The End is Nigh…

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Around the corner from St Catherine’s church on Thomas Street, Dublin and indeed integrated into that building is this residence on Thomas Court, probably the former presbytery. The Gibbsian doorcase and carriage arch are typical of the 1760s when the church was rebuilt to John Smyth’s design and according to Graham Hickey of the Dublin Civic Trust, ‘the L-shaped plan of the house accords with John Rocque’s depiction of the site on his map of 1756, before the church was rebuilt, lending the tantalising possibility that it incorporates early fabric. It almost certainly contains recycled material from the previous building. It has since lost its original roof to a flat 20th-century affair.’
Seriously altered in the second half of the last century when converted into a number of residential units, the building then suffered damage as a result of a fire last winter. It now looks to be in very poor state and unless remedial work is undertaken soon the only outcome will be further decline and, as has happened far too often in this country, the threat of demolition due to claims of the property being in dangerous condition.

Their Name Liveth for Evermore

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‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, August 4th 1914.
On this day one hundred years ago Britain declared war on Germany. It is not known for certain how many Irishmen participated in the fighting that followed until the cessation of hostilities in November 1918. At the start of the war, the British army contained 28,000 Irish-born regular soldiers and 30,000 reservists, all of whom were immediately called up. In addition, over the next four years some 148,000 men enlisted, bringing the eventual figure to over 200,000.
However, this does not include members of the officer classes, members of the British Royal Navy and fledgling Royal Air Force nor those Irish-born men who served in the Australian and New Zealand, Canadian and South African armed forces. Nor, it has been noted, does it include emigrants living in Britain who signed up and would have been accordingly listed as British. In other words, the final figure was likely to have been much higher than the 200,000 or so known Irish participants in the armed forces.

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Similar uncertainty surrounds the number of Irish who died during the First World War. In the early 1920s around £5,000 of the National War Memorial fund was spent collecting records of all known deceased and publishing a list of these in an eight-volume set of Ireland’s Memorial Records. One hundred copies were produced ‘for distribution through the principal libraries of the country’ with design and decoration, printing, and binding ‘carried out by Irish artists and workers of the highest reputation and efficiency.’ The best-known contributor to this work was Harry Clarke, today primarily remembered for his stained glass. For the memorial records, Clarke created a title page and seven page borders, repeated throughout the volumes and, as Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe has commented, incorporating ‘Celtic and Art Deco motifs, battle scenes in silhouette, medals, insignia and religious and mythological scenes, all drawn in pen and ink.’ The volumes list a total of 49,435 names and this has since often been taken as an accurate figure for the number of Irishmen who died in service during the years 1914-1918. However, the list is of soldiers who died in Irish regiments, some of whom were not Irish while Irishmen who fought in non-Irish regiments are not included.

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The history of Ireland’s National War Memorial Gardens has been equally chequered. In the aftermath of the Great War, although many people wished to commemorate those who had died in the preceding years, the spirit of the age proved unpropitious. In July 1919 a meeting attended by more than 100 representatives was held in Dublin at which it was agreed there should be a permanent memorial and a committee was accordingly established to raise funds for this purpose. (It was money from this source which paid for the publication of Ireland’s Memorial Records). The main veterans’ group, the Legion of Irish Ex-Servicemen – later the British Legion (Irish Free State Region) – proposed the memorial be ‘a statue, obelisk or cenotaph of exceptional beauty and grandeur, sited in some central part of the City of Dublin.’ Accordingly the memorial trustees considered buying the private gardens in the centre of Merrion Square and building a monument there before presenting the whole site to the relevant authorities for use as a public park. The scheme failed to gain sufficient support both within and outside official circles: for example, the author, wit and surgeon Oliver St John Gogarty, then a Senator, declared ‘A war memorial is a comfortless thing’ and argued the money collected should be spent on housing for ex-servicemen. The Phoenix Park was also proposed as a location and the matter dragged on until 1929 – more than a decade after the war had ended – before the government suggested a memorial park be laid out on a site already in public ownership and known as Longmeadows on the southern banks of the Liffey. The scheme embodied the idea of a public park laid out at state expense and incorporating a Garden of Remembrance funded by the Memorial Committee: the eventual cost for the entire site’s development was almost evenly split between the two. In the same vein, the workforce, drawn from the unemployed, ensured half were former First World War ex-British Army and half ex-Irish Army men. And to provide them with as much work as possible the use of mechanical equipment was restricted: even granite blocks of seven and eight tonnes were manhandled into place with primitive tackles of poles and ropes.

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Ireland’s National War Memorial Gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens whose mother was Irish and who had already worked in this country on several occasions, notably at Lambay Island, Howth Castle and Heywood, County Laois (for the last of these, see To Smooth the Lawn, To Decorate the Dale, May 12th last). In addition, Lutyens had already been responsible for designing several other commemorative sites, not least the Cenotaph in London. He was the natural choice for this commission and responded with a plan that is graceful, reflective and dignified.
The Memorial Gardens occupy only part of a larger site developed as a public park. Responding to the Phoenix Park on the opposite side of the river Liffey, Lutyens’ intervention begins close to the water with a small domed temple. A plaque on the floor of this building carries the following lines from Rupert Brookes’ second War Sonnet:
‘We have found safety with all things undying/The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth/The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying/And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth.’
From here the design is arranged symmetrically on a north-south axis, the ground ahead gently rising to several short flights of steps that give access to the main site, with its emphasis on the Stone of Remembrance. Made from a single block of Irish granite, weighing seven and a half tons and taking the form of an altar, the stone’s dimensions are identical to First World War memorials found elsewhere around the world. Here it is in turn aligned to the Great Cross of Sacrifice which stands behind. On the cope of the wall at the cross are inscribed the words ‘TO THE MEMORY OF THE 49,400 IRISHMEN WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR, 1914-18.’ Immediately beyond further flights of steps lead to the top of the gardens.
On either side of the central stone is a broad circular basin from which rises an obelisk, sometimes compared to a candle flanking a place of worship. To either side of these are pairs of square pavilions linked by oak beam pergolas draped in clematis and wisteria. The pavilions represent the four provinces of Ireland, and contain various mementoes including a set of Ireland’s Memorial Records and the Ginchy Cross. The latter is a wooden cross of Celtic design some 13ft high and erected in 1917 as a memorial to the 4,354 men of the 16th Irish Division who died in the two engagements at Guillemont and Ginchy during the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Later replaced by a stone cross, the original was brought back to Ireland in 1926. All the structures on the site are of granite other than the site’s enclosing wall built of limestone rubble.

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While the diverse built elements on the site are symbolically important, this is primarily a garden and as such one of Lutyens’ finest designs. In certain sections he deployed only a handful of plants. From the lower temple, for example, a number of paths radiate out each planted with various trees intended to provide contrast in form and colour. Some of these have had to be replanted due to age and storm damage, and in the case of the elms which were felled by Dutch Elm Disease thirty years ago, replaced altogether by lime trees. The central lawn, with its focus on the Stone of Remembrance and the Great Cross of Sacrifice, rightly contains nothing but grass, with banks of trees largely enclosing the area to the south while due to the land sloping down northwards the view is across the river to the Phoenix Park.
In contrast, beyond the paired pavilions to east and west are large sunken rose gardens that descend in terraces to circular lily ponds. Lutyens’ intention was to provide visitors with a meditative space devoid of military emblems and instead serving as a setting in which we can reflect on our mortality. Having viewed the consequences of war in the central lawn, we are now given the opportunity to consider it in a more ruminative fahion in the rose gardens. The planting of these was overseen by a committee of eminent horticulturists, including former keeper of the National Botanic Gardens Sir Frederick Moore and the assistant superintendent of the Phoenix Park A. F. Pearson. The original four thousand roses, purchased in multiples of fifty, included popular varieties such as ‘Shot Silk’, ‘Madame Butterfly’, and ‘Etoile de Hollande’ but not all have survived. Thus more recent replanting of the beds led to the inclusion of the ‘Peace’ rose produced by Meilland of France in 1945. However, it is intended that, in time, the existing roses be replaced by those varieties selected at the time of the garden’s first creation.
Incidentally, one part of Lutyens’ design was never executed: a three-arched pedestrian bridge across the Liffey providing access to the Phoenix Park. How wonderful if this were at last instated in time to mark the centenary of the First World War’s conclusion in 2018.

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Although final agreement on the garden’s development was only reached in late 1933, work had already begun on its development and everything was completed by spring 1939. ‘It is with a spirit of confidence,’ declared the trustees of War Memorial Committee, ‘that we commit this noble memorial of Irish valour to the care and custody of the Government of Ireland.’ An official opening of the garden was proposed for late July 1939 but long before this date political tensions elsewhere in Europe meant the dedication ceremony’s postponement. The Second World War then intervened, although from 1940 onwards commemorative ceremonies were held on the site.
Nevertheless no formal state occasion took place. On two occasions in the 1950s, December 1956 and October 1958 dissident republicans attempted to blow up the memorial cross: on the second occasion it was reported that ‘the flash of the explosion was seen in Rialto, almost two miles away.’ Somehow in both instances the monument survived this inglorious assault but far more insidious was the ongoing neglect of the site by state and civic authorities.
Finally in the early 1980s, by which time the gardens had fallen into a shamefully shabby condition, a programme of restoration began and at last in 1988 the official ceremony of dedication, delayed for almost four decades, took place. Since that date the place has been consistently maintained although its location, somewhat away from the city centre and today surrounded by housing, means the National War Memorial Gardens is something of an under-valued resource. But they merit a visit, if only to remind all of us that while humanity has been responsible for acts of appalling barbarism, it can also claim redemption through the creation of beauty. Especially on today’s anniversary, both deserve to be remembered.

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Like many other people around the world I have been much moved by this wordless response from customarily articulate spokesman for UNRWA Christopher Gunness to the horror he has witnessed during the present conflict in Gaza. If you have not yet watched it, I would encourage you to do so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFd8jVrbf0A

On the Tiles

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The greater part of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin dates from the first half of the 13th century but six hundred years later much of the structure had fallen into disrepair. Therefore the dean and chapter were extremely grateful when in 1860 the wealthy brewer Benjamin Lee Guinness wrote offering to underwrite a complete restoration of the building, the only condition being that he be subject to no interference: the project took five years and cost £150,000. One of the alterations made by Guinness was raising the floor of the nave to the same height as that of the choir. In the process, new tiles were laid down, of which these are an example, based on mediaeval designs and covering the entire nave.

Misplaced Priorities

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This weekend the grounds of Westport House, County Mayo play host to a music festival. Revellers of sensitive disposition are advised not to venture into the adjacent town as the neglect of its historic core can only lead to feelings of disgust. In the closing decades of the 18th century, the centre of Westport town was laid out by John Browne, third Earl of Altamont (and later first Marquess of Sligo); its design is often attributed to James Wyatt – who was certainly responsible for some of the house’s interiors – but there is no direct evidence to support this.
In any case what cannot be questioned is that Westport has the potential to be one of the most attractive towns in Ireland, a potential which at present is being squandered as the photograph above shows. This is a former coaching inn standing on the North Mall and overlooking the canalised Carrowbeg river. In 1835 John Barrow described it as being a hostelry ‘where the most fastidious could scarcely fail to be pleased’ and seven years later Thackeray called ‘one of the prettiest, comfortablest inns in Ireland.’ The hotel continued in business for over two centuries until 2006 when plans were announced for its refurbishment: since then this crucial site has remained shut, despite Westport being heavily dependant on tourism.
If only this were an isolated case, but worse can be found towards the eastern end of the North Mall where the hotel’s equivalent can be seen below. Of similar date, five bays and two storeys, and originally created as a private residence the building served for many years as a bank until that closed in 2007 since when it has likewise been permitted to fall into the present state of decay. Furthermore the same is true of several other properties along the mall, their roofs sagging, their window frames decaying, the whole spectacle a sad testament to on-going neglect.
Almost 180 years ago John Barrow regarded the North Mall as ‘bearing a close resemblance to a street in a Dutch town’ although it is unlikely any local authority in Holland would allow such dereliction to occur. Mayo County Council’s current development plan for Westport states ‘It is the policy of the Council to maintain, conserve and protect the architectural quality, character and scale of the town.’ Looking at these pictures, it is hard to find evidence of the policy being put into practice. Westport even has a town architect who as recently as last November could be found lecturing the burghers of Fermoy, County Cork on how to improve their historic centre. He would do better to stay at home and ensure the place where he is employed, officially designated a Heritage Town of Ireland, holds onto its heritage before this is lost forever.

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M’Lady’s Chamber

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A proposal for the decoration of the Duchess of Leinster’s dressing room on the first floor garden front of Leinster House in Dublin. The building was designed in 1745 by Richard Castle, but this plan is believed to date from the end of the following decade and to have been made by the English architect Isaac Ware. His connection to the FitzGerald family was most likely through Henry Fox, brother-in-law of the first Duke of Leinster but Ware had other Irish links too. Supposedly as an eight-year old London chimneysweep, he was discovered by Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington (and fourth Earl of Cork) sketching the elevation of Inigo Jone’s Whitehall Banqueting Hall. According to this story, Lord Burlington was so impressed by the child’s natural talent that he gave him a formal education and then sent him to Italy to study architecture. And one of Ware’s most celebrated buildings was Chesterfield House in London designed for Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield who served as Lord Lieutenant in Ireland around the time work began on Leinster House: although unexecuted, the dressing room’s French rococo style bears similarities to the music room in Chesterfield House (sadly demolished in 1937).
This drawing is one of a large number once kept at the Leinsters’ country house, Carton, County Kildare and then later moved to the Leinster Estate Office at 13 Lower Dominick Street, Dublin. When that building was demolished in 1958 the drawings were saved by Desmond and Mariga Guinness who thereafter built up a large holding of historical architectural designs; this was acquired in its entirety by the Irish Architectural Archive in 1996. A selection of items from the Guinness Collection, including this drawing, is on display at the archive until August 22nd. For further information, see: http://www.iarc.ie/exhibitions

Paradise Lost

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This page from the Dublin Penny Journal of December 5th 1835 shows the casino at Marino, Dublin completed sixty years earlier to the designs of Sir William Chambers. As discussed here before (see Casino Royale, March 25th 2013) the casino was only one of a number of buildings erected in the grounds of the first Earl of Charlemont’s estate. Close to the casino, for example, stood a tall Gothic tower known as ‘Rosamund’s Bower’ and likely designed by Johann Heinrich Muntz, a Swiss-born painter and architect encouraged by Horace Walpole to move to England where he worked with Chambers. Unfortunately Lord Charlemont’s architectural ambitions exceeded his income, leaving his heirs somewhat impoverished and resulting in the park at Marino soon falling into decay: the Dublin Penny Journal notes that Rosamund’s Bower was already in ruins and strangers seldom visited the place any more.
Ultimately all except the casino was swept away, and at the moment that building plays host to a fascinating exhibition Paradise Lost: Lord Charlemont’s Garden at Marino which is demands to be seen (and is accompanied by a very smart and informative catalogue). Next Tuesday, June 10th the Office of Public Works and the Irish Georgian Society are holding a study day in the latter’s Dublin headquarters on South William Street exploring this long-vanished parkland and its legacy. For booking and more information, please see http://www.igs.ie/events.

In Exchange

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A 1792 print by James Malton of the Tholsel in Dublin. Seemingly the word Tholsel derives from the old English ‘toll’ meaning tax and ‘sael’ meaning hall, and it was thus a place where taxes and the like were paid. But in the mediaeval city it also served as court house, custom-house, guildhall and merchants’ meeting place. By the 17th century the original Tholsel had fallen into disrepair and in the 1680s was replaced by the structure seen here, standing on Skinner’s Row (opposite Christ Church Cathedral). This baroque building had an open arcade on the ground floor where mercantile business could be conducted, and a chamber for council meetings of Dublin Corporation upstairs. Its façade was adorned with two niches containing statues of Charles II and his brother the Duke of York (later and briefly James II) behind which rose a tower and weather vane. However, by the time Malton’s print was published the towner had been taken down and early in the following century the entire building was demolished, its functions superseded by Thomas Cooley’s Exchange (now City Hall) on Dame Street, and the City Assembly House on South William Street where the local authority preferred to meet. Next Wednesday evening, May 21st, I shall be introducing a talk by Andrew Bonar Law on Malton’s Irish prints to be given in the self-same City Assembly House, now headquarters for the Irish Georgian Society. For further information, see: http://www.igs.ie/events/detail/the-irish-prints-of-james-malton-lecture-by-andrew-bonar-law