History of Dublin

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"Dubh linn" means "dark pool", and "Baile Átha Cliath" (still the Gaelic name for the city) translates as the "town of the Hurdle Ford". The official date for the foundation of the city is 988AD but these two settlements had existed in one form or another for centuries before this date. Eventually, the two fused into one town along the river Liffey, a town which eventually became known as Dublin.

Long before the official foundation of the city, the golden age of Christianity had witnessed the creation of some of the treasures of modern Ireland. The Book of Kells, Book of Durrow and Ardagh Chalice all date from the period after 432 AD, when St Patrick baptized the pagan Irish and Irish monks spread the Word throughout Europe.

Viking Dublin
Dublin began its long evolution into a city, however, under the Vikings. They found it to be a useful base from which to plunder the surrounding country at will - the Round Towers which are such a characteristic feature of Irish monasteries were built as defensive structures to help defend the inhabitants from bands of godless Vikings - but trade, nevetheless, began to develop with the surrounding country. The Scandinavian settlement was far from politically or militarily secure, however, and they were driven from Dublin more than once before the final Viking defeat. This occurred at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, when the forces of Brian Boru defeated the Scandinavians once and for all. A period of local rule then followed - a period which saw the foundation of Christchurch Cathedral - before the arrival of the English.

Dublin and the English
In 1169, the Normans arrived on the south-east coast of Ireland. They had been invited over by an Irish chieftain, Diarmait Mac Murchada, who wanted some extra muscle in his struggle for power. The Normans were led by one 'Strongbow' - otherwise known as Richard de Clare - who owed allegiance to the English King Henry II. Strongbow quickly took Dublin and the Norman occupation began. Against a backdrop of plagues and fires, Dublin continued to grow throughout the middle ages. Catholicism was its spiritual rock, upon which stood two cathedrals: St Patrick's and Christchurch. The area controlled by the English, however, was very small, consisting of only a few hundred miles around Dublin. This region was known as 'The Pale' (hence the term 'beyond the pale' of one who is uncivilized or disorderly) and even it was subject to continual attack from without.

The Tudor period
The reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I saw a consolidation of English rule in Ireland: the tentacles of power spread from Dublin across the island and Elizabeth I used the city as a base from which to further her policy of plantation: the settlement of Protestant families on confiscated papist land. Dublin became a centre of Protestant rule; by 1540 all of the monasteries had been dissolved and the churches taken over. In 1592, the grounds of a former monastery became the site of the newly established Trinity College Dublin, founded by Elizabeth as a mean of educating the new ruling class and of curing Ireland of popery. Meanwhile, the fabric of the medieval city decayed: both Dublin Castle and Christchurch were falling into ruin and plague and poverty continued to claim lives. By the end of the sixteenth century, the situation was as woeful as it had ever been in Dublin - the defeat of Irish rebellion leader Hugh O'Neill in 1601 opened the door to the influx of English and Scottish Protestants, and Dublin became little more than a garrison town.

The Seventeenth Century
This was a turbulent period in Ireland: Cromwell landed in the country from England and proceeded to massacre the people of Drogheda and Wexford in 1649 as a means of preventing further uprisings; and the Williamite wars saw the struggle for control of the English throne played out across Ireland, from Derry to Limerick. Eventually, however, Catholic James II was defeated by William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. In the subsequent settlement, Catholics were denied the political rights they had been promised. While Dublin itself was little effected by the upheavals across the rest of the country, the process of the anglicization of the city continued, and at the close of the seventeenth century, the city entered its heyday.

The Eighteenth Century
The great terraces and squares of Georgian Dublin date from the city's eighteenth century golden age of architecture. The period saw the erection or renovation of some of Dublin's greatest buildings. Dublin Castle was fully restored and the great green bowl of the Phoenix Park was established in the west of the city. Also built at this time were the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham, the Long Library of Trinity College, the Royal Exchange (now City Hall), the elegant Marsh's Library and the Mansion House. Later in the century, the Four Courts and the Custom House were raised on the city quays, and St Stephen's Green was laid out as a formal park. Sackville Street, now called O'Connell Street, a grand formal boulevard, became the city centrepiece.

It was also a golden age for politics and culture. The Irish parliament ("Grattan's Parliament") won increasing measures of self-government and the confidence of Dublin increased, as it became the focus of an extraordinary cultural boom, with theatre and music flourishing across the city.

The Nineteenth Century
This period of power and influence came to an end with the 1798 Rising, when a rebellion in the south, west and north-west and a botched French invasion convinced Westminster that Ireland had been allowed too much independence. The result was the Act of Union of 1801: the Irish parliament voted itself out of existence and England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales were formally politically unified for the first time. Many of Dublin's movers and shakers left the city for England and Dublin declined into a mere provincial city. In 1841, on the eve of the Great Famine, Daniel O'Connell won Catholic Emancipation, another indication of the decline of the punitive laws against Catholicism.

In the Famine of 1845-1849, Dublin suffered rather less than the rest of Ireland, as it was generally more wealthy (disease-ridden slums notwithstanding). In these years, indeed, the social life of the Anglo-Irish went on as normal and the establishment of the National Museum and National Library was planned on the city's south side.

Home Rule and the Rising
Under the surface, however, pressures were growing. The city was to become the focal point for the struggle for and against Home Rule. Throughout the nineteenth century, this pressure continued to mount remorselessly until eventually, at the beginning of the First World War, Home Rule was promised, as soon as the war itself should end. This modest promise was swept away by the Easter Rising of 1916, when a small band of rebels paralyzed the city and the Irish Republic was proclaimed from the steps of the GPO. They had little public support - many Irish volunteers had joined the war effort in Belgium and the rebels were perceived to be traitors to the greater cause. The people of Dublin were especially angry, for in the course of quelling the uprising, much of the centre of Dublin was bombarded by British Naval vessels standing out to sea. The execution of the rebels at Kilmainham Gaol, however, swung the tide of public opinion and a process was set in motion which would culminate in the Treaty in 1921. The greater part of Ireland achieved a limited independence as the Irish Free State, but the island was partitioned: six north-eastern counties remained a part of the United Kingdom. The vicious Civil War which followed saw further damage to the fabric of the city, but once civil unrest had ended the city began the long process of restoration.

The Free State
The 1920s saw the gradual rebuilding of a city centre ravaged by the Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Government policy in these years was much more concerned with the theory and practice of nationalism than with building a modern society and areas such as social welfare were severely neglected. The country, under the leadership of Eamon de Valera (the only survivor of the leaders of the Easter Rising) became increasingly isolated and introspective, and upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Ireland declared itself neutral, to the anger of both Britain and the United States. In practice, however, the country was far from neutral, granting (for example) over-fly rights to Allied planes. The morality of this policy of neutrality, however, continues to be questioned to this day: the banning of Jewish refugees from the country is certainly a source of national shame. One consequence of neutrality, however, was that Dublin (unlike Belfast and Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland) escaped the ravages of German bombing. In 1947, the Free State became the Republic of Ireland, and the country left the Commonwealth.

The Republic
The post-war years saw economic and cultural stagnation; thousands upon thousands of young people abandoned the countryside for Dublin, which began a period of population growth which has never stopped. Even larger numbers left Ireland altogether, with incalculable consequences for the cultural health of the country. The 1960s saw Ireland begin to look towards the outside world, and the changes which swept across western society in these years began to make their presence felt in Ireland also. The widespread civil disorder which began in Northern Ireland in 1968 left its mark on Dublin also: the capital was the target of occasional violent attacks in the 1970s and 1980s: the worst of these, in 1974, saw over thirty shoppers killed in a bomb attack. The perpetrators have never been caught.

Dublin Today
In 1973, the Republic joined the Common Market. The effect of this decision can be seen in the fabric of Dublin today: enormous amounts of money have been poured into Ireland in the last thirty years and have resulted in the kick-starting of the Irish economy. Today Ireland is Europe's fastest-growing economy and Dublin is at the centre of this economic revolution.

In recent years, the political, cultural and social climate of the country has also changed radically. The long-standing corruption of the Irish body politic has been exposed remorselessly by a succession of judicial tribunals throughout the 1990s. At the time of writing, the consequences of these investigation remain to be seen, although it is certain that they will impact significantly upon the established Irish political parties. The election of Mary Robinson to the Presidency of Ireland in 1990 also ushered in a series of social changes to the country - divorce, for example, in now legal in Ireland for the first time; and a raft of liberal legislation has challenged the conservative ethos of the country, already damaged by a series of sex scandals involving the Catholic Church. These social changes have left their mark on Dublin most of all, and there is no doubt that the city has changed radically in the last ten years.

Literary Dublin
Dublin is one of the world's great literary cities. Three Nobel laureates - George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats and Samuel Beckett - were born in the city, and James Joyce, the most famous Irishman never to have won the Nobel, was also a Dubliner.

Modern Irish writing, however, begins in Dublin's eighteenth century heyday. Trinity College produced three of the most prominent writers of the century: dramatist Oliver Goldsmith, philosopher Edmund Burke and satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels. Only Swift, however, remained in Dublin: Goldsmith and Burke moved to London as quickly as they could get away, setting a precedent for writers to come!

In the nineteenth century, James Clarence Mangan drank and brawled his way through Dublin, managing to produce some of Ireland's most distinctive poetry in his spare time; Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and Oscar Wilde spent his youth in the city and studied at Trinity before he joined the flight to England. Shaw was born in the city in 1856 - he left for England too, where he produced Pygmalion, and Joyce (also writing in exile) set Ulysses on a single summer's day in Dublin - June 16, 1904, a date now celebrated in the city as Bloomsday. Beckett went into exile in Paris but some of Ireland's leading lights managed to stay: Yeats, for example, remained in the new Irish Republic until his death in 1939, and the post-war years saw the emergence of such writers as Flann O'Brien and Patrick Kavanagh.

Today, Irish writing is more popular and vigorous than ever. Such novelists as Colm Toibin (The Heather Blazing), Anne Enright (The Portable Vigin), Roddy Doyle (The Committments), Jennifer Johnston (How Many Miles to Babylon?), Dermot Healy (A Goat's Song) and Robert McLiam Wilson (Eureka Street) have established international reputations; and they are joined by such important poets as Medbh McGuckian, Eavan Boland, Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Ireland's fourth Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. Not all of these writers have made their home in Dublin itself, of course, but they figure prominently in the city's energetic literary scene and their achievements have added to the rich texture of Dublin's literary life.