The 16th Annual Sir John T. Gilbert Lecture - transcript
Published on 21st February 2013
The following is a transcript of the sixteenth Sir John T. Gilbert Commemorative Lecture "Dublin after Dark: Glimpses of Life in an Early Modern City", given by Maighréad Ní Mhurchadha, Local Historian, on Wednesday 23rd January 2013 at 6.00pm, in the Dublin City Library & Archive.
Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode, 'Dublin after Dark’, Maighréad Ní Mhurchadha offers us glimpses of life in an early modern city following sun down. The 16th Annual Sir John T. Gilbert Lecture, was recorded in front of a live audience at Dublin City Library and Archive on 23 January, 2013.
Imagine that you are a member of the watch on duty on the western walls of Dublin behind Bridge Street. The time is shortly after midnight, early in the year 1642. It is a bitterly cold dark night with no sound except the occasional raucous shouts and laughter of some soldiers in the streets below. Suddenly you hear a crash but you cannot identify what caused it. In reality, the sound you have heard is that of a man jumping from one of the upper back windows of a house in Bridge Street. It is not just any man. The person who has escaped is, in fact, a priest, the head of one of the Catholic religious orders in the city, and someone whom the authorities would dearly like to capture.
I shall return to the story of the priest later. This short account, however, illustrates several of the night-time problems which Dublin had to face in the 1640s, for example, the cold – the seventeenth century was known as the Mini-Ice Age, the darkness – gas and electric lighting were centuries in the future - and the serious threat of attack from outside, not from foreigners, but from the native Irish, most of whom were Catholics. Another difficulty which the citizens of this city had to face during the hours of darkness was the danger of fire.
Enormous changes took place in our city during the seventeenth century. In 1600 it was a small walled city with possibly 10,000 inhabitants. By the end of the century the city had spread outside the walls in all directions and its population was in the region of 70,000. Dublin was fast becoming one of Europe’s great cities. But there were other changes which affected the lives of the people. The centre city, mainly Catholic at the beginning of the century, was now largely Protestant. New churches and other elegant buildings, such as the Royal Hospital, now graced the city. The walls, or what remained of them, were no longer a secure barrier to entry to the city. But perhaps the change that older people would have noticed most in their day-to-day lives was the great increase in traffic, especially coaches, with which the many narrow streets were ill-equipped to cope.
Before looking at some of the more dramatic events which took place at night during the early modern period and, in particular, the seventeenth century, I should like to say something about the effects of darkness on the lives of the ordinary people. The inhabitants of Dublin City were familiar with the measurement of time from the late Middle Ages as there had been a public clock on top of the Tholsel (or City Hall) since at least 1466. The bells of the many churches, particularly those of Christ Church and St Audoen’s, rang out at regular intervals. To cope with the long hours of darkness, especially during the winter, some form of lighting was needed, at home and in the streets. In the home, as well as simple rush-lights, candles were used and these candles were made, generally from tallow, by craftsmen who were members of the Guild of Tallow Chandlers, Soap Boilers and Wax-light Makers. This guild was founded in 1583 but may have replaced an earlier guild. Unlike London, which had separate guilds for wax chandlers, who made candles from beeswax for churches and for the nobility, and tallow chandlers, who made candles from tallow for general use, both types of craftsmen in Dublin belonged to the same guild. Tallow was the main commodity used for candle-making in Dublin and, as this was supplied by the butchers, it became necessary to control their activities as well as those of the tallow-chandlers, to ensure that citizens paid a fair price for these essential commodities. In the year 1600, for example, the assembly imposed maximum prices of 2s. 4d. sterling, per stone of tallow and 3d. per pound of candles.
Formal street lighting seems to have developed rather late in Dublin. While public lighting was necessary for the safety of citizens it is not clear how exactly this was provided in the early years. A single reference in the Dublin Assembly Rolls for 1585 may give us a clue as to how the system operated. In that year ‘a lease was made to George Ussher for forty-one years of a shop lately built near the High Conduit … he to find a lantern with candlelight from 6 to 9 o’clock to light passengers’. This would suggest that householders, or at least businesses, were responsible for providing lights outside their premises. The lanterns were probably affixed to brackets placed over or near the main door or to adjoining railings. A perusal of a selection of leases suggests that this formal stipulation was unusual. Since it was clearly in the interests of shops and businesses to ensure that their premises were well-lit it was probably also unnecessary. However, it may have been considered advisable to include it in the Ussher lease because the shop was newly-built.
While the provision of street lighting during the early part of the seventeenth century seems to have been the responsibility of individuals the city assembly provided candles in certain circumstances. It did so, for example, for the courts of guard, soldiers and armed citizens who guarded the city when there was a threat of attack by the Ulster Irish during the Nine Years’ War and, more particularly, during the period 1597-1600. Even after the threat of surprise had receded the practice of providing the watchmen with fire and candles continued.
There were other problems associated with darkness. In 1603, for example,
the inhabitants of Cook Street complained that the lane leading from St Michael’s Lane to the Quay is abused by night by the inhabitants thereabouts, by casting filth and excrements there and requested to have a grate of timber made at either end, to prevent the same: it is therefore ordered …, that if the inhabitants shall consent to contribute to that charge, that then the said grates shall be made, and that the keys of the locks thereof be given into the custody of the inhabitants of that lane, to be kept every night by turns for the commodity of their own passages in and out at all times …
By 1608 it was clear that that this problem had not been solved for it was agreed to make ‘two gates at both the ends of Rosemary Lane to avoid the noisomes thereof’. It seems that the difficulty arose to some extent because the two ends of the tiny lane lay in different wards and it was necessary to assign responsibility both for the building and for the nightly closing of the gates to two different sets of officials.
In 1616 the assembly decreed that
every fifth house throughout this city and suburbs shall have lantern and candlelight set forth from six of the clock to nine every dark night from All Hallowstide until Candlemas and a fortnight after; … and whosoever shall offend contrary to this law, to be committed by Mr Mayor, and to pay six pence, sterling, fine for every night’s default …’.
During the second half of the seventeenth century the city assembly gave the lead in providing lighting for its own premises when it erected a lantern known variously as the Globe Lantern or the Great Lantern. It is not clear where this lantern was placed but it seems likely that it was in Cornmarket at the entrance to the Tholsel, the forerunner of the City Hall. Between 1682 and the end of the century this lantern had to be replaced twice and mended on several occasions so it cannot have been very sturdy or reliable.
Responsibility for provision of street lighting still lay primarily with individual citizens although it was now overseen by officials. In 1687 the assembly modified this regulation when it specified that
for prevention of many mischiefs and inconveniences in the streets in the dark nights, that lanterns and candles be hung out in the respective streets of this city every night during the winter season, that is to say, five inhabitants on one side of each street, and five on the other, to contribute to hang out at convenient distances one lantern and candles, to be done at the charge of ten of the said inhabitants of each street, and to be hung out from five of the clock until ten of the clock at night, and such candles to be of the bigness of four to the pound at least, the said lanterns to be placed in such convenient places as the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs for the time being shall direct.
We note that this regulation acknowledged that dark streets were a problem, that the hours in which public lighting needed to be provided should be extended from three to five, that candles of a certain size were required and that control of this form of lighting needed to be centralised. There did not seem to be any attempt to deal with the provision of light on dark winter mornings
The growth of the city brought with it its own problems and dangers. In 1695 members of the assembly pointed out that the way from Ormond Market to Ormond Bridge was very dangerous ‘in the night time by reason of the key not being fenced with a wall from the said Bridge down to the Slip, where a poor man lately fell and drowned himself.’ Later in the same year it emerged that the parishes were no longer able to cope with their responsibilities in relation to poor relief. The records describe the problem graphically as follows:
… forasmuch as it was apparent that a great number of sturdy beggars, both men and women, did resort with their children, which they sent in the night to beg at the doors, and disquieted the inhabitants, and particularly the most considerable persons, crying at their doors at unseasonable hours in the night to excite them to give them relief, which, if not prevented, might occasion their leaders and other idlers and vagabonds to take an opportunity to rob and plunder houses when open to give relief to those troublesome children …
The response of the assembly was to move a little closer to centralisation by setting up a fund to deal with beggars not maintained by the parishes. Two years later a merchant, Michael Cole, came up with a proposal for an elaborate scheme of public lighting on the lines of those which already existed in Holland and parts of London. He pointed out that few of the existing lights in the city continued burning after nine o’clock by which time, as he said, ‘most mischiefs are done’ and suggested that the new system of lights, which he proposed to introduce should parliament agree to his proposal, should burn from six o’clock until midnight from 29th September until 25th March if, as he said, ‘it be so long dark’. The fee to be charged for the lights was to be three shillings a year per house in the main streets and two shillings a year in the lanes and alleys. The city assembly accepted his proposal but the Act of Parliament passed later in the same year, granting Cole the commission for eighteen years, specified that the lights should burn from five in the evening until midnight ‘or during so much time thereof as shall not be enlightened by the moon’. The citywide introduction of public lighting made socialising after nightfall in the capital very much easier. Half a century later the drawings of Joseph Tudor showed how elegant public lights had been installed in College Green, Sackville Street and on Essex Bridge but his sketches of Trinity College and Dublin Castle suggest that there was still room for improving public lighting.
One of the most remarkable features of the seventeenth century in northern Europe was the cold. Ireland and Dublin did not escape. A marginal drawing on Speed’s map of Dublin, first published in 1610, suggests that all classes of the Irish dressed warmly. As well as items relating to the provision of fuel there are occasional references to the weather in the city records. In 1608 the city assembly voted money to repair the piles of the city’s only bridge which had been damaged by frost. In 1665 the assembly sanctioned a request by the master of a Free School for the provision of a chimney in the schoolhouse. During the winter of 1684/5 a wall in Oxmantown was destroyed by a hard frost. In 1695 and again in 1697 payments were made for the removal of snow from the leads of the newly-rebuilt Tholsel.
The city fathers themselves felt the cold. In 1618 they reported that:
the commons have been humble petitioners to the said assembly, praying that the now water bailiffs might be tied to find three good fires on the two winter assembly days and Easter assembly day in the upper room of the Tholsel, being extreme cold for such as attend there; and if they think it chargeable, that others that are willing to take the same may be granted their places: it is therefore ordered … that the water bailiffs for the time being shall find three sufficient fires as is desired for the same allowance already given them, otherwise the same to be taken from them …
The needs of the members continued to be looked after. The costs of a fire shovel, a pair of tongs and a fork for the use of the Tholsel were included in a payment of £2-9-3 made in 1651 to Lewis Williams, smith.
Coal was either imported or brought to the capital from Kilkenny. The woods, which had once been a great feature of the landscape had been largely depleted, especially to the north of the city. Yet the demand for firing was very great, not just for private households but for the Courts of Guard who guarded the walls and gates of the city during wartime and who continued to function long after the military danger was over. For example the City Treasurer’s Accounts show that the renting of a cellar on Merchants Quay for thirty-four weeks ending on 22 February 1651, to store coal and furze for these guards, cost the city assembly, two shillings and sixpence a week. About the same time a further payment of £16-0-0 was made for renting a house, also on Merchant’s Quay, for storing coals and fuel.
In the winter of 1689/90 when James II was resident in Dublin it emerged that traders were reluctant to supply fuel to the city for fear their goods and horses and carriages would be seized by the military for the king’s service. This applied in particular to coal coming from County Kilkenny. The king was forced to issue a proclamation guaranteeing safe passage for such goods.
The danger of fire was intensified during the extremely cold nights. Responsibility for fire-fighting, while generally left to the parishes, was, on occasion, centralised. As early as January 1547 the city assembly agreed to provide twelve graps (or grappling hooks) of iron for, as they put it, ‘pulling down of houses that shall chance to be afire, and forty buckets of leather for carrying of water’. In 1569 there was a further centralised attempt to cope with fires when the aldermen agreed to the purchase of ‘four yarn grappers and twelve leather buckets in case of fire. However, in 1573 the assembly decreed:
… that every parish within this city and suburbs of the same, shall make, upon their own proper costs and charges, certain grapers, with their chains and ropes, with ladders to be kept within their parish churches, and the same to be made by the oversight of the chief in every parish, and the charges thereof to be cessed by them according to the hability of the parishioners.
Apparently, these measures were not successful for, in the year 1596, when the threat of war was at its height the assembly issued much more precise instructions as follows:
Whereas great danger happeneth often times by the extremity of fire, and little or no provision amongst us to prevent the same: it is therefore ordered … that the sum of xxiv li. sterling, shall be presently levied … and the same money to be bestowed with all speed in buying and providing three score buckets, six ladders of xxx foot long apiece, or thereabouts, two crooks, with their chains and ropes; and to repair the two crooks which at this present we have. …
In 1610 the assembly moved to ban the building of thatched houses in the suburbs. Later in the same year the assembly once again tried to centralise fire-fighting when, at the request of the commons, it decreed that:-
in so much as John Frankton, printer, hath lately brought out of London one dozen of buckets, … it is therefore ordered … that Mr Treasurer shall buy the said dozen of buckets to the use of this city, and shall hang the same in the Tholsel, and shall also prepare these ladders at the city cost, and shall repair the hooks with expedition, which ladders and hooks shall be chained up under the Newgate, and the gaoler to take charge thereof, and not to lend out the same upon any occasion but only the occasion of fire.
Two years later the assembly reverted to the parish model of fire-fighting when it enacted that
from henceforth there shall be forthwith made and provided in every parish throughout this city and suburbs, upon the charge of the inhabitants of the said parish, one dozen of buckets, two fair large ladders and one hook, the same to be marked with two letters, which are to remain in the parish church of every of the said parishes, in the charge and custody of the churchwardens of the said church; and that the same shall not be lent to any person or persons whatsoever but when occasion shall be to prevent the like accidents of fire, …
In 1623, apparently as a result of local fires, the assembly banned the melting of tallow within the city and imposed the then enormous penalty of £40 for breaches of this law.
In July 1653, during the Commonwealth, members of the city assembly requested the purchase of engines for fire-fighting. The City Treasurer’s Accounts record two payments made in the following year, one of 13s 4d to Simon Toole, carpenter, and the other of 5s to William Lowe, smith, for repairing ‘the engine which was broken in quenching the late fire in St Patrick’s Street’. In the same year, responsibility was once more, transferred to the parishes in the city and the liberties. It was agreed that
Mr. Mayor give order to the inhabitants of every parish within this city and suburbs of Dublin to provide two dozen of buckets for each parish, and a good long ladder, and two hooks with their chains and chains ropes, in each parish for prevention of mischief by fire, to be kept for that use in or near the respective churches of the parishes aforesaid, and forthwith the same to be provided at the charge of each parish respectively.
In 1657 a further danger came to light when it was discovered that the cistern at the pillory was dry. The assembly decided to acquire a large pump and to repair the pipes .
Perhaps the most serious fire threat to the city occurred at one o’clock in the morning of 7 April 1684 when, not for the first time, a fire broke out in Dublin Castle where Richard Butler, earl of Arran, then lord deputy, was resident. A letter of thanks, sent by the city assembly to the lord deputy on the following day, shows an interesting set of priorities. It stated that
… by your excellencies great presence of mind, care and conduct in the midst of those devouring flames which encompassed you, not only the remaining part of the buildings in the castle, but the great magazine of powder, to which the fire had within few steps approached, was wonderfully preserved, and the ancient records of this kingdom, then also in the castle, rescued from those flames, by which not only this city now remains in being, which otherwise in few minutes had been a heap of rubbish, mingled with the lives and fortunes of very many of his majesties loyal subjects, but also those ancient records had been destroyed, which now live as monuments of your excellencies care of them, and your own deliverance, to the great and general benefit of the whole kingdom …
Historians had cause to be grateful for Richard Butler’s intervention on that fateful night in 1684. In the following year the assembly moved against another potential source of fire, when it enacted that
whereas great danger often happens by fire, and great tumults [are] occasioned in this city by chimneys which are so much neglected to be swept and kept clean, … it is therefore ordered, … that … the inhabitants of this city, do from henceforth keep their chimneys duly swept and clean from soot, and whoever neglect so to do that their chimneys take fire, every one and occupier thereof to forfeit the sum of twenty shillings, sterling, to be paid to the churchwardens of the parish where such fire shall happen to the use of the poor of such parish …
During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and, particularly from 1594 to 1603, the citizens of Dublin feared attack by Gaelic-Irish forces. The watchmen, who guarded the city walls were under the control of constables, appointed and paid for by the individual wards. The constables were required to carry metal staffs, called tipstaffs. In 1584 the regulations specified that
no constable being sent for in night-time to come before Mr Mayor for the time being to execute any thing that concerns his office, shall repair without the said tipstaff in his hand, in seemly attire as the time and cause shall require, and that the arms be set in gold and oil, at the price of 18d. sterling, each staff…
In June 1591 as the political situation became even more serious the assembly became very worried about the state of the postern gates on the walls. Feeling that they might be seen to have neglected their duty to Queen Elizabeth the assemblymen resolved that
all and every such persons that have any postern doors upon the city walls … shall before Bartholomew day next, cause to be made upon the several postern gates, grates or doors of iron such, so strong and fensible as shall be to the good contentment of Mr Mayor and aldermen; otherwise that Mr Mayor do cause the same doors to be shut up and closed with lime and stone, and so to remain for ever hereafter; and, in the meantime, that every of them that hath the use of those posterns shall nightly, at nine of the clock, lock the said posterns and bring the keys unto Mr Mayor, and there to remain to six of the clock in the morning.
An inventory of the arms and munitions carried out early in 1594 showed that the city was ill-protected in the event of an attack. The situation deteriorated to the extent in 1596 that the archbishop, Adam Loftus, ordered the people in the Liberty of St Sepulchre, outside the walls, to join the watch. In October 1597 the night watch was intensified both in the city and the suburbs. Guarding the suburbs became a major problem. As the situation worsened the assembly decided in 1598 that two men should be on guard at each of the city gates by day and two others by night. If any alarm should happen in the suburbs the wicket of the gate was to be opened to let in the women and children but no men were to be admitted. They were expected to remain outside to strengthen the suburbs. It was decided that the six city gates must be locked by named aldermen at six o’clock each evening in October and at five in November and all the gate keys must be brought immediately to the mayor. During the following months the regulations were tightened still further and more men were recruited to guard the city by night. Additional detailed regulations made in May 1600 included arrangements to monitor Irishmen lodging within the city and to prevent cattle-stealing in the suburbs. The night-watch was relaxed somewhat in March 1601 but was re-established in the following October for the winter of 1601-2. The walls of Dublin had stood firm by night and by day for eight years but the ordinary citizens must have suffered greatly as a result of these severe restrictions.
When the next really serious threat of attack occurred in 1641 the walls of Dublin were in no condition to withstand an attack. In any event the city had, by then, expanded well beyond the medieval walls but, as it happened, the principal threat came from conspirators who were already in the city. One of these, Owen O’Connolly, who went on to betray his colleagues, made a deposition in which he described a visit to a tavern in Winetavern Street at ten at night. He described the night as being very dark as he escaped from his companions. This suggests that by ten o’clock the lighting even in one of the main streets was inadequate.
As might have been expected jail breaks often took place at night. In terms of national history probably the most famous escape occurred in 1591 when Hugh O’Donnell, with some companions, left Dublin Castle and sought refuge in the Wicklow Hills. Somewhat less celebrated as a historical event, but perhaps more newsworthy among contemporary Dubliners, was the escape of Richard Nugent, Baron Delvin, in 1607. Nugent was a popular young member of the Anglo-Irish community who had been accused of high treason, and, despite special precautions, he managed to escape over the wall of Dublin Castle on the night of 21 November by means of a rope thirty or thirty-five yards long and to reach safety in County Cavan. In one of his letters Sir Arthur Chichester, then Deputy, said that such escapes from the Castle had often occurred in the past, although it was the first time that he, himself, had experienced such an event. Nugent later surrendered and was received back into favour. What really upset the city assembly was that Nugent had been aided and abetted by a man called Ralph Mylles, a freeman of the city. However, apart from letting their feelings be known, the only sanction the city fathers could employ was to deprive Mylles and his posterity of the privileges of freemen for ever.
An escape of a different kind was effected by Rory O’More on 23 October 1641. Following their betrayal on the previous night, Conor Maguire, baron of Enniskillen, Colonel Hugh MacMahon and about thirty other members of the conspiracy to seize Dublin Castle, were arrested. Another conspirator, Rory O’More, fled to Islandbridge by boat and then proceeded up the Liffey to the relative safety of his wife’s family home at Lucan during the following night.
Two of the most dramatic events which occurred during the seventeenth century were associated with St Audoen’s steeple. The first of these occurred in 1647 when watchers on the steeple witnessed more than 200 fires to the north in Fingal, while Eoghan Rua O’Neill was attempting to destroy the Pale. The second was the collapse of the spire during a fierce storm in February 1668, causing considerable damage to the medieval church. But perhaps the best-known nocturnal incident in Dublin during the early modern period took place on 1 July 1690 following the Battle of the Boyne. When King James II arrived in the city late at night his reported conversations with Lady Tyrconnell and others ensured that his memory would survive not just in rural folklore but in that of the city itself. We shall probably never know if these conversations really took place.
There were other pleasanter aspects to life after dark in Dublin. The mayors and lords mayor were expected to entertain lavishly and were compensated for so doing. Stanihurst described the mayoralty of Patrick Sarsfield, who held office in the year 1554-5 as follows;
Over this he did at the same time protest with oath, that he spent that year in housekeeping twenty tuns of claret wine, over and above white wine, sack, malmsbury, muscadel, etc. And in very deed it was not to be marvelled; for during his Mayoralty his house was so open as commonly from five of the clock in the morning to ten at night, his buttery and cellars were with one crew or other frequented.
More than a century later the city assembly was still entertaining lavishly. When the new Tholsel building was completed in 1683 the assembly gave an entertainment in the form of a banquet for the Duke of Ormond, which probably extended into the night as, among the large number of items supplied for the event, were one dozen large candles. The whole affair cost £241-18-3, which is put into perspective when on realises that the remuneration paid to the ten city musicians in 1685 totalled £20. It is interesting to discover that compensation was paid to suppliers for ‘a silver spoon’ and ‘some pewter dishes and other things’ lost during the event. But expenses did not end there. There was a follow-up treat at the tavern, when the committee met there for ‘calling in the bills and adjusting the accounts’, which cost the city more money.
One of the leisure activities most associated with Dublin today is the theatre. Rather surprisingly, in the seventeenth century, plays were generally performed in the afternoon, possibly due to the perceived dangers of the Dublin streets before the introduction of public street lighting. However, towards the beginning of the eighteenth century the combination of better lighting and a great increase in the number of coaches for hire made it possible to start performances somewhat later. Music, on the other hand, was often performed at night. A band of musicians was employed by the assembly and their conditions of service specified that they must perform at night as well as during the day. In 1669, for example, the assembly ordered that the musicians ‘do go in and through the city and suburbs with the city waits every usual night, from the fifth of October to the fifth day of February, yearly’. Another indoor activity which was popular with a certain section of the population was the book auction. Thanks to the efforts of John Dunton in documenting the auctions he held in Dublin in 1698 we know a little about these events. While they began at three in the afternoon they went on for several hours, ending well after dark in winter.
During the early modern period there were many more public holidays than there are today. People worked long hours on working days but made the most of the public holidays when they could. The distinction between working days and public or religious holidays may have meant more than the distinction between working hours and evening leisure time on an ordinary working day. While making depositions following the 1641 Rising a number of people spoke about early morning visits to taverns in Cook Street and Castle Street on All Saints’ Day. Much earlier in the century Barnaby Riche wrote a diatribe against ale-house and tavern-keepers, especially women, who served wine, beer and ale during the forenoon on Sundays. The city assembly took a poor view of the debauchery that was believed to exist in taverns in which women were managers or employees and, from time to time, took action against them. However, there seems to be little evidence that taverns were more dangerous at night than during the day.
While many of the fun activities of the period, such as pageants, dramas, musters and outings, took place during daylight, others took place at night. Fireworks displays and bonfires, despite their obvious dangers, were very popular. In 1584 Thomas Fitzsimons, alderman, was paid ‘for one hundred pounds of powder expended on Midsummer’s night’. The butchers were expected to keep lights in the Fleshambles on Midsummer’s Eve and the fishmongers had a similar duty on St Peter’s Eve, and both groups were reprimanded in 1563 for failing to do so. These ‘lights’, as they were called, were probably bonfires. In a later example, a London source reported that the citizens of Dublin celebrated the birth of Henry Cromwell’s son in their city on 19 April 1656 by ‘several bonfires throughout the city’. Some days later there were further celebrations when the child was baptised in Christ Church. The same source reported that
the day being thus spent, as if that time had been too short to express the greatness of their joy, the good people began their nocturnal mirth, making such piles in all the streets, that, when fired, the whole city seemed as one bonfire.
It was rather surprising to discover that the man who made the fireworks for the night show at the time of the installation of Henry Cromwell as lord deputy in 1657, was a goldsmith, Edward Harris. He received a payment of ten pounds for the display. We know from the city records and the treasurer’s accounts that he continued to provide fireworks on a fairly regular basis to mark state occasions such as the anniversary of the king’s restoration and the arrival of a new lord deputy to the city. In 1665 Harris was appointed city marshal, a post which he held until 1683. He continued to work as a goldsmith and carried out the task of repairing and gilding the great mace of the city in 1685. He served as warden of the Guild of Goldsmiths in 1659, 1660 and 1662 and as master of the guild in 1663 and again in 1683. He provided fireworks as late as 1686 during the reign of James II. Was he, perhaps, responsible for the accident described as follows in the Treasurer’s Accounts for the year ended Michaelmas 1686?
Paid Thomas Graves for the repair of a house at the Castle gate the sum of
forty-six shillings, … the said house was broken and the windows
shattered when the fireworks were made in Castle Street £2-6-0
The year 1686 seems to have been the last during which Harris made the fireworks. He died in or before 1689 as his will was proved in that year. He had, undoubtedly, given a great deal of pleasure to his fellow-citizens during his lifetime, having made fireworks during the Cromwellian period and in the reigns of Charles II and James II.
Following the victories of the Williamite army the citizens of Dublin felt able to relax once again. The anniversary of the 1641 Rising was celebrated with great solemnity and ‘the day was ended with ringing of bells, bonfires, and other demonstrations of public joy.’ Less than a fortnight later there was an even more elaborate night-time celebration described as follows:
His majesty's birthday (4th November, 1690) was observed here with all the splendour this city could afford. In the evening there was a very fine firework before the lords justices’ house, on College Green, during which a hogshead of claret, set out in the street by order of the lords justices, was by the people drunk out in their majesties’ healths. Most of the nobility and gentry in and about the city were invited by the lords justices to a splendid entertainment and banquet, and the day ended with ringing of bells, bonfires in all parts of the city, and all other demonstrations of public joy. The next day, being the anniversary of the Popish powder-plot … the great guns were discharged at the same time (as they were the day before), and that the common people might share in the satisfaction of this day, the lords justices ordered an ox to be roasted whole which, with a hogshead of strong beer, was given among them; and at night the public joy was expressed by bonfires, with all other demonstrations of it becoming the occasion.
In 1692 a Mr Swan (probably the goldsmith, David Swan) was paid £11-10-0 for fireworks but at this period municipal fireworks had either become less frequent or were included in the accounts with other expenses.
Finally, I would like to return to the story of the priest with which I began this talk. Born in Shankill or Delgany in the year 1589 and named Christopher, he was the son of a Baldoyle father, the lawyer George Archbold, and a Skerries mother, a member of the Hussey family. Following his father’s early death he was cared for by his maternal uncle, Father James Hussey. As a teenager he left Ireland with his cousins, Luke Bathe and Humphrey Warren of Drumcondra, for Douai, where he was educated. Like his cousins, he joined the Capuchin order and was ordained under the name of Father Nicholas. He returned to Dublin in 1625 and eventually took charge of the friary in that city. He has left us wonderful accounts, largely unpublished, of many of the events which took place in Dublin and its surroundings in the 1620s, 1630s and early 1640s. Following the outbreak of the Rising of 1641 life became very difficult for the members of religious orders in the city and many of them were forced to leave. Father Nicholas’s own narrative of the happenings on one night early in 1642 was written down only a year or so after the events which he so vividly described. He wrote:
One certain night about midnight there came about half a dozen unruly Protestants armed, and would have broken the door but that they were let in by the goodman of the house; they made up directly to our quarter, and struck strongly. Br[other] Simon, being in his habit, gets up out of his bed, and opens the door to them. At his sight they were astonished: and began to fume out. ‘What Divel have we here?’ one said. ‘Shall I run him through?’ The other, ‘Shall I shoot him?’ The one had his sword naked, the other a musket, and doubtless they had done some mischief, but that the goodman of the house, being constable, and an other audacious man by him, dissuaded them from violence.
One taketh Brother Simon by the cord, his girdle, and pulled him down the stairs to the great door to deliver him up to the Court of Guard that watched at the Bridge gate, and said that he carried about him his cord to hang him. But being reproved by the constable, who entered in bonds for them, they spared to do any other hurt, only they snatched away some cloaks and hats and some such other things.
During the noise beneath, Father Nicholas who lay in a higher room, esteeming that doubtless they would mount up, threw on his clothes in haste, went out the window of his chamber, and from the leads of a house adjoining leaped down into a backside, paved with stone, the night was extreme dark, it being in dead of winter and not as much as a star appearing, a man could not see his own hand from him, the height of the leap was terrible to any man that beheld it. As God would, the leaper received no hurt but a little razing in one of his thighs by a table frame that lay under on the ground.
This he attempted, not dreaming that the place was half so high as it was and he brooked not by any means to be put in prison, by cause that, in that plight, he could do no good to the distressed Catholics; yet Brother Simon being afterwards taken in our house at home by one, Captain Hipsley, and led away, Father Nicholas occurring unto them voluntarily in the street, joined himself companion, and were both led and laid in prison, yet favourably dismissed by the Captain, but with promise that they should appear whensoever he sent for them: wherein they failed not an hour.
Finally being delivered into the Lord Lamberts hands, the governor of the city; they were, after a weeks imprisonment, by order of the Protestant state, embarked for France, with other priests and religious, to the number of twenty …
The ship left Dublin for La Rochelle on Pentecost Sunday, 29 May 1642, but, before the priests departed, a kinsman of the narrator, Alderman Carbery of Dublin and Donabate, supplied the party with what Father Nicholas described as ‘victuals for sea, in abundance, and great earthen jugs of burnt sack and claret’, which, no doubt, during the dark nights on board and in exile, were of some consolation to the party and reminded them of similar nights in their beloved Dublin.
Archbold added an interesting postscript to the story:
Our residence was rifled: and our books taken away by Captain Hipsley, a minister’s son. The first two days he took no notice of the place wherein we put them and had never come to the knowledge of them, but that we were betrayed, as he told us, by one who revealed the matter unto him; one who doubtless, seeing the house before, took notice of our Bibliothèque.
In this beautiful library it is, perhaps, appropriate to conclude with the question: ‘Does anyone know what happened to these books?’