Rutland Square

Bartholomew Mosse

Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) is the oldest Georgian square in Dublin. In 1748, Surgeon Bartholemew Mosse leased a four-acre and one rood plot described as ‘a piece of waste ground, with a pool in the hollow, and a few cabins on the slopes’ at the top of Sackville (now O’Connell) Street. Here he established the world’s first purpose-built maternity hospital designed by Richard Castle for Dublin’s poor to ensure fewer mothers and babies died during childbirth and it opened in 1757.

James Malton. Lying-In Hospital Dublin. 1795. The Art Institute of Chicago. 

To the east, the Rotunda Assembly Rooms (the former Ambassador cinema) were added, designed in 1764 by John Ensor and which led to the hospital becoming known as the Rotunda. To the north, the New Assembly Rooms containing a tea room, supper room (now the Gate Theatre) and ballroom were built in 1784.

Excerpt from John Rocque’s 1756 map of Dublin City

The most distinctive feature of the square was that the centre did not contain a park for the use of its residents. The ‘New Gardens’ designed by Robert Stevenson and opened in 1749 were public gardens and used as a means of raising funds for the hospital. They were the equivalent of London’s Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens, laid out with lawns, an elm tree-lined bowling green with a coffee room on the south side and winding pathways on the north side and pavilions where entertainments, theatrical performances and concerts were offered to paying patrons. According to according to an 1821 history by George Newenham Wright the gardens were established:

“…For the purpose of holding Sunday evening promenades, for the benefit of that establishment. Those entertainments were continued for many years, to the great advantage of the funds of the hospital, until the Association for discountenancing Vice petitioned the governors of the charity to suppress this immoral proceeding; since which the gardens have only been opened on the other evenings in the week during the summer season: on those occasions, one and sometimes two military bands attend, and play from eight to ten o clock, while the persons admitted promenade along a terrace in front of the orchestra, eighteen perches in length; the walk round the entire square, inside, measures 1 fur. 35 per. The interior, which is thickly planted with full grown elms and close underwood, on promenade evenings is brilliantly illuminated with festoons of variegated lamps and other fanciful decorations; and lately, singers have been introduced to amuse in the intervals between the different airs called for by the visiters.–The receipts of one evening, at this place of amusement, have been known to amount to upwards of 20 l. which is an enormous sum, if we consider the moderate price of admission, five pence each.”

James Malton. Rotunda and New Rooms. 1795. The Art Institute of Chicago. 

The success of the pleasure gardens led to the surrounding plots becoming highly desirable as residences for the rich and terraces of Georgian townhouses on Cavendish Street (later Cavendish Row) to the east of Dr Mosse’s plot, Granby Row to the west and Palace Row to the north, were laid out between 1753 and 1785 on plots leased from Luke Gardiner and further developments were added to the north and west. In 1784, an Act of Parliament was passed to remove the wall surrounding the gardens, and introduce railings and street lighting. The square was officially renamed in honour of Charles Manners, fourth Duke of Rutland and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in 1785 under a further Act of Parliament:

“…For the completing and effectually lighting and watching Rutland Square, and for the better support and maintenance of the hospital for the relief of poor lying-in women in Great Britain Street, Dublin, and for other purposes therein mentioned.”

Charlemont House – now The Hugh Lane Gallery – Rwxrwxrwx, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The most significant property was Charlemont House designed by Sir William Chambers in 1763 for the Earl of Charlemont and built at the centre of the square’s north side. In the 1870s, the house was bought by the government and used as the Irish General Register and Census Offices and is now The Hugh Lane Gallery. Also on this side are the Dublin Writers Museum and the Irish Writers’ Centre. The Gothic Revival Findlater’s Church (Abbey Presbyterian Church) was erected in the 1860s by Alexander Findlater, at his own expense, and presented to the Presbyterian congregation. According to George Newenham Wright:

“The houses around this square are all noble structures; amongst them are those of Lord Charlemont, Lord Wicklow, Lord Longford, the Countess of Ormond, the Earl of Bective, the Earl of Farnham, and several others.”

The rear of the Rotunda Hospital c1907. National Library of Ireland on The Commons. 

The name of the square was changed to Parnell Square in honour of Charles Stewart Parnell at a quarterly meeting of Dublin City Council on 3 April 1933.

The Rotunda Gardens. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

The square is now home to the Garden of Remembrance, the national site commemorating the 1916 Easter Rising which led to the foundation of the Irish State.

Rutland Square in 1885

© Lorna Peel

Dublin, Ireland, October 1885. The fragile peace within the Fitzgerald family is threatened when Dr Jacob Smythe becomes one of Will’s patients, angering his mother. But in attending to the elderly gentleman’s needs, Will inadvertently reunites Sarah with an old adversary and Isobel discovers she and Dr Smythe have an unexpected and tragic connection.  

When Alfie receives a card on his twenty-ninth birthday, the recognisable handwriting and cryptic message shatters his hard-won personal contentment. Has a figure hoped long gone from his life returned to Dublin to wreak a cruel mischief on all those who banished him? Is Alfie’s ambition of becoming a doctor about to be derailed when he has less than a year left at Trinity College?

Read an excerpt from Chapter One…

Doctors Fitzgerald senior and Smythe were the last to present for surgery on Monday. Dr Smythe was a great deal thinner and frailer than when Will had seen him last.

“Would you like me to stay, Jacob?” Will’s father asked, sitting him down in the chair in front of Will’s desk.

“Yes, John, if you would, please,” Dr Smythe replied and Will lifted a second chair from a corner of the room, placed it beside the first and his father sat down.

“Your father thinks I’m descending into senility,” Dr Smythe informed him as Will retook his seat behind the desk.

“Do you agree with him?” Will asked and Dr Smythe pursed his lips for a moment before shrugging. “Well, would you mind if I asked you some questions?”

“No, not at all.”

“Do you know what day it is today and the date?”

“Today is Monday but I’m afraid the date eludes me.”

“And do you know what my name is?”

“Dr Edward Fitzgerald,” Dr Smythe replied promptly, naming Will’s grandfather, and Will shot a glance at his father who winced and looked away.

“And the Prime Minister – what is his name?” Will asked and Dr Smythe began to count off the names of various Prime Ministers on his fingers.

“The Duke of Wellington… No, far too long ago… Could be Melbourne… No, he’s dead a long while. I know it’s not Peel or Palmerston and it’s not Gladstone…” Dr Smythe tailed off, pursing his lips before suddenly thumping a fist on the desk. “It is Mr Disraeli,” he proclaimed with a firm nod.

The Marquess of Salisbury had succeeded Mr Gladstone as Prime Minister in June. Mr Disraeli had last been Prime Minister in 1880 and he had died the following year but Will gave Dr Smythe an encouraging smile all the same.

“If you were to walk home from the Journal offices, which route would you take?”

Dr Smythe raised his pale blue eyes to the ceiling and pondered the question for a few moments. “I wouldn’t walk, I would take a cab,” he stated and Will couldn’t help but admire his ingenuity in evading an answer.

“Well, what is the address you would give to the cabman?” Will added and Dr Smythe sighed and shook his head.

“A square… It’s across Carlisle Bridge and beyond Sackville Street…”

Carlisle Bridge was now O’Connell Bridge and those of a Nationalist persuasion were now referring to Sackville Street as O’Connell Street but at least Dr Smythe would be heading in the right direction.

“How is your appetite?”

“Rather small. Extremely small, in fact. My cook does her best but…” Dr Smythe tailed off again and Will nodded.

“Will you consent to me taking a medical history and giving you an examination, Dr Smythe?”

“An examination? If all these infernal questions haven’t been an examination, then I don’t know what one is.”

“A physical examination,” Will clarified.

“Whatever for? John promised me this would be no more than a chat.”

“When you practised medicine and a new patient presented him or herself and you were concerned for their wellbeing, what did you do?”

“Take a medical history and examine them,” Dr Smythe replied promptly before slumping back in his chair. “Oh, blast it, very well.”

Will took as much of Dr Smythe’s medical history as the elderly gentleman could remember before giving him a full physical examination. He sat down and made notes of the results while his father helped his friend back into his clothes.

“Your pulse and respiratory rate are all normal for a man of your age,” Will began as Dr Smythe and Will’s father retook their seats. “But I don’t think I need to tell you that you are too thin and your memory gives me great cause for concern.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“That you engage a nurse and—”

“A nurse?” Dr Smythe roared and Will and his father jumped. “I don’t need a nurse.”

“Yes, you do,” Will replied firmly. “Today’s date is November 2nd 1885, the Marquess of Salisbury is the Prime Minister and you live at number 8 Rutland Square.”

“Rutland Square,” Dr Smythe whispered to himself. “Of course.”

“Dr Smythe, you need to engage a nurse whether you like it or not.”

“You think my memory will deteriorate further?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Will’s father replied and Dr Smythe turned to him. “I have noticed a sharp deterioration, even in the past two months, which is why I brought you to Will.”

“Will?” Dr Smythe peered at him with a perplexed frown. “But I thought you were Dr Edward Fitzgerald?”

“He was my late grandfather,” Will explained. “I am Dr Will Fitzgerald.”

“Dr Edward Fitzgerald,” Dr Smythe muttered. “Yes. Tall, like you and your father. But,” Dr Smythe pointed a long forefinger at Will, “you’re the spit of him, you know?”

“Am I?” Will looked from Dr Smythe to his father who smiled and nodded.

“You were named after Surgeon William Crawford, your mother’s father but, yes, you’re the spit of my father. Jacob,” Will’s father turned in his seat and laid a hand on Dr Smythe’s arm, “you need a nurse and you need to engage one now.”

“While I still have the mental faculties to do so,” Dr Smythe concluded and Will and his father nodded.

“I’m afraid I must ask you this, Jacob,” Will’s father continued. “How much savings do you have in the bank?”

“Oh…” Dr Smythe tailed off and gazed up at the ceiling. “I have approximately two hundred pounds.”

Approximately two hundred pounds would not purchase food, coal and clothing and pay Will’s fees and the wages of a nurse, a butler-come-valet and a cook-housekeeper for long. Meeting his father’s eyes, Will knew he was thinking the same.

“It will suffice for the present,” his father said then looked away and Will could all but hear him add silently: But we must urgently think of a way of generating an income for you.

“It’s not in the bank,” Dr Smythe announced suddenly and Will’s jaw dropped. “My savings are not in the bank.”

“Where is the money, Jacob?” Will’s father asked and Dr Smythe smiled.

“It’s safe.”

“Safe where?”

“In a box on the floor of my wardrobe,” Dr Smythe replied and Will immediately thought of the jewellery safe on the floor of Isobel’s wardrobe.

“Jacob, I am going to take charge of the box,” Will’s father told him gently and Dr Smythe exhaled a long sigh of relief. “And I will discuss the household spending with the Macallisters as well as their wages.”

“That is very good of you, John.”

“Not at all, Jacob,” Will’s father said then nodded to Will to continue.

“An advertisement will be placed in the newspapers,” he informed Dr Smythe. “And to ensure the utmost discretion, the responses will come here to the practice house. My colleague Dr Barton is also a qualified nurse and she and I will pass on the most suitable responses to you and you will make the final decision as to who you engage.”

“At Trinity College, I could memorise the essential points from a chapter of a textbook in less than half an hour.” Dr Smythe smiled sadly. “Now, I am about to choose a nurse to care for me in my dotage.”

Will couldn’t help but feel a sharp stab of pity for the elderly gentleman. Opening a desk drawer, he reached for a pen, a bottle of ink and a sheet of notepaper. Opening the bottle, he dipped the nib into the ink and wrote:

My name is Dr Jacob Smythe.

My address is number 8 Rutland Square.

My physician is Dr William Fitzgerald. His practice house is at number 28 Merrion Street Upper. He resides at number 30 Fitzwilliam Square.

My employer and friend is Dr John Fitzgerald. He is editor of the Journal of Irish Medicine. The offices are located at number 6 Hume Street. He resides at number 67 Merrion Square.

“Take this,” he said, blotting the sheet of notepaper and passing it to Dr Smythe.

Dr Smythe read the reminders and showed them to Will’s father who nodded.

“An excellent idea.” He folded the sheet in half and half again before placing it in the inside pocket of Dr Smythe’s frock coat. “But I will accompany Jacob home and speak to Macallister.”

And instruct him not to allow his master to leave the house unaccompanied, Will finished silently.

“In a week, I hope to have some responses for your perusal,” he said and the three men got up.

“Thank you, Dr Fitzgerald,” Dr Smythe replied, holding out a hand.

“You’re very welcome, Dr Smythe,” Will replied with a smile and shook it before showing him and his father out of the practice house. He closed and locked the front door and went into the office. “Eva, I need to find a nurse for Dr Smythe as quickly as possible so I will be placing an advertisement in the newspapers,” he informed the practice secretary. “The responses will be coming here and Dr Barton and I will assess them.”

“Yes, Dr Fitzgerald.”

“I have the odds and ends of his medical history and my notes from his physical examination. I’ll fetch them for you so you can open a new patient file.”

That afternoon, Will placed an advertisement in The Irish Times, the Freeman’s Journal and the Dublin Evening Mail and it appeared in the following day’s editions.

WANTED: An experienced nurse to attend to an elderly gentleman with senile decay. Application by letter, to be made to Dr William Fitzgerald, 28 Merrion Street Upper, Dublin.

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

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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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