Restoration Of Medieval Buildings At Kevin Street Gets Green Light

The centuries-old buildings at Kevin Street, in the heart of the Liberties, occupied for many years by the Garda Siochana, are to be restored to their former glory under a recent proposal from the Office of Public Works (OPW).  

Minister of State at the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, Patrick O’Donovan T.D., confirmed through his private secretary, last month, that the site of the old Kevin Street Garda station will be developed into a future cultural and heritage programme. 

After many years of uncertainty about the future use of the site, the OPW has now announced that the Garda unit which currently occupies the buildings, will be re-locating as soon as their new facility at Military Road, Kilmainham, is completed, maybe as soon as 2022.   

 The OPW said in a statement: “It is the intention of the Commissioners of Public Works, being mindful of the historic and architectural significance of the buildings. to identify a suitable heritage purpose for them, following their temporary use by An Garda Siochana.” 

The complex of buildings has been continuously occupied by police for more than two hundred years, firstly as the first headquarters of the Dublin Metropolitan Police force and then by the Garda Siochana at the foundation of the state. However, it was originally built as St. Sepulchre’s Palace in the 12th century. For six centuries, it was the official residence of the Anglo-Norman Archbishops of Dublin. 

State Architect with the OPW, Ciaran O’ Connor, explained: “The buildings date back to 1184 and like Dublin Castle, it is one of the few structures continually occupied since the Norman period and that is quite unique in Dublin.”  

“Parts of the complex of buildings date from the 12th century and into the 13th century. Then there was a pause when the buildings went into decline. Then around the 1500’s and 1600’s they took off again. A lot of that depended on the Archbishop at the time,” he continued. 

The complex of buildings which comprise St. Sepulchre’s Palace was built on the instigation of the first Anglo-Norman Archbishop of Dublin, John Comyn, who was appointed in 1181, but only arrived to take up his post three years later.   

Comyn was a diplomat and administrator in the king’s court and was only ordained a priest after becoming Archbishop of Dublin. The position of Archbishop of Dublin was political and administrative, as well as being pastoral. Comyn had his own court and lands i.e. he was “at liberty” from all city laws and taxes. Hence the name “the Liberties” for the surrounding catchment area.  

The first historical mention of the palace is from 1216. It has witnessed many trials and tribulations over the centuries. In the 14th century, it was badly damaged by troops who were defending Dublin from the forces of King Edward the Bruce.  

However, it was restored by Archbishop Michael Boyle in the 17th century. By 1804, it was no longer occupied by the Archbishops of Dublin but had become a part of the barracks for the mounted police division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Since then, it has been in continuous use as a police station, with the Garda Siochana taking up residence soon after the establishment of the force. 

There was an eclectic mix of artifacts discovered during excavations of the adjoining site for the new Garda station, at the junction of Kevin Street and Bride Street, which opened in August 2018. The artifacts found, run the whole gamut from the downright grisly to the delicate and exotic.  

O’ Connor explained that the most gruesome discovery by the archeologists was that of a severed head, placed on a specially-made mat and topped with a rotten dog. This was a form of execution at the time, serving as a warning to people to obey the laws of the land. At the other end of the scale, the diggers un-earthed some very fine French pottery, as well as some German and Dublin earthenware from the medieval period. 

The most recent explorations of the site, conducted by the OPW-commissioned Archaeological Projects Ltd., have found some hidden gems, including the remains of some of the city’s medieval walls. Unfortunately, there was also some damage incurred by some recent pipe-laying which was undertaken without any proper supervision. The archeologists came across some plastic Wavin pipes in a “robber trench” which originally contained the foundations of a medieval wall, whose stones had been un-ceremoniously removed. 

“Some people want to strip back to the original medieval structure,” explained O’ Connor. “At what point do you say: ‘This is what we keep and all the other stuff is irrelevant?’ It’s very hard to just freeze-frame,” he concluded.  

Dr. Jason McElligott, who is the Keeper of Marsh’s Library, adjacent to the site, believes that these ancient buildings could become part of a proposed “Swift Experience.” This proposal would consist of a tourist trail for visitors and Dubliners, alike, who may be interested in the life of the famous author of “Gulliver’s Travels” and “A Modest Proposal.” 

McElligott explained that hordes of tourists visit the immediate area and its buildings associated with Swift, every year. The addition of St. Sepulchre’s would enhance a tourist trail which he believes could be hugely popular. When the restoration of the old Archbishop’s Palace is completed, it could form one section of a potential “Tourist Quadrant”. This would be alongside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Marsh’s Library and the old Deanery, next door, all buildings associated with Swift.    

“The whole area around Kevin Street and St. Patrick’s Cathedral is identified with Jonathan Swift,” explained McElligott. “Indeed, he often walked from the old Archbishop’s Palace to our library, next door. Of course, he was also the Dean of our other neighbour, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he is buried,” he added.