As a nation in love with words and writing, the National Library of Ireland is the vault where all the treasure is kept. Irish writers have made a significant and profound contribution to the world for centuries, and much of their original works are safeguarded in the building on Kildare Street that opened its doors in September 1890. It was designed by the architect Thomas Deane and proved to be very popular from the start.
The library traces its history from the Royal Dublin Society which was founded in 1731 ‘..for improving husbandry, manufactures and other useful arts and sciences’. A Royal Charter, which included an annual allowance, was granted in 1749. In 1836 a Select Committee recommended that the library should not just be accessible to a select few but opened as a National Library. At that time most of the library’s books were of a scientific nature, and future acquisitions included books with a more general nature and, of course, those with an Irish interest. In 1840 one of its earliest purchases was the collection of 17th century Irish pamphlets which was bought from the London bookseller Thomas Thorpe.
The library is open to one and all and is for reference purposes only – you cannot borrow books! The building’s main space, The Reading Room, is spectacular and definitely worth a visit. In recent years with the surge of public interest in tracing Family History, the Genealogy Department has become an important part in the search.
With such a large amount of material available the library holds many exhibitions and lectures. The WB Yeats exhibition is permanent affording the visitor a ‘comprehensive view of the great poet’. The library also holds many important papers belonging to James Joyce (early workings of Ulysses) and those of Roddy Doyle, Seamus Heaney, Colm Toibin and Brian Friel.
The library also holds the National Photographic Archive which is based in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Over 20,000 negatives have now been digitised and they are available online.
WB Yeats Exhibition
The building that later became Government Buildings was the last major public building completed under British rule. It was planned to create a block of prestigious cultural and educational buildings, similar to that of the scientific buildings in South Kensington, London, so the site on Upper Merrion Street was chosen. As such, eighteen four-storey Georgian houses were controversially acquired and demolished to make way for the new building.
The quadrangle and fountain
Edward VII laid the foundation stone in April 1904. The renowned architect Aston Webb (who redesigned the façade of Buckingham Palace) was appointed project architect. The Irish architect Thomas Manley Deane (who had recently completed work on the National Gallery of Ireland) was appointed as executant architect. His involvement was so important that George V knighted him, on the site, when he opened the first part of the complex in 1911.
William Rowan Hamilton
Portland Stone was chosen for the decorative facings of the building, with granite from the Ballyknocken quarries in County Wicklow used through the building. Standing on either side of the main entrance are statues of the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton and the scientist Robert Boyle. Above them, a figure depicting science, designed by Oliver Sheppard and sculpted by Albert Power, is reputedly based on Auguste Rodin’s ‘Thinker’.
The building complex was completed in March 1922, at a time of political unrest. When the new Irish Free State came into existence in December 1922, Leinster House (then the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society – RDS) became the provisional seat of government. Soon the Executive Council of the Irish Free State along with other Government Departments moved into the recently completed north wing.
By the mid-1980s Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald decided to convert the entire complex for government use. To finance the project a terrace of Georgian houses across the road was sold for £17 million. When the refurbishment was completed Taoiseach Charles Haughey moved into his new office in 1991. Although the work and expenditure was initially criticised it has since won many awards. The award of the Silver Medal by the Royal Institute of Architects in Ireland (RIAI) noted ‘the re-use of this existing building of acknowledged quality of this new, and entirely fitting, purpose, has created a special identity of Government, and has contributed considerably to Dublin’s status as an European capital’.
Government Buildings in the sunshine
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.
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
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
Filed under Dublin, Science