A knowledge of Dublin’s long and varied history will not only help you to understand the modern city that you are visiting, it will also help you to navigate your way round the city and make the whole experience a lot more rich and enjoyable.
South of the River Liffey there are three fairly distinct districts which arose during different periods in Dublin’s history:
- The oldest is the Medieval Quarter.
- Next to and to the east of the Medieval Quarter is Temple Bar (which developed as a distinct area during the 1600s and 1700s).
- Then to the east of Temple Bar is the area encompassing St Stephen’s Green, Trinity College and Merrion Square – this is the Georgian Quarter – Georgian referring to the period between 1714 to 1811.
Whilst Temple Bar has lost most of the spirit and most of the buildings that hint at its long history; the Medieval Quarter and the Georgian Quarter have retained much of the spirit and many of the buildings that make them so distinct. The are both must-sees for anyone who takes a holiday in Dublin.
History of the Medieval Quarter
Before the Norman invasion of Dublin (more commonly called the ‘English invasion’ by the Irish), and even before the Viking invasion in 841 AD, the area that makes up the modern Medieval Quarter was already a place of great importance. In fact the name Dublin derives from a monastic settlement that sat next to a large natural black pool. The name Dublin actually means means black pool. It is rare for anyone, who is on holiday in Dublin from the UK, not to raise an eyebrow when they learn they are in fact visiting ‘Blackpool’!
The Viking invasion in 841 AD would mark a turning point in the area’s history. The importance of the Viking invasions for Dublin’s and Ireland’s history would only be overshadowed 300 years later by the even more significant Norman invasion. From 841 AD right through to early 1020s, this small area of Dublin that we now call the Medieval Quarter would be the seat of power for foreign nations over Dublin, and later all of Ireland, more or less constantly till the present day. The Vikings’ first action was to seize the monastery and then build a series of fortifications, which would later be replaced by the city walls, some of which are still standing. If you wish to find out more about the Viking settlements then you should take a trip to Dublinia during your holiday. Dublinia is a series of exhibits outlining life for locals and vikings within Medieval Dublin. The exhibition is situated in a small museum that is connected to Christ Church Cathedral by a Medieval Bridge.
Before the Norman invasion in 1170 AD, the Medieval district of Dublin that lay within the city walls was already pretty impressive: the wonderful and still completely intact Christ Church Cathedral was built in 1030; and a huge Viking fortification also inhabited the land that Dublin Castle now stands on. However, the two centuries that followed the Norman invasion would see a huge increase in building and fortification. Many of the buildings that were built in this period still stand and are just as delightful in the 2020s as they were in the 13th and 14th Centuries.
Whether you are taking a short break to Dublin, an extended vacation or an indefinite migration, you should make sure to find time to visit:
- Christ Church Cathedral (1030),
- The City Walls on Bridge Street (1225),
- The Brazen Head Pub (1198),
- Isolde’s Tower (13th Century),
- Dublin Castle (1205),
- St Audeon’s Gate (1275),
- St Patrick’s Cathedral (1192).
All of the buildings mentioned above, with the exception of St Patrick’s Cathedral, reside within the old Medieval City Walls. These walls enclosed an area of no more than 1 square mile, therefore you could probably manage to dedicate just one day of your trip to Dublin’s Medieval Quarter and still get round most of the attractions that are on offer. However, if you are taking an extended holiday or long-term stay in Dublin then it would be better to take your time in order to try to take in all the history and beauty that is on offer within such a small area. For history buffs a trip to Dublinia is an absolute must!
Getting to the Medieval Quarter
From Northside of the River
If you’re travelling from the north side of the river, then the easiest way to get to the Medieval Quarter is to cross the O’Connell Bridge, then turn right and follow the Quays in a westerly direction. This walk will take you past Ha’penny Bridge, the Millenium Bridge and Gratton Bridge. The next bridge is the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge. If you are standing on the south bank of the river and look across the bridge towards the north bank and beyond, you will see a beautiful vista which encompasses this beautiful old bridge that dates back to 1816, with the imposing Four Courts in the background.
After you have enjoyed the view to the north, you will need to turn to the south where you will see the entrance to Winetavern Street. This street will take you right into the heart of the Dublin’s Medieval Quarter. On your right will be St Aoden’s Gate, whilst further on and to the left Christ Church Cathedral will soon loom large. At the end of Winetavern Street you will see a crossroads. If you carry on going straight you will then arrive on Nicholas Street and then Patrick Street. At the end of Patrick Street is St Patrick’s Cathedral.
From Temple Bar
If you are in Temple Bar, then reaching Medieval Dublin couldn’t be easier. Essex Street East lies within Temple Bar, and Essex Street West lies withing the Medieval Quarter. Parliament Street intersects and divides the two. Just cross this wide road and enter the road ahead – you will find yourself passing between two of Dublin’s most famous and impressive areas: Temple Bar and the Medieval Quarter.
From St Stephen’s Green
If you are staying in a hotel near St Stephen’s Green, it is also fairly easy for you to get to the Medieval Quarter. Anyone based around St Stephen’s Green should be able to find Grafton Street. Walk North along this street and, at the end, turn left onto Suffolk Street (you will see the statue of Molly Malone ahead of you). Follow Suffolk Street until it ends on College Green. Turn left here and walk along College Green onto Dame Street. Follow Dame Street until its end (thus passing the Olympia Theatre and City Hall). Ahead of you will be a right turn onto Parliament Street; or you can turn left onto Lord Edward Street. The imposing structure of Dublin Castle will be within view long before you take the remaining left turn onto Castle Street.