The Liberties

In many areas of our research, reference is made to "The Liberties of Meath" or "The Liberties of Dublin".  from The story of Dublin by David Alfred Chart, 1907 (Google Books), Chapters of Dublin History, and The Reflecting City, the Reconstruction of Dublin

The Liberties were so called not because they were free, but because they were not under the city jurisdiction. They lay outside the medieval city walls and in fact they had half a dozen masters. The Archbishop of Dublin executed justice and levied dues in one part, the Earl of Meath in another, not to mention some lesser overlords. The parishes here were manifestly of Irish origin, since they were placed under the protection of Saints Kevin, Bride (or Bridget) and Patrick. The horse police barracks in Kevin Street contains the remains of St. Sepulchre's, the palace of the archbishops, which was built soon after the foundation of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

St.Patricks was the largest cathedral in medieval Ireland, well outside the town wall. The construction of the present church in the early English gothic style began circa 1225 and took about thirty years to complete. The man responsible for its creation was Henry of London, the second Anglo-Norman archbishop of Dublin and a masterly politician in his own right

Where Nicholas Street turns into Patrick Street stood the main southern gateway of the medieval town, St. Nicholas's. The walled area, even when enlarged in the thirteenth and early fourteenth century, was remarkably small (about 44 acres) and beyond the defences stretched suburbs in every direction. Nevertheless many of the later monasteries, as well as St. Patrick's Cathedral, had their own walled enclosures, whilst in the fifteenth century several 'extramural' gateways were provided so as to close off access to the town at night and in times of danger. These gateways were a substitute for an outer town wall to protect the suburbs, of the kind that was built for many continental towns. One of these extramural gates, St. James's, later gave its name to a famous brewery.

Kevin Street, called from a bygone church dedicated to the Celtic saint of that name, leads onto Deane Street, which again merges in the Coombe. This name "combe or coombe," is frequent in Devonshire and the south of England. It means a hollow, or river valley, in this case, of the Poddle, which has been driven underground. Thousands of weavers toiled at their looms in the Coombe and its side streets.  Streets such as Chamber Street, Pool Street and Weaver Square, all near the western end of the Coombe are often called "Huguenot streets" from a tradition that the weaving industry was established in Dublin by French Huguenot refugees fleeing the persecutions of Louis XIV in the late 17th Century. Fiercely Protestant, they brought with them their love of tanning, milling and weaving and, using the open waters of the Poddle, developing the Irish silk and woollen industry.

The weavers were a turbulent class. They crossed the Liffey to wage war with the butchers of Ormond Quay. The brawny butchers usually had the upper hand, however, and are said sometimes, in cruel sport, to have attached their meat hooks to fallen weavers, whom they dragged about in triumph. Any person who ventured into the Liberties ran a risk of being mobbed and maltreated. One man in Irish history obtained a wonderful hold over these somewhat riotous artisans. Dean Swift, became the leader and spokesman of the population around, whose minds he dominated just as his cathedral spire dominated the surrounding cityscape. By the 1790's however their way of life was in rapid decline as the Liberties were then a “scene of the most abject poverty, depraved morals, deplorable sickness, and a magazine of fury” according to a contemporary Dublin Castle source.

To the north west, towards Thomas Street, lay the northern section of the defensive town wall. The great western gateway, known as Newgate, featured two three storey towers and contained the town prison. Beyond the external defensive ditch, which measured about 40 feet wide and up to 19 feet deep, lay a mainly unbuilt plot of ground known as Cornmarket where the annual fair lasted for a fortnight each summer. Here merchants from elsewhere in Ireland and from abroad would gather to buy and sell, to haggle and strike bargains, to quarrel and seek justice. By an interesting coincidence part of this plot was later occupied by the Iveagh Markets. This part of town has always has long had a tradition of markets and the retail of agricultural produce, a tradition that continues to this day.

The clusters of specialist "streets" such as Winetavern Street, Cook St, (referred to as early as 1270) Fishamble Street near Christchurch and the Corn Market, near St. Audoen's, identifies a long tradition centred on markets, trade, industry and innovation in the area.

As the main western approach to the City it was not surprising that Thomas Street and its environs became a "hub" of agriculturally based commerce. In turn the area reciprocated by becoming a centre of production and distribution of tradable goods such as leather, alcohol, tea and hardware.