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The History of Ringsend & Irishtown

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Irishtown lies a short distance outside the medieval city walls ofDublin. Dublin was originally a Viking city and after 1171, when anAnglo-Norman army took it, Dublin became the centre of Englishrule in Ireland. The native Gaelic Irish were therefore viewed as analien force in the city. Suspicion of them was deepened bycontinual raids on Dublin and its environs by the O’Byrne andO’Toole clans from the nearby Wicklow Mountains. By the 15thcentury, Gaelic migration to the city had made the Englishauthorities fearful that English language and culture wouldbecome a minority there. As a result, the Irish inhabitants ofDublin were expelled from the city proper circa 1454, in line withthe Statutes of Kilkenny. They settled in Irishtown, outside thecity walls, giving the area its name.There is a romance in sea-borne commerce which compensatesfor the sombre aspects of the districts which are its inlets andoutlets.

There are few maritime towns or villages in Ireland with amore storied past than Old Ringsend. Some little difference ofopinion exists as to the derivation of the name of this ancientpart of Dublin. Rev. E. Mangin in his book, Parlour Window saysthat “Ringsend“ is an absurd corruption of “Wring Sand”, theproper name if the suburb.The Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1846) describesRingsend as a town in the parish of St. Mary, Donnybrook,originally called Rinn-Ann, “the point of the tide” from itssituation at the confluence of the Dodder and the Liffey. Itsuggests that the modern name is a singular corruption of theformer, or may have perhaps arisen from the large blocks ofstone into which rings of iron were inserted for mooring vessels.

D. A. Chart, in his Story of Dublin, humorously infers that it is atypical Irish bull as a ring has neither beginning nor end. Analternative suggestion is that Ringsend may really derive fromRinn Abainn, the point of the river.”Ringsend first came into notice in the 17th century as a landingplace for passengers bound for Dublin. From the time of theAnglo-Norman Invasion until the 16th century, Dalkey was theport for merchandise and passengers, but with the increasingtraffic of the Elizabethan period, Dublin merchants found it moreconvenient to discharge their ships near their place of business.With the merchandise came the passengers and from the 17th tothe 19th century Ringsend was the chief place of embarkationand disembarkation, until the completion of the harbours atHowth and Dun Laoghaire caused a diversion. A Fort wasconstructed in I582 to secure dues. So frequent were theviolations of the Revenue Laws, it became necessary in 1620 tostation a Revenue Surveyor at Ringsend and a house was builtthere to accommodate him.

Thomas Cave was its first occupant.Ringsend was a busy village at this period, as may be gatheredfrom the fact that in 1637, ten barques were carried away fromtheir anchorage during a severe storm and were never heard itagain. Still, the population in 1660 is given as fifty nine Englishand twenty one persons of Irish decent.During the Cromwellian period, says Ball, Ringsend was almostsurrounded by water which ran over the low ground betweenIrishtown and Beggar’s bush, then much infested with robbers.This brought into use the much famous Ringsend Cars – a seatsuspended on a leather strap between two shafts. In 1665 -5,000 spectators witnessed races between these vehicles forprizes presented by the Lord Deputy.Ringsend played no mean part in the great historical event of the17th century.

Oliver Cromwell landed there in 164p9 and in 1655came Henry Cromwell and his retinue, rowed in boats from DunLaoghaire to assume the governorship. The notorious gang ofrobbers – The Brennans escaped from there in 1683. In 1690, SirCloudseley Shovel drove the ships of James II ashore after a navalengagement. De Ginkel, favourite General of William III embarkedthere, after his campaign in Ireland, in 1691.The port of Dublin was at this period, in a very unsatisfactorycondition. At high tide the water extended as far as Fenian(formerly Denzille) Street, Pearse (formerly Gt. Brunswick) Street,Townsend Street, and, at one time, Merrion Square. Desultoryefforts were made to effect improvements but it was not until1707 that corporate powers were given to for a Ballast Office.Then the construction of the South Wall was begun and by 1755it had been carried as far as the site of the Fort. Before 1796 theextension to the lighthouse was completed.Poolbeg incidentally first shed its radiance over the waters ofDublin Bay in 1767.

At the beginning of the 18th centuryRingsend was described as “a clean, healthy and beautiful village,with houses on the walls of which vines were trained”. The shorewas famous for its shrimps and cockles, and an oyster bed. Goodcheer could he had in abundance at the sign of “The GoodWoman”. It is not difficult to picture the sporting Dubliner of theperiod seeking relaxation in the horse racing on the strand, or thebucks of Trinity College settling “an affair of honour” there in theearly morning, before adjourning to the neighbouring hostelry.

In 1791 the Government gave what was for those days the largegrant if £112,752 for the construct of a basin and docks atRingsend, on the south side of the river, which occupied a spaceof thirty five acres.From the middle of the 18th century, owing to difficultyattending the passage up and down the river, it was customaryfor passengers arriving in Dublin by the packets to land at a placeon the breakwater, known as the South Wall, which extendedfrom Ringsend into Dublin Bay.This was known as the Pidgeon House and derived its name fromthe caretaker, Pidgeon, whit built up a prosperous refreshmentbusiness in catering for the numerous boating parties, who visitedthere.

Constance Maxwell, in her book Dublin under the Georges,describes Ringsend as possessing a very good tavern, known as“The Sign of The Highlander” where the landlord providedexcellent cooking and billiards. At this time, Ireland was exportingto the West Indies glass, soap, candles, linens and manufacturedarticles. In exchange she took sugar, rum, cotton and coffee. Tothe United States Ireland exported glass, coals, hay, lime, bricksand manufactured iron goods, receiving in return tobacco, flax,corn, cotton, resin, and turpentine. It is reasonable to assumethat Ringsend received its share of this maritime commerce.

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