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Pre-Historic James’s Street

There is scant evidence from Dublin in general for the prehistoric period, but the most recent archaeological evidence comes from a series of early Bronze age burial pits at St John’s Road, Kilmainham, excavated by Claire Walsh. An inverted food vessel with cremation was recovered from one pit, and several other pits, yielding two pygmy cups, one of which contained three beads, suggest the former presence of a burial cairn on the ridge over the Liffey. An early photograph of the lands of Kilmainham also show what appears to be a standing stone. The evidence suggests that at least certain sections of the ridge along the Liffey was part of a Neolithic/ early Bronze age ritual landscape.

Pre-Historic James's Street
Pre-Norman and Medieval James’ Street

James’s Street is a section of the main road into Dublin to the west of the medieval walled town. At the western end, James’s Street led to Kilmainham, a small settlement west of Dublin, while at the eastern end, it led, via Thomas Street, to Cornmarket and the west gate of the town. The route follows a more ancient, early medieval roadway, which extended across the country as far as Galway and was known as the Slighe Mhór. The way known as the ‘great street leading to Kilmainham’ (Brooks, 1936, 8, 22).


After the Anglo-Norman invasion of Dublin in 1170, the western suburb developed rapidly, as did the other suburbs around the city. By the mid-thirteenth century, there were ‘burgage’ plots along Thomas Street/James’s Street. Their presence on the Thomas Street/James’s Street route is an indication that the land along the roadside was divided up into organised plots. Evidence of medieval settlement at James’s Street was uncovered by Claire Walsh in an excavation in 2000/2001 at the site of St James’s Hospital. Part of a structure, a dwelling, was recovered, along with contemporary agricultural activity. This has been dated to the early 13th century.


St Thomas’s Abbey

The rapid settlement of the western suburb of the medieval town was triggered by the establishment of the abbey of St Thomas the Martyr in 1177. This Augustinian house was to become the most important house in Dublin and enjoyed royal patronage throughout the medieval period (Gilbert 1889, xi)


The founding of the abbey and the establishment of a ‘liberty’ (an independent entity that was not bound by the administration at Dublin) had an important impact on the western suburb. THe lands of the abbey (to the south of the site) were rapidly exploited, especially the water-courses, which were re-channeled.

St James’s Church

Clarke (2002, 18) references that the land for St James’s church and cemetery was donated by Henry Tirel in c.1190, and that the ‘church with appurtenances’ was granted to St Thomas’s Abbey in c. 1196, Tirel also granted the tithe of a mill situated in the parish of St James, along with a tithe of fishing from a pond next to the mil (Gilbert, 1889, cited by Duddy 2003, 88).


Between 1181 and 1212, the Archbishop of Dublin, John Cumin, granted the church to the monks of St Thomas’s abbey. The parish boundaries of St James’s parish were also stated as stretching from the Newgate (the Western City gate), in the east, as far as Kilmainham, to the west, and on the north side as far as Bridge Street (McNeill 1950, 31). Thus the parish of St James included the entire western suburb as far as the city gate. 1181-1212 - Archbishop John grants to the canons of St Victor, in the church of Blessed Thomas the Martyr, by Dublin, the church of St James, and he has invested them canonically in full chapter to their own uses and those of the poor and guests, saving Episcopal rights. So that the church may have the whole suburb, he fixes the parish boundaries from the New Gate on the west of Dublin and the street of the great bridge as far as the bounds of the lands of Kilmaynan, excepting both sides of the street in which Alelim’s house stands and Donour street as far as the pond below St Thomas Court, in which St Patrick’s church should have parochial rights; saving, however, to the canons all tithes of their mills and arable land, and should they wish to let their arable land they may still have parish rights in it.


While it is recorded in 1294 that the church was too poor to be taxed, it survived the rigours of the late medieval period and was still in existence in 1530, when it was worth 12d (by comparison, the church of St Catherine to the east was also worth 12d, although the church of St John the Evangelist (in Fishamble Street) was only worth 6d’ (Mc Neill 1950, 275).


The church is described thus in Archbishop Bulkeley’s visitation of 1630 ‘the church of St James is now covered but not glasses, the chancel down’ (Ronan 1941). Close by was a small roadside cross known as St James’s Cross (Gilbert and Gilbert 1889 - 1944, 1, 114). Clarke (1998, 50) places this cross close to the junction of James’s Street with Bow Lane. The cross is mentioned in 1695 thus… ‘a lease...of a parcel of ground and a lane on the right hand of the way leading from St James’s Cross to Bow Bridge…’ (CARD V1, 112). We might infer that the cross was located at the junction between the two roads to Kilmainham, which is supported by a lease of 1696 of a parcel of land called the ‘Cross acre’ which lay between the road to Bow Bridge and the road from St James’s Gate to Kilmainham (CARD V1, 149).


The setting of the church, at the western end of the parish, is considered significant by Duddy in his consideration (2003) of the expansion of the holdings of St Thomas’s Abbey. The presence of the ecclesiastic foundation at Kilmainham (on the site of the Royal Hospital) is also of significance in the western location of the parish church.


The Medieval Suburb of St James

That James’s Street was settled to some degree soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion is indicated by the fact that, by the late thirteenth century, Robert de Bedford granted one ‘burgage plot’ beside the church to the Abbey of St Thomas the Martyr (Gilbert 1889, 377). A second reference, similarly dated, records a grant of half a burgage plot by a W.White in James’s Street (Gilbert 1889, 412). However, there was also open ground, which was probably under cultivation. In 1268, St Thomas’s also received 15 aces of fields that were at least eight plots along James’s St, including the plot for the church of St James (Duddy 2003, 94). Three were contiguous in two instances, and a single plot for the church.


James’s Street appears to have retained a semi-rural character throughout the medieval period . In 1541, an ‘enclosure’ that lay next to the church of St James and was held by William Talbot is mentioned in a lease (Griffith, 1991, 88, HVIII 143). In 1543 Demitius Labore held a tenement and a garden (Griffith 1991, 99-100, HVIII. 165). A third reference, dated 1576, also refers to ‘gardens’ along James’s Street, which were under cultivation (Griffith, 1991, 222, Eliz. 80).


St James’s Gate

The church gave its name to a mural tower that straddled James’s Street and was known as James’s Gate [first mentioned in 1955 (M’Cready 1975, 42), although probably built 200 years earlier]. This gate stood to the east of the church, on the east side of Watling Street, as depicted on Speed’s map of Dublin, dated 1610. It was similar in type to other suburban mural gates that were built in the thirteenth century and were positioned around the city. Their main function was defence, but they were also places where tolls were collected from people entering the city. A ‘toll-house’ is listed in James’s Street in the eighteenth century and this is depicted on Rocque’s map of Dublin at the junction of St James’s Street and Mount brown. The gate was still standing in 1728, when it is depicted on Charles Brooking’s map of the city. However, it is not depicted on John Rocque’s map of Dublin, dated 1756.

Research and writing extract from DCC Commissioned, St James's Graveyard Feasibility Study, by Bernard Seymour, Landscape Architects, 2010

Pre-Norman and Medieval James's Street
St Thomas's Abbey
St James's Church
Medieval Suburbs of St James
St James's Gate
Post Medieval James's Street: The Work House
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