Visual sources for understanding Parnell (Rutland) Square & area, 1756 onward

It is hoped this little essay and in particular some of the maps and images here help some readers gain an enhanced understanding of the development of Rutland (now Parnell) Square in the 18th century, and the central part the Lying-In hospital, philanthropy and the arts played in that development.

As you see on the detail of the famous map (pictured above and below)  from 1756 by John Rocque, Rutland Square at that time (in modern times called Parnell Sq) was only just laid out, with hardly any buildings then in place.

empty-fields-round Rutland - Parnell Sq

The famous Lying-In Hospital (Rotunda) founded by Dr. Bartholomew Moss was there, just.  (Built by architect Richard Cassels)  Cavendish Row was there too, forming the lower part of the east side of Rutland Sq, but not much else was then present.


the Lying-In Hospital, seen at a slightly later date, in Malton’s celebrated print.


The whole West side of the square was still to be built in Rocque’s time and the North side also, including Charlemont House (now the Hugh Lane) was also still to come.

Dorset Street, and Dominick St were laid out, and the top half of Sackville Street too (now O’Connell St) then called Sackville Mall had been built, by the visionary yet canny Luke Gardiner the elder.   But the West and North sides of Rutland Sq remain unbuilt and the area to the North and to the East of the square in general is empty, simply covered in orchards and fields as you see.

empty-fields-round Rutland - Parnell Sq

The Hospital would change all that.  The Lying In Hospital (Rotunda) founded by Dr. Bartholomew Moss had already been established on another street,  but in smaller form. It was the first purpose-built maternity hospital in Britain and Ireland.  Then in 1740s Moss bought a lease on some land here, what was then called Great Britain Street (now Parnell St West) and commissioned the German-born architect Richard Cassels to design this new, larger, maternity hospital.

It now became the first major building in the immediate area.  In the short term it led directly to the building of the first, east side of the square: Cavendish Row.

A quick word on Richard Cassels (*sometimes spelt Cassles, Castles or Castle) may be apt here.  After the untimely death of his friend and employer Edward Lovett Pearce in 1733, Cassel became Ireland’s preeminent architect in the newly fashionable Palladian (Georgian) style.  He had completed the Houses of Parliament (to Pearce’s designs) and had also designed the old Printing House in Trinity College; as well as the Lying-In Hospital.   Cassle would design Carton House; the Connelly Folly at Castletown; Russborough House; Tyrone House (on nearby Malborough Street); Leinster House for the earl of Kildare/Duke of Leinster; Westport House and Powerscourt House, in County Wicklow. (Powerscourt Townhouse is by Robert Mack, a far less celebrated architect)

Cassel also built a couple of superb houses that have since been destroyed, notably Summerhill House (albeit largely to Pearce’s designs)   It was destroyed by fire in the 1920s and demolished in the 1970s.

As alluded to above the Hospital or more specifically, the fashionable Rotunda meeting rooms and Pleasure Gardens beside and behind the Hospital, changed and accelerated the pattern of development of the North side of Dublin, the whole surrounding Gardiner Estate, acting as a massive spur to the entire area.  You can see in this later map of 1798 just how much development took place in those astonishing boom years of 1756- 1798

D2 mid Sec TYRONE Hse Elephant Ln

There was of course in this era no state subvention of course for the hospital.  So from the very beginning it was planned by Dr Mosse to raise funds for itself, via concerts, and by entry to its expensive and fashionable pleasure gardens.  These elaborate formal gardens once filled the whole of (now called) Parnell Square and included a bowling green, pavilions, a coffee house, walkways, and musicians.

Christine Cassey’s Buildings of Ireland, (Dublin volume) notes that this juxtaposition- of fashionable gardens to a busy hospital- seems ‘almost inconceivable (to us) today”, but it was far less so at the time. Pleasure gardens in general were very fashionable.  There were several in London and Dublin soon followed suit, in equally grand style. Ranelagh (named for an earlier London garden of the same name)  was also a pleasure garden, and that is what now gives that district of Dublin its name today.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Lying-In Hospital  and its Rotunda to Dublin’s North side and to the 18th century city as a whole.  They were the first really significant buildings in this area and their presence led directly to the building of the first, east side of the square: called Cavendish Row.  This was an especially fashionable little enclave.  One houses there for example  (I won’t say which here) had beautiful wall paintings by the almost forgotten 18th century Irish artist Jacob Ennis, who featured recently in the recent Society of Artists exhibition at the Central Assembly House / Irish Georgian Society.

Here are some stills of those Cavendish Row wall paintings by Ennis, from the box folders of the Irish Architectural Archives on Merrion Sq. They give some idea of the wealth and sophistication of the area.  Further up Rutland Sq east, a Duke would live (a decedent of James Butler and thus a later Duke of Ormonde)   Along with Dominick St and Henrietta St,  this was one of the wealthiest places in Dublin.

9 Cav Row, Vulcan ends the Manfcture of Arms

Vulcan ends the Manufacture of Arms: an 18th century wall painting in Cavendish Row House, by artist Jacob Ennis, photograph property/copyright of and reproduced courtesy of Irish Architectural Archives, Merrion Sq

9 Cav Row Mercury announcs Peace to mankind coutesy Irish Architectural Archives

Mercury announces Peace to mankind.  – an 18th century wall painting in Cavendish Row House, by artist Jacob Ennis, photograph property/copyright of and reproduced courtesy of Irish Architectural Archives, Merrion Sq

The history of the Rotunda itself is also interesting.  Originally a rather drab, functional cylinder in plain brown brick, built by (Cassel’s assistant and clerk of works) James Ensor.  It was based by Ensor directly on the earlier London model of the Rotunda in the London Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens (built around 1744 I believe).

Here’s a rare image of the London-Ranelagh (prototype) Rotunda, taken from an 18th century colored engraving now in a private collection in Ireland.   (A sincere thank you to the owners for kind permission to reproduce here)

Rounda Ranelagh Ldn 1744

The London Rotunda as you see above was also rather plain, but absolutely enormous, to cater for the huge crowds of fashionable Georgian Londoners who flocked there.

The Dublin Rotunda was far smaller and (originally) also very plain.  Later however it was heightened, embellished and considerably beautified by James Gandon.   Not least by the addition of the “Ambassador” porch we know today and colonnades (still visible to the eaat, those to the waest have gone, alas)  And Gandon’s further addition of decorative, classical motifs such as garlands and Buncrania (meaning ox skull motifs, similar to those he employed at the Customs House)


In Malton’s print Gandon’s improvement are clearly visible.  So too is the fashionable nature of the entire district, clearly evident in this image.   It’s crucial to grasp that this fashionable exclusivity was driven by the Rotunda and by its attached Pleasure Garden.  These venues hosted concerts, promenades, and firework displays, the chapel inside the hospital hosted charity sermons and lectures (as late as the early 20th century a young Winston Churchill gave a talk there)   In its glory years, the whole complex of buildings and amenities included the supper club rooms, later converted into the Gate Theatre.  But this sort of expansion of these leisure amenities, give a sense of their sheer success and popularity.  It’s this success that drove the popularity, the desirability and thus the built development of the entire area.

Bit what drove of this frantic socializing?  Partly it was motivated by wealthy Dublin Georgians simple desire to see and be seen, and to mingle with others of their station.  But the historian David Dickson, in Dublin, Making of a capital city,  has written brilliantly, about how society also provided such activities as a key way of meeting and building up contacts and connections, all essential for promotion and patronage in the ancien regieme system.   Most of all, as Prof. Dickson goes on to say, the 18th century craze for “Pleasure gardens” and all their related social activities provided plentiful opportunity for meetings, and crucially therefore for families to optimize the value of their sons and daughters in the 18th and early 19th century marriage market.  (The term “market” should not be considered a figure of speech; that is literally what it was)

To conclude here’s one final detail from one of my favourite images of historic Dublin, the gorgeous, seldom-seen water colour by 19th century artist James O’Mahony.  It is a large, panormamic image, but this particular fragment shows us the Rotunda Pleasure Gardens.   Have a really good look, it is full of beautiful and historically valuable detail.

O'Connell & Rounda Gardens

My favorite detail in this picture is the lovely little classical “cab shelter” at the outside bottom left of the square, almost like a miniature temple.   That’s on the North-East corner, so it would be across the road from Findlaters Church (once that was built later) and approximately at the site of the modern-day entrance to the Gardens of Remembrance.

There was another similar “cab stand” at the North-west corner of the square.  In fact you can see that one here below, in another artwork by another separate artist that I’m ashamed to save I don’t have his name to hand.   This has been screenshot from Pintest a year or two back and it’s hard to make out the signature, but I think the name may be Brian Coughlan.  (that now sounds familiar in fact)  Nonethless I’d be very glad for confirmation or correction, if anyone knows the artist for the name, so I can credit the picture below properly.

For the time being,  look carefully at the image, as it in turn looks down Granby Row, and see the other “cab shelter”.  They are to be more precise, Sedan chair shelter.  Sedan chairs, that opulent, ridiculous,  almost oriental means of transport enjoyed a vogue among the wealthy in 18th century Dublin, not least presumably, as they required two to four men to lift and thus as gave an opportunity for an ostentatious, not to say odious, displays of wealth.


Looking Down Granby Row to Rutland/Parnell Square,  attributed to Brian Coughlan.

Bartholomew Mosse was astute enough to realise this display of Sedan Chair bling clearly signaled excess money.  He soon persuaded enough of his MP friends to introduce a Sedan Chair License, with annual fee, of which all income went at first directly to the Lying-In hospital.   So here was some real social practical benefit to the flaunting of wealth at least.


an example of a Sedan Chair license, this one issued 1774, with proceeds at this point going to the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse.  The work house or House of Industry off Brunswick Street had just been been established two years earlier, in 1772.   

The entire theme of charitable and philanthropic works in Dublin, and indeed of how charitable foundations were funded, is a rich and fascinating seam to explore, with multiple byways and subplots, leading to musical societies to rare and welcome examples of religious tolerance and (equally rare and welcome) examples of mixing of social classes in relative equality, and leading onward to debtors’ prisons, hospitals, orphanages and so much more.  Really,  I could go on forever.   And that’s beforeIi even start banging on (even more) about the related buildings and architecture.  But I shall spare you.

I hope this little digression, and some of the related maps and images helped some readers gain an improved understanding of the development of Rutland/Parnell Square in the 18th century, and perhaps also of the central part the hospital, philanthropy and the arts played in that development.

Thank you for reading.


Arran Henderson is a street level historian and free-lance art historian interested in conservation, built heritage and how we read the past through the present-day city.   He leads the annual Dublin summer walking tours for the Irish Georgian Society, and runs the guided walking tour company, Dublin Decoded  who, in turn provide walking tours of different aspects of the city (2-4 walks in most months).  Dublin Decoded will be running a small number of public walking tours in September, October and early November 2018, and will resume again in March/April 2019.  Average prices for the public walking tours are €16- €18 pp.

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