10 Things You May Never Have Known About Dublin


The Gaelic name for Dublin is ‘Baile Atha Cliath’ which translates literally as ‘town of the hurdle ford’, a description of the bank of wooden hurdles built up across the river Liffey by the Vikings. The word ‘Dublin’ is actually a composition of two Gaelic words: ‘dubh’ meaning ‘black’ and ‘linn’ means ‘pool’ (or ‘mire’). Thus the literal translation of the words from which Dublin gets its name is Black pool!
Crossing the ‘hurdle ford’ was not without its dangers. In 770 AD a band of Bon Valley raiders were drowned crossing the Liffey at the hurdle ford.


The famous victory by Brian Boru over the Vikings at Clontarf in the year 1014 marked the end of the Viking raids on Ireland. By this time however, the Vikings had already begun to assimilate into, and make their mark on Gaelic society.

One such Viking was Sitric Silkenbeard, the King of Dublin. Despite the reputation of the Vikings Silkenbeard was a devout Christian and was responsible for the founding of the famous Christchurch Cathedral at the top of Dame Street in Dublin City Centre. His reign saw the first coins ever minted in Ireland. They bore his image on one side and a cross on the other. He remained in power until 1036 and spent the last of his days on the island of Iona, Scotland.


The sixteenth century saw a fierce rivalry develop between the Butlers and Fitzgeralds. Violent clashes between the two groups were commonplace with one such melee occurring in 1512. Butler, the Earl of Ormond retreated and was forced to take refuge in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. He barricaded himself behind a stout wooden door and refused to leave until he got assurances for his safety. After some negotiation a deal was struck. In order to seal the deal a hole was hacked through the wooden door so that the two leaders could shake hands. It is thought that the modern expression ‘chancing your arm’ originated from this event. From that time on a ‘chancer’ was someone who took a risk or a gamble. The hole in the door can still be seen to this day.


In 1924 the main street in Dublin City had its name changed from Sackville Street to O’Connell Street, in honour of ‘The Liberator’. This change had for long been resisted by the English Vice-Chancellor, Chatterton, who prevented Dublin Corporation from granting the wish of the vast majority of Dubliners. Not to be outdone, the local citizenry opted to use the new name in spite of the lack of official recognition.
Dublin Corporation joined into the spirit of things by allowing the ‘Sackville’ street signs to deteriorate and even threatened to rename a street where prostitutes were known to frequent as ‘Chatterton Street’.
The creation of the Free State in 1922 finally allowed for the official transformation of Sackville Street into O’Connell Street.


Kilmainham Jail near Inchicore in Dublin was originally built on a site known as ‘Gallows Hill’. A jail had existed on the site since the year 1210 but was in such neglect that it was demolished and rebuilt in 1796. By the time of the 1798 rebellion the jail was overcrowded but further development did not take place until 1863. Many famous Irish famous historical figures were imprisoned there including Robert Emmett, Charles Stewart Parnell, Padraig Pearse, Countess Markievicz and Eamon DeValera. The prison was closed down in 1924 and is now a museum heritage site, a national monument.


The early part of the twentieth century was a magical time for Irish literature. Yeats, O’Casey and Synge were prominent in the famous Abbey Theatre while Dublin provided no less than three Nobel prizewinners. James Joyce was born in Rathgar although there are twenty houses in Dublin city that claim him as an occupant, owing to his family constantly moving about during his early years. His most famous work is Ulysses. Dubliners still celebrate ‘Bloomsday’ every year, named after his most famous fictional character Leopold  Bloom. George Bernard Shaw was another Dubliner who won the famous Novel prize, renowned for ‘Pygmalion’ on which the movie ‘My Fair Lady’ is based. Dubliner Samuel Beckett also won a Nobel, and is perhaps most remembered for writing ‘Waiting for Godot’.


The 1907 theft of the ‘Irish Crown Jewels’ still remains a mystery nearly a century later. The famous regalia of the ‘Order of Saint Patrick’ were to be placed in a safe in a strongroom in Dublin Castle but, when it was found that the new safe was too large to fit into the strongroom the safe was located in the Library instead.
An inspection of the safe in July revealed that the treasure had disappeared. The haul was valued at 30,000 pounds, a huge sum at the time and has never been recovered.


The famous Atmospheric Railway was opened in 1844. The line ran from Dalkey to nearby Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) on the southside of the city. This unique system relied on atmospheric pressure to force the railway carriage up the hill to Dalkey and then relied on gravity for the return to Kingstown.

A 483 yard pipe ran the length of the track from which air was extracted by a steam-driven pump at the Dalkey end. The resulting vacuum caused a piston to move along the pipe, to which was connected the train. Wax-covered flaps in the pipe opened and closed allowing the piston to move along its length. As the train moved along a wheel pressed down on the pipe sealing in the vacuum as progress was made. Problems with this system meant a man had to follow the train to manually seal the flaps.

Momentum from the journey would allow the train to travel the final part of its journey when the pump had been stopped. The piston was then hooked onto the train for the return journey back to Kingstown.  If the train stopped short of the station the third-class passengers were required to push the carriage the final part home. Occasionally the train would fly past the Dalkey station and off the tracks at the far end.

The system worked well for a decade but was eventually abandoned because of the problems with sealing the vacuum flaps and because of developments with steam-driven engines. The grease and wax that was used on the flaps was also a great attraction for rats who caused repeated damage to the line. The tunnel that was constructed along the line only offered 3 inches of head clearance making it a tricky proposition passengers sticking their heads out of the windows!


The part of Dublin city just off Clanbrasil Street has for centuries been known as ‘The Blackpits’. The origin of this name is unclear. One theory suggests it is so named because of the large number of dead who were placed there during the ‘Black Death’. Another suggestion alludes to the black vats used by tanners during the eighteenth century.


The General Post Office in Dublin was first opened in 1818. A suggestion that the building be used as a Catholic Cathedral was rejected by the authorities as they did not want a religious institution in such a prominent place in the city.

The building was to gain international prominence however, when it was seized during the ‘Easter Rising’ of 1916. The rebellion, which was led by Padraig Pearse, was very much centered at the GPO which was gutted during the battle that ensued.

It was rebuilt during the 1920′s but several of the original bullet-holes from the Rising were left untouched, as a reminder of the turbulent history of perhaps the worlds most famous post office.

35 things you never knew about Dublin

by David Carey

1. Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge was originally made of rope and could only carry one man and a donkey at a time. It was replaced with a wooden structure in 1801. The current concrete bridge was built in 1863 and was first called ‘Carlisle Bridge’. 2. O’Connell Bridge is the only traffic bridge in Europe which is wider than it is long and Dublin’s second O’Connell Bridge is across the pond in St. Stephen’s Green.

3. Dublin Corporation planted 43,765 deciduous trees in the Greater Dublin area in 1998.
4. Dublin’s oldest workhouse closed its doors for the last time in July 1969. Based in Smithfield, the premises housed 10,037 orphan children during the one hundred and seventy years it operated. 

 5. Dublin was originally called ‘Dubh Linn’ meaning ‘Black Pool’. The pool to which the name referred is the oldest known natural treacle lake in Northern Europe and currently forms the centrepiece of the penguin enclosure in Dublin Zoo.

6. None of the so-called Dublin Mountains are high enough to meet the criteria required to claim mountain status. The Sugarloaf is the tallest ‘Dublin Mountain’ yet measures a mere 1389 feet above sea level. 

 7. The headquarters of the national television broadcaster, RTE, in Montrose, was originally built for use as an abattoir.

8. Dublin’s oldest traffic lights are situated beside the Renault garage in Clontarf. The lights, which are still in full working order, were installed in 1893 outside the home of Fergus Mitchell who was the owner of the first car in Ireland. 

 9. The Temple Bar area is so called because it housed the first Jewish temple built in Ireland. The word ‘bar’ refers to the refusal of Catholics to allow the Jewish community to enter any of the adjoining commercial premises. 

 10. Tiny Coliemore Harbour beside the Dalkey Island Hotel was the main harbour for Dublin from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century.

11. Dublin is the IT Call Centre capital of Europe with over 100,000 people employed in the industry.

12. In 1761 a family of itinerants from Navan were refused entry to Dublin. The family settled on the outskirts of the city and created the town of Rush. Two hundred and fifty years later, a large percentage of the population of Rush can still trace their roots back to this one family. 

 13. Dubliners drink a total of 9800 pints an hour between the hours of 5.30pm on a Friday and 3.00am the following Monday.

14. Dublin is Europe’s most popular destination with traveling stag and hen parties. 

 15. Harold’s Cross got it’s name because a tribe called the ‘Harolds’ lived in the Wicklow Mountains and the Archbishop of Dublin would not let them come any nearer to the city than that point.

16. Leopardstown was once known as Leperstown.

17. The average 25-year-old Dubliner still lives with his/her parents.

18. Three radio stations attract over 90% of all listeners in the Dublin area.

19. There are twelve places called Dublin in the United States and six in Australia.


20. Buck Whaley was an extremely wealthy gambler who lived in Dublin in the seventeen hundreds. Due to inheritances, he had an income of seven thousand pounds per year (not far off seven million a year at today’s prices). He lived in a huge house near Stephen’s Green which is now the Catholic University of Ireland. He went broke and he had to leave Ireland due to gambling debts. He swore he’d be buried in Irish soil but is in fact buried in the Isle of Man in a shipload of Irish soil which he imported for the purpose. 

 21. The converted Ford Transit used for the Pope’s visit in 1979 was upholstered using the most expensive carpet ever made in Dublin. The carpet was a silk and Teflon weave and rumoured to have cost over IR£950.00 per square meter.

22. There was once a large statue of Queen Victoria in the Garden outside Leinster House. It was taken away when the Republic of Ireland became independent and in 1988 was given as a present to the city of Sydney, Australia to mark that city’s 200th anniversary.

23. The largest cake ever baked in Dublin weighed a whopping 190 lb’s and was made to celebrate the 1988 city millennium. The cake stood untouched in the Mansion House until 1991 when it was thrown out.

24. Strangers are more likely to receive a drink from Dubliners than from a native of any other County.

25. There are forty-six rivers in Dublin city. The river flowing through Rathmines is called the River Swan (beside the Swan Centre). The Poddle was once known as the ‘Tiber’ and was also known as the River Salach (dirty river), which is the origin of the children’s song ‘Down by the river Saile’. It is also the river whose peaty, mountain water causes the Black Pool mentioned above.

26. Saint Valentine was martyred in Rome on February 28th eighteen centuries ago. He was the Bishop of Terni. His remains are in a Cask in White Friar Street Church, Dublin. He is no longer recognised as a Saint By the Vatican.


27. The statue originally in Dublin’s O’Connell Street (but now moved to the Phoenix Park) is commonly known as the ‘Floozy in the Jacuzzi’ while the one at the bottom of Grafton Street is best known as the ‘Tart with the Cart’. The women at the Ha’Penny bridge are the ‘Hags with the bags’ and the Chimney Stack with the new lift in Smithfield Village’s now called the ‘Flue with the View’. The short lived millennium clock that was placed in the River Liffey in 1999 was known as ‘the chime in the slime’.

28. Montgomery Street was once the biggest red-light district in Europe with an estimated 1600 prostitutes. It was known locally as the ‘Monto’ and this is the origin of the song ‘Take me up to Monto’.

29. Henry Moore, Earl of Drogheda lived in Dublin in the Eighteenth century. His job was naming streets. He called several after himself. Henry Street, Moore Street, Earl Street, Drogheda Street. Drogheda Street later became Sackville Street and is now O’Connell Street.

30. Nelson’s Pillar was blown up in 1966 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1916 rising. It now lies in a heap in a valley in County Wicklow.

31. Leinster House in Dublin was originally built as a private home for the Duke of Leinster. At that time, the most fashionable part of Dublin was the North Side and he was asked why he was building on the South Side. He said ‘Where I go, fashion follows me!’ …..and to this day the most fashionable part of Dublin is the South Side.

32. Tallaght is one of the oldest placenames in Ireland and it means ‘The Plague cemetery’.

33. There are seven areas in Dublin whose names end in the letter ‘O’. Fewer than one Dubliner in 20,000 can name them off by heart. They are: Rialto, Marino, Portobello, Phibsboro, Monto, Casino and Pimlico.

34. Kevin Street Garda Station was once the Palace of the Archbishop Of Dublin.

35. The original name of Trinity College was ‘Trinity College Near Dublin’. The capital was a lot smaller then.

Best wishes from Van Demons Land!
David Carey. (In Australia but from Limerick!)