THE LIBERTIES | DUBLIN

Street Photography By William Murphy

THE LIBERTIES
The Liberties is an area in central Dublin, Ireland, located to the southwest of the inner city. One of Dublin's most historic neighbourhoods, the area is now a centre of enterprise and commercial life in the heart of the city.

Today The Liberties is a city neighbourhood of opportunities and innovation, where the heritage of an historic city quarter sits side by side with dynamic media and tech hubs and highly respected medical and education centres. The Liberties Business Area Improvement Initiative is a partnership between Dublin City Council and local businesses and stakeholders to transform the commercial heart of Dublin 8.

The name derives from manorial jurisdictions dating from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. They were town lands united to the city, but still preserving their own jurisdiction (hence "liberties"). The most important of these liberties were the Liberty of St. Sepulchre, under the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore belonging to the Abbey of St. Thomas (later called the Earl of Meath's Liberty).

The modern Liberties area lies within the former boundaries of these two jurisdictions, between the river Liffey to the north, St. Patrick's Cathedral to the east, Warrenmount to the south and St. James's Hospital to the west.


Two liberties are mentioned in Allen's Register of 1529, but without describing their exact location. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII the liberties of Thomas Court and Donore was granted to William Brabazon, ancestor of the Earls of Meath. In 1579 the city of Dublin claimed the abbey to be within the jurisdiction and liberty of the city, but they lost their case. From then on the head of the liberty was the Earl of Meath. The family lent its name to places and streets in the district e.g. the Meath Market, the Meath Hospital and Meath Street. They also named Brabazon Row, Brabazon Street and Ardee Street (they were Barons Ardee since 1616).

In 1728 Charles Brooking published a detailed map, Map of the City and Suburbs of Dublin, which contained a better description of the boundaries of the liberties. The Manor of St. Sepulchre boundaries stretched from Bishop St. to St. Stephen's Green, along Harcourt Street to Donnybrook, across Rathgar to Harold's Cross and back along Clanbrassil Street to Patrick Street.

The Earl of Meath's liberty ran west along The Coombe to Ardee St., turning north towards Echlin St. then along James's St. to Meath St., then through various smaller streets to Ash St. and back to the Coombe.

In 1837 the Ordnance Survey started developing their maps, and that of Dublin published in 1840 showed all the liberties, from the smallest (Christ Church Liberty, one acre two roods) to the largest (Earl of Meath's Liberty, 380 acres).

In return for the support of the ruler of the liberty, or to alleviate certain hardships suffered by Englishmen or the church in Ireland, privileges were granted to the rulers of the liberties at various times and by various kings of England. For example, these allowed the liberty of St. Sepulchre to have its own courts of justice (Courts Leet, Courts Baron and a Court of Record, where it was allowed to try all crimes except "forestalling, rape, treasure-trove and arson"), free customs, freedom from certain taxes and services, impose their own fines, have their own coroners, rights of salvage, maintain their own fairs and markets, regulate weights and measures, etc.

These rights and privileges ended in 1840.

Many places in The Liberties still have connections with a turbulent past in which political upheaval or dire poverty were the order of the day. In the 17th century, parts of them became wealthy districts, when the weaving crafts of the immigrant Huguenots had a ready market around the present day Meath Street Market, and a healthy export trade.

In the late 17th century development started in order to house the weavers who were moving into the area. Woolen manufacture was set up by settlers from England, while many Huguenots took up silk weaving, using skills they had acquired in their home country, France. They constructed their own traditional style of house, Dutch Billies, with gables that faced the street. Thousands of weavers became employed in the Coombe, Pimlico, Spitalfields and Weavers' Square.

However, English woollen manufacturers felt threatened by the Irish industry, and heavy duties were imposed on Irish wool exports. The Navigation Act was passed to prevent the Irish from exporting to the whole colonial market, then in 1699 the English government passed the Wool Act which prevented export to any country whatsoever, which effectively put an end to the industry in the Liberties.

A weavers' hall was built by the Weavers' Guild in the Lower Coombe in 1682. In 1745 a new hall was provided, financed by the Huguenot, David Digges La Touche. In 1750 the Guild erected a statue of George II on the front of their hall "as a mark of their sincere loyalty". The hall was demolished in 1965.

In the eighteenth century a revival took place by importing Spanish wool into Ireland, which was helped from 1775 by the Royal Dublin Society, but the events of 1798 and 1803, in which many weavers in the Liberties took part, and the economic decline that set in after the Act of Union, prevented any further growth in this industry in the Liberties.

Similarly, the successful growth of the silk and poplin industries, which was supported by the Royal Dublin Society in the second half of the 18th century, was hindered by an act passed by the Irish government in 1786, which prevented the society from supporting any house where Irish silk goods were sold. When war was declared against France under Napoleon and raw materials were difficult to obtain, the silk weavers suffered greatly. The final blow came in the 1820s when the British government did away with the tariffs imposed upon imported silk products.

From this time on fate of the Liberties was sealed and most of the once-prosperous houses became poverty-stricken tenements housing the unemployed and destitute.

The Tenter House was erected in 1815 in Cork Street, financed by Thomas Pleasants. Before this the poor weavers of the Liberties had either to suspend work in rainy weather or use the alehouse fire and thus were (as Wright expresses it) "exposed to great distress, and not
infrequently reduced either to the hospital or the gaol."[ The Tenter House was a brick building 275 feet long, 3 stories high, and with a central cupola. It had a form of central heating powered by four furnaces, and provided a place for weavers to stretch their material in bad weather.

Part of the area was redeveloped into affordable housing and parkland by the Iveagh Trust, the Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company and the City Council in the early to mid twentieth century. The appalling slums, dire poverty and hazardous dereliction have now been wiped away, and only a few scattered pockets remain to be demolished.

The Liberties is a hub of both Irish and international culture, with a range of attractions for all. The wider area of Dublin 8 is home to five of Ireland's top 20 visitor attractions, with the Guinness Storehouse alone accounting for 1.2 million annual visits.

The Liberties is a focus of much of Dublin's art and design. Thomas Street is home to the country's largest art college, National College of Art and Design. The College was founded in 1746 as a private drawing school, and has become a national institution educating over 1,500 day and evening students. As a constituent college of University College Dublin, NCAD degrees and awards are validated by UCD.

The Tivoli car park on Francis Street has in recent years become a local attraction for its impressive display of street art. It operates independently from the theatre and houses Dublin Graffiti Hall of Fame. The graffiti is the product of an annual All City Tivoli Jam, organised by Olan, the owner of Dublin's All City Records.

Francis Street is now considered Ireland's "Arts & Antiques Quarter", attracting both national and international buyers to its various stores. These stores include oriental rug sales, antique fireplace restoration, auction rooms, sewing supplies, galleries, high quality antiques, and charity furniture sales.

The Liberties and the wider area is home to a number of art galleries, some of national importance.
The Irish Museum of Modern Art, situated in Dublin 8, is Ireland's leading national institution for the collection and presentation of modern and contemporary art. IMMA is housed in the 17th-century Royal Hospital Kilmainham – a striking location for displaying modern art. Modelled on Les Invalides in Paris, it is arranged around a courtyard and the interior has long corridors running along series of modest interlocking rooms. The original stables have been restored, extended and converted into artists' studios, and the museum runs an artist-in-residence programme.

Mother's Tankstation is one of Dublin's leading private art galleries. It focuses on facilitating innovative, challenging and engaging contemporary visual arts practice, hosting regular public exhibitions. Mother's Tankstation is located on Watling Street in The Liberties.

Other art galleries in the Liberties include NCAD, Basic Space, Pallas Projects, Cross Gallery, and the Jam Art Factory.

The Liberties has a vibrant nightlife, and hosts regular performances in theatres, bars, and music venues. Regular performances are held in these venues, serving local, citywide, and national populations.

Home to five bars, Vicar Street is one of the finest events venues in the city and country. Located on Thomas Street, the venue has capacity for 1,500 people, promoting intimacy in its stand-up comedy, drama performances, and music concerts. Vicar Street has been honoured with a range of awards, including Irish Music Venue of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2014.

One of Dublin's premier alternative music bar and venue, The Thomas House is situated on Thomas Street. This bar specialises in punk, rock and reggae music, and is often a host to live performances.

The Tivoli Theater, located on Francis Street, is one of Dublin's premier theatre and entertainment venues. The theater can accommodate 450 patrons, while the venue, often used to host club nights, has a standing capacity of 1,000.

Historically, The Liberties is one of Dublin's key shopping and market areas. The area retains its thriving market culture, providing a unique offer to both locals and tourists. Of key significance are the Liberty Market on Meath Street, the fruit and vegetable markets during weekends on Thomas Street and Meath Street, and the street vendors located throughout the area. There are future plans for further market areas, such as the redevelopment of the Iveagh Market on Francis Street. Newmarket, to the south of the area, hosts Dublin Food Co-op, as well as several other market events.

The Liberties is currently undergoing a renaissance as a centre for craft distilling and brewing in Dublin. Historic Newmarket and Meath Street continue to reflect the strong tradition of quality independent food production, market activity, and retailing in the area.
The Liberties is the home of the iconic Guinness brewery. The storehouse, Ireland's main visitor attraction, brings in 1.2 million annual visitors. Guinness have recently invested €130 million in the development of Brewhouse No. 4 on Victoria Quay.
Teelings Whiskey have opened their new distillery and visitor centre in Newmarket, boasting the first new Irish whiskey distillery to develop in Dublin since the 19th century.
Significant investment has also been made in The Liberties by Dublin Whiskey Company, Alltech, Galway Bay Brewery, 5 Lamps Brewery and others. The Beer Market, the only bar in Ireland which serves only beer, opened on Cornmarket in April 2015.