Tag Archives: act of union

Irish Parliament House – First and Last

The Irish Parliament House on College Green was the first bicameral (two chambers) building in the world. The foundation stone was laid by Thomas Wyndham, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, on 3rd February 1729 and construction took almost ten years. It was designed by renowned Irish architect Edward Lovett Pearce who sadly died in 1733, aged thirty-four, and never lived to see his most famous work completed.

Irish Parliament

Irish Parliament

It was built on the site of Chichester House (owned by Sir George Carew) and used as the Parliament House since 1673. The place was in bad condition and, moreover, lacking in space. Pearce’s building addressed these issues, and although its workings were often disliked the building itself was appreciated for the elegance of its fine Palladian lines.

From the 1780s after Henry Grattan had secured a number of concessions from London, allied to the dangerous influence of the French Revolution and the 1798 Rising, Westminster decided that Irish affairs should be in its control. A vote in late 1799 went against Westminster’s wishes, but a second one in February 1800 where there was widespread bribery and awards of peerages, won the day and the House of Commons voted for its own abolition. The last sitting of the House was took place in August 1800. The new law, the Act of Union, came into effect on 1st Jan 1801 with all authority now resting with Westminster. This soon led to an exodus of peers and wealthy merchants that had a major negative impact on the Irish economy and a sharp decline in Dublin’s status.

As a final gesture of defiance against vote, John Foster (of Foster Place fame), the last Speaker of the House of Commons, retained possession of the Mace. It is believed that he hid it under his bed at home on Molesworth Street, and nothing more was heard of it until 1937 when it was put up for auction by Christies, London. It was bought by the Bank of Ireland and it is now in a glass case in the House of Lords. The Mace belonging to the House of Lords is now on show in the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts & History in Collins Barracks.

Mace - House of Commons

Mace – House of Commons

After its abolition the building was variously used as an art gallery and military depot. In 1803 it was purchased by the Bank of Ireland (who bought it for £40,000) as its new headquarters. When the building was sold it was stipulated that both chambers (Commons & Lords) be dismantled (so that it could never be used again as a parliament house), but the Lords is today almost unchanged. All the original fittings, including the beautifully engraved oak fireplace, are in use, and the bright red Woolsack which the Chancellor of Ireland sat on during debates, has now been restored. The magnificent 1,233 piece chandelier is original, and its counterpart from the Commons can be seen in the Examination Hall, across the road in Trinity College.

Oak Fireplace

Oak Fireplace

Magnificent chandelier

Magnificent chandelier

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Henry Grattan – Parliamentarian & Patriot

He was born on 3rd July 1746 in Fishamble Street and was a member of the Irish House of Commons. Although a member of the Anglo-Irish elite, he was a lifelong advocate and campaigner for Irish legislative reform. Famous for his stirring speeches in parliament he was described by one contemporary as: A superb orator – nervous, high-flown, romantic. With generous enthusiasm he demanded that Ireland should be granted its rightful status, that of an independent nation, though he always insisted that Ireland would remain linked to Great Britain by a common crown and by sharing a common political tradition.

Grattan went to Drogheda Grammar school, and followed that by attending Trinity College where he developed a love of Classical literature with a strong interest in the life and work of the famous orators of antiquity. This skill was to become his trademark and bring him fame and allow him pursue his desire for legislative reform. After college he studied at King’s Inns and was called to the bar in 1772, although with his growing interest in politics he hardly ever practised law.

Grattan's Parliament

Grattan’s Parliament

He was elected to the Irish Parliament in 1775, and due to his drive and outstanding oratory, he soon became the leader of the National Party. At that time Catholics and Presbyterians were excluded from public life under the brutal Penal Laws, while power resided in the hands of a small elite of Anglo-Irish families who were members of Anglican Church, and who owned most of the land. By the early 1780s, with pressure mounting for legislative independence, concessions were finally conceded by the British Government and Grattan was hailed as a patriot. As the influence of the American Revolution and later the French Revolution were felt Grattan achieved more freedoms, and the assembly became known as ‘Grattan’s Parliament’.

However, he vehemently objected to the Act of Union 1800 with its negative economic effect and subsequent cultural decline, and spent his final years in London where he died 6th June 1820. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Grattan Bridge (prev. Essex Bridge), rebuilt in 1874, was named in his honour, and his statue (by the renowned sculptor J H Foley) in College Green (across from the old Irish Parliament) shows him in all his oratorical glory.

In full oratorical flow

In full oratorical flow

 

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Dublin’s City Hall

The Central Dome

The Central Dome

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).

Dublin City's motto

Dublin City’s motto

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 City1 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.

 

 

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James Caulfield & his Casino at Marino

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.

Guarding lion

Guarding lion

Georgian elegance

Georgian elegance

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.

Main Room - elaborate decoration

Main Room – elaborate decoration

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.

Casino with Dublin Bay beyond

Casino with Dublin Bay beyond

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