• Thursday , 14 November 2019

12 Aungier Street – A Lost Literary Landmark

Rocque's Map with 12 Aungier Street marked.

The often shabby, domestic buildings of Aungier Street do little to excite the imagination of the average passer-by. However, this seemingly drab stretch of street was once the home of Ireland’s elite, and saw the beginnings of many a cultural figure, including the poet Thomas Moore who was born in number 12. Today this house operates as J.J. Smyth’s Pub and holds one of the oldest licenses in Dublin.

The Aungier Estate was founded in 1661, following the reinstatement of the Irish Parliament, on monastic land made available for development during the Reformation. It was conceived as an exclusive neighbourhood, providing easy access to Dublin Castle for its ascendancy class residents.

A second wave of building on the estate began around 1720. This signified a shift in the status of the area, as the aristocracy migrated to the newer Georgian estates and Aungier Street began to acquire a more commercial character.

It was during this phase that number 12 was constructed. As Roque’s map illustrates, the house was small, with a rectangular plan and an attached closet return. An engraving held in the Irish Architectural Archive depicts a brick Dutch Billy, three bays in width and four stories high, with a ‘pedimented’ gable. It exhibited many features typical of its time, including an internal timber structure and timber paneling on the interior walls.

Engraving of 12 Aungier Street. Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive.

On the 28 May 1779, the house became the home of Thomas Moore. His father, John Moore, was a grocer and wine-merchant and ran the business from the ground floor of the family home. Moore passed the first twenty years of his life in the house, where the ‘entertainments given by my joyous and social mother could, for gaiety, match with the best.’

In the mid to late eighteenth century, the Dutch Billy began to decline in popularity, as the more sombre Classical Georgian parapet became the preferred option. However, the gable of number 12 survived this change in fashion until 1866, when the then owner, a Mr. Healy, replaced the original façade with a flat cornice. This caused much consternation among the press and people of Dublin alike and was described as a ‘vulgar abomination’ in ‘The Dublin Builder’. The following month, Mr. Healy removed a bust of Thomas from its niche in the façade, causing even greater uproar. Fortunately, following the bad publicity he restored the bust to its rightful place, presumably fearing that the controversial move would have a detrimental effect on his new business.

The house passed through the hands of many owners throughout its lifetime, retaining its function as a grocer and spirit dealer, and continuing to draw considerable attention as the birthplace of Moore.

Weston Saint John Joyce, 12 Aungier Street. Courtesy of Dublin City Library and Archive.

However, the arrival of the sixties heralded a period of economic growth in Ireland and historic buildings all over the city were pulled down to make way for office blocks and housing complexes. Unfortunately, number 12 did not escape the destruction, and in 1962 it was largely demolished by Dublin Corporation, despite the pleas of those who wished to have it preserved. The following year it was reconstructed to appear as it had when Moore occupied it. Some of the original features were restored, including two hall doors, however, very little authentic fabric remains. The large paned Victorian windows were replaced with Georgian replicas and the bust of Thomas Moore was again removed from the façade.

This unfortunate demolition resulted in the loss of a historic monument. The house’s reconstruction failed to respect the layering of fabric that had built up over time, telling the story of the building. Today, it appears that the house has all but lost its connection to Moore, with only low-lying plaque in the wall indicating the site’s cultural significance.

Image by author, 12 Aungier Street today (2013).

Related Posts