Last year I wandered around Dublin’s Liberties area with Franc Myles, an archaeologist who has carried out numerous digs in the locality. My article based on our journey, which traced the manmade branches of the River Poddle, has just been published in the Dublin Review.
When Franc Myles wanted to trace the course of a river through Dublin’s Liberties, he had to go underground. He and a fellow archaeologist, Steve McGlade, had been excavating a site at the north-west corner of the junction of Ardee Street and Cork Street, below which the stream ran. “We said ‘fuck it’, you know? ‘We’re archaeologists, we can’t just let it run under the building and not investigate it’, so we did.” They climbed into the culvert that channelled the stream below Ardee Street and walked east, in the direction of St Patrick’s Cathedral.
It’s very difficult to refer to the Poddle as a single river. It feeds a knotty network of diversions below Dublin’s Liberties, and has gone by many different names over the years.
The Poddle has also been known as the Pottle, the Puddle, the Salach and, further upstream near Tallaght, the Tymon. The Commons Water, being a wholly separate river until it joins the Poddle at the end of the Coombe, is an innocent bystander in all of this. Yet its course, which crosses the artificial diversions of the Poddle, ensures it is often mistaken for the better-known river. When walking along the courses of the rivers, I frequently had to remind myself which one I was standing above, and which one I was about to intersect.
As well as telling me about his underground adventures, Franc showed me how to read the urban fabric of the city, so that you could look at a street, compare its form to a historical map, and tell what had once stood there.
Franc is an engaging guide to the Liberties area, and cuts a memorable figure:
Franc is six foot five in height and forty-seven years old, with greying hair gelled straight up in spikes. He was wearing a bright yellow high-visibility vest with the word ‘Archaeologist’ printed on it in black letters and a pair of streamlined Ray-Ban sunglasses; he wore both the vest and sunglasses throughout our walk, and pushed a bike alongside him.
At one point, Franc stopped to point out a wall:
See the wall in behind? That is a fucking amazing wall. It’s one of the few we’ve actually found a reference for – off the top of my head it’s either 1682 or 1692. We found a reference to its construction in one of the Brabazon leases. And it was basically constructed to separate land known as the Artillery Field – which was one of these places that during the disturbances in the 1640s they used as an artillery park – and the brewery of William Cheney. Now William Cheney, it turns out, is an ancestor of the former American Vice-President, Dick Cheney. So we wrote to him and said, “Any chance of getting a few quid for a publication?” We didn’t receive a response.
Read more in the Autumn issue of the Dublin Review.