A Journey with Pipe-smoke.
As we walked to the top of Werburg Street Hill, the temperature in the air seemed to drop, as a brisk wind picked up. This change in atmosphere was tempered with the delicious aroma wafting from Dublin’s most popular Fish and Chip Shop, Leo Burdocks. The door of the ‘chipper’ is always open, always welcoming. Like an oasis of calm and friendly faces in a sinister land.
Dublin’s Horrid History – The Stocks
Outside the Bull and Castle Pub, Pipe-smoke introduced the area which, in years past, was the city’s area of public humiliation – The Stocks. Many a Dublin native would have found themselves shackled here for weeks on end. Even though, Dublin was the ‘Second City’ in the British Empire, the poverty across the capital was stark. Perhaps the stocks and a degree of humiliation was ‘getting off lightly’? Times were tough then.
Abject poverty is a heavy cloak, a burden not easily removed from a city’s shoulders. Especially, a city willing to neglect its citizens (remember ‘The Lady Justice’ at Dublin Castle?). Crossing the road and entering the gates of Christ Church, we are remined of the current state of the city with respect to social deprivation. Record figures of homeless and rough-sleepers adorn our city’s streets, increasing in number on a monthly basis. They are the forgotten souls. And one such soul is found lying across the very first bench as we enter the gardens of Dublin’s most iconic landmark. The figure is draped in a heavy dark cloak, not too dissimilar in colour to the impending sunset. Feet extend from underneath the cloak, and yet no movement is visible. Surely, this prostate figure hadn’t become Dublin’s latest statistic?
A closer inspection shows strange markings on the protruding, exposed feet and all becomes apparent. It’s a harrowing piece of art. The message hits home like a punch to the solar plexus. Who are these people who line our streets? Unknown, unwanted? What talents do they have? Who could they have been, but for circumstance and choices made? Perhaps, like the sitting space available to the right of the figure, the message is that ‘we are never too far away from this experience ourselves’?
Not for the first time on this tour we learn that the spectre of the past is still entwined with contemporary Dublin. Pipe-smoke provides a full and frank history lesson on the establishment of Christ Church Cathedral. For centuries, it has been (and still is) a place of reflection and quiet contemplation, away from the busy streets beyond its perimeters. On weekends the gardens are occupied by market stalls where people can browse, chat and enjoy refreshments. Whilst walking through the Gardens of Christ Church, we learn of the adjoining areas – collectively referred to by the medieval natives as Hell.
We walk towards Darkey Kelly’s Pub on Fishamble Street. The plaque on the wall, just inside the porch tells of how Darkey Kelly was the madam of the popular brothel, who was tried and convicted of the murder of her child. However, Pipe-smoke informed me that Darkey Kelly was actually Dublin’s first serial killer. As police came to investigate the disappearance of a patron to The Maiden Tower, shoemaker John Dowling, they found the bodies of at least five men hidden within the vaults of the brothel. Darkey Kelly was throttled first then burned alive in 1761. Hanging, back then was kept for males only. As legend would have it, she still haunts the tunnel which runs underneath the city, linking Fishamble Street to Cook Street. And this is the path we followed.
Dublin’s Horrid History – The Cook Street
The Cook Street entrance to the tunnel is visible through the gates at the city wall remnants. One can almost taste the history, standing underneath the arch in the City Wall. Beyond these black gridded gates looks so unwelcoming. What lies behind the black door at the top of the steps? What lies behind the brick worked tunnel on the left? It was here that Pipe-smoke took out his phone and showed images from a previous ‘haunted’ tour. Unsettling, grainy images. Could they be that of ‘The Green Lady, Darkey Kelly?’ To describe the images would be to give them a disservice. Never before on any tour (walking or otherwise) have I witnessed something so unexpected, mysterious and unnerving.
The tour continued, though, a large portion of my mind was certainly elsewhere. Captured, like the grainy images on Pipe-smoke’s mobile phone. As we enter the grounds of St. Audeon’s Church, we learn of the Meeting of the Pathways to Dublin, of clandestine meetings of a rebellious nature, the legend of The Dolocher (The Beast of Cornmarket, A legend from Black Dog Prison) and view two of the largest sea-shell exhibits in the City.
Dublin’s Horrid History Tour offered by Ralph Smyth is an enthralling experience. His knowledge, anecdotes and engaging tone throughout, keep the eager ear wanting to learn more, to absorb more information and ensures distraction is kept at bay. The narrative is not top heavy with historical reference. There is the correct blend of history mixed with cultural and contemporary reference, excellently complemented by the ‘horrid’ elements of the tour which bring the city to life. The dark, historic underbelly of Dubh Linn.
Ref: A ‘naughty’ person in the Christmas stocks, Kilkenny, 2016!
An important notice from Ralph: ‘for anybody who is interested in doing the “Dublin’s Horrid History” tour if they quote “Horrid History” when they contact me I’ll give them a special price of €12.00 per person!’
(This will only apply to groups of 4 people or more. Single person tours will still pay full €15.00 per person)