Baggot Street (Dublin)

Irish writers are wedded to place. Their imaginations seem spurred by the lure of specific territories. James Joyce had set a precedent by – even in literary exile – describing Dublin’s localities and places with an almost obsessive precision.

Baggot Street is named after Baggotrath, the manor granted to Sir Robert Bagod, the first Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, in the thirteenth century. It runs from Merrion Row to the northwestern end of Pembroke Road. The street is divided into two sections, Lower and Upper Baggot Street and crosses the Grand Canal. Baggot Street is famous for its many pubs and home to the ‘Baggot Street Mile’, otherwise known as the ‘Twelve Pubs of Xmas Crawl’. From an artistic point of view, the street is of double interest. In 1909, painter Francis Bacon was born at no. 63 Lower Baggot Street.

Thomas Kinsella, a prolific Irish (Dublin) poet, translator, and editor, has put the street on the literary map. Much of Kinsella’s poetry has the urban inspiration of the district where he grew up between Bow Lane and Basin Lane, an area both of personal and historical associations such as Irish nationalist Robert Emmet, the last person to be hanged, drawn and quartered in the aftermath of the 1803 uprising, or Jonathan Swift whose St Patrick’s Hospital is nearby. Many members of young Thomas’s family were employed at the Guinness brewery. Kinsella’s Dublin is depicted in Thomas Kinsella: A Dublin Documentary, published by the O’Brien Press in 2006, which presents twenty poems alongside comments, family photographs, prints and other material. The book places the poet solidly in his Dublin context. At the same time, however, and at its best, Kinsella’s poetry transcends place and locality. His famous poem ‘Baggot Street Deserta’ (1956) suggests little involvement with the city, there is no direct reference to specific locality, no topographical identification. Its strength lies in the poet’s complex and multi-faceted relationship with different and contrasting impacts of experience in the city where he grew up as a child. The splendid closing lines give the only reference to the reality of place:

My quarter-inch of cigarette
Goes flaring down to Baggot Street.

Place, in much of Kinsella’s poetry, is mindscape rather than landscape.