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Dublin – The Making of a Capital City

By: David Dickson

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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.

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”.

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Weight 1.5 kg

May 2014


718 pages