Cowgate, Edinburgh
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Cowgate, Edinburgh

Lying towards the SE margin of Edinburgh's Old Town, the Cowgate was originally the route whereby cattle were brought from their grazing into the City. The Cowgate runs from Holyrood Road under South and George IV Bridges to meet the Grassmarket. Originally a fashionable area, the Cowgate declined through the 19th Century but was not subject to the renewal schemes which removed many of the slums around the Royal Mile. Thus it was not until recent years that regeneration took place and several of the old buildings which survived have been restored. An influx of Irish immigrants earned the area the name 'Little Ireland' and the Irish nationalist James Connolly was born here in 1868.

Interesting buildings include Magdalen Chapel (1544), Tailor's Hall (1621) which together with the site of the old Argyle Brewery now forms a hotel and immense Gothic public house, St. Cecilia's Hall (1763), now part of the University of Edinburgh, and St. Patrick's Church (1774). In the late 19th century, the Argyle Brewery was one of three located here, the others being the Waverley Brewery and the Merchant Street Brewery. A major fire destroyed some less historic buildings in 2002.

It was in the Cowgate that the first printing press in Scotland was established in 1508 by Androw Myllar and Walter Chepman and this event is commemorated by a plaque at the corner of Blackfriars Street. Nearby stood a house built for Cardinal James Beaton (c.1473 - 1539).

Today the Cowgate provides a popular 'rat-run' for traffic avoiding the city centre.

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