Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Searching for a needle in a haystack
and finding Dublin’s shortest street

Is Cross Kevin Street the shortest street in Dublin? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

I had long thought the search for details about the family background of my great-grandmother was going to be a futile exercise. Anne Doyle was only 17 when she married my great-grandfather, James Comerford from Bunclody, Co Wexford, in 1851.

I thought, perhaps, that, like James, Anne also came from Co Wexford, and had come to Dublin to marry him. I knew about one of her sisters, but the names Anne Doyle and Mary Doyle are so commonly found throughout Ireland that I imagined looking for their family story was going to be like looking for the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack.

To my delight, however, I uncovered Anne’s story in recent weeks. But in searching for her story I also found myself in search of the shortest street in Dublin.

Anne Doyle was born 180 years ago in August 1834, the youngest of three daughters of Garret Doyle and his wife Mary Byrne, who were living at 25 Cross Kevin Street. She was baptised on 25 August 1834 in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra in Francis Street. The parish records show she was baptised by Father James Roche, and the sponsors at her baptism were William Coffey and Bridget Reilly.

Garret and Mary Doyle had two other daughters: Mary, who was baptised on 15 December 1828 in Saint Nicholas Church by Father James Roche (sponsors: James and Margaret McGuirk, and Eliza Doyle, who was baptised on 23 September 1831 in the same church (sponsors: James Dougherty, Mary Rood).

I knew Anne’s later biographical details, the details of her marriage and children, the places she lived, including Stephen Street (1852), 22 Long Lane (until 1865) and 7 Redmond’s Hill (from 1866 until at least 1870), all within one-three minutes walk from Cross Kevin Street, until she moved to 2 Mountpleasant Villas, Ranelagh, where she died on 28 April 1899. Her widowed husband, my great-grandfather James Comerford, then moved into 11 Upper Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh, where my grandfather was living, and there he died on 14 December 1902, aged 85.

Her sister Mary was Anne’s bridesmaid, and Anne kept in touch with her childhood friends and neighbours – on 12 July 1859, she was a witness with Edward Sherwood at the marriage of Edward Connor of 28 Cross Kevin Street and Ann Raymond in Saint Nicholas Church.

A plaque commemorating John Field in Golden Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerfoird, 2014)

It was a densely populated area. The proximity to the two cathedrals meant that in the mid-19th century there was a healthy mixture of Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic neighbours.

The area included some of the worst slums and tenements in Dublin at the time, but it was also an area associated with great creativity: the composer John Field (1782-1837) was born in Golden Lane and received his early education in Dublin before moving to London, where he studied under Muzio Clementi, the Rome-born composer and friend of Mozart. Later, in 1830, Clementi lived at Lyncroft House in Lichfield, now the Hedgehog Vintage Inn. Field died in Moscow seven years later, in 1837. He is remembered in a monument on the corner of Golden lane and Bride Street.

Later, in the 19th century, the first pneumatic tyre factory in the world opened at 67 Upper Stephen Street in 1889 to make tyres under John Boyd Dunlop’s patent of 7 December 1888

But where is Cross Kevin Street? Does it still exist? In my search for Cross Kevin Street this week, I accidentally came across what must be the shortest street in Dublin today.

On my way to a meeting in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Tuesday evening [22 July 2014], I went in search of Cross Kevin Street.

The junction at Cross Kevin Street is an ugly blot on the streetscape of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Cross Kevin Street is named in the index but not on the actual street map I was using in the Official Dublin Street Guide City & District (2010-2011) produced by Ordnance Survey Ireland (p. 75, grid reference A2). But scale mitigates against that, for Cross Kevin Street can be no more than 20 metres long, and there are no buildings, no shops, no houses sharing this address, despite the one name sign identifying this street.

Cross Kevin Street links Bride Street with New Bride Street, and is within walking distance of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. But the only building on the street is a block of flats that faces Bishop Street on one side and Lower Kevin Street on the other side, with the sign for the street name on the side of the block of flats.

Upper Kevin Street and Lower Kevin Street are linked in an awkward way at this junction. They were once linked by Cross Kevin Street, although they are now joined by a tortuous, snake-shaped junction, and the last remaining buildings on Cross Kevin Street were demolished to take that awkward twist out of the junction as cars sweep by the Iveagh Trust flats.

A half-hidden street sign is the only evidence of what was once Cross Kevin Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

It is an ugly blot on the Dublin streetscape today, and some of the strongest protests against street widening in this area came from Victor Griffin when he was the Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Looking at the junction and the street sign this week, it was difficult to see how this had been a longer street in the time of Anne Doyle, when it had many more buildings, and two side streets or alleyways leading off it, Lamb’s Court and Fearon’s Court.

A quick look at baptismal records in the local Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic parishes and at street directories and electoral rolls reveal some of the families who lived on Cross Kevin Street:

No 14: Mulligan (1906);

No 15: Wilson (1880); Harwood (1885); Bardock (1889);

No 16: Dalton (1880);

No 22: Connell (1836);

No 23: Allen (1845);

No 24: Macken (1832); Porter (1834); Cahill (1865);

No 25: Doyle (1828-1831); Murphy (1873);

No 26: Greenfield (1864);

No 27: Graham (1862);

No 28: Edwards (1844, 1845); Connor, Raymond (1859).

No 31: Lawless (1829);

No 32: McKewing (1833, 1834); Lamb (1850); Gill (1869); McGuire (1878).

Unknown numbers: Pellen (1838); Green (1838).

The electoral lists for 1910 show:

No 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13D, 15 and 16 Cross Kevin Street, with Fearon’s Court and Lamb’s Court off Cross Kevin Street.

Palace Street ... probably the second shortest street in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Cross Kevin Street is perhaps 20 metres long, and has no surviving buildings to claim as its own. But Cross Kevin Street is still just slightly shorter than Palace Street, which is about 30 metres long.

Palace Street, off Dame Street, links Dames Street to the entrance to the Lower Castle Yard in Dublin Castle. The east side of this short street is graced by the side of Sir Thomas Newenham Deane’s elegant former Munster and Leinster Bank, now a Dame Street branch of Allied Irish Bank. Between Deane’s bank and the walls of Dublin Castle is a narrow entrance to Dame Lane, which runs behind Dame Street onto South Great George’s Street.

This short street, with only three addresses, stands on the site of the mediaeval mill known as the ‘Doubleday Mill.’ The mill was demolished in the late 17th century and terraced houses were built fronting onto Palace Street and completed before 1756.

These buildings, are depicted on Rocque’s map of Dublin in 1756. When they were demolished, they were replaced by a new terrace of six houses, but only two of those houses survive today.

Chez Max at No 1 Palace Street nestles in against the wall of Dublin Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

On the west side of the street, No 1 Palace Street abuts the Castle wall. Here Chez Max, a delightful French restaurant established in 2005. The charming back garden is a small haven that promises to transport diners directly to Paris. But I have been equally welcome on a quiet afternoon, sitting out in the front sipping a double espresso.

No 2 Palace Street was the home of Dublin’s oldest charity until 1992 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Next to it is No 2, the only terraced house on Rocque’s map that survives today and is a protected structure. No 2 was the home of Dublin’s oldest charity, the Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers’ Society, from 1855 to 1992. It was founded in 1790 “for the relief of the poor without religious discrimination.” It now works from offices in Leeson Street, but the façade still retains the memory of the “Indignant Roomkeepers.”

No 3 Palace Street is a modern building that has received a mixed reception from architectural critics. In 1999, the Dublin City Architect, Jim Barrett, commissioned David Mackay, of Barcelona architects MBM, to design a building for the site, which had previously been cleared and was in use as a small park fronting onto Dame Street. This new building has been criticised for being “rather overbearing,” “over-scaled,” “bluntly designed” and “lacking in any finesse in design or materials.” One critic describes it as “Robocop on Dame Street” and adds: “The only positive is that the bank and City Hall will hopefully outlast it.”

Is Dean Street the third shortest street in Dublin? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

If Cross Kevin Street is the shortest street in Dublin, and Palace Street is in second place, then the third shortest street may be Dean Street, which connects The Coombe to the crossroads at New Street, Kevin Street and Patrick Street, close to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

There are only four shopfronts on one side, the south side, of Dean Street. The other buildings on the opposite, north side are really a continuation of The Coombe, which was straightened out without grace and beauty at this junction many decades ago.

Canon Court on Bride Street ... a fading memory of Canon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

This afternoon [23 July 2014], after celebrating the mid-day Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, I was reminded that Canon Street to the south of Saint Werburgh’s Church, and to the immediate east of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, was once claimed as the shortest street in Dublin – and even the shortest street in Europe.

Canon Street was first known as Petty Canon Alley, taking its name from the minor canons, who assisted at the daily services in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

By the mid-20th century, Canon Street had only one premises, Rutlegde’s pub at No 1. It stood on a corner of Bride Street, close to Cross Kevin Street, but it too was demolished in the late 1960s to make way for the widening of Bride Street and shaping the new junction at Kevin Street.

Rutlegde’s pub and Canon Street were only a minute’s walk from Cross Kevin Street. They vanished together and were relegated to history and local memory, sustained in the name of Canon Court. Sadly, there was nothing of Canon Street to photograph in my search for Cross Kevin Street and the shortest street in Dublin.

Live and Love ... a hoarding at the junction of Cross Kevin Street, Lower Kevin Street, Upper Kevin Street, Bride Street and New Street; in the background is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, while Canon Court peeks above the word Love (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

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