Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’

Home Forums Ireland ‘Dutch Billys’ Re: Re: ‘Dutch Billys’


. . . . . and then along you come with with your ”I’ll die before I believe in twin-Billys” and ”these are gone, get over it” and your ”fantasy drawings” accusation and now your ”worn out shells”.

@Devin wrote:

H-hold on a minute. Who are you quoting there? I did not say three out of the four things you have quoted me as saying. Please, you only use quotation marks when you’re directly quoting somebody.

Devin, I’m quoting you.

”Worn out shells”
is this not how you just described the probable former Billys at 14 – 16 South Anne Street?

”fantasy drawings”
you don’t remember using that phrase at all? . . . . . to decsribe some of my conjectural reconstructions of Billy streetscapes . . . . no? . . . . I think I do . . . . .

”these are gone, get over it”
I can’t just locate that one at the moment, but if you still want to deny saying it, I’ll go back and find it.

”I’ll die before I believe in twin-Billys”
Ok, that’s artistic licence, your actual phrase [from post no. 431] was: ‘’I know that those roofs have nothing to do with twin gable fronts. I would bet my life on it’’
I’d say that’s pretty much the same damn thing 🙂

So which one of the four were you admitting to?

Anyway, pressing on . . . with the debate . . . we’ve talked over the likely origins of Billys a few times and I think it’s fair to say that the matter is still wide open.

Devin mentions the northern European parallels, which are strong and a very likely contributing factor in the development of the tradition. Extensive trade links with Holland and the Baltic would go a long way to explaining the appearance of individual red brick curvilinear gabled houses in the main port cities and towns like Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Drogheda, Belfast and Wexford, but is it enough to explain the appearance of whole streetscapes and whole districts in these towns and cities?

If trade is the primary explanation, why is there scant evidence for trade have this impact on the street-architecture of the same towns and cities prior to the Billy period, or after it for that matter?

We’ve looked at the possibility that the curvilinear gabed tradition may have been under-reported in the British building record also, and certainly there is evidence to suggest that someting akin to our ‘Billy’ tradition was indeed in vogue in provincial England in the late 17th century before the twin forces of Palladianism and the ripple effect of the London Building Regulation snuffed it out in the first couple of decades of the 18th century.

Again, this is an explanation that only partially satisfies. The concept depends on there being a direct and immediate cultural transfer between the islands [which may be perfectly reasonable given the umbilical connection between the Irish establishment and Britain], but the explanation then depends on that cultural transfer [solely in the matter of street-architecture] mysteriously stopping for at least three decades.

The third possible origin of the Dutch Billy, as has been stated before, is the conscious and willful celebration of the triumph of William III at the Boyne.

With this explanation, the dates are working in our favour. Pre 1690, ornamental gables are very sparse in the building record here, certainly less common than they appear in comparable contexts in Britain. After 1690 curvilinear gables of recognisably ‘Dutch’ inspiration become numerous in Ireland just as the whole gabled type begins to vanish in Britain.

Consider the situation of Clonmel.

Prior to the dredging of the Suir and the opening of a navigable channel in the 1770s, Clonmel was notably unconnected to the outside world. Commerce in Clonmell was almost totally local, not the kind of place you expect to encounter Dutch Billys, if this was a house typology transfered by European trade links.

two views of Main St.[O’Connell St.], Clonmel showing a number of probable ‘Billys’ on both sides of the street that appear to have been subsequently simplified as flat parapet facades in the characteristic fashion.

Clonmel was a medieval walled town, it’s main brush with history came with the Cromwelian siege in 1650. Therefore It was a town where the balance between Catholic and Protestant was recently in doubt and in doubt again when James II passed through the town and was given a civic reception in 1689.

As we’ve said before, the Protestant victory at the Boyne changed everything in this country and Irish Loyalists ‘took ownership’ of the Boyne and William of Orange [‘Dutch Billy’] in every conceivable way, along with everything else. The Rev. William Burke gives a detailed account in his ‘History of Clonmel’ [1907] of the trials and tribulations of the Catholic population in the aftermath of the Boyne and the jockeying for position in the municipal hierarchy that occupied the triumphant Protestant ascendancy in the town. Having ‘been of service’ to William of Orange was the ultimate badge of honour and no doubt a considerable factor in determining the municipal pecking order.

Although he skips over the building record a bit too quickly for my liking, the Rev. Burke does go on to recount a detailed 18th century description of the annual ‘Boyne’ celebrations in Clonmel:

”This day being the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne fought by King William of ever glorious and immortal memory, the morning was ushered in with ringing of bells, the Ensigns or Standards of the different Companies of this Corporation were displayed from the Tholsel, and the Mayor, Bailiffs, Burgesses, Freemen and Gentlemen of the different Corporations with Orange Cockades, proceeded at six o’clock in the morning to preambulate the Liberties and Franchises according to ancient custom; the Evening concluded with Bonfires, Illuminations and other Publick Demonstrations of Joy”

This is the context in which it might not be unreasonable to conclude that the appearance of ‘Dutch Billys’ on Main Street, Clonmel may have had something to do with a building tradition fostered in conscious celebration of ‘Dutch Billy’ himself.

It isn’t the total explanation, but I think there may be growing evidence that it could be a significant part of the total explanation

Latest News