News from Nelson: Ropery

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RopeMarch is always a difficult month for me, as the eighth is the anniversary of when I was blown off my Pillar.  Believe it or not, I’ve had a major headache ever since! So I prefer to dwell on happier times and now I’m thinking instead of when I was first placed on the Pillar.  It was my first view of Dublin, my new home, and when I swivelled my good eye around, I noted with satisfaction that I was looking over the River Liffey and the gorgeous new Custom House, designed by James Gandon (an incomer like myself) and completed in 1791. 

Although the economic boom of Georgian Dublin had vanished with the 1801 Act of Union, as you can see from the attached illustration, the port was still busy with  ships of all descriptions.  A fine place for an old salt like myself to settle down.<--break->

Custom House

It wasn’t long before I began to work out the comings and goings of the regular ships.  The ‘King’s Packets’ ran between Dublin and Holyhead and the route was served by five ships.  The factors were John and Stephen Drapers, of Rogerson’s Quay.  There were also three packets between Dublin and Liverpool and here the factor was Wybrants of George’s Quay.  Finally, there were regular ships in the London, Bristol and Liverpool trade – enquiries were to be made of Crawford and Kernan of Lisburn Street.  Like every other ship at that time, these depended not just on sails but more importantly on ropes.

Ropes enabled the seamen to trim the sails and set anchor in port, and they were made in a ropery. Now, I am a modern man and I know that in the 21st century ‘Ropery’ in American slang means ‘roguish tricks’.  But I also know that American usage often contains very early English which has somehow been preserved over there.  So it’s not surprising to find that in Romeo and Juliet ropery means ‘saucy tricks’.   But in early 19th century Dublin ‘ropery’ meant a place where ropes were made.  Today, ropes have been replaced by steel hawsers which can be winched or let out by computers.  The magic of sail and ropes has all but vanished.


Nelson's HeadAbout Nelson's Head

The Head from Nelson’s Pillar is on display in the Reading Room of Dublin City Library & Archive.  As Admiral Nelson is a valued member of staff, we have invited him to write his own monthly blog.

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