So long, Long Stone – An Irishman’s Diary on the changing face of Dublin
The Long Stone Pub on Townsend Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The recent closure of the Long Stone pub in Dublin’s Townsend Street to make way for major developments just south of the Liffey didn’t attract much media attention, although it was one of the city’s historic hostelries with a provenance dating back to the 1750s and a name that recalled the Norse invasion in the ninth century.
Until the late 17th and early 18th centuries, when entrepreneurs like William Hawkins and Sir John Rogerson took matters in hand, the Liffey wasn’t banked and its tideway extended into the land on either side.
The area under modern Westmoreland and D’Olier streets would have been particularly marshy because it also hosted a stream that meandered south from somewhere near modern Harcourt Road but, immediately to the east, there was an area of elevated ground that protruded into the Liffey rather like Ringsend further down the river.
It became a place for the invaders to beach their long boats and, in time, they erected an unhewn stone or a stein, as they would have called it, rising three to four metres above ground, at what is now the junction of Hawkins, College and Townsend Streets, to mark their ownership of the land.
The Stein gave a name to the stream and to the general area and in 1220, when the Normans were in control, the archbishop, Henry of London, sponsored the building of a hospital at “La Steyne” in honour of God and St James.
It became a “lazaretto” or hostel for lazars, the common name for lepers because the biblical Lazarus was said to have the disease, and it may have accommodated sufferers waiting to board ships to travel to the shrine of St James, the patron of lepers, at Santiago de Compostela.
The Long Stone of the Steyne, as the marker was later known, featured in Sir William Petty’s Survey of Ireland in 1654 and survived in situ until about 1750 when it disappeared or was broken up.
In 1862, its location was chosen for a memorial fountain for Sir Philip Crampton, the late surgeon- general of the army in Ireland and a founder of the Dublin Zoological Society. This was widely considered to be an ugly piece of work and attracted sobriquets such as the stalk or the cauliflower. When it partly collapsed in February 1959 there was no attempt to restore it.
In 1986, Dublin Corporation accepted a sculpture from Cliodna Cussen that recalled the Stein and placed it at the junction of Hawkins and Pearse Streets.
Townsend Street is one of the few thoroughfares in the city with name plates carrying quite different Irish and English names. In Irish, it’s Sráid Chnoc na Lobhar, the Hill of the Lepers, a reference to the hostel and a translation of the late medieval name, Lazar’s Hill, or Lazy Hill from the 1640s.
According to some name plates, nearby Westmoreland street is Sráid an Fheistighe, the Street of the Assembly House, a reference to the old parliament building and ironic because the street wasn’t opened until 1801, when the parliament had closed. And Nassau Street, named after Richard Nassau Molesworth, an 18th-century aristocrat, is Sráid Thobair Phádraigh in memory of an ancient well. But newer name plates proclaim that they are also Sráid Westmoreland and Sráid Nassau respectively.
Following the local elections of January 1920, Sinn Féin, other nationalists and the Labour Party dominated the Dublin Municipal Council and later that year they set up a committee to consider the nomenclature of the city’s streets.
Its report, published in April 1921, stated that 19 placenames were derived from kings, queens and other royals, that 49 commemorated viceroys or their families, that up to 120 were named after state officials, lord mayors, noblemen, and property owners or their connections and that there were “few cities in the civilised world where the names of governors, oppressors and despoilers have been honoured to the same extent”.
The committee then proposed a long list of changes but, unfortunately for their patriotic fervour, the Dublin Corporation Act, 1890, stipulated that the agreement of half of the ratepayers “by number and value” was required before any new name could be adopted for a street and most of the proposals didn’t go to a plebiscite, probably because a negative outcome seemed certain.
So, for example, while Great Brunswick Street became Pearse Street, and Gloucester Street became Sean MacDermott Street, North Earl and Talbot Streets didn’t become Brian Boru Street, Baggot Street didn’t become Sheares Street, Fitzwilliam Square didn’t become Plunkett Square, Grafton Street didn’t become Grattan Street, the existing Grattan Street didn’t become Grattan Street Little, Capel and Bolton Streets didn’t become Silken Thomas Street and the streets between Dame Street and Kelly’s Corner didn’t become Cahermore Road in memory of a mythical king of Leinster.
The developments which will replace Hawkins House, the Screen Cinema and Apollo House as well as the Long Stone pub will include a thoroughfare as yet unnamed. Steyne Street, Sráid na Cloiche Fada, perhaps?