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The five great fires of medieval Dublin

Everyone has heard of the Great Fire of London in 1666 when vast swathes of the city were engulfed in an inferno which lasted for a full three days. Such fires were common in medieval cities, which were largely constructed of timber, and houses were densely packed together. Here are five of the worst fires in medieval Dublin.

This is the earliest recorded fire in Dublin City, the annalist in St. Mary’s Abbey simply recorded the event as; “The City of Dublin was burnt”

This fire marked the beginning of a disastrous period in Dublin. Christchurch was very badly damaged in the fire. St. Mary’s Annalist again recorded the event;
“Fire in Dublin, the city of Dublin was in part burnt, and the belfray of St Trinity church in Dublin, the third day before the nones of January.”

The fire in 1301 occurred on the night of June 9th. Dry weather in summer would have seen the fire spread rapidly through the medieval city resulting in a large area being burnt, together with the church of St. Werburgh.

The next great fire seems to have gutted the city only
three years later, again in the summer. “A great part of Dublin was burnt including Bridge street,
with a good part of the quay, and the church of friars.”

This fire was unquestionably the worst and indeed the most unusual fire. It was started intentionally by the citizens themselves, which saw the fire get out of control and destroy much of the city. When an invading Scottish army under Robert the Bruce and his brother Edward approached Dublin, the citizens burned the suburbs to prevent the Scots using them in the event of siege.

The Annalist at St Mary’s Abbey recorded;

“the men of Dublin for feare of the Scots burnt St Thomas street and with the said fire the church of St John with the Chappell of St Marie Maudlen was by casualty burnt: yea & and all the suburbs of Dublin were set on fire, together with the monastery of St Marie (St Mary’s Abbey) and the Church of St Patrick (St Patricks Cathedral) was by said villaines spoiled.”

The Scottish army who were camped in Castleknock saw the city ablaze and decided they would leave the Dubliners to their own devices and moved on to pillage Kildare.


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