The Liberties, Dublin

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The Liberties
'Na Saoirsí
The Liberties is located in Ireland
The Liberties
The Liberties
Location in Ireland
Coordinates: 53°20′32″N 6°20′55″W / 53.342315°N 6.348724°W / 53.342315; -6.348724Coordinates: 53°20′32″N 6°20′55″W / 53.342315°N 6.348724°W / 53.342315; -6.348724
Country Ireland
Province Leinster
County County Dublin
Dublin City Council LEA South West Inner City
Dáil Éireann Constituency Dublin South–Central
EU Parliament Dublin
Time zone WET (UTC+0)
 • Summer (DST) IST (WEST) (UTC-1)

The Liberties (Irish: Na Saoirsí or occasionally Na Libirtí) is an area in central Dublin, Ireland. The name derives from manorial jurisdictions dating from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century. They were town lands united to the city, but still preserving their own jurisdiction (hence "liberties"). The most important of these liberties were the Liberty of St. Sepulchre, under the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Liberty of Thomas Court and Donore belonging to the Abbey of St. Thomas (later called the Earl of Meath's Liberty).[1] The modern Liberties area lies within the former boundaries of these two jurisdictions, between the river Liffey to the north, St. Patrick's Cathedral to the east, Warrenmount to the south and St. James's Hospital to the west.

Historical location[edit]

These two liberties are mentioned in Allen's Register of 1529, but without describing their exact location.[2] After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII the liberties of Thomas Court and Donore was granted to William Brabazon, ancestor of the Earls of Meath.[1] In 1579 the city of Dublin claimed the abbey to be within the jurisdiction and liberty of the city, but they lost their case. From then on the head of the liberty was the Earl of Meath. The family lent its name to places and streets in the district e.g. the Meath Market, the Meath Hospital and Meath Street. They also named Brabazon Row, Brabazon Street and Ardee Street (they were Barons Ardee since 1616).

In 1728 Charles Brooking published a detailed map, Map of the City and Suburbs of Dublin, which contained a better description of the boundaries of the liberties. The Manor of St. Sepulchre boundaries stretched from Bishop St. to St. Stephen's Green, along Harcourt Street to Donnybrook, across Rathgar to Harold's Cross and back along Clanbrassil Street to Patrick Street.[1] The Earl of Meath's liberty ran west along The Coombe to Ardee St., turning north towards Echlin St. then along James's St. to Meath St., then through various smaller streets to Ash St. and back to the Coombe.[3]

In 1837 the Ordnance Survey started developing their maps, and that of Dublin published in 1840 showed all the liberties, from the smallest (Christ Church Liberty, one acre two roods) to the largest (Earl of Meath's Liberty, 380 acres).[3]


In return for the support of the ruler of the liberty, or to alleviate certain hardships suffered by Englishmen or the church in Ireland, privileges were granted to the rulers of the liberties at various times and by various kings of England. For example, these allowed the liberty of St. Sepulchre to have its own courts of justice (Courts Leet, Courts Baron and a Court of Record, where it was allowed to try all crimes except "forestalling, rape, treasure-trove and arson"), free customs, freedom from certain taxes and services, impose their own fines, have their own coroners, rights of salvage, maintain their own fairs and markets, regulate weights and measures, etc.[1]

These rights and privileges ended in 1840.

Historical developments[edit]

Many places in The Liberties still have connections with a turbulent past in which political upheaval or dire poverty were the order of the day. In the 17th century, parts of them became wealthy districts, when the weaving crafts of the immigrant Huguenots had a ready market around the present day Meath Street Market, and a healthy export trade.[4]

17th and 18th centuries[edit]

In the late 17th century development started in order to house the weavers who were moving into the area. Woolen manufacture was set up by settlers from England, while many Huguenots took up silk weaving, using skills they had acquired in their home country, France. They constructed their own traditional style of house, Dutch Billies, with gables that faced the street.[5] Thousands of weavers became employed in the Coombe, Pimlico, Spitalfields and Weavers' Square.[6]

However, English woolen manufacturers felt threatened by the Irish industry, and heavy duties were imposed on Irish wool exports. The Navigation Act was passed to prevent the Irish from exporting to the whole colonial market, then in 1699 the English government passed the Wool Act which prevented export to any country whatsoever, which effectively put an end to the industry in the Liberties.[7]

A weavers' hall was built by the Weavers' Guild in the Lower Coombe in 1682. In 1745 a new hall was provided, financed by the Huguenot, David Digges La Touche. In 1750 the Guild erected a statue of George II on the front of their hall "as a mark of their sincere loyalty". The hall was demolished in 1965.

In the eighteenth century a revival took place by importing Spanish wool into Ireland, which was helped from 1775 by the Royal Dublin Society, but the events of 1798 and 1803, in which many weavers in the Liberties took part, and the economic decline that set in after the Act of Union, prevented any further growth in this industry in the Liberties.

Similarly, the successful growth of the silk and poplin industries, which was supported by the Royal Dublin Society in the second half of the 18th century, was hindered by an act passed by the Irish government in 1786, which prevented the society from supporting any house where Irish silk goods were sold. When war was declared against France under Napoleon and raw materials were difficult to obtain, the silk weavers suffered greatly.[6] The final blow came in the 1820s when the British government did away with the tariffs imposed upon imported silk products.[4]

From this time on fate of the Liberties was sealed and most of the once-prosperous houses became poverty-stricken tenements housing the unemployed and destitute.

19th century[edit]

The Tenter House was erected in 1815 in Cork Street, financed by Thomas Pleasants. Before this the poor weavers of the Liberties had either to suspend work in rainy weather or use the alehouse fire and thus were (as Wright expresses it) "exposed to great distress, and not unfrequently reduced either to the hospital or the gaol."[8] The Tenter House was a brick building 275 feet long, 3 stories high, and with a central cupola. It had a form of central heating powered by four furnaces, and provided a place for weavers to stretch their material in bad weather.[6]

Part of the area was redeveloped into affordable housing and parkland by the Iveagh Trust, the Dublin Artisans Dwellings Company and the City Council in the early to mid twentieth century. The appalling slums, dire poverty and hazardous dereliction have now been wiped away, and only a few scattered pockets remain to be demolished.


Thomas St., looking towards James St.

The area now comprises a succession of streets of homes and small residences and apartments, St. Patricks Park adjacent to the Church of Ireland's National Cathedral of St. Patrick and two former graveyards now converted into tiny city parks. The spot outside St. Catherine's church where the patriot Robert Emmet was executed lies en route to the visitors' centre at the Guinness Brewery, St. James's Gate.


The Liberties is home to many Dublin institutions, including Digital Hub Fm, a community radio station run by The Digital Hub Development Agency (and home to radio show The Buzz), the Iveagh Market (currently awaiting redevelopment), Vicar Street music venue, St. Catherine's Church, St. James's Gate Brewery, Dublin Food Co-op, St. James's Hospital, St Patrick's Cathedral and Francis Street with a range of antique dealers. John's Lane Augustinian Church was designed by Augustus Pugin and opened in 1874; the twelve statues in the tower niches are the work of sculptor James Pearse, the father of Irish patriots Patrick and William Pearse.

"The Liberty" is a free newspaper for the Liberties produced by journalism students in the School of Media at the Dublin Institute of Technology, Aungier Street.



In October 2007, plans for a multi-million euro redevelopment of The Liberties were revealed by Dublin City Council. These plans have been met with strong opposition from residents of the area, claiming that the character of one of the city's oldest surviving areas will be destroyed by such redevelopment.

In 2006 it was suggested that the National College of Art and Design on Thomas Street be moved to UCD. This provoked controversy with locals and students alike being against such a move. However NCAD passed a resolution that the college would remain.[10] In September 2008, after many years of restorative work, the old Thomas Street Fire Station which is adjacent to the college was unveiled as a new wing of the existing campus.


The Liberties is a documentary film about the area produced, filmed and directed by Shane Hogan and Tom Burke of Areaman Productions in 2008/09. In its long 78-minute form 'The Liberties' includes 15 short films featuring local butchers, green grocers, boxing clubs, stonemasons, street traders, evangelists, animators, tailors and local residents, including Oscar-winning actor, Brenda Fricker. In September 2009 a 52-minute version was edited for RTÉ Television and was broadcast on September 15, 2009 at 10:15 pm on RTÉ One.

Notable residents[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Commissioners appointed to inquire into the municipal corporations in Ireland, 1836
  2. ^ Allen's Register. Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1952. p. 302
  3. ^ a b Bennett 1992[page needed]
  4. ^ a b J. J. Webb: Industrial Dublin since 1698 & The silk industry in Dublin; two essays. Maunsel, Dublin. 1913
  5. ^ Bennett 1992, p.44
  6. ^ a b c M'Gregor 1821[page needed]
  7. ^ Lecky, W. E. H. (1879). "VII: Ireland 1700–1780". History of England in the Eighteenth Century 2. New York: Appelton. p. 230. 
  8. ^ Wright, George Newenham (1825). An historical guide to the city of Dublin, illustrated by engravings, and a plan of the city. Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy. p. 188. Retrieved 18 July 2012. 
  9. ^ Digital Skills Academy Digital Biscuit.
  10. ^ "News Archive (Summer 2006)". National College of Art and Design.