Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dublin’s Architectural Development 1800-1925. 

Michael J. McDermott (Ed. Aodhagán Brioscú). Tulcamac, Dublin, 1988. pp 248 (llust).

I borrowed this book in February 2013 from the RDS. I was the seventh member to read it, the first in 1991 and the last in 1995!   It is richly illustrated but not in colour. I was inspired to read something about my city recently after I had been contemplating while on the loo the fine photo of the Collins funeral taken at College Green by the Irish Independent on the 29th of August 1922. It is my most valued photo and was bequeathed to me by my parents. It is hung prominently in our visitors’ loo where it can in most circumstances be easily noticed when the onlooker is at his or her most contemplative mood. The photo is taken from the south side of the Green and shows the classical portico and left wing of the House of Lords, now the Bank of Ireland, the Georgian front of Trinity College, and in the centre at the entrance to Westmorland Street, the Victorian façade of the hotel there. We see these three different styles of architecture in this focal part of the city just as we can find them elsewhere in the inner city within the confines of the Grand and Royal canals.   

Much of the better developments in Dublin took place when there was less intervention in our affairs by Westminster during Ormonde’s time at the end of the 17th century, and when we had our own parliament at the end of the 18th century. It occurred to me that I had never read the history of this parliament, apart from the references to it in the biography of Edmund Burke, which was reviewed by me a few years ago. Burke of course was born in Ireland and was greatly interested in our relatively brief native parliament and indeed in the welfare of Ireland and its separate traditions and Celtic ethos from those of its sister island.

Dublin is really a unique capital city. I am writing about the inner city; it is the older part and is contained within the two canals, the Royal in the north and the Grand in the south. Most of Dublin’s great buildings and other attractions are within a stone’s throw of each other in the centre of the city and can be easily visited on foot. In referring to the buildings, I write mainly of their Classical, Georgian and Victorian architectural history.

The Duke of Ormonde’s time (He was Viceroy to the restored King Charles ll) at the end of the 17th century saw the building of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, the Blue Coat School (the current home of solicitors), and the Tholsel (now only a remnant of the original and the only classical building destroyed and not rebuilt in the city’s history despite Dublin’s latter-day turbulent revolution). The Mansion House was built some years later in the mid 1800s,

Later classical buildings – the Custom House, the Four Courts, the Kings Inns (all by Gandon), the House of Lords, the GPO, and Trinity and its various buildings - were built about the time of the Irish Parliament at the end of the 18thcentury. The 1801 abolition of the Dublin Parliament was, except for church building, to see much less of that productive time. These and other places to visit are the fine Georgian parks. South of the Liffey are Merrion Square and St. Stephen’s Green, and Mountjoy Square is in the north. They are part of the Georgian ambience just as are the fine Georgian street vistas on the south side. The inner city also encloses most of the important buildings of the Victorian era including many of the older homes of that period. .

The two Gothic cathedrals, Christ Church and St. Patrick’s, were first founded in the 13th century. St. Patrick’s is close to Marsh’s Library.  For the antique book lover a visit to the Library will be rewarding. The Phoenix Park, the most extensive walled park in the world, is close to the west end of the inner city. It was established in Ormonde’s time in 1680 and completed in 1745. Its 707 hectares and 11 kilometres perimeter wall contains the President’s home, the old Vice-regal Lodge, the American ambassador’s home, and a magnificent Zoo extending to several hectares. The great obelisk of 72 metres is an outstanding monument and a tribute to Wellington.  There is a herd of deer there, all descended from the original herd at the time of Ormond. I am told that they require regular culling.

There are two canals in Dublin started in the late 18th and completed in the early 19th century.  They were built before the advent of the railway in 1832. The Royal in the north and the Grand in the south encircle the inner city and stretch from the mouth of the Liffey to the Shannon in the West of Ireland. They are fully navigable and are nowadays used solely for leisure and sporting reasons.  Church building was hugely encouraged after Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and was oddly stimulated as much by the Protestant as the Catholic authorities. Churches of all denominations can be found everywhere, inside and outside of the inner city, and the various sects in Dublin have lived in amity if not intimately at all times. Our churches include a wide variety of architectural styles. If you have time go and see the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Rathmines Road, close to Portobello Bridge on the Grand Canal, not because I was baptised there but because it will remind you of these wide architectural variations. Some of the churches have now been converted into offices or other institutions.

The inner city includes many important institutions of interest to citizen and tourist.  There are four public art galleries as well as many private and commercial ones (all museums and other cultural institutions open to the public in Ireland are free of entry charge).  There are three major public museums as well as some private ones. The Houses of Parliament, a fine Georgian building built in 1745, where the Dáil and Senate meet, is close to the centre and incorporates two of the museums as well as the National Gallery and the National Library. See the WB Yeats exhibition in the Library and the collection of Jack Yeats paintings in the Gallery.

There are four railway stations within the inner city; at least three have some architectural merit. There are twenty bridges on the Liffey, some of which are recently built to accommodate increasing pedestrian and motor traffic. Two recent bridges commemorate the Irish writers, Joyce and Beckett. Another still abuilding has not yet been named. It would be appropriate if we were to commemorate our greatest poet, WB Yeats

Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration up to 1922 when it was taken over by the Free State government, houses some important public events and conferences, and also houses a fine chapel and the unique Chester Beatty Library. Visitors can walk the Castle although, be careful, it also houses the offices of Inland Revenue! Just close to the Castle is the fine classical façade of the city hall (in British times the Royal Exchange) facing Parliament Street. Kilmainham Gaol further out is hugely historical since it first opened for revolutionaries in 1798. It is now a well-organised and evocative museum and a memorial to many revolutionaries over two centuries and not a few criminals. The 1916 rebels were executed there.

The financial centre and some of the more recent centres of entertainment are north of the city on the Liffey side. The tramway (Luas) on O’Connell Street will bring you there.

I write about the inner city because what makes Dublin unique is that so many of its facilities for the citizen and the tourist are packed within a mile of College Green, unlike other major and capital cities I have visited where distances are much greater and travelling from one site to another can be quite tedious. Motor traffic is being gradually restricted in the centre of the city and there are great improvements in facilities for cyclists, including a very successful system for the short-term lending of bikes for the public at minimal cost by using a credit card. Stands of unisex bikes are available in various part of the inner city.

This review is not intended to go outside the inner city but the visitor may be interested in the many parks and golf courses as well as other amenities which ore available in Greater Dublin. The Botanic Gardens are just outside the north inner city limit.  It can be reached by a frequent bus service. Its 20 hectares have much of botanic and silvicultural interest and the fine glasshouses are admired for their engineering and architectural construction as well as their content of plants from all parts of the world. The Gardens were founded in 1795 by the Royal Dublin Society and is now a public facility. A visit to the Gardens will bring joy to the botanist and tree lover as well as the stroller and walker. Adjoining it is Glasnevin Cemetery, a great centre of pilgrimage to the famous and the not so famous.

There are numerous parks outside the inner city. The two largest are Marley in the south and St. Anne's in the north... They are six miles or less away from College Green. They are fine for the walker, runner, cyclist and tree lover. St, Anne’s is famous for its rose garden and the botanist and the gardener will like the well cared-for wall gardens of Marley. Marley lies at the foot of the Dublin and Wicklow hills. For the non-motorist, buses from the centre city go frequently to these outlying parks and gardens, and all parks provide normal facilities for visitors. Like all public institution in the inner city, the parks and gardens provide free entry.

I finish by referring to the city’s coastline. It stretches from the Hill of Howth in the north to Dalkey in the south, a distance of about 18 miles. Many parts along the coast are available for the pedestrian, runner and cyclist and no city can boast such access to the sea, its beaches and all its other attractions including its yacht clubs and sailing opportunities. A visit to Howth head at night provides a thrilling sight as one follows the lights stretching for the entire distance of a bay which has a circumference much greater then a half circle and which is so visible from this vantage point. It puts the Bay of Naples to shame!  The coast from Balbriggan to Dalkey, a distance of about 30 miles, is dotted by about 30 of the famous Martello towers built to resist the French army during the Napoleonic times. They are in various states of preservation but several still remain as good as new, at least from their outside appearance. Hopefully they have out grown their military significance. The Martello in Sandyford is famous as the late home of James Joyce and St. John Gogarty.

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