Dublin – The Making of a Capital City

By: David Dickson

(8 customer reviews)


This special edition is limited to seventy-six copies: lettered (A – Z) and numbered (1 – 50), clothbound, cased and signed by the author. The Numbered Edition is priced at €125. The Lettered Edition is priced at €175 and includes free shipping.

This all-embracing biography of Dublin, the first undertaken for more than thirty years, traces the social, economic, cultural and political development of the ‘second city of empire’ and its emergence as one of Europe’s great capitals. It explores Dublin’s first thousand years as a modest urban settlement, then focusses on the last four hundred, from the seventeenth-century court city via the parliamentary metropolis of the eighteenth, the politically and religiously polarized town of the nineteenth to the embattled centre of a new nation in the twentieth. It concludes with a magisterial analysis of the vast city-region that had taken shape by 2000. Dublin was always a hybrid place, a melting pot for Viking and Gaelic, Anglo-Norman, New English, Ulster Scot, Huguenot and Jewish, whence came much of its cultural singularity.

Irish independence was a mixed blessing for the new capital: Dublin’s rulers were for the most part not interested in urban regeneration or architectural flamboyance, and its cultural institutions atrophied for half a century or more. But industrial policy from the 1930s accelerated migration to what became greater Dublin, the poorly planned low-density megalopolis that had fully taken shape a generation before the Celtic Tiger growled. Building on modern research, David Dickson’s Dublin provides an entirely fresh account, much of it unfamiliar. Ambitious, detailed, inclusive and richly illustrated, it captures this tantalizingly complex story in a single volume.

The author: David Dickson is a Professor in Modern History in Trinity College Dublin and has published extensively on the social, economic and cultural history of Ireland, including his award-winning Old World Colony: Cork and South Munster 1630-1830 (Cork, 2005). He was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2006.

The Irish Times Review by Dermot Bolger, 21st June 2014:

When such a scholarly, encyclopaedic exploration of our capital city as this highly readable new study by David Dickson is published, one benediction the reader may feel is about to be bestowed upon them is that, because Dickson’s narrative ends on the cusp of the millennium, in 2000, we will be spared all references to that most cursed expression: “the troika”.

Sadly, however, it seems that, like taxes, the poor and Shelbourne Football Club, troikas have always been with us. But Dublin’s original troika – its clique of three Protestant politicians who formed a late-18th-century inner “castle cabinet” – left behind a grander, more lasting physical legacy than our recently departed troika of the EU, the ECB and the IMF.

Buildings such as Dublin’s magnificent Custom House (although contentious and not without its share of grubby political shenanigans at planning stage) were built in this period, under the watch of the most influential, well-connected member of that troika: John Beresford (1738-1805).

In a wonderful irony of history, Bertie Ahern, the taoiseach whose reckless policies did most to cause the more recent troika to tie up their longboats on the Liffey and tie up our economy in austerity, lives in an estate named after the Beresford family.

In a further irony, the land on which Beresford Estate is built was until recently owned by All Hallows College, which is closing amid a welter of controversies. All Hallows’ original opening as a seminary, in 1842, highlighted the huge sea change in political and religious influence that occurred in Dublin in the 37 years after John Beresford’s death: by then Daniel O’Connell was Dublin’s first Catholic lord mayor.

Part of the joy in Dickson’s panoramic overview of Dublin’s evolution since the marshy Liffey banks were first inhabited is being able to form a clear picture of this pattern of juxtapositions, contradictions, convergences and continuations that have contributed to the city’s physical landscape and to the political and social concept of what constitutes Dublin.

The city is fortunate in not having been built on water, like Venice, or on sand, like Amsterdam. Otherwise its foundations would have sunk by now under the weight of the books written in recent years about aspects of its history. These range from amateur labours of love, such as Drumcondra and Its Environs, by Louis O’Flaherty (self-published but to the highest production standards), to books as professionally researched and detailed as Ruth McManus’s magnificent Dublin, 1910-­1940: Shaping the City and Suburbs or Douglas Bennett’s The Encyclopaedia of Dublin.

Dickson’s Dublin is a magnificent work of scholarship in its own right, delving into archives and records, but he remains cognizant of the ongoing growth in research elsewhere. He therefore presents his overview as “a report of work (of many people’s work) in progress”, which draws on the current proliferation of academic research “to present a synthesis of our understanding of the elevation of the city”.


8 reviews for Dublin – The Making of a Capital City

  1. Lilliput Press

    “If you’re looking for a history book about Dublin – this is the one. Was recommended to me by Dublin City Archives.” MRS SMITH

  2. Lilliput Press

    “An absolutely fascinating book. It’s mainly about the past 400 years, but there is a prologue which covers earlier times, while the past four centuries are covered in detail. The detail is comprehensive; politics naturally get generous coverage, but social conditions and social geography are covered in a way not usual in such city biographies; and there is good coverage of the arts, science, medicine and the law. And Dr Dickson isn’t afraid to pull any punches, particularly in respect of the destruction of some of the Georgian heritage or the woeful lack of coordinated planning in the centre and the suburbs, or the machinations of some politicians; and there’s quite a lot of “muscular sundering”.

    It helps to have some idea of the geography of the city; rather disappointedly, there aren’t many maps, and it can be difficult at times to work out where something actually was. I had resource to a modern map, but the next problem is that so many street names have been changed and there’s no cross-referencing of them, so it’s still hard to get a mental map at times. Perhaps a new edition could address this problem.

    It also helps to have some idea of Irish history; it’s not that Dr Dickson doesn’t explain things, but sometimes the detail tends to overwhelm the big picture. For example, I did know about “the Liberties”, but I wasn’t wholly certain about their origin, or their exact extent—and at times, I had the impression (wrongly, I’m sure) that the boundary was rather flexible.

    There is a vast assortment of characters, and just about anyone you’ve ever heard of in relation to Dublin gets a look in. However my favourite story, about Sir William Rowan Hamilton is absent; he was a mathematical prodigy and the discovered quaternions (whatever they might be); but the story of him out for a walk along the Royal Canal on 16 October 1843 when, mulling the problem over, he suddenly hit on the answer, and promptly carved it onto Broom Bridge is just wonderful; surely the most abstruse graffiti ever.

    The book ends in a most unexpected way, with a paragraph about the woman who must be Dublin’s favourite, “The Tart with the Cart”, and the sudden appearance of her statue—though she has been temporarily moved while the Luas is extended. And the final sentence (my headline) could just as well refer to the whole city.” KORHOMME

  3. Lilliput Press

    Majestic … Dublin wears its years of study and learning without affectation, in language that’s accessible and more than occasionally deliciously barbed with irony. (Tommy Barker Irish Examiner 2014-08-10)

  4. Lilliput Press

    Dickson’s Dublin is an achievement: he synthesises a vast body of literature to create a work that is comprehensive, intriguing and sober in its judgments … Dickson has woven together the city’s social, economic, cultural, demographic and architectural histories; the story he tells will intrigue natives, enlighten newcomers and stand as a monument to this great city’s place in an ever-changing Ireland. (John Gallagher Sunday Telegraph 2014-05-18)

  5. Lilliput Press

    This new account has ‘classic’ written all over it. A handsome, well-indexed and copiously illustrated volume. (BBC History Magazine 2014-08-01)

  6. Lilliput Press

    This is narrative history of a high order, supported by impressive scholarship. (Sunday Business Post 2014-05-25)

  7. Lilliput Press

    A scholarly, encyclopaedic exploration of our capital city … highly readable … a magnificent work of scholarship … Novelists, historians and general readers will plunder this cornucopia for years to come. (Irish Times 2014-06-21)

  8. Lilliput Press

    He distils a mountain of scholarship to illuminate the whole of Dublin’s history. He is strongest on political and social change, informative too on the city’s marvellous architecture … This is the fullest overview of the many transformations of one of the world’s most enchanting cities. (The Times 2014-05-10)

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Weight 1.5 kg

May 2014


718 pages