The Liberties of Dublin


Dublin in 1610

The Liberties is an area in Dublin, Ireland, located to the southwest of the city centre, and is one of Dublin’s most historic districts. In the 12th century, King Henry II of England ordered the Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr to be built on a site close to where St Catherine’s Church on Thomas Street stands today. The abbey’s Augustinian monks were granted lands to the west of the walled city and were also granted privileges and powers to control trade within their ‘liberty’. The Liberty of St Thomas Court and Donore became very wealthy and the abbey gave its name to St Thomas Street, which runs along the ancient western route into the city of Dublin. 

St Catherine's Church

St Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street

Following the dissolution of monasteries in the 16th century, the abbey lands passed into the ownership of William Brabazon. The Brabazons, who later became Earls of Meath, were landlords in the Liberties for the next three centuries.

Cork Street Fever Hospital

Cork Street Fever Hospital

In the late 17th century, construction began on houses for the weavers who were moving into the area. Settlers from England were involved in the woollen industry, while many French Huguenots’ trade was silk weaving. They built their own traditional style of gable-fronted houses in the Liberties, known as Dutch Billies.


Dutch Billy on Kevin Street

English woollen manufacturers felt threatened by the growing Irish industry and heavy duties were imposed on Irish wool exports. The Navigation Act was passed to prevent the Irish from exporting to colonial markets and then, in 1699, the Wool Act was passed which prevented any exports whatsoever. This put an end to the woollen industry in the Liberties and, coupled with economic decline which set in after the Act of Union in 1801, many of the once-prosperous houses became poverty-stricken tenements. This prompted a number of housing developments by the Earls of Meath and the Guinness and Power families in the late 19th century. Modern houses were built for workers on Gray Street and John Dillon Street by the Dublin Artisan Dwelling Company and the Iveagh Trust Buildings on Patrick Street were the first flats built for Dubliners.



During the 18th and 19th centuries, brewers and distillers moved into the Liberties, most notably the Guinness family who, in 1759, established the world’s largest brewery at St James’ Gate. Powers and Jameson also established distilleries in the Liberties, and the area had its own harbour linking it to the Grand Canal, and a mini-railway through the St James’ Gate brewery.


Guinness’ Brewery

Today, the Liberties retains its distinctive character and its evocative street names, such as Weaver Square, Engine Alley, Cross Stick Alley and Marrowbone Lane. If you’re on a visit to Dublin, make sure you visit the Liberties.

© Lorna Peel


Dublin, Ireland, 1880. Tired of treating rich hypochondriacs, Dr Will Fitzgerald left his father’s medical practice and his home on Merrion Square to live and practise medicine in the Liberties. His parents were appalled and his fiancée broke off their engagement. But when Will spends a night in a brothel on the eve of his best friend’s wedding, little does he know that the scarred and disgraced young woman he meets there will alter the course of his life.

Isobel Stevens was schooled to be a lady, but a seduction put an end to all her father’s hopes for her. Disowned, she left Co Galway for Dublin and fell into prostitution. On the advice of a handsome young doctor, she leaves the brothel and enters domestic service. But can Isobel escape her past and adapt to life and the chance of love on Merrion Square? Or will she always be seen as a scarlet woman?


Read an Excerpt from Chapter Two…

At five minutes past five in the morning, he was called out to a woman experiencing a prolonged and difficult labour. Ten minutes later he was on the third floor of a tenement house being watched both anxiously and suspiciously by the mother-to-be and two neighbours. Their eyes widened as he lifted his stethoscope out of his medical bag and placed it over the mother-to-be’s abdomen. There was absolute silence from both inside and out as he listened for a heartbeat. The baby was most likely dead, poor little mite.

At a quarter past seven, the woman was breech delivered of a large baby boy. It was as he had feared – the child was dead. If only they had called him out sooner. If only…

Mrs Bell was cooking his breakfast when he returned to Brown Street and frowned when she saw his face.

“Delia Brennan’s baby was born feet first and dead,” he explained, and Mrs Bell crossed herself. “It was a boy and was dead before I got there. If only they had called me out sooner, but there’s no point in saying that now.” Lifting the kettle off the range, he poured some hot water into a bowl in the sink, added some cold water from a bucket and washed and scrubbed his hands.

“I was all set to ask you whether you had enjoyed the dinner last night.”

He gave her a little smile as he dried his hands. “It was pleasant enough.” And all the better for discovering he hadn’t been responsible for ‘Rose Green’ killing herself, he added silently.

“Good. Now you sit yourself down and eat this.” He sat at the table and she put a bowl of porridge down in front of him. “You can wash and shave afterwards.”

“Thank you.”

“That boy would have been Delia’s seventh.” Mrs Bell poured them each a cup of tea. “Tragic, but probably a blessing in disguise.”

“I suppose so, yes.”

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” his housekeeper mused, as he added milk and sugar to the porridge. “Delia’s been married seven years and she’s had a child every year. Maggie Millar, now, she’s been married donkey’s years and nothing.”

“George Millar drinks like a fish.”

“Could that be it?” she asked.

“It could be. It could be a lot of things.”

“Do you want children?” she added suddenly.

He grimaced. Sometimes she could come out with the most probing questions when he least expected them. “One day,” he replied. “I’m only thirty. I’ve plenty of time.”

“But don’t leave it too long, will you?”

“I need a wife first and they haven’t exactly been queuing up of late.”

“Did Amelia Belcher give you the eye last night?” Mrs Bell smiled.

“Yes, but I ignored it.”

“You told her that you were staying here. Take it or leave it.”

He nodded. “And she left it. And I’m relieved. I’m still battered and bruised after Cecilia.”

He finished his porridge and two slices of soda bread and marmalade, drank his tea, and went upstairs with a jug of warm water. When he had washed and shaved, he went into the surgery and lifted some notepaper out of his desk drawer.

Explore my blog for more excerpts, character profiles, and background information

A Scarlet Woman by Lorna Peel eBook Cover

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I’ve created a map of the Dublin area with locations which feature in The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series. As a few locations don’t exist anymore, some are approximate but I’ve been as accurate as I can. Tap/Click in the top right hand corner to open the map.


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(Book Cover): Mrs Langtry: Photo credit: The National Archives, ref. COPY1/373/215
(Book Cover): Gun Powder Office: Photo credit: National Library of Ireland on The Commons / No known copyright restrictions 
Dutch Billy on Kevin Street: Photo Credit: Lorna Peel
St Catherine’s Church, Thomas Street: Photo Credit: Lorna Peel
Pimlico: Photo Credit: Lorna Peel
Cork Street Fever Hospital: Photo Credit: Lorna Peel
Guinness Brewery: Photo Credit: jraffin on Pixabay used under Creative Commons CC0 1.0
Dublin in 1610: Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain Mark 1.0