Tuesday 21 January 2020

Walk of the week: Pat Liddy's Dublin

Christopher Somerville

'Enin hegald?" hoarsely called the paper seller on Essex Quay. "Enin hegald?" Jane and I looked enquiringly at our guide Pat Liddy, immaculate in dark overcoat and fedora, or maybe a trilby.

"Evening Herald," Pat translated. "That's been shouted on the streets of Dublin ever since I remember."

Pat's the man to walk you through the city. You could fit on a pinhead what he doesn't know. "Now here's the Brazen Head -- do you know there's been a tavern on this spot for 2,000 years? And speaking of drink, now, we'll cross Fr Mathew's Bridge... he was a temperance priest who got 200,000 to sign the pledge. Wonder if he'd have any luck nowadays?"

If any one man outdoes Pat Liddy in Dublinociousness, that would have to be Peter Condell, the crypt guide at St Michan's Church on the Northside. "We've a journalist here," murmured Pat, indicating yours truly. "Fetch the garlic!" snapped Peter.

We admired the Baroque musical instruments carved into the case of the venerable organ on whose small keyboard Handel practised in the early 1740s.

Then Peter led us outside and into the crypt, making full play of creaking trapdoor, cobwebbed archway and sepulchral commentary, to introduce us to the dusty corpses under St Michan's which are preserved in their wooden coffins.

Along Mary's Lane the forklifts beeped as they dashed about the Fruit and Vegetable Market, charioteered by beefy men. Fish and fruit sprang immortalised in red sandstone on the external brackets.

In the playground in nearby Halston Street we took a trip to the Dark Side, hearing of the fearsome gaol that once stood there -- "Newgate Prison," expounded Pat, "a hanging prison, a place where patriots were kept before being transported."

The monument in the centre of the little park carried faded medallions with bas-relief likenesses of the Sheares brothers, fiery John and gentle Henry, barristers, Corkmen and United Irishmen of 1798, executed together on this spot, then buried in the vaults of St Michan's.

Just beyond loomed Green Street courthouse, scene of Robert Emmet's speech from the dock: "When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written."

At the end of Halston Street, the Sheriff's Debtor's Prison rose stark and chill behind tall sheets of corrugated iron. An 1809 police report described a verminous hell-hole where the sewers didn't function and bankrupt inmates had to pay the keeper for their 'accommodation'. One story says the Duke of Wellington did time here as a young man in debt, released only through the generosity of his bootmaker.

How to finish our walk in a sweeter frame of mind? On a Ferris wheel in Wolfe Tone Park, contemplating the yarn-spinner's Dublin, then in the 18th-century galleried church of St Mary's, better known these days as The Church pub, listening to another "Wait'll I tell you," from the mighty Liddy, while regarding him over a pint.


Irish Independent

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