Tag Archives: henry grattan

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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Liffey Bridges – Part 2

Ha'penny Bridge - first footbridge

Ha’penny Bridge – first footbridge

The unique and charming Ha’penny Bridge was Dublin’s first pedestrian bridge, and it is also one of the world’s oldest cast-iron bridges. Thomas Telford designed his famous Iron Bridge over the River Severn in 1781, and when Dublin City alderman John Beresford proposed a new bridge it was decided to use the technology. The bridge was designed by John Windsor (of Coalbrookdale, Shropshire) and was opened in 1816. It was the only footbridge across the Liffey until the Millennium Bridge opened in 1999.
It was originally called the Wellington Bridge in honour of the Duke of Wellington (born in Dublin 1769), but due to the toll charged it soon became known as the Ha’penny Bridge. It was re-named the Liffey Bridge in 1922, but Dubliners have not, and are unlikely to, change the habit of generations. A recent, major restoration was carried out (re-opened on 21st December 2001) and over 85% of the original cast-iron was retained. This work was recognised when it received a Europa Nostra Award in 2003. Over 30,000 people use it each day.

Grattan Bridge - looking very pretty

Grattan Bridge – looking very pretty

Grattan's Parliament

Grattan’s Parliament

Grattan (or Capel Street) Bridge opened in October 1874 and was a replacement for an early structure. There had been at least two bridges on the same site for two hundred years, but the increase in business and general traffic demanded an improved structure. Bindon Stoney, the Port Engineer, was in charge and he made the bridge flatter to  accommodate the demand of horse-drawn carriages. He increased the width of the footpaths and embellished them with wrought-iron parapets, and added the distinctly,  beautiful lamps. The original bridge was named Essex Bridge, but after Stoney’s work was completed it was renamed Grattan Bridge on 1 January 1875, in honour of the great parliamentarian Henry Grattan (1746-1820). He would definitely have approved, as he was a local boy born only a stone’s throw away in Fishamble Street. It is one the Liffey’s prettiest bridges, and it is no surprise that it is also one of the most photographed.

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