Book Review of “Hidden Dublin”

Patrick O’Donnell

Presented in a popular easy-to-read storytelling style, Hidden Dublin (2008) is the ideal book for amateur and professional Dublinologists and enthusiasts of “hidden” social history. All stripes of amateur and professional fans of the wonderful and strange and multi-shadowed Gothic worlds and underworlds of Dublin, Ireland’s 1,000 year old Irish capital city, will relish the more than 100 “slice of life” vignettes in this work.

Written in a brisk, accessible, and highly enjoyable style, the author’s research draws from old newspapers, memoirs, autobiographies, popular histories, and Ireland’s National Library. He focuses particularly on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These eras contain rich garish treasure chests of anecdotes, vignettes, and grotesque characters. As Hopkins states: “Dublin has always been full of characters. . . They teem from the pages of history in all their complex glory – the poets, troubadours, the clowns and conjurers, the mad, the bad and the downright dangerous.”

The horror of everyday Dublin life in those centuries flowed from its condition as a debased colonial city. Because it was becoming too independent, its parliament was closed down by the corrupt Act of Union in 1801 through coercion and bribery by the English authorities. The resulting ghost city of shadow people and “deadbeats, dossers, and decent skins” referred to in the book’s subtitle provides much of the book’s source material.

One example of this everyday horror was the terrifying and coldblooded executioner, Lieutenant Edward Hepenstall, who was known as The Walking Gallows. He was a loyalist to the British regime who would asphyxiate his Irish rebel victims by twisting his scarf into a noose and then “he would pull the other end of the scarf over his own shoulder and set off on a run with the unfortunate victim jolting on his back, strangling him in the process.” His street executions were particularly prevalent following the 1798 rebellion. Ironically, his despised grave may lie in the former St. Andrews Church which is now the primary tourist office site in central Dublin. One wit proposed the following epitaph for the deranged Hepenstall: “Here lie the bones of Hepenstall,/Judge, jury, gallows, rope and all.” The book is crammed to bursting with such tantalizing tales of real history’s forgotten horrors and grotesques. It is a highly diverting and enjoyable read.

The book can be gotten at your local independent bookseller or the distributor, Dufour Editions at factotum@dufoureditions.com

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