, a shop-keeper who employed three “Papist” servants. On the other side of the family, his great, great grandfather was George II of England. King William IV (1765-1837) had no legitimate children, however, he had ten illegitimate children with his mistress, actress Dorothea Bland who also went by the name of Mrs. Jordan. Dorothy’s (sometimes called) /Dorothea’s children were very well-off and one of them married “Guff” bringing considerable wealth into the family and around this time David believes the name “Guff” changed to Goff.

The content of the diaries varies greatly. In one excerpt, Thomas describes bringing his son the Dentist Grimshaw. In another, 1803, Thomas describes being in Dublin when the Robert Emmet Rebellion broke out. The diaries portray the Rev. Thomas as Anti-Catholic and yet he appears relaxed regarding Catholic Emancipation, 1829 – he hated Daniel O’Connell (Napoleon was his other hate figure). The disestablishment of the Church of Ireland was one of his greatest fears and he became “Anti-dis-establishment”. In 1822, he airs his fears as follows: “…one possessing a church without what we can properly call a religion and the other possessing a religion without what we can properly call a church”.

The diaries also give an insight into other aspects of Thomas’ life style. Thomas was a prolific traveler, travelling on horseback all over Ireland and frequently sailing to England between the Pigeon House and Holyhead. However, unlike many of his wealthy compatriots, he never traveled to the Continent. His father, Robert, was a very wealthy land owner who apparently had the prime minister, William Pitt, in his pocket. In 1802 alone, Robert spent c. £13,500 on property deals. Like his father, Thomas also did property deals with landlords such as the Beresford’s and the Gardiners and owned a town house at 55 (now 59) Eccles Street, Dublin.

So, in summary, David described the Rev Thomas Goff was a very wealthy and powerful man who could do and say what he liked – a Church of Ireland minister, land owner and sometimes army chaplain. While living at Carriglea House, Rev Thomas planted an orchard behind the house both of which are still there today and David encouraged everyone to come and see it for themselves.

Note:      Foxrock Local History Club has a publication

Carriglea – From Country Demesne to College of Art

Publication No. 20 in our series It is written by Moira Laffan