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The Liberties, Dublin

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

The areas of Dublin known as the Liberties was established by the Normans after their arrival in Ireland in the late 12th Century. They granted land titles outside the City Walls mainly to Churches and Monasteries.

King Henry II arrived in Ireland in 1170 with a large army with the main reason for his visit being to re-establish his authority over the Norman Knights, especially Richard de Clare (Strongbow); who in Henry’s eyes had become too powerful and independent.

During his stay, the King visited St. Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street and declared that a monastery be established nearby to honour Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had recently been assassinated following a long running dispute with the King. The Augustinians who established the monastery were granted complete freedom from the city, and were free to develop their own Courts, Palace, Laws and Taxes - hence “Liberty” from the city. This area grew quickly and became known as The Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore.

Another of the original Liberties was that of “St. Sepulchre.” The Archbishop of Dublin received similar rights and privileges for this “Liberty” because of his support for the Crown. St. Sepulchre’s Palace was home to the Archbishop, and it’s remains can be seen today as the now vacated Kevin Street Garda Station.

Over time The Liberties continued to grow and benefited greatly with the arrival of the Huguenots from France during the 17th century. The Huguenots, who fled France to avoid religious persecution, came here at the invitation of James Butler, Duke of Ormond, and it is estimated that in excess of 10,000 souls fled to Ireland. A large number settled in the Liberties. They were very industrious people and quickly established themselves in the commercial life of the city. Among the many industries they were involved in, perhaps the most successful was the weaving of textiles in and around an area in the Liberties which became known as” The Tenters.”

The mark they left on the landscape of the city can be seen to this day, especially with their style of architecture “Dutch Billy“ houses as they were known. This is evidenced in some of the facades of the Iveagh Buildings and the one remaining "Dutch Billy" house located on Kevin Street Upper.

Iveagh Trust Buildings, Dublin
Iveagh Trust Buildings, Dublin

The Liberties is home to some of the most ancient streets and roads in Dublin. The junction of Thomas Street and Francis Street equates to where the four ancient highways of Ireland converged close to the oldest recorded crossing of The River Liffey. The Irish name for Dublin is Baile Atha Cliath which translates as The Town of The Ford Of Hurdles where the river could be crossed at low tide. This crossing was located near modern day Merchants Quay.

It wasn’t until the 1830’s that Dublin Corporation managed to assert its control over the entire City.

Lots of Dublin’s citizens claim to be “Dubs” but it is the residents of The Liberties who lay claim to be true Dubs.

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