Place names can be endlessly fascinating, particular for the insight they give you to where you live and its history. Happily, the district I live in is the oldest part of the city of Dublin, called The Liberties and it’s packed full of evocative names like Marrowbone Lane, Winetavern Street and Fishamble Street, to name a few. But the two most extraordinary names are those of two laneways, long since renamed. They are Murdering Lane and Cutthroat Lane.

City maps of the late 18th century record a Cutthroat Lane East and a Cutthroat Lane West, in case you were unsure where the murderous deed occurred. It now has the more decorous name of Brookfield Road although, for a time, it was called Roundhead Row. More on that later.

Close to Cutthroat Lane, there’s another laneway, a steep, stepped climb from the Camac River and Bow Lane to James’s St. A city map from 1603 records this lane’s name as Murding Lane which later became Murdering Lane.

If old city streets referred to the chosen profession of its inhabitants, then Cutthroat Lane and Murdering Lane were hardly hot tourist spots of their time. Indeed, there was another lane in the same district known as Cutpurse Lane which, one hopes, was not a well trod shortcut.

That named was changed again to Cromwell’s Quarters at a Municipal Council meeting of December 28, 1876, following the recommendations of a council committee to change the names of both Cutthroat Lane and Murdering Lane. The change was proposed by an Alderman McSwiney who suggested the names be replaced by Roundhead Row and Cromwell’s Quarter’s, respectfully.

When asked to explain his proposed changes, Alderman McSwiney is reported to have replied, ‘to preserve historical continuity.’ This, according to contemporary reports, was greeted with laughter as Oliver Cromwell’s sojourn in Ireland from 1649 to 1653, accompanied by his New Model Army, distinctive for their round shaped helmets, was both brutal and bloody.

Ironically, the Cromwell’s Quarters referred to in the street name was a reference to his fourth son, Henry Cromwell, whom Oliver left behind him as Lord Lieutenant and who served as seventh chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin from 1653 to 1660. As Lord Lieutenant he resided in the Vice-Regal Lodge, Phoenix House which then could be viewed across the river Liffey from Murdering Lane and is now the home of the President of Ireland.

24 thoughts on “Cutthroats and Murderers

  1. Fascinating! I was driving through Norfolk earlier this year and passed Twenty Pence Lane, which I thought was adorable. Murdering Lane is a great name, although I wouldn’t be in a hurry to visit…

    • Fear of the unknown is common in all societies so dark alleys, black cats and umbrellas get bad press. These place names originated in a time when a place got its name from common usage and parlance, not by municipal committee decision. There’s a district near where I live called The Tenters, so called because it was where French Huguenot refugees settled, escaping religious persecution in the 17th century. They brought their expertise with linen and silk with them. One square in the Tenters’ district is called Weavers’ square.

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