Dublin has many Georgian buildings and City Hall, built between 1769-1779, is one of its finest examples. Designed by Thomas Cooley, after he won a prize for its design, it is a first-rate example of the neo-classical style that was fashionable at the time in many European countries.
It was built as the place where Dublin merchants could meet, buy and sell goods, and pay with bills of exchange – hence its original name, the Royal Exchange. The central space, Rotunda, has a magnificent dome that is supported by twelve columns, and is surrounded by an ambulatory where the merchants met and did business. There are twelve murals, eight depicting famous Irish figures and the other four representing each of the Ireland’s provinces. In the centre of the floor, directly beneath the dome, is a large mosaic depicting the Coat of Arms of Dublin ‘Obedientia Civium Urbis Felicitas’ (The Obedience of the citizens produces a happy city).
The Act of Union in 1800 had a negative effect of the city’s economy, and the Royal Exchange went into decline. Dublin Corporation bought the building in 1851, converted it for its civic offices, and re-named it City Hall on 30th September 1852.
Like many other buildings in central Dublin it played a part in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the first day of action it was occupied by Volunteers of the Irish Citizen Army under Captain Sean Connolly. Being next door to the British HQ in Dublin Castle it soon came under intense and sustained fire, and Connolly was shot dead by a sniper. Under continuous attack the Volunteers abandoned the building later that night.
Today, Dublin City Council holds its meetings in the old Council Chamber, and in the refurbished crypt the exhibition ‘Story of Dublin’ is very informative, using a mix of old newsreel, video and a display of artefacts.