06 Jul 2022

Trip Through time: Dundalk's 'Most Hallowed Ground'?

Looking back at Dundalk's past, with former Democrat editor Peter Kavanagh

Trip Through time: Dundalk's 'Most Hallowed Ground'?

The answer in my Question Time this week about 'Simmon's Hotel' was inspired by the fact that I noticed that the old building in Frances Street is being renovated at present.

I do not know if this is a 'listed' building for preservation under the Planning Acts but believe that it must be one of the oldest buildings on this street.

This list was drawn up by the former Dundalk Urban Council about fifty years ago and has been revised several times since.

The reason I think that the Simmon's building is over 200 years old is that I recall that, when the old Democrat building at 3, Earl Street was being auctioned over twenty years ago, it was stated by the auctioneer at the time that the Democrat building was constructed 'before 1800 by a man named Martin'!

I also recall that a member of the Roe family who owned the Democrat newspaper and printing business, once told me that the Frances Street houses were older than many in Earl Street or Park Street.

I read somewhere that Frances Street was only opened up as the 'Cow Market', as the area in front of St. Patrick's, now known as Roden Place, in the late eighteen century.

It appears that the old Corporation gave the street that name in honour of the second wife of the Second Earl of Roden, and mother of the Third Earl, Robert Jocelyn, (famous for being the person most responsible for bringing the railway industry to Dundalk) --- She was Frances Bligh, who died in 1802.

Frances Street ( not Francis Street as many think ) was also important in the growth of Dundalk for other reasons.
The very first theatre in Dundalk opened in a building where the vacant lot, opposite Simmon's Hotel about 1860.

The Young Ireland Society, who were involved in the founding of only the third Gaelic Athletic Association football club in Ireland, had a gymnasium off Francis Street --- possibly at the back of the Simmon's building.

The Masonic Order opened their first hall in Dundalk in Francis Street in 1853 and the old Parochial House, behind which St. Patrick's Church was built in the 1840s stood, at the Roden Place end.

At the other end, about where King Bruce's Tavern is located , was Mortimer's Castle where Edward Bruce was reputed to have stayed when he captured the Anglo-Norman town in 1315.

The Catholic Federation forces under Phelim O'Neill, captured Dundalk in 1642 and put up the greatest resistance to Henry Titchburn when he re-captured it for the Royalists during the English Civil War in 1643.

Another historical event that happened near this very spot occurred during our own Civil War in August 1922 when Republican forces set-off what is now regarded as the World's first 'Car Bomb' by detonating a fuel lorry.

Peadar Roe, son of the Second Editor and father of the Fifth Editor, told me that the explosives for that Car Bomb were prepared in the Cellar of the Dundalk Democrat building at 3, Earl Street and that a printer working on newspaper was involved.

Two civilians were killed in that blast and much damage was caused to buildings in the adjoining street!

So, perhaps it is fair to claim that Francis Street is 'Dundalk's Most Hallowed Ground' and deserves some sort of a memorial to the many who perished or were wounded there!

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