Dublin has a history worthy of being Ireland’s capital. Much like the country itself, Dublin has constantly found itself between power struggles, internally and externally. Today, its history in hand, Dublin seeks to become a leading capital city of Europe and the world at large.
There are some indicators suggesting that people have occupied the area of present-day Dublin for over 2,000 years. However, the earliest evidence of established settlements dates back to approximately 800 AD. These archeological findings are attributed to Norse vikings.
Much of the viking’s ability to overpower the Celtic people was due to Dublin’s location, allowing advancements by river and sea. Eventually, the vikings were able to establish the earliest version of Dublin as a city, including one of the largest slave markets in Europe.
While the turmoil between the Norse and the Celtic continued, Dermot MacMurrough, the king of Leinster, took Dublin in 1170 with an army of Anglo-Normans. Their success caught the attention of England’s king at the time, Henry II. He took his army to Dublin to prevent the continued success of their expansion and assert his dominance. Among these power shifts, it became increasingly clear that Dublin represented a central authority in Ireland, and would eventually become the official capital.
Did you know? Dublin is home to some of the largest viking cemeteries outside Scandinavia
Centuries of Turmoil
As the demography of Dublin changed, so did the concentration of power. The medieval hub faced several uprisings, an attempted Scottish siege, the War of Roses, and the Bubonic Plague. Overall, many of the people who died were Norman, effectively increasing the proportion of Irish people. That said, these shifts ultimately made it difficult for any population to unify Ireland, let alone its unofficial capital, Dublin.
While many Irish people were predominantly catholic, the English and Anglo populations were predominantly protestant. Thus, king Henry VIII of England began the era of reformation, encouraging protestant Christianity and ostracizing – if not punishing – Catholicism in Ireland. These factors eventually led to the infamous English civil wars. The third of which culminated in Dublin, where a short-lived alliance between the Irish Catholic confederacy and Dublin’s royalist defenders ultimately surrendered the city to the English parliamentary army led by Oliver Cromwell.
The defeated alliance, years of turmoil, and continued suppression, left a shell of a city with no more than a few thousand residents. But by the end of the 17th century, Dublin had begun an era of resurgence.
Dublin’s 18th Century Revival
Dublin’s resurrection at the tail end of the 17th century was marked by the mass migration of French Huguenot refugees. Thousands settled in Dublin to flee religious persecution in France after the withdrawal of the Edict of Nantes. Coincidently, many of these refugees were weavers, and in combination with Flemish immigrant weavers, Dublin experienced an economic influx of cloth trade.
While this newfound economic revival deemed Dublin the second city of the British Empire, it simultaneously challenged it. Despite the British imposed export restrictions, Dublin prospered and grew throughout the 18th Century. Many of the developments laid the foundation of contemporary Dublin.
All that said, this newfound prosperity was neither equally nor proportionally distributed. Despite making up the majority of the population, Irish roman Catholics still faced prejudicial discrimination. Conversely, the most affluent and powerful people in Dublin belonged to the minority Protestant Ascendancy (members of the Protestant Episcopalian church). This skewed inequality is made most apparent by Orange Order parades (i.e. the celebration of protestant reign over Catholicism in Ireland). Notably, despite their controversy, these parades can still be seen in Dublin.
In formalizing this hierarchy, the seats of power in Irish parliament passed penal laws. These laws discriminated catholic and Presbyterians in Ireland, effectively maintaining the Protestant Ascendancy’s hold on wealth and influence. As a result, many people were unable to acquire property, education, work, creating a downward spiral of intergenerational poverty.
Dublin’s 19th Century Collapse
The start of the century marked Dublin’s immediate reduction in status via the Act of the Union in 1801. This legislation abolished the Irish parliament in Dublin, Ireland’s central authority. As a result, the city fell to chaos, and the ascendancy left for England. Poverty and overcrowding worsened during the Irish potato famine (1845-1849) where many people from the countryside moved to it to Dublin in hopes for a better life. This was quickly followed by a great exodus of Irish emigrants (namely to England and the United States).
When the penal laws were somewhat reduced, roman Catholics began to solidify an Irish middle class. This newfound stability fostered a new generation of education – ostensibly leading to the Catholic emancipation Act. Notably, this act repealed the penal laws and permitted Catholics to sit in parliament.
Despite these positive factors snowballing into the creation of railroads and suburbs, Dublin remained fundamentally troubled. Struggling to mitigate some of Europe’s worst slums, Dublin was notorious for lacking basic sanitation standards, high mortality rates, and extreme overcrowding.
20th Century Rebellions
The start of the 20th century saw the complex junction of domestic political tension and international war. The Irish party were able to establish home rule of Ireland but were quickly suspended when World War One began. Frustrated, many chose to rebel through a planned occupation of key institution buildings in Dublin, known as Easter Rising. While this rebellion did was unable to make significant change, the martial laws the rebels faced in the aftermath fed rebellious sentiment more than the act itself.
With the newfound support of public opinion, Guerrilla warfare broke out, initiating years of conflict. Eventually, a treaty was declared to create the Irish Free State. However, this progress was stifled by internal conflict between pro- and anti-treaty groups. This year-long period became known as the Bloody Civil War. While the conflict eventually died down, much of the violence became a normalized part of Dublin in the following years. In 1922, the first Irish Free State political administrations were implemented. While the new government was able to improve many social living standards and services, housing was largely ignored, a neglect that was exacerbated during World war two.
Did you know? Ireland became an independent nation on 6 December 1921
Post War Dublin
In the decades following world war two, Dublin experienced rapid change. Housing development skyrocketed, tourism played a larger economic role, and new international business was encouraged following Ireland’s EU membership. In short, Dublin became more economically, politically, and socially open.
Did you know? Ireland became an EU member in 1973
Like any city, Dublin is alive, and its tumultuous past continues to be at the forefront of Dublin’s identity. That said, the future is bright. Dublin is at the international forefront of social and economic development. Today, Dublin is often dubbed the new Silicon Valley, denoting its recently developed tech hub, hosting world renowned companies and startups.
Given Dublin’s rich history, its current trajectory and potent potential, there’s nothing Dublin can’t do. But don’t take our word for it, come see for yourself!
Please note: We suggest not making insensitive comments regarding the conflict between England, Ireland, North Ireland, Catholics and protestants, as these issues remain highly contentious.