Turtle Bunbury

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From 'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageby Turtle Bunbury (MPG, 2008).


For a long time, the only way across Ringsend Bridge was in a horse-drawn rickshaw known as a ‘Ringsend Car’. Before the reclamation of the South Lotts, the land between Lansdowne Road and City Quay was a large salt-marsh over which the ‘mingled waters of the Dodder and the sea’ swept twice a day. Ringsend Cars were specifically designed with wide-rimmed spoke wheels that enabled the carriage to cross the one-mile of wet sands that lay between the Bridge and Lazar’s Hill (Townsend Street).

As well as being a practical vehicle, Ringsend Cars were highly treasured by 17th century boy-racers. On 15th May 1665, The Intelligencer reported on a race attended by the Duke of Ormonde.

‘We have here upon the Strand several races, but the most remarkable are by the Ringsend coaches (which is an odd kind of carriage) … There were a matter of 25 of them, and His Excellency the Lord Deputy bestowed a piece of plate upon him that won the race; and the second, third and fourth were rewarded with money. It is a new institution and likely to become an annual custom, for the humour of it gives much satisfaction, there being at least five thousand spectators’.

Amongst those almost certainly in attendance at this race meeting was an entrepreneurial Huguenot nobleman, Rene De La Mezandiere. That same year, the Duke of Ormonde awarded him the monopoly on Dublin’s hackney cash and sedan chair service. Part of his brief was bringing passengers and freight from Ringsend to the City. However, judging by one contemporary account of De La Mezandiere’s coach, perhaps it is not surprising that the business had fizzled out by the 1670s.

‘It was wheel-barrow in fashion, only it had two wheels not much bigger than a large Cheshire cheese. The horse that drew this princely pygmy chariot, I at first mistook for a over-grown mastiff, but viewing him narrowly, found him the extract (by his shape) of a Scotch hobby … I fancied myself to be some notorious malefactor drawn on a sledge to the place of execution’.

A more generous passenger was London bookseller John Dunton who journeyed to Dublin to promote his trade in the 1690s. He described the two-wheel Ringsend car as a ‘perfect’ vehicle, with ‘a seat for three passengers raised crossways’ to the back. Nonetheless, he noted that the seat was covered with ‘a cushion of patchwork suggestive of a beggar's coat’ while the journey across the sands jolted his sides so much that he was ‘in purgatory’ until they reached Lazar's Hill. Dunton estimated that there were more than a hundred such cars ‘plying for hire’ at this time. One wonders how many of Dublin’s present-day taxi drivers descend directly from the Ringsend charioteers.

Whatever travellers thought, the Ringsend Car was a survivor. In his 1753 epistle ‘Mr Warburton’, the Drury Lane actor Theophilus Cibber referred to the driver of a Ringsend car ‘as furiously driving through thick and thin, bedaubed, besplashed and besmeared’. At this time, they were known as ‘noddy’ cars for their habit of oscillating back and forth. The noddy was succeeded by the jingle and, later still, the jaunting car. Both of these were in use for some time after the Act of Union. Indeed, when all the nobility duly abandoned Dublin, the Duchess of Gordon complained there were now only two titled men who frequented her soirees at the Castle - Sir John Jingle and Sir John Jaunting Car. Remarkably, Ringsend Cars were still strutting their stuff in 1862, when the Illustrated Dublin Journal quoted Lady Morgan’s reference to Dublin as ‘the most car-drivingest city in the universe’. Ringsend Cars, the author continued, were ‘the rudest specimens of these peculiarly Irish vehicles … consisting of a seat suspended on a strap of leather which supported the entire weight of the company between shafts and without springs’.



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