A Walking Tour Highlights the Great Writers, Philosophers and Revolutionaries from the Dorset Street Area

“I moved to the area seven years ago,” says historian John Seery, sitting outside La Pausa Caffe on Blessington Street, holding a booklet in his hand.

He knew the area around Dorset Street was steeped in history because he had studied it at university, he says. But then a neighbour told him Iris Murdoch was born here.

She was one of the most influential female writers of the 20th century, he says. But her association with her home place in Blessington Street had been overlooked, says Seery.

Once he thought about it, the entire literary heritage of the area around Dorset Street appeared to him to be neglected, he says. “People are not aware of it.”

“Seán O’Casey is around the corner as well,” says Seery, nodding towards Dorset Street. “Austin Clarke’s around the corner too.”

Tourists tend to head for the area around St Stephen’s Green to learn about Dublin’s great writers, artists and thinkers, but they will miss out if they don’t go to Dorset Street, says Seery.

He wrote a booklet in 2019 on writers from the area, and has put together a tour to rebalance that, he says. “It’s fascinating, but it’s still not exposed.”

Some were from the wealthy aristocratic classes that built the Georgian palaces, while others came from the tenements. What links them all together is their brilliance, he says.

Around the Streets

When Seery’s neighbour mentioned that Murdoch was from Blessington Street, it was 2019, and coming up to the 100-year anniversary of her birth.

The BLEND Residents Association organised a festival for her, he says. “A group of people said that they put irises at her front door every year on her birthday.”

Iris Murdoch was born at 59 Blessington Street, says Seery, and Ireland and Dublin should reclaim her.

“Murdoch was proud of being Irish,” says Seery in his 2019 booklet. “Like all Irish people she knew that Irishness brings its own unique complexities.”

Murdoch was ahead of her time on LGBTQ issues, he says. In the 1950s she was writing gay characters while homosexuality was still illegal in Britain and Ireland.

Her status as a writer still grows, he says. “She is increasingly considered as a great philosopher.”

Down at the southern end of the Dorset Street area, on the corner of Dominick Street Upper and Mountjoy Street, Seery looks across at a derelict building.

The top two storeys of the red0brick building are missing, the shop front on the ground floor is fully boarded up and the windows on the second floor have been filled in with grey brick.

The derelict building is attached to an ornate four-storey brick building on the corner that says “Wine Importer” but is also shut.

This stop on the tour is tied to Arthur Griffith. Bestselling writer, revolutionary, intellectual, says Serry.

“He would have been born into Upper Dominick Street and lived here until his late teens,” he says.

“Poverty and deprivation informed his political thinking and his economic thinking,” says Seery.

His 1904 book _The Resurrection of Hungary: A Parallel for Ireland _was massively influential, politically.

Griffith was a printer by trade and a journalist, whose paper kept getting closed down. He was involved in the Irish literary renaissance but none of this made money, says Seery. “He lived in abject poverty all of his life.”

After Griffith married he had nowhere to live until friends did a whip-round to get the couple a place, says Seery.

While from contrasting class backgrounds, it is interesting that home rule leaders Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell also came from the area, he says.

Butt was from Eccles Street and Parnell was from Temple Street, he says.

The current obsession with Joyce, who also lived in the area, sometimes overshadows all the other talented writers, he says.

Although it is interesting that, as an editor, Griffith was the first person to publish Joyce’s work, says Seery.

Joyce, then an unknown graduate writer, was going around Dublin pitching a critique of the Abbey Theatre. The other newspapers refused it, says Seery, and Griffith gave him a chance.

From here, Seery strolls down the road, back to the corner of Dorset Street. He points up the street to another red-brick building. That is the birthplace of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, he says.

The playwright was born in Dorset Street at a time when the street was a fashionable place to live, and his mother, Frances Sheridan, was also an influential writer.

She may have published works under her son’s name, says Seery.

The house has been painstakingly fully restored, he says. “They rebuilt it brick by brick. It’s good to see that is what you can do.”

On Henrietta Street

Seery turns right onto Bolton Street and then turns right again onto Henrietta Street.

This street is special, not just for its beauty. It is also the only intact example of an early 18th-century street of houses in all of Europe.

When these Georgian houses were built around 1728, they had a massive influence on the city, says Seery. “It tells you the story of Dublin in so many ways.”

At the time the city centre activity was mostly around Temple Bar, he says. But a major land owner wanted to shift the commercial activity onto land they owned.

“The Gardiner family had so much land in this part of Dublin,” he says. They owned a lot of the north inner-city from Gardiner Street, Mountjoy Square, O’Connell Street and Henrietta Street, says Seery.

Historian John Seery. Photo by Laoise Neylon.

Lord Gardiner may have called in favours from his friend and brother in law Lord Beresford, who was so politically powerful he was known as the uncrowned king of Ireland, says Seery.

They succeeded in getting the Custom House shifted from Temple Bar to where it is now, he says. “As a result, the city that was all around Temple Bar, started to move east,” he says.

But the push to move the city centre started here on Henrietta Street, he says sweeping his hand up and down the street.

This wasn’t considered part of the city centre back then, but Lord Luke Gardiner built himself a palatial house here at number 10 Henrietta Street.

“When they built this house people said who would want to come here,” says Seery. It was considered too far out.

“If you want to make it fashionable, start off with the right note,” says Seery. “So he built these absolute gems of palaces here and he got the bishops and the aristocracy to move.”

Marguerite Gardiner, the last Countess of Blessington, was also a writer, he says. Her wedding was the most expensive wedding in Europe at the time, he says.

“They partied for two weeks on Henrietta Street,” he says. Then she left for London where she ran a salon and was friends with great novelists including Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens, he says.

Seery is running a walking tour, which people can join on 11 June and 25 June at 11am, as part of the Five Lamps Festival.

“You are only getting a taster of all the people from the area who were renowned nationally, and some internationally,” he says. If you look for them you might discover even more, he says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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