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Bells, Breweries And Blunderbusses

An autobiography by a Dubliner Walter Thomas Meyler, written between 1868 and 1870, gives an interesting insight into the city in the 19th century.

The book, entitled St Catherine's Bells, is named after his birthplace at 15 Portland Street in the parish of St Catherine.

Born in 1813, Meyler recalls how, as a child, he walked along the banks of the Grand Canal bordered by tall elm trees which had been planted to provide wooden pipes for the city's water supply. Accompanied by his nurse, he would go as far as the Richmond Barracks at Goldenbridge where the music of the military band "sounded delightfully across the water".

He wasn't allowed to wander any further than Murdering Lane at Mount Brown where he "gazed up in wonder at the high grey prison walls of the Foundling Hospital and the mysterious revolving wooden cradle".

In 1820 his family moved to what he called a "retired avenue" in Ranelagh called Sallymount, which was considered by them to be out in the countryside.

Just four years later the family moved again -- this time to a larger house at Pembroke Lodge, Londonbridge Road. Close by was Le Fevre's Folly, on the site where Beggars Bush Barracks now stands, and this was a refuge for the city's thieves and highwaymen.

One night his family saw some men peering over the wall in preparation for a raid on Pembroke Lodge. The would-be robbers were greeted with a volley of shots from blunderbusses, and the following morning a trail of blood led to a pool in the neighbourhood. Two local men disappeared without trace that night, and Meyler and his family were left alone after that.

He describes Sandymount in the early 19th century as a "pretty little village" with a triangular common in the middle used mostly by goats, pigs and chickens. Just over 300 people lived there, he said, and it was a "favourite bathing place for aristocratic females who paid two pence for the box accommodation and dress instead of a penny paid by their sisters at Irishtown".

When he was 14, Meyler's mother died giving birth to her tenth child at the age of 38. Shortly afterwards he became an apprentice brewer but left the job after six months and went to live with his uncle George at Laurel Lodge in Dundrum. At the age of 18 he spent 18 months in America and then at 21, "having secured a lovely and amiable bride", he returned to Dublin.

When he was 24, following his father's death, Meyler set up his own wholesale tea, wine and spirit business at Eustace Street, but in 1840 it went up in flames. He was insured and started up again at Crow Street nearby.

Shortly afterwards proceedings were initiated against him over a business dispute, and he spent a week in the Sheriff's Prison in Green Street. Further legal actions forced him to spend ten-and-a-half months at the Four Courts Marshalsea. He also served time in Newgate, Kilmainham and Belfast jails for his political activities in 1848 as president of the Citizen's Club.

Meyler penned the last words of his biography on New Year's Day in 1870 and drank the health of Queen Victoria and William Gladstone. He emigrated to America some time afterwards and was never heard from again.