at 63 Merrion Square, Dublin — home to the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland since 1917.
It’s been a busy summer between my own research and work on the forthcoming 5-volume print edition of the Art and Architecture of Ireland. However, as a recently elected member to the Council of the RSAI, I was more than pleased to have the opportunity of ‘guest tweeting‘ on behalf of the Society during Merrion Square Open Day on August 24, 2013. The collected @RSAINews tweets are here. A collage of the photos I took are on the Building 19th Century Ireland Facebook page. (The originals are at the bottom of this post.)
There was a great line-up of talks and demonstrations throughout the day. Visitors who heard Dr. Rachel Moss, current RSAI President, speaking about the Society, got a good sense of the value ‘the Antiquaries’ enjoy as members of a Society that was founded in 1849: twice monthly talks and lectures on Irish heritage, an incredible library rich with fascinating sources that are just begging to be investigated and visits to sites of cultural importance throughout the country. With subscription fees beginning at just €25 (and categories that include overseas members) it was no surprise that several visitors signed up on the spot. One new member was thrilled to discover sources in our Library collections that will form part of a forthcoming Phd!
No. 63 is also home to the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland and to the Discovery Programme. Dr. Edel Bhreathnach, (DP CEO) spoke about the history of names and places in Ireland and was followed later in the morning by DP geo-surveyor Gary Devlin who showed us how technology and research meet in the fantastic 3-D Icons Programme. His DP colleagues Michael Ann Bevivino, Aoife Kane and Philippa Barry were on hand to answer questions too.
A very special workshop on the art of calligraphy was given in the afternoon by scribe and Council-member Tim O’Neill. The front room of Society House was a hive of industry! Have a look at the pictures on the Discovery Programme’s Facebook page here
There was an added bonus to the day as the amazing ‘Summer Weather Fairy’ of 2013 continued to spread her magic. Visitors wandered through No. 63’s restored Georgian garden, disturbed only by the buzzing of bees and the fluttering of ladybird’s wings. The 1838 Ordance Survey map provided a blueprint for the restoration of the garden in 2008 and almost all of the plants it contains are edible — sustainability rocks! The garden is unique in Merrion Square as it is the only one never to have been built on or used as a car-park.
In fact, No. 63 is a rare surviving example of a complete Georgian Dublin townhouse complex comprising house, garden and mews. The present condition the house is much as it was originally as upkeep of the building is the sole financial responsibility of the Society. The restored mews is now an Irish Landmark Trust property. The garden restoration was a collaborative project between the RSAI and the Irish Georgian Society. It could not have been achieved without their financial support and additional philanthropic donations. You can read more about the work done to prepare the site and the team who brought the project to fruition (and see what the space looked like before!) here.
Feel free to use any of the photos below to let folks know about our great Society (I’d be grateful if you would credit me as the photographer!) And of course if you would like to join the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, we’d love to welcome you! Join online here
Caroline McGee, August 2013.
Dramatic entrance! Ancient Irish Elk antlers in the front hall. Find out more about giant extinct deer here
Ceiling plasterwork in the front upstairs room of Society House. The work of Andrew Callanan, it was carried out on behalf of the surveyor Bryan Bolger. Callanan was associated with one of Dublin’s most important late 18th century stuccodores, Michael Stapleton (1747 – 1801). Callanan’s work in the house reflects the popularity of slender, delicate classical patterns and plant motifs that define Georgian plasterwork design.
Find out more about Stapleton’s work in Dr. Conor Lucey’s book.
First floor landing plasterwork c. 19th century
Nestled among the plants in the top right corner of the garden there is a plaque to ‘Prince …A faithful dog’. A white Spitz, he was companion for 15 years to one of the house’s previous occupants, F. S. Sankey. The inscription is dated 4 July, 1883 and informs us that Prince was the winner of two first prizes in dog shows. The white marble slab is undoubtedly a reference to the snow-white fur of this breed. Click this link to see what Prince might have looked like : http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/americaneskimo.htm