Thursday, 1 December 2016

Mountjoy Square

Dublin's most outstanding architectural feature is undoubtedly its five Georgian garden squares: St Stephen's Green, Merrion Sq and Fitzwilliam Sq on the south side of the city, and Mountjoy Sq and Parnell Sq on the north. Living in the south Dublin suburbs, I know St Stephen's Green and Merrion Sq fairly well, and have cycled past the smaller Fitzwilliam Sq a few times; but I'd never been to any of the north side squares, so on a break during a day's work in the city centre I decided to pay a visit to Mountjoy Sq.

Mountjoy Sq lies just north of O'Connell St. O'Connell St (Sackville St until 1924) was once Dublin's grandest thoroughfare, and indeed was considered one of the most impressive streets in Europe on its completion in the late 1780s. Here is Sackville St is in the 1840s, in a view looking north past the General Post Office (left) and Nelson's Pillar (blown up by Irish republican Liam Sutcliffe in 1966):

Sadly, these days O'Connell St is a very depressing place, full of (or at least, seemingly full of) fast food chains, casinos, and in the northern half of the street, derelict buildings. I feel especially sorry for the tourists who end up there having spent hundreds or even thousands of pounds to visit the city.

In any case, having sadly trudged to the top of O'Connell St, I made my way in short time to Mountjoy Sq. And very nice it is too: it sits on a hill looking down toward the river, and the buildings in the four ranges are remarkably consistent and apparently very well preserved. Here's a nice description of the square due to 18th c. contemporaries Warburton, Whitelaw and Walsh:

This square, which is now completely finished, is neat, simple and elegant, its situation elevated and healthy … the elevation of the houses, the breadth of the streets, so harmonize together, as to give pleasure to the eye of the spectator, and to add to the neatness, simplicity, and regularity every where visible, entitling this square to rank high among the finest in Europe.

And here's a picture I took of the south range (Mountjoy Sq South):

I had a nice surprise as well: having just taken this picture, I noticed that I was standing right next to this freshly-painted and well-preserved VR pillarbox:

The street directly behind the box sloping toward the Liffey is Gardiner St, named after Luke Gardiner, 1st Viscount Mountjoy (1745-98), who planned and developed the square (which was built between 1790 and 1818). Here's an excellent portrait of the man himself, by Reynolds:

Mountjoy was killed fighting for the Crown against the United Irishmen at the Battle of New Ross during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. However his square persists, and has been an important part of Dublin - and Irish - life over the last two hundred years. Famous past residents of the square include James Joyce, Sean O'Casey, and W B Yeats. And - somewhat ironically given Mountjoy's demise - some of the planning for the 1916 Easter Rising took place in the square. I suspect he wouldn't have been best pleased. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Parnell Place (+ Maximum Nerdage)

Here's a lovely E-VII-R situated on the corner of Parnell Place and South Mall in the heart of Cork City. The picture was taken at about 5pm (just before collection time) on a May afternoon in 2016, which would explain why the box is so full that you can see the most recent deposit peeping out through the aperture. That just goes to show that even though the box is over a century old (Edward VII was king between 1901 and 1910), it's used now as much as it ever was.

I'm specific about the date that this picture taken because it's interesting to see how the postbox has moved around over the last seven years: we can document it using Google's "streetview." If you're coming with me on this ridiculous journey, brace yourself for maximum nerdage...

Google's Streetview allows you to see historical images where they're available. In the top left of the page, you can see a little clock icon, and if you pull down the menu, you get a slider so that you can track the same scene over time. So here's what this junction looked like in June 2009, with the postbox sandwiched between electricity boxes and a dustbin:

Now, a little over a year later, in October 2010, we see the postbox has stayed proudly in the same place, even though taggers have vandalised the electricity box:

Less than a year later -- in September 2011 -- the electricity box has been cleaned up, but WHOAH! The bin has moved closer to the corner... where are you going?

And now, finally, we see the current configuration as from September 2014. There's a new, additional, electricity box (presumably to control the more complex light sequence at the intersection) and the bin has vanished completely (along with the mature tree). The postbox has moved closer to the road, presumably to facilitate ease of mailing by users of the new cycle lane, but it's still present, after over 100 years of use.

After so many incremental changes at this intersection, I'm glad the powers that be kept the old box (even though they had to move it), rather than replacing it with one of those hideous new "box-on-a-stick" contraptions.

Phew... time for a cup of tea and a lie-down in a darkened room.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Suburban Box

I spotted the pillar-box below while visiting my sister-in-law in Blackrock, Dublin, on the corner of Brookville Park and Springhill Avenue (googlemaps reference: It was a cold November afternoon and the weak, wintery Irish sun was just setting, casting a lovely yellow glow on the rich green paint of the box. A dead fox lay on the side of the pavement close by, having clearly met his end under the wheels of a car. 

This looks to me like a Royal Mail box with the Royal Cypher removed - it reads 'POST OFFICE' rather than 'PℸT' (1922-1984) or 'An Post' (1984- present), and in overall design closely resembles the 'GR' (1910-22) pillar-box on St Patrick's Hill in Cork (see this earlier post). This makes me think that the box has been moved from somewhere else, as it is surrounded by modern residential housing. Or perhaps its surroundings have simply changed dramatically over the past hundred-or-so years. In any case, it's tucked away in a residential side-street, but is in very good condition (missing Cypher notwithstanding) - an elegant suburban box.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Tongue and Target

I was in Cork recently and decided to take a picture of this beautifully-situated pillar box in St. Luke's Cross:

The box is a recent 'An Post' (pronounced 'un pust') box, probably dating from the 1980s (An Post was established in 1984, replacing the Department for Posts and Telegraphs) and no later than the mid-90s, when cast-iron pillar boxes such as the above were replaced by the horror-show that is the modern green box on a steel pole (you may not have noticed these due to their resemblance to electricity boxes). An interesting feature of this box is that it has been vandalised - the 'An Post' logo under the window on the door has been ripped off, leaving a rusty scar. You can see the pre-vandalised box here.

The church in the background is St. Luke's (C of I), which was designed by Hill and consecrated in 1889, and then deconsecrated in 2003, when it became a music venue and cultural centre. (The parish migrated to Cork's famous St. Anne's church in Shandon, known locally simply as 'Shandon'). See here for more info.

Another feature of the above box that caught my eye was the prominent stamp of the foundry in Dublin that made it:

A little research shows that Tonge & Taggart were a well-known Dublin foundry that produced all sorts of iron street furniture until the 1990s when they were swallowed up the Smurfit group. Walking around Dublin since my visit and keeping an eye on the ground, I've been finding them everywhere:

I've even roped in my daughter, who takes great delight in spotting 'Tongue and Target' manhole covers whenever we go out for a walk. If time permits, I'm going to try to find out where in Dublin they were based, and get some photos of the foundry itself. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Rue Bonaparte

Wellington Road in Cork city runs from the intersection of Sidney Place and York Street to St Luke's Cross. The names of the streets and buildings in this part of Cork - the area directly north of the river Lee and east of St Patrick's Hill - speak strongly of Cork's history as a former British city, and in particular, of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). Sidney Place leads to York Street and Wellington Road, and Wellington Road leads to Belgrave Place, Waterloo Terrace, Wellesley Terrace (pictured below), Alexandra Road (Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII), and Military Hill. Wellington's victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 - where a full 30% of the British forces, including the Duke himself, were Irish - made him a famous British war hero, and Wellington Road reminds us that his victory was celebrated (by some, at least) in Cork as elsewhere in the British Isles.

Wellington Road is a lovely street - one of the nicest in Cork. If you find yourself in the city, walk down the street from St Luke's cross to Sidney Place and follow Sidney Place to where it meets St Patrick's Hill. Along the way you'll see some of the finest 18th and early 19th century terraces in the city.

At the top of the hill you'll also see the former St Patrick's Hospital, founded in 1870. This imposing red-sandstone building is an important Cork landmark, and has a fine neo-Gothic chapel.

At the lower end of the former hospital, on the same side, is the entrance to Charlemont Terrace. The terraces off Wellington Road are set on their own roads which run parallel to the main road but remain level, giving privacy to the residents and excellent views that would be lost had they followed the slope of the street. Charlemont Terrace is served by this freshly-painted wall-mounted postbox:

It's pretty clear that this box has been removed and re-set into the wall - hence the messy mass of cement now holding it in place. But at least it has been preserved, and painted, and continues to serve the area. Note that this box is marked 'Post Office' - and is therefore a pre-independence, British box - but is missing its Royal Cypher. I can only assume it has been removed - see the faint scoring below the aperture where the cypher would normally appear.

As you continue down the street you'll notice how the wall on the right side grows higher and higher, as the terraces above stay level with the top of the hill. There are a number of beautifully worn flights of stone steps providing access to the terraces along the way, some with ornate and often very rusty old iron gates. If you see any locked gates, make sure to peer in - at least one is filled with plants and flowers and looks like a little country lane. In the lower end of the street you'll find some lovely 18th century red-brick terraces - demonstrating that Dublin is not the only Irish city with attractive Georgian buildings! And finally, when you reach St Patrick's Hill, you'll find this handsome 'GR' pillar-box (installed between 1910-1922) standing sentry:

This box probably isn't used as much as it once was, but it still frames the end of the road beautifully, proving once again that the Irish postbox isn't just a functional thing but a piece of architecture in its own right. And now we can ask ourselves: what would have happened had Napoleon won the war? Perhaps we'd be standing at the end of Rue Bonaparte, and we'd find ourselves faced with a green wall-mounted La Poste box. Somehow it wouldn't be the same.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Incoherent Postings

As part of this year's commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, An Post painted ten postboxes red in various locations around Dublin (see here for the news story). This is to remind us what they would have looked like in 1916, prior to Ireland's independence; it's especially poignant since although the dynamic bustle of the city constantly changes around them, many postboxes have remained in their location -- like trusty but silent witnesses of the unfolding history -- for over a century. Not only is it quite striking to see red postboxes dotted around the capital (even for someone like me with partial red-green colour-blindness), but it's also a neat reminder of how much difference a coat of paint makes.

On my recent trip to Dublin, I was fortunate enough to spot one of these commemorative boxes at the bottom of Grafton Street, just outside the famous Peterson tobacconist. But I was disappointed to see that it is not, in fact, a former Royal Mail postbox; as you can see, it displays the "P¬T" cypher, representing Ireland's Ministry of Post and Telegraphs (mercifully with the same acronym as Gaeilge -- Aire Puist agus Telegrafa). But that ministry wasn't established until 1924, after Irish independence. So this postbox couldn't have been here in 1916, and wouldn't have ever been red. Perhaps that's why a couple of disdainful taggers left their own cypher on it; their sense of history compelled them to mark out the potential for incoherent postings.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

In the Night Mountain

Montenotte - the 'Night Mountain' - is a suburb of Cork City located on the north-east bank of the River Lee. The suburb is situated on a steep hill overlooking the river, and affords very fine views of the port, the city, and the southern slope of the Lee Valley. The suburb was first developed in the 17th century by Italian and Dutch merchants who had grown wealthy through trade in Cork's then bustling international port, and wanted to avoid the stench and squalor of the inner city (as well as keep an eye on their ships as they sailed  into the port!).

The area remained an attractive prospect for wealthy Corkonians throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and many fine houses were built on, and into, the hill. Although not quite as desirable now as it once was - many impressive Georgian terraces have sadly fallen into disrepair or been brutally sub-divided into flats - the area still retains a considerable charm, consisting of large 18th and 19th century properties on narrow, winding roads that snake their way up the hill, leaving little room even for a single car.

A very good way to approach the area on foot is to cross St Patrick's Bridge from St Patrick's Street and turn right onto Sidney Place from Bridge Street. The long, gentle slope of Sidney Place and Wellington Terrace (itself a fascinating street, which deserves a post of its own) takes one to St Luke's Cross, the gateway to Montenotte proper (although technically a part of the larger area). After a quick drink in John Henchy & Sons charming pub, one can walk north up the Ballyhooly Road (incidentally, this blogger spent his earliest years near the village of Ballyhooly - again, a story for another time!) or east along the Middle Glanmire Road.

For those with an interest in historic street furniture, the walk along the Middle Glanmire Road has considerable attractions. First, there is this lovely (I would guess 18th century) 'boundary stone' built into the wall on the northern side of the street:

It is wonderful to see that this ancient stone has been preserved by being built into the wall here, although one does wonder - is its current location where it was originally placed, or has it moved over the years? 

Next, opposite the Montenotte Hotel on the northern side of the street we find this wall-mounted 'EVIIR' (Edward VII, 1901-1910) postbox:

It's a real shame that this box has been allowed to fall into such considerable disrepair. However, it has survived: and although its paint is chipped and its front has been lost, it is still quite beautiful. Here is exactly how it would have looked when it was first installed (this example is from the little village of Beaumaris in Anglesey):

But all is not lost for the historic postboxes of Montenotte: a little further up the road, on the northern side again and opposite the entrance to the winding, twisting, Montenotte Road, sits this fine VR postbox:

The front may be cracked and the paint may be a little faded, but this Victorian postbox - made by W. T. Allen & Co of London between 1881 and 1890 - is still serving the residents of Montenotte over 120 years after its installation. Let's hope it continues to do so for another 120 years.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Dublin by night and by day

On a recent trip to Dublin, I happened to mention the existence of this blog to a friend. Within thirty seconds, he'd spotted this splendid VR Type B, to be found on the east side of St. Stephen's Green. Alas, as you can see, it's no longer in service, which is a shame because despite its age (it dates from between 1887 and 1901) it's in near mint condition.

My friend graciously illuminated it by mobile phone, but it was such a nice specimen that I decided to go back the next day to get a daylight shot. So we see Dublin by night and by day...

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Rail Snail Mail

I'm live-blogging this from the comfort of Irish Rail's Cork-Dublin train service (with free wi-fi) and unlike yesterday's post, I deliberately set out to photograph this beautiful specimen at Cork's Kent station.

It is, apparently, the oldest example of a mailbox still in use in Ireland, dating from 1857. It's an "economy" type, since it lacks any decorative moldings or royal cypher, and it has the unusual feature of the aperture being set into the top.

Since it's indoors, it's beautifully preserved, and still doing its job. I'll be in Dublin by the next time the rail snail mail is collected.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Pleasure of an Accidental Find

There's no greater pleasure than happening upon a lovely old postbox. That was my recent experience on a trip to Dublin's former Royal (later Collins) Barracks, now the National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History (website here).

Entrance to the former Royal (Collins) Barracks, Dublin

The Royal Barracks was built from 1701 by Thomas de Burgh, Surveyor General to Queen Anne. de Burgh is also responsible Trinity College's library building, which houses Trinity's famous 'Long Room' reading room (current home to the Book of Kells). Aside from Dublin's Royal Hospital Kilmainham (now housing the Irish Museum of Modern Art), the Barracks is actually Dublin's oldest public building. The complex consists of a number of buildings, the finest of which are the large, elegant, neo-classical blocks which surround the vast parade square:

The Parade Square, former Royal (Collins) Barracks, Dublin

Just off the Parade Sq - directly through the main entrance to the block on the left of the Parade Sq as one enters - I was delighted to find an example of Ireland's (and indeed, the British Isles') oldest pillar boxes, one of only a small number of surviving 'Ashworth' pillar boxes:

Irish Ashworth Pillar Box, former Royal (Collins) Barracks, Dublin

The Ashworth was the first standardised Royal Mail pillar box, and was designed by the House of Lords Committee for Science and Arts in 1857. The original 1857 design was ornate, but unfortunately - in rather a large oversight - did not include an aperture! This meant that the boxes had to modified locally to accept letters. The Ashworth pictured above is a simplified version of the original design, which would date it to roughly 1858-9 (in 1859 a new design was introduced). The box is painted in what was then the standard colour, bronzed green. This was intended to make the boxes relatively unobtrusive, but was later changed to red when they were found to be *too* unobtrusive, and not sufficiently visible. The box is tall and elegant, and unlike later designs, does not include a Royal Cypher; instead, it is topped by a Royal Crown picked out in gold. Notice also that unlike later boxes, the rather awkwardly-placed letter aperture is vertical and not horizontal. It's also very small: definitely not big enough for parcels! It's great to see that the box is out of the weather, relatively freshly painted and in good condition - although it could do with a dust! 

I was unaware that the box was there when I went with my family to visit the former Barracks, and chancing upon it made my visit all the more pleasurable. If you find yourself in Dublin any time soon, then hop on the Luas to the Museum stop and check it out!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

"Queen's College", King's Postbox

Here's a particularly impressive one from the intersection of College Road and Gaol Walk, right at the heart of University College Cork. It's a real whopper; nearly 6ft tall, and proudly encroaching onto the pavement so that it forces students to dance around it on the dash between classes.

 This one is more recent than those of previous postings; it's a GR, so it must have been installed between 1910 (when George V took the throne) and 1922 (following Irish independence when, naturally, they stopped installing "Royal Mail" boxes). UCC was founded -- as "Queen's College Cork" -- in 1845 by Queen Victoria (George V's granny). So one wonders how the first students and staff sent their letters home (or manuscripts to academic journals) before this box's installation. It was the Queen's College, but they had to wait for the King's postbox.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Sick notes

Here's yet another wall-embedded box from the south side of Cork City, this time part of the back wall of the South Infirmary on the Old Blackrock Road. It's an ERVII; things must have been busy for the postal service in this neighbourhood between 1901 and 1910.

Edward visited Ireland in 1903, but didn't come all the way down to the true capital. Even though the hospital is named after his mum (it's also known as the Victoria University hospital), it's Edward's box that allows you to send off your sick notes when you pop out the back for a crafty fag and a pint of Beamish in Paddy the Farmer's pub.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A postbox with a house built on to the back of it.

Here's a lovely wall-embedded ER to be found at the junction of Boreenmanna Road and Rockboro Avenue on the south side of Cork City.

It's temporarily out-of-service, because there's a new house being built there, and the postbox is part of the wall. As you can see, however, the postbox has been preserved, and the new wall was effectively constructed and plastered around it.

I love the fact that, temporally speaking, the postbox is primary. So rather than a "wall embedded" box, this is really a postbox with a house built on to the back of it.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Two southside specimens.

Here is a VR-era postbox on Anglesea St. in Cork. It's one of the oldest in the city, so much so that it was flagged as worthy of viewing on the annual Cork Heritage Open Day (see here).

Here is an odd one from Evergreen St. at the Turner's Cross end. This is a difficult one to date. The aperture is a part of the door, so it can't be a VR (that feature was introduced later to avoid the possibility of mail getting stuck). There were some "anonymous" Type-B boxes made (i.e., with no cypher), but they didn't have a door handle, and the lock area was flush with the door. And I don't think it's Irish made, because they would have had either "SÉ" or the P⁊T emblem. So I suspect it's a GR or ER VII that has had the cypher ground off. Bit of an enigmatic one, this...