Hard to believe but this is one of the most historic corners of Dublin, where St Mary’s Abbey links with Meetinghouse Lane. As the first of name indicates, it was the site of the medieval Cistercian Abbey of St Mary, the richest religious house in Ireland until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Meetinghouse Lane derives from the fact that an early Presbyterian place of worship later stood here; it can be seen on Rocque’s 1756 Map of the city. Having been restored, the Chapter House of St Mary’s, the only substantial part of the old abbey to survive, was open to the public for a period, but then closed five years ago and has remained shut ever since. Meanwhile what remains of the old Presbyterian foundation has been incorporated into other buildings and put to other ignominious uses. The condition of the Victorian ground floor façade shown here is indicative of how the area looks.
‘I invoke today all these powers
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of paganism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of witches, and smiths, and wizards,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man…’
Lines taken from the ancient Irish prayer known as St Patrick’s Breastplate. This statue in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin is thought to represent Ireland’s national patron.
The Irish Aesthete sends best wishes to all friends and followers on St Patrick’s Day. Stay safe, stay well.
Two weeks ago, this page showed the present pathetic state of Columb Barracks in Mullingar, County Westmeath (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/02/17/mullingar-barracks). Today another former barracks is featured here, this time showing what can be achieved when the task of finding a new purpose for old buildings is approached with sufficient flair and imagination. Dublin’s Clancy Barracks, formerly the Royal Artillery Barracks, was established in its present location on the south side of the river Liffey in 1798 after previous premises in nearby Chapelizod had become too small. Initially the barracks accommodated six officers, 87 non-commissioned officers and men, and eight gunners. In the early 1860s the complex was considerably enlarged so that it could house 18 officers, 589 other men and 435 horses. There was also a veterinary hospital (for the horses) until 1896 when the cavalry moved to another location in the city and this became a general barracks. Handed over to the Free State government in 1922, twenty years later it was renamed after Peadar Clancy, vice-commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, killed in Dublin Castle during the War of Independence.
When the state decided to dispose of a number of military sites in 1998, Clancy Barracks was on the list of assets to be sold. However, it was not until June 2001 that the barracks and surrounding 13.65 acres of land went out to tender. The property was not to everyone’s taste, as much of it was in a dilapidated condition and there were eight 19th century buildings listed for preservation. In July 2002 Clancy Barracks was sold to a private development company for £25.4 million. Nothing happened (allowing the condition of the buildings to deteriorate further) until three years later when a planning application sought to demolish demolish three-quarters of the existing listed buildings on the site, construct some 900 apartments in 45 blocks and erect a hotel of 15 storeys. Although the local authority gave permission, the scheme was appealed to the planning authority, An Bord Pleanála. It too found the plans acceptable, but then the recession hit and the project stalled, with the former barracks instead being used as a set for a couple of seasons of the BBC 19th century drama Ripper Street. In 2013 the site was bought by an American property investment group Kennedy Wilson for €82.5 million.
When Kennedy Wilson bought what is now called Clancy Quay in 2013, only the first phase of the scheme to redevelop the former barracks had been completed; this comprised some residential 423 units and 36,000 square feet of commercial space. Since then the company has worked to complete the second and third phases with the same mix of residential and commercial use. Phases 2 and 3 includes an 8.5 acre site with planning permission for a mix of residential and commercial use. Although the southern section of the site is still a work in progress, what has been achieved to-date is refreshingly imaginative and attractive; in 2018 architects O’Mahony Pike deservedly won an RIAI Architecture Award for Housing thanks to its work on this project. While sections of the property are given over to blocks of apartments, a large number of the older buildings have been imaginatively reinvented as accommodation, such as three long two-storey ranges in rubble, brick and granite, built in 1862 as workshops, or the fine pedimented former barrack block which had stables on the ground floor and sleeping quarters above. Elsewhere on the development there are a handsome pair of semi-detached early 19th century houses, the former officers’ mess and a range of red-brick blocks that date from the 1940s. The materials used for all these buildings was diverse, and more have been introduced for newer elements on Clancy Quay, but there is a confident coherence to the scheme, helped by generosity of space; the parties behind the development have not greedily tried to cram too much onto the site but instead left ample room between the different blocks, all linked by smart landscaping. There are few such large-scale developments in Dublin, indeed in Ireland, undertaken with this degree of assurance and panache. If and when Mullingar’s Columb Barracks are given new purpose, let’s hope the same high standards are employed there.
The ceiling of a first-floor reception room in a house on the north side of Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin. Many of these properties were among the first to be developed on the site and the building appears to date from the second decade of the 19th century. The plasterwork on the ceiling is free-hand and not taken from moulds, which soon after became the norm. At the moment, it is covered in layers of paint but a ceiling in the adjacent room has recently been cleaned and restored, revealing just how fine is the workmanship here.
Beginning in the early 1970s, every summer social geographer Kevin Corrigan Kearns visited Ireland for research purposes, spending considerable amounts of time in Dublin. In 1983 he published a book Georgian Dublin: Ireland’s Imperilled Architectural Heritage in which he wrote that with each trip to the city, ‘I could not help but witness the insidious forces which seemed to conspire against the vulnerable Georgian streetscapes. Every year there was grim new testimony to neglect, decay and destruction. Once-intact Georgian vistas of unsurpassed beauty were savaged by demolition and unsympathetic architectural infill. Inexplicably, there existed no effective opposition to this wilful and wanton assault on Dublin’s unique urban core. Indeed, I sensed that Dubliners somehow accepting this alarming degenerative process as a sort of natural occurrence – ostensibly, all in the name of progress and prosperity. Were Dubliners insensitive to this loss or merely impotent to exert any control over the destiny of their elegant city? Was there no philosophy of stewardship on the part of officialdom and citizenry to preserve this imperilled treasure for future generations?… While much destruction has incontestably resulted from deliberate unabashed rape of the cityscape, a wealth of Georgiana has conspicuously been despoiled and lost from simple benign neglect on the part of owners and occupiers, both public and private. The fragile state of Georgian Dublin today cannot be attributed to the actions of any single group. A myriad of forces has for generations militated against the welfare and survival of the Georgian city.’
Although he had suggested a ‘myriad of forces’ was responsible for the havoc wreaked on Ireland’s historic capital during the 1870s and ‘80s, Kevin Corrigan Kearns had no doubt who were the principal villains: ‘It would not be an exaggeration to state that the redevelopment of Dublin has essentially been left to the whims and dictates of private developers and speculators. For the past twenty years, amid an unconstrained environment for development, they have been allowed to use the inner city, in the words of one irate writer to the Irish Times, as a “gambling ground for their own ambitions of wealth and power”. During this free-wheeling period of urban growth, the government assumed a modest role in redevelopment. Indeed, while the Civil Service and other public bodies taken up almost three-quarters of Dublin’s total office space, the vast bulk of this accommodation is rented from private development companies.
By the late ‘sixties, the appellation “developer” had become synonymous with “despoiler” in the public psyche. The tide of destruction that scarred the central city evoked accusations of “rape”, “pillage” and “prostitution” of the urban environment. The developers’ appetite for reconstruction and profit seemed rapacious as they increasingly cast hungry eyes towards the Georgian terraces. Motivated by hard economics which demanded maximum floor space for minimal investment, no Georgian house, regardless of its historic or artistic merit, was sacrosanct.’
Kevin Corrigan Kearns was by no means the only person watching the destruction of Dublin’s historic core with dismay; artist and author Peter Pearson was likewise appalled by what was taking place in his native city. Rather than observe, he began to intervene by rescuing items from buildings that were being demo
lished or cleared out, and gradually built up a huge collection of architectural salvage. Today that collection acts as a record of decades’ long barbarianism. Pearson’s accumulated items include everything from fragments of 18th century plasterwork to 19th century decorative iron railings, from carved Portland stone capitals to ornamental door knockers. Among the features they share is that all came from properties in the capital, and all were deemed expendable and of no value: nobody operating in an official capacity thought it worthwhile to preserve a record of what was being torn down. Instead, this work was left to a passionate individual who recognised what neither the state nor Dublin County Council did: that the rampant and ill-conceived razing of the city centre would lead to a collective loss of memory unless something was saved. Without Pearson’s diligent enterprise, it would all have disappeared, a handful of old black and white photographs being the only souvenir.
Today it is less likely that buildings constructed in earlier centuries will be knocked down – although this can still occur, not least because of an inadequate listing of properties that merit protection (such as those which are currently at risk on the corner of Nassau and Kildare Streets. Dating from c.1820, astonishingly they are unlisted by Dublin City Council, thereby allowing the owner to apply for their demolition and replacement with an office development). And even buildings which are listed for preservation frequently suffer from unauthorised work on the site, as anyone who has ventured onto Capel Street and its neighbours in recent years can testify: large skips are heaped with the remains of gutted interiors. Across the capital, developers continue to be permitted set the pace for what is and isn’t built or preserved. Both central and local authorities continue to adopt a largely laissez-faire, hands-off approach to what is kept within the historic core. There is no national collection of the kind created over several decades by Peter Pearson. To see what he saved is both wonderful and tragic. Anyone involved in planning and urban development should be under an obligation to spend ample time looking through what was rescued in order that the same mistakes are not repeated. Otherwise the record of losses will continue to grow.
Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection is on show in the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2 until March 22nd, and includes a selling exhibition of paintings and collages of the city by Peter Pearson.
Overlooking – and largely overlooked by – traffic on Kildare Street, what’s currently called the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (but was originally the Department of Industry and Commerce) is like a little bit of the Rockefeller Center in Dublin. The building was designed in 1935 by James Boyd Barrett and is constructed of granite with a wonderful five-storey arched window over the entrance, its glazing bars in steel. The limestone relief over the door might be described as Hiberno-Deco, since it depicts Lugh, the Celtic God of Light, animating a fleet of aeroplanes. It was the work of Cork-born sculptor Gabriel Hayes, who was also responsible for another panel on the side elevation (School House Lane East) showing muscular construction workers engaged in various tasks.
Previous posts here have touched upon the marriage of Cecil Baring to Maude Lorillard in 1902 and their purchase of Lambay Island, Dublin two years later. Here they commissioned Edwin Lutyens to restore and extend existing structures as well as design several new ones, leading to the creation of one of the most spectacular architectural mise-en-scènes in Ireland. In 1916 Maude Baring was painted by then-fashionable but now insufficiently appreciated portraitist Ambrose McEvoy, and this picture, now owned by Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, is currently included in an exhibition devoted to the artist at Philip Mould & Company in London. Later the sitter’s daughter Daphne recalled how ‘My mother stood in the small studio in a shimmering embroidered dress, lit partly by the skylight and partly by an electric light bulb placed somewhere near the floor…’ Happily the metallic gauze and silk bodice worn by Maude Baring for her portrait survives, and is also on display in the same show.
For more information on the Ambrose McEvoy exhibition (running until January 24th 2020), see https://philipmould.com
‘Adjoining the castle [in Malahide, County Dublin], and embowered in a thick grove of chestnuts, that, in their leafy honours, cast a melancholy gloom upon the picture, are the roofless ruins of a venerable church, silent, sad, and solitary; its solitude, more striking from the appearance of a low and lonely tomb, standing in the centre of the temple,bearing on its surface the effigy of a female, habited in the costume of two centuries ago.’
‘She was the daughter of a Baron Plunkett, of Killeen, and in early life had been betrothed to the young Lord of Galtrim. Upon the day of celebrating the nuptials, and at the delivery of the last words of the solemn contract, the bridegroom was called away from the altar-steps to head his followers, and scatter a gathering of the Irish. Oh, vanity of earthly hopes ! in a few short hours he was borne homewards to his widowed bride,
“Stretch’d on his shield, like the steel-girt slain
By moonlight seen on the battle plain.”
This sepulchre the curious now often visit to contemplate the resting-place of one who had thus the unusual fortune “to be maid, wife, and widow in a single day.” Her fortune afterwards proved less wayward, for she lived to marry, as her third husband, Sir Richard Talbot, of Malahide.’
The life of Flemish artist Peter de Gree appears to have been short and not especially happy. Born in Antwerp, he originally studied for holy orders but abandoned this for painting, specializing in grisaille work which led to his being noticed by banker David La Touche, as well as Sir Joshua Reynolds. When de Gree came to London in 1785 the latter provided him with fifty guineas and a letter of introduction to the fourth Duke of Rutland, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He arrived in Dublin the same year and soon began to receive commissions. However, as Strickland noted in his 1913 Dictionary of Irish Artists, ‘De Gree, although he worked hard and charged low prices for his pictures, was not very successful. He lived in two small rooms, stinting himself in order to send to his parents in Antwerp all that he could spare of his earnings. The privations he endured broke down his health, and in January 1789, he died in his house in Dame Street.’
De Gree’s first commission in Dublin was to decorate the first floor Music Room of David La Touche’s residence at 52 St Stephen’s Green with a number of panels inspired by musical themes; these remain in situ. The series of large grisaille panels shown here, featuring a number of classical gods and goddesses, as well as playful putti, were originally painted for the house next door, 51 St Stephen’s Green, built around 1760 for the M.P. George Paul Monck, but they were subsequently removed and installed in another house in County Wicklow. More recently the panels were acquired by the Office of Public Works which has its headquarters in 51 St Stephen’s Green. However, that building has undergone many changes since first constructed and so de Gree’s series of grisaille pictures have now been hung in a first floor room on the western side of Dublin Castle’s Upper Yard, one of suite recently redecorated and opened to the public.
The chapel on Lambay Island, County Dublin was originally built on the site of an older ruin in 1833; at the time, the place was owned by the Talbots of Malahide Castle. At the start of the last century, the island was bought by Cecil Baring and his wife Maude, who commissioned Edwin Lutyens to renovate and extend all existing structures on Lambay, not least the late mediaeval castle. Lutyens also transformed the external appearance of the chapel into a small Doric temple (although it was, and still is, used for Christian worship, as the statue of the Virgin on the indicates. Inside the building, a stained glass window designed by Patrick Pollen in the form of a cross was later inserted.