Saturday, October 8, 2011

Leinster House

Kildare St side of Leinster House

I did a tour of Leinster House today, as part of Open House.  We were allowed to take photos, so I took all of them.  It was fantastic.  I was so much more impressed than the time I was there before, aged 10 on a school trip. 

We were first addressed by an OPW architect who gave us a very good, quick history of the house.  It was built by the Earl of Kildare, James FitzGerald in the 1740s and designed by Richard Castle.  He wanted a townhouse, and chose the then unfashionable side of the city.  Merrion Square was not yet built and that side basically faced the countryside.  He was created the first Duke of Leinster in 1766 and with his wife, Lady Emily Lennox, a daughter of the Duke of Richmond, they had 19 children, including Lord Edward FitzGerald.  She was also descended from a illegitimate child of Charles II.  The house was renamed Leinster House at this stage, having earlier been called Kildare House.  It's a Palladian house, just like Carton, their county seat, and Castletown House in nearby Celbridge, the home of Lousia, Emily's sister, and her husband, William Connolly, the Speaker of the House (in the Irish Parliament).  Symmetry is very important in Palladian architecture, so there are a lot of dummy doors and blind panels to balance rooms.  The original house is actually only two rooms wide, with a central corridor running down each floor.  You can see from the Seanad chamber directly down to the door into the Dáil chamber if the doors are open.  I tested this by sitting in the Cathaoirleach's chair!  Our guide throughout the building was just brilliant.  He's a parliamentary usher and knew everything.  Even more impressive was the fact that he was entirely self-taught.  Apparently, they get no book to learn off!

After the 1798 rebellion, the fortune of the Leinsters declined and the house was boarded up.  In 1815, it was purchased by the Royal Dublin Society.  It remained in their hands until a certain Michael Collins decided to lease some of it from them for the 3rd Dáil and eventually the State purchased it from them.  The National Library and Museums on either side of Leinster House replaced the original kitchen and stable blocks.  It was a rare treat to be able to get a front view of the Library from the courtyard in front of it and of Leinster Lawn.  The 3 sections along with the Natural History Museum were originally all interconnected but these access points were sealed up after it became the home of the parliament.  Side point, they originally wanted the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham for the Dáil but the British army took a while getting out of it.
Stairs up to Dáil chamber
 The double height entrance hall is very impressive, with paintings of Griffiths, Cosgrave, Collins, DeV, Mulcahy and the current President on show, though I didn't think was a brilliant likeness of her.  It was impossible to get a good shot of it though.

The Dáil chamber itself is much smaller than it looks on TV.  It has a full set of original Malton Dublin prints (worth a fortune).  Other art of note is the Taoiseach's gallery, featuring all those now retired from the house - hence's Bertie's only went up recently because he was a sitting TD until February.  Cowan's hasn't been done yet.  There's a painting of Countess Markiewicz, done by Lavery (I reckon) and an original copy of the Proclaimation, signed by our second President, Sean T. O'Ceallaigh.   The internal corridor is lined with paintings and photos of Ceann Comhairles, Cathaoirleachs and other important people.  Nowhere near enough women on those walls but as they say, our time will come.   I like to imagine that all these portraits can talk, Hogwarts-style, no doubt helped by the Wesht Wing column in Phoenix Magazine, where a portrait of Collins regularly talks to Enda.

The Seanad Chamber, which I don't think I'd ever seen before, looks like someone let Josiah Wedgwood loose, but in a good way.  We also saw the Cabinet room, the member's library and various other little antechambers, as well as the Leinster House 2000 extension, which is an 11 year old sympathetic, light and airy building, despite being mostly underground.  

Séanad Chamber
View of the central corridor between the two chambers
Ceiling over the Cathaoirleach's chair in the Séanad chamber
Note the upside E in the original Proclaimation
O'Ceallaigh's note about it - as Gaeilge.
Leinster House 2000


  1. This place is really amazing! I really appreciate the interior and structural design. I couldn't help myself opening my mouth wide with amazement.

  2. It's worth visiting with some fine decor on the place. You can check for schedules as well.

  3. I'm gald you enjoyed your tour. It's a great part of the job, especially when people have an intrest.

  4. I often go to the houses when they are in in session and its great because you meets so many TD's and Senators. They all know me by now!

  5. The house looks amazing. I love the interior design of this house. Leinster House has also great exterior design. I would love to stay in a house that looks like that.