Archival serendipity or an everyday tale of how material comes into an archives

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.


Housing at Quill Street, Tralee, Co. Kerry, by Frank Gibney


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.


ffrench-Mullen House, Charlemont Street, Dublin, by Michael Scott


Detail of entrance, ffrench-Mullen House, Charlemont Street, Dublin, by Michael Scott


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.


Aldborough House Scheme, Herbert Simms, Dublin Corporation Housing Architects Department


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.


Herbert Simms


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.


Aldborough House Scheme, drawing detail showing signatures


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.


Townsend Street Scheme, Herbert Simms, Dublin Corporation Housing Architects Department


Type 4 House, Dublin Corporation Housing Architects Department


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


Design for labourers cottage, Cashel Rural District Council, Co. Tipperary
Joseph Connolly
c. 1920


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.

Hammam Hotel and Turkish Baths



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.

The Hammam Hotel valuation and realted papers were donated to the Irish Architectural Archive in 2020 by Fionnuala Fildes.

Ireland Pavilion, Osaka, Japan


Stephenson Gibney and Associates
Model (89/24)


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.



Architect Sam Stephenson in the Osaka Pavilion

Open Air Theatre, Achill, Co. Mayo

Noel Moffett
1 April 1941
IAA 98/46.7/1

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.


Wedgwood Chimneypieces in 45 Merrion Square


Achilles Chimneypiece, Georgian Society Records vol. IV, plate 94 (Dublin, 1909)


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.


IAA Survey Photograph, 1986. The missing chimneypiece


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.


Ogee chimneypiece, cracks and missing 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.


Replacement plaques


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.


Lorna Barnes working on the Achilles chimneypice


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.


Achilles chimneypiece after conservation


Ogee chimneypiece after conservation


The Irish Architectural Archive is grateful to Maighread McParland, Primrose Wilson and Lorna Barnes for their help on this project.

Limerick Regional Hospital

Limerick Regional Hospital, Dooradoyle

Cyril Arthur Farey after Patrick Joseph Sheahan


IAA 2015/106.1

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.



Cobh Cathedral

S Colman’s Cathedral,
Cobh, Co. Cork
Side elevation by Pugin and Ashlin, 1867
76/1.1 A1

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.

Cork City and County by Frank Keohane (Yale University Press, 2020) in now available.

Iveagh Play Centre

Iveagh Play Centre, McDonnell and Reid, 1911 IAA 98/41


McDonnell and Reid won the 1911 architectural competition to design a new ‘Play Centre’ for the Iveagh Trust and . The building, the Irish Builder noted, would provide ‘class rooms, gymnasium, two assembly halls, refreshment and distribution department, lavatories etc.’ and would be ‘a novel one so far as Dublin is concerned’ (Irish Builder, 27 May 1911, p. 353). Very much a product of Victorian thinking on social responsibility and philanthropy, the creation of the Play Centre was informed by the philosophy of Walter Besant (1836-1901) in particular. The poor, Besant held, should have the same opportunities as the rich for exposure to education and enlightening entertainment, and if so exposed the tensions between rich and poor would be much reduced. The Play Centre would thus be a ‘people’s palace’, an ‘intellectual and social centre enriching the lives of the poor’ (The Iveagh Trust, F.H.A. Aalen, Dublin, 1990, p. 50). Built from 1912 by McLaughlin & Harvey at a cost of £35,000, the Play Centre is, according to the Buildings of Ireland, ‘the most ambitious school building in the city’ (Buildings of Ireland; Dublin, Christine Casey, 2000, p. 654). When it opened in 1915, 900 children were using the building daily.

Listing Ireland’s Court Houses

In 2017 the Irish Architectural Archive was asked by the Office of Public Works and the Courts Service to consider contributing to a proposed new book on Irish court houses. The standard work, The Courthouses of Ireland, a gazetteer compiled by Mildred Dunne and Brian Phillips (Heritage Council, 1999) was out of print and no longer available. The fact that a major nationwide court house construction project was coming to an end provided an added incentive to pause and reflect on the architectural legacy of this building type.


Cork Courts Building, Anglesea Street, Cork, 2015-18. A €34 million refurbishment to designs by the OPW of the 1864-65 new model national school, carried out as part of the Courts Bundle Public Private Partnership project. Photo: Neil Warner.


The Archive considered what it could contribute to such a project and proposed a new gazetteer of Irish court houses, as those which had appeared in the past were incomplete, either concentrating on particular classes of court house (county court houses for example) or on court houses in confined geographical areas (Ulster for example). The new gazetteer would include a listing for all buildings erected to be, or used for an extended period as, court houses across the island of Ireland.

Based on an initial analysis of previous lists, we had an expectation that such a complete listing might contain between 250 and 300 buildings. In the end, the gazetteer contained in Ireland’s Court Houses (Paul Burns, Ciaran O’Connor and Colum O’Riordan eds, IAA, 2019), has no less than 763 separate entries (a number of which refer to more than one building).

How did we find so many? The first thing to say is that we actually began by excluding some court houses, or rather buildings that had been used by courts. Courts in Ireland have a deep history but we decided that we could not try to identify every medieval structure (extant or otherwise) that might have housed court sittings, civil or ecclesiastical. In general, we limited ourselves to court houses of the 18C and after.

At the other end of the timeframe, we also excluded buildings used in the period 1919-21 by so-called Sinn Fein, Dáil or Republican Courts. These buildings were summarised by Cahir Davitt in his Bureau of Military History witness statement as ‘any place with four walls and a roof that could be made ready and reasonably usable for the purpose’ (Bureau of Military History WS 993 The only actual court house used for sittings of these courts would appear to have been the Four Courts, on the grounds, Davitt claimed, that it was the last place the authorities would expect to find such a court sitting.


Lorrha, Co. Tipperary. A fine example of the vernacular 19C petty sessions court house. Its original function can still be read in its four-bay façade, with two entrances (one reserved for the judge) flanking two small central windows. Photo: Denis Mortell


The most common court type in Ireland by the end of the 18C was the petty sessions, and it was the provision of accommodation for sittings of the petty sessions that laid the foundations for the court house network across the country. Above the petty sessions was a hierarchical court structure rising through quarter sessions and county assizes to the supreme courts of the land, each of which required accommodation befitting and reflective of its status. Generally, lower court sittings also took place in the buildings provided for higher courts. Petty sessions court houses were only used for petty sessions, but petty sessions were also held in court houses provided for quarter sessions, and both were held in county assizes court houses. Petty and quarter sessions court houses tended to be more elaborate than a court house intended just for petty sessions, while the county court houses were more elaborate still.


Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath, 1799-1802. A court house for petty and quarter sessions attributed to Francis Johnston, though the Buildings of Ireland comments: ‘It seems almost an insult for the Grand Jury to have asked Johnston for such a cheap piece of work’. Photo: Paul Tierney


The country was divided into petty sessions areas in each of which was a designated place for the holding of the sessions. The fact that a petty sessions court operated in an area can be established from a variety of sources including Samuel Lewis’s A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (London, 1837), the 1842 Return from every Petty Sessions in Ireland… (, the 1882 Petty Sessions Districts of Ireland published as a supplement to the 1881 Census, the surviving records held in the National Archives of Ireland, especially the court order books, and the lists of petty sessions locations published in country-wide directories. At its height in the mid-19C there were over 560 petty sessions areas across Ireland.

Once we had identified the petty session areas, we turned to maps – notably the first-edition six-inch (1:10,560) OS map, 1831-42, and the 25-inch (1:2,500) OS map, 1890-1911. These helped us to identify which building within a particular location was the court house. Indeed, for many petty sessions court houses, the only evidence of their precise location is their inclusion on a map. The 25-inch maps in particular can also provide an indication of size and plan of individual buildings which are now lost. Some of these were simple cottages or houses, some adapted or dual-purpose market and court houses, but many more were purpose built.


Macroom, Co. Cork, c. 1826. One of seven nearly identical quarter sessions court houses across Cork built to a standard design by George Richard Pain. The others are in Bantry, Clonakilty, Kanturck, Mallow, Midleton and Skibbereen. Killarney court house, Co. Kerry, is also based on Pain’s scheme. Photo: Denis Mortell


Maps can only show where a court house was at the time the survey on which they are based was carried out. Over time court sittings could relocate from one building to another within a particular location. In the 1830s, for example, the petty sessions in Ballynacarrigy, Co. Westmeath, took place in a building just to the north of the village. By the late 19C they had moved to a building at the south end of the village’s main street. Where possible, these changes were traced in the gazetteer resulting in multiple entries for some locations.


Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, 1841. One of twenty-seven quarter sessions court houses built mainly in the late 1830s and early 1840s across Ireland to a standardised design. Often attributed to William Caldbeck, who in fact was responsible for only one, the late, a-typical and now-demolished example in Newtownards, Co. Down, they were usually the work of the local County Surveyor. Photo: Denis Mortell


Conversely, it was not always possible to identify any building in a petty sessions area which was used for court sittings. For instance, it is known that petty sessions were held in Crusheen, Co. Clare, once a fortnight in the 1830s, and in Feakle, Co. Clare, every second Friday in the 1890s, but no building has been identified as a court house in either place. For the fewer than fifty known petty sessions locations for which an individual court house has not yet been identified, such information as is known has been included in the gazetteer. It is hoped that users of the gazetteer might help identify these missing court houses over time.


Carlingford, Co. Louth, c. 1935. District court house was built in a contemporary stripped classical idiom to replace a petty sessions court house which had stood on the same site. The architect remains to be identified. Now in use as a library. Photo: Paul Tierney


Aside from the six counties of Northern Ireland, in 1923 petty sessions courts became District Courts and existing petty sessions buildings were pressed into District Court use. A similar pattern can be seen for the higher courts, as the Circuit Court occupied buildings previously used for quarter sessions or county assizes. By and large, no place became a District Court location that had not previously been a petty sessions location and so there was a substantial continuity of court house use into the mid 20C. However, many petty sessions locations ceased to exist under the new dispensation, and their court houses fell out of court use. In 1927 there were 338 District Court areas. This dropped to 227 in 1961 and from the mid-1990s, and in particular in the post-Celtic Tiger era, the number of District Court locations was reduced still further to under seventy by 2019.


Lisburn, Co. Antrim, 1975. Design in a Brutalist idiom by the Chief Architects Office, Department of Finance NI, to replace a neo-Palladian court house of 1884. Photo: Paul Tierney


In Northern Ireland, there was less immediate rationalisation after partition and by 1946 there were still 101 petty sessions locations in the six counties. The impact of the Troubles accelerated consolidation. In 1978 there were fifty-eight petty sessions areas across Northern Ireland, falling to twenty-six in 1979 and twenty-one in 1994. Rationalisation has continued into the 21C.

From a high of over 600 buildings in active regular use as court houses in the 1880s, there are now fewer than 120 across the island.

The completed gazetteer is included in Ireland’s Court Houses (IAA, 2019). For each entry, an effort has been made to establish some basic facts including the precise building used as a court house, the architect, the date of construction, a brief description, a record of any substantial additions or alterations, an indication of when court use came to an end, and the subsequent fate of the building. Where possible, an image of the court house had also been included.

Colum O’Riordan and Eve McAulay