The History of Grafton Street, 1708 – Today

Grafton Street was established in 1708 by the Dawson’s, a wealthy Dublin family. The street was named after Henry Fitzroy, the first Duke of Grafton. It began as a residential street which was a popular address among Dublin’s more affluent citizens during the eighteenth century. In 1758 the famous Whytes Academy was established, an English Grammar School. Many prominent citizens attended the school for their primary education, including Thomas Moore, Robert Emmet and the Duke of Wellington.

In 1794 the Carlisle Bridge, now O’ Connell Bridge was constructed which allowed for passage from the north to the south side of the River Liffey. The bridge opened up the city and Dublin experienced a shopping boom with Grafton Street becoming a desirable location for merchants to sell their wares. By 1815 the majority of buildings had been converted from residential to retail units and by the end of the century Grafton Street was the top commercial street in the city. The street catered for the high-end of the market with a variety of fashion stores, jewellers, watch and clock makers and high quality food and wine merchants.

In 1849 drapers Hugh Brown and James Thomas opened Brown Thomas which has grown into Dublin’s most prestigious Department Store and has become an integral part of Grafton Street. In 1995 the store moved to its current location at 88 Grafton Street where its award winning window displays are a must-see. Another store which is still flourishing since it’s opening in the 1800s is Weir & Sons which first opened in 1869. Thomas Weir opened his jewellery shop at 5 Grafton Street, the business began to thrive and a larger premises was required so Weir & Sons moved to a prominent corner location at 96 Grafton Street. The glazed entrance from the previous store which reads “5 Grafton Street” remains part of the building to this day where the world’s finest jewellery and watches are sold inside this beautiful and historic building.

Grafton Street also became a place of leisure in the nineteenth century, many Dubliners socialised in the wide assortment of cafés and restaurants. In 1927 Bewley’s, now Dublin’s oldest and most famous café opened at 97-98 Grafton Street. Bewley’s on Grafton Street was a regular haunt for Irish literary greats such as James Joyce and Patrick Kavanagh, the cafe is mentioned in Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’. Sinead O’Connor and Bob Geldof are among the more recent famous patrons of this iconic café which is loved by Dubliners and visitors alike. The café design was inspired by oriental tearooms in Asia and Tutankhamen’s Tomb which was discovered just three years before the café opened provided the inspiration for the building’s facade. The exterior and interior of the iconic café are to be admired and perhaps most striking of all are the Grafton street café’s six stained glass windows which were commissioned by renowned artist Harry Clarke in 1931.

In 1979 cars were banned from the street and red paving was introduced which improved the experience of pedestrians. Being a car-free zone Grafton Street is the ideal location for street performers. From fire eaters and living statues to musicians and magicians there is something for everyone as they stroll through Dublin’s most famous street. Grafton Street has become renowned as a launch pad for many several successful musicians including Glen Hansard who won an Oscar for his song ‘Falling Slowly’ from the movie and now Broadway musical ‘Once’. Even U2 frontman Bono has performed on this famous street, what began as an impromptu gig on December 24th 2009 has become an annual event with the international rockstar returning to perform every year since. The talent and creativity of Grafton Street’s performers won’t fail to entertain any of those who are strolling through the street in the heart of Dublin.

The Molly Malone statue was erected on the corner of Grafton Street and Suffolk Street and was unveiled at the 1988 Dublin Millennium celebrations. The bronze statue commemorates the female fishmonger featured in the famous Dublin ballad, ‘Molly Malone’. The famous statue at the bottom of Grafton Street is the perfect spot to take a photograph while taking in the atmosphere of the Grafton Street area. Another famous bronze statue in the Grafton Street area is that of Thin Lizzy lead singer and bassist Phil Lynott, the statue of the ‘Boys are Back in Town’ singer was unveiled in August 2005

Today, Grafton Street is home to an array of well-known international brands yet, with its long history and iconic Irish businesses Grafton Street remains distinct from any other shopping street in the world.

Laura Finn

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About Grafton Street

Grafton Street was named after Henry FitzRoy, The 1st Duke of Grafton, he was the illegitimate son of Charles II of England who owned land in the area and was developed from a country lane by the Dawson family in 1708, after whom the parallel Dawson Street is named.

Grafton Street runs from the top of St. Stephen's Green to (Trinity) College Green.