Described by Mark Bence Jones in his seminal Guide to Irish Country Houses (London, 1978) as ‘a gaunt and rather sinister ruin’, the remains of Tyrone House still loom over the surrounding Galway countryside. Descriptions of the building have rarely been any kinder. For Rev. D. A. Beaufort, who visited within a decade of its completion in 1779, it was ‘large and new but very bleak and too high’. Thirty years later another visitor noted that ‘without a tree, bush or office in sight, nothing can be more uncompromising than it looks from the road’.
Attributed to John Roberts of Waterford, Tyrone House was built for local landlord Christopher St George. An imposing, cut-stone block, its elaborate entrance front contrasted with the austere side and rear elevations, while internally, the main reception rooms had fine Adamesque ceilings. The house served several generations of St Georges, but had begun a long, slow slide towards dilapidation well before the end of the nineteenth century. These photographs, from original glass plate negatives, were taken in 1904. They capture the blunt majesty of the still-intact exterior, and the faded grandeur of the interiors. Within a year, the St Georges had moved out and left the house to its own devices.
Tyrone House stood intact for another fifteen years until it was burned by the IRA in 1920 following rumours that it was to be pressed into use by Crown forces. It was not particularly typical of the houses destroyed in the period – it was already empty and abandoned – but the starkness of its remains have turned it into what Dr Terence Dooley has called ‘an iconic symbol of the fall of the Irish Big House’.
The Burning the Big House exhibition curated by Dr Dooley, ran in the Irish Architectural Archive in Spring 2022 and thenin Maynooth University Library. Dr Dooley’s book,Burning the Big House was published by Yale University Press earlier this year.
Founded in 1817 by Thomas Gresham, the Gresham Hotel occupied three Georgian houses on the east side of Upper Sackville Street, later O’Connell Street, Dublin. Much altered and expanded over the years, the hotel was destroyed in the fighting of early July 1922 which heralded the start of the Civil War. Funds secured under the Government compensation scheme enabled the Gresham Hotel Company to rebuild. On 29 October 1926 a contract was signed with builders McLaughlin & Harvey for a new 250 bedroom hotel to be built to designs by architects Robert Atkinson and A.F.B. Anderson. This photograph, taken in the first half of 1927, shows construction workers labouring on the reinforced concrete roof of the new hotel. Behind them is a view across the city from the Rotunda to the Kings Inns, with the roof of St Saviour’s on Dominick Street a notable feature. ‘Ferro-concrete’, as it was then called, had been first used extensively in Ireland during the rebuilding of Lower O’Connell Street after 1916. It was preferred for its fire resistant qualities, its availability, its speed in use, and its lower cost, and was used extensively again to rebuild Upper O’Connell Street in the second half of the 1920s.
Here McLaughlin & Harvey’s ‘concrete squad’ are tamping a section of freshly poured concrete. Their attire – jackets, waistcoats, shirts and flat caps – was very typical of building labourers of the time. Speaking at the opening ceremony for the newly completed hotel on 16 April 1927, Robert Atkinson noted that he had found ‘Dublin tradesmen were really first-rate and he had nothing to complain about. He had not struck such good workmanship for many years as that which was put into the building of that hotel’.
At some point in the 1970s, a collector of agricultural machinery and habitual auction attendee purchased a job lot of old office furniture. Included was a plan chest for which the purchaser had no real use. However, being something of a hoarder, he retained the item and stored it in the loft of his shed. There it remained for several decades until the original purchaser’s son cleared the shed prior to its demolition.
At this point the chest was opened and its contents examined. What emerged was a random assortment of Ordnance Survey maps mixed in with which were some sets of architectural drawings. Prompted by his daughter, an historic buildings consultant, the owner contacted the Irish Architectural Archive and asked if we might be interested in the drawings. Naturally we said yes, and in August 2021 Dr Eve McAulay headed to Wicklow on a collection run. She returned with ten plastic dog-food bags full of the rolled-up contents of the chest.
The first bag to be examined contained a set of drawings by the architect and planner Frank Gibney, plans and details dated 1940 for a housing scheme at Quill Street, Tralee, for Tralee Urban District Council. Built as Marian Park, the scheme is distinguished, by ‘signature’ houses with pronounced gables which provide rhythm to the terraces, a very Gibney trope. The IAA holds a considerable archive of Gibney material including some drawings for housing for Tralee UDC, but not this particular scheme. It is always pleasing when new acquisitions dovetail so nicely with previously acquired material.
The second bag contained a set of hand-coloured dyeline copy drawings dated 1939 and 1940 for proposed flats at Charlemont Street Dublin by Michael Scott for the Charlemont Public Utility Society. Here, preserved in record, is ffrench-Mullen House, built from 1940 to 1941 at a cost of £740 per flat (of which there were thirteen) and demolished in 2014. Our excitement was mounting.
From the rest of the bags came further sets of dyeline copy drawings for various housing schemes of the late 1930s and early 1940s, all from Dublin Corporation’s Housing Architects Department. There are drawings for housing in Terenure, 1934-36; the Aldborough House flats (Killarney Street), 1934-35; the Hanover Street scheme, 1935-37; Harold’s Cross Road (Mount Drummond Square), 1936; Thorncastle Street, 1936; Townsend Street, 1936; Newfoundland Street, 1936-40; Marrowbone Lane, 1937; Usher Street, 1937; Rialto, 1937-38; and Crumlin North and South, 1937-40. There are also plans, sections and elevations for over thirty house types which could be included in any given housing scheme.
While the drawings are all copies, many are hand-coloured for presentation purposes and many are also signed by Herbert Simms, the Dublin Corporation housing architect and head of the Housing Architects Department. A hero of Irish housing, Simms was appointed to his post in 1932 and from then until his death by suicide due to overwork in 1948, his Department was responsible for some 17,000 new homes across the city.
Several of the drawings in the collection bear the stamp of the Department of Local Government and are countersigned by officials of that Department, in particular J.V. Owens and H.S. Moylan. This gives a clue as to their origins. They were issued to the Department as part of the funding approval process, carefully coloured to persuade the officials and their political bosses of the quality and worthiness of each scheme. Eventually, possibly as result of office renovations, the plan chest in which they were filed was designated for inclusion in a furniture disposal sale. Unlike other such filing cabinets and plan chests, it was not emptied before being sold. Perhaps it was locked and the key was lost. In any event, by sheer good luck the chest was acquired by someone who had both the disposition and the space to preserve it. The contents survived, to be recognised as potentially significant and donated to the IAA.
Herbert Simms’s family had allowed the IAA to digitise three of his photograph albums (from one of which the portrait above is taken), and we hold one or two copy drawings by him in other collections. Otherwise, he remained archivally elusive. Now, between the particular drawings for individual schemes and the general drawings for various house types, a high proportion of the homes designed by Simms are represented in the holdings of the IAA, a remarkable record of the remarkable output of a remarkable architect.
Design for labourers cottage, Cashel Rural District Council, Co. Tipperary
In parallel with the late-nineteenth century movement to improve working-class housing in Irish town and cities, typified by the activities of the Dublin Artisans Dwellings Co., there were also efforts to address the appalling inadequacies of rural housing. In 1869 the Board of Works published drawings for a prototype rural labourers house, a two-storey, four-roomed cottage. The Irish Party campaigned hard to secure the passing of the 1883 Labourers’ (Ireland) Act, the first legislation to address the issue of rural housing. Twelve or more local ratepayers could apply to the local Board of Guardians to undertake a scheme of cottage building. Under this and subsequent Labourers’ Acts up to 1936, tens of thousands of rural labourers cottages were built.
This design by engineer Joseph Connolly may be considered typical of the rural houses constructed in the first decades of the twentieth century. Surveyor to Cashel Urban District, Co. Tipperary, from 1918 or earlier until c. 1952, Connolly was appointed architect for two new slum clearance and housing schemes in Cashel in 1935.
The house, with its concrete foundations, floor (to the kitchen) and walls, and its tiled roof, is an evolution of the 1869 OPW prototype. A two-storey, four-roomed cottage, it is similar in size to near-contemporary urban two-storey terraced houses, and like them had an external toilet. The central hearth in the kitchen provided the only source of heat and cooking.
Generic plans of rural housing continued to be issued, in particular by the Department of Local Government, into the 1950s. While larger house designs were available, the basic two storey cottage remained very similar to this Tipperary example.
Oliver North Armstrong and his wife Eleanor Elizabeth Armstrong (née Jones) were the proprietors of the Hamman Hotel and Turkish Baths, 11, 12 and 13 Upper Sackville Street (O’Connell Street), Dublin.
Their daughter Marjorie was born in the Hammam Hotel on 12 September 1921. Less than ten months later, on 5 July 1922, the premises was destroyed in the outburst of violence which heralded the start of the Civil War. In order to claim Government compensation for this loss, the Armstrongs had a detailed valuation of the Hotel and Baths prepared. It lists – with costs – every single item they or the manager, a Miss Morris, could remember from each room in the buildings.
Fairly typical is the contents of the second floor front bedroom no. 17. This runs to two and half pages and lists inter alia an electric ‘single light flex Pendant’, Holland blinds, lace curtains with their brass rods, three colour prints which decorated the walls, a vase on the mantle and a ‘Set of Fire Steels’, an Axminster carpet (with underlay and linoleum surround), a ‘Gentleman’s mahogany Wardrobe’, mahogany washstand, ‘Toilet Table’ and mirror, three bentwood chairs and a bentwood ‘Smoker Arm Chair’, a brass and iron double bed with ‘Wove Wire Spring Mattress’, felt mattress saver, hair mattress and feather bolster, two feather pillows with cases, an under blanket, counterpane, eiderdown quilt and two sheets, a sponge basin, one ‘Turkish Bath Towel’, two face towels, a five-piece ‘Toilet Ware’ set, one candle stick, a water carafe and the ‘slop pail’.
The total valuation for room no. 17 came to £95 4s 6d but, of course, knowing the cost of everything is no longer the point. The real value of the document now lies in the remarkably complete picture it provides of what an early 1920s Dublin hotel was like, a captivating, intimate, glimpse into a vanished world.
After a protracted two-year process, the Free State Government paid the Armstrongs just over £40,000 in compensation, a substantial portion of which was to be used to reinstate the buildings on Upper O’Connell Street. Shortly afterwards, the Armstrongs relocated to Belfast where they established the Hammam Turkish Baths at 112 Donegall Street. Just under nineteen years after the loss of the Dublin premises, their daughter Marjorie’s house on the Antrim Road was destroyed in the Belfast Blitz, resulting in another compensation process and a second fascinatingly detailed property valuation.
Stephenson Gibney and Associates
Expo ’70 was held in Osaka, Japan, from March to September 1970 under the banner of ‘Progress and Harmony for Mankind’. The master plan for the site was developed by a team led by Kenzo Tenge. Seventy-seven countries participated, including Ireland whose pavilion was designed by Stephenson Gibney and Associates. The practice was awarded the commission in 1969 just as their new headquarters for the ESB on Fitzwilliam Street was nearing completion and only months before their proposals for the new Dublin Civic Offices on Wood Quay were selected by Dublin Corporation. Their response to the Osaka brief was a rectangular volume, with sides irregularly interrupted by angled cutaways, and one corner removed to make way for a covered entrance. A grid of distinctive tripartite structural steel columns supported a flat roof while the walls were glazed or timber-clad. Internally, the main volume contained a café and an exhibition hall featuring a display entitled ‘Ireland – Island of Tradition, Nation of Today’ with contributions from the Department of Industry and Commerce, Bord Bainne, the Irish Livestock and Meat Commission, the Pigs and Bacon Commission, Bord Fáilte, Aer Lingus and Córas Tráchtála.
For such a high-profile project, the pavilion is poorly represented in the Stephenson Gibney Collection in the Irish Architectural Archive, with only two drawings and no ancillary documentation. There is however a set of photographs of a model which the architects commissioned from John Piper Ltd, including this one, and a number of interior and exterior photographs of the completed structure (showing it more or less as depicted in the model, though without the attendant High Cross). The building itself was demolished shortly after the Expo ended, and the model does not survive.
The outdoor theatre which Noel Moffett (1912-1994) designed for Major Dermot Johnston Freyer (1883-1970) in 1941 was the first, and possibly the most eccentric, project of an extraordinary career. Born on Christmas Day 1912, Moffett was educated in Cork and Dublin. He completed RIAI testimonials of study before taking a B. Arch degree in the University of Liverpool (1937). He was briefly an assistant architect in Liverpool Corporation Housing Department (1938) before moving to London where he work for a number of architects including Serge Cehrmayeff and Joseph Emberton. He returned to Ireland as war broke out. In Dublin he designed several exhibitions, promoted an interest in prefabrication and innovative building solutions through the Tomorrow Club, and ran a private architecture school. With his first wife, Margot, he also became involved in the White Stag group of artists. It was through this connection that the Achill commission came about.
Ignoring the fairly obvious challenges that an outdoor theatre might face anywhere in Ireland, never mind an island location off the west coast, Major Freyer conceived of this Epidaurus in Achill as a venue for promoting local interest in native dancing, singing and drama. A noted folk-dancing enthusiast, his theatre would help turning back the tide of foreign dance music. Perhaps the most extraordinary fact about the whole scheme is that it was actually built. The site was adjacent to Freyer’s Achill residence and house, Corrymore House, and the theatre was constructed over the winter of 1940-41. Formed from turf, grasses screes for covering seats and stage, sand for gangways and paths, and local quartzite for steps, it could seat 500, while the turf stage was 80ft long. The Irish Builder (21 June 1941, p. 303) considered the theatre a ‘charming and practical example of modern landscape architecture’, a building which ‘fits as naturally and unobtrusively as possible into the mountain environment, and has made the most of a very beautiful site’, but realities of rain and wind, compounded by war-time exigencies, undermined any chance it had to be successful. Moffett retuned to London in 1949 to pursue his career in architectural education and social housing, and Freyer left Achill in 1964. By then, the structure was already being re-absorbed by the Achill bog.
In 1995, while the Patents Office was still in occupancy, a robbery occurred at 45 Merrion Square and a number of chimneypieces were removed from the building. Included with those taken were three that had been noted by Alison Kelly in her 1965 history of decorative Wedgwood.
‘There are three chimney-pieces inset with Wedgwood plaques at No 45 Merrion Square set in the very simple marble surrounds of the turn of the [nineteenth] century. One of them has, instead of a rectangular fire-opening, the ogee line which was popular in France and infrequently used in Great Britain… The plaques are blue and green used together, for two chimney-pieces, and one entirely green.’
Alison Kelly, Decorative Wedgwood in Architecture and Furniture (London, 1965)
One of these Wedgwood chimneypieces, that featuring the life of Achilles, had been illustrated in the Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration in Dublin (vol. IV, plate 94 (Dublin, 1909)) and photographs of all three were included by Kelly in her book. The chimneypieces were also recorded by the Irish Architectural Archive when it carried out a photographic survey of No. 45 in 1986, a full decade before there was any suggestion that the house might one day become its home.
As Kelly noted, the style of the chimneypieces – plain, but in one case with the ogee flourish – was the product of a Dublin marble workshop responding to specifically local tastes. This combination of local craftsmanship and imported jasperware makes the chimneypieces significant in the history of interior decoration and design in late 18C Dublin. The motifs of the jasperware plaques featured scenes from Greek mythology, notably the life of Achilles, and Kelly suggested that this implies a post 1790 manufacture date. This in turn implies that the chimneypieces are original to the house, inserted during or shortly after construction c. 1795.
Somewhat miraculously, two of the stolen Wedgwood chimneypieces were recovered by An Garda Síochána, one rectangular and one ogee. (The whereabouts of third chimneypiece remains a mystery.) These were reinstated in No. 45 during the restoration of the house by the OPW for the Irish Architectural Archive from 2003 to 2004. However, due to the theft, they had sustained some damage to uprights, lintels and shelves, and between them had lost a total of six of their jasperware plaques.
In 2016, Maighread McParland, former Head of Conservation in the National Gallery of Ireland and an old friend of the Irish Architectural Archive, undertook a project to have the chimneypieces restored. She made contact with Wedgwood (now part of the Fiskars group of companies) and tenaciously pursued them until they found the original moulds for four of the missing plaques. With financial support from the Primrose Trust, the four new plaques were ordered.
Lorna Barnes, an experienced conservator, took on the task of reinserting the four plaques, and cleaning the chimneypieces. This work was completed during the first Covid-19 lockdown of 2020.
Wedgwood have been unable to find the moulds for the central oval plaques to each chimneypiece, but temporary copies of these are now in place pending the exploration of other options for their recreation. Meanwhile, the replacement of the other missing plaques has transformed the appearance of the chimneypieces, and indeed of the rooms they occupy. They shine once again as elegant decorative features in these light-filled spaces.
The Irish Architectural Archive is grateful to Maighread McParland, Primrose Wilson and Lorna Barnes for their help on this project.
Designed from 1938 as a 278-bed county hospital by Patrick J. Sheahan (1893 – 1965), with consultants Stanley Hall and Easton & Robertson, London, the construction of Limerick Regional Hospital was delayed by WWII. Building finally commenced in 1949 and the hospital was opened by the Minister for Health, T.F. O’Higgins, in May 1955. The contractors were Murphy Bros of Cork and the cost was £900,000. The Irish Builder noted its commanding views, and ‘the cheerful colour schemes in the public wards, which have sun balconies’.
This exterior perspective of the proposed hospital, dated 1941, is the work of Cyril A. Farey (1888 – 1954). An architect by training, Farey was one of the best-known and most sought-after architectural draughtsmen of his day, charging one shilling per square inch for colour perspectives and reputedly earning an enormous £5,000 per annum at the height of his career. Aside from this view of the hospital, he also produced a perspective for a proposed Civic Centre and Court House in Limerick for Sheahan. It would appear that his only other Irish client was Rudolf Maximilian Butler.
This drawing was acquired by the late Dr John Maiben Gilmartin in 2015 and donated to the Irish Architectural Archive via the Friends of the National Collections of Ireland.
S Colman’s Cathedral,
Cobh, Co. Cork
Side elevation by Pugin and Ashlin, 1867
As described in Frank Keohane’s magisterial new addition to the Buildings of Ireland series, Cork City and County (Yale University Press, 2020), St Colman’s Cathedral is ‘perched on the hillside above the town… its 300-ft (90-m) spire is a dominant landmark, visible from most of the lower part of Cork Harbour. One of the most expensive churches built in Ireland during the 19C, it epitomizes the Roman Catholic resurgence during the High Victorian period.’ The architects for the building were E.W. Pugin and George Ashlin, who won out in an 1867 limited competition over George Goldie and J.J. McCarthy. The losers complained of favouritism from Bishop William Keane and withdrew, leaving Pugin and Ashlin with the commission. As Keohane dryly notes, the bishop ‘was in fact an old family friend of the Ashlins, and Ashlin’s brother Stephen, was the bishop’s assistant’.
This side elevation shows Pugin and Ashlin’s first scheme for Cobh, modelled, according to Keohane, on ‘their SS Augustine and John in Dublin… It lacked aisles and had rather Germanic gabled side elevations, in addition to a low chancel’. The scheme was abandoned in favour of a cruciform plan, and construction began in 1868. Pugin and Ashlin’s partnership dissolved in later that same year, and Pugin died in 1875, Ashlin however lived long enough to see all elements of the building completed just two years of so before his death in 1921.