Portobello developed as a small suburb south of the city of Dublin beginning in the 18th century, with Richmond St. as its epicenter. Over the course of the next couple hundred years, it was completely developed as an area of private estates and open land gave way to solid red-bricked Victorian buildings for the middle class residents (on the larger streets), and terraced housing facing the Grand Canal for the poorer and working classes. Along with a population influx, ushered by a demand for housing and immigrants entering the neighborhood, housing development in Portobello became a necessity. Stout brick buildings could be erected quickly and filled with tenants at a relatively low cost. Today, an abandoned and dilapidated hospital building is closed off to the public, but stands as a remnant of the neighborhood’s more impoverished demographic.
As we adventured through Portobello, we decided to stop in two different bars that are well-known within the area. The first was called The Bernard Shaw: Located on Richmond Street, this pub was directly on our way to Portobello, so we had to stop in. At first, it was difficult to tell what type of audience The Bernard Shaw would attract because it looks rundown and older, but there are also many murals and paintings outside that gave it a younger vibe. In general, we may have judged too quickly. It has kept its older appearance, but inside there were posters for events ranging from rock music to disco dancing, crazily painted walls, a young bar staff, pool tables, and even a blue bus outside that you could drink in. It had so much character. AND they sell pizza, what more could you ask for?
The next place we went to was called the Bello Bar which was more of a mini concert venue than a bar. It’s located under The Lower Deck on Portobello Harbour, and it’s only open two days a week.
First of all, a bar under a bar? How cool is that! When you walk in, there is an area where the bands play and in front of that is an open space that allows people to dance. Behind the dance space, there is “The Sitting Room” where there are multiple tables and chairs that give people a place to listen to music and enjoy a beer. Overall, the setup is great. The interior is also unique; it is dimly lit with plenty of funky decor and comfy couches. This was a fun one to go in and check out. While we did not get to hear a performance, it was obvious that this was a cool and unique venue that everyone must visit.
For only being a small suburb in Dublin, Portobello has a very long and rich history; it has played an important role in various political events, as well as been the home to many well-known Irish artists, politicians, and writers. While the area has been around since the 17th century, it was not named until the 18th century. On the map, you can see where Portobello is located on the southside of Dublin.
Portobello boasts a uniquely diverse take on Dublin’s history. As a neighborhood that has always held predominantly immigrant demographics, Portobello has a rich past of cultures meeting. In particular, it is known for a historically thriving Jewish population, which gave Portobello its title of “Little Jerusalem.” Today, the area has also become the center of a growing Muslim demographic, and is home to the Dublin Mosque and Islamic Foundation of Ireland (housed in a former church building). The melding of histories and people shows in Portobello. Among the new wave food carts, farmer’s markets and modernized bars, you’ll still find a kebab shop on nearly every block.
Click here to read about The Bretzel – Portobello’s Jewish bakery
The neighborhood of Portobello has been in existence since the 17th century, which means it has inhabited many, many people including some of Ireland’s most well-known figures. While we cannot list every notable resident within this suburb, we can at least tell you about some of them:
- George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
George Bernard Shaw, or as he preferred just Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright whose plays are incredibly well-known and still performed today. He wrote over 60 plays throughout his life including his work Pygmalion, which was so popular that it was adapted into a movie and a musical. Beyond playwriting, Shaw was also a recognized author of various social and political commentaries, letters (he wrote over a quarter of a million!), and he even attempted fiction writing. Overall, he had a successful career and Portobello, Dublin is very proud of being home to his birthplace. On July 26, 1856, Shaw was born in Portobello at 3 Upper Synge Street. Go check out where he was born or have a drink at the pub named after him:
- Harry Kernoff (1900-1974)
Harry Kernoff was an Irish artist who was known for his lovely paintings that depicted Dublin and its people. While he was born in London, Kernoff moved to Dublin in 1914 where he later studied at Dublin Metropolitan School of Art and became an artist who painted landscapes, portraits, genre art and created woodcuts. Sadly, Kernoff did not receive much recognition for his works during his life, but that never held him back. He was a full-time artist even when it was not fashionable to do so. It was not until after his life that contemporary critics took notice in his work and now, his paintings are some of the only visual records of the Irish experience during the 20th century. His works are not greatly appreciated within Irish society, but Portobello is proud of being his home once. You can even visit Kernoff’s former home, which is marked with a plaque to his memory.
- Grace Gifford Plunkett (1888-1955)
Grace Gifford was an artist who studied in Dublin and London. There is not an incredible amount known about her background because she is mostly referred to as Joseph Plunkett’s widow. Joseph was one of the leaders in the 1916 Rising, which has partially overshadowed Grace’s life before their marriage. Interestingly, their marriage story is very famous; the two were married the night before Joseph’s execution, were only able to speak to each other briefly, and then Joseph was killed. An incredibly sad story, but Grace was able to move on and make her own political stand. In the aftermath of the Rising, Grace joined the Sinn Féin executive and continued to use her artistic skills to promote Sinn Féin policies by helping illustrate propaganda. While not everyone may know her entire story, Grace and Joseph’s marriage became one of the best-known stories of the Rising, and Portobello is very proud to have been her home before she passed in 1955. If you want to see where she lived, her apartment was on South Richmond Street.
- John Murphy (1920-1984)
John Murphy was an Irish politician who was one of the founders of the Unemployed Protest Committee (UPC) and ultimately became the first unemployed person to be elected to a national legislature. The UPC was not originally started as a political organization because they only wanted to shed light on the issues of unemployment, but once in 1957, a withdrawal in the government led to a general election. This led Jack Murphy to be chosen for running, due to his Republican background. Still, he was unemployed and so were the rest of his supporters meaning raising funds was difficult. That did not stop them though, it actually pulled unemployed people together to work incredibly hard and help Murphy get elected. Though he eventually had to resign from office, Murphy helped shed light on issues such as unemployment assistance, poverty, and emigration. His character inside of office was controversial, which is usual for politicians, but his ability to get elected while unemployed is remembered. If you want to visit his home in Portobello, be sure to check out Synge Street.
These are only four of the many well-known people that lived in Portobello. As you can tell, artists, writers, and politicians have all lived within this suburb. No wonder it is a diverse place!
Within every community in Dublin, there seems to be at least one beautiful church, and this was again confirmed as we walked through Portobello. Located on Harrington Street, there is St. Kevin’s Church, which is one of Dublin’s finest gothic-revival buildings. It’s a beautiful structure inside and out, as you can see from the photographs. The high arches and windows are a commanding presence amidst the relatively stout one and two-story homes of residential Portobello, and we were immediately drawn in to investigate. What we found inside was stunning: from the stained glass to the ornate details of the painted interior, we were moved to silence as we walked between the pews looking upward. A middle-aged woman whispered prayers to herself as she made the rounds of painted saints on the walls, crossing herself and dipping her head for each one. It was not until after our visit that we learned more of the long history of St. Kevin’s:
One of our first stops exploring Portobello was the renowned Bretzel Bakery. Famous for their freshly baked in-house goods, the Bretzel attracts locals and visitors alike to Portobello. Although the bakery is tucked away from the main road on Lennox Street, it’s difficult to miss with the brightly painted storefront and emblazoned “Est. 1870” across the side of the building. And to make it even easier, the unmistakable smell of fresh bread from the oven can be picked up from a block away. The interior was beautifully modernized and made for an airy but cozy atmosphere where one could spend hours reading or working over coffee and one of their hand-made pastries. We soon settled in to a wonderful yet simple lunch with coffee as we read up on the long and rich history of the Bretzel that they proudly record in the front pocket of the table menu.
Click here for a bit of history on the Jewish community in Portobello