Saving Robert Emmet’s birthplace and the plaque that never was

Saving Robert Emmet’s birthplace and the plaque that never was Robert Emmet Statue.

Echoes of the past from the Archives

Recent controversy over preserving the “last garrison” of the Easter Rising in Moore Lane aroused great interest, but this is nothing new.

In 1981, Charles Haughey was caught up in the matter of what should be done about 124 St Stephen’s Green. He had been approached by the Kilmainham Jail Restoration Committee about preserving the house. Standing on the corner of Glovers Alley, just beside the Royal College of Surgeons, the house was said by those who wished to preserve it to be the birth place of Robert Emmet.


The Dublin Corporation of the day denied this. The house was not his birthplace, merely his childhood home, their experts said. Emmet was born in Molesworth Street, on the basis of what his son, Dr Thomas Addis Emmet, had recorded in his history of the Emmet family (though this was contradicted by other sources). The family only moved to St Stephen’s Green later.

However, the building could not be properly inspected as it was closed up by the developers who owned it. The dangerous buildings inspector, however, identified a bulge on the flank wall. This might not be serious, but would require costly rebuilding. The neighbouring houses would also have to be rebuilt.

It was the view of the city “that these buildings did not merit listing”. The birthplace of Robert Emmet (if that, indeed, was what it was) could be “commemorated with a suitable plaque on the wall of the new development”.

A statue of Emmet was erected just outside the park on the other side of the road. But this has more recently been moved inside the park (cared for by the OPW) as a result of the construction of the Luas line.

The view in general of Dublin Corporation, communicated to Mr Haughey in a private letter, was that development of the city should push ahead, unrestricted by sentimental notions about the homes of patriotic heroes. A truly ‘Celtic Tiger’ view.

Today, the site is an hotel. There is no plaque.


The ever-rising cost of living very well 

One suspects that, in previous generations, senior civil servants would have owned their own evening dress suit, but by the 1970s things had changed.

A very large file released by the Taoiseach’s department contains the invoices for the hire of evening dress for civil servants attending formal events in Dublin Castle and elsewhere, even at “the late Pope’s funeral”.

These were largely from that once-famous Dublin firm of P.J. Bourke in Dame Street, and a couple of others, and were not only for men’s evening wear, but on occasion for ladies’ formal dresses too.

Back in 1970, the hire of a suit had cost the government £6.25, but by 1984 this had risen to £20. The inexorable rise in the cost of living affects even the Government in having a night out – and being decently dressed for it.