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

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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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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 so they are easier to locate. 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 subscribe to my blog by clicking the Follow button or the RSS Blog Feed Reader link in the sidebar on the right 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?

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

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

History

The Great Snow of January 1881

Dublin’s Coal Holes and Coal Cellars

Laudanum: The Aspirin of the Nineteenth Century

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. Enjoy!

Irish History YouTube Videos

Wrong date – should be 6 May 1882

The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series is

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Fitzwilliam Square

Fitzwilliam Square is a Georgian garden square named after the Fitzwilliam family, Earls of Merrion, who urbanised the land as part of their great estate on the south side of the River Liffey in Dublin, Ireland. The square was managed and developed by Richard Fitzwilliam, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam and was laid out in 1792. The centre of the square was enclosed in 1813 through an Act of Parliament.

Richard_Fitzwilliam_of_Merrion

The Hon. Richard Fitzwilliam, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion

The square comprises a central garden, surrounded by four streets – Fitzwilliam Square North, East, West and South. There are 69 houses with 17 houses in the north, west and east sides and 18 houses on the south side. All four sides of Fitzwilliam Square had long rear gardens and stable lanes.

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Fitzwilliam Square West

Lord Fitzwilliam opted for a simple design for the square consisting of red brick houses of four storeys over a basement with the windows diminishing in height in the first, second and third storeys. The typical Fitzwilliam Square house had a standard two-room plan with a rear dog-leg stairs and long yellow-brick rear buildings. Front doors were flanked by pilasters and surmounted by wide fanlights with delicate, lead glazing bars – creating the iconic Dublin doorcase. All the houses are two bays wide except for Nos. 56-59 (North Side), which are narrow three bay and Nos. 5 (East Side) and 35 (South Side), which have broad three bay facades.

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Georgian doors in Fitzwilliam Square

From the beginning, Fitzwilliam Square was a prestigious location and during the 19th century it continued to attract the middle classes, comprising of military officers and the professional classes. There was a significant increase in the number of doctors living in the square in the early 20th century, who were locating their consulting rooms within their private houses,which was also the case for the legal residents of the square. This period of change showed the adaptability of the houses and represented a growth of non-residential uses on the square. In the mid 20th century, doctors and their families moved to the suburbs and continued to use Fitzwilliam Square for their consulting rooms.

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46 Fitzwilliam Square

By 1950, only 24 houses were still residential and 69 doctors had consulting rooms on the square. This trend continued until the 1970’s when the relocation of St. Vincent’s Hospital from Leeson Street to a new campus meant many of the doctors in Fitzwilliam Square moved their practices south to Donnybrook. Following their departure, multi-office use became popular on the Square including accountants, solicitors, doctors, management consultants, architects and financial services.

The Garden

The layout of the garden in the centre of Fitzwilliam Square has not changed since its layout in 1813. The main reason for this may be that the garden has remained in private ownership unlike the other Georgian Squares in Dublin, i.e. St. Stephen’s Green, Mountjoy Square and Merrion Square whose original layouts have changed considerably over the years.

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Fitzwilliam Square Garden

In 1813, an Act was passed naming 14 Commissioners to be responsible for maintaining the central garden. The layout of the Garden in the early days comprised of perimeter planting of trees and flowering shrubs around the large grassed open space in the centre.

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Later in the 19th century, the planting of the flowerbed was added to the garden.  There was also the added responsibility of the maintenance of railings, gates and garden seats. In 1875, new gaslight pillars were erected and a few years later the Commissioners paid Dublin Corporation to widen the kerb and concrete path outside the railings. In the 1880’s, the final physical change to the garden was the erection of a small timber summer house on the eastern side.

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A hot day in 1890s Fitzwilliam Square. 

The garden became an international focus during the later 19th century when the Lawn Tennis Championships of Ireland were first held on the open grass centre. In the 20th century little changed until in 1963, the original 150-year lease expired ending an historic link with the commissioners and the early days of the square. After a few years of discussion it was agreed that the garden would be leased to the Fitzwilliam Square Association Ltd. for another 150 years.

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Irish Lawn Championships at Fitzwilliam Square

Today the large grassed open area remains and is used still for tennis in the summer and the pathways within this area along with the planted trees and shrubbery have remained intact as existed nearly two centuries ago.

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Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Will and Isobel Fitzgerald settle into number 30 Fitzwilliam Square, a home they could once only have dreamed of. A baby is on the way, Will takes over the Merrion Street Upper medical practice from his father and they are financially secure. But when Will is handed a letter from his elder brother, Edward, stationed with the army in India, the revelations it contains only serves to further alienate Will from his father.

Isobel is eager to adapt to married life on Fitzwilliam Square but soon realises her past can never be laid to rest. The night she met Will in a brothel on the eve of his best friend’s wedding has devastating and far-reaching consequences which will change the lives of the Fitzgerald family forever.

A_Suitable_Wife_SQUARE

Read An Excerpt From Chapter Five…

[Isobel] smiled then turned as the morning room door opened and Alfie was shown in.

“I was in the gardens, making myself scarce, and I saw the three of you walk home so I thought I’d follow you.”

“Is Mr Ellison is calling on Mother again?” Isobel asked. “Should I call, too?”

“What do you mean, again?” Will inquired before Alfie could reply.

“With all that’s happened, I forgot to tell you that Mr Ellison appears to be courting Mother,” Isobel told him.

“There’s no ‘appears’ about it,” Alfie added. “He calls to the house every few days.”

“Has he spoken to you?”

“Mr Ellison doesn’t need my permission to court Mother, Will.”

“No, but has he?”

“No, he hasn’t,” Alfie replied. “But he knows that I know why he’s calling. I also called to thank you for taking David on as locum, Will. He’s looking forward to Monday.”

“I’m looking forward to him starting, too. I dealt with all the patients myself last week. I don’t want to have to do that again.”

“When do you think Dr Simpson will return?”

Will didn’t answer the question and Alfie flushed. “It’s none of my business. I’m sorry, Will.”

“You and David must come to dinner soon,” Isobel interjected brightly.

“That’s very kind, but how, exactly?”

“We’ll invite David and you will call at an agreed time and be ‘persuaded’ to stay to dinner,” she said and Alfie mulled it over for a few moments before nodding.

When he had shown Alfie out, Will returned to the morning room and Isobel sat on the sofa making a helpless gesture with her hands.

“Someone needs to speak to Mr Ellison about him courting Mother so soon after Mr Henderson’s death. If Alfie is reluctant to do it, then I will. On Monday.”

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Author: Lorna Peel

Title: A Suitable Wife

Series: The Fitzgeralds of Dublin

Genre: Irish Historical Fiction

Cover Designer: Rebecca K. Sterling, Sterling Design Studio

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Photo credit: Richard Fitzwilliam of Merrion: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Margaret Clough / Georgian doors in Fitzwilliam Square / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: Oliver Dixon / Fitzwilliam Square West / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: 46 Fitzwilliam Square by Ralf Peter Reimann used under CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: Fitzwilliam Square Garden – Alamy Stock Photo
Photo credit: A hot day in 1890s Fitzwilliam Square – Dublin Civic Trust
Photo credit: Irish Championship Matches – Cultural Tales 
Photo credit: by Robinson – Arthur Wallis Myers (1903): Lawn Tennis at Home and Abroad. Scribner’s Sons, New York. (online), Public Domain

The Great Snow of January 1881

2018 has been a year of weather extremes in Ireland. As well as a heatwave in July, Dublin had two ‘snow events’ in February and March 2018. The first was the ‘Beast From The East’ and it was followed by the ‘Mini Beast From The East’. But in January 1881, Dublin also went through a snowstorm of intense severity.

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Satellite view showing Europe partially covered in snow under the influence of the anticyclonic cold wave named Hartmut or the “Beast from the East” on 27 February 2018

January 1881 began with a high pressure system to the south of Ireland and Great Britain with a westerly/south-westerly air flow. The weather turned much colder as the high pressure drifted towards Greenland around January 8th and Arctic air was drawn over Ireland and Great Britain. A low pressure system moved in from the east on January 11th which met the freezing air and snow began to fall. As the low pressure system deepened, a gale force easterly wind developed with heavy blizzards and drifting snow on 17th January.

Freemans Journal

Reports of a ‘cold snap’ appear in the Freeman’s Journal on Monday 17th January 1881. According to the report, snow had fallen on the morning of Friday 14th January, but the main focus was on the severity of the cold. On Sunday 16th January, the temperature dropped to -19.1 degrees Celsius (-2.38 degrees Fahrenheit) at Markree Observatory, near Collooney in Co Sligo, the lowest air temperature ever recorded in Ireland. Dublin’s canals were frozen ‘inches deep’ and hundreds of people enjoyed skating in the Zoological Gardens, the Botanic Gardens, St Stephen’s Green and near Portobello Bridge on the Grand Canal. The Freeman’s Journal commented: ‘In a word, the weather was very pleasant for the young and well-to-do, but of course it has brought to the poor the double misery of failing work and biting cold’.

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Winter – The fountain beside the Mansion House, on Dawson Street, Dublin

‘The heaviest fall of snow which has taken place for many years occurred in Dublin yesterday’ reported the Freeman’s Journal of Tuesday 18th January. It snowed incessantly in almost blinding showers on Monday 17th January and when it stopped at about 9pm there was at least seven inches of snow on the ground. The snow impeded traffic through the streets, horse-drawn trams were unable to operate after 7pm and most cabs and cars also disappeared as their drivers did not want to work their horses in the thick snow. People had to make their way home on foot and ‘ladies especially felt the inconvenience as it was difficult to walk’. Trains continued to run but they were all late ‘as they were obliged to travel necessarily with great caution’. The snowfall did mean that the temperature rose and at midnight, there was an indication of a thaw.

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Weir on the River Dodder below Orwell Bridge circa January 1881

The Freeman’s Journal of Wednesday 19th January reported on the aftermath of the snowstorm. ‘Snowdrifts to depths of at least a foot, if not more accumulated at points exposed to the wind’. Gangs of men employed by the United Tramways Company worked through Monday night into Tuesday morning to clear the tramlines and ‘upwards of fifty tons of salt were thrown on the ways’. A large part of Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) adjacent to Nelson’s Pillar, was occupied by lines of tram-cars which had remained there all Monday night.

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The south side of Mountjoy Square in the snow of January 2010

On Tuesday morning ‘All fronts and gables of houses exposed to the wind were thickly flaked with snow, and the appearance of the streets generally, the river, and the sky was about as wintry as anyone recollected’. The snow was shovelled from the roofs of the tram-cars and they began to ply first from Rathmines and other shorter distances, and by the afternoon the whole tram system was operational again.

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Postcard of College Green, Dublin

Men from Dublin Corporation started clearing the pathways and streets, carting the snow to the river and throwing it into the Liffey at the bridges. The mail steamer from Holyhead did not arrive in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) until after 1pm, having been due at 7am, because the railway line at Conway in North Wales was blocked by a fall of snow. During Tuesday no snow fell but the weather remained very cold and ‘a terrific gale set in from the east’ and it remained stormy until night fell.

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Burgh Quay, Dublin on Tuesday, 11 February 1936, and was printed on page 2 of the next day’s Irish Independent with the caption:
“Yesterday’s snow being shovelled into the Liffey”

The Freeman’s Journal of Thursday 20th January reported there had been a succession of snow showers the previous morning, but by afternoon the sky cleared, the sun shone and the evening became very cold with indications of frost. Tramlines were free of snow everywhere and most footpaths were cleared but ‘vast masses of snow lay in most of the streets and on the housetops’.

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Marrowbone Lane, Dublin in the 1890s by Joseph Kavanagh

‘The severity of the weather continues unabated’ reported the Freeman’s Journal of Friday 21st January. The previous day, temperatures were still low and there was a heavy fall of snow at three o’clock in the afternoon. Large quantities of ice floated down the River Liffey during Thursday and collected in huge masses at the bridges. Telegraphic communication with England, which had been greatly impeded, was restored.

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A Backstreet in the Snow by Walter Osborne

By Monday 24th January, the Freeman’s Journal was reporting that ‘Saturday brought no relaxation of the iron grasp in which the frost has held land and water, sky and almost the sea itself during the past week’. Private individuals and extra labourers employed by Dublin Corporation were still clearing the footpaths and throwing the snow into the River Liffey ‘although in too many streets the highways were still encumbered by masses of snow’. Saturday evening and night were intensely cold and on Sunday morning there was the threat of snow but the sun shone in the afternoon and the rise in temperature brought on a thaw which produced flooding as the snow and ice melted.

A_Suitable_Wife_SQUARE

Dublin, Ireland, 1881. Will and Isobel Fitzgerald settle into number 30 Fitzwilliam Square, a home they could once only have dreamed of. A baby is on the way, Will takes over the Merrion Street Upper medical practice from his father and they are financially secure. But when Will is handed a letter from his elder brother, Edward, stationed with the army in India, the revelations it contains only serves to further alienate Will from his father.

Isobel is eager to adapt to married life on Fitzwilliam Square but soon realises her past can never be laid to rest. The night she met Will in a brothel on the eve of his best friend’s wedding has devastating and far-reaching consequences which will change the lives of the Fitzgerald family forever.

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Read An Excerpt From Chapter One…

Dublin, Ireland. Monday, January 17th, 1881

Will helped Isobel out of the cab outside the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green. He paid and tipped the cabman generously and they made their way carefully up the steps. A bellboy with a shovel – fighting a losing battle to keep the steps clear of snow – stood to one side to let them pass, and the liveried doorman touched his silk top hat with a white-gloved hand as they went into the foyer.

The heaviest snowstorm for years was wreaking havoc on Dublin and Will had considered cancelling the celebratory dinner but hadn’t the heart to send a servant out in such atrocious weather. The deep snow had resulted in traffic chaos, the cabman had been forced to take a longer route to the hotel, and they were cold and late.

Will’s oldest friend, Fred Simpson, and his wife Margaret were waiting near the reception desk and gave them relieved smiles as Will and Isobel stamped snow from their shoes. They were shown to a table in the hotel’s dining room and they sat down. Although the large room was pleasantly warm, Isobel opted to unbutton but continue wearing her striking new coat of black velvet leaves on a white velvet background with black velvet collar and cuffs and Margaret chose to keep her exquisite black velvet cloak around her shoulders for the time being.

“May we have a bottle of champagne?” Fred asked the waiter. “We will make our selections from the menu shortly.”

“Very good, sir.”

The waiter left them and Fred grinned around the table.

“It is the 17th of January. Doctors Fitzgerald and Simpson have been in general practice together for just over a month and in partnership for a week. We couldn’t allow it to pass uncelebrated – despite the best efforts of the weather.”

“No,” Will agreed. “And I’ve never been for a meal here before. Have you?”

“I have,” Margaret replied, glancing around the elegant room, where the murmur of conversation intermingled with the clinking of glassware and china. “But it was a birthday dinner a long time ago. Fred.” She turned to her husband. “Isobel and I shouldn’t really be drinking champagne.”

“One glass won’t do you expectant mothers any harm.”

“No, I suppose not,” she conceded.

“Could you ask for a jug of water as well, please, Fred?” Isobel asked. “I’m parched.”

“Yes, of course. I hope this will be the first of many celebratory dinners.”

“So do I,” Isobel replied but didn’t sound particularly enthusiastic as she tucked a wisp of her dark brown hair behind her right ear.

At almost three months pregnant, the new gold-coloured evening dress she wore only emphasised how pale she looked and she was unusually quiet. While at four months pregnant, Margaret in mauve was positively blooming with colour in her cheeks following a weekend away in Co Wicklow. He and Isobel wouldn’t stay out too late this evening. Reaching for her hand under the table, he gave it a little squeeze and she squeezed it in reply.

The waiter served the champagne and they made their orders from the menu before Fred raised his glass.

“I propose a toast – to Margaret and Isobel – and to the continued success of Doctors Simpson and Fitzgerald’s medical practice.”

“To Margaret, Isobel and the medical practice,” they all chorused and sipped the excellent champagne.

“You’re going to have to excuse me for a few minutes.” Isobel got up and Will and Fred also got to their feet. “Could you come with me please, Margaret?”

“Of course,” Margaret replied and the two women left the dining room.

“Will, is Isobel all right?” Fred asked as he and Will sat down again.

“She’s tired,” he explained. “I’m delighted she’s pregnant but, ideally, it could have waited a few more months. She was prepared to come and live with me in Brown Street but then her mother gave us number 30 and all it entailed.”

“I thought she was coping well with the servants?” Fred added.

“She is, but being mistress of number 30 is still a huge responsibility, as is trying to ensure we don’t spend too much while you and I rebuild the practice.”

“She must think this dinner is an enormous extravagance?”

Will opened his mouth to reply but heard Margaret’s voice calling him.

“Will? Please, come quickly.”

Turning in his seat, he saw Margaret at the entrance to the dining room beckoning him to come to her. Both he and Fred went to her and Will’s heart turned over as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Where is Isobel?” he demanded.

“In there.” Margaret pointed to the ladies cloakroom.

Will pushed the door open and found Isobel sitting on the edge of an armchair just inside the door, her brown eyes wide with horror.

“Will, I’m bleeding. The baby—”

“We’ll go straight home.” He helped her up and out into the foyer. “Fred, find a cab.”

“I’ll ask the doorman to hail one for us,” Margaret said and hurried away from them.

“Isobel’s bleeding,” he whispered to Fred. “We need to bring her home at once.”

“Waiter.” Extracting his wallet from the inside pocket of his tailcoat, Fred pulled out a banknote and handed it to the young man. “I’m afraid we must leave.”

“Thank you, sir. Do you need any assistance?”

“No, thank you,” Will replied, searching the foyer for Margaret’s blonde head and spotting her at the revolving doors signalling for them to leave the hotel.

He and Fred guided Isobel outside, carefully down the steps, and into the waiting cab. Sitting beside her, he clasped her hands. They were freezing cold and he raised them to his mouth, gently blowing his warm breath onto her fingers.

“Number 30 Fitzwilliam Square, please,” Fred told the cabman before tipping the doorman, assisting Margaret into the cab, then getting in himself.

The cab, with the four of them squashed in the back, travelled excruciatingly slowly through deep snow to Fitzwilliam Square. When it stopped outside the Georgian townhouse, the cabman was asked to wait and they led Isobel inside.

“Some towels and warm water, please, Mrs Dillon,” Will instructed the cook-housekeeper as she approached them with concern in the hall. “My wife is unwell.”

Isobel was brought upstairs to the bedroom they shared on the second floor and Will lit all the gas lamps then the oil lamp on his bedside table. Mrs Dillon came in with an ewer of water, a basin and some towels draped over her arm and placed them on the marble-topped washstand. She and Will undressed Isobel, helped her into a nightdress and let down and plaited her hair while Fred pulled back the bedcovers and laid out the towels in the bed. Isobel was bleeding heavily and Will’s heart plummeted.

“My wife has gone to wait in the morning room, would you please look in on her, Mrs Dillon?” Fred asked. “She may be a little upset. Oh, and please bring the cabman inside for a hot drink, he must be frozen.”

“Yes, Dr Simpson,” the housekeeper replied and left the bedroom.

Isobel was lifted into the huge double bed on top of the towels and the pillows arranged at her back.

“Let me examine her, Will,” Fred offered.

“No—”

“I’m calmer than you are, so let me do it,” Fred insisted softly. “Wait outside.”

Will nodded and went onto the landing. I’m delighted she’s pregnant but, ideally, it could have waited a few more months. Wincing at what he had told Fred, he pulled open his white bow tie and his collar before leaning on the banister rail and closing his eyes.

Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he jumped and turned around.

“You probably already know,” Fred told him. “But Isobel is miscarrying. There is heavy vaginal bleeding with clotting, but it’s not excessive and I’m afraid nature will just have to take its course. I’m so sorry, Will.”

“Is she in pain?” he asked.

“She says there is cramping but nothing too extreme. I’ve helped her into her drawers and placed two small towels in the drawers to absorb the discharge.”

“Thank you, Fred. Take Margaret home. This must be awful for her.”

Fred nodded. “I’ll take your surgery and house calls tomorrow. Be with Isobel.”

“Yes. Thank you.”

Fred squeezed his arm and went downstairs.

Will took a deep breath before opening the bedroom door. Isobel was lying back against the pillows but her face was turned away from the door.

Closing the door behind him, he went to the bed and sat down. Gently putting his arms around her, he held her, feeling her trembling.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“This is no-one’s fault.”

“But it must be my fault,” she insisted. “Did Fred’s father leave me damaged when he carried out the abortion?”

“I don’t know,” he replied helplessly and kissed her temple. “You wanted some water at the hotel, would you like some now?”

“Yes. But please hold me first.”

“Of course I’ll hold you. Fred is taking my surgery and house calls tomorrow. I’m staying here with you. Are you hungry at all?”

“No. Just very thirsty.”

“I’ll ask for some water.”

He laid her back against the pillows and left the bedroom. Downstairs in the hall, he met Mrs Dillon.

“How is Mrs Fitzgerald?” the housekeeper asked anxiously.

“Please come into the morning room.” He opened the door for her and they went into the large reception room at the front of the house. “My wife is having a miscarriage,” he said, hearing his voice shake, and Mrs Dillon’s face crumpled in sympathy. “She isn’t in any pain but the process will take a day or two. After that…” He tailed off and sighed. “She will need time to recover, both physically and mentally. But now, she would like some water, please.”

“Water? Is that all?”

“Yes. And Dr Simpson will be taking my surgery and house calls tomorrow, so I can be here.”

Mrs Dillon nodded. “I’ll bring up a jug of water. I am so sorry, Dr Fitzgerald.”

“Thank you.”

He went back upstairs and into the bedroom. Isobel was sitting up, her face in her hands. He sat on the bed and she clung to him, sobbing. He stroked her hair until she rested her forehead on his shoulder and he heard a knock at the door. He lifted her head, kissed her lips, and opened the door.

Mrs Dillon, with more towels of various sizes laid over her arm, was lifting a tray with a jug of water and a glass on it from a table on the landing. She had clearly discreetly waited for Isobel to stop crying before knocking.

“Thank you,” he said, taking the tray from her, and watching as she draped the towels over his arm.

“If there is anything else you or Mrs Fitzgerald need, just ring.”

“I will. Goodnight.”

He closed the door and put the tray down on the bedside table. He poured a glass of water, sat on the bed again, and passed it to Isobel. She drank the water in three gulps, he took the glass from her and placed it back on the tray.

“I’m going to put some more towels under you and then I think we should try and sleep.”

“Yes.” She lifted herself, he laid the towels under her, then leant back against the pillows.

He got undressed and pulled on a nightshirt, extinguished the gas lamps and got into the bed. “If you are in any pain or if you feel the bleeding getting any heavier, wake me.”

She nodded and he turned the oil lamp down before lying down and holding her hand. He listened until hers was the deep and slow breathing of an exhausted person fast asleep. But he couldn’t sleep. This was two miscarriages now. Was she right? Had Duncan Simpson damaged her while carrying out her abortion? Would she never be able to carry a baby to full term? He lay staring up into the darkness and didn’t fall asleep until dawn was breaking. 

* * *

Isobel opened her eyes and ran her hands over her stomach. She was still cramping and could feel herself bleeding like a very heavy monthly. Will was fast asleep and snoring a little so she didn’t move. Two miscarriages. She blinked back tears. She’d so wanted a baby with Will and this pregnancy had been progressing positively – she’d almost reached the three-month mark.

“Isobel?”

Hearing Will’s voice, she turned to him in the twilight. He looked as exhausted as she felt and tears stung her eyes. This must be awful for him, he had been looking after her so well.

“I’m all right.”

“Are you in any pain?”

“No, but I am hungry.”

“Good.” He raised himself up onto an elbow. “So am I.”

“And I’d like to get up. I don’t want to lie in bed all day.”

“Well, if you’re sure?” he said, sounding uncertain.

“I am. And please don’t tell my mother?” she begged.

“Isobel, I’m going to have to tell her. I want her to be here with you tomorrow.”

“Mother can fuss tomorrow,” she said. “I want peace and quiet with you today.”

He leant over and kissed her lips. “I need to examine you first.”

He got out of bed, opened the curtains, then went out to the table on the landing where their water for washing and shaving was left for them. Carrying the two ewers into the bedroom, he closed the door with a foot before placing them on the washstand. He washed and dried his hands then pulled the bedcovers down.

He removed the soiled towels from her drawers before helping her to take the drawers off. Wrapping them in a large towel, he placed it on the floor by the door. Lying down on the bed, she opened her legs and stared up at the ceiling as he examined her.

“Is your bleeding heavier than the last time?” he asked.

“It feels heavier. But I wasn’t quite two months pregnant then.”

“Yes.” He straightened up, reached for a flannel, and began to clean her. “I can’t see anything which would lead me to worry. Nature will just have to take its course.”

“That’s what Fred said.”

After washing, shaving and dressing, Will helped her to wash and dress. She pinned up her hair, placed two more small towels in her drawers, then stood in front of the full-length wardrobe mirror smoothing her hands down the skirt of her new high-necked emerald green day dress.

From arriving in Dublin with nothing but the square-necked navy blue dress and black coat she was wearing, she now had five dresses, two coats and three hats to her name. Sadly, the gold-coloured evening dress would now be forever associated with the miscarriage. Perhaps she could bring it back to the dressmaker and have it altered in some way, as it would be a shame – and a waste – to never wear it again. But that is a decision for another day, she told herself, closing the wardrobe door.

Taking Will’s arm, they went slowly down the stairs to the ground floor breakfast room overlooking the rear garden which they used as an everyday dining room.

“Mrs Fitzgerald?” Mrs Dillon followed them inside. “I was preparing a breakfast tray for Florrie to take up to you.”

“Thank you, but I didn’t want to lie in bed all day.”

“My wife needs peace and quiet today, Mrs Dillon,” Will told her. “So, no callers, please.” As he spoke, a bell jangled downstairs in the servants’ hall and he sighed. “I’ll see who that is.”

He went out to the hall and Isobel sat down at the table, her stomach rumbling.

“Some porridge, toast and marmalade and coffee, Mrs Fitzgerald?” Mrs Dillon asked.

“Oh, yes, please.” She gave the housekeeper a grateful smile as she heard Fred’s voice in the hall. “I’m very hungry.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“I’m afraid the bed is in rather a mess—” she began but Mrs Dillon held up a hand.

“Don’t you worry about that, Mrs Fitzgerald. You just rest and recuperate.”

Mrs Dillon left her and a couple of moments later both Will and Fred came into the breakfast room. The weather must be bitterly cold still as Fred was wearing a black woollen overcoat with a grey scarf wound around his neck almost covering his chin.

“I’m delighted to see you up and about.” Fred bent and kissed her cheek and she smiled as his black moustache tickled her ear.

“Thank you for all you did last night, Fred.”

“Not at all. I’m glad I was able to help.”

“I hope Margaret wasn’t too upset?” she asked.

“She was, a little, but she’ll be very relieved when I tell her you are up and about and hungry.”

“Fred.” She clasped his hand. “The last thing I want is any awkwardness between Margaret and myself. I would be delighted if she would call here in the next few days. Will and I are going to have a very quiet day today.”

“Of course.”

“And perhaps we could attempt the celebratory dinner again soon, too?”

Fred gave her a grin. “When you’re well enough, we’ll all go to the Shelbourne again.”

“Yes. Will you stay for some breakfast?”

“Thank you, but no. I simply called to see how you were. It has stopped snowing at last but it’s deep and difficult to walk in so I’d better be on my way to the practice house.”

“Thank you, Fred. Be careful.”

Fred kissed her hand and Will followed him out of the room. A few minutes later Will returned with Florrie, one of their house-parlourmaids, and their breakfast.

Isobel soon finished a bowl of porridge, two triangular slices of toast and marmalade followed by a cup of coffee, and was sitting back satisfied in her chair when she heard her mother’s angry voice in the hall.

“What do you mean, no callers today? Don’t be ridiculous, girl, I’m her mother. Is she still at breakfast?”

Isobel exchanged a weary glance with Will and he swore under his breath as footsteps approached the breakfast room door and it opened.

“Mrs Henderson.” Will got to his feet as her dark-haired mother came in wearing a russet-coloured dress and hat she favoured with a matching cloak.

“What is this nonsense, Isobel?” she demanded, pulling off her black gloves. “The maid said you were receiving no callers today?”

Will closed the door to the hall then held the chair next to Isobel’s as Mrs Henderson sat down.

“I’m afraid we have some bad news,” he said, returning to his seat at the head of the table. “Isobel is losing the baby.”

“Losing..?” Her mother frowned, struggling to grasp Will’s meaning.

“I’m having a miscarriage, Mother,” she said quietly.

Mrs Henderson clapped both her hands to her cheeks. “Oh, Isobel. Oh, why didn’t you tell me at once? Why are you not in bed?”

“We were going to tell you later, Mother, and I wanted some peace and quiet today but not to lie in bed all day.”

“Why did this happen, Will?”

“I’m afraid there is no answer to that,” he replied. “It’s just one of those things.”

“I’m so sorry. I was so looking forward to being a grandmother.”

“Would you like some coffee, Mother?” she asked, changing the subject and gesturing towards the coffee pot.

“No, thank you. As it has stopped snowing, I called to ask if you would like to visit the National Gallery this afternoon as I have never been, but it can wait.”

“Perhaps next week?” she suggested.

“Oh, Isobel,” Mrs Henderson whispered, her voice shaking.

“Don’t cry, Mother, please,” she said, fighting to keep her own voice steady. Or I will start again, she added silently.

Mrs Henderson pulled a handkerchief from a sleeve and dried her eyes. “Would you like me to stay with you?”

“I will be staying with Isobel today,” Will told her. “But if you could stay with Isobel tomorrow, I would be very grateful.”

“Yes, of course. But may I call this evening?”

“Yes, you may.” Will nodded. “Shall I see you out?”

Her mother kissed her cheek before getting up and leaving the room with Will following. He returned a few moments later, kissed the top of her head, and poured them some more coffee.

“How are you feeling?”

“Better. The porridge was delicious.”

“Good.”

They settled on the huge reddish-brown leather sofa in the morning room, fell asleep, and didn’t wake until luncheon was announced at one o’clock. After some delicious thick vegetable soup and soda bread, she went upstairs to change the towels in her drawers. She then put on her beautiful black and white velvet coat and joined Will in the garden for some fresh air and to see the snow.

The steps down from the back door and a couple of yards of the path had been dug out but the remainder of the long and narrow garden which ran between the house and the mews was covered with at least five inches of snow. She hadn’t seen so much snow since one severe winter in Co Galway when she and her elder brother, Alfie, her parents and the servants had been snowed in at Ballybeg Glebe House for three extremely long days.

Snow drifts had rendered the roads impassable and being cut off from, not just Ballybeg village, but also from his beloved church, her father’s cruel and vindictive temper intensified. The Reverend Edmund Stevens took his frustration out on, not only his wife and children but also on the servants for the first and last time. As soon as the roads were passable, their cook-housekeeper and house-parlourmaid packed their bags and left. It was almost a month before they were replaced and, having inherited her mother’s lack of culinary skills, the meals the two of them struggled to produce simply served to infuriate him even more.

February 23rd would bring the first anniversary of his death. Were any of his former parishioners mourning him, she wondered because his widow and children most certainly were not. Crouching down on the path, she laid the palm of her right hand on the snow. It had an icy crust which even the warmth of her hand couldn’t melt. Her father’s heart had been frozen through and through and his grave in cold, damp peaty soil near the church door in Ballybeg Churchyard, and now likely covered with a deep blanket of snow, was a fitting resting place for him.

“Whenever there was snow at the Glebe House, my father never allowed Alfie and I to play in it,” she told Will, straightening up and rubbing her hands together. “He wanted his precious garden to always appear pristine. But when it began to snow here, I was already visualising our child playing out here with us – throwing snowballs and building a snowman – things Alfie and I were forbidden to do. How silly of me.”

“Remember what I said, Isobel,” he said, raising her hands to his lips. “If it turns out that we can’t have a child ourselves, we will adopt. We may not have made the child ourselves but we will have a child.”

“But I wanted us to have a child we made. I wanted to have your child, Will.”

“Isobel?” They turned around as Alfie stood at the back door wearing a black woollen overcoat similar to Fred’s and a pale blue scarf wound around his neck. “No, don’t step into the snow, there’s enough room on the path for the three of us.” Closing the door, he came down the steps. “I had lectures this morning and Mother has just told me. Oh, Isobel.” He kissed her cheek before hugging her. “I’m so sorry.”

“Is Mother very upset?” she asked.

“Yes, she is. I’ve persuaded her to go and lie down. I have only one lecture tomorrow and it’s first thing in the morning. Would you like me to call here afterwards and keep you company?”

“Well, I had already asked Mother, but if you could come as well and try and keep the conversation a little upbeat?”

Alfie smiled. “I’ll try my best.”

After her mother called that evening, Isobel and Will retired to bed early. Will examined her again and agreed with her that the rate of bleed was slowing. He kissed her lips then turned down the oil lamp and she fell into a deep sleep with her head resting on his chest.

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Author: Lorna Peel

Title: A Suitable Wife

Series: The Fitzgeralds of Dublin

Genre: Irish Historical Fiction

Cover Designer: Rebecca K. Sterling, Sterling Design Studio

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Apart from the photograph of The Weir on the River Dodder, which is thought to have been taken in January 1881, there doesn’t seem to be any other photographs taken in Dublin at that time.
Photo credit: Hartmut Feb 27 2018 by NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Winter / National Library of Ireland on The Commons / No known copyright restrictions
Photo credit: Weir on the River Dodder Below Orwell Bridge / National Library of Ireland on The Commons No known copyright restrictions
Photo credit: Into The Liffey / National Library of Ireland on The Commons / No known copyright restrictions
Picture credit: The South side of Mountjoy Square in the snow of 2010 – Photographed by Bryan Butler – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Kobac using CommonsHelper and used under CC BY 3.0
Picture credit: A Backstreet in the Snow by Walter Osborne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Picture credit: Old Dublin – Marrowbone Lane – Whyte’s Auction House

 

 

Merrion Square

Merrion Square is one of Dublin’s finest Georgian squares. Three sides are lined with red brick townhouses, while the fourth side faces Government Buildings, the Natural History Museum, Leinster House (seat of the Oireachtas or Irish parliament), and the National Gallery of Ireland.

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Merrion Square South

After the then Earl of Kildare (later the Duke of Leinster) built his Dublin home, Leinster House, on farmland on the edge of the city in the 1740s, the area became fashionable. Merrion Square, named Merrion after the seventh Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, was laid out after 1762 and was largely complete by the beginning of the 19th century. Two other residential squares were built in the area – St Stephen’s Green and Fitzwilliam Square.

Richard_Fitzwilliam_of_Merrion

The Hon. Richard Fitzwilliam, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion

The plots for each house differed in size, although most were for houses of three bays. The standard height for each house was for four storeys over basement but this also varied from one house to the next, resulting in a variation in roofline height. As it took more than thirty years for the square to be built, changes in architectural styles can be seen. 

Merrion Square North

Merrion Square North

The proportions of doors and windows in many of the houses are different. Some houses have decorative ironwork, such as first-floor balconies, and not all of the houses were fronted in granite on the ground floor. Inside, the townhouses contain magnificent ceiling plasterwork, ornate fireplaces and staircases.

800px-Merrion_Square,_Nov_2017

Merrion Square Park

Up until the 1970s the central railed-off garden was only open to residents in possession of a private key. It is now a public park managed by Dublin City Council and contains a statue of Oscar Wilde who resided in number 1 Merrion Square from 1855 to 1876. On Sundays, artists hang their works for sale on the railings surrounding the park.

A_Scarlet_Woman_SQUARE-1

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

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

A_Scarlet_Woman_PRINT_2

Read an excerpt from Chapter One…

By four o’clock on Sunday afternoon, she was fit to drop as she arrived at the Harvey residence on Merrion Square. Mrs Black brought her upstairs to a tiny attic bedroom, which she was to share with the other as yet unnamed parlourmaid. She longed to simply crawl into the narrow single bed allocated to her and sleep, but she had to go back downstairs to the servants’ hall to meet the other servants at dinner.

Mr Johnston sat at one end of the long dining table and Mrs Black sat at the other. Mrs Harvey’s lady’s maid, Edith Lear, Mrs Gordon the cook, Claire – the other parlourmaid – and Bessie and Winnie – the two housemaids – sat along one side. Down the other side, she was placed beside Frank, the footman, and Mary, the tiny kitchenmaid. She couldn’t help but notice a large number of servants for what was actually a very small household.

They all seemed friendly, asking her where she had been born, why she had come back to Ireland after her mother’s death, and telling her the Harveys’ were a good and fair couple to work for.

As early as she dared she excused herself, and climbed the stairs to the bedroom with a small oil lamp. Unlike the rest of the house, Mrs Black informed her, none of the servants’ bedrooms was lit by gas lighting. There was no rug on the bedroom floor either, only a small threadbare mat, and the window and door were draughty. She smiled all the same, as she unpacked her few belongings and ran her fingers over the two uniforms. She really needed two of each, but the others would have to wait until she received her wages. Being a parlourmaid was going to be hard work but it was infinitely better than being a prostitute.

She was sitting up in bed, plaiting her hair, when Claire came into the bedroom and gave her a smile.

“I’m glad I’m sharing again.”

“What happened to the last maid?” she asked, as Claire began to undress.

Claire pulled an awkward expression. “She got pregnant by a footman across the square. Both had to go.”

“Oh, I see.”

“So, you were in England? I’d love to go to England one day…” Claire tailed off and watched her yawn.

“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t sleep well last night. A bit nervous, you know?”

“You’ve nothing to worry about here.”

“I’m glad. You’ll probably have to give me a nudge in the morning.”

Poor Claire almost had to pull her out of the bed. Used to not getting up until all hours, having to get up at six in the morning and being called Maisie, were completely foreign to her. Still half asleep, she washed in lukewarm water and got dressed in the dull grey dress and lace-trimmed white apron and cap, before following Claire downstairs.

In the hall, Claire explained the house to her. The morning room and breakfast room on the ground floor were for the Harveys’ everyday use. The drawing room and dining room on the first floor were only used when the Harveys’ had guests but still had to be attended to. The library – created when the drawing room was divided in two – also had to be attended to, as it was used each day by Mr Harvey. To escape his wife, Claire added with a grin. The lighting of the gas lamps in the house was one of the footman’s tasks and, finally, the Harveys’ bedrooms on the second floor were the responsibility of the two housemaids.

Mary, the kitchenmaid, had already removed the ashes from all the hearths, blackened the grates again and set new fires, so she and Claire only had to light them. She followed Claire’s lead, only pausing for their breakfast after the table was laid in the breakfast room, the morning room had been done, and the serving dishes, milk, tea, and toast had been carried up to the breakfast room. They were placed on the sideboard as Mr and Mrs Harvey helped themselves at breakfast.

They continued on all morning, clearing away after the Harveys’ breakfast, and setting the table for luncheon. Then, the cleaning, polishing and dusting in the hall, drawing and dining rooms, and the library had to be completed until, at last, they went downstairs to the servants’ hall for their mid-day meal. 

Claire was friendly and chatty and she warmed to her. Returning to the servants’ hall after changing into their black uniforms, Mr Johnston informed them that Mr and Mrs Harvey were having guests to dinner on Friday evening.

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

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Author: Lorna Peel

Title: A Scarlet Woman

Series: The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Book One

Genre: Victorian Historical Romance

Cover Designer: Rebecca K. Sterling, Sterling Design Studio

Ebook and Print Formatting: Polgarus Studio

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(Book Cover): Mrs Langtry: Photo credit: The National Archives, ref. COPY1/373/215
(Book Cover): Gun Powder Office (cover): Photo credit: National Library of Ireland on The Commons / No known copyright restrictions
Richard Fitzwilliam of Merrion: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Merrion Square: Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Merrion Square (Park): Photo Credit: NTF30 from Wikimedia Commons and used under CC BY-SA 4.0
Merrion Square North: Photo Credit: Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States from Wikimedia Commons and used under CC BY 2.0