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.
Dublin’s Ormond Quay derives its name from James Butler, first Duke of Ormond who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the late 1670s when this area of the city was undergoing extensive redevelopment, driven by Sir Humphrey Jervis. Ormond Quay is divided into Upper and Lower, the latter being to the west, the former to the east. 18 Upper Ormond Quay lies in the middle of this area, a part of Dublin that, until the 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries, had for hundreds of years belonged to the Cistercians of St Mary’s Abbey. The house first built on the new quay is likely to have been quite modest, probably of two storeys, its pitched roof having dormer windows looking onto the river Liffey to the immediate south. The earliest reference to this property, which dates from a lease agreement of February 1725, makes mention to ‘stables and warehouse lying behind it.’
Less that twenty years later, another legal document indicates that the original building was replaced by a taller house, with ‘Dutch Billy’ gable façade. Then at some date around the 1760s, what had earlier been described as a ‘warehouse’ to the rear (fronting onto adjacent Arran Street East) was also reconstructed, probably with commercial premises on the ground floor and a handsome reception room lit by three windows above; portions of the latter’s elegant rococo cornice survive. Further alterations occurred in the late 1780s when the front of the building overlooking the quays was given a granite-arcaded façade, similar to those introduced elsewhere in the city by the Wide Street Commissioners and familiar to anyone who has studied the design of retail premises in the Georgian and retail period when the retailers began to understand merits of good shop front design.
18 Upper Ormond Quay does not seem to have flourished over the next few decades, and when a new lessee took on the premises in 1821, it was with the intention that the building serve as a tavern. The decline was not arrested, and in July 1842 the property was deemed to be ‘in a very decayed and ruinous state and in danger of falling.’ No wonder it took a mere ten shillings for the then-lease holder to surrender any interest in the house. However, despite its shabby condition, the building did not fall, nor was it pulled down. Instead, substantial new work was undertaken on the site.
In 1842 the freehold owner of 18 Ormond Quay, George Robert Dawson (a former MP and incidentally great-grandson of Joshua Dawson who built Dublin’s Mansion House in 1710) conveyed a new lease for the building to James Hamilton for 61years at an annual rent of £36 18s.6d, but on the condition that Hamilton spend ‘the full sum of eight hundred pounds sterling in lasting material and valuable improvements.’ As a result, over the next few years the premises were extensively renovated and assumed much of the appearance still seen today, the modifications including exterior upper walls of yellow brick (subsequently pebbledashed) and a reordering of the late 18th century shopfront. James Hamilton in turn leased the property to various tea, wine and spirit merchants as well as grocers, the storeys above ground floor usually being occupied by solicitors. In 1902 the latest grocer in residence, Edward Corcoran was required to carry out a number of improvements, not least installation of proper sewers and water closets. Ten years later the building became an hotel and restaurant, just the latter operating on the ground floor from the late 1940s with the area above serving as an informal boarding house. The next change came in 1970 when Watts Bros, an established firm of gun & rifle makers and fishing tackle manufacturers bought the property for £8,000. They remained here for thirty years but closed down in 2000, and once again the building was sold. It served as an alternative art space run by Farcry Productions, which painted on the old shopfront fascia the name ‘Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether’, before coming into the hands of Dublin Civic Trust in 2017.
Established in 1992, Dublin Civic Trust is an independent body intended to promote greater recognition and appreciation of traditional buildings and streetscapes. The organisation’s main objectives include the preservation and enhancement of the historic core of the capital, reuse of historic buildings in a manner that encourages active residential renewal, and the development of complementary uses that revitalise Dublin’s social and cultural life. What gives the trust its distinctive character is that it leads by example: through the acquisition and refurbishment of properties that are of historical, architectural, archaeological and environmental interest for the public benefit. This has been successfully demonstrated thanks to a revolving rund mechanism which involves training and education in traditional skills, development of best practice conservation techniques and streetscape enhancement.
18 Ormond Quay is the latest instance of Dublin Civic Trust recognising an historic building’s architectural merits and undertaking to bring these once again to the fore. When the organisation some years ago sold its previous property (4 Castle Street, which prior to the trust’s intervention had been scheduled for demolition), it embarked on a fresh challenge with the quayside property. The most immediate problem was a severe lean of the exterior wall towards Arran Street East; this had been caused by the removal of various internal walls during the previous century, and rotted bonding timbers owing to water ingress. Ultimately a four-storey steelwork grid had to be applied on the inside face of the wall to ensure it would remain in place. Other internal timberwork had to be replaced for the same reason, as did much plasterwork, all damage primarily due to water ingress. On the outside, cement pebbledash applied to the upper levels, probably in the 1950s, has been removed, exposing the original yellow brick beneath (and in addition avoiding harmful moisture retention), and the granite arcaded shopfront has been restored to its original appearance. Inside, plasterwork, joinery, floors and ceilings, as well as mechanical and electrical services have all received necessary attention, and many of the rooms have been decorated and sympathetically furnished, all the while retaining the character of the place. But a great deal remains to be done, both in this section of the building, and in the older portion to the rear, that is the Arran Street East site which dates from the 1760s. As mentioned, this contains extensive portions of rococo decorative plasterwork and even rare surviving fragments of 18th century wallpaper: all of this material deserves preservation.
At the moment, Dublin’s historic fabric is under ferocious attack in a way that has not been seen since the 1970s, and both central and local authorities appear to be untroubled by, if not actively supportive of, this assault. Work by small voluntary organizations such as Dublin Civic Trust, which receives minimal support, and must rely on modest annual grants and private donations, ensures that at least some of the capital’s architectural heritage is preserved. Its work deserves to be applauded and supported by anyone who wants to make sure more of what makes Dublin distinctive is not lost. The work undertaken at 18 Ormond Quay represents all that is best about this splendid organisation.
‘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.
The innumerable visitors who now come to see Trinity College Dublin’s Old Library (and the Book of Kells held therein) now gain access to the first-floor Long Room via a staircase inserted into the building in 1967 and designed by Ahrends, Burton & Koralek. As a result, they do not have the pleasure of seeing the original staircase at the west end of the building. This is believed to date from c.1750, its design overseen by Richard Castle. The oak stairs ascend around three sides of the double-height space, the ceiling of which features rococo plasterwork by an unknown hand.
After last Wednesday’s sad spectacle of the decaying former hospital in Ballinasloe, County Galway, here is a more positive example of what can be done with such properties. The Richmond Surgical Hospital on North Brunswick Street, Dublin originally opened in 1811 in what had once been a 17th century convent. Eventually in 1895 a new building was begun on the site, designed by Dublin practice of Carroll & Batchelor in the then-fashionable English Renaissance idiom employing red brick and terracotta. The U-shaped hospital has a central block with two wings that thrust forward, each with two floors of balconies for convalescents to enjoy light and fresh air, and each topped with ogee-shaped copper domes. The Richmond continued to operate as a hospital until being closed in 1987 during one of the era’s rounds of health service rationalisation. Thereafter it served for a time as a courthouse but in 2013 was bought by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, which body last year opened the building as an education and event centre thereby demonstrating that an old hospital can find a new purpose.
This 19th century domed greenhouse closes a vista inside the walled garden of Malahide Castle, County Dublin. The building is not original to the site: seemingly it came from a convent in south County Dublin and was installed here in recent years by Malahide Castle’s owners, Fingall County Council. It is a handsome addition to the walled garden, but the state of some of the roof timbers suggests insufficient maintenance.
After last Monday’s piece on the newer portion of Glenmaroon, County Dublin, it is worth drawing attention to one other feature of the house. Some seven years after acquiring and extending the property, in 1911 Ernest Guinness further added to it by building one of the first private swimming pools in Ireland. Designed, like the adjoining house, by Laurence Aloysius McDonnell (together with his partner in the firm, ALexander Reid), the addition which had a smoking room above, cost £5,000. The pool still survives with its original tiled interior, the curved end of windows above the deep end evocative of a bridge on one of the ocean-going yachts on which Guinness so loved to sail.