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Excerpt from Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Ireland for the metropolis of Dublin (pub. 1837). For more snapshots of pre-famine local history for Dublin city parishes, see below.


Several acts of parliament have at different periods been passed for improving the port of Dublin, the last of which, 26th of Geo. III, constituted the present corporation for "preserving and improving the port of Dublin," commonly known by the name of the Ballast Board, in which was vested the care, management, and superintendence of the whole of the river and the walls bounding it. Its jurisdiction was subsequently extended by several successive acts, and the management of the port and harbour of Kingstown was also vested in this corporation; but in 1836, an act was passed by which the port was placed under the control of the Board of Works. The receipts on account of the port average about £30,000 per annum. The Ballast Board has the charge of all the lighthouses in Ireland, of which there are six connected with the port of Dublin.

The commerce of the port consists of various branches, of which the most important is the cross-channel trade, which has increased considerably, owing to the facilities afforded by steam navigation; the agricultural produce of the midland counties being brought hither for exportation, in return for which, groceries and other commodities for domestic consumption are sent back.

  • The first steam-boat that crossed the channel to this port was from Holyhead in 1816, but it was not till 1824 that steam-boats were employed in the transmission of merchandise: the passage by steam to Liverpool is performed on the average in 14, to London in 80, to Bristol in 24, to Cork in 20, to Belfast in 14, and to Glasgow in 24 hours.
  • The City of Dublin Steam-packet Company, in 1824, was the first that introduced a line of packets between this port and Liverpool, also in 1825 between this port and Belfast, for the conveyance of passengers and merchandise: the capital of this company amounts to £450,000, subscribed in £50 and £100 shares, of which £350,000 is held by Dublin shareholders. It employs 18 vessels between this port and Liverpool and Belfast; nine on the river Shannon, and in the summer a vessel to Bordeaux; also 52 trade boats on the Grand and Royal Canals.
  • Besides the above company, there are the Dublin and London Steam Marine Company, which has six vessels plying between this port and Falmouth, Plymouth, London, and Belfast; the St. George's Company, which has a vessel each to Cork, Bristol, and Greenock; also in the summer one to Whitehaven, calling at Douglas (Isle of Man); the British and Irish Steam-packet Company, which has two vessels plying between this port and Plymouth, London, and Belfast; and the Dublin and Glasgow Steam-packet Company, which has two vessels plying between this port and Glasgow and Cork: thus making 33 steam-packets trading from and to this port, from 250 to 800 tons burden, and from 100 to 280-horse power each.
  • The number of vessels that entered inwards at the port in the year ending Jan. 5th, 1792, was 2807, of the aggregate burden of 288,592 tons; in 1800, 2779, of 280,539 tons; in 1815, 3046, of 304,813 tons; and in 1823, 3412, of 363,685 tons. In the year ending Jan. 5th, 1836, the number of vessels that entered inwards was 34 foreign and 209 British, and that cleared outwards, 25 foreign and 107 British, exclusively of those that cleared out in ballast: during the same period, 3978 coasting vessels entered inwards and 1937 cleared outwards, exclusively of those which go out in ballast, chiefly to and from various parts of Great Britain; and 2087 colliers entered inwards, nearly the whole of which leave in ballast.
  • The number of vessels belonging to the port in 1836 was 327.


After the year 1824, no correct statement can be furnished of the imports and exports of Ireland, as the trade between that country and Great Britain was then placed on the footing of a coasting trade, and no entry was made at any custom-house except of goods on which duty was to be paid.

  • Any statement of the quantities of corn, cattle, &c., now exported is, therefore, merely one of the probable quantities.
  • The principal articles of Irish produce and manufacture exported from Dublin for Great Britain, for the year ending Jan. 5th, 1831, were bacon, 7461 bales; barley, 10,093 barrels; wheat, 40,000 barrels; beef, 18,084 tierces; beer, 10,651 barrels; butter, 41,105 firkins; candles, 1701 boxes; eggs, 3300 crates ; feathers, 1570 packs; flour, 10,356 sacks; hams, 88 casks; herrings, 259 casks; hides, 6781 bundles; lard, 365 casks; leather, 693 bales; linen, 3648 boxes; malt 103 barrels; oats, 153,191 barrels; oatmeal, 16,482 bags; porter, 29,800 hogsheads; printed cottons, 2100 packages; whiskey, 800 puncheons; wool, 3500 packs; oxen, 69,500; pigs, 58,000; and sheep, 80,000.
  • For some years previous to 1830, the quantity of tobacco imported had been diminished by the increased cultivation of that plant in Ireland, but the legislature prohibited the cultivation in 1833, and the importation of foreign tobacco has since greatly increased.
  • The large quantity of soap imported in 1835 is attributable to a drawback allowed on exportation from Great Britain, which was found to exceed the excise duty previously paid. The duty has since been altered, and the importation of soap has been thereby diminished. In 1830, the quantity imported into all Ireland was 6,559,461lb. of hard and 120,992 lb. of soft soap, the drawback allowed being £82,875. 9. 11.
  • The quantities of the principal articles imported in the year ending Jan. 5th, 1836, were: coal, 340,000 tons, chiefly from Whitehaven and Scotland; soap, 3,350,000 lb.; coffee, 2200 packages; sugar, 15,000 hogsheads; tea, 52,500 chests; pepper, 2000 packages; spirits, 700 casks, spirits (in bottle), 1200 cases; wine, 7100 casks, wine (in bottle), 1500 cases; tobacco, 1150 hogsheads; deals, 2000 great hundreds; staves, 3500 great hundreds; and timber, 11,600 logs.

There is no sugar-refinery in Dublin, although at one period the number was very considerable; all the refined sugar now used is imported from Great Britain. It will be perceived by the above statement that the direct foreign import trade is not so great as might be expected from the consumption of a large population; but the articles required can, by steam-vessels, be expeditiously brought from Liverpool, into which port they are imported, in many instances, on much lower terms than they could be imported into Dublin direct.

There is very little foreign export from Dublin.

  • The trade with the Baltic in timber, staves, &c., is greatly diminished by the high rate of duty imposed and the low rate at which Canada timber is admitted. From St. Petersburgh, Riga, Archangel, &c., there is a considerable import of tallow, hemp, and tar, with some linseed, bristles, &c.;
  • from Spain and Portugal the chief import is wine, with some corkwood, raisins, barilla, and bark;
  • from France, the imports are wine in wood and bottle, claret, champagne, &c., also cork-wood, prunes, dried fruits, and some brandy;
  • from the Netherlands, the imports are bark and flax; from Holland, tobacco pipes, bark, cloves, and flax-seed, and small quantities of gin, Burgundy pitch, Rhenish wines, madder, &c.
  • With the West Indies, the trade is chiefly in sugar from Jamaica, Demerara, and Trinidad, estates in the last-named island being owned in Dublin. Coffee is imported in small quantities and also rum, but very little foreign spirits are consumed in Ireland, in consequence of the low price and encouragement given to the use of whiskey. Beef and pork in casks, and soap and candles in boxes, were formerly exported to the West Indies in large quantities, but the trade is now nearly lost in consequence of permission being given to the colonists to import these articles from Hamburgh, Bremen, &c., where they can be purchased at lower prices than in Ireland.
  • To the United States of America formerly there was a very large export of linen, principally to New York, and flax-seed, staves, turpentine, clover-seed, &c., were brought back; but the bounty on the export of linen having been withdrawn, the trade between the United States and Dublin has greatly diminished. The export of linen and import of flax-seed is now chiefly confined to Belfast and other northern ports. The American tobacco which is either sold or consumed in Dublin is brought from Liverpool.
  • With British America the trade is very great in timber, as a return cargo of vessels sailing thither from Dublin with emigrants.
  • With Newfoundland there is no direct trade; the cod and seal oil consumed are imported from Liverpool or brought by canal from Waterford, which has a direct trade with Newfoundland; dried codfish and ling being much used in the southern counties, but not in the northern or midland.
  • With China there are three vessels owned in Dublin, besides others engaged in the tea trade; the number of chests directly imported is, therefore, considerable.
  • With South America there is no direct trade, the Dublin tanners being abundantly supplied with native hides, and any foreign hides required being brought from Liverpool, whence also is imported the cotton wool consumed in the Dublin factories.
  • With Turkey the trade is confined to the importation from Smyrna of valonia, figs, raisins, and small quantities of other articles; madder-roots and emery-stone being always transhipped for Liverpool.
  • With Leghorn, there is a considerable trade for cork-tree bark, and small quantities of hemp in bales, oil, marble, &c., are also imported, but very little communication is kept up with Trieste or other Italian ports.
  • With Sicily the trade is in shumac and brimstone; the latter article in considerable quantities for the consumption of vitriol and ether chemical works.


The markets are under the superintendence of a jury; the sheriffs being required, under the 73rd sec. of the 13th and 14th of Geo. III., cap. 22, to summon 48 of the most respectable citizens, of whom 24 are sworn in at the general quarter sessions, and any three are empowered to visit and examine the commodities, and report to the lord mayor, who is authorised to condemn the provisions, and impose a fine to the extent of £10. 

  • The principal wholesale market is in Smithfield, a narrow oblong area in the north-eastern part of the city, the site of which is the property of the corporation, as part of their manor of Oxmantown: the market days for the sale of black cattle and sheep are Monday and Thursday, and for hay and straw, Tuesday and Saturday.
  • There is also a considerable market for hay, straw, potatoes, butter, fowls, and eggs, in Kevin-street, over which, though it is within the liberty of St. Sepulchre, and is alleged to be exempt from the corporate jurisdiction, the officers being appointed by the archbishop, the lord mayor claims a right of superintendence, and the weights and measures used there are sanctioned by his authority.
  • The great market for the sale of potatoes is on the north side of the river, in Petticoat-lane; a small portion of the present site is corporate property, and was the ancient potato market of the city; it is now rented from the corporation by two persons, who are joint weighmasters and clerks of the market, under the lord mayor; the market is commodious, and the avenues to it convenient.
  • The wholesale fish market is held in an enclosed yard in Boot-lane:
  • there is also a wholesale fruit market in the Little Green,
  • and one for eggs and fowls contiguous thereto in Halton-street.
  • There are ten retail markets for butchers' meat, poultry, vegetables, and fish; namely, Northumberland market on Eden Quay, which is kept with peculiar neatness; Meath market, in the Earl of Meath's liberty; Ormond market, on Ormond quay; Castle market, between South Great-George's-street and William-street; Patrick's market, in Patrick-street; City market, in Blackhall-row; Clarendon market, in William-street ; Fleet-market, in Townsend-street; Rotundo, or Norfolk-market, in Great-Britain-street ; and Leinster-market, in D'Olier-Street. The want of well-regulated slaughterhouses, in situations which would prevent offensive exposure, is severely felt.


A fair is annually held at Donnybrook, about two miles from the city, but within the limits of the jurisdiction of the corporation, under several charters: the first, granted in the 16th of John, authorises its continuance for sixteen days, though of late years it has been limited to a week or eight days: it commences on Aug. 26th. The number of cattle sold is inconsiderable, as it is frequented more for purposes of amusement and conviviality than of business. The corporation have little interest in it, excepting the preservation of order; it yields the proprietor of the ground about £400 per annum.

A fair is held in James'-Street on St. James's day (July 25th), chiefly for pedlery.

The fairs of Rathfarnham and Palmerstown, though beyond the limits of the corporate jurisdiction, are within that of the city police.


The Royal Exchange is situated on the ascent of Cork hill, near the principal entrance to the Castle, and also nearly opposite to Parliament-street. The building was completed in 1779, at the expense of £40,000, raised partly by parliamentary grants, partly by subscriptions, and partly by lotteries. It forms a square of 100 feet, presenting three fronts, the fourth side being concealed by the adjoining buildings of the castle. The ground plan of the interior represents a circle within a square. The circle is formed by twelve fluted columns of the composite order, forming a rotundo in the centre of the building ; above their entablature is an attic, ten feet high, having a circular window corresponding with each of the subjacent intercolumniations, and above the attic rises a hemispherical dome of very chaste proportions, crowned by a large circular light, which, together with the zone of windows immediately underneath, throws an ample volume of light into the body of the building. At the eastern and western ends of the north front are geometrical staircases leading to the coffee-room and other apartments now employed as courts for the Bankrupt Commission, meeting-rooms for the trustees, and accommodations for inferior officers. In the lower hall is a fine marble statue of the late Henry Grattan and on the staircase leading to the coffee-room another of Dr Lucas, who preceded Grattan in the career of patriotism. The increase of commercial business since the erection of this building having required additional accommodation in a situation more convenient for mercantile transactions, the Exchange has been gradually deserted and the meetings held there transferred to the Commercial Buildings in College-green.

The Commercial Buildings form a plain but substantial square of three stories, constituting the sides of a small quadrangle and wholly unornamented except in the principal front to College-green, which is of hewn stone and has a central entrance supported by Ionic columns.

  • On the left of the grand entrance-hall and staircase is a news-room, 60 feet long and 28 feet wide, occupied by the members of the Chamber of Commerce (established in 1820 to protect and improve the commerce of the city); and on the right is a handsome coffee-room, connected with that part of the building which is used as an hotel.
  • The north side of the quadrangle is occupied by the Stock Exchange and merchants' offices, and on the east and west are offices for the brokers. It was built by a proprietary of 400 £50 shareholders and was completed in 1799, under the superintendence of Mr Parkes.
  • The Corn Exchange was built by merchants who were incorporated in 1815, under the designation of the "Corn Exchange Buildings' Company," with leave to augment their capital to £15,000; the business is managed by a committee of 15 directors. The building, which is two stories high, has a neat front of mountain granite towards Burgh Quay; the interior contains a hall, 130 feet long, separated longitudinally from walks on each side by a range of cast-iron pillars supporting a cornice, which is continued around the inner hall and surmounted by an attic perforated with circular windows; the hall is furnished with tables for displaying samples of grain, and in the front of the building is a large room on the upper story for public dinners or meetings of societies, by the rent of which and of the tables the interest of the capital, estimated at £25,000, is paid.

The Ouzel Galley Society was established in 1705 for the arbitration of differences respecting trade and commerce. The arbitrators must be members of the society, who are among the principal merchants in the city: the surplus of expenses incurred in this court are appropriated to the benefit of decayed merchants.

SOURCE: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (pub 1837)

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