Hidden Heritage: a peek inside a Georgian Dublin townhouse

at 63 Merrion Square, Dublin — home to the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland since 1917.

Screen shot 2013-08-26 at 11.19.47It’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.

imageThe beautiful Irish interlace front door knob by Fergus O’Farrell (1918 – 2008)

imageDramatic entrance! Ancient Irish Elk antlers in the front hall. Find out more about giant extinct deer here

imageCeiling 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

imageThe restored garden and the beautiful bow-shaped rear of Society House

imageNestled 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

imageThe garden is a haven for bees – this mint plant was alive with them! Most, if not all, of the plants in the garden are edible – lovage, borage and angelica to name but three. There are fruit trees including two young figs which were grown from cuttings from the original garden. With all the wonderful sunshine of Summer 2013 they are thriving!

Join the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland and it soon could be you sitting here admiring the view and enjoying the scents that waft by on the breeze!

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Update: Pavilion Panorama

April and May have been filled with research trips but the next Saturday Story is in preparation. Meanwhile here is an archive image of the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire when it was a cinema. Thanks to the Pavilion Theatre the movies are back for a while!


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Stories for Saturday 2: Pavilion Panorama, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin


Pavilion Panorama, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin

A recent post by Katy Milligan on her #phdlife blog generated several comments including one with a link to a watercolour postcard showing two women mounting the steps to a deck, captioned View from the Roof of the Pavilion’ (seen in the top image of the collage). Speculation on the setting was soon resolved and the location was identified as Dún Laoghaire, or Kingstown as it was previously known. From their high vantage point the women would have a panoramic view of the town. Their gaze takes in manicured gardens that sweep down from the Royal Marine Hotel on Gresham Terrace and to the left, the lofty-spired Gothic revival Mariner’s Church on Adelaide Street.

The terrace existed from c.1834 but was extended in 1863 when Laois-born engineer, entrepreneur and patron of the arts William Dargan, purchased the establishment, previously known as Hayes’ Royal Hotel. According to a House of Commons Accounts report, Dargan formed “The Royal Marine Hotel Company of Kingstown” and paid £50,000 for the building. He spent another £25,000 (approximately two million pounds in present day figures) on extending it to designs by John McCurdy and engaged prominent Dublin contractor Michael Meade to carry out the work. The southern end of Gresham Terrace adjoins Adelaide Street where plans to add a tower and spire and extend the chancel of of Mariner’s Church were being mooted at the time the Royal Marine Hotel was under construction. The building is now home to the National Maritime Museum. Turning to their right the women could see the Town Hall, which was under construction between 1874 and 1880 to the designs of a local architect, J. L Robinson. (Meade was also the contractor for this building.)

The Pavilion Gardens were built by a company specially formed for the purpose of developing the site in front of the Royal Marine Hotel. The foundations were laid in November 1902 and building began the following January – the contractor was McLaughlin and Harvey, Dublin. The Earl and Countess of Longford presided over the official opening ceremony on June 22, 1903. The gardens were laid out by leading landscape designer William Shepphard who is also known by his work at Herbert Park, St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin Zoo. Filled with flowering shrubs, boasting an ornamental waterfall, and lit by gas-powered “incandescent lights”, the Freeman’s Journal described the Pavilion Gardens as a “picturesque place of recreation” whose “transformation effected in so short a period…affords a background well in harmony with the fine buildings”.

The Pavilion buildings were the work of William Kaye-Parry and his partner George Ross, whose Dublin practice had recently expanded include a London office. Measuring 150 feet in length, the iron and steel framework of the building sat on a “breeze concrete” foundation. The flat roof was intended to replicate deck promenades “similar to those employed in buildings on the Continent”. The top deck, on which the two ladies in the postcard will have a full view of the gardens, was 30 feet above ground level. The deck “commanded a very fine view of Dublin Bay and Kingstown Harbour” and had four summerhouses, one in each corner “affording shelter from the wind and rain”. The entire south aspect of the building was set out as a sun lounge and there was also a shooting gallery. (see the photo at bottom left in the collage.)

Inside the pavilion building there was a luxuriously furnished concert hall that could be used for dancing “or skating”. It was also capable of seating 1,000 people and had a “commodious stage, 83 feet wide and 24 feet high” with scenery designed and painted by “Mr. Jackson of the Gaiety Theatre” and “up-to-date electric light plant, supplied by the proprietors of the Royal Marine Hotel”. The supporting columns of the gallery, which ran around three sides of the hall, were painted “peacock blue relieved with gold” and complimented by “handsome draperies and natural flowers”. The hall was managed by Mr John H. Stephenson who planned “A series of excellent concerts” between June and October, 1903.

The Pavilion building burned down in 1915 and was eventually replaced by a cinema, also called the Pavilion. It closed in the 1980s but the site has been redeveloped in recent years and is once again an entertainment venue with restaurants at ground level facing the redeveloped seafront promenade. The ‘Pavilion Panorama” is still possible from the top level – just outside the 40-Foot Bar & Grill and  @Pavilion Theatre which also regularly hosts “excellent concerts”!


As well as being the driving force behind Ireland’s rail network, funding from William Dargan made the 1853 Dublin International Exhibition possible. The National Gallery of Ireland grew out of this event. Dargan had been considered a Carlow-man but research by Brian Gilmore has identified Laois as Dargan’s home county. Gilmore’s article “The Parents, Siblings & Early Life of William Dargan” was published in Carloviana: journal of the Old Carlow Society, in 2009.

Other projects by Kaye-Parry & Ross around Dún Laoghaire include the Cottage Home for Little Children and the nearby Salthill Hotel. While work at the Pavilion was underway the firm  drew up plans for a Pavilion and Winter Gardens at Bray – the “Brighton of Ireland“. Dargan was a key figure in the emergence of the town as a fashionable tourist resort in 1854 following the arrival of the railway.

Further reading:

@rsainews member Rob Goodbody has written about the history of The Metals, from Dalkey to Dún Laoghaire, (Published by Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown Co.Co., 2010)

More information on the history of the locality is available in Peter Pearson’s book Between the Mountains and the Sea, (available since 2007 in a revised edition from O’Brien Press.)


Additional images of the Pavilion courtesy of Major Calloway’s Flickr set Dún Laogaire County Dublin

Collage made using the Picstitch app

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Stories for Saturday 2: Kingstown [Dún Laoghaire], Dublin

The Story for Saturday March 30, 2013 looks at buildings in Kingstown [Dún Laoghaire] Dublin.

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STORIES FOR SATURDAY 1: National Foresters’ Hall, Bray, Co. Wicklow


One Hundred Years Ago This Week….February 5, 1913.

National Foresters – New Hall for Bray – Opened by Very Rev. R.F. Colahan P.P

The National Foresters of Bray took part on Monday night, in a function that will be ever memorable in the annals of their Association and of Bray itself. The occasion was the opening of their new Hall and their formal possession of it. In every sense of the word it is a magnificent building, situated prominently in the town. Two-storeyed, there is a vestibule and an entrance hall on the ground floor; also a billiard-room, and two committee rooms. Overhead is a commodious meeting hall, 50 feet long by 30 feet wide – indeed, one of the largest public halls in Bray. Externally it presents a handsome appearance, while the interior is elaborately and artistically fashioned, and fitted out on the most up-to-date lines. For the opening ceremony the Hall upstairs was lavishly decorated with pictures of leading Irishmen and other historic friends of the country.

Very Rev. Father Colahan, P.P., declaring the Hall open, amidst applause, said it was an extreme pleasure to him to do so. They all felt proud to know that it was the child of Bray enterprise, conceived in the minds of the members of their illustrious order, and carried out splendidly under a Bray architect, on plans formulated in the most perfect manner possible.

“A beautiful and useful Hall”

A lengthy account of the festivities celebrating a new meeting hall for the Bray branch of the Irish National Foresters was carried in the Irish Independent on February 5, 1913. The piece included details of the entertainment provided — a banquet for over three hundred guests followed by dancing that “went on into the early hours of the morning” and a “concert programme pleasingly rendered by Miss Alice Murphy, Mr. D. Mullally, Mrs. Wilde, Mr. A. McDonnell, Miss Mason and Mr. J. McDonnell”. Father Colahan, who was “engaged from time to time in many good works for his parish”, was conferred with honorary membership of the branch and Mr. J.T. Coffey sang ‘A Nation Once Again’ in a “spirited and splendid style”.

Speeches were presided over by the Chief Ranger of the Bray branch, Councillor J. Archer and his toast — “Ireland a Nation” — was heartily supported by those present. A response by Mr. T. Clarke, J.P., that Irish Catholics “simply wanted to have management of their own local affairs – of everything Irish, everything belonging to the country” drew loud applause. Branch General Secretary, Mr. Hutchinson concurred with Clarke and praised those Foresters who had recently participated in the parliamentary by-election in Derry just a few days earlier. In this contest, pro-Home Rule candidate David Hogg defeated his Unionist rival, Colonel George Pakenham, by just sixty-seven votes, thus giving Nationalists a majority of one seat in Ulster. Hutchinson went on to say that the Foresters were all hopeful that the opening of “an Irish Parliament in the Irish capital would bring increased prosperity for the entire country…a prosperity in which Bray, the beautiful Brighton of Ireland, must largely share”.

Established in Dublin in 1877, the Irish National Foresters Association (previously part of the Ancient Order of Foresters) was founded as a friendly society for contributing members and their families in Ireland. Membership of the organisation increased significantly in the wake of the 1911 National Insurance Act. Branches were also founded in places where the Irish diaspora settled around the world.

Between 1904 and 1926 the Irish National Foresters Friendly Society built twenty halls throughout Ireland. In 1913 the organisation opened two more Wicklow halls — at Aughrim and Kilcoole — and two in Dublin, one at Balbriggan in the north of the county and one in the city centre at 41 Rutland (now Parnell) Square. At about this time, the Foresters became closely bound up with the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and their Rutland Square hall became a venue for drill practice by IRB members.

The “Bray architect” referred to in the newspaper report was Ted Archer, brother of the Chief Ranger. He had recently completed building Enniskerry Library. Today the Foresters’ Hall in Bray is home to another benefit society – the Educational Building Society.

Further reading:

Mel Cousins, “The Creation of Association: The National Insurance Act, 1911 and Approved Societies in Ireland” in Associational Culture In Ireland And Abroad, J. Kelly and R.V, Comerford, eds., (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2011). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1737846

David Fitzpatrick, Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution, (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003)


British Pathé newsreel of Irish National Foresters procession, O’Connell Street, Dublin, 1923

British Film Institute Derry Election Day February 1, 1913



The photo collage is composed of images from the following sources: Main Street, Bray, Co. Wicklow from the Valentine Photographic Collection, courtesy of the National Library of Ireland; the Foresters’ Hall, Bray image accompanied the newspaper report on February 5, 1913. Image of the EBS, 82 -83 Main Street, Bray from Google street view (2009).

Image of Irish National Foresters Friendly Society Membership Certificate (c.1910) courtesy of Whyte’s Auctioneers, Dublin

Extract from the Irish Independent newspaper report and accompanying image: Copyright 2010 by the Irish News Paper Archives; Information provided by participating INA publishers


Filed under Architecture, Decade of Commemoration, Ireland, Irish Friendly Societies, Wicklow

NEWS: Digital Humanities & Irish Heritage Buildings & UPDATES: Dickens; Ireland After NAMA

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Important news for digital humanists, medievalists, historians (of all varieties!) and lovers of Irish heritage buildings!!

New open-access resource on Ireland’s medieval buildings now live! Browse the Gothic Past site www.gothicpast.com as a visitor or register as a user to make the most of this visual archive of Irish architecture and sculpture. The website is a collaborative project between the History of Art and Architecture Department and the Library of Trinity College Dublin. (@marlalbur and fellow tweeps @niamhmbrennan &   @gmcmahon can tell you more about how this was done!) 

www.gothicpast.com is one of the first applications in Ireland of the open source @Omeka software platform, provided by the Roy Rozenzwieg Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. Omeka is used internationally by cultural and research institutions such as The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, The New York Public Library, The University of Berkeley, California’s Open Knowledge and the Public Interest (OKAPI).

Why is www.gothicpast.com so valuable?

  • Lecturers can use the site to prepare lectures – just like @AoibheannNiD has done
  • Researchers can use the site to explore new avenues of investigation and will be able to contribute content too – useful for showcasing your work to funders!
  • Students — from primary to postgraduate — can use the site to learn about medieval history and illustrate their projects using images freely downloadable from the site
  • Visitors to Irish heritage sites can use the resource to find out more about the buildings.
  • Registered users will be able to contribute their own content to the archive.

The archive will be updated with more images over the coming months and there are plans to use augmented reality (AR) technology to make the visitor experience even more interactive.

Thanks to Twitter RTs by @discoverireland @archivesireland @enniskerry_hist and @katymilligan www.gothicpast.com has had some really exciting hits in just twenty-four hours including many visitors from higher education institutions worldwide. Countries represented include Ireland, the UK, many Eurozone countries, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Romania and the Philippines – the latter came to the site using a key-word search of ‘cinquefoil arch‘…….eh, what’s that you say?

Well now: you’ll just have to visit www.gothicpast.com to find out more……

© Caroline McGee February 2012


Update to If you do one thing today: enjoy Dickens 200 (posted 7, February 2012)

Fellow historian (or should I say scientist/historian!) and tweep @michaelkls is a man of many talents and boundless energy: he knows lots about map-making and desk-top publishing to boot! Look what he created to compliment the recent Building 19th Century Ireland post on Dickens in Ireland:


Update to IRELAND AFTER NAMA (posted 15, November 2011)

Last Wedding At Columb Barracks : February 14, 2012

See the interior of this 19th century garrison chapel that has an uncertain future now that Columb Barracks is closed.



Eoghan McConnell’s Irish Times report on the last wedding in St. Barbara’s chapel occasion is here and the original Building 19th Century Ireland post Ireland after NAMA: Tipperary and Westmeath Barracks Closures is here


Filed under Architecture, Charles Dickens, Digital Humanities, Gothic Past, Ireland, Ireland after Nama, Literature, Saving Victorian Heritage

If you do one thing today: enjoy Dickens 200!

Choices abound: I’ll be listening in to Michael Eaton’s radio dramas that recreate the life of Charles Dickens who was born on February 7, 1812. They started this week on BBC Radio 4 and if you missed the first play, ‘A-Not-Overly-Particularly-Taken-Care-of-Boy’,  which was broadcast yesterday, you can tune in here (the remaining programmes will be available as podcasts). Eaton’s five short biographical broadcasts, called Dickens in London, are collaborative productions with artist and film-maker Chris Newby and use a multimedia format including words, film and puppets.

Or if you are in Dublin and at a loose end over the next few evenings, you could enjoy an evening of time-travel and go back to August 1858, when Dickens visited the city to give public readings as part of a countrywide tour that also took in Belfast and Cork. Dickens in Dublin (on tonight at Rathmines Library with Laurence Foster) recreates the atmosphere of the Dublin readings to packed houses in the Rotundo’s Round Room – seen above (it later became the Ambassador Theatre) at the head of Sack-ville Street (now O’Connell Street). Prime seats at the readings cost five shillings for a numbered and reserved seat in the stalls — about €22 in today’s money (no mention of any booking charges in the Freeman’s Journal ad!) or a mere shilling for an unreserved seat at the back of the auditorium.

On his way from Morrison’s Hotel at the corner of Dawson and Nassau Street, where one Albert Nobbs subsequently worked, Dickens would have passed the photography studio of Simonton and Millard at 39 Lower Sack-ville Street  adjoining Jury’s Prince of Wales Hotel seen above (later the Metropole Hotel and a Penneys clothes store now stands on the site.)  A notice in the Freeman’s Journal of August 28 proudly announced that the studio was displaying

‘Splendid Photographic Portraits of the eminent author, standing out in life-like reality, as he appears nightly at the Rotundo’.

Especially useful for the many who had failed to get a ticket for the reading was the option of subscribing to a draw for a limited edition of these prints: a steal at just half the price of a ticket to the reading ….they could then perhaps read aloud from Dickens’ prolific output while in the presence, as it were, of the man himself. The Metropole was remodelled in two phases by Dublin architect, William Mansfield: once during 1891-93 and again from 1916-18 when it was rebuilt exactly as it was prior to its destruction during the Easter Rising. The cinema, which opened in 1922, and the ballroom, were great favourites with Dubliners down through the years. You can read about some of those memories in the Lifescapes:Mapping Dublin Lives project, an interactive, multimedia online digital resource from the Bridge-IT Project at Trinity College. But back to the nineteenth century…..

Charles Dickens 200th birthday Google Doodle for Feb 7, 2012

Jury’s Prince of Wales Hotel was later renamed the Imperial Hotel and it was owned by….yes Mr. H. Jury! A successful businessman, he also owned the Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green and two of the other hotels in which Dickens stayed while in Ireland: the Imperial Hotels in Belfast and Cork.  Business boomed in the travel sector in nineteenth century Ireland and Jury continually upgraded his premises: in 1868 the Imperial in Belfast was extended by two storeys containing 24 bedrooms at a cost of £2,000, equivalent to about €2.25m now.

Dickens was very pleased with the reception he received when visting Ireland. The Belfast Newsletter review of his appearance noted his remarks that ‘he had never the pleasure of addressing any audience  more competent to appreciate the points of his narrative’ in the texts he read there which included some of the ones he read in Dublin: Boots at the Hollytree Inn, Mrs Gamp and The Poor Traveller. The latter was published in Dickens’s weekly magazine Household Words on December 25, 1854. You can read this and lots of other wonderful tales and stories by Dickens and others such as Wilkie Collins, by browsing the Dickens Journals Online website. This digital humanities project used crowdsourcing to recruit volunteer online text editors to assist the project team and kept us informed of their progress on Twitter and Facebook (see my previous post ‘Please Sir, I want some more’)

As of today the @Dickens_DJO team have reached their goal of creating a complete online edition of both Household Words and its successor All Year Round in time for today’s anniversary – well done to all!

© Caroline McGee, 7 February 2012

Imperial Hotel, Donegall Place, Belfast. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland

Imperial Hotel, South Mall, Cork. Courtesy of National Library of Ireland, Lawrence Collection

Venue for Dickens’s reading in Cork: The Athenaeum. Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland Lawrence Collection

Morrison’s Hotel, at the corner of Dawson and Nassau Streets, later became the offices of the North British Assurance Company, one of the many insurance companies that set up in Dublin during the nineteenth century. It is now a coffee shop.

Acknowledgements and further information:

The lead image in this post is a portrait of Charles Dickens painted in 1839 by Daniel Maclise. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw01842/Charles-Dickens?LinkID=mp01294&role=sit&rNo=1

The Lawrence Collection is available from the National Library of Ireland Photographic Archive. Selected images of Cork may be viewed on http://www.corkpastandpresent.ie/mapsimages/corkphotographs/lawrencecollection/

Information on the buildings mentioned in this post come from the Dictionary of Irish Architects at the Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin. It is available on www.dia.ie

Read the Discovering Ireland post An Irish Christmas Carol: Dickens in Ireland http://blog.discoverireland.com/2011/12/charles-dickens-in-ireland/

More on Dicken’s Cork visit is available here: http://www.corkcitylibraries.ie/servicesandprogrammes/theconstantreaderbooksreading/welovedickens/

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