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The Heritage of Irish Town Gibraltar

The Heritage of Irish Town GibraltarIrish Town – Formerly Calle de Santa Ana

As you stroll through Irish Town Gibraltar – the narrow street that was once the main thoroughfare and commercial centre of Gibraltar – cast your mind back three hundred years to when it was once known as Calle de Santa Ana. It was dominated by three convents but the peace of this religious fraternity was short-lived, however, when the British captured Gibraltar in 1704 converting the convents of Calle de Santa Ana into military barracks, the street became know as Irish Town since it formed part of the barrack compound where the lower military Irish ranks were housed. During the Great Siege which ended in 1783, in which Spain tried to recapture Gibraltar, most of the old town including the buildings along Irish Town, was razed to the ground.

Irish Town – the ‘Mayfair’ of Gibraltar

John Maria Boschetti, a renowned Gibraltarian architect who designed the unique Royal Naval victualling yard at Rosia, is known to be one of the main influences of the Genoese style in the buildings constructed in Gibraltar’s old town. In 1826 Boschetti embarked on the design and construction of a series of dwelling houses, one of these was situated on the corner of Irish Town and Tuckey’s Lane, the site of a convent garden, and was purchased by Bartholomew Sacarello in 1906. The beginning of the 1800s marked a period of great commercial prosperity; Irish Town became the ‘Mayfair’ of Gibraltar and was a prime location for rich merchants to build the classic ‘Merchant House’. Those on the west side of the street boasted balcony views overlooking the sea while those on the east side, such as Sacarellos, were ideally placed for the port as cooperage was handled at the end of the street.

The Merchant House

Watercolour of Irish Town Gibraltar By James FootMany of these tall Georgian-style buildings, where merchandise was stored, still feature the first floor hoist. Sacarello’s famous coffee house is a typical and fine example of the Merchant House which doubled as residences and commercial premises; the Northern Italian influences can be seen in the arches over the entrances and wooden window shutters. Inside, many of the original features which give it such character, have been retained; the old coffee grinder, the water hand pump from the cellar and the Moorish-style patio. In the past this area used to be the warehouse where coffee beans were packaged and ground, there is also a cellar with a well from which water was pumped.

Sacarello’s Coffee Shop

Throughout the post-war years Irish Town saw a gradual demise with some of the buildings falling into disrepair, the influx of vehicular traffic saw the roads deteriorate and the thriving artery became a grimy back water. The 1990’s have witnessed a transformation with most of the town area being pedestrianised with York stone cobbles, iron benches, ornate lamposts and hanging baskets. Irish Town has now been revitalised; its renovated facades and traffic free zone has attracted new shops and cafes alongside original establishments such as Sacarellos.

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