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Royal Irish Academy – Living History

Royal Irish Academy

Royal Irish Academy

The Royal Irish Academy is an all-Ireland learned society and was founded in 1785. The following year it was granted its royal charter, and its aims were ‘the promotion and investigation of the sciences, polite literature, and antiquities, as well as the encouragement of discussion and debate between scholars of diverse backgrounds and interests.’ The Earl of Charlemont, who described himself as a ‘lifelong learner’ was, appropriately, the first president. Today there are over 400 members, and some of the notable honorary members in previous years have included Charles Darwin, Max Planck and Albert Einstein.

The Academy’s first residence was at 114 Grafton Street (across from the Provost House, Trinity College), but it moved to its present address (19 Dawson Street) in 1851. The new premises had more space to accommodate the growing collections of antiquities, and the Reading Room and Meeting Room were added between 1852-54. Much of the collection was subsequently transferred to the new National Museum of Ireland in 1890, and included the Cross of Cong, the Tara Broach and the Ardagh Chalice.

The Reading Room

The Reading Room

The library’s unique collection of manuscripts (over 1,500) began when it was presented with the fourteenth-century Book of Ballymote. There are many other famous manuscripts in its care, but the most precious is the Cathach (Psalter of St Columba). This is the oldest surviving Irish manuscript and dates from the sixth century. The library is a research library for members, students, international scholars and members of the public. It holds the largest collection of Irish-language manuscripts, and archives on Irish history, archaeology and 19th century Ordnance Survey records. The library also holds the collection of Thomas Moore, the Irish singer and songwriter, who penned The Last Rose of Summer and The Minstrel Boy. His harp is on show in the library.

Thomas Moore's harp

Thomas Moore’s harp

In the grand Meeting Room you can find chandeliers and benches from the Irish House of Lords which was abolished over two hundred years ago. Now that’s living history!

Back benches

Back benches

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Mansion House – at the centre of city life

Nighttime view

Nighttime view

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.

Sumptous interior

Sumptuous interior

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.

Mansion House in the sunshine

Mansion House in the sunshine

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