LIVING PAST

Come time travel with the Keeper of the Books,
Cathedral Volunteers, and Bell Ringers

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About this section

This historic quarter is home to both a medieval cathedral and an eighteenth century library. No less than 400,000 visitors per year visit Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, an architectural gem, a place of worship and residence for the well renowned Cathedral Choir.

Next door neighbour Marsh’s Library houses a collection of 25,000 rare and fascinating books. It opened its doors in 1707 and was the first public library in Ireland.

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The Bell Tower

Saint Patrick’s Belfry, also known as the Minot Tower, was originally commissioned by Archbishop of Dublin Thomas Minot in 1362. It boasts fifteen bells, is made from Dublin calp limestone and its walls are ten feet thick.

Bell ringing, a traditional skill, is an enjoyable social activity for some members of the community. The Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Bell Ringers meet in the belfry for weekly practice on a Tuesday evening and also before Sunday service, as a traditional call to worship.

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Iveagh's Prick

This 100 foot tall granite spire, designed by George Semple, was added approximately 400 years after the tower was originally built.

The spire is known locally as “Iveagh’s Prick”, following in the tradition whereby Dubliners commonly christen landmarks with slightly risqué titles (e.g. the tart with the cart, the golden goolie, the floozie in the jacuzzi).

The Cathedral

Founded in 1192 and built in an early English gothic style, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in Ireland. It was originally the site of a holy well which according to legend was used by Saint Patrick to baptise new converts to Christianity in 450 AD.

The interior is decorated with monuments and memorials to significant families and individuals connected with the cathedral including: the Boyle monument, the memorial to Archbishop Narcissus Marsh and a stone effigy of Fulk de Sandford, Archbishop of Dublin from 1256 to 1271.

In July 2014, the Tree of Remembrance, a simple neutral symbol and a memorial to all those who have been affected by conflict, was installed in the North Transept.

Chancing your arm door

Chancing your arm

Legend has it that the famous Irish expression “chancing your arm” comes from the story about Saint Patrick’s Cathedral’s “Door of Reconciliation”.

In 1492, a bitter feud broke out between two families, the Butlers of Ormonde and the Fitzgeralds of Kildare, over who was the rightful Lord Deputy of Dublin. When the violence escalated, the Butlers sought sanctuary in the Chapter House of the Cathedral.

The Fitzgeralds pleaded with them to come out, but the Butlers were afraid for their lives and refused. In an attempt to broker a truce, Gerald Fitzgerald asked for a hole to be cut into the door so he could offer his hand in peace to those on the other side. Upon seeing that Fitzgerald was willing to risk his arm, the Butler’s conceded to come out and the families were reconciled.

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Cathedral Choir

Hymns, psalms, and the accompanying organ music resonate across the cathedral nave two times a day for services at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. The choir consists of twenty-one choristers who attend the cathedral choir school located across the lane which was first opened in 1432.

They have found international success through their Christmas and Saint Patrick’s day televised performances. The choir is probably most famous for being the first to perform Handel's oratorio Messiah on 13 April, 1742 in conjunction with the Christchurch choir.

The Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was added around 1270. This is in keeping with the great cathedrals of northern Europe in which it became standard practice to build a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin behind the main altar during the 13th and 14th centuries.

By the early 17th century the Lady Chapel was said to have been in ruins, but like the rest of the building was restored in the 19th century.

Annie Lee Plunkett, wife of Archbishop Plunkett, and daughter of Benjamin Guinness, is commemorated for her charitable work in one of the chapel’s stained glass windows. Here is a line from scripture which is featured on this window:

“I was thirsty and ye gave me drink.”
"Power is no blessing in itself,
except when it is used to protect the innocent."

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

Dean of the Cathedral from 1713 until 1745, Jonathan Swift is acclaimed as both a great prose satirist and a champion of the poor.

"Gulliver’s Travels", a classic English text which has never been out of print, is probably Swift’s best known work. Controversial in its day, it is both a humorous and critical attack on British and European society.

Swift was regarded as quite the eccentric and even wrote his own epitaph. He left instructions for this to be carved on a piece of Kilkenny marble on the wall opposite his grave at the west end of the Cathedral. It reads:

“Here lies the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity and Dean of this Cathedral, Where savage indignation can no longer lacerate his heart; Go traveller and imitate if you can, this dedicated and earnest champion of liberty. He died on the 19th October 1745, aged 78 years anno”