Redrawing Dublin

Creating the North East Inner City

The modern development of Dublin began in earnest in the 17th century.

It was largely the result of the extension of English state power in Ireland and followed the proclamation of the country as a distinct ‘kingdom’ under the English Crown in 1541. It was in Dublin that the English headquartered their Irish administration, including a viceroy, a parliament and courts. And as Dublin prospered as an administrative, transport and trading centre, its population expanded and its physical appearance transformed.

The Wide Streets Commission

The expansion of Dublin on the north side of the River Liffey was facilitated by bridge-building and private speculative development and, from the 1720s onwards, the direction of that development began to move eastwards. Crucial to this were the Gardiner family, property developers and the largest landowners on the north-side of the river, who, over the course of almost a century, laid out such landmark locations as Henrietta Street, Sackville Street and Mountjoy Square. Fine buildings and wide streets were hallmarks of Gardiner developments, features which aligned with the work of the Wide Streets Commission, an urban planning authority established in 1757 to relieve congestion by introducing a modern system of streets and regulating the type of housing development along them.

Elevation of the west front and plan of Mountjoy Square laid out on the rising ground, near George’s Church - the estate of the Right Hon. Luke Gardiner, and now (1787), to be let for building - Lord Mountjoy’s plan.

Elevation of the west front and plan of Mountjoy Square – the estate of the Right Hon. Luke Gardiner. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.

Map - Gardiner Street, Gloucester Street, Cumberland Street, Bell Street, Rutland Street and vicinity

A Wide Street Street Commission map of Gardiner Street, Gloucester Street, Cumberland Street, Bell Street, Rutland Street and vicinity. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.

The James Gandon designed Customs House

The James Gandon designed Customs House. Courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.

James Gandon’s Customs House

The work of the Wide Streets Commissioners also took responsibility for the construction of much of the quays, along which an impressive new Customs House, designed by English architect James Gandon, was opened in 1791. Originally opposed by city merchants who feared the eastward shift of the city would adversely affect their own property interests, the Customs House, and its accompanying dock, allowed for an expansion of Dublin port and refocusing of its development on the north bank of the River Liffey rather than its south side.

The growth & importance of Dublin Port

Dublin Port itself had only been established in 1707 and over the course of the century that followed it became critical to the growing economy of a city whose population tripled in the same period. Indeed, as Dublin came to dominate the Irish economy, the port became critical to a shipping industry that catered for the export of linen and agricultural produce and the import of such necessities as coal from Britain and such luxuries as wine from France.

The port would serve for centuries as a significant source of employment in the north east inner city area, the boundary of which was set by the River Liffey on one side and by the Royal Canal, another grand infrastructural project that began in the late 17th century, on the other. When completed in 1821, the Royal Canal ran for 146 km to the Upper River Shannon and between it and the river, Dublin’s North Inner City now enjoyed a transport connection inland to the heart of Ireland and outward to the sea and the wider world.

Do you have family memorabilia or stories about life in the North Inner City? We’d love to hear from you: