Some snaps and details from a recent walking tour (April 13th) with architectural historian & expert in 18th Century Dublin shops, Sarah Foster. Unfortunately the day was a cold and grey, so forgive the dull light. Some of these details (like the gargoyle above) Sarah pointed out, in a few other cases I wandered off the route to snap things that just caught my eye. These pictures are in no particular order, they do not reflect the route of the tour, a tour short in distance but fascinating on history & detail. It took place, incidentally, right in the centre, from the steps of Royal Exchange, (figure 2, below)
Then we crossed Dame St to Parliament St., just across the road, to view the oldest, surviving shop in Dublin: Thomas Read & Co; Cutlers. (below)
This wonderful old place is sadly closed these last 13+ years or more, and part of the old premises were turned into a pub. Yet the main old shop interior, with its Chippendale style cabinet work and outfitting are all still mercifully intact, (albeit currently inaccessible)
I hope to post about the tour in more detail soon. In the meanwhile, enjoy the pictures.
From outsides’ old Reads shop we simply went down Dame Street, were we saw this nice gargoyle- if “nice” is a word one is allowed use about Gargoyles, (Nice is probably a grievous insult, in gargoyle world, where being scary and menacing is all the rage)
Anyway.. here’s another plaque (see below). Look carefully, see the ship? There is an extraordinary story, or stories in fact, behind the ship in this plaque, but that’s for another day.
Dame Street alas, is increasingly disfigured with plastic signs, junk food, and tourist shops, (& usually clogged with busses & heavy traffic)
Did you know all the exteriors on Dame Street, and indeed on Westmoreland St and D’Olier St, used to look like this? (below)
This is one, the only small surviving section (this is on D’Olier st) But Dame Street used to look just the same, every single of of the shop fronts, on every building, was one of these lovely classical granite facades. Unfortuneately, nearly every one of them has now gone. As far as we know, there’s just one, solitary survivor left on Dame Street. Has it been honoured, lovingly tended, treasured and revered? Of course not! This is Dublin. (Have a look below) Sadly, this is what it looks like today.
let’s just have one more look again at the alternative, (below again) by way of comparison. Admittedly this was an office building, not shops. It used to be the premises of the Irish Times (newspaper) who had the resources and the wit to pay for the restoration. They’ve now moved to nearby Tara St, but they did Dublin a signal service.
All the heavy traffic & plastic tat in the modern city centre, is pretty grubby & depressing. It is especially bad on Westmoreland St, and Dame St is not much better. We should have strict laws about the type of signage traders are allowed use, and what materials, much as they have in the historic areas of many French & Italian cities. There’s no doubt a few strong laws here would restore much of the lost, almost invisible beauty of Dublin, now currently chocking under a sea of plastic tat, visual clutter, and busy chaotic streets, chocked in traffic fumes. A better traffic system, and few good laws could help redeem the situation in just a few short years. Will this ever happen? Perhaps. But don’t hold your breath.
Yet, even now, despite so much destruction, amid the traffic & plastic tat on Dame St, on those occasions when one can look upwards, the street is still full of wonderful architecture, decor & detailing.
We went down Dame St, as it changes into College Green, in front of the gates of Trinity College. then around the corner of the enormous old Parliament Building here, (detail from Parliament Building below)
We were now onto Westmoreland St. I was totally unaware that Henry Aron Baker (collaborator on the Kings Inns with, pupil of, and de facto successor to, the great James Gandon) was once commissioned by the Bank Of Ireland to build an enormous bank headquarters on this spot, occupying, it’s believed, the entire triangle.
This would have been truly spectacular, in both size and style. But it was not to be. In 1801, the Act of Union meant the Irish Parliament vacated their home on College Green and moved to London, at which point the Bank of Ireland moved into the old (and magnificent) Parliament building. In the end, the plots on the east side of Westmoreland St were developed in smaller, separate lots.
Nonetheless, there are many fine buildings here. As Sarah pointed out, this was the headquarters of many of Dublin’s insurance firms. Much like the many bank headquarters around the corner back on Dame Street, such clients tend to invest in high quality, prestige design. So many of the buildings here, above ghastly street level, are of very high quality. Since many of the insurance firms hailed from Edinburgh or Glasgow, there is a noticeable preference for the Victorian Revival style, notably in the Scottish Baronial idiom!
Where Westmoreland St meets the edge of O’Connell’s St. Bridge (southside) we hair-pinned around and went back up the other side of the triangle, up D’Olier St. This is where Sarah pointed out the last of those beautiful remaining granite facades discussed earlier. We also had another look at the back of the marvelous old Gas Company Headquarters (below)
Yes, it’s all completely bogus and pastiche of course, Victorian Revival Tudor (very rare in Dublin, but if you know Liberties shop in London….) but very good of its kind. As Dubliners know, the front of this building, on Westmoreland St, is completely different in style, a very cool Art Deco classic. (See just below)
Since this type of Art Deco is also pretty rare in Dublin, I reckon that’s a double score for the gas company) Here, back once again on the mock Tudor side is a 1820s plaque from the old Gas firm, (below)
We also took a good look at the amazingly richly decoration of the old D’Olier Chambers, that occupies the last plot on the street. (detail below)
We finished near old Screen cinema, by Pearse St. Gardaí station. (that’s our Irish police for overseas readers) This building goes back to the old days of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Unable to resist here showing you one last pair of decoration, familiar to all Dubliners, the terrific carved policemen’s heads from the exterior of the police station.
That’s it for now. Hope you all enjoyed. Comments & observations welcome as always. Thank you for reading. – Arran.