08 August 2020
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is undergoing its biggest renovation challenge in over 150 years. Although the Covid-19 pandemic and drop in tourism has had a challenging impact on funding for the project, the cathedral is now about halfway through this mammoth project.
Below the scaffolding and hoarding around the cathedral, the Liberty Bell by Vivienne Roche stands in the south-east corner of Saint Patrick’s Park, close to the Bride Street entrance, and recalls the cathedral’s setting in the heart of the ‘Liberties’ of Dublin.
The park is bounded by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on the south side, the Liberties College on the north side, while the east side of the park has a ‘Literary Parade’ along its sandstone arches, celebrating Dublin’s writers and literary heritage, including Jonathan Swift, a former Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
Vivienne Roche’s Liberty Bell and the Literary Parade were commissioned as part of the celebrations marking the Dublin ‘Millennium’ in 1988.
Vivienne Roche has worked in large-scale bronze, glass, steel, sailcloth, stucco plaster, and reconfigured landscape. Drawing, watercolour and photography have also been central to her work. Her artistic themes derive from site-specific dialogues between architecture and sculpture, the emotional resonances of the coastal landscape in which she lives, relationships between male and female, archaeology sites and their artefacts, and between music and the visual.
Light has been a central focus, as seen in recent work, including ‘NC Iris’ (2006), ‘Whitelight Garden’ (2006), ‘Light Ensemble’ (2008) and ‘Light House’ (2009).
She has exhibited widely in Ireland and has taken part in a number of exhibitions internationally, notably in Sweden, Finland and France. She is represented in public and private collections in Ireland, and abroad, and has created many large-scale public commissions throughout Ireland.
She is a member of Aosdána and the Royal Hibernian Academy, a former member of the Arts Council, and a founder member and first chair of the National Sculpture Factory in Cork. She received an honorary doctorate from University College Cork in 2006.
The Liberty Bell is an elongated bell, hung by a chain to a metal frame that is painted white. The bell is about 5 ft in height. It is called the ‘Liberty Bell’ because it is located in one of the ancient liberties of Dublin. A nearby pub is known as the Liberty Belle.
A local hotel on its Facebook page confuses the Liberty Bell with Dublin’s ‘Freedom Bell,’ the first Catholic church bell to ring in Dublin at the end of Penal Laws almost 200 years ago.
Legend says that Daniel O’Connell rang the bell at Saint Michael’s and Saint John’s Church to celebrate Catholic Emancipation in 1829, creating a crack in the bell that remains visible today. The church is now the Smock Alley Theatre in the Temple Bar area, and the theatre has preserved the bell as part of its heritage.
But the Liberty Bell in Saint Patrick’s Park takes its name from the Liberties of Dublin, manorial jurisdictions that dated back to the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the late 12th century.
Although these manors outside the city walls were incorporated into the mediaeval the city, they preserved their separate jurisdictions. There were five liberties on the south-west fringes of mediaeval Dublin:
● The Manor of Saint Sepulchre, also known as the Archbishop’s Liberty, which extended beyond Dublin city and county – the boundaries of the city manor stretched from Bishop Street to Saint Stephen’s Green, along Harcourt Street to Donnybrook, across Rathgar to Harold’s Cross and back along Clanbrassil Street.
● The Liberty of Thomas Court (93 acres), belonging to the Abbey of Saint Thomas.
● The Liberty of and Donore (377 acres), also belonging to the Abbey of Saint Thomas.
● The Liberty of Saint Patrick’s (183 acres), which included the site of today’s Saint Patrick’s Park.
● The Dean’s Liberty (1.6 acres), attached to Christ Church Cathedral.
The liberties belonging to the Abbey of Saint Thomas were later joined together as the Earl of Meath’s Liberty.
The ancient liberties were finally abolished and subsumed into the city in the 1840s. The Barony of Saint Sepulchre, lying north of the South Circular Road, was abolished by the Dublin Baronies Act in 1842, and the Manor Court of Saint Sepulchre was abolished in 1856.
However, the name of ‘The Liberties’ is still used remains for some of the core areas of the former liberties around and to the west of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
The park on the north side of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is said in myth and legend to be the place where Saint Patrick baptised the first Christians in Dublin, using water from the River Poddle that now flows under the cathedral and under the park.
The park was developed by Lord Iveagh under the Saint Patrick’s Park Act of 1897, and was completed by July 1904 to a layout designed by Arthur Dudgeon in 1901. Lord Iveagh continued to maintain the park for a number of years until Dublin Corporation took full responsibility in the 1920s.
The ‘Literary Parade’ at the east side of the park includes plaques by Leo Higgins and Colm Brennan celebrating Dublin writers: Jonathan Swift, James Clarence Mangan, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, Sean O’Casey, James Joyce, Brendan Behan, Austin Clarke and Samuel Beckett.
Meanwhile, the roof project at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is reaching new milestones every week. People can become involved by sponsoring a slate, and can support this essential work by visiting www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/support-us.
I have been in Dublin just twice since the pandemic lockdown was introduced in March. Those visits were carefully chosen: a family birthday and visits to my GP for consultations about my sarcoidosis and my Vitamin B12 levels.
This week’s visit was a little different. As President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), I was speaking at the annual Hiroshima Day commemorations in Merrion Square, Dublin – an event I have taken part in almost every year since I was first involved in planting the cherry tree 40 years ago in 1980.
A family member brought me into the city centre in the late morning, and brought me back in the late evening. So, without taking any risks on public transport, keeping social distances, and wearing a facemask throughout the day, I was able to enjoy a day in Dublin for the first time in almost five months.
Although I was born in Dublin, and I moved back to Dublin from Wexford at the end of 1974, it took many years before I felt at home there. If sport provides the Irish definition of where you from, then I still hope every year that Wexford is going to win the All-Ireland hurling final.
But Thursday’s sunshine added to the pleasure of walking around a capital city that is as pleasant as any European capital city I have come to know and enjoy, and there was time to do things that I enjoy in any other elegant European city …
Reminiscing about the book barrows in Clare Street; coffee on the footpath, watching life stroll by on Nassau Street; enjoying the monkeys carved on the old Kildare Street Club building; book browsing in Hodges Figgis; missing Carlucci’s on Dawson Street; a stroll through part of Saint Stephen’s Green; listening to the buskers on Grafton Street …
Decrying the vacant look of Bewley’s on Grafton Street and the appalling mess that has made of the colonnades at the former Saint Andrew’s Church …
Stopping for ice cream in Wicklow Street, for another coffee in Drury Street, and buying a birthday card in the George’s Street Arcade
It was good to feel the healthy buzz of life that percolates throughout the area around Wicklow Street, South William Street, Clarendon Street, Drury Street is still buzzing with coffee shops, small wine bars and chic restaurants.
But it is also interesting to notice how much has changed in Dublin in recent years. When you are in a city day-by-day or week-by-week, you tend not to notice the gradual, incremental changes that take place over time … new cheese and wine shops or coffee bars in Drury Street, the closure of cafés and restaurants like Bewley’s and Carlucci’s …
But perhaps the most startling sight was the complete demolition of the corner of Nassau Street and Dawson Street. I began my adult life training as a chartered surveyor with Jones Lang Wootton on the third floor of what was then the Norwich Union Building on Dawson Street. While there, I turned my attention to journalism, became a freelance contributor to the Lichfield Mercury, and later moved on to the Wexford People and The Irish Times.
Later, many of the cafés at the street level on this corner were important stopping-off places for coffee before or after meetings and lectures in Trinity College, on the way to or from the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
In other circumstances, my engagement with academic life might easily have been framed on that corner, beginning with the course I followed through Jones Lang with the College of Estate Management in Reading University, including exams in the Science Museum in TCD, and closing with cups of coffee after emerging from Trinity’s Nassau Street Gate.
Now ‘Project Kells’ is going to reshape this corner of Dublin for a future generation.
For some years I was a director of the National Bible Society of Ireland, but its bookshop in the middle of Dawson Street, opposite Saint Anne’s Church, has been closed for many years, and the shop that moved into those premises has closed since.
At the top of Dawson Street, there are plans for a €35 million, 117-bedroom hotel and a redevelopment of the old Royal Irish Automobile Club.
Two of us went on to an early dinner in Glas, a new vegetarian restaurant on Chatham Street, before continuing our evening stroll along Stephen Street, Golden Lane where I had a ‘summer job’ for two years with Irish Printers, through Saint Patrick’s Park, up New Street, into ‘Little Jerusalem’ and along Clanbrassil Street – lower and upper – and over the Grand Canal into Harold’s Cross as the sun was beginning to set in the west.
It was not quite Venice, but Rialto was in the distance to the west, and Portobello was behind me, to the east.
The new rise in Covid-19 cases this week is worrying, and I am not sure when I am going to have another city break in Dublin like this again.