Do you see the history on your doorstep?

Last night I took part in the Walk & Talk series organised by the Old Drogheda Society and Drogheda Millmount Museum. Like all good things, I’d read about it on Facebook and was quick to join up, as I’m mad into local social and cultural history these days, what with setting all my novel writing here. (Well they do say to write about what you know).

This week’s topic was Crime & Punishment and I expect many people turned up, because it had been promo’d on local news website www.droghedalife.ie as “Prostitutes on the Dublin Road / Murder in Shop Street”. Gagging for gossip we were. “Tell us about the ho’s,” I heard one elderly woman cry.

Our host for the evening was the engaging Audrey Smith and she began the talk across from the site of one of Drogheda’s oldest jails. The site (now St. Mary’s Church) was a basic hole in the ground with bars, and you were flung in there for years, unless somebody rich enough could get you out.

Here she told us about the prostitutes on the Dublin Road too. As this was the highway to Dublin (clue is in the name) there were many brothels and kip houses all along the the hill. Strangers used to wander into this part of town and be accosted by six foot tall, straw haired, love you long time types. “More about the ho’s,” shouted that elderly lady again as we made our way down to Scotch Hall to learn about the blueshirts and the riots they caused. Honestly some people just love digging dirt.

 

drogheda history
Top Left: The sun sets on the Drogheda skyline underneath a sign saying Droichead Atha (Irish name for Drogheda), Top Right, Shop Street and the coloured shop facades, Bottom Left, side of the Admirals pub with Guinness sign and Irish flag, Bottom Right, St Peter’s Catholic Church spire on the main thoroughfare, West Street

At the Tholsel, we got inside after hours to learn about the court sittings that used to take place there, where men, women and children were hauled before the magistrates (who usually weren’t trained in law) and sentenced to jail or by the sounds of it, most times, death.

The gallows hung outside the courthouse and if someone was sentenced to death and there were no gallows ready, they swung a rope over the nearest pole and did the deed there. Can you imagine all the people that died on the very spot where you push your trolley of groceries every week?

drogheda history
Clockwise: A pillar at the St Peter’s Church of Ireland, St. Peter’s Catholic Church spire poking over Clarke’s Bar on Fair Street, A pillar opposite Scoil Aonghusa, near to Magdalene’s Tower and the fabulouly kept Clarke’s Bar. Great for a pint too!

We learned about infanticide. while standing outside St. Peter’s Church of Ireland, and were told that the murder of babies was rampant in the 19th century, right up to the 1940s. Mostly led by Catholic shame, it seems babies born out of wedlock were often discarded rather than allowed to live. And with the lack of contraception, there were a lot of babies who didn’t make it past birth. It was terribly sad.

At Rope Walk we heard about the case of Mr Maguire and his two (lady of the night) friends who attacked and left for dead a young female victim. Maguire was hanged, while protesting his innocence, but the two ladies were transported to Australia, where as luck would have it, half discovered the Australian gold mine. They became rich and powerful and sure all was forgiven.

Our last stop was Eddie’s Hardware, or as it used to be know Drogheda Gaol. It sounded like a fierce place altogether, with high walls, iron railings, ready made gallows at the front (aesthetic and warning value) and a whole industry of punishment inside.

It’s weird to think that people were locked up in cess infested hell holes where you now go and pick your living room paint.

drogheda history
Clockwise: Whitworth Hall, Laurence’s Street, Old Church of Ireland Church, Palace Street, Lamps at old Franciscan Church, now Highlanes Gallery, Arched Gateway, to back of the old Sound Shop

As I made my way back to my car after the talk, I couldn’t help but notice that dusk had descended on our ancient town and it looked quite beautiful in parts. There were olds walls, old gates, iron railings, cast lamps; all standing there majestically, while we pass by each day, never even noticing.

Do you look at the history on your doorstep? Do you ever examine a piece of your town, a footpath or wall and think, who lived here? What happened to them? What was it like?

Because I do. All the time. But then, they don’t call be Nerdy Nicci for nothing. (They don’t but hey, they should).

Visit www.millmount.net to find out more about the Walk & Talk series or to learn about joining Old Drogheda Society.

30 Comments on Do you see the history on your doorstep?

  1. I’m really big into History (I studied it in University) but I can also forget to look around at what’s got historical value in plain sight. Good post that’s really got me thinking. x

  2. I live in the countryside in County Clare and I do go for walks sometimes and wonder what my little town was like before all the house were built here, who the people were and how much its changed! Its crazy to think about πŸ™‚

    • I know Aisling- and do you look at the new houses and think – what a pity, i bet it was far nicer before they were built! not that i can talk as i currently reside in one. Co Clare is lovely. Don’t know much about its history though – although I have heard of the seige of Ennis!

  3. Oh wow, this was fascinating to read and I don’t even live there!!! This is a great point, I really do want to learn more about my area. Especially as its not where I`m originally from, I know very little about it! xx

  4. This sounds fantastic. I love learning about the past. I live in a beautiful city with lots of history and I love finding out about it. I’m also a sucker for guided walks round the city.

    Cat x

    • me too. i do one every city i go to that i can. because how else would you learn anything. i also enjoy booze cruises. but that’s a different type of tour!

  5. The locations are absolutely gorgeous! I showed this post to my husband and he felt in love! He’s a photographer so you can imagine and many photos he was picturing in his mind hihi

    • ah wow. that’s great, because I’m not a photographer at all. There are some really beautiful spots and some really historic spots just outside our town that are often photographed. Where do you live yourself?

  6. great post Nicola, what a great tour to do, having a right laugh at the old lady “tell us about the ho’s” them auld ladies always looking for the bit of gossip lol

    • ooo did you ever pretend you were Maid Marion?! Looking forward to booking my hertitage trip to the UK, might even go it alone and get a bit of peace!

  7. This sounds utterly fascinating. I wish there was something like this in our nearest big town – there’s a wonderful set of almshouses that were built in Tudor times, and then rebuilt following a fire, and are still in use as social housing today. I’d love to learn more about their history.

    • I’m jealous of the beautiful heritage in the UK and plan on visiting soon to take it all in. Will have to research the best places to visit. We have become good at valuing our heritage in Ireland, but don’t think we have anything to match some of the villages and Tudor homes etc I’ve seen on TV.

    • I think we’re all guilty of it. We’re so familiar – if it was a strange place we might be more likely to go and find out about it! we’re lucky as our town as a great history and heritage society and make events like this really easy to attend and understand.

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