Monday, 10 August 2020

Ireland’s oldest family
music shop is still in
business in Dublin

Charles Byrne Musik Instrumente, 21-22 Little Stephen Street, Dublin … ‘Ireland’s oldest family music shop’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

In the small, narrow streets and passageways that run between George’s Street and Grafton Street, there is new life in the coffee shops, cafés, stalls, wine bars and restaurants.

But in Little Stephen Street, Charles Byrne Musik Instrumente claims to be ‘Ireland’s oldest family music shop.’ This quaint shop at Nos 21-22 is a landmark in this part of Dublin, alive with musical wonder and stuffed to the gills with every stringed instrument imaginable.

It must be difficult for music lovers not to fall in love with the shope, with shelf upon shelf of musical delights.

The quaint name seems a pretence. But Charles Byrne Musik Instrumente dates back to 1870, and with four generations of expertise behind them, they are specialists in stringed instruments and traditional Irish music.

Whether it is an Irish fiddle you are looking for, or perhaps a bouzouki, the staff there can help you find what you are after. They are specialists in stringed instruments, and sell classical and traditional Irish instruments, as well as a variety of folk instruments.

This family-owned and run business boasts a long tradition of excellence. It was established in 1870 on the north side of Dublin by the original owner, David Charles Byrne, and at first the family business specialised in pianos, harps and harpsichords.

When David Byrne’s son, Charles Byrne, ‘piano tuner,’ married Christina Monahan of Saint Kevin’s Parade in Saint Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street, on 19 April 1923. Soon after, the Byrne family shop moved to Byrnes’ barber shop in Little Stephen Street, close to the junction of George’s Street and Aungier Street. The shop has remained there for almost a century.

In its time, the premises have seen many historic events, from the Home Rule era to Independence, and played its part in activities during the Rising and War of Independence. The family likes to say, ‘Booms and recessions, times of conservatism and progress, we’ve seen them all.’

Since the 1960s, the shop has specialised in stringed instruments, including violins, violas, cellos, mandolins, banjos, bouzoukis, and Irish traditional music, including bodhrans, low and standard whistles, wooden flutes, spoons and bone.

In recent years, they have added many specialist and unique lines from music gifts – Curiosa Devon, Hal Leonard, Music Gifts, and Ceolnet Designs – to hand-made instruments such as Tim Adams Flutes, Kingstown Ukes.

Today, this is Ireland’s oldest family-owned music shop, specialising in classical stringed instruments and traditional Irish music. They stock beginners to professional level violins, cellos, violas, ukuleles, guitars, banjos, bodhráns, whistles, mandolins, and accessories.

Ukuleles have become a favourite part of the inventory and they are proud to represent many major brands, including Kala Lanikai Freshman and more.

Four generations of expertise here are combined with a strong after-sales service, as well as repairs and restorations, and a mail order service.

As I walked by late on Thursdayevening, I fretted, fearing the shutters indicated the shop had closed. Thankfully, those fears were misplaced. It’s simply that the shop keeps unusual hours.

The shop’s opening hours in 2020 are: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, from 1 pm to 5 pm, Saturdays, 11 to 5. If you are planning to visit soon, the shop is closed for annual holidays from 15 August until 1 September.

The ‘Bayno’ is part of
Dublin’s architectural
and educational heritage

Liberties College, facing Saint Patrick’s Park and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral … built as the ‘Bayno’ in 1912-1915 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The north side of Saint Patrick’s Square is bounded by Liberties College, an elegant building facing Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. This fine building often goes unnoticed, sitting in the shadows of the neighbouring Iveagh Trust buildings, yet it as fine an architectural building as many third-level colleges throughout this building.

Liberties College was first built in 1912-1915 as the Iveagh Play Centre as part of the Iveagh Trust Scheme, the most significant urban renewal and slum clearance scheme in Dublin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was financed by the Guinness family and was known to generations of people living in Dublin’s Liberties as ‘the Bayno.’

This was the final building in the scheme developed on a site overlooking Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and the park, and was designed by the Dublin architectural partnership of McDonnell and Reid.

The centre included classrooms, a gymnasium and assembly hall and replaced an earlier centre set up by Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927), 1st Earl of Iveagh, at 100 Francis Street. It provided practical education in skills such as basket-making, needlework and drawing and painting and offered free entertainment to boys and girls between the ages of three and 14.

The extensive use of Portland stone dressings and embellishments that include columns, pilasters, gables, and finials, make this building less austere than the neighbouring buildings built by the Iveagh Trust.

It is built it what has been described variously as a ‘free Queen Anne idiom’ or ‘a Flemish Renaissance’ style. The playful use of classical vocabulary to create new and unorthodox orders is typical of early 20th-century Dublin architecture.

The front of the building on Bull Alley, facing the park and the cathedral, is a 13-bay two-storey over basement elevation with attic accommodation. There are seven-bay, two-storey over basement east and west elevations, with central breakfronts and advanced end bays with stepped gables, each forming a full-height gabled wing to the rear or north side.

There is a three-storey elevation to the rear, with lower, five-bay, three-storey blocks to the re-entrant corners between the rear elevation and east and west wings. This part of the building has hipped and flat roofs.

The architectural details include pitched slate roofs, a carved Portland stone cornice, shaped gables with raised barges, carved Portland stone coping, decorative piers with carved ball finials, an octagonal-plan cupola with a copper dome and finial, carved Ionic pilasters and round-headed louvered openings.

The red brick walls are laid in English bond. The giant Ionic order has pilasters to the central breakfront and engaged columns to end breakfronts.

Other details to look out for include a granite plinth course, a Portland stone string course, Portland stone surrounds, sills, and corbels, timber sash windows and timber framed windows, a circular window opening with a sculpted Portland stone surround, canted bay windows, Tuscan Doric columns, the entablature with a keystone and swan neck pediment, the timber panelled double-leaf door and the granite steps.

The centre was first established by Lord Iveagh in 1909 in the Myra Hall in Francis Street, Dublin, was visited by King George V and Queen Mary during their visit to Dublin in 1911.

Lord Iveagh was inspired by the people’s palaces movement in England, particularly that on the Mile End Road in East London. The centre moved to the new buildings in Bull Alley, which opened as the Iveagh Trust Play Centre in 1915.

Lord Iveagh donating £38,000 to build the impressive building on Bull Alley that included 11 classrooms, three large halls, an outdoor playground, a play centre, and also provided classes in sewing, breadmaking, cookery and other practical skills.

During the two World Wars, with stringent food rationing, the centre also offered food to local people. The place also offered local children a cup of Coco and a bun, and so became known fondly as ‘the Bayno.’

It has passed into Dublin lore in a children’s song or rhyme:

Tip-toe to the Bayno,
where the kids go,
to get their buns and cocoa
Come tip-toe to the Bayno with me.


The Bayno was known because it was a feast for the children. The 18th-century word ‘beanfeast’, shortened to ‘beano,’ described any kind of party. In Dublin slang, this became a ‘bayno’, and the children of the Liberties regarded Bull Alley as a ‘bayno.’

Other facilities provided by the Iveagh Trust included Saint Patrick’s Park, the Iveagh Trust apartments, the Iveagh Hostel and a swimming pool known as the Iveagh Baths.

The Bayno remained open for more than half a century, until it closed in the early 1970s. The Liberties Vocational School opened in 1979, and the building now serves as the Liberties College, a third level institution that is part of the under the City of Dublin Education and Training Board (CDETB) umbrella body.

Liberties College offers Further Education courses, including Post-Leaving Certificates and course in Counselling, Health Care, Montessori Education, Social Studies, Tourism, and Information Technology. Many students avail of Back to Education and Training Support, through the BEA and VTOS schemes.

The building was designed by the Dublin-based architectural partnership of McDonnell and Reid, involving Laurence Aloysius McDonnell (1857/1858-1925) and Alexander William Douglas Reid, formed in 1910.

Laurence Aloysius McDonnell was born in Donnybrook, the youngest son of Randle Henry McDonnell, a solicitor, and served his articles with John Joseph O’Callaghan at 31 Harcourt Street. He later worked for Thomas Newenham Deane & Son, representing the practice in Oxford for two years, and then moved to the office of John Franklin Fuller. He set up his own practice ca 1886 at 28 Lower Pembroke Street.

McDonnell attracted the patronage of the Earl of Aberdeen, former and future Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and then Governor General of Canada, in the early 1890s. Lady Aberdeen chose McDonnell to design an ‘Irish Industrial Village’ for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892, and in 1893 the couple commissioned him to design ‘a large mansion in Scotland.’

McDonnell took Alexander William Douglas Reid into partnership in 1910, and they practised as McDonnell & Reid.

Alexander William Douglas Reid was the son of Alexander Reid, an army doctor, and was born in England ca 1884. He graduated BA from Trinity College, Dublin, before beginning his career in architecture.

This partnership effectively came to an end soon after the outbreak of World War I, when Reid enlisted in the Durham Light Infantry. After the war, Reid decided to work in England, and in 1917 McDonnell formed a new partnership with William A Dixon as McDonnell & Dixon.

Dixon increasingly took over the running of the office in McDonnell’s last years. McDonnell died on 4 December 1925. According to his obituary in the Irish Builder, he was a kindly, unassuming man.