In a few short years the Open House Weekend has become something of a favourite with Dubliners and tourists alike. The fact that we can gain access to buildings, houses and offices that are normally off-limits to the general public, is a great reason to get out and about and enjoy the ‘search.’ Everywhere I went people studied maps, pointed this way and that and happily queued, cameras at the ready to snap a piece of history. There was, inevitably, lots of talk and much advice on offer as to which places to visit.
I began my walkabout with a visit to the Mansion House. The guide, a councillor and former Lord Mayor, really knew the history of the building and made the whole experience memorable. It was built by Joshua Dawson (who built many of the buildings on Dawson Street) in 1705 as his city residence, but sold it to Dublin Corporation in 1715 for £3,500! The Oak Room is lined with the crests of all the previous Lord Mayors with Daniel O’Connell’s (1841) being the first. There are many beautiful paintings in the Drawing Room where Eamonn DeValera, Michael Collins and others sat at the long table and discussed, no doubt heatedly, the division of Ireland.
A brisk walk took me to Dublin Castle where the queue for the State Rooms stretched almost around the Upper Castle Yard, and I decided it was a good idea to use my time and go elsewhere. I had not planned to visit Dublin City Hall but I’m happy that I did. Having, like many others, passed by the old place countless times, I had never given it much thought and walked on. But not today, thankfully. Formerly the Royal Exchange, built between 1769 and 1779, it has been the centre of municipal government since 1852. The building has recently been renovated to its former glory and it was well worth the visit. The rotunda was wonderful, especially when the sun shone down onto the colourfully tiled floors. And the ‘Story of the Capital’ exhibition in the basement is informative and well presented.
After that I walked the few yards across the cobblestones to the Rates Office. It was designed by Thomas Ivory in 1781 for the Newcommen Bank. Built of Portland Stone, in the style of John Adams, it was altered in the 19th century due to the demands for local road improvement. The renovated stairs was impressive as were the two oval offices that look down on the entrance to Dublin Castle. Eamonn Ceannt, a signatory the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and a leader in the Easter Rising of 1916, worked in the City Treasurer’s Department from 1900 to 1916.
Afterwards I made my way along Dame Street, past Trinity College and the Bank of Ireland, and squeezed into the lift that took me and my fellow passengers to the top of Liberty Hall. This is the tallest viewing area in the city and has been off limits for years. Built in 1965, the view from the roof terrace of what was Ireland’s first skyscraper was a real thrill, and I took the rare opportunity to click away at the panorama on offer. The Liffey sparkled as it snaked its way eastwards to the sea under the new bridges that have added hugely to the architectural landscape. To the west, the city spread out towards the Dublin Mountains, and the backdrop of a blue sky and puffy, white clouds was something special. Open House Weekends are fun and, hopefully, here to stay.