Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Hangman, hangman...

Dublin has its fair share of bloody street names. Literally.

Its maps from the late 1700s are scarred by names such as Cut-Throat Lane East and Cut-Throat Lane West, with a Murdering Lane nearby for good measure. Gallows Road is now around Lower Baggot Street, and Gibbet Meadow became Mespil Road.

Then there was Hangman's Lane. It led west from what is now the bottom end of Smithfield towards the hanging grounds of Oxmantown Green (sometimes also referred to as Oxmantown Woods) in what is now the heart of Stoneybatter.

The street's name eventually became corrupted - funny how that's what they call the process as place names evolve - to Hamon Lane, and then to its present name in English: Hammond Lane. (The hangman connection survived in the official
Irish-language name, Lána an Chrocaire.)

Oxmantown Green was an area where thousands were hanged in medieval Dublin. The site of the gallows was possibly around Arbour Hill.

"Gallows". Mention the word and I can't help thinking of a dark old English folksong that found its way to North America, where Lead Belly resurrected it as a blues ballad for the Deep South, before Led Zeppelin "borrowed" it for their third album. Both Lead Belly and Led Zep (or at least Page & Plant) have superb prefaces to their renditions of Gallows Pole...

Folk music is all about great borrowings. A very very different version of the ballad surfaced in Ireland as Derry Gaol or Streets of Derry. But now it's a young man rather than a maiden who mounts the gallows, and it's his true love who comes riding, bearing a pardon from the Queen (or King). Cue Andy Irvine and Paul Brady...

The last-minute-rescue-from-the-gallows motif pops up so often in crime fiction that I thought it appropriate to have a character called Hammond (rather than the more obvious Hangman because he has become corrupted of course) in Book #4 of the "Moss Reid" series.

Oxmantown wasn't the only place for public executions. Other popular spots in Dublin where the convicted were imprisoned, whipped, pilloried, hanged, strangled and burned to death were George's Hill, Harold's Cross Green, Kilmainham Common, the aforementioned Gallows Road and St Stephen's Green.

If you walk down Hammond Lane today you'll find it a rather one-sided affair. It's a length of mostly modern apartments buildings, flanking a site that has lain idle since before the property crash. Despite the current housing crisis in Dublin, the one-sided lane looks out on one of the many huge tracts of derelict land around the centre of town.

The scrapyard connections

Just to confuse things... After its gory past, the street became the site of the Hammond Lane iron foundry, and the Maguire & Paterson match factory. Then "Hammond Lane" became a household name in another sense, synonymous with scrap metal for more than a century. But the metals company moved out of Smithfield decades ago: the Hammond Lane Metal Company's head office is now on the Pigeon House Road in Ringsend.

From 1980 to 1996 there was also a Hammond Lane scrapyard on Sir John Rogerson's Quay before it relocated.

Around the turn of this century, there was a plan involving members of U2 to turn the former scrapyard site into the location of a skyscraper. It was going to have 231 apartments, 60,000 square feet of offices, a restaurant, bar, leisure facilities, shops, the lot.

By 2005, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority had revised the height of the proposed "U2 Tower" upwards to 120 metres. This in a city that doesn't do skyscrapers.

After the property market collapsed, the site was handed over to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) to settle the developer's debts. Since then the tower project has been hanging in mid-air, as it were.

Finally another bit of Hammond Lane trivia - though when is such information ever trivial? - that comes from the end of the Troubles...

On 19 June 1998, RTÉ’s 1pm news announced that General John de Chastelain's international commission had chosen the Hammond Lane foundry as one of the suitable locations for "the decommissioning process".

I never found out whether the foundry was, in fact, used for "the great meltdown" of the paramilitaries' stockpiles of guns.

Update (13/06/2017): A new courts complex is now planned for the vacant site on Hammond Lane, to include the family law court and the Supreme Court.