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The Five Lamps by Pat Liddy

Many of Dublin’s monuments are known by their more commonplace nicknames than by their official title. The period lighting column on the North Strand is colloquially called the Five Lamps, mainly on account of its precise number of lanterns, but its official name is the General Henry Hall Memorial Fountain.

Henry Hall was born in 1789 in County Galway and was educated at Harrow. Like many young men of his day he next headed for India where the opportunities of a brave new colonial world beckoned. He joined the Bengal Native Infantry. During a distinguished career of 32 years in the military he won many commendations and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General. He didn’t just conquer new territories across Northern India or put down inevitable rebellions but also successfully encouraged formerly aggressive tribes to settle and become economically self-sufficient instead of mounting terrifying raids on their neighbours. Given that the territory he was partly responsible for was the equivalent to Europe stretching from the Atlantic to the Black Sea he was no mean achiever. When retirement came he settled in Dublin where his house, Merville, on Foster Avenue, is now part of University College Dublin. He died in 1874 and is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery. Many of his descendants also went on to have illustrious careers in the British army and Foreign Service.

Back to the lamp standard itself. General Hall was a very abstemious character so when he died he left money in his will to have two water drinking fountains erected in the city ‘to encourage sobriety’. So in 1880 the City Council erected this highly decorative cast-iron lamp standard equipped with four drinking basins (for horses) and a chained cup over each basin for the use of humans. It was manufactured by the Sun Foundry in Glasgow. There is a continuing debate as to why the structure is called the ‘Five’ Lamps. Some think it was named after five important battles during the Indian Uprising of 1857-58. Others hold that they represent the five candles which brought luck in the Hindu tradition. The general opinion is that it represents each of the five roads that converge at this junction; Portland Row, North Strand Road, Seville Place, Amiens Street and Killarney Street. The North Strand is a reminder that this area was once covered by the sea which by the late 17th century was largely reclaimed but a beach still remained for another century where this road is today.

By the 1980s, the monument was showing signs of complete neglect. It had rusted badly and two of the lamps had fallen off and disappeared. Then, as part of the commemoration of the city’s 1988 Millennium, it was carefully restored, the missing lamps replaced and the opportunity was used to install 70-watt high pressure sodium lights into the lanterns. Three missing lion heads (the water used to gush from the four lions’ mouths) were also recast but unfortunately the basins were filled in to prevent possible vandalism.

One of the monument’s close neighbours, on Portland Row, is the massive pile of the abandoned Aldborough House. Designed by Richard Johnston and built 1792 -98, this former grand mansion was Dublin’s largest private dwelling after Leinster House. It was built during the glory age of Dublin, the Georgian Period. In fact, this was the last of the so-called Great Houses of the city. However, its destiny was ill-fated from the beginning. The original owner, Edward Stratford, second Earl of Aldborough and Viscount Amiens (after whom Amiens street is named), ended up in Newgate prison for contempt of the House of Lords (of which he was a member). Soon released, he died before ever living in the house. His wife moved in for a short time before her untimely death.

The building remained unoccupied until 1813 when a Cistercian monk with the wonderful name of Professor Gregor von Feinaigle set up a specialised school here which lasted until 1829 or so. Then Aldborough House was empty again until it became an army barracks until finally it was turned into a depot for the state postal and telephone service. You can only imagine how the impressive interior was mismanaged, to say the least. Since the turn of this century it has remained empty again and has recently suffered weather damage due windows being smashed and the lead flashings being stolen from the roofs. Vandals also caused a damaging internal fire. Some rehabilitation to the roof was carried by the authorities but fingers are now crossed that at last an owner has been found that has the resources to finally restore the building to its former magnificence, albeit as modern offices

One tragic incident that took place on May 31, 1941 almost wiped out the Five Lamps monument but luckily it escaped unscathed. Three hundred nearby houses were destroyed though, around 30 people killed and another 90 injured when a high explosive German bomb was dropped in the early morning right beside Newcomen Bridge, just a mere 200 metres away. Ireland was neutral during the Second World War but that did not save the city from occasional random bombing of which this was the most devastating.

While change is rapidly taking place in this part of Dublin the Five Lamps are assured to shine their Victorian steadfastness from their commanding position.

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