What would the city have been like in Handel's time? Which parts of it would have been familiar to him? Peter Whelan is your tour guide in this feature, exploring the city as Handel would have known it, with the aid of John Rocque's 1756 map of Dublin.
Handel’s trip to Dublin in 1741 came after a period of ill-health and financial difficulty in London, and was intended as a chance for rejuvenation. His reputation preceded him and, before he could even retrieve his baggage on setting foot in the country, he was whisked away to experience a level of hospitality so life-threateningly generous that he endured a small stroke. Happily his host, the Surgeon General, was on hand to provide treatment and evidently he recovered, remarking in a letter to his friend Charles Jennens (librettist of ‘Messiah’) that, “the Politeness of this generous Nation cannot be unknown to you, so I let you judge of the satisfaction that I enjoy, passing my time with Honour, Profit and Pleasure”.
It was a colourful start to a stay that would last around 8 months and provide a period of intense creative rehabilitation. He took lodgings on Abbey Street and was a generous host to all those passing by with an interest in music. The cultural atmosphere of the time must have been intoxicating, with popular enterprises such as the Crow Street Musick Hall, Theatre Royal at Smock Alley, Aungier Street Theatre and Dublin Castle all jostling for audience attention. It was at the Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street where various performances of his works took place as part of a subscription series. Enraptured audiences were treated to ‘Acis & Galatea’, ‘L’Allegro’, ‘Ode for St Cecilia’s Day’ and many others. Handel reports in the same letter to Charles Jennens that,
“The nobility did me the honour to make amongst themselves a subscription for six Nights, which did fill a Room for six hundred Persons, so that I needed not sell one single ticket at the Door, and without Vanity the Performance was received with a general Approbation ... As for the Instruments, they are really excellent, Mr. Dubourgh being at the Head of them - and the Musick sounds delightfully in this charming Room, which puts me in such Spirits (and my health being so good) that I exert myself on my Organ with more than usual success.” Fishamble Street Music Hall continued to resound with performances of Handel’s works for many years after his visit, and the oratorio ‘Judas Maccabeus’ was performed there for the first time in 1748.