I feel at home in the 18th century. I’ve no desire to live here permanently, without 21st-century comforts and modern medicine, but to come as a visitor to a beloved destination. I am acquainted with many of Dublin’s citizens through their writings and through newspaper reports of their actions and concerns. I feel I know them well, I know their wives or husbands, and their children, and I know what they enjoyed to read, which gives me an insight into their minds and hearts. The layout of the city is also familiar to me and I can make my way around without getting lost, or feeling like an alien.
Crossing the Liffey from the north side you come over Essex Bridge. Rebuilt in 1755, it’s now a good wide roadway, which allows two coaches to pass safely and ample footpaths that allow street traders to sell their wares. They have got rid of the equestrian statue of George 1 in the centre of the bridge as it was causing an obstruction in the river. (View the Rocque Map in our online catalogue)
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I love to stand on the bridge and watch the ships tied up at the Custom House unloading their cargoes. The crane is working steadily lifting the heavy loads. Tea, spices, wine, sugar, paper and books are all unloaded here and sent off around the city in trundling carts. The city’s merchants bustle around all day looking important with clipboards and anxious frowns. Their new Royal Exchange building, just opened last year, is looking very fine at the top of Parliament Street. I believe there is a new coffee room running the length of the north front of the building upstairs where they can carry on business in comfort. I still like the old exchange in Crampton Court and I know lots of the merchants say that the new building is an expense that they cannot afford, although we all know that most of the money was raised through lottery schemes. (See Views of Dublin from 1780).
Parliament Street is our newest street, forged through the old tangle of lanes and streets on the recommendation of the Wide Streets Commissioners. The street is wide and airy, its proportions taken from width of Essex Bridge. Its purpose was to give a grand view of Dublin Castle from the river, but now the view focuses on the classical façade of the Exchange.
Into Skinner Row you can stop for coffee and a look at the day’s newspapers in Dick’s Coffee House. Upstairs to the drawing room, or first floor, of Carbery House, with its lovely wainscoting and large windows letting in plenty of light, you can sit by the fire, sip your coffee, glance at the papers, and listen to the conversations all around you. I have heard that this fine old timber-framed building is due for demolition. What a loss that will be!