Things don’t start when you show up and stop when you leave #1: Exchange Dublin

Without claiming to be an expert on Dublin history (or even the history of Exchange Dublin, really) I have, through design and accident in roughly equal measures, acquired a lot of loose information about the origins and history of the city I have lived in for my entire life. So, for want of anything else to do, I thought I might do a short history post, with illustrations for the easily bored.*

The crux of this is about where Dublin was actually founded.

*With the benefit of retrospect, this is not particularly short, and the easily bored might prefer 98% of other things.

Click to make it bigger.

Point 1: Exchange Dublin is on the corner of Exchange Street and Essex Gate.

That’s just past the Turk’s Head and the Czech Inn in Temple Bar West, the less touristy stretch of Temple Bar that extends beyond Parliament Street up to Fishamble Street by Christ Church.

Point 2: It does not front directly onto a river.

But that doesn’t mean it never has.

Click to make it bigger. Red = Poddle, Blue = Camac, White = Dodder, Green = Tolka, One that looks like a river = Liffey.

Point 3: There is more than one river in Dublin.

Everyone knows about the Liffey. Behind the leading group of hangovers, the weather and the French football team, the Liffey features quite heavily in the complaints of Dubliners, being supposedly filthy, despite being the only river in a capital city in the EU in which salmon can still live. But that’s irrelevant here. There are other rivers. The Dodder runs through Leafy Suburb, Dublin 4 before meeting the Liffey at Ringsend. The Camac, largely underground, runs through Clondalkin and Inchicore before hitting the Liffey at Heuston Station. The Tolka runs through Blanchardstown and ends up in Dublin Bay without hitting the Liffey at all. But the river we want is Dublin’s great lost landmark, the sadly culverted Poddle.

Point 4: Culverted means underground by man’s design, which the Poddle is.

The Poddle starts out in Tallaght, flows through Templeogue, Kimmage and Dolphin’s Barn (the hilariously malapropistic name of which could easily be another post some day) before going underground. It flows under the Liberties, where folk memory of it forms a part of local consciousness according to the “Dublin in the rare auld times” type literature of the mid-20th century. It comes down by Dublin Castle, where it once formed a small lake that might be the city’s eponymous ‘dubh linn’ (black pool). It then flows roughly down the lane next to the Olympia Theatre before meeting the Liffey at Wellington Quay.

Click to make it bigger. Poorly Photoshopped river = rough line of old school Liffey-Poddle confluence, green spraypaint = salt marshes.

Point 5: When rivers aren’t walled in, they do mad stuff as they approach the sea.

Both the Liffey and the Poddle had broad, marshy areas at the end of their courses. The confluence of the Liffey and the Poddle was thus particularly marshy. Pretty much all of what was reclaimed in the 17th century as Temple Bar was once marsh or estuarine mud. Basically, the Liffey was in effect a lot wider, and a river called the Poddle used to visually exist.

Point 6: Exchange Dublin, or at least the site of it, used to front onto a river.

Two rivers, actually, or the confluence of the Poddle and the Liffey. If you can imagine that the Liffey was wide and its banks were boggy and reedy, and the not-insignificant Poddle was stumbling the final few hundred feet from a lake to meet up with it, then you can probably get a picture of how much further back you had to go to actually build.

Viking, pleased to have found a river confluence.

Point 7: Vikings like river confluences.

They’re protected on two sides by water, so they only have to defend the inland side. In Dublin, conveniently, the inland side of the Liffey-Poddle confluence happens to feature a large hill, the beginning of a trans-national ridge traditionally called the Esker Riada. They built a fort on it.

Point 8: Not everyone can live in a fort.

Time Team-style excavations at Exchange Street revealed the existence of what are called, in technical, boring, Wood Quay-era archaeological parlance, Wallace Type 1 houses. They more than likely date from the mid-to-late ninth century. That’s the 800s.

Point 9: The Vikings founded Dublin in the 800s to have somewhere to park their boats and rest while they harassed anyone who had something worth taking.

In 841, actually. Not 988, as the city authorities tried to make everyone believe in order to stir up tourist revenue. Something did happen in Dublin in 988 – it submitted, not for the first time, to an Irish king – but it definitely wasn’t founded. In 841, as far as we can tell given that the Vikings didn’t have much time for writing themselves, a bunch of Scandinavians parked their boats at the Liffey-Poddle confluence and built houses.

Point 9: Can you see what I’m getting at yet? Are you still reading? Or scrolling to see where it’s going, at least?

We could call the guy who built a Wallace Type 1 house at the Liffey-Poddle confluence Olaf or Sitric, but for the sake of poetry and personal preference we will give him another popular Hiberno-Norse name, Iarnknee (iron-knee). It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that young Iarnknee, having been overpopulated out of Scandinavia, decided to join a fleet to make a living taking livestock and treasure from the foolishly underarmoured Irish and their embarrassingly over-endowed priests.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Iarnknee was on such a boat in 841 when his superiors for whatever reason decided it would be a good idea to over-winter at the as yet non-location that became Dublin. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, is what I’m saying, that Iarnknee was one of the founders of Dublin, and that his house was one of the first civilian dwellings in the history of the city.

Conclusion: Exchange Dublin is where Dublin started.

I uttered this sentence, in this form, a few weeks ago in Exchange and the people who were there at the time initially thought I was being all Goebbelsy about how great the place was. I wasn’t. It’s not all that unlikely that Dublin literally did start roughly where Exchange is. Which is kind of cool to think about.

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5 responses to “Things don’t start when you show up and stop when you leave #1: Exchange Dublin

  1. wow, this is much better than my HRO post.

    of course I knew this all from college, except for the Camac which I never remember hearing of in my life before. I do remember what Joyce said of the Poddle, because I used it in a presentation on the modern city in literature (or the city in modern literature, I never worked out which): “From its sluice in Wood quay wall under Tom Devan’s office Poddle river hung out in fealty a tongue of liquid sewage.” (Wandering Rocks, Ulysses) The fealty was to the viceroy, but the point was the anthropomorphization and symbolism of the old (not that Joyce probably knew how old, specifically) city in literature.

    One point: your conclusion could simply be based on the fact that the area of the Exchange was a strategic point, on which the Vikings most likely first built, as evidenced by the house found there. No need for any irony.

  2. Well, it started about the Exchange, so maybe it ends like that for that reason and also to avoid ending up in a scholarly debate with myself over Howard Clarke’s “Ath Cliath/Dubh Linn” and “Longphort” and the general “everyone ran away until 917” thing. Also the whole thing was kinda spurred on by that weird moment in Exchange.

    Or do you mean the late introduction of young Iarnknee? No way I was doing a post this long about Viking Dublin without getting someone, even hypothetical, called Iarnknee in there.

  3. So weird to start reading this and see my gaff by the Tolka in the pic above. Great read Karl, makes Medieval Dublin way more interesting than you give yourself credit for! It really does flip my mind a bit to think there was nothing but some marshes til those boats drew up. I laughed out several times and really didn’t see what you were getting at til the last few lines, love how neatly it came together. The Vikings probably enjoyed a bit of music to pass the evenings too.

  4. This is really interesting. Yay for historical nerdism! But it’s definitely very well written.

  5. Deadly post. Did you ever see Cities Of The Underworld: Viking Underground? I got a torrent of it. It is hilarious, has footage from the Poddle and some other deadly footage but the narrative is just mental. You should check it out if ya ever get the change.

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