Dublin City Morgue and Coroner’s Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoms Directory 1873.

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

Thoms Directory 1887.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dublin City Coroner’s Court.

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

The Coroner’s Court on Store Street, Dublin.

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

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

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

Read an excerpt from Chapter Six…

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

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

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

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Dublin’s Pawn Shops

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

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

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

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

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

Evening Telegraph 16 June 1904.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt from Chapter Two…

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

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

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

Walked out, most likely, Isobel concluded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who has the hire docket?”

“Mrs Wilson.”

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

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

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

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

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The Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company

Corner of Pimlico and The Coombe. Photograph by William Murphy

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

Proposed DADC houses at Meath Place, off Pimlico

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

Plans for DADC houses on Reginald Street and Reginald Square

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

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

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

Plan of DADC house to be built on The Coombe

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt from Chapter Four…

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

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

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

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

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The Four Courts Marshalsea Debtors Prison

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

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

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

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

An 1809 plan of the prison.

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

A ground plan of the prison.

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

Marshalsea Barracks. National Library of Ireland on The Commons.

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

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

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

Read a spoiler-free snippet from Chapter Six…

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

“Where?” Isobel asked.

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

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

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

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Rutland Square

Bartholomew Mosse

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

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

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

Excerpt from John Rocque’s 1756 map of Dublin City

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rutland Square in 1885

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

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

Read an excerpt from Chapter One…

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

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

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

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

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

“No, not at all.”

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

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

“And do you know what my name is?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How is your appetite?”

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

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

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

“A physical examination,” Will clarified.

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

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

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

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

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

“So what do you suggest?”

“That you engage a nurse and—”

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

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

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

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

“You think my memory will deteriorate further?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s safe.”

“Safe where?”

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

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

“That is very good of you, John.”

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

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

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

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

My name is Dr Jacob Smythe.

My address is number 8 Rutland Square.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Dr Fitzgerald.”

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

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

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

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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

The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series

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

The Books

Book One: A Scarlet Woman

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

Book Two: A Suitable Wife

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

Book Three: A Discarded Son

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

Book Four: A Forlorn Hope

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

Book Five: A Cruel Mischief

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

Book Six: A Hidden Motive

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

Books One to Three: Box Set

Out Now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Character Profiles

Meet Isobel Stevens

Meet Dr Will Fitzgerald

Meet Will’s mother – Sarah Fitzgerald

Meet Will’s father – Dr John Fitzgerald

Meet Will’s best friend – Dr Fred Simpson

Meet Fred’s wife – Margaret Simpson

Meet Isobel’s grandparents – Lewis and Tilda Greene

Meet Isobel’s brother – Alfie Stevens

Meet Isobel and Alfie’s mother – Martha Ellison

Meet Solicitor James Ellison

Meet Martha’s twin brother – Miles Greene

Meet Dr David Powell

Meet Gordon Higginson QC

Meet Dr Jacob Smythe

Meet Cecilia Ashlinn

Meet Peter Shawcross

Location Histories

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

Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland

The Liberties of Dublin, Ireland

Monto: Dublin’s Red Light District

Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, Ireland

St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

The Westmoreland Lock Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

Rutland Square, Dublin, Ireland

The Four Courts Marshalsea Debtors Prison

Dublin City Morgue and Coroner’s Court

History

The Great Snow of January 1881

Dublin’s Coal Holes and Coal Cellars

Laudanum: The Aspirin of the Nineteenth Century

The Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company

Dublin’s Pawnshops

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

The Fitzgeralds of Dublin Series is

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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

Ebook and Print Formatting: Polgarus 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

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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