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.
The Mansion House is a place that I always wanted to see having, like so many other Dubliners, passed it on countless occasions. It is, of course, the residence of Dublin’s first citizen, the Lord Mayor, and it is one of the city’s most loved buildings with stunningly beautiful rooms. It is, in fact, the oldest free-standing house in Dublin and the only Mayoral residence in Ireland which is still used for its original purpose. And, it is the oldest Mayoral residence in Ireland or Britain as it provided an official residence for its mayor fifteen years before London did! It was surprising to find out that in the 1930s and 1940s there were plans to demolish the place and other buildings on the block, but thankfully they were abandoned.
The guide, a 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 & Nassau Street) in 1705 as his city residence. However, he seldom lived there and sold it to Dublin Corporation in 1715 for £3,500, and an annual rent of 40 shillings and an agreement to provide a loaf of double-refined sugar weighing 6 pounds, at Christmas! He agreed to add a formal reception room which we now call the Oak Room. In here are the crests of all the previous Lord Mayors with Daniel O’Connell’s (1841) being the first. The distinctive metal portico over the front door was erected for the visit of Queen Victoria in 1900. And the Rotunda, or ‘Round Room’, was added for the visit of George IV in 1821, as there was no room in the city grand enough for him. Ironically, it was in this same space that the First Dáil assembled on 21st January 1919 and proclaimed the Declaration of Independence.
The Mansion House has been at the centre of the city’s history for 299 years, and next year will be a special one even for this historic building.