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A good man remembered

Sir James Dombrain (1794-1871), who built a row of houses on Leeson Street that includes the houses of the Jesuit Community (nos. 36 and 37), was commemorated with a plaque at no. 36, on Friday 23 September. The plaque is the initiative of the Dublin City Council Commemorative Naming Committee.

Born in Kent, James Dombrain (1794-1871) was Inspector-General of the Coast Guard. He was acutely aware of intense rural poverty on Ireland’s west coast, and he tried on various occasions to inspire a political response to the dreadful living conditions which he depicted in reports.

Dombrain became a Relief Commissioner during the Great Famine. He broke the rules by acquiring and shipping large quantities of meal to some of the worst-hit areas in the West. He is mentioned by Seamus Heaney in his poem ‘For the Commander of the Eliza’.

And once in port I exorcised my ship
Reporting all to the Inspector General.
Sir James, I understand, urged free relief
For famine victims in the Westport Sector
And earned tart reprimand from good Whitehall.
Let natives prosper by their own exertions;
Who could not swim might go ahead and sink.
“The Coast Guard with their zeal and activity
Are too lavish” were the words, I think.

At the unveiling, a number of speakers gave insights into Sir James Dombrain and the work of the Coast Guard. His modern day successor, Eugene Clonan, Chief of Operations of the Irish Coast Guard and the Superior of the Jesuit community at 36 Lower Leeson Street, Fr Brian Grogan both paid tribute to Caitríona Lucas, a coast guard volunteer, who lost her life earlier this month during a search off the coast of Clare.

Fr Fergus O’Donoghue SJ gave some background to the building: ‘Dombrain lived on Leeson Street in 1833 before building Numbers 36 to 47. With an eye for design, his character is evident in Number 36 – Wyatt windows, complex floor tiling, a massive Greek Revival balcony to the front of the first floor and fussy pediments over the doors.’ The Jesuits leased Number 36 in 1911, and purchased it in 1915.