For young 19th century lawyers not yet able to afford their own carriages, the daily trip to the Four Courts not only posed health and safety risks but also – in circumstances where it was impossible to reach Inns Quay without passing at least one of the numerous gambling dens or ‘hells’ encircling it – devastating threats to their finances.
In Autumn 1836 the Dublin Freeman breathlessly reported that:
“[a] young man who previously held a lucrative situation in the Four Courts, but from his being a constant visitor of the Arcade Hell, lost 1000l, was obliged to pass bills – was thrown into prison – was disinherited by his uncle, from whom he expected a fine property, and now lives in the most abject misery!”
Tragic stories have a way of provoking reaction and indeed the Arcade Hell closed when the Royal Arcade on College Green burnt down mysteriously the following year. Sadly, its conspicuous destruction, beautifully depicted by William Sadler above, did nothing to stop many other Dublin hells wreaking financial havoc on future generations of barristers.
But what else, after all, could anyone possibly expect from a profession also heavily dependent on luck and chance, full of young members at a loose end and even christened “devils”?!