Gothic Horror and Georgian Dublin
Georgian Dublin was a glittering, lively city full of rakes and rascals, eccentrics, scholars, actors, vagabonds and rogues. The streets bristled with hawkers selling a variety of wares.
Food came in wooden barrels, there was ‘pease pudding’, ‘oysters’ and ‘Bulrudderie cakes’ and a fresh supply of ‘whey’ should that take your fancy. You could buy clogs from the travelling cobblers; crockery was carried in a large wooden crate by a two man team and if you wanted a change of coat or jacket there was the second-hand-clothes merchants who carried their stock on a pole on their back.
The wealthy or middling classes had an array of new shops to venture into, including Jones Periwig shop, you can still see the painted sign advertising it’s wigs on Dawson Street. Jones’ shop used to keep a supply of bears out in the yard and would regularly kill a bear for it’s grease since it was considered the best substance for keeping curls firm and lustrous.
For entertainment there were the many theatres, Smock Alley and the Crow Street Theatre where Spranger Barry and the eighteenth century superstar actor Garrick performed, and of course Neale’s music hall on Fishamble Street where famously Handle’s Messiah was first produced.
There’s a rumour that an Irishman Richard Daly invented the word ‘quiz’. He ran Smock Alley theatre and supposedly for a bet said that he would invent a word that would be used throughout the capital within forty-eight hours. He then got a team of actors to paint the word ‘quiz’ on walls around the city and within two days the word was the talk of the town. It has been argued that ‘quiz’ had already been in use at the time to denote an eccentric, if that is the case and staying with this early meaning of the word there were many ‘quizzical’ inhabitants in Dublin during the seventeen hundreds.
The most striking stories are jaw dropping. Sometimes they are slight stories, humorously told but struck through with a shivering streak of savagery. Take for example nick-names. There was a man who shot his friend Kelly, and another who killed his coachman. The first got the nickname of ‘Killkelly,’ the second became known as ‘Killcoachy.’ And the black humour continues. There were three brothers, seemingly of noble birth, all of them famous for deficiencies in their character. The first brother was a notorious fighter, he would cause a row wherever he went, the second was frequently flung into prison, the third had been disabled from his ‘buckish’ behaviour and they became universally known as ‘Hellgate,’ ‘Newgate,’ and ‘Cripplegate.’
Aristocratic men were frequently flung out of the second story window of Daly’s gaming club on College Green, in fact the gambling fever took hold of not only the ascendancy but the lower orders.
I was surprised to learn there were lotteries in Dublin in the seventeen hundreds. There’s a very interesting story that I can’t quiet shake, it may be apocryphal, but a bit of me wonders if it is true. The lottery shops were painted bright gaudy colours; the interiors were fitted with mirrors reflecting dazzling glass chandeliers festooned with ribbons. The décor was especially designed to entice you inside. A scheme was devised where you could ‘insure’ a number for a shilling and each day in the lottery-hall on Capel Street the wheel was turned and a number called. The story goes that a young blind girl who begged on Sackville Street and had attracted attention because she was so polite and clean and ‘mannerly.’ She had a little basket full of articles covered with a net and made more money than an ordinary beggar. One night she dreamed of a number, certain it was a premonition she became convinced that she would make her fortune by it. She ‘insured’ her number over and over until everything she had was gone and she could no longer ‘play.’ On the day that she could no longer take part in the lottery her number came up. The story goes that she ‘groped her way to the Royal Canal, and threw herself into it.’
I gathered all these stories and many more when I was researching for my gothic novel The Dolocher. The dazzling Georgian fashions in clothes, architecture and manners have a curiously modern tinge to them. The current twitter culture seems beautifully reflected in the noisy debating environs of the eighteenth century coffee shop. Modern open and relaxed attitudes to sexual expression can be found in the jelly and molly houses of the eighteenth century underworld. But scratch the surface of any culture and you find the gothic.
Eighteenth century crime in Dublin was exactly like that of London and as a result the prisons were notoriously overcrowded. We had a debtor’s prison in Dublin called The Black Dog, and it was in the Black Dog prison that the Dolocher ghost story begins.
The prison was an infamous ‘sink of vice,’ the keeper a vicious psychopath who on one occasion broke the leg of an inmate and left him down in the cellar. The cellar frequently flooded; the cot beds were known to float on the swelling water of the Liffey. The poor man with the broken leg took weeks to die and it took a committee on his behalf quite some time to bring a case against the keeper and have him and a number of his turn-key cohorts sacked from their jobs.
It was in this prison that a man called Olocher was incarcerated. He had been found guilty of the rape and murder of a young girl and was due to be executed. The night before he was due to be hanged he killed himself. A week later one of his guards was found at the foot of some steps outside of the prison, he had taken a stroke and was paralysed down one side of his body. When the guard regained his speech he told everyone that he had been attacked by a demon. It had come at him from the shadows, from Olocher’s cell. It was Olocher’s demon, half-beast-half-man, and a legend was born.
The Dolocher terrorised Dublin for a whole winter and fascinated by the tale I was inspired to write a gothic novel reimagining those events that took place many years ago.
Written content of this post copyright © Caroline Barry, 2016.