Manuscript of the Month July 2017: The Mystery of the Summer Islands

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Usher IslandIn its natural state, the River Liffey is shallow – the Irish name for Dublin is ‘Baile Atha Cliath’ or the town of the ford of hurdles, which were put down on the river bed to allow people to have a firm footing while wading across.  Further east, the Nightingale Sands, which appeared in summer at the mouth of the Liffey at low tide, were used during the Riding of the Franchises to cross from Clontarf to Ringsend on horseback. 

And again in summer, a varying number of islands appeared in the River Liffey.  These were owned by the then Dublin Corporation which leased them out to citizens who hoped to build the summer islands up and reclaim them. Many of the summer islands appeared in the vicinity of Rory O’More Bridge and are shown on Bernard de Gomme’s 1673 map of Dublin; these were probably sand and gravel banks.  In 1670, the merchant Henry Orson secured a lease of these small islands and in 1685 Phillips’ map of Dublin shows them as a single island with a house – an indicator of Orson’s success in effectively consolidating them.  Orson’s islands were incorporated into the north bank of the Liffey by 1728 and the land is now known as The Esplanade and Wolfe Tone Quay.

Rory O'More Bridge with three of the Summer Islands

Image above: Rory O'More Bridge with three of the Summer Islands (click to enlarge)

Bernard de Gomme Map, 1673 showing Sir William Usher's Island

Image above: Bernard de Gomme Map, 1673 showing Sir William Usher's Island (click to enlarge)

Further up the river, Islandbridge was also very useful and this island supported a mill race and water engine which benefited the city as a whole. However the most successful grantee was Sir William Usher who received ‘The Island’ from the Corporation by way of fee-farm grant in 1663, when it already had houses and assigns built by his family who had held it by lease since 1557. The City Assembly noted that The Island consisted of four acres and eighteen perches of prime land. Usher paid the large sum of £50 for this grant, with a rent reserved as 20 shillings sterling, payable twice yearly. It was conveniently located behind Usher’s house on Bridge Street and as early as 1673 it is shown as ‘Sir William Usher’s island’ on de Gomme’s map of Dublin. Sir William had other interests in the Liffey, where he held a lease of the City Oyster Beds.  This was lucrative and could have been more so except that the Corporation required him to deliver twenty thousand oyster beds yearly for entertainments by the Lord Mayor. Usher’s Island was integrated with the south river bank by the 19th century but it has retained its name to this day to the puzzlement of tourists.

Segment of the Ancient Revenue 006

Document above: Sir William Usher’s signature from DCLA/Ancient Revenue 0006 (click to enlarge)


Manuscript of the Month

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