Dublin City Morgue and Coroner’s Court

It was not until 1871 that Dublin had a morgue for the reception and housing of the unidentified dead or those who died in suspicious circumstances. Before then, inquests were held in various locations. Under the terms of the 1846 Coroner’s Act, a coroner could order that a dead body be deposited in the nearest public house until an inquest could be held, and if the proprietor refused he could be fined. Cool beer cellars were an ideal storage place and as time went on, it became common for publicans to keep marble tables in their cellars for post-mortem examinations. This legislation was not removed from the Irish statute books until 1962 which explains why many publicans to this day, especially in rural Ireland, are also undertakers.

The Sanitary Act 1866 gave impetus for the creation of a city morgue. The Act stated: Any Nuisance Authority may provide a proper place … for the reception of dead bodies for and during the time required to conduct any post-mortem examination ordered by the Coroner of the district or any constituted authority, and may make such regulations as they may deem fit for the maintenance, support, and management of such place. D.J. Dickinson, Secretary of Dublin Corporation’s Sanitary Department declared in Saunders’s News-Letter of 31 January 1866 that ‘the Corporation (sanitary department) lately erected a commodious dead-house in Fishamble Street for the reception of bodies found drowned, and a coroner’s room for holding inquests.’ The Dublin City Council Minutes of 29 March 1866 reveal the building, located in a corporation yard off Fishamble Street, had only been open a month when employees from a neighbouring business complained about ‘the noise being occasioned by the removal of bodies and from inquests held therein.’ Hopes that a back entrance could be knocked through to Winetavern Street came to nothing and the building was closed.

OS Map Dublin 1864. Tap/click the map to open a larger size in a new tab.

Flynn’s Livery Stables in Bass Place off Boyne Street, described by the newspapers as filthy and wretched, was used as a morgue and for inquests from at least November 1864 and continued to be used as such until 1871. According to the Warder and Dublin Weekly Mail of 24 June 1871 ‘remains were often left for days, amid surroundings repugnant to every idea of decency or reverence.’ The Irish Times of 9 June 1870 described it as a ‘discreditable den in a filthy stable lane’ and ‘being dark and dirty; there are not even light and conveniences to perform post-mortem operations; the air is stifling and odorous, hanging about the walls laden with the effluvia of a charnel house. No one ever entered that dead-house without feeling disgust and horror.’

OS Map Dublin 1864. Tap/Click to open a larger size in a new tab.

On Monday 25 September 1871, the Dublin City Morgue was opened in a substantial two-storey stone building purchased from a Mr Curwin on Marlborough Street just north of Eden Quay. According to The Irish Builder of 15 April 1871, the building was originally erected for the Dublin Savings Bank and following the bank’s relocation to Lower Abbey Street, the building was used as ‘a Temperance Hall, an Irish School, a Rechabite hall, a cheap restaurant (kept by a black man), an oil stores more recently, and now it is being fitted up by the Corporation as the “City Morgue” in which King Coroner will hold his inquests!’ The location attracted criticism from The Irish Times as it was in a highly-populated built-up area and would have a detrimental effect on property prices. James Cleary was appointed as caretaker and registrar and the building was to be in readiness at all times both day and night.

Thoms Directory 1873.

The Freeman’s Journal of 21 June 1871 commented ‘That very unpleasant, but still indispensable, requirement for a great city, a morgue or dead house, has at last been supplied. Up to the present time the corpses of unfortunate persons found drowned or dead in the streets were treated with the greatest neglect not to say indecency. The remains of persons thus deceased were deposited in an open shed, and the coroner’s inquests were held in taverns. To remove such a condition of things the Corporation have converted the old Savings Bank in Marlborough Street into a morgue. One of the lower rooms of the establishment has been fitted up in the same manner as that adopted in the celebrated Parisian institution. The bodies are to be laid on large slabs, and over them a gentle stream of water is to flow. Passing from this ghastly apartment, a fine room has been fitted up for holding coroner’s inquests. The room is supplied with a bench, jury-box, witness chair and the other requirements of a court of justice. Ample accommodation is also provided for the press. The alterations were conducted under the care of Mr Glynn, Clerk of Works to the Corporation, and reflect much credit on that gentleman.’

Thoms Directory 1887.

Despite the newspapers describing the new morgue as well-ventilated, the mortuaries and post-mortem room were separated from the courtroom above only by wooden floorboards and the city coroner Dr Nicholas C. Whyte frequently complained about the insanitary conditions as the odour from below, especially in warm weather, was almost unbearable. It was impossible to alter the building as there was no room for an extension.

OS Map Dublin 1892 – Tap/click the map to open a larger size in a new tab.

In 1902, a new Dublin City Coroner’s Court and City Morgue opened on Store Street and the Weekly Irish Times of 9 August reported ‘From a letter of Messers A. Armstrong & Co. in The Irish Times it appears the old morgue in Old Abbey Street is a condemned structure, and yet it is occupied by a caretaker, who as a matter of kindness and humanity is permitted to reside in it.’ The caretaker was fifty-year-old Annie Byrne. ‘Should it collapse and kill her, she would, of course, be promptly transferred to the new morgue but it might be more judicious not to wait till then’ the newspaper added. By 1904, the old morgue, along with the adjacent Mechanics Institute were purchased and incorporated into the old Abbey Theatre as an entrance to the stalls and balcony and a portion was used for dressing-rooms.

Fire Insurance map from 1893 created by London-based company, Charles E. Goad Ltd. Tap/click the map to open a larger version in a new tab.

W.B. Yeats wrote in August 1904 “I have just been down to see the work on the Abbey Theatre. It is all going very quickly and the company should be able to rehearse there in a month. The other day, while digging up some old rubbish in the Morgue, which is being used for dressing-rooms, they found human bones. The workmen thought they had lit on a murder, but the caretaker said, ‘Oh, I remember, we lost a body about seven years ago. When the time for the inquest came, it couldn’t be found.’”

The old Abbey Theatre. The Dublin City Morgue and Coroner’s Court was in one of the buildings to the rear of the theatre.

The purpose-built coroner’s court and morgue on Store Street was designed by the city architect Charles J McCarthy who had gone on a fact-finding tour of coroner’s courts in England. It contained a court with a public gallery, a jury box, retiring rooms and a waiting room for witnesses. The mortuaries and post-mortem room were separate and to the rear of the building. The viewing lobby was separated from the mortuaries by glass screens so jurors and others called upon to view the bodies on which inquests were being held could observe them without actually entering the mortuaries.

Dublin City Coroner’s Court.

The outdated morgue was demolished in 1999 and Dublin City Mortuary was housed in temporary accommodation until a new state-of-the-art City Mortuary came into use at Griffith Avenue, Whitehall in 2016. The building is shared with the Office of the State Pathologist.

The Coroner’s Court on Store Street, Dublin.

The Coroner’s Court still stands on Store Street. It was refurbished between 2008 and 2010 and an extension was added, providing improved facilities for staff and members of the public.

Dublin, Ireland, September 1886. Will is reacquainted with his former fiancée when his father’s close friend Dr Ken Wilson dies suddenly. On finding they have received the only invitation to the Wilson residence after the funeral, the Fitzgeralds witness the tensions between Cecilia, her mother and her in-laws and discover her hidden motive for wanting them present.

When Isobel is reunited with an old friend from Ballybeg, his shame at what he has done to survive hampers her attempts to bring him and Alfie together again. With an empty life and low expectations, can Peter regain his self-respect or are he and Alfie destined to be alone?

Read an excerpt from Chapter Six…

At a quarter to ten on Thursday morning, Will helped Isobel alight from a cab outside the City Morgue on Lower Marlborough Street and he paid the cabman. They went inside and he introduced himself to a clerk then chose two seats at the very back of the area reserved for members of the public to avoid having to sit anywhere near {spoiler} who was seated in the front row.

As they waited for the inquest to begin, he gazed across the room. The Coroner was seated at a raised desk at one end of a large table with the witness box at the other end. On either side of the table were seats for barristers and solicitors and to their rear was the jury box with a casting of the City Arms on the wall behind them.

After the jury was sworn, the kitchen maid was called first to give evidence. As she was being sworn, she burst into tears and was incomprehensible much to the Coroner’s frustration. He discharged her and asked for the young police constable who was sworn and deposed that his name was Patrick Egan and he was a constable at College Street Police Station. He had been on his way to report for duty when he heard screams and went to investigate but could add little else which Will attributed to the shock of what he discovered. The Coroner thanked the constable, discharged him and Will was called to the witness box.

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Dublin’s Pawn Shops

Pawnbroking has been practised for over 2,000 years. In China and Greece, it was practised long before Emperor Augustus set up the first pawn in Rome. Under Roman law, no man could pawn his furniture or farming tools. The interest rate was fixed at 3% per annum with up to three years allowed for goods to be redeemed.

Photo by William Murphy – Flickr – Streets Of Dublin – Brereton’s Pawn Shop, Capel Street. (CC BY-SA 2.0).

In 15th Century Italy, the popes established a system known as the ‘monte-de-piéte’ to help the poor with interest-free loans. In 1464, Pope Pius II changed the system to allow interest so the cost for overheads could be recovered. Moneylenders and goldsmiths from Genoa, Florence and Venice spread the system across Europe and introduced the familiar three balls outside their shops to advertise their premises. In Ireland, the first recorded mention of the pawn concerns Sir James Dillon’s waistcoat which was pawned for £10 in 1664.

Two men are standing behind the counter of a pawnbroker’s shop in London, examining some articles of clothing which have been brought in to pawn. Etching by George Cruikshank, 1836. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain.

Ten legally recognised pawnbrokers were operating in Dublin in 1786 and by 1830, the number had risen to almost 50. These numbers do not include the large numbers of illegal pawnbrokers which flourished in the back streets. There were 57 pawnbrokers by 1838, 48 in 1850 and 76 in 1870. Pawnshops were rarely put up for sale. They passed from generation to generation and were located in high-class areas with the pawnbroker and their family living on the premises.

Evening Telegraph 16 June 1904.

In 1872, the House of Commons passed the Pawnbrokers Act which was based on an earlier Irish law. Pledges for 10 shillings or less which were not redeemed in time became the pawnbroker’s property. Above 10 shillings, pledges could be redeemed up to the time of the sale to dispose of them, the sale being by means of a public auction. A new rate of interest was introduced at one halfpenny per month on two shillings or part of, on loans under £2. Above £2, the rate was one halfpenny per two shillings and sixpence or part of.

Shawled women waiting for the pawn shop to open in Dublin late 1800s or early 1900s. Pinterest.

In 1894, 17% of Dublin pawnbrokers were women. Margaret McNally guaranteed privacy and discretion at the First-Class Pawn Office located at 85 Marlborough Street where customers came for cash advances on a box of good cigars, a diamond necklace and share certificates. The luxury end of pawnbroking turned Margaret a tidy profit.

Winetavern Street in 1926 with P. Corvan Jewellers and Pawnbrokers shop on the left with a statue above holding the traditional balls symbol of the trade. Pinterest.

By the early 1900s, the pawn had become a way of life for Dublin’s poor as they struggled to survive. In an emergency, there was always the pawnbroker’s shop, where any portable item could be converted to cash with virtually no questions or paperwork. Almost anything could be pawned, including peoples’ Sunday best. Suits and dresses worn to mass on Sundays would be pawned on Mondays and redeemed on Fridays. Over time, many pawnshops stopped accepting clothing and almost all pawnbrokers’ business now comes from jewellery and other valuables.

The pawnbroker was an essential part of Dublin’s economy providing a vital service and preventing many people from falling into the hands of unscrupulous money lenders. Changes in social conditions, however, brought about their slow decline. Pawnbroker licences are issued by the National Consumer Agency. Currently, there are only three licensed brokers in the Republic of Ireland, all of them in Dublin: Kearns Pawnbrokers and Jewellers on Queen Street, Carthy Jewellers and Pawnbrokers on Marlborough Street and John Brereton Pawnbrokers on Capel Street.

Dublin, Ireland, September 1886. Will is reacquainted with his former fiancée when his father’s close friend Dr Ken Wilson dies suddenly. On finding they have received the only invitation to the Wilson residence after the funeral, the Fitzgeralds witness the tensions between Cecilia, her mother and her in-laws and discover her hidden motive for wanting them present.

When Isobel is reunited with an old friend from Ballybeg, his shame at what he has done to survive hampers her attempts to bring him and Alfie together again. With an empty life and low expectations, can Peter regain his self-respect or are he and Alfie destined to be alone?

Read an excerpt from Chapter Two…

Teresa was seated at the dining table and Isobel held up a hand as the maid went to get to her feet.

“Don’t get up,” she said, pulling out a chair and sitting beside her. “How long have you been lady’s maid to Mrs Ashlinn junior and Mrs Wilson?” she asked.

“I’ve been with Mrs Ashlinn six years. I was engaged when she and her late husband moved to number 46 shortly after their marriage. When Mr Ashlinn died, I went with Mrs Ashlinn to number 14 and a year later, I also became Mrs Wilson’s lady’s maid when her lady’s maid… left.”

Walked out, most likely, Isobel concluded.

“And are you also Master Clive’s nursery maid?” she continued and Teresa shook her head.

“No, I’ve never been Master Clive’s nursery maid, Mrs Fitzgerald. Mrs Ashlinn does everything for Master Clive and I help her whenever I can.”

“So a nursery maid has never been engaged for Master Clive at number 14?” Isobel clarified and the young woman shook her head again.

“No, never. Mrs Wilson refused to engage one because she hoped the hard work would make Mrs Ashlinn realise that Master Clive would be better off in an institution.”

Isobel fought to control her temper. “Teresa, Mrs Wilson has sent Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive’s belongings to my parents-in-law’s home – effectively disowning them. She also sent your belongings…”

“Dismissing me,” the young woman said quietly and Isobel nodded. “I’ve never been dismissed before.”

“You can either go to number 67 and remain with Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive or I can write you a character reference and you may stay here until you find a new position. Think it over while I help my husband put our children to bed.”

“Thank you, Mrs Fitzgerald, but I don’t need to think it over. I would like to remain with Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am. Being what he is, Master Clive is a handful but Mrs Ashlinn and I have been with him all his life and he trusts the two of us.”

“Very well. I must warn you that Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive’s future is rather uncertain at present but an acquaintance who is a barrister and my step-father who is a solicitor will be working on their behalf to attempt a resolution.”

“I hope they can because Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive deserve to be out of their clutches and—” Teresa broke off, flushed and stared down at her hands hoping she hadn’t said too much.

“‘Their’ being Mrs Wilson and Mr Alistair Ashlinn?” Isobel prompted gently.

“Yes. Did you like the dress, hat and veil Mrs Ashlinn junior wore today?”

Isobel frowned. The crepe dress, small hat and tulle veil were all stylish yet demure. “Yes, I did. Why do you ask?”

“Because they’re all hired,” Teresa replied and Isobel’s jaw dropped. “The morning Dr Wilson died, Mrs Wilson sent me out to hire mourning attire for Mrs Ashlinn after she heard Dr John Fitzgerald had called. I chose a tulle veil because I wanted the mourners to be able to see her face – to see what being in Mrs Wilson and Mr Alistair Ashlinn’s clutches has done to her.”

“Where does Mrs Ashlinn junior usually obtain clothes for herself and Master Clive?” Isobel asked quietly.

“Mrs Ashlinn hasn’t visited her dressmaker since her husband died because she hasn’t been allowed the funds to do so. Instead, I go to the clothes markets and pawn shops with what little she is given and then passes on to me. When she ‘stole’ and gave me an ornament to pawn, Mrs Wilson noticed it was gone – the old hag doesn’t miss anything – and she struck me, Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive – then made me retrieve it from the pawn shop. Mrs Ashlinn didn’t dare attempt it again. Now, I must go to number 67 and unpack her belongings.”

“Wait,” Isobel commanded as Teresa got up and the young woman sank back onto the chair. “I shall give you some clothes for Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive but compile a list of items they both need which can be purchased readymade – boys’ clothes – underclothing – nightshirts – nightdresses – boots – put them on the list and pass it to Mrs Fitzgerald senior or to me.”

“Yes, Mrs Fitzgerald. Mrs Ashlinn left the hired hat and veil behind at number 14 but what about the dress?”

“Who has the hire docket?”

“Mrs Wilson.”

“Then, keep the dress,” Isobel replied and Teresa grinned. “What I can’t understand is how Dr Wilson didn’t notice what was happening in his own home,” she added and the young woman’s grin faded.

“Mrs Wilson ruled the roost in the house, Mrs Fitzgerald. Mrs Wilson comes from a rich family and is good with money. Both Mrs Ashlinn and Master Clive are always dressed respectably – I see to that – I search for the best clothes. Yes, Dr Wilson knew Mrs Wilson and Mrs Ashlinn rowed but the rows were all about Master Clive. Everyone in the household knew from Dr Wilson that Master Clive would never get better but that for the present, Master Clive should be looked after at home. Poor Mrs Ashlinn dreaded the day her father would die.”

Because she knew Alistair Ashlinn would try to place the boy in an institution, Isobel finished silently.

“Thank you, Teresa. Please wait here while I put my children to bed and fetch some clothes. Gerald, our footman will then escort you to number 67.”

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The Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company

Corner of Pimlico and The Coombe. Photograph by William Murphy

The Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company was established in 1876 by a group of investors as a semi-philanthropic private venture to provide quality housing for the city’s working class who lived in appalling conditions but also as a profit-making business. Capital raised through shares and government loans was used to build cottages and houses.

Proposed DADC houses at Meath Place, off Pimlico

To keep costs under control and speed construction, a small number of common house designs was used across the DADC’s schemes. Type A, the simplest, was a two-roomed cottage with one fireplace and was in use from the early 1880s to the late 1890s. The Type E, a three-roomed (living room and two bedrooms) single-storey cottage was the most common of all house types constructed by the DADC and was used in at least sixteen schemes from 1883 to 1909.

Plans for DADC houses on Reginald Street and Reginald Square

In 1885, the DADC built sixteen houses and twelve cottages on the south side of what was then known as Tripoli and around the corner onto Pimlico. They range in scale from single-storey cottages in the central square to two-storey terraced houses on the perimeter. The two-bay red-brick houses had a pitched roof and a shared brick chimney stack with single square-headed openings on the first floor and arched openings on the ground floor and were originally fitted with timber single sash windows and timber panelled doors. Each house and cottage had its own mains water supply, its own back yard, a privy and a coalhouse. The rents, however, were too high for a general labourer and many of the houses and cottages were occupied by Guinness Brewery employees and Jacob’s factory workers.

DADC houses on what was known as Tripoli, now Pimlico, built 1885. Photograph from Google Street View. Tap/Click to open

World War One stopped building schemes and this halt continued well after the end of the war because of a rent strike but three schemes were built from 1929 to 1933. The basic dwelling was now an eight-roomed house with a kitchen, an indoor bathroom, front and back gardens and mains electricity.

Plan of DADC house to be built on The Coombe

The DADC was unwilling to develop further schemes after 1933 as local authorities were now providing working-class housing regardless of profitability. In 1961, the DADC began to sell off its houses and use the income to invest in commercial property. The last houses were sold in 1979 and the DADC, now called D.A.D. Properties Ltd was taken over by Rohan Holdings in 1984.

City of Dublin 1886, held by Ordnance Survey Ireland. © Public domain. Digital content: © Ordnance Survey Ireland, published by UCD Library, University College Dublin. Tap/Click to open

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 Four…

Two hours later, after a busy surgery, Will let himself into Bob’s house on Tripoli and left his hat and medical bag in the hall. He went into the parlour, lit a small oil lamp on the mantelpiece then glanced around the room. Two easy chairs stood on either side of the fireplace, one with a copy of the Freeman’s Journal lying on it and a laden bookcase stood against the opposite wall. Taking the lamp, he went into the living room, around the table and chairs and on into the scullery in an extension at the rear of the house. Noting the sink and the tap with water from the mains, he smiled to himself, recalling how he had gone out to the yard at the back of the house on Brown Street in all weathers to pump water into an enamel bucket for cooking, washing and cleaning.

Unlocking the back door, he went out to the concrete yard and tried the first of two doors at the rear of the extension. It opened into the coalhouse and he shut the door then opened the second and peered into the privy – another luxury he hadn’t had at the Brown Street house – and he nodded approvingly. Closing the door, he went inside and locked the back door. He placed the temporary surgery hours notice in the parlour window then went upstairs to Bob’s bedroom which was located at the front of the house as Will’s had been in the house on Brown Street.

The bedroom housed a large double bed with a brass bedstead and a mahogany bedside table, wardrobe, chest of drawers and corner washstand. Putting the oil lamp on the chest of drawers, he went to the wardrobe, took out a russet-coloured carpet bag and put it on the bed. He lifted Bob’s dressing gown down from the hook on the back of the door, folded it and placed it in the bag. He opened the top drawer of the chest of drawers but it contained shirts and collars so he went down to the next and the next, finding nightshirts folded neatly in the third drawer. He put two in the carpet bag and was closing the drawer when he saw the corner of something white protruding from under the chest of drawers.

Crouching down, he reached for it and pulled out a dainty lady’s cotton handkerchief edged with lace. Since moving out of the rooms next door to the surgery on Pimlico, once occupied by Jimmy and his late mother, Bob had continued to join Mrs Bell and Jimmy each evening for dinner. Other than that, Bob had not opted to engage Mrs Bell as his housekeeper and now Bob had a lady friend, Will could only assume the arrangement was unlikely to change. He put the handkerchief back under the chest of drawers, picked up the oil lamp and the carpet bag and went downstairs to the parlour. Extinguishing the lamp, he put it back on the mantelpiece then left the house and walked to Thomas Street in search of a cab.

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The Four Courts Marshalsea Debtors Prison

The Main Courtyard of the Four Courts Marshalsea (Debtors) Prison, Thomas Street, Dublin in 1860.

About one-third of the prison population in early nineteenth-century Ireland was made up of persons imprisoned by their creditors for debt. In 1818, 13,000 people were sent to prison with 6,600 being imprisoned for debt. The majority paid rent for their accommodation but increasing rates for rooms and food dashed their hopes of freedom and many spent the rest of their lives in prison.

City of Dublin 1847 held by Ordnance Survey Ireland. © Public domain. Digital content: © Ordnance Survey Ireland, published by UCD Library, University College Dublin.

The most important debtors prison in Ireland – the Four Courts Marshalsea – dated from the 1770s and was located off Marshal Lane (now Robert Emmet Close), off Bridgefoot Street, off Thomas Street in Dublin. Originally a remand prison for criminal trials in the Four Courts, it became a debtors prison for cases brought to the Court of King/Queen’s Bench (one of the Four Courts) from all over Ireland.

An 1809 plan of the prison.

The building was laid out around two courtyards which housed the prisoners’ rooms, guard room, tap room, a chapel and an infirmary. The prison Marshal’s house was in the upper yard along with accommodation for his deputy.

A ground plan of the prison.

The Pauper Building consisted of six rooms, each to contain eight persons. They were furnished with bedding for the reception of debtors unable to pay rent to the Marshal or provide furniture for themselves. In 1848, food for pauper debtors, as laid down by the rules of the court of Queen’s Bench, was 2 lbs (0.9 kg) of bread and 1 (UK) quart (2 pints or 1.13 litres) of new milk per day.

Marshalsea Barracks. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

The Four Courts Marshalsea was abolished by the Four Courts Marshalsea Discontinuance Act 1874, due to “the very small and diminishing number of persons in that prison, and to the very large prison staff in proportion to the number of prisoners.” It was then used as a barracks by the Dublin Militia. After 1922, it became a tenement until it fell into disuse. It was demolished in 1975 and some of the stone was used to repair the city wall at Cook Street.

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 a spoiler-free snippet from Chapter Six…

“[He] was a general merchant and sugar broker with a premises on Thomas Street. His father had also leased the property as had his grandfather. [He], however, had a bad head for business and after the non-repayment of a bank loan, a writ known as a capias ad satisfaciondum was issued which enabled the manager of the bank to have [him] gaoled until the debt was paid.”

“Where?” Isobel asked.

“He was brought to the city gaol at Newgate in Green Street but because he was classed as a pauper debtor, he was transferred to the Pauper Building in the Four Courts Marshalsea which stands off Bridgefoot Street which is off Thomas Street. He shared one of six rooms with seven other men and he managed to survive for the best part of a year on a diet of bread and milk.”

“Who ran the business while he was in gaol?”

“His mother. She sold or pawned whatever she could and took in boarders. She paid off the debt but it broke her health. Less than a month after [he] was released, she was dead and he was bent on revenge.”

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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

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.

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Laudanum: The Aspirin of the Nineteenth Century

In an era before aspirin, anti-depressants or effective sleeping pills, narcotic drugs played a huge part in Victorian life. Called the ‘aspirin of the nineteenth century’, laudanum was a popular painkiller and relaxant and was available to purchase without a prescription in any pharmacy.

Laudanum contained approximately 10% opium combined with up to 50% alcohol. Due to its bitter taste, it was mixed with many ingredients including spices, honey, chloroform or ether, wine, whiskey or brandy. Depending on the tincture’s strength and the severity of the patient’s symptoms, an average adult dose ranged from ten to thirty drops.

Many laudanum tinctures were targeted at women and were widely prescribed by doctors for problems with menstruation and childbirth and even for nervous afflictions such as ‘the vapours’ which included hysteria, depression and fainting fits.

Laudanum was extremely addictive and addicts enjoyed highs of euphoria followed by deep lows of depression along with slurred speech and restlessness. Withdrawal symptoms included aches, cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea but it was not until the early 20th century that it became widely recognised as addictive.

The 1868 Pharmacy Act attempted to control the sale and supply of opium-based preparations by ensuring they could only be sold by registered pharmacists and they had to be clearly labelled as a poison. This was largely ineffective, however, as there was no limit on the amount the chemist could sell to the public. Twenty-five drops of laudanum could be bought for a penny, making it affordable to all classes of society.

Because of the demand, every pharmacy stocked laudanum but for inexperienced pharmacists, this could prove to be dangerous. Cutting opium fresh from a damp lump rather than waiting for it to dry out, or carelessly weighing it could result in a stronger batch. In 1899 aspirin was developed, a far safer painkiller, beginning an era of better-regulated medicines.

Dublin, Ireland, September 1883. The rift between the Fitzgeralds deepens when Will’s father threatens legal action to gain visiting rights to his three grandchildren. But Will, Isobel and John are brought unexpectedly together by Will’s mother when Sarah’s increasingly erratic behaviour spirals beyond their control.

Isobel is reunited with a ghost from her past unearthing memories she would rather have kept buried while the fragile marriage of convenience orchestrated by John becomes more and more brittle before it snaps with horrifying consequences.

Read an excerpt from Chapter Five… 

“Has no study been made into the detrimental effects of laudanum?” {Isobel} asked. “Or is it too useful to the medical profession and also to husbands in keeping their wives docile?”

“No and yes,” {Alfie} replied simply before grimacing. “For a study to be made, the researcher will need evidence from a dependant and who would wish to admit to a stranger that they are – or were one? You’re right, laudanum is too useful but there are mutterings that it is too widely available and too easy to obtain but—” He shrugged. “It is a vicious circle – more dependants would have to come forward and explain how they obtained it and where from for something to be done…”

“…And that is not likely to happen,” she concluded and Alfie shook his head.

There was one other cab standing outside the gates to the cemetery when they got out of theirs.

“This is the first time I have come here and not been frozen,” she said as they walked up the Avenue.

“But this time you can barely see anything.” Alfie laughed and she gave him a dig in the ribs. “Ouch. What was that for?”

“I am supposed to be in deep mourning,” she reminded him, pulling a tiny handkerchief edged with black lace from her sleeve. “Look – I even brought this useless thing with me.”

“Mother gave you that handkerchief.”

“I know. It’s lovely to look at but utterly inadequate. Will has wonderful handkerchiefs – ones you can actually get your nose into,” she added and Alfie had to stifle another laugh. “I shall pretend to dab my eyes with this if we meet anyone.”

“Is it possible to walk a circuit of the cemetery?” Alfie asked.

“I don’t know, I’ve only walked directly to graves and back to the entrance. Can we walk to Fred Simpson’s?” she asked suddenly. “Will and I only come here on Fred’s anniversary and I would like to see if the grave is tidy while I am here.”

“Of course we can.”

“It is a little further on and along a path to the right,” she said, lifting the veil a little.

They walked on and turned right, only for Alfie to pull her behind a large pedestal adorned with a praying angel.

“What is it?” she whispered fiercely as she crouched beside him, having to retie the ribbon holding the lace veil to her hat.

“Margaret Powell is at the Simpson graves,” Alfie replied and Isobel peered around the side of the pedestal, lifting the veil and draping it back over her hat so she could see clearly.

Margaret, dressed in black, was kneeling at the graves where her first husband, Fred, their baby son, Nicholas, Fred’s mother, Maria, and Maria’s husband, Duncan, were all buried. Ida Joyce, Margaret’s lady’s maid, was standing a few feet behind her.

“…Give me yours,” Margaret was demanding and Ida walked forward and held out a handkerchief. Margaret snatched it from her and bent over the grave. “This is filthy.”

“What is she doing?” Alfie whispered and Isobel slowly straightened up and looked out from behind the praying angel.

Margaret was busily polishing a glass globe which encased red porcelain roses. Isobel had bought the globe to place on the grave to commemorate the first anniversary of Fred’s death. The globe was as clean as could be expected but Margaret continued to polish it vigorously, a lock of her blonde hair escaping its pins and falling across her face.

“Mrs Powell,” Ida began but Margaret ignored her. “Mrs Powell, perhaps, we should return—”

“I want to have this globe sparkling before we leave,” Margaret interrupted and Ida rolled her eyes.

“Poor Ida,” Alfie murmured as Isobel crouched beside him again. “To go from being Grandmother’s lady’s maid to Margaret Powell’s.”

“Mrs Powell, the small patch of green you can see is moss or some such like on the inside of the glass,” Ida told Margaret remarkably calmly. “It is a result of the globe being here in all weathers. Thanks to you, the outside of the glass is sparkling now.”

“But the inside is not,” Margaret replied, picking up the globe and, before Ida could stop her, throwing it away. Isobel clapped a hand to her mouth as the globe landed with a smash on a neighbouring grave, the glass and porcelain scattering all over it. “That is much better,” Margaret continued, sitting back on her heels to survey the Simpson graves. “I will not have filthy adornments on the graves of my husband and son.”

“No, Mrs Powell,” Ida responded in a voice which shook a little. “Mrs Powell, the graves are tidy now and the cab is waiting.”

“Yes.” Margaret got to her feet, wiping her hands clean with Ida’s handkerchief, then dropping it on the path. “I am delighted with how the graves look now. We shall visit again soon.”

And with that, Margaret strode away towards the Avenue. Ida quickly picked up her ruined handkerchief, shoved it up her sleeve and ran after her mistress.

Behind the pedestal, Isobel exchanged an incredulous glance with Alfie.

“When did you see Margaret last?” he asked.

“Well over a year ago when I brought the box of David’s belongings from the surgery on Pimlico to number 1. She certainly wasn’t like… that. Alfie, we can’t leave the other grave in such a condition,” she said, glancing at the shards of glass and porcelain glistening in the sunshine.

“But we have nothing to put the pieces in.”

“We can leave them beside the grave.”

They got up, crossed the path, and carefully began to tidy the grave. They cleared the area as best they could and she went to the Simpson graves noting how the gravestone was beginning to weather already.

“What will you tell Ben about Fred?” Alfie asked. “He has Fred’s name so he is bound to be curious eventually.”

“Will and Jerry have hundreds of stories about Fred – Fred at Wesley – Fred at Trinity – Fred being Fred – he will not be forgotten,” she said, lowering the veil. “I don’t like seeing the Simpson graves bare but if Margaret’s mental state means she is simply going to throw away anything she disapproves of then what can we do?”

Alfie squeezed her hand then took her arm and they walked back to the Avenue.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a sigh. “I had hoped our jaunt would have been rather more enjoyable than this.”

“You brought me to a cemetery,” she teased. “But, thank you, it was very thoughtful of you.”

“And very enlightening,” Alfie added and she replied with a sombre nod.

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Photo credit: Empty bottle for opium tincture, London, England, 1880-1940. Credit: Science Museum, LondonAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Photo credit: An unscrupulous chemist selling a child arsenic and laudanum. Wood engraving after J. Leech. Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Photo credit: An ad for laudanum in the Sears catalog: Mike Mozart via Flickr. Attribution CC BY 2.0
Photo credit: WMS 3339, For cholera: ’30 drops of laudanum. Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Photo credit: Interior of typical victorian (pharmacy). Credit: Wellcome CollectionAttribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Photo credit: Laudanum poison 100ml flasche.jpg This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Cydone. This applies worldwide.

The Westmoreland Lock Hospital

Dublin’s Westmoreland Lock Hospital was established in 1755 by George Doyle for the treatment of venereal diseases. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many hospitals would not admit patients suffering from venereal disease leading to a need for a dedicated hospital.

The name Lock Hospital dates back to early leprosy hospitals, which were known as ‘lock’ hospitals derived from the French word loques which were the rags used to cover the leper’s lesions. Later ‘Lock Hospitals’ were specifically developed for the treatment of syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection.

The Westmoreland Lock Hospital was first located on Rainsford Street in Dublin. The hospital opened with 300 beds but over time this was reduced to 150. It changed location on several occasions before relocating to Townsend Street in 1792. The hospital was named in honour of John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmoreland who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time and who sponsored the move to Townsend Street. The building consisted of a centre, containing the officers’ apartments, and two wings with additional buildings for the reception of patients. The move to Townsend Street was significant as it signalled a shift in the importance of acknowledging and treating venereal disease.

From 1819 men were no longer admitted to the hospital. Instead, they received treatment for sexually transmitted diseases at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital or Dr Steevens’ Hospital. The Lock Hospital continued to treat women, many of whom were prostitutes. High levels of prostitution in Dublin, especially in the red light district known as Monto, were the result of the presence of large British army barracks in the city. Syphilis and gonorrhoea were rife among soldiers but their spread was blamed on women and prostitutes in particular.

An 1854 Select Committee on Dublin Hospitals reported that of the 6,550 unmarried women admitted to medical institutions in the city with venereal disease in 1850, at least half were believed to have been infected by soldiers. The Westmoreland Lock Hospital’s patient registers for the 1860s showed that most of its Dublin inmates lived in streets adjacent to army barracks, especially the Royal (now Collins Barracks), Ship Street and Beggar’s Bush barracks.

In 1881, Lieutenant Colonel Tucker of the 80th Foot, based at the Royal Barracks, wrote to the assistant adjutant at Kilmainham protesting at the level of venereal disease in his regiment. He said that 284 of his men, 43% of the unmarried men under his command, were then in hospital with venereal disease. According to Tucker, his men could not walk in the vicinity of the barracks, “Without being accosted by troops of largely diseased women.” It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Tucker that his men might equally have been spreading venereal disease amongst Dublin women.

Unlike Cork, Cobh (Queenstown) and the Curragh, Dublin did not come under the jurisdiction of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which allowed any woman suspected of being a prostitute in the vicinity of a barracks to be checked for disease and kept without consent at a Lock Hospital. The Westmoreland Lock Hospital never had the power to hold women against their will.

Tucker’s letter, with others from senior army officers and military surgeons stationed in Dublin, was sent in November 1882 by the adjutant general on behalf of the commander of forces in Ireland to Dublin Castle urging the extension of the Contagious Diseases Acts to the Dublin metropolitan area. But, except for an undertaking to look into enlarging the facilities at the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, the government rejected the proposal and in April 1883, the operation of the Acts in both England and Ireland were suspended.

The number of women treated at the Westmoreland Lock Hospital during the year ending 31st March 1881 was 772 and they were segregated by religion and by marital status. Many married women infected by their husbands were admitted, sometimes with infants also infected with disease, and were kept away from ‘common prostitutes’.

Unlike other Dublin hospitals, the Westmoreland Lock Hospital was largely ignored by the public and had few voluntary subscribers or donations from charitable organisations because of its ‘distasteful’ patients and illnesses. Dr Rawton Macnamara, senior surgeon to the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, told a parliamentary select committee in 1881 that none of the other major Dublin hospitals would admit venereal disease cases except for Dr Steevens’ Hospital. The Westmoreland Lock Hospital was supported by a government grant of £2,600 per annum but it only enabled less than half of the 150 beds to be occupied.

When Ireland gained independence in 1922 and the British army left Dublin, Catholic organisations began to force the closure of the brothels in Monto. As a result, the sex industry declined and many remaining ‘fallen women’ were sent to the infamous Magdalene Laundries. In 1946 the Westmoreland Lock Hospital was renamed St Margaret of Cortona but due to a continuing drop in admissions and the building having fallen into disrepair, the hospital closed its doors for the last time in 1956 and was demolished.

Dublin, Ireland, September 1883. The rift between the Fitzgeralds deepens when Will’s father threatens legal action to gain visiting rights to his three grandchildren. But Will, Isobel and John are brought unexpectedly together by Will’s mother when Sarah’s increasingly erratic behaviour spirals beyond their control.

Isobel is reunited with a ghost from her past unearthing memories she would rather have kept buried while the fragile marriage of convenience orchestrated by John becomes more and more brittle before it snaps with horrifying consequences.

Read an excerpt from Chapter Two…

“Please don’t allow the other woman to simply walk back out onto the streets.”

“We’re not the feckin’ Shelbourne Hotel, you know?” {the constable} replied and {Isobel} shot him an irritated glance before peering back into the cell.

“I don’t think it’s just the drink that’s wrong with her.”

“A bit of an expert, are you?”

“My husband is a doctor,” she explained. “And I have seen enough of his patients to conclude that Maggie is not mad but is most likely suffering from syphilis.”

“Ah – Jaysus – syphilis?” Constable Flynn’s eyes bulged in a mixture of horror and disgust. “Could she have given it to me or the other lads?”

“Not unless you were all intimate with her during the early stages of the illness. Were you?”

“No, we were not,” he stated with clear offence.

“Then, please, Constable, you’ve been kind to her. Do her another kindness by bringing her to the Westmoreland Lock Hospital on Townsend Street. They care for women with venereal diseases there and it’s not too far away. Please?” she begged. “Let her be cared for properly there so she doesn’t have to live on the streets?”

“The Lock Hospital?”

“Yes. Please?” she begged again. “I’ll gladly pay the cab fare.”

“I can’t take money off you.”

“Then, I will hail a cab and pay the cabman directly. Please?”

“Aragh, all right. One less unfortunate off the streets can only be a good thing. Let me have a word with Sergeant O’Keefe.”

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Photo credit: By Unknown author – Scan of a photograph of the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Public Domain, Link

Dublin’s Coal Holes and Coal Cellars

Coal cellars are a common feature of Georgian and Victorian era houses. They were built with a brick vaulted roof under the footpath and accessible via the servants’ hall in the basement of the house and some cellars extended out well under the street. Coal holes were installed so coal (and turf {peat} and wood) deliveries could be poured or shovelled into the cellar from the street. The holes are between twelve to fourteen inches in diameter, small enough to keep all but the smallest of burglars out, and are generally circular so the lids can’t fall through the hole. The cover sits into an iron rim set in the pavement and is locked with a chain attached to an eye inside the lid and is fastened from beneath.

Coal hole and doorway under the street on Mountjoy Square, Dublin.

The majority of Dublin’s cast iron coal hole covers were made between 1760 and 1830 in foundries such as Tonge & Taggart on Windmill Lane, South City Foundry on Bishop Street, Sharke’s on Church Street, Hammond Lane and T. Saul & Co on Leeson Street Upper – all long gone. The covers were cast with lines and/or patterns to stop people slipping on them in the rain and often included the name of the foundry. The casting involved a wooden or metal master cover being forced into a box of sand. The master was removed, producing a mould into which the molten iron was poured.

An ornate coal hole cover from Mountjoy Square, Dublin, Ireland, still set in its original granite.

The pavements of Dublin’s Georgian and Victorian squares and streets still contain a unique collection of street furniture. Later, when other European cities were installing modern replacements made of concrete, aluminium and pressed steel, Dublin was forced by economic necessity to retain its beautiful heritage of cast iron covers.

Dublin, Ireland, September 1883. The rift between the Fitzgeralds deepens when Will’s father threatens legal action to gain visiting rights to his three grandchildren. But Will, Isobel and John are brought unexpectedly together by Will’s mother when Sarah’s increasingly erratic behaviour spirals beyond their control.

Isobel is reunited with a ghost from her past unearthing memories she would rather have kept buried while the fragile marriage of convenience orchestrated by John becomes more and more brittle before it snaps with horrifying consequences.

Read a snippet from Chapter Seven… 

Taking one of the ridiculously small cucumber sandwiches, Isobel went and stood to one side of the window so she couldn’t be seen. Ely Place Upper was deserted and she glanced at the round cast-iron coal hole cover set into the pavement near the kerb. Deliveries of bagged coal were poured into the cellar below and she knew all too well from her time as a servant that it created a cloud of fine black dust if the coalman didn’t give enough warning to close the cellar door. The cramped coal cellar at number 68 – where she had often been sent to fill a scuttle – was cold and damp no matter the time of year and this one was likely the same.

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Photo credit: Coal hole and corresponding door underneath the street: Gavinmc (talk | contribs) / Public domain
Photo credit: An ornate coal hole from Mountjoy SquareDublinIreland, still set in its original granite. The original uploader was Gavinmc at English Wikipedia. / Public domain

St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

533px-Jonathan_Swift_by_Charles_Jervas_detail

St Patrick’s Hospital was the first psychiatric hospital to be built in Ireland and one of the very first in the world. Its foundation was brought about by the will of Jonathan Swift, satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who, upon his death in 1745, left £12,000 to ‘build a house for fools and mad’. He was keen that his hospital be situated close to a general hospital because of the links between physical and mental ill-health, so St Patrick’s was built on a site between Bow Lane and Dr Steevens’ Hospital in the west of Dublin city.

The motivation for Swift’s legacy grew from his involvement with the day-to-day problems of the Irish people, not only as an individual but also as dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. In the eighteenth century, there were no specific provisions for the mentally ill. The first record of public provision for the mentally ill were the cells erected in the Dublin City Workhouse in 1708 and three years later ten cells were allocated for insane soldiers at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. Mostly, if not being cared for by their families or found wandering the streets or countryside, the mentally ill would be confined with criminals in prisons, with the poor in a workhouse, or with the sick in a hospital. Swift had firsthand knowledge of these conditions having served as a workhouse governor and as a trustee of several hospitals.

Bethlem Royal Hospital in London had been the first to house the mentally ill in 1377. By the eighteenth century, it had become infamous and known as ‘Bedlam’. It had a reputation for cruelty, neglect and poor living conditions, with an inadequate diet, rough clothing and inactivity. Worse still, the patients were displayed as entertainment – as a ‘freak show’, a ‘spectacle’, a ‘menagerie’ from which ‘both provincial bumpkins and urban sophisticates could derive almost endless amusement’ for a fee.

After a visit to Bethlem Royal Hospital, Swift got himself elected one of its governors in 1714. By 1731, Swift had decided on his legacy, intending his hospital to be charitable and more humane than Bethlem Royal Hospital.

Following the layout of the seventeenth century updated structure of Bethlem Royal Hospital, architect George Semple designed St Patrick’s with a basement, first floor, and second floor. Each ward was a long corridor with an iron gate, a keeper’s room at the entrance and cells opening from it. The eight by twelve-foot cells had sturdy doors and high windows.

St Patrick’s Hospital opened in 1757 with sixteen patients and a staff consisting of a master, male and female keepers, cook, laundry maid, housekeeper, porter, and surgeon. Lack of funds quickly required admitting chamber boarders (paying patients) along with pauper patients.

By 1793, two expansions provided more rooms and more staff but they had no special training to deal with the mentally ill and treatments were limited to baths, purges, bleedings, drugs or restraints and care was still primarily custodial. However, conditions for the comfort of patients in the early decades at St Patrick’s were superior to those at Bethlem Hospital.

On each ward, two apartments of sixteen feet by twelve were for the accommodation of chamber boarders who, in 1825, paid sixty guineas per annum. There were seven other apartments for the use of chamber boarders in the front of the building. In 1825, the occupants of these apartments paid one hundred guineas per year and had a servant for their own use exclusively.

Heating came from coal fires in the corridors and the cleanliness of patients and their surroundings was a priority. Paupers were supplied with stools, wooden beds, and bedding (straw was only used for violent patients). Meals consisted of porridge at breakfast, potatoes plus meat three times a week at dinner, bread and milk at supper and beer occasionally. Chamber boarders brought their own furnishings and would have had a higher-quality diet.

The hospital grew significantly throughout the 19th century. By 1817, two building extensions saw the patient population rise to over one hundred and fifty and by 1872, the number of staff was over fifty.

Dr Richard Leeper was appointed medical superintendent in 1898 and was largely responsible for transforming St Patrick’s from an asylum for the maintenance of the mentally ill to a modern hospital for their treatment and cure. Dr Leeper abolished the use of restraints, introduced the segregation of female and male wards and oversaw the construction of bathrooms and day rooms providing work and leisure activities for the patients.

Dr Leeper’s successor, Norman Moore, removed the old prison-like doors on the cells, introduced occupational therapy (including crafts and farm work) to the patients and challenged the assumption that the mentally ill were a danger to themselves and society and should be locked away.

After the introduction of deinstitutionalisation in the late 1980s, the hospital went into a period of decline but in 2008 the hospital announced the expansion of its outpatient services to a series of regional centres across Ireland. Today, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services is Ireland’s leading not-for-profit mental health organisation, with over 700 staff members delivering 12% of the country’s total inpatient care and treatment needs.

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Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Isobel Fitzgerald’s mother, Martha, marries solicitor James Ellison but an unexpected guest overshadows their wedding day. Martha’s father is dying and he is determined to clear his conscience before it is too late. Lewis Greene’s confession ensures the Ellisons’ expectation of a quiet married life is gone and that Isobel’s elder brother, Alfie Stevens, will be the recipient of an unwelcome inheritance.

When a bewildering engagement notice is published in The Irish Times, the name of one of the persons concerned sends Will and Isobel on a race against time across Dublin and forces them to break a promise and reveal a closely guarded secret.

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Read an Excerpt from Chapter Two…

They got out of the cab at the gateway facing St Patrick’s Hospital. Will paid the cabman then introduced himself to the porter, explained their reason for visiting and they were admitted to the grounds.

The porter escorted them to the seven-bay, two-storey over basement hospital which had further buildings to its rear she could only partially see as they approached. The area in front of the hospital, separated from Bow Lane by a substantial wall, was planted with trees and had a lawn surrounded by a gravel path. Outwardly, it all appeared very serene.

They went inside, up a beautiful cantilevered staircase and she and Alfie waited in the entrance hall while Will and the porter went in search of the matron. The sounds of a man sobbing echoed towards them and Isobel exchanged a nervous glance with Alfie.

“…No, Dr Fitzgerald, Miles is not on one of the wards.” They turned as Will, the porter and a middle-aged woman dressed in a black dress and a white nurse’s cap walked towards them. “I am Matron Rice,” she said, shaking first Isobel’s and then Alfie’s hands. “You are very welcome to St Patrick’s Hospital. Miles is what is known as a chamber-boarder. He has his own apartment and a servant.”

“An apartment and a servant?” Isobel exclaimed and the matron nodded.

“Oh, yes, Mrs Fitzgerald. Miles is very comfortable here.”

“How…” Isobel tailed off, racking her brains. “Is he?” she concluded the question feebly.

“Miles is a very gentle soul. Although, he is not as sharp-witted as you or I, he is certainly not considered an ‘idiot’ or a ‘lunatic’.”

“Then, should he really be here?” she asked.

“To be quite honest with you, Mrs Fitzgerald, Miles is here simply because his parents did not want a ‘dim-witted’ son.”

“We did not know of his existence here until yesterday,” Isobel said quietly.

“So your husband told me. It is nothing to be ashamed of, many families tuck their husbands, wives, sons and daughters away in establishments such as this. Please, come with me,” she said and they thanked the porter as he took his leave.

They followed Matron Rice along a gallery with windows situated high enough to be out of the reach of patients until the matron halted outside a door to their left.

“It would be best if you went in one at a time. Perhaps, you first, Mrs Fitzgerald. Miles, it’s Matron,” she said, opening the door. “I have a visitor for you.”

Isobel went inside, her heart thumping as Matron Rice closed the door, and couldn’t help but gaze around the parlour in a mixture of pleasant surprise and relief. The large window was sited at a standard height which could only mean the occupant was not deemed to be either at risk of trying to escape or taking their own life. The walls were papered with a pattern of green leaves on a cream background and on the floor was a rug, also with a leaf design.

To the right of the door was a small dining table and two chairs and to its left was a tall mahogany bookcase overflowing with volumes of all sizes. Two armchairs upholstered in green velvet stood on either side of the fireplace, above which hung a huge mirror. Sitting at a walnut writing desk at the window and reading a book was her uncle. He twisted around in the chair and looked her up and down, taking in her coat and hat’s leaf pattern and she smiled. Like his father, he had a beard but wore no spectacles.

“Good afternoon, Miles,” she said softly.

“Are you a new nurse?” he asked, getting to his feet and doing up the buttons of a black morning coat.

“No, my name is Isobel. What are you reading?” she asked, edging forward.

Jane Eyre.”

“Are you enjoying it?”

“Yes, I am. Do take a seat,” he said, gesturing to one of the armchairs.

“Thank you.” She sat down, trying not to make it obvious she was staring at him as he retook his seat at the desk. Dark-haired like her mother, he also had her mother’s high forehead and brown eyes and reminded Isobel of Mr Parnell, leader of the Home Rulers and president of the Land League.

“If you are not a nurse then, who, may I ask, are you?”

“Has anyone spoken to you about your family?”

“I have no living family,” he replied, turning his attention back to the book.

“That is not true,” she said and he lifted his head. “Miles, you are my mother’s brother – you are my uncle.”

He stared at her and she smiled again as he digested her words. “I am your uncle,” he stated and she nodded. “Why have you not visited me before?”

“Because until yesterday I did not know you were here. Out there,” she gestured to the gallery, “are my brother and my husband. Would you like to meet them?”

“Are you going to bring me home with you?” he asked and she stared at him in consternation.

“Matron Rice says you are very comfortable here,” she said instead of answering. “You have a lovely parlour and a lovely view,” she added, stretching her neck and catching a glimpse of the lawn and gravel path.

“I am lucky. Some of the other patients have cells. I am really your uncle?”

“Yes, you are,” she said. “My name is Isobel Fitzgerald and I have one brother called Alfie. My husband is called Will. Would you like to meet them?”

“Yes, I would, thank you.”

“I’ll go and fetch them.” She got up, went to the door and opened it. “Come in and meet Miles.”

They followed her into the parlour and she caught Alfie glancing around the room in surprise, having expected, like her, for it to be far more austere.

“Miles,” she said and he got up from the chair. “This is my brother, Alfie Stevens. And this is my husband, Will Fitzgerald.”

“I am delighted to meet you.” Miles greeted them formally. “Do you live in Dublin?”

“We all live on Fitzwilliam Square,” Alfie replied. “And I am studying medicine at Trinity College.”

“I am a doctor,” Will told him. “But I’m off duty today.”

“Are you going to bring me home with you?” Miles asked again and Alfie threw her a startled glance.

“No, we are not,” Will replied gently and Miles’ face fell.

“But we shall come here and visit you regularly,” she added. “I would very much like to take a walk with you around the lawn.”

“Why will you not bring me home with you?” Miles persisted.

“When did you last leave this hospital?” Will pointed to the gates.

“I…” Miles tailed off and his shoulders slumped. “Never.”

“We will come here and visit you,” she repeated, hesitantly reaching out and squeezing his hand. “Now we have met you, we will not forget you.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Good. That’s settled, then.”

“Is there a book you would like me to bring you when I come to visit?”

“Well.” Miles’ face creased as he pondered her question. “I have almost finished Jane Eyre and I would like to continue with the Brontës – perhaps Wuthering Heights?”

Wuthering Heights it is,” she said.

“When will you visit again?”

“In the next few days, I promise.”

“Thank you.”

Isobel returned to the gallery and rejoined Matron Rice with Will and Alfie following, hoping she wouldn’t cry. Alfie closed the door to the apartment and they went downstairs.

“You will visit again?” the matron inquired.

“Yes, we will,” she replied.

“Good, because we have had promises before.”

“I don’t make promises I will not keep,” she said. “Miles has asked for a book – Wuthering Heights – is it suitable for him?”

“Yes, it is.”

“And mince pies?”

Matron Rice smiled. “He will enjoy them very much.”

They walked in silence to James’ Street where Will hailed a cab. They climbed in and sat down but she couldn’t stop the tears coming.

“There is barely anything wrong with him,” she sobbed.

“Matron Rice explained that he appears to have the reasoning of a fifteen-year-old boy,” Will said, putting an arm around her. “When we return during the week, I will speak with Dr Harrison the medical superintendent.”

“When he asked me if we were going to take him home with us, I didn’t know what to say.” She fumbled in her sleeve for a handkerchief and blew her nose. “We can’t take him home with us.”

“But I could take him home with me,” Alfie said and grimaced. “What I mean is – if it would benefit Miles not to live in a hospital, then, number 55 would be ideal.”

“I shall mention it to Dr Harrison,” Will told him. “But there is the small matter of your mother and James, who are expecting to return from honeymoon to a quiet married life. As well as that, your grandmother doesn’t want anything to do with Miles, so we must not tell her husband we have seen him in case it causes friction between them. There are many things to take into account but first and foremost is what Dr Harrison has to say. We do nothing until I have spoken to him.”

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Fitzgerald series Books

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Amazon ASIN: B07V1C41X2

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Paperback ISBN: 9781089743835

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Author: Lorna Peel

Title: A Discarded Son

Series: The Fitzgeralds of Dublin

Genre: Irish Historical Fiction

Cover Designer: Rebecca K. Sterling, Sterling Design Studio

Ebook and Print Formatting: Polgarus Studio

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Cover photo credit: Wilhelm Roentgen (1845-1923), German physicist, received the first Nobel Prize for Physics, in 1901, for his discovery of X-rays in 1895: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com and Portrait of a man in a top hat and morning suit holding a cane: Everett Historical/Shutterstock.com
Cover photo credit: Florence Court, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland: phb.cz/Depositphotos.com
St. Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin. Photo credit: DubhEire [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons
Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas. Photo credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series

The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series is a gritty family saga set in Victorian Ireland. The series brings to life the dark underbelly of Victorian Dublin society and gets to the heart of the social issues of the day. As I publish each book in the series I’ll be adding blog posts with character profiles, location histories and general background information. Below, I’ve listed all the posts so far and categorised them. Tap/click the blue link to open the post in a new tab. All the posts contain an excerpt from the books. I’ve also created a map of the Dublin area with locations which feature in the series. You can follow my blog by tapping/clicking the Follow button in the sidebar on the right or tap/click the Follow button that appears in the bottom right-hand corner of this website so you won’t miss a post.

The Books

Book One: A Scarlet Woman

Can an idealistic young doctor and a fallen woman find love when Victorian society believes they should not?

Book Two: A Suitable Wife

Can Will and Isobel hold the Fitzgeralds together when tragedy and betrayal threaten to tear the family apart?

Book Three: A Discarded Son

Can Will and Isobel right the wrongs of the past without hurting those closest to them?

Book Four: A Forlorn Hope

Can Will and Isobel bury their differences with those estranged from them and unite in a time of crisis or are some rifts too deep to heal?

Book Five: A Cruel Mischief

Can Will and Isobel prevent events of the past from influencing the present and future?

Book Six: A Hidden Motive

Can Will and Isobel help two old friends to overcome their fear and start afresh?

Books One to Three: Box Set

Out Now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Character Profiles

Meet Isobel Stevens

Meet Dr Will Fitzgerald

Meet Will’s mother – Sarah Fitzgerald

Meet Will’s father – Dr John Fitzgerald

Meet Will’s best friend – Dr Fred Simpson

Meet Fred’s wife – Margaret Simpson

Meet Isobel’s grandparents – Lewis and Tilda Greene

Meet Isobel’s brother – Alfie Stevens

Meet Isobel and Alfie’s mother – Martha Ellison

Meet Solicitor James Ellison

Meet Martha’s twin brother – Miles Greene

Meet Dr David Powell

Meet Gordon Higginson QC

Meet Dr Jacob Smythe

Meet Cecilia Ashlinn

Meet Peter Shawcross

Location Histories

A map of Dublin, Ireland – click/tap to open in a new tab

Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland

The Liberties of Dublin, Ireland

Monto: Dublin’s Red Light District

Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, Ireland

St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

The Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

Rutland Square, Dublin, Ireland

The Four Courts Marshalsea Debtors Prison

Dublin City Morgue and Coroner’s Court

History

The Great Snow of January 1881

Dublin’s Coal Holes and Coal Cellars

Laudanum: The Aspirin of the Nineteenth Century

The Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company

Dublin’s Pawnshops

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.

The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series is

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