Death in the Music Room

Death occupied the minds of fashionable Dubliners in the summer of 1761. Lord Devlin, a mere 19 years old, had met a gruesome and bloody end - felled by the sword of one Mr. George Reilly. The duel had taken place in the Music room of the Marlborough Bowling Green and Pleasure Gardens, where those with shillings and time to spare whiled away their time in the pursuit of pleasure.

Bowls is an ancient game but was frowned upon in the medieval era as a frivolous waste of time (that could be better spent practising the more useful skill of archery). Henry Vlll, doubly infuriated by the money squandered in betting on the game, went so far as to outlaw it. However it crept back into fashion and by the middle of the 18th century bowling on the Marlborough Green, or the enjoyment of many other of the garden’s pleasures, was a popular way to spend a summer’s evening in Dublin. The season began in April, when the programme of events was advertised to winter weary Dubliners of the better sort. Venetian breakfasts and concerts, country dances, grand balls and evenings of ‘Fireworks of Land and Water’ enticed young and old to the Liffey side location.

Located in the area between present day Lower Abbey and Talbot Streets, the square shaped gardens and green was bordered on the east by the Old Rope Walk. Beyond, where once barley fields, windmills, glass houses and huddled hamlets dotted the landscape, now avenues lined with stately mansions, imposing, brick fronted charitable institutions and cluttered back lanes of higgledy hovels and turf fired cabins spread eastwards from the old city.

On the seaward side of Marlborough Green was World’s End Land where the city fathers were already planning the embankment of the river, and the division and allotment of the Liffey’s floodplains. At Hawkin’s Wall south side dwellers queued for the short ferry journey across the Liffey. Stepping out onto Ferry Boat Lane on the north side, a short stroll past the velvet factory brought revellers to the green, overlooked by the Earl of Tyrone’s magnificent new stone house. So popular was the bowling green and gardens that the crowds of up to 1,200 attended events. On such nights the young people would spill out onto the terrace to dance or to stroll through the moonlit gardens. And thus the high living Richard, Lord Devlin, happened upon Mr. Reilly and his young female companion. He hoped to steal the lady’s attentions for himself but instead drew down a challenge which led to his death in the Music room.

Fashionable society, more sensitive to scandal than any today, was so shocked that it never again frequented the Marlborough Bowling Green. In time the neglected gardens were swallowed up by the city as it marched eastwards and past here, where today Rosie Hackett Bridge crosses the River Liffey.

by Annette Black, Wicklow
Published on 10th July 2014