Outhouse lies in the Electoral Division of “Rotunda B”, on the West side of Capel Street. This ancient urban artery bisects the city, connecting North and South hinterlands on a die-straight mainline landing right at the steps of City Hall, the seat of city management, with Dublin Castle, symbol of the city’s origin and identity, beyond. Throughout the 20th Century, the neighbourhood was known for decay, dereliction, and anti-social activity. Today, it is flourishing with rapid inevitability. Dublin, first appearing in Ptolemy’s maps as Eblana, in 140 C.E., grew from two distinct clusters along the River Liffey – Áth Cliath (the “ford of hurdles”) - the only river crossing was settled by natives, while Dyflin – (Dubh Linn - “Black Pool”), a tidal basin on the River Poddle estuary, was settled as a Viking port in 841 C.E. The Gaelic settlement’s makeshift Liffey crossing near Capel Street was part of an ancient road that continued to the Hill of Tara. The Viking enclave, meanwhile, became well-established as a sophisticated walled town that grew out of the meeting of two rivers. The Christian era saw monastic settlements spread across Ireland. St. Mary's Abbey and St. Michan's were founded in the 11th Century incorporating parts of Capel Street, covering extensive lands on Dublin's northside. In 1536, Henry VIII started to disband monasteries, priories, convents and friaries throughout his kingdom. His processes sought to expropriate income, dispose of assets and allocate them to persons hand-picked to suit the crown. In 1676, one such landowner, Sir Humphrey Jervis, then Lord Mayor of Dublin, built Essex Bridge, named for Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex. Jervis also formed a syndicate of landowners to set a grid of streets and houses on the former Mary’s Abbey estate. Dublin City as we know it grew from this initiative, and Capel Street was the first to emerge.
Capel Street is Dublin’s most colourful, diverse and dynamic thoroughfare. Much beloved by cultural icons from Phil Lynott to Anthony Bourdain, the street neatly bisects and connects the city on both sides of the river, from shabby North King Street, via ebullient city markets, through to the serene authority of City Hall, with Dublin Castle beyond at Dubh Linn from which the city takes its name.
With Jervis at the helm in the 17th Century, Capel Street developed as palatial, detached mansions with opulent gardens and courtyards for the landed gentry. In the late 18th Century, these large residences were demolished and replaced by compact brick terraces: the earliest model of the renowned Georgian pattern in Dublin. The six-dwelling set-piece of 103 - 108, Capel Street, completed 1771, is one of the first, finest and rarest surviving examples of formal urban townhouse living in the city. The street was transformed over the 19th Century, commercial uses becoming more widespread. Many merchants lived over their business premises or commuted into the city to work. Houses that did not embrace this business-based model fell into tenements, many with absentee landlords, after the Act of Union (1801) saw wealthy families return to England or to prosperous British Empire colonies. Although the North Inner City was the epicentre of 17th – 19th Century Dublin’s highest society, this flight of wealthy classes meant it rapidly declined over the 20th Century. One afflicted was 106, Capel Street, rescued from a state of decay under tenement use in 1880 by Dublin City Corporation, who repurposed the old Georgian house as a City Library.
Recently, the North Inner City has enjoyed strong regeneration initiatives and activity in the environs of 105 Capel Street. Rotunda B transitioned from a “very disadvantaged” category in 1991 to the north triangle of Capel Street firmly placing it “marginally above average” in 2006. This has continued to improve rapidly in the years since. (DICP Report on National Affluence and Deprivation) The diversity of activities in Capel street has led to an explosion in interest and popularity, making it one of the most enviable urban branding stories in the world. To achieve control in preserving the essential character and special interest, Capel Street was designated an Architectural Conservation Area in the Dublin City Development Plan 2005- 2011.
Time Out, Lonely Planet, Condé Nast Traveler and Tripadvisor all recognise and enthusiastically celebrate Dublin’s Capel Street as a place to watch for its edgy, freestyle character and atmosphere. Time Out placed it in the top 20 “Coolest Streets in the World” in 2022. Capel Street was pedestrianised in 2022, and is now a riot of optimistic grass-roots development in colourful, experimental mixed and micro-business uses. It is the longest traffic-free street in the city, an ideal spot for hanging out. The place sports vibrant whirls of culture, the best and most unusual eateries in Dublin. There is genuinely always something new to discover on Capel Street.
Outhouse can be seen through this lens as symbolically resonant in the whole Dublin story. Capel Street channels both the identity of the ancient river ford (Áth Cliath) origin story, and the heart of the Viking settlement (Dubh Linn) where the street ends. It is an archetype of the earliest articulation of Dublin's iconic pattern language. Created by colonising English overlords on lands stolen from the church – previously appropriated from swathes of marshes fished or worked by native clans and Viking raiders – it all makes for a progressive, creative tension. In ways, this potted history captures – even in a context of bitter conflict at times – how humanity intermingles, relates, survives and connects with natural resources, social capital and authoritative forces, to conceive and develop lasting works of exemplary creative endeavour. The power of this paradox is an arresting metaphor for a rarely articulated reality of Dublin's identity. Outhouse inhabits a spot with a direct connection to historically distinct and divided societies - yet these energies yielded to history substantial, elegant and iconic fruits of their pooled efforts and labours. Dublin's complex character continues to evolve from a melting pot of people of disparate origins, circumstances, opportunities, and colours. Their existence could only arise from a commitment to peaceful integration and mutual understanding between them. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the move of Outhouse to Capel Street in 2001 aligns uncannily with an unprecedented surge in interest, style, currency, and glamour on this street like no other in the world.
Jervis’ syndicate of private investors turned vast tracts of land outside medieval Dublin into a brisk profitable enterprise. Dublin’s population rose from ~6,000 to ~60,000 over the 17th Century. Ormond Quay, the first stone quay in the city, was a precedent for all future city quays. Jervis' Estate at Mary's Abbey was the most ambitious urban scheme of its times: a Renaissance-style rectangular grid commenced in 1675 with a street named for viceroy Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex. Essex Bridge (renamed Grattan Bridge, 1874), the most easterly crossing and the main thoroughfare, connected the north and south sides of the Liffey. "The pleasing grandeur of Capel Street, resplendent with its fashionable Dutch-style mansions" became the most stylish city address and was fully built up by 1710. Among the most impressive of the Capel Street mansions was home to William Conolly (1662 – 1729), speaker of the Irish House of Commons. This palace stood on the full site of 103 – 108 Capel Street. Then Ireland's richest human, Conolly, purchased the luxury residence in 1707, where he lived "in commanding elegance, his brilliant vermillion and gold state coach adding distinction to the neighbourhood" until his death in 1729. No known illustrations of the house survive, but 1756 maps show it as a grand, wide, symmetrical, Renaissance-style structure with substantial gardens. In 1771, Thomas Conolly sold the site to Ralph Ward, Surveyor General, who demolished the residence and built six terraced houses in its place. Outhouse is located at 105 Capel Street, part of this symmetrical fourteen-bay terrace (103 – 108).
The six dwellings cover the site of one former mansion, yet still had grand proportions and intricate masonry details. Those surviving give a good indication of the character of the prestigious residential north end of Capel Street, with plots reflecting the layout of that period, considered to be "extremely rare, and among the earliest instances of formal street design in Dublin".(C. Casey). The houses form a unified terrace, with 105 & 106 making an advanced six-bay centrepiece, each three bays wide. More modest four-bay wings flanked them: 103 & 104 (now lost) and 107 & 108 (greatly modified). Ward developed several houses at Merrion Square North in the 1760s. These showcase identical rusticated granite façades, a feature unique to here and 105/106 Capel Street.
105 Capel Street is a large three-bay, four-storey-over-raised-basement townhouse of national architectural significance (NIAH), with surviving enriched hand-modelled Rococo stucco work, cornices and ceiling roses; original intact room layouts, original door sets and many original 18th Century windows, and an original open staircase with carved tread ends and internal joinery of fine architectural quality. The roof is double-pile slate, hipped to the north, concealed behind rebuilt brick parapet walls with granite coping, lead hopper and downpipes breaking through and shared stepped brick chimney stacks to the south party wall with clay pots. External walls are brick in Flemish bond with recent lime pointing. Continuous granite sill at first floor with a brick apron over granite platband framing rusticated granite moulded stonework to ground. Granite plinth over rendered raised basement walls. Gauged brick flat-arched window openings with flush rendered reveals, granite sills and timber sliding sash windows. Window panes are 3/3 to the third floor, 6/6 to the front elevation with contemporary full glass inserts at ground floor level. The rear is partly rebuilt with unsympathetic fenestration. Arch-headed front door ope, with moulded stone surrounds, recent double-leaf glazed timber doors and plain fanlight. Access over replaced granite flagged platform with single-nose step, bridging basement. The basement area reopened in a recent phase of works and is enclosed by new iron railings on a moulded granite plinth with an iron gate. Steel steps provide access to the basement.
Occupancy on the site has seen significant turnover over the centuries. The original mansion thought to date from 1676, was bought by Conolly in 1707 from Mr. Barry, and demolished in 1770. No. 105 Capel Street's notable tenures included Corbet's Hotel (1774 - 1810), where Robert Emmet planned his ill-fated uprising in 1803, providing lodgings for the upper-ranking generals of the French Army who came in support. From 1810 - 1910 it was mostly active in the spirits trade, with the Drake family Vintners (1810 - 1845) and Begg Brothers, in situ for almost a century (1808 - 1905). The 20th Century saw it change hands ten times, with main tenants Magill (chandlers, confectioners and stationers, 1910 - 1960), Cosmon Ltd. (typesetters, 1965 - 1980) and Capel Upholsterers (retailers, 1990 - 2001). Outhouse took over the premises as its home in 2001. Although the house suffered extensive alterations over the years, miraculously, much has survived, including the original first floor Piano Nobile, with its grand salon overlooking the street, exceptional carvings, staircases, details, stucco plaster, ornamentation and rusticated stone at ground level. All contribute greatly to the architectural variety and historical layering of this historic street, show clearly its former character as a grand residential property and give us great insight into patterns of living in the city in the late 18th Century.