Irish Town is at the commercial heart of the city of Gibraltar. In the period when Gibraltar was Spanish, from 1462 to 1704, the street was called the Calle de Santa Ana. An image of St Anne was venerated in a chapel at the southern end of the street, which was enlarged into the Convent of La Merced in 1581. It stood at the corner of Irish Town and Market Lane, on the site of today's Cloister Building. There was also a convent for nuns, founded in 1587, the garden of which extended as far as the Calle de Santa Ana. This was the Convento de Santa Clara. The garden was on the site of the Sacarello coffee shop, winery and restaurant.
Gibraltar was taken from Spain by an Anglo-Dutch force on 4 August 1704. The Convent of Santa Clara was abandoned by the nuns and the convent of La Merced was taken over by the Royal Navy in 1720 as a storehouse and apartments for the victualling clerks.
In due course, the street became known as Irish Town. The original Irish residents were probably Irish women immigrants who came to Gibraltar in late 1727 and early 1728. They were sent out to provide female company for the troops in the garrison of Gibraltar. As a result, Irish Town acquired a reputation as a street of ill repute.
The location of the street, close to the port, made it particularly attractive for commerce, and so the street was soon taken over by the merchant class. The Irish women became a distant memory, but the name 'Irish Town' stuck.
A synagogue was founded at 91 Irish Town in 1759. It was situated opposite the meat market and butchery, which was known locally as the Zoco. The butchers slaughtered animals at the market, and threw the waste over the adjacent sea wall into the sea. The street onto which the Zoco fronted, the southern section of Irish Town, soon became known as Market Street, a name which continued until the meat market was removed. The lane adjacent to it became Market Lane, a name which has survived to this day.
Gibraltar's growing commercial prosperity received a major blow from the Great Siege of 1779-1783. Trade practically came to a standstill. Even more devastating was the intensive bombardment of the city during the siege, which resulted in the destruction of every building on Irish Town.
The early 19th century saw Gibraltar's commercial heyday. Gibraltar was a major port that was open to receive British goods for re-export into Europe and to North Africa. The value of British goods that flowed through the warehouses in Irish Town was immense. It was time to rebuild and repave the street after the ravages of the Great Siege. Its location next to the cooperage and with easy access to the port made it a key commercial street. Many of the fine houses on the street date from the 19th century.
A new model was developed, that of the Merchant House. An example of this can be seen in Sacarello's coffee shop and restaurant. The ground floor was a merchant's shop. The first floor was a store, accessed from the street by a winch on the exterior of the building. The upper floor was the family's living quarters.
The most significant public building on Irish Town is the former Victorian police station of 1864. It was the headquarters of the police until 1984. Next door were the public baths, which were inaugurated in 1874
The bustling commercial Irish Town, in the early 20th century, included tobacco factories, coffee roasting works, and many shipping offices. The street was paved with wooden cobbles. The character of the street changed in the latter 20th century when the street was pedestrianised. In addition to its traditional activities and its many shops, the street embraced a new leisure and gastronomic character. Irish Town became the focus of visitor and tourist interest that it is today.