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Temple Bar

A History
Maurice Curtis
History Press Ireland


From the Introduction

Temple Bar is one of the most iconic parts of Dublin and is well known nationally and internationally as the 'cultural quarter' of the capital. A mixed-use area of 28 acres in the centre of Dublin city, it is one of Dublin's most visited districts. It is bustling with colourful pubs, cafes, restaurants, galleries, cinemas, theatres, resource centres, old family businesses, mainstream and craft shops, all crowded together along the busy, cobbled streets. It is also home to a couple of thousand residents and sees hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

Since the last decade of the twentieth century, Temple Bar has transformed from a derelict area into a thriving, dynamic space. Today's Temple Bar can boast of many new arts venues and there are around fifty cultural organisations based in Temple Bar, with scores of artists and creative professionals making it their base. It is an area of national importance, with a significant architectural, cultural, civic and historic character. The street pattern and the old street names have survived the upheavals that have shaken Dublin and Ireland since medieval times and give a good insight into the history of the area.

The area is bounded by the Liffey to the north, Dame Street to the south, Westmoreland Street to the east and Fishamble Street to the west. The close proximity of Temple Bar to City Hall (formerly the Royal Exchange), the Irish Parliament House (now Bank of Ireland), the old custom house on Essex Quay and Dublin Castle, the centre of colonial administration in the city, ensured the centrality and importance of Temple Bar in Dublin's civic, political and commercial life. As a result, the area's history is full of references to culture, trade, design, craft, publishing, the performing arts, coffee houses and politics, all of which is garnished with a dash of mayhem, magic and mystery.

From the early 1600s, Sir William Temple, the first provost of Trinity College Dublin, was the owner of some of the land in the area, which still bears his name. The Temple Bar area as we know it today originated in the old medieval city of Dublin and expanded eastwards from the early 1600s onwards. Over the following two centuries, it became a flourishing centre of trade, crafts and commerce, as well as social and political life. It also became the primary residential, commercial, political and dockland area of Dublin during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.1

Temple Bar is also filled with many triumphs of architectural design. The area is a feast of modern, original and highly stylish buildings integrating into the existing fabric. Renewal has embraced the old and the new and extended the life of Temple Bar for future generations. Every street and alleyway contains buildings of interest. The oldest houses are early- to mid-eighteenth-century buildings on Eustace and Fownes Street. There are also some interesting examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century brick-built warehouses, e.g. the Gaiety School of Acting building on Essex Street West, beside the theatre, and on Temple Lane South, Crown Alley and Cecilia Street. Temple Bar has furthermore become something of a showpiece for contemporary Irish architecture. The Wooden Building, the Green Building, Spranger's Yard, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios, Curved Street and Meeting House Square, and the Ark are all significant buildings or spaces. This mix of old and new is part of what makes Temple Bar such an attractive and distinctive area.

Some of the most important names in Irish history have strong links to Temple Bar, including Oliver Cromwell, the Temple family, Richard and Robert Boyle, Jonathan Swift, George Faulkner, George Frederick Handel, Thomas Cooley, James Gandon, the Duke of Wellington, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Margaret Leeson, Daniel O'Connell, Henry Grattan, Delia Larkin, the Sham Squire, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, George Berkeley, William of Orange, Molly Malone, Dorcas Kelly, James Joyce, Maria Edgeworth, Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Moore, WB. Yeats, Peg Woffington, Spranger Barry, Walter Osborne, Buck Whaley, 'copper-faced Jack', Harry Kernoff, Phil Lynott, Rory Gallagher, Aldo Rossi, Esther Vonhomrigh (Swift's Vanessa), James Clarence Mangan, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Wolfe Tone, Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, Arthur Griffith, Kevin Barry, Eamonn Ceannt, Sean MacBride and Robert Smyllie.

From the Vikings to the Victorians, practically every era of Irish history is represented in Temple Bar. The story of Temple Bar then is the story of Dublin, of Ireland - a story of tragedy and triumph, through times of oppression and prosperity, culminating in the vibrant centre we have in Dublin today. Temple Bar was and remains to this day a mirror that reflects the vicissitudes of time and the forces that have shaped us. It is also the story of the rise, decline and rebirth of one of Ireland's architectural treasures.