Historical Atlas of Dublin; Richard Killeen

Historical Atlas of Dublin; Richard Killeen

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Dublin started as a Viking trading settlement in the middle of the tenth century. Location was the key to its quick ascendancy among Irish towns. It commanded the shortest crossing to a major port in Britain. By the time the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late twelfth century, this was crucial: Dublin maintained the best communications between the English crown and its new lordship in Ireland.

The city first developed on the rising ground south of the river where Christ Church now is. The English established their principal citadel in this area, although Dublin Castle was later described by one disgruntled governor as `the worst castle in the worst site in Christendom'. Throughout the medieval and early modern periods, the city's importance was entirely ecclesiastical and strategic. It was not a centre of learning, or fashion or commerce.

The foundation of Trinity College is 1592 was a l
andmark event but the city did not really develop until the long peace of the eighteenth century. Then the series of fine, wide Georgian streets and noble public buildings that are Dublin's greatest boast were built. A semi-autonomous parliament of the Anglo-Irish colonial elite provided a focus for social life and the city flourished.

This parliament dissolved itself in 1800 under the terms of the Act of Union and Ireland became a full part of the metropolitan British state, a situation not reversed until Irish independence in 1922 (Northern Ireland always excepted). The union years saw Dublin decline. Fine old houses were gradually abandoned by the aristocracy and became hideous tenement warrens. The city missed out on the Industrial Revolution. By the time Joyce immortalised it, it had become `the centre of paralysis' in his famous phrase.

Independence restored some of its natur
al function but there was still much poverty and shabbiness. The 1960s boom proved to be a false dawn. Only since the 1990s has there been real evidence of a city reinventing and revitalising itself.

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