It’s a kind of Magic – concealed shoes in Dublin 3

Open House Dublin is an annual event in October when members of the public are given an opportunity to visit historic houses and buildings which are not normally open to the visitors. It is a popular event with patience required as queues can be long and slow moving. Whether or not it was worth the wait I’ll let you judge for yourself.  My wife and I had decided to try and visit two locations – the Edward Worth Library in Dr. Steevens Hospital and number 9/9a Aungier Street. We started in the morning with the library and after about an hour of waiting our tour began. But more of the Library visit in a future post. For now, I want to jump to Aungier Street.

Number 9/9a is the oldest house in Dublin, a timber frame house which was constructed in the early-seventeenth century. The tour was very interesting and informative and when we reached one of the rooms on the second floor it became even more so. Architectural Conservation Specialist Sunni Goodson of MESH Architects was explaining the detail and intricacies of the restoration work. Walls were stripped back to reveal the original timber framing, floorboards lifted to inspect joists and in so doing a strange discovery was made. On the side of a floor joist someone had carved an inverted VV – an apotropaic mark before hiding it beneath the floorboards.

In the seventeenth century England, when fear of witches and witchcraft was strong, such marks were carved on chimney breasts or window frames to protect the house at what were considered to be entry points for evil. Even more remarkable was the finding of a child’s shoe, also beneath the floor of the same room. The discovery of the apotropaic mark and the concealed shoe in the same room is probably unique in Ireland to date. Great credit is due to the construction worker who found the shoe and decided not to throw it into a skip.

Concealed shoe

The shoe itself was a child’s shoe, very worn and damaged before it was hidden. There are holes in the sole and in the uppers. Exactly the kind of shoe considered to be suitable for deterring witchcraft. It has dried out completely and is also a little shrunken. And it is a very old shoe, possibly of early seventeenth-century date or even mid-sixteenth century as suggested by shoe expert June Swann who is an authority on concealed shoes.

It appears to be of Turn-shoe Pump construction.  The side seams are stitched with a closed-seam with a narrow strip of leather stitched into the seam to strengthen it. This feature has been recognised on other examples of seventeenth century Irish shoes or Brogues from Chancery lane in Dublin. However, there are differences. Instead of the usual one-piece back part. The shoe has separate quarters which are joined with a closed seam at the heel. There is a large heel-stiffener in situ.

Detail of side seam with insert Detail of side seam with insert.

The toe is broad and square and the shoe would appear to have had a single heel-lift pegged in place. This lift is very heavily worn and a large part is missing but the pegs are visible. The sole would also appear to be straight.

Detail of heel-lift with remains of wooden pegs Detail of heel lift with pegs

There are no latchets but there seems to be faint traces of closed stitching on one side where a latchet would have been. Again this is a trait of the Irish style shoe. The other latchet seems to have been cut away. Aspects of the construction remind me of Irish Brogues recovered from other sites in Dublin and dated to the seventeenth-century. The construction is very similar to the description of the seventeenth-century Irish pump in Lucas’s ‘Footwear in Ireland‘ which he classified as a Type 5. But, like I said, there are differences and they are significant and not to be ignored. The shoes are now the subject of some detailed research and digging. I’ll keep you posted on progress ……………….





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