[The following passage comes from an article in the September 1878 issue of the The Graphic. — George P. Landow]

There is no doubt but that the principal monuments still left in Dublin of the Danes bear the date of tne eleventh century, from which fact we may infer that at that period they were most numerous, and had most complete mastery over the capital. Their taste seems to have been pronounced in the direction of sacred buildings. Christ Church Cathedral was raised in 1038, and in 1095 tradition informs us that St. Micanus built the church which became the cathedral for the whole of Dublin, on the north side of the Liffey, just as Christ Church was the cathedral on the south. Mr. Gladstone, when recently in Dublin, thought St. Michan’s Church the most characteristic specimen of native architecture he had seen. It is situated at the rear of the Four Courts, and its magnificent aqtinro tower is a most conspicuous object above a neighbourhood of low-sized houses.

Next to the Liberties, this parish is the poorest and shabbiest in the city, mid the pilgrimage to this church, so interesting as a national as well as an antiquarian relic, has to be made through narrow streets filled with shops and tenements of a hopelessly wretched character; old clothes are dangling from triangular lines at the windows, and potatoes, soap, hair-oil, and farthing candles are the principal merchandise bartered in this populous haven of indigence. And yet it is not all decrepitude and want, for there are one or two good iron foundries, and droves of cattle are constantly pushed through the streets to a market-place called by the somewhat grandiloquent name of Smithfield. The church, in addition to its antiquity, is otherwise most interesting.

The vaults beneath the edifice are one of the marvels of the age, possessing antiseptic qualities of such effectiveness that about a score of bodies interred centuries ago are preserved so remarkably that the form and feature of life is easily distinguishable. The skin is in most cases intact, the teeth have not fallen from their places, and in some instances ribbons, stockings, and other portions of the adornments and coverings of the corpses still envelope the perfect though discoloured heads and limbs, as though moth and dust and worms did not exist. The prince, the peer, the patriot, and the poor all lie here together, and could the relatives of the departed themselves come to life again they could have no manner of difficulty in picking out their own kinsmen, or verifying the manner in which they died. The wonderful effect produced is attributed to two causes; first, they say that the graveyard was built on the site of an old forest, that the soil is in fact a bog, and every visitor to the Royal Irish Academy can satisfy himself of the wonderful preserving property inherent in the peat soil of this country; secondly, it is believed that the vaults are built with Phoenician lime, which becomes so dry and hard that no destructive agent can penetrate through it. One of the vaults has been purchased by the Leitrim family, and here, only the other day, were placed with his kinsmen the remains of the late lord, the melancholy and brutal character of whose death sent a shudder through the land. The rector, the Rev. T. Long, who has himself expended large sums of money in renovating and beautifying the edifice, has given me a list of the principal tombs, which are scattered over the ground without the building. One of these contains the remains of Robert Emmet; no inscription is yet written on the long plain slab, as it was his wish that no epitaph should be written over the place of his burial, till Ireland should “again be free.” The organ within St. Mlchan's is the one on which Handel played his “Messiah” for the first time; It was removed from Fishamble Street Theatre, the scene of the great composer’s performance. The parish registers date back to the year 1636, and the church plate, which is very beautiful, to the year 1676. [175]


“Dublin Illustrated.” The Graphic (17 August 1878): 169-81. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of Illinois Library. Web. 14 August 2018.

Last modified 14 August 2018