What lies beneath – An Irishman’s Diary on Kevin Street station’s medieval wonders
The two ancient stone pillars at the entrance to what was, until last year, Kevin Street Garda station. Photograph: Sara Freund
There is a big black metal gate on Dublin’s Kevin Street. It occasionally slides back and forth between two ancient stone pillars at the entrance to what was, until last year, Kevin Street Garda station. To the right, there is the enormous new building which now houses the gardaí.
And for a little while there was hope that with the new building open, the old station, in which policemen (and women) of some sort or another had been housed for more than 200 years, might finally be fully investigated and eventually used as a cultural centre.
Why? Well, because part of it dates back probably as far as the 12th century. But it’s not to be. The big black metal gate is, most of the time, closed. Because the gardaí have decided that, for the moment anyway, they want the buildings to house one of their specialist units.
The recent explorations found much of interest
The OPW, in fairness, did commission an archaeological surveyor to examine the site in the “in between” period. And the report from Archaeological Projects Limited makes fascinating, if uncomfortable, reading.
The company was called in because of the plan to remove a broken concrete surface in the courtyard. But when they began work, they found that underneath, medieval stone walls and deposits had survived and so a different approach to the removal of the old concrete and the resurfacing of the yard was adopted.
Long before it was a police station, the site at Kevin Street was occupied by St Sepulchre’s Palace constructed on the orders of the first Anglo-Norman archbishop of Dublin John Comyn, who was appointed in 1181 but who only arrived to take up his post three years later. The first historical mention of the palace is from 1216.
It has a chequered history. A century after that first mention it was severely damaged by troops defending the city from Edward the Bruce. By the 17th century, the palace was in bad repair but was restored by the then-Archbishop Michael Boyle.
It was in 1804 that the archbishop finally moved out and the palace became a barracks.
It has remained in similar use, with different occupants ever since.
The recent explorations found much of interest, the remains of medieval walls and, unfortunately, damage done by recent, archaeologically unsupervised pipe laying.
Indeed, one of the discoveries was that of plastic Wavin pipes in a robber trench (a trench that originally contained the foundations of a wall, the stones of which have been taken away) which prevented proper excavation. The remains of walls which may have formed corridors or halls and kitchens were also found.
Wouldn’t it be perfect if the gardaí found somewhere else to live?
And some of the finds resulted in the archaeologists changing minds on how the original and later versions of the palace looked. Sherds of pottery were found and preserved. And four fragments of Dundrystone – used in Ireland from the 12th century onwards – were found. Fragments of floor tiles, roof tiles and decorative plaster were found as was part of a wine glass from the 17th century.
The conclusion reached was that there should, at some stage, be further excavation to expose the remains of the medieval walls of the great hall and kitchens which, the archaeologists believe are worth being preserved and displayed.
Certainly, that is the very least An Taisce would like to see.
Heritage officer Ian Lumley said he had hoped that when the gardaí moved out, the site could be used for a cultural purpose.
And that may be the suggestion from Jason McGettigan, keeper of Marsh’s Library next door. Jason sees a future where the site is part of a Jonathan Swift Experience.
“Swift would cross from the palace to the library on a regular basis,” he said. “It would be perfect for those parts of the site which were part of the palace to be preserved and the rest, maybe, put to some commercial use such as a café which could cater for tourists.”
For now though, the gardaí are in occupation. The gate is closed most of the time. And while the OPW organised the recent investigations and excavations, it seems to be content to leave the gardai there. Dublin City Council is investigating whether or not the gate needs or needed planning permission but, the OPW says, it has been there for years.
There are at least 800 years of history there. Wouldn’t it be perfect if the gardaí found somewhere else to live? And moved out Swiftly.