The Little Green, St. Michan’s Parish

Written by Thos. King Moylan.

This paper is concerned with the story of one of the lesser-known Greens of Dublin. We are all fairly familiar with the more notable ones, such as Oxmantown Green, College Green and St. Stephen’s Green, of which the latter alone retains its verdant claim. There was another Green, small, it is true, and aptly called the Little Green, of which no trace now remains except the perpetuation of its name in two unpretentious city streets.

It is difficult to commence with a precise date, so the use of the old introduction, “Once upon a Time,”” may be pardoned. Well, once upon a time, and the time was in the l0th century, there lived at Clonliffe a man named Gillemoholmoc, and his wife, Rosia or Dervorgil. Both were wealthy, but both were blind. One day, as the good man was seated on a dead log outside his door, he became aware of a very sweet odour and, groping with his hands to trace its origin, he found, to his surprise, that the dead log had sprouted a branch. Following the branch with his fingers he discovered that there was an apple growing on it from which the sweet smell came. Plucking the fruit, he ate it, and immediately his sight was restored. Looking at the branch from which the cure had so miraculously come, he saw two more apples and, calling his wife, gave her one of them to eat, and she too, was able to see. Now Gillemoholmoc was a very kindly and considerate man, so he immediately thought of his kinsman, Malachi, King of Meath, who also suffered from blindness, and, hastening to him, presented the third apple, with similar results. In thanksgiving Malachi purchased his kinsman’s land and thereon built a monastery, under the invocation of St. Mary, which he handed over to the disciples of St. Benedict. And so began St. Mary’s Abbey, with a portion of whose Green this paper is concerned.

There are, of course, more prosaic accounts of the origin of this Abbey, such as that it was built by the Christian Danes of Dublin in the year 948, or that it was founded through the liberality of the Ardrigh, Malachi II, whose death is stated to have taken place in 862. However, as the facts about the Abbey’s origin are immaterial to my story, I prefer to begin with the legend of the sweet-smelling apples, because by the time this paper is finished there will remain few pleasant odours, few acts of kindliness, consideration and charity, about the Little Green of Dublin.

The monastic buildings of St. Mary’s occupied an area bounded by Capel Street on the east, by East Arran Street on the west, by Little Mary Street on the north and the street called Mary’s Abbey on the south. The Abbey manor land, however, was of great extent, comprising the whole stretch of ground from the river Tolka to the river Liffey Bank, bounded on the west by Constitution Hill, King’s Inns and Anne Street to the Abbey Green. I have not been able to trace the precise outlines of the Green, but it seems to have extended from Capel Street to North Anne Street and St. Michan’s Street. I propose to deal only with that portion of it bounded by the present Halston Street, North King Street, Green Street and the roadway which forms the link between Little Britain Street and Cuckoo Lane.

The Abbey was originally a Benedictine monastery, but in 1139 the monks adopted the Observance of Savigny, a newly-formed congregation under the guidance of St. Bernard; this congregation became better known as the Cistercians. St. Bernard’s establishment at Clairvaux, France, was surrounded by a strong wall with watch towers. The wall was nearly encircled by a stream of water, artificially diverted from or into small rivulets, which flowed through the precincts to supply the fishponds, gardens and general needs of the establishment. At Citeaux, the original home of the Cistercians, a cross, erected on the highway, indicated the way to the monastery. Speed’s plan of Dublin, 1610, shows that St. Mary’s followed generally the same principles as at Clairvaux, the river in this case being the Bradoge on the west side, from which a branch appears to have entered the grounds on the north, about the present North King Street. The main entrance was apparently in the south-west corner of the grounds, but Speed’s plan shows a gate-like structure on the north and above it a cross. That cross may have served the same purpose as at Citeaux. – Soon after its foundation many benefactions were bestowed on the Abbey, amongst them several in the 12th and 13th centuries from the family of Gillemoholmoc. The city was never behind-hand in furthering pious objects and, by an agreement concluded in the year 1213, the citizens granted “”in free alms for ever to the monks all the land between the Ostmants town and the water styled Tulkan, and as far as Crohuroric, where the gallows formerly stood, and to the Avenlif, with the ground called Crinan. The monks are to maintain the green place which is opposite their outside gate, as a common pasture, according to the crosses placed there and without any obstruction.” For this agreement the monks gave the citizens one hundred marks and an assignment of a perpetual rent in Dublin of one hundred marks annually. The interesting thing about this grant is that it refers. specifically to the “”green place. ..opposite their outside gate” and to the crosses which, according to Speed’s plan, would fix the location at approximately the site of the Little Green, to-day (1946) identified by the names of Green Street and Little Green Street. The Abbey Green, as it was known about 1568, and as the Little Green from about 1727, seems obviously to have been part of the land granted by the city in 1213.

The Act, passed in 1537, suppressing the abbeys, did not affect St. Mary’s ; but the writing was on the wall, and on 29th October, 1539, the Abbey, with all its possessions, passed into the greedy hands of Henry VIII. The lands he parcelled out to his hungry followers, Irish as well as English, but the cash, plate and jewels vanished into his own private treasury. Thus ended this great house after five hundred years, and with it passed the land given by the citizens of Dublin “”in free alms for ever.”” In 1568-9, Elizabeth granted in fee-farm to the Mayor, Sheriffs and citizens of Dublin, the “”houses and mills, in and near the city, which were portions of the lately dissolved monasteries of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Thomas,”” at a rent of £40 per annum, with a payment of £80 at the end of every period of 21 years. It is not clear that this grant included lands, but it is the first mention I can trace in the Calendar of Ancient Records of Dublin of the Abbey after the suppression. It was about this time the name of Abbey Green emerged and its first appearance in the Calendar is under the date “”fourth Friday after 29th September, 1603.” At the assembly on that date, on a complaint against unfree persons pasturing their cattle on the city’s commons, it was ordered that no unfree man should pasture Oxmantown Green or the Abbey Green, without payment of a rent to the city. After this the Records are silent for a further period of 72 years, during which, presumably, the Green was a commonage.

In April, 1675, the City Assembly had before them a petition from Sir Charles Hartstonge (or Hartstronge as it is given in the Calendar), praying that arrears due by him to the city for a period of eight years past, in respect of his holding at St. Mary’s Abbey Green, might be remitted. In his petition he recites that he had long since obtained the interest, for a long term of years yet to come, granted by the city to Sir George Gilbert and Alderman Ridgley Hatfield, of a waste plot of ground at the Abbey Green, before the house of the late Sir Thomas Bromhalls, which interest the petitioner had also purchased. The explanation offered for having allowed the arrears to accumulate was that the Earl of Drogheda, by laying claim to more than half the ground, had prevented Hartstonge from using it. Hartstonge claimed that in some recent trials between the city and others against the Earl, he, Hartstonge, had defended the city’s title to the ground, being determined to build upon it and to improve it. The land originally granted to the Earl lay to the east of the junction between Mary Street and Henry Street, but as was not unusual in all periods, claims were made to lands adjoining those named in the grant. Hartstonge made a further application for land in January, 1681. He stated he was surrounding the ground formerly held by Bromhall, by a wall, with a view to improvements, the principal one being to draw the Bradoge and the other waters in other parts of the Green into one channel. By some mistake there had been left out of the original lease “a sharp angle of ten yards and a halfe at one end, but nothing at the other,”” and he declared, in a most concerned way, that “”consequently the whole streete would be built wholly awry or out of order, and would be a greater disornament to the citty than inconvenience to the petitioner””

The premises having been surveyed by a committee, it was found that the complaint was well grounded, and that the addition sought lay only at the south-east corner and ran northward at an acute angle which would “”bring the ground regular to answer a range with the street leading to St Maries Abby.”” A new lease, to include the small triangle, was granted for 99 years, at a rent of £6 per annum and a couple of fat capons, or five shillings in lieu thereof, to the Lord Mayor each year.

These details of Hartstonge’s holdings have been given in detail because they help to show the formation of the streets about the Little Green, the way to St. Mary’s Abbey, above referred to, being evidently Mary’s Lane. This appears more clearly in 1727, when on 14th April the Assembly had under consideration the report of a committee appointed to deal with a letter from Dr . William King, Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, in which he set forth that the number of inhabitants of the parish of the new St. Michan’s had so much increased that no one church was capacious enough to receive them all, and therefore he prayed for “”such a quantity of the Little Green as will be sufficient to build a church on.”” what he did not tell the assembly was that, in his Visitation Report, he had described the future congregation of the proposed church as “”lewd and unruly people “”who had no place of worship.” His Lordship seems to have been unduly burdened with lewd and unruly people in his diocese, because he characterised the people of Glasnevin as the last word in wickedness. and as for the people of Ringsend, before a church was built there, they were the lewdest folk in all Dublin! The Committee’s report on his request said : “”We……….have viewed and surveyed part of the Little Green, adjoining Sir Standish Hartstong’s holding and. have laid out as much ground as will be convenient and necessary to build a church on; and as the building a church there will tend to the service of God and the public good, we are of opinion that a piece of ground, part of the said Green on the north end there-of, be granted in fee-farm by the city to the memorialist to build a church on, at 2s. 6d. per annum rent, the same containing in the front to King’s street 130 feet, in depth from King’s street to the south on the east side 144 feet, from thence to the west 120 feet to Hartstong street, and from thence to the north to King’s street 80 feet, leaving Hartstong street on the west side 25 feet wide.”

The Committee’s report was adopted and leases were to be drawn by the Recorder and “”in regard the Bradoge runs through part of said ground designed for a church, that the same be turned, covered and arched by those who may be appointed overseers for building said church, so that the same be no expense to the city, and that a covenant be inserted in the deed to that purpose, and that a proper seat be reserved in said church for the use of the Lord Mayor and citizens.” It was also, apparently, a condition that the ground should be fenced in.

Rev. Mr. McCready, in his book on Dublin Street Names, hazards a suggestion that Halston is a corruption of Halfstone, but Rev. Dillon Cosgrave in North Dublin: City and Environs, apparently holds that the former Phrapper Lane, later Beresford Street, was originally called Halfstone street. From the exact location of Sir Standish Hartstonge’s holding it is obvious that the original name of Halston Street was Hartstonge Street, a name not too easy to pronounce. The same street has also been called Bradoge Street, from the river running under it. In Rocquets map of 1765 Green Street is called the Little Green, and the portion granted for the church is shown walled in. In the 1773 edition of the same map, with Bernard Scalets additions, the present Green Street emerges. About 1864 the former Petticoat Lane assumed the more respectable title of Little Green Street.

The personage whose name is perpetuated in a corrupt form by Halston Street, was the eldest son of Francis Hartstonge of Catton and Southrepps in Norfolk, and of Elizabeth, daughter and co-heir of Sir Thomas Standish of Bruff, Co. Limerick.

He entered the Middle Temple in 1657 and came to Ireland where he was admitted a member of the King’s Inns in 1659. He became Recorder of Limerick and a Member for that city in 1661, became Third Baron of the Exchequer in 1680, was created baronet in 1681, and in the same year was made one of the Governors of the Blue Coat School. After various ups and downs he was superseded finally in 1695 and died sometime about 1702, apparently in Herefordshire. He was married three times and in the Registers of St. Michan’s, Church Streett there is an entry of the baptism of his son Gwynt his son by his third wife, Jane (or Johanna) and also of the burials of three of his servants in 1681 and 1684. It is evident. Therefore. that he was more or less constantly resident on his holding beside the Little Green from 1675 to 1686, sufficiently long and of sufficient importance to have his name identified with the street in front of his holding.

From the regulations laid down for the Watch in 1730, it would appear that the patrol of the watchmen from the Watch-house at Young’s Castle, was round the Little Green, to the Bradogue bridge. One of the Directors of the Watch of St. Michan’s was Oliver Bond up to 1784, when he left the parish. He was to see the Little Green in grimmer circumstances fourteen years later.

In 1771 the Watch house was removed from Young’s Castle to the Little Green. The project visualised by Archbishop King did not come to fruition. Indeed, the Little Green appears to have been the home of lost causes. When Essex Bridge collapsed it was popularly believed the reason was that the stones of St. Mary’s Abbey had been used in its construction. A similar ill-luck would seem to have followed attempts to use the Little Green. In 1682 certain of the Commons petitioned the City Assembly that there was “”a parcell of groundt mentioned in the survey of the land taken for the Lord Lanesborough on the Abbey Green,””which would be convenient for a church for the inhabitants thereof. A plot was accordingly set aside for a church and churchyard, subject to a rental of “”ten groats per annum”” to the city treasurer, and to a proviso that a place be reserved, in the best part of the church (which, by the way, was to be built by the parish) for the Lord Mayor and citizens to sit in. The parish had other ideas,- however, and in November, 1699, the same ground was appropriated for the use of a hospital for the reception of aged sick and other diseased persons, as “”there are severall well-disposed persons who now would contribute largely to such a work, if the same was set forwards, and a piece of ground appropriated to the same, which opportunity, if lost; may not be again met with.””The opportunity was not lost, the ground was allocated, but this project also disappeared-another lost cause. In this entry in the Records the ground is described as lying at “the north end of the Lady Reeves’ garden.”” On a map in the City Rental Book, compiled by Arthur Neville, City Surveyor, in 1829, and now in the Muniment Room, City Hall, there is pencilled-in the site of two holdings, that of Lord Lanesborough and Sir Richard Ryves, the Ryves’ holding being towards the north to King Street.

In March, 1665, Charles II granted an annuity of £500 to the City. In July, 1682, certain of the Commons petitioned the City Assembly that Viscount Lord Lanesborough had been very serviceable to the city, particularly in obtaining this grant, but that he had received no token of the city’s gratitude; they proposed that he be granted a portion of the Abbey Green, adjacent to Sir Standish Hartstonge’s holding there. It was agreed to give his lordship a fee farm, he paying a pair of gloves to the Lord Mayor each Easter. In addition he was, within seven years, to build a good house “”fitt for a nobleman of his lordship’s quality to live in, “”failing which the grant would be void or else liable to a rent of £50 per annum. Lord Lanesborough, looking the gift horse in the mouth, decided it had too many covenants, so he reminded the city that the fee farm had been given as a gratuity for services rendered, and that, while he was minded to build a house there for his own use and not for tenements, he prayed the restrictions might be deleted, which was done. About seventeen months later-May, 1685-his widow; Frances, Dowager Lady Lanesborough, reported that his lordship had walled in the ground, intending to build a dwelling house for himself, but that he did not live to finish the work. She asked that she might be at liberty to build as she wished, as the covenant was a “”seeming discouragement to undertakers in building.”” And, of course, she got perfect freedom to do what she liked.

Lord Lanesborough’s neighbour on the Little Green was Sir Richard Ryves, Recorder of Dublin. On the surrender by Sir William Davys of the office of Recorder, Richard Ryves applied for the “”post on the ground that he was a “towne born child “” and freeman of the city, which had been the place of his education and would also be his constant place of residence. In 1682 he was given a piece of waste ground on the Green, near Baron Hartstonge’s holding and lying between Lord Lanesborough’s ground and the ground intended for a church and a churchyard. The holdings of both Lanesborough and Ryves stretched from Capel street to Green street, according to plans in the City Rental Book of 1829.

Sir Richard Ryves was born in Dublin in 1643, was Recorder of Kilkenny in 1671, Recorder of Dublin in 1680, was knighted in 1681, his residence then being in St. Michael’s Lane. He became Second Commissioner of the Great Seal after the Battle of the Boyne. He was appointed Second Baron of the Exchequer in 1692. He then resided in Capel Street. Ten years before he had obtained an addition to his original holding for the purpose of providing stabling to the house he intended to build for himself. This house would have been somewhere between Little Mary Street and North King Street. He died early in 1693.

His career as Recorder of Dublin seems to have been interrupted for a brief period, because in 1687 the city called on him to hand over the “”White Book “” and all other documents belonging to the city to Sir John Barnwall, then described as “”now Recorder of the City,”” but in 1690 he was still described as Recorder. In that year he was advanced to be one of the Lords Commissioners of the Great Seal and, because of his great infirmity he could no longer act as Recorder, the Lords Justices desired, Sir Richard being willing, that the Recordership should pass to Thomas Coote. If he was too infirm to continue as Recorder the same disability should have disqualified him from being a Commissioner, but any wish of the Lords Justices was not likely to be questioned in the year 1690. The direction about the White Book”” shows that the Corporation of that day had a watchful eye on their historic property, but unhappily that care did not continue, for the “”White Book “” passed out of their hands sometime in the 18th century. It turned up in an auction room in 1829 and was purchased by Sir. William Betham, Ulster King of Arms, for £64 1s.; he re-sold to the Municipal Council their own property for £150.

In Rocque’s map of 1765, the northern portion of the Little Green, apparently that leased to Archbishop King in 1727, is shown enclosed by a wall, and the rest of the ground appears to be a hummocky waste. This waste portion was set by the Corporation in 1761 to Columbine Lee Carre, in trust for James Dexter, at a rent of £60 per annum. A year later Dexter, who was Marshal of the Four Courts, admitted he had bitten off more than he could chew. He bought the site, intending to build a Marshalsea (prison) thereon, but, finding he had not enough money for the purpose, he decided to run a lottery, which was a failure. According to his own statement, he then made an appeal to Parliament to aid him in his task but without success. There was nothing for it but to ask the Corporation to cancel his lease. Another lost cause! The idea of running a lottery to finance the building of a gaol appears incongruous, but not more so than a private individual proposing to erect a prison for his own profit. However, as will be seen later, there were less profitable enterprises than running a Marshalsea. That name was derived from the prison at Southwark, belonging to the Marshal of the King’s Household which was in existence up to 1842. The county gaol at Roscommon, erected in 1818, is stated to have been built on the plan of the Southwark prison.

Sixty years after the Corporation had let the northern part of the Green to Archbishop King they began to think it was time to inquire into the intentions of the lessees, so they asked Dr. King’s successor, Dr. Fowler, if he had any objection to their taking back the ground. He replied that he had no objection, and released the ground, which was put up for auction three years later. The purchaser was Joseph Pemberton. According to tradition this portion of the Little Green was the former cemetery of the monks of St. Mary’s Abbey.

Perhaps it was due to Dexter’s idea that the Corporation eventually decided to use the Little Green as the site for a prison. In 1767, the old Newgate Gaol, possibly one of the oldest buildings then extant in Dublin, was in a ruinous condition and beyond repair. The selection of a site for a new prison was left to a Committee who reported that the Little Green was a suitable place, being the property of the Corporation and for a long time waste. They recommended that it would be highly commendable to grant to the public a part of the Little Green, provided a gaol was built there within a reasonable time. They further recommended that a plan and estimate should be adopted so as to have everything ready for the Grand Jury in the ensuing term. They also called the attention of the Corporation to another object, the need for a Sheriffs’ gaol and a Coroner’s gaol, pointing out that “”there is none of consequence, every person under the unhappy situation of an arrest, if not immediately able to pay his debt, is hurried into a Marshalsea.””

It was about this time that a young grocer, just around the corner from Little Green, had opened a “Bordeaux wine cellar,”” where he was prepared to sell wines, teas, coffee, spirits, etcetera. What commodities he proposed to sell under the designation “”etcetera “” was not then apparent; at a later date they evidently included men’s lives and liberties, for the young grocer of Mary’s Lane subsequently blossomed into the lawyer and Government agent- Leonard McNally.

The Corporation’s idea of a “”reasonable time, for building their gaol does not appear to have been a narrow one, because it was not until 28th October, 1773, that the foundation stone of the New Prison was laid, and a further eight years elapsed before the place was ready for the reception of prisoners in 1781. It was built to the plans of Thomas Cooley, an Englishman, who had been brought to Dublin in 1769, when his design for the Royal Exchange had been accepted. He also designed the Record Office, Inns Quay. Whatever Mr. Cooley’s qualifications may have been for keeping stockbrokers and records in order, he failed lamentably as a designer of gaols. It is true that the site rather restricted his plans, being only 170 feet by 127 feet and, being surrounded on three sides by public thoroughfares, was incapable of expansion, but there were some fundamental errors. Perhaps the worst of these, from the point of view of security, was that the back wall of each cell was the outside wall of the building, so that when a prisoner was locked up for the night he could spend his enforced leisure in boring his way through the wall to liberty. Nor would that have been difficult; the walls of such seeming solidity were really composed of an outer and an .inner wall, each12 inches thick; with a 12-inch cavity between, which was filled with loose rubble and rubbish. Yet no prisoner escaped by that method, though Major Swan, early in 1800, frustrated an attempt to get out that way. The defect of the cells facing the wrong way was corrected about 1817.

The cost of the prison was £18,000, of which £2,000 was contributed by the Government. Its official name was Newgate, after the original on Cornmarket, but it is very often alluded to as the New Prison. Its use as a prison was discontinued in 1863 when it was utilised as a fruit and vegetable market. It was demolished in 1893 and the site converted into a car park, called St. Michan’s Park. The walls were levelled down to about three feet above ground level, and the space enclosed built up to the same height. Thus the outlines of Newgate are quite visible to this day (1946) . It was the first building erected on the Little Green proper, and occupied the southern portion of the space.

Having completed the new Newgate, the Corporation turned their attention to replacing the old City Marshalsea, which was also in a state of decay. They selected the next vacant portion of the Little Green, adjoining the north wall of Newgate, and caused advertisements to be inserted in the Dublin Journal of June 10-12, 1788, for proposals and estimates for a prison to accommodate about 100 persons. They got only one proposal, from a Mr. Davis, so they recommended that a premium should be offered for the best plan and estimate.

About the same time the Grand Jury were treating for land on which to build a Sheriffs’ Prison, and it was arranged to set them a portion on the north of the Little Green, part of the ground leased to Archbishop King in 1727, and south of the building lot later sold to Pemberton in 1790. In addition to erecting a Sheriffs’ Prison the Grand Jury were also proposing to build a Sessions House, though the City Records are curiously silent about these negotiations. The first reference to the intended Sessions House is on 11th March, 1791, although the site had by that time been agreed upon and the only vacant spot left lay between it and the Sheriffs’ Prison. On this vacant spot it was decided to build the Marshalsea, instead of on the site selected in 1788, and now set aside for the Sessions House, which was to adjoin Newgate. In 1792 a Doctor Johnston petitioned the City Assembly to take over the Deanery House for a Marshalsea, but I have been unable to discover what Deanery, or who Dr. Johnston was. The petition was refused on the ground that it would take £3,000 to convert the Deanery and the yard was too small.

In 1794 the Corporation had before them two plans for the new Marshalsea, one by Mr. Byron (presumably Samuel Byron, City Surveyor) and one by Sir John Trail. Trail’s plan was accepted and the Committee in charge was authorised to spend up to £3,000 in carrying it into effect. Nevertheless, eight years later a report from the Committee on City Leases stated that the City Marshalsea had become so ruinous and insecure that a new one was absolutely necessary. Once more a sub-committee was appointed, and once more the same site was selected. Two months later the site was again proposed, the Committee urging the completion of the building on the ground that the Corporation was “”bound to keep such a prison by charter.”” Authority was given to advertise for plans and estimates and on 22nd April, 1803, the tender of William Pemberton was accepted at £2,174 14s, 6d:, being the lowest of five tenders received, it was completed in 1804, sixteen years after the project was first mooted. It was so badly built that it was out of repair by 1808.

In the meantime the Sheriffs’ Prison had been completed by about 1794. On 6th June, 1854, this prison and the Marshalsea adjoining were purchased from the Corporation by the Government for £1,000. They were utilised as prison stores for Newgate up to about 1863. In June, 1865, the Corporation sought to repurchase them for the purpose of connecting them to the late Newgate, then in their possession and used as a market. Before the sale could be concluded the buildings were, by direction of the Lord Lieutenant, lent to the Dublin Board of Guardians for use as a cholera hospital. In November, 1865, the; prisons were reported to be in a state of general decay, on account of having been untenanted for many years. The buildings were handed over to the Board of Guardians on 2nd June, 1866, and handed back by them to the Commissioners of Public Works in November, 1867, their condition being then stated to be clean and satisfactory. During the trial of the Fenian Prisoners, portion of the buildings was allocated to the use of the officers’ guard. The Sheriffs’ Prison was, in July, 1869, converted into a station for the Dublin Metropolitan Police and it, with the old Marshalsea, is now a station of the Garda Siochana.