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The 40 Steps, Dublin

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Ask any Dubliner where the forty steps are in the city and you are sure to get a variety of answers so perhaps I can clarify their location and a little of their various stories for you...

At the side of Dublin Castle there is an alley with forty steps leading from Castle Street down to Ship Street. It follows the perimeter wall of the Castle on one side and unfortunately a number of derelict sites on the other side. It is often referred to as Dean Swift Alley but its correct name is Hoey’s Court. It was 100ft from here that Jonathan Swift was born in 1667, he would become the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and a celebrated author and satirist.

Dublin, Guided Walking Tours, 40 Steps

Jonathan Swift Plaque, Dublin, Guided Walking Tours

The next example has a much darker history as its original name suggests. It was called Murdering Row and that name appears on medieval maps of Dublin, along with another lane called Cut Throat Lane. Thankfully Cut Throat Lane has ceased to exist and that area is now part of the St. James Hospital Campus. Murdering Row was renamed by Dublin Corporation to Cromwells Quarters in 1876. This was a dubious change of name but it wasn’t in memory of Oliver Cromwell , who led a murderous campaign in Ireland from 1649 to 1653, but to honour his son Henry who became Lord Lieutenant and subsequently Provost of Trinity College. These steps link James Street with Bow Lane and saw quite an amount of action during the 1916 Rebellion. To this day a Tricolour stands at the James Street end in memory of those that gave their lives in the name of freedom.

Cromwell's Quarters Sign, Dublin, Guided Walking Tours

Cromwell's Quarters, 40 steps, Dublin, Guided Walking Tours

The last example is probably my favourite, it is the steps leading down to the City Gate on Cook Street at the side of St. Audeon’s Church. These became known as the forty steps to Hell. Hell was the name given to the area of the City that ran from Cook Street past Christchurch towards Fishamble Street. It was an area of brothels, taverns, thieves and scoundrels. One of stories attached to Hell was the tale Darkey Kelly, owner of The Maiden Tower brothel. She had a fling with the then City Sheriff Simon Luttrell by whom she became pregnant. When she looked for some financial support from him being the gentleman he was he refused. Not only did he refuse her any assistance but accused her of witchcraft and she was ultimately burnt at the stake in 1761. In subsequent research by various authors it transpires that several bodies were discovered in the vaults of her brothel so perhaps Darkey Kelly had blood on her hands.

From my research it appears none of these forty steps actually have forty steps but all have thirty nine. Perhaps on your travels , when it is safe to do so, you might count the steps and confirm my count!

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