SJD8 #8: A Radical Historical Geography of Inchicore: Capital, Commemoration, and Nationalism

This is the eighth in a series of blogs on ‘Spatial Justice in Dublin 8’ (SJD8 #8), as a contribution to Maynooth University Social Justice Week 2022


The place of early Irish radicalism at the turn of the twentieth century is an integral component to our understanding of the foundation of the state. Elements of land agitation and the cultural revival of the late nineteenth century proved fertile ground for the ideas of socialism which would come with the turn to modernity. Absorbed through a growing sentiment of Irish nationalism, these strands of thought would become key to the events of the 1916 Rising and take hold as militant organisations such as Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen Army. The historic events of that time have in many cases been superimposed with the figures behind these organisations (James Connolly and Constance Markievicz most frequently) in a recoding of their radical beliefs towards a more tenable form of mainstream nationalism.

Inchicore in Dublin 8 has long been a hotbed of socialist radicalism due to its unique socio-economic history as an area of industry. Moving through parts of its locale such as the Great Southern & Western Railway Works (GS&WR), Emmet Hall and the Islandbridge National War Memorial Gardens (Figure 1), this blog examines the connections and contestations of the area with the social, religious, and political sentiments of the time. Departing from Foucault’s notion of the power/knowledge nexus, I will situate the question of early Irish socialism and the imposition of nationalism on its commemoration following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. Through this, I consider how the complex relationship of religion, radicalism and national identity within Inchicore speaks to the area’s contested landscape of commemoration.

Fig 1. A map of Inchicore including the Inchicore Railworks, War Memorial Gardens and Emmet Hall (denoted by red dot). Base-map from Ordnance Survey of Ireland, Historic Map 25 inch (1910), with additions by the author.

By examining Emmet Hall and the National War Memorial Gardens in particular, we can see a shift to a politically and socially conservative sense of nationalism which was at the same time unsure of its allegiances. In this sense any legacy of socialism gave way to a new hegemonic bourgeois nationalism which was significantly influenced by the Catholic Church. These values would go on to define twentieth century Ireland and still hold a legacy on the country today. With Inchicore and the surrounding area of Dublin 8 seeing its social and spatial fabric being rebuilt by (often hidden) processes of finance capitalism the radical history of the area becomes even more fascinating. By reading the palimpsest of commemoration in historic Inchicore we can get a sense of the different contested urban values and perhaps learn how we can invigorate a sense of spatial justice in Dublin looking to the future.

The Power/Knowledge Formation of the Irish Left by the Free State

In Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 (1978), the French philosopher elucidates a relationship of power and knowledge as being co-dependent functions of one another. Using the example of the Catholic Church’s coding of sexuality, he developed a schema of how knowledge can act as a means of discipline and control. The extension of this to modes of governance is what Foucault would term governmentality. For example, managing and defining populations quantitatively and statistically exerts power over what bodies belong where. By exerting disciplinary control over a person’s body, individual subjects were further regulated through forms of biopower. His examinations of prisons and hospitals offer historical studies about the inherent spatialities of power (Huxley, 2009; Soja, 1989).

Spatial articulations of power and control were deeply entrenched by the Catholic Church in early twentieth century Ireland, particularly through the patronage of healthcare and educational institutions. As fomented by the right-wing governmentality of the Cumann na nGaedheal, both the new government and Catholic Church determined socialism and organised labour as threats to their control. How this played out geographically in Inchicore is fascinating due to the spatial proximity of the institutions of the Church, labour, and the remnants of British colonialism (see Kearns, SJD8 #3: ‘The Urban Palimpsest of New Kilmainham, 1911’).

Before turning to a discussion of Inchicore, I should note briefly the material and political historical geographies underpinning the rise of socialism and trade unionism in Ireland. The largely agrarian nature of the economy throughout nineteenth century meant that Ireland depended on exports to Britain. Due to the Act of Union in 1800 and a Customs Union in 1825, Britain’s industrial growth were prioritised, land confiscations continued even at the expense of human lives resulting in the Great Famine (Nally, 2011), which diminished any attempts at industrial development in Ireland. An anomaly to this was Belfast, which had developed large textile and shipbuilding industries (O’Connor, 2010: 196). Belfast became the first place where, in opposition to the old notion of craft-based trades union, industrial syndicalism and the notion of industry-wide (and broader) trades union took hold, with James Larkin and the 1907 Belfast Dock Strike.

In early twentieth century Dublin, and Inchicore within it, a version of Larkin’s syndicalism was grounded predominantly through industrial action related to transportion infrastructure. Yet this did not prove powerful enough for success during the 1913 Lockout. A resurgence in the movement occurred following the 1916 Rising and Connolly’s death. Co-operatives, parades, and papers such as The Irish Worker revitalised a sense of fervour with 120,000 Irish Transport and General Worker’s Union (ITGWU) members by 1920 (O’Connor, 2010: 213). The establishment of short-lived soviets became common across Ireland. The syndicalism proffered by the ITGWU and the political arm of Labour in the new Free State government faltered by 1923 due to political infighting and a Cumann na nGaedheal crackdown. This coincided with a strong push from the Catholic Church to restrict the growth of socialism in Ireland and a growing fascist notion within the Free State government.

The imposition of this power and its aversion to socialism determined a ‘politics of memory’ (Till, 2004: 289) which would disregard early Irish radicalism until very recently with the Decade of Centenaries. As Maurice Halbwachs (1950) would suggest, memory is something socially and environmentally determined through collective experience. The socially constructed aspect of collective memory can nonetheless become apparent, particularly through architecture, which can be read topographically as layers of palimpsest across a landscape. If we are to think of the collective memory formed across the constellation of social groupings across Inchicore, we are presented with a complex web spanning religion, class and national identity. This includes the Inchicore Railworks, and associated housing, signifying the working class and socialism; Richmond Barracks, as an outpost of the British Empire and its colonial rule; and the Oblate Fathers as the seat of Catholic doctrine (see Whelan SJD8 #5: ‘Inchicore as Battleground: Spatial Conflict and Dublin’s Working Class, 1902-1914’). The material uses and symbolic meanings of these various areas changed throughout time prompting the construction of mainstream narratives of history (through the state, church, and business) but through counter-memories (Foucault, 1977) aiming to deconstruct the power relations behind dominant narratives.

An Industrial Suburb in the Greenery of Empire

As Kearns has written in his SJD8 #3 blog (‘The Urban Palimpsest of New Kilmainham, 1911’), the place of Inchicore changed drastically during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries due to an influx of industry and its location relative to the city of Dublin. The area became an anomaly in the city as it moved from a suburban periphery to an industrial core as the city grew (Kearns, 2020). As part of the ward of New Kilmainham, Inchicore mainly consisted of agricultural land (O’Flanagan, 2015) and country villas nearby. Beyond this was a small, dispersed country village of a few houses and outbuildings supporting Richmond Barracks, the latter of which was built in 1810 (OSI, 1845). With the barracks acting as a staging ground for British colonial forces, the gradual influx of industry to Inchicore began with the GS&WR line constructed in 1845 – a key piece of infrastructure connecting Dublin Kingsbridge (now Heuston Station) to Cork. The Inchicore Railworks would prove vital for the subsequent development of the railway industry in Ireland. Like many of Britain’s colonies the building of this infrastructure had to be scaled up from little material and equipment; in this sense the works had to be relatively self-sufficient.

This scale of engineering operation required an experienced and diligent workforce with many of the works’ employees initially being drawn from industrial Britain. With just 39 people employed in 1846, the Railworks would expand to employing around 1600 by 1896 (McLeod, 2004), and transforming Inchicore from rural pastureland to an industrial suburb by the turn of the century.

With this vast shift in the rise of skilled industrial and related services labour, inevitably some sort of organising among the workers would come. The first in Inchicore tended to resemble the range of labourers’ craft associations and societies existing in Britain. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE), composed of a range of craftsmen, had about 250 members in Dublin in 1851 (Geraghty & Rigney, 1982). However, it was not until around 1891 when proper trade unionism started to take hold across the workers of the GS&WR, which included a Workmans’ Club on Emmet Road. This would become the regular meeting place of the ASE from 1894 with around 80 members.

The development of trade unionism was at odds with the GS&WR management, seen as the most anti-union in all of the British Isles (Geraghty & Rigney, 1982: 21). This was of particular concern to workers as they depended on their employer for housing (see Keogh SJD8 #6 ‘Jobs for the Boys, A Home for the Family? Multi-Generational Employment at the Inchicore Railway Works in 1911’). Despite this, the ASE engaged in numerous strikes throughout the 1890s, most revolving around the proposed shift in pay from time to piecework (Geraghty & Rigney, 1982). This dispute over pay led to a widespread strike action conducted by all ASE members in Dublin, which, although ultimately a failure, acted as one of the larger actions of trade unionism of the time. Alongside this, it built the experience and reputation of William P. Partridge, who would become instrumental in the labour organising of the ITGWU in Inchicore.

Emmet Hall and a New Radicalism

Standing at 122 Emmet Road, Emmet Hall is an unassuming two-storey Georgian red brick house. Previously a victualler’s shop and residence, it was purchased by James Larkin on behalf of the ITGWU in September 1912 (O’Meara, 2013). Here the Inchicore branch of the ITGWU catered to the masses employed by the Railworks, the Goldenbridge papermill, the Dublin United Tramway Company, and other local industries. Secondary only to the Union’s headquarters at Liberty Hall, the Inchicore branch would be critical to the growth of a more unified sense of radical syndicalism across Dublin. This moved away from the old system of craft unions and instead followed the model of the syndicalist general workers’ unions as seen across Europe. Nonetheless, these issues were still peripheral to the larger questions of nationalism/unionism and Home Rule (Ó Broin, 2009: 89).

The space of Emmet Hall was first and foremost a place for meeting and organising, however, meetings also included singing, dancing and recitals. William Partridge became manager of the Hall in 1913 (O’Meara, 2013: 24) and utilised the large back garden for such events, including displays by the Union’s Emmet Drum and Fife Band. These cultural activities were important for the reach of the ITGWU, dovetailing with a growing Gaelic cultural revival (the Conradh Na Gaeilge having a hall on nearby Grattan Crescent). Alongside cultural pursuits, Partridge used Emmet Hall as a constituency office upon his election to the Dublin City Council in 1913 (ibid) — a role which undoubtedly would have improved the credence of the union in the area.

The transition of the ITGWU from a radical union organisation to one of militant social republicanism is determined by the course of the 1913 Lockout and the subsequent growth of the Irish Citizen Army as noted above. Sparked by William Martin Murphy (the baron of press and transport in Dublin) over the fear of workers in the Dublin United Tramway Company unionising, the Lockout came to a head on 21st August 1913 (Yeates, 2001: 31). Two hundred parcel workers were essentially sacked, even those with no aim towards unionising. This led to a general strike of tram drivers on 26 August, the first day of the Dublin Horse Show. Larkin’s speech to thousands of workers on Sackville Street triggered large riots; similar violence broke out in Inchicore around the Spa Road Dublin United Tramways Company (DUTC) depot, with numerous strikers arrested. However, in a great show of the sentiment of the area, an arrested man was subsequently ‘freed’ by the large crowd amassed at Emmet Hall.

These clashes and others resulted in the organisation of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) in November 1913 (O’Meara, 2013) to protect workers from police violence and blackleg workers. In March 1914 the ICA adopted a constitution which also placed the national question at the forefront of its ideology (Leddin, 2019).

Military Tensions and the New State

James Connolly took command of the ITGWU and ICA in October 1914, with Michael Mallin as his chief-of-staff after Larkin departed for the US. Contextualising Connolly’s vision is important as it dictated a more militant place for the ICA which overlapped increasingly with the Irish Volunteers. The Edinburgh-born socialist had previously set up the short-lived Irish Socialist Republican Party and was Larkin’s right-hand man, organising workers in Belfast. Connolly’s vision of a socialist republic for Ireland influenced the direction of the ICA towards the mainstream republicanism of the Irish Volunteers (Finn, 2016: 184). While no meaningful socialist political force existed in Irish politics at the time, the ITGWU grew considerably following 1913. The only way left for Connolly’s political vision was to move towards rebellion – in alignment with the plans of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Emmet Hall became highly important to the movement of rebellion. Various mock actions took place around Dublin with the Volunteers before marching back to Inchicore. Due to the proximity of Richmond Barracks, which was a stone’s throw behind the back wall, the smuggling of arms was often done through Emmet Hall. Sympathetic Irishmen were stationed at the Barracks and would assist in the acquisition of rifles which would then be distributed across Dublin (O’Meara, 2013).

As the Easter Rising was planned and subsequently failed, the ICA fell into obscurity. Connolly was executed and the prospect of a socialist republic died with him. Throughout the War of Independence and the Civil War, revolutionary zeal gradually shifted to a conservative notion of statecraft in a possible Free State. The place of the Irish who fought for the British in WW1 became bound to the newfound political rhetoric of the early Free State, which was commemorated with the construction of a new symbolic space throughout the 1930s, the Irish War Memorial Gardens. 

Planned in 1919, the Gardens served to commemorate all the Irishmen killed in the First World War (OPW, 2020). The willingness of the Irish state to co-opt such a project was pushed forward by W. T. Cosgrave, but it was later completed under De Valera. The granite neoclassical pillars were designed by the architect Sir Edward Luytens, but, after significant delay, the memorial structure was built by former British and Irish Army servicemen only during the 1930s (Pollard, 2016). The official dedication was postponed by WW2, after which the memorial was disregarded by the state and not maintained.

Geographies of Commemoration

As we have seen Inchicore played a large role in the development of labour organising and the wider national question of Ireland. The complexities of these intersecting histories can be understood spatially through specific sites of commemoration. In particular the National War Memorial Gardens and Emmet Hall symbolise two conflicting narratives of Irish society, on the one hand associations with legacies of colonial power and on the other grassroots radicalism. Their commemoration and place as memorials are also significantly in opposition. Alderman and Dwyer talk of memorials as ‘symbolic conduits’ (2008: 167) that not only express history but also confer legitimacy. While the material form of a memorial is important, its emplacement ‘within the cultural landscape’ acts as a form of ‘social negotiation (ibid: 168).

The history of the Gardens – including roughly seventy years from its original plans 1919 to first dedication in 1988 – illustrates the complexities of twentieth-century Irish national identity and how this related to the dominant political ideology of the day. The memorial’s original proposal in 1919 was acceptable at the time, with Europe still reeling from war and Ireland still under British rule. But by the time it was completed (around 1937), it could only be seen as a legacy of British rule and was only noted in a feature in Country Life magazine (a more Anglo- than Irish-leaning publication, see Figure 2). Inevitably, the Second World War stymied further progress towards a dedication, which gave way to a period of neglect from the 1960s onwards, when the Great War was invisible in the Irish social and cultural imaginary; the memorial even become a target for IRA bombs twice. It was only from 1988 onwards that the Gardens re-entered public discourse, becoming a point of reconciliation between British and Irish. Following the restoration of Gardens and its first opening by the OPW in 1988 (OPW, 2020), a formal ceremony was held in 2011 when Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth visited the memorial (Pollard, 2016: 283).

Figure 2. The Gardens in Country Life. Source: Pollard (2016: 284).

Emmet Hall — an eminently functional and working-class meeting centre — was disregarded for any memorial until 2011. It was then that the local Kilmainham and Inchicore Heritage unveiled two plaques (one in English and one in Irish) that recognised the building’s revolutionary history. In 2016, another plaque commemorating the history of the ICA was erected by SIPTU (the modern day ITGWU) (Figure 3). In both of these instances of commemoration, there was little to no state involvement; a Sinn Féin TD addressed the first unveiling only. The site was also not included in any official commemoration during the Decade of  Centenaries, in contrast to the establishment of a heritage centre at Richmond Barracks and the large-scale events that took place in the Gardens. The future of Emmet Hall remains unclear. At present the building lies vacant and a planning application to turn it into housing is being considered (Whelan, 2018).

Figure 3. Emmet Hall, with Irish Citizen Army plaque in foreground. Source: Whelan (2018).

Despite being just over a kilometre away from each other, the state has forgotten an important place in Irish history, Emmet Hall, and reclaimed a traditional site of memory, the Gardens. The discrepancies between the investment in the two memorials and their meanings can be thought of a continuation of the spatial inequalities present in New Kilmainham since the nineteenth century. The plight of labourers (in contrast to the large estates of the gentry), the imposition of the Catholic Church through the Oblate Fathers, the industrial unrest around working conditions in the rail- and tram-works – these contestations underpinned the lived reality of Inchicore in the early twentieth century, but also the wider reality of Dublin and Ireland, but remain unrecognised in the memorial landscape.


Inchicore was one of the areas key to the genesis of industry and socialism in Ireland, and with this became an area for political contestation as the Free State came to power and the national question faded. The power of the Catholic Church was another key influence and their negative disposition towards socialism was subsumed into the Irish political machine.  Although the importance of early Irish socialism as developing in Inchicore runs in tandem with nationalism, its commemoration has been more fraught than remembering the Irish veterans of WW1.

The exertion of control over knowledge and commemoration speaks to how the spatial porousness of memory (Till, 2004) can be geared to suit the interests of a particular time.

The commemoration of particular sites of memory during Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries has been inextricably linked to narratives of patriotism, nationalism, republicanism, and neoliberalism, shirking any significant interrogation in our collective memory regarding radicalism. Something untenable to the state throughout much of the twentieth century (the commemoration of the British military) broke ground in mainstream Irish politics and media.

Socialist landmarks in the city centre have been also recently unveiled, with the Rosie Hackett Bridge taking centre stage in the city, alongside other socialist landmarks such as Liberty Hall and Connolly’s statue at Beresford Place. However, the lack of topographic commemoration of the 1913 Lockout, and particularly Inchicore’s contribution to radicalism, is stark. Given our current political economy’s growing complicity with a neoliberal agenda, much of Inchicore and the surrounding area of Dublin 8 is undergoing rapid gentrification and social change. It is at such a time that we consider how space is shaped through memory and what this brings to bear on our everyday lives.

— Patrick Gifford

Patrick Gifford is a MA Spatial Justice student in the Department of Geography at Maynooth University. This blog developed from an essay written for a postgraduate Geography module, ‘GY607: Field School’, taught by Professors Till and Kearns, Semester 1, 2021.


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  1. […] – e.g. Thiesen on the iconography of graveyards (SJD8 #4), Whelan (SJD8 #5) and Gifford (SJD8 #8) on class conflict, Keogh on housing and employment on the Railway Estate (SJD8 #6), Murray on the […]


  2. […] SJD8 #8: A Radical Historical Geography of Inchicore: Capital, Commemoration, and Nationalism, Patrick Gifford, MA Spatial Justice student […]

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