It is over three hundred years old, the oldest surviving Guild Hall in Dublin, and like a patient brought back to life after a near fatal illness, the Tailors’ Hall is thriving and looking great. Since 1983 it has been home to An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland), who did a wonderful job in restoring the almost derelict property to its former glory. This work was recognised when it won a Europa Nostra Award in 1988.
The building was erected in 1706, and until 1841 was the headquarters and meeting place of the Guild of Merchant Tailors, when the guild system was abolished. Tradition had it that the Tailors’ Guild was the oldest one in operation, its first charter being granted by King John in 1207. There is no existing evidence for this, and the oldest charter on record was granted by King Henry V in Trim in 1418.
Over the years the building has acted as a meeting place for other guilds, an army barracks, a court and a place for society balls. In 1792 the Catholic Committee, with Theobald Wolfe Tone acting as secretary, held meetings in the Great Hall. Because of these meetings the place was referred to as the ‘Back Lane Parliament’. This group, which was comprised of local merchants like Oliver Bond and the wonderfully named Napper Tandy, had come together to seek relief from the Penal Laws which many people considered out of date and an obstacle to economic improvement. In 1798 a more strident group, the United Irishmen was setup by Tone, and they sought to use the turbulence of the French Revolution as an opportunity to strike against England. Sadly, a number of things, including bad communications and treachery, went wrong and the rebellion was brutally crushed by the Crown Forces, with many volunteers being hung, drawn and quartered – a particularly brutal execution that was meant to scare onlookers as much as kill the accused.
The renovated building, which still has many original features, including the magnificent Great Hall, is a real Dublin gem that I was happy to finally visit.