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Culture Night: A Potted History of our home Morrison Chambers

 

A prime corner site opposite the side entrance to Trinity College on Nassau Street, this fine early 20th century building is finished in an austere limestone – constructed for North British & Mercantile Insurance Co. (1900-1905) on the site of the Morrison Hotel. The main entrance to the former commercial office contained within is on the corner underneath the copper dome.

The entrance porch still contains ornate decoration.

Above the Costa Coffee door are the coats of arms of the four provinces carved in limestone. Unlike Morrison’s, the present occupants probably do not draw their water from St Patrick’s Well, their skinny lattes sadly untouched by the holy waters.

The hotel was a highly fashionable spot in Regency and Victorian Dublin, stood almost opposite the Provost’s Garden. The Geraldine or possibly the Fitzgerald arms are said to have hung above the door. 

The building currently on the site at No. 1 Dawson Street, Morrison Chambers, is not the original hotel, the site having been cleared for the erection of the headquarters of an insurance company during the Edwardian period. Charles Stewart Parnell was a regular visitor to Morrison’s and Charles Dickens also stayed here on his visits to Dublin.

Proprietor, Arthur Morrison, Lord Mayor of Dublin 1835 (died 1837)

Proprietor, Arthur Morrison, Lord Mayor of Dublin 1835 (died 1837).  Morrison, who lived from 1765 until 1837, was a well-known hotel owner and had many roles in public life, serving the people of Donnybrook.

He was an overseer of many of the developments that took place in Donnybrook such as the new roads and pathways, particularly around Simmonscourt, and the wall surrounding the Sacred Heart Church. He also played a part in the construction of Anglesea Bridge over the Dodder, just beside the obelisk, in 1832 and he supported other local developments such as the foundation of St Vincents’ Hospital by Mother Mary Aikenhead and her later establishment of St Mary’s Magdalene Asylum.

In the centre of the traffic island at the junction of Anglesea Road and Ailesbury Road near the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook stands an obelisk in memory of Arthur Morrison, Lord Mayor of Dublin from 1835-36. The monument praises him and claims that he was ‘respected and esteemed’ and that there were ‘few to equal, none to surpass him’ and yet we hardly know anything about him. We do not even have a picture.  He was appointed Alderman (a member of local government, literally meaning ‘elder man’) in 1808 and acted on the Grand Jury (a local government council) of the County and City of Dublin from 1823.

Arrest of Charles Stewart Parnell, 22nd October 1881

Charles Stewart Parnell based himself in and did much of his political business from Morrison’s when he was in Dublin and it was there he was arrested in 1881. That event, of course, was to turn out to be just a mild misfortune compared to the bad luck he was later to encounter.

Parnell was a regular visitor to Morrison’s and in October 1881 he was arrested at Morrison’s Hotel, at the corner of Dawson street and Nassau Street. Parnell was allowed to pack and breakfast before being taken to the jail at Kilmainham, where he was given special treatment. There was rioting in Dublin in response to the arrest of Parnell and other Land League leaders. A brigade of infantry was brought to Ireland to deal with this, in addition to it the 5000 soldiers already billeted in Dublin. It was the passing of the Coercion Act, Protection of Life and Property, which allowed the government to arrest and imprison individuals without trial.

Charles Dickens

In  August 1858, he sailed from Holyhead to Dublin and spent an evening at Morrison’s, a first-class establishment on Nassau Street.

 A man who knew the value of a strong personal brand, and was one of the first authors to take this work directly to the people.He would read, and often enact, his best-loved stories, bringing the characters to life and ratcheting up the tension with his delivery.

In Dublin, he played at the Rotunda Rooms on Parnell Square. There were queues down O’Connell Street. Mounted police were called out to control the crowd. There is also reason to believe the country exerted a subtle yet crucial influence on his work.The inspiration for Miss Havisham, the reclusive old lady in ‘Great Expectations’, is said to have been one Augusta Magan, the eccentric descendant of an Anglo-Irish family who lived in decadent isolation at Shankill, Dublin.

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