A brief history of the Liberties

While there is long running history in every nook and cranny of this city, the Liberties history is unique because it can be seen in every stretch of its urban aesthetic.

The Liberties has had its name, the one that we know and love, since the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century.

The name represents being the only part of Dublin to be free of the laws of the city by existing outside its old medieval walls.

Because the Liberties is a pretty big area, it had sub-divisions – the two most notable being the Liberty of St. Sepulchre and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore.

Each area of the Liberties had its own “administrator” of the jurisdiction – the chap that laid down the law.

The Archbishop of Dublin did this job for St. Sepulchre and the Earl of Meath had the same role for Thomas Court and Donore.

The Liberty of Thomas court and Donore’s location included the Coombe, Echlin Street, and James’ Street to mention a few.

Looking at the street signs in what was the Earl of Meath’s old liberty, his stamp is left on the Meath market, Meath Street and Meath hospital.

The Archbishop of Dublin’s old stomping ground was comprised of Bishop Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Harcourt Street, Harold’s Cross and Clanbrassil Street.

The job of being a liberty ruler was not without its perks – privileges were often granted to these men in exchange for their cooperation.

The Liberty of St. Sepulchre was granted the privilege to have its own courts of justice, free customs, freedom from certain taxes and services, and to hold their own markets.

These snippets of luxury were put to a halt in 1840.

As for wealth, the Liberties were not particularly awash with riches all those years ago.

Interestingly, the Coombe was inhabited by a whole bunch of French Protestants who fled from France after the French revolution.

These folk were known as Huguenots.

It was in the Coombe where these French refugees established their weaving industry, one that was more plentiful in money than others.

The Huguenots were not only weavers, but also took part in importing and exporting wine and brandy as well as being gold and silver smiths.

If we take a leap forward in time to the 1916 rising, the Liberties had their own part to play here too.

A rebel force was based in the South Dublin Union, which is now where James’ hospital stands, and there were also outposts in the Jamesons Distillary, and the old Jacobs factory.

It is rare that so much of history can survive in the atmosphere on the streets, yet this is exactly what the Liberties provides; and this is something to be proud of.

If you’d like to find out more about some Liberties history, and have some time to spare during the Summer, the Liberties Festival takes place from the 18th to the 22nd of July.

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