In 1541 lawyers were granted a short lease of the former Dominican Friary of St. Saviour’s, or Blackfriars, on the north bank of the Liffey, for the purposes of establishing the first Irish inn of court, King’s Inns, so named in honour of Henry VIII. Initially slow to develop, King’s Inns was revived in 1607 and acquired full ownership of Blackfriars the following year. For over a century and a half, the former friary buildings were modestly adapted, altered and extended on an ad hoc basis to serve the operational needs of King’s Inns, to provide chambers for its members, to house court sittings on occasion and to function as a de facto public records office. By the 1690s the buildings were in a decayed, even ruinous, state. It took another six decades and more of false starts, changes of direction, political machinations, clashes of personality and budgetary shortfalls before work on new purpose-built accommodation began. When the construction dust eventually settled, two great buildings – James Gandon’s Four Courts on Inns Quay and King’s Inns on Henrietta Street – had been created. They still stand as emblems of the ambition and accomplishment of their age.
‘Longitudinal section of front of Gallery’, Kings Inns Library, Henrietta Street, Dublin, by Frederick Darley (1798-1872) n.d. Ink, Pencil and coloured washes on paper 400mm x 500mm [damaged] 2007/10.4/9
The Library of the King’s Inns was built from 1826 to designs by Frederick Darley on the site of the former residence of the Archbishop of Dublin at the top of Henrietta Street. This design for the Greek revival reading room is the only original Darley drawing for the Library to survive, and shows the reading room largely as it was built.
Somewhat ironically the removal of King’s Inns to its new Henrietta Street home was not so much the culmination of a building development process as the beginning of one. The unavailability of that portion of the new structure occupied by the Registry of Deeds forced King’s Inns to develop alternative solutions for particular accommodation requirements, not least the housing of its library. The provision of chambers, for which its members were being charged from the mid 1790s, was a recurring demand, while the pull of the old riverside home, now occupied by the courts in which its members plied their trade, remained strong enough for King’s Inns to acquire property in the vicinity and to explore ways of shortening the route from Henrietta Street to the river.
The long relationship of King’s Inns with building activity is directly reflected in its collection of architectural drawings, loaned to the Irish Architectural Archive in 2007. Selected items from the collection exhibited here range from a copy of a 1720s survey of the Blackfriars site, with its echoes of the former monastic occupation, to an 1890s unexecuted scheme for circular library book-stacks. The exhibition contains a number of rare and important items which result from the intimate involvement of King’s Inns with two of the greatest buildings of Georgian Dublin. Two other great Dublin buildings – the Custom House and the Parliament House – are also represented, while a number of curiosities are to be found, including an early proposal for the development of Dun Laoghaire harbour. As is evident from the selected items in this exhibition, the King’s Inns collection as a whole should be regarded as among the most interesting archives of Irish architectural drawings in existence.
The Irish Architectural Archive would like to thank the Honorable Society of King’s Inns for placing its architectural drawings on loan here and facilitating this exhibition. Thanks are also due to Liz D’Arcy of Paperworks for mounting the drawings in the exhibition and to David Hayes of David Hayes & Associates for label, invitation and text panel design.
The exhibition is accompanied by a short lecture series:
Tuesday 25th November 2008 at 1.15pm
King’s Inns – The Illustrated Story
Camilla McAleese, Under Treasurer, The Honorable Society of King’s Inns.
Thursday 27th November 2008 at 1.15pm
‘A Favourite Study’ – Building the King’s Inns
Patricia McCarthy, TRIARC – Trinity Irish Art Research Centre.
Tuesday 2nd December 2008 at 1.15pm
On holy ground: King’s Inns at its former location on the site of the present Four Courts, 1541-1796
Professor Colum Kenny, Barrister-at-law, Ph.D, School of Communications, Dublin City University.
Thursday 4th December 2008 at 1.15pm
A King’s Inns lecture
Dr Edward McParland, Trinity College Dublin.
All lectures are free and open to the public and take place in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2