For this week, I enjoyed going on a tour of a Dublin of the past. A Dublin at the turn of the 20th century, to be more specific. What struck me initially about Thom’s 1904 map was its similarity to the Dublin of today. I immediately recognized some of the most iconic features of the central part of the city—Trinity College, Merrion Square, Stephen’s Green, Dublin Castle, Christ Church, the General Post Office, and even Temple Bar. However, I then began to notice some of the more dramatic differences. For one thing, the area behind the General Post office was not always a giant shopping center. For another, O’Connell Street, in its current name, does not yet exist on Thom’s map—this central street is instead to be called “Sackville Street” until 1924. The area of the docks is now home to EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, the Richmond District Lunatic Asylum is now home to St. Brendan’s Hospital, and the North Dublin Union workhouses no longer exist. Finally, the Abbey Theatre, established in 1904, was not yet a significant name on the map.
Most of these changes, I think we’d all like to believe, were generally positive signs of progress. O’Connell street, named after Catholic-rights-champion Daniel O’Connell signifies a change in Irish politics and general social awareness—the historically oppressed Catholic population was beginning to take back rights and political freedoms. The Lunatic Asylum would remain in service to those in need of psychiatric assistance as a hospital, but the standards of care and medical knowledge would dramatically increase for patients as mental health became more accepted and better understood. The workhouses, finally understood to be entirely unethical and completely inhumane, were closed. The Abbey Theatre, a place to celebrate the arts and ideas, grew in significance and relevance—establishing an iconic presence in downtown Dublin.
I think that some of these changes, however, could also serve to reveal some of the more complicated results of progress—both some good and some bad. For one thing, the establishment of large shopping centers around the city is a sign of growing economic success and a general rise in the middle class. However, these large corporations also represent a rise in consumerism and globalization, sometimes at the sacrifice of local traditions and communities. The establishment of EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum is a wonderful testament to the rich history of Irish strength and perseverance—but also shows the difficult and tumultuous history of the Irish people, which resulted in millions of displaced Irish people either having to or choosing to leave their homes and families with the hope of new opportunities. These changes in their entirety help reveal the ways in which Dublin is a dynamic city—with a rich history of tradition and culture as well as a potential for change and progress.