James Caulfield, the first Earl of Charlemont, was born in Dublin in 1728 and definitely left a mark on his native city. At the age of 18, and with little formal education, he set off on a Grand Tour in the company of a teacher, Rev. Edward Murphy. At the time it was common practice for young men of his class to travel around Europe learning about Classical art and history. They certainly took their time, and Caulfield spent nine years visiting Holland, Germany, Italy, Egypt and Greece where he was particularly impressed by the ancient architecture. He made countless drawings of buildings, and these helped inspire the plans for his pleasure house, the Casino. When he returned to Dublin in 1755 he decided to build his Casino (‘small house’) on land he had been given by his stepfather, in Donnycarney. He renamed his estate Marino after the small town Marino, south of Rome.
During his Grand Tour he had met William Chambers and asked him to design the Casino. Chambers was the most sought-after architect of his day, with buildings like Somerset House (London) and the Exam Hall (Trinity College, Dublin) to his credit. He drew up the plans but, unfortunately, never came to Dublin to see his work completed. However, the work went ahead and it was finished in 1775, and it is considered one of the finest Neo-Classical temples in Europe. When built, it had a clear and spectacular view of Dublin Bay and the mountains beyond. It is full of surprises and uses plenty of architectural tricks to maximise and display the wonderful Georgian interior. Far from being a single space the Casino has three storeys and sixteen rooms. The lavishly decorated rooms, ornate plaster work and intricate marquetry floors are stunning, and hark back to the Casino’s glory days. Sadly, access to the roof is not permitted at present, and a glimpse of Dublin Bay as Caulfield had will have to wait.
And as a Member of Parliament Caulfield needed to be ‘in town’ and he had Chambers design a town house. This was Charlemont House, Parnell Square, better known since 1933 as the Hugh Lane Dublin City Gallery. Caulfield was, in his own words, a ‘lifelong learner’ and was a founding member of the Royal Irish Academy and served as its first President. Yes, the man left quite a few marks.