Regular readers of our blog, or indeed visitors who often come on our tours, may well be aware that for the last 5 years or so, we’ve had the honour to design and lead many guided walking tours of Dublin’s history and architecture for the venerable Irish Georgian Society.
For those however not instantly familiar with the Society, some brief context may be useful here. This society dates from the 1950s. There had in fact, been an older Irish Georgian Society (IGS) back in the 19th century but it had entirely lapsed. So the Society was completely re-founded in the 1950s by the late Honorable Desmond Guinness. He was a young aristocrat and aesthete with a family background so colorful and extraordinary it would not be out of place in a novel or film. Indeed, early twentieth society celebrities like his father, mother and his infamous stepfather frequently do appear, lightly-disguised, in fiction by writers like Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford and P.G. Wodehouse.
But I digress, hugely. The point here is that, ever since Desmond Guinness reestablished the Irish Georgian Society over 70 years ago, it’s remained one of Ireland’s main agencies working to protect the architectural heritage of Ireland, North and South. In the face of indifference, or outright hostility, that has often been a thankless task. One Government minister, Kevin Bolland, disgusted by the aristocratic milieu of the Society’s earliest days, once famously described them as “a consortium of belted earls and their ladies and left-wing intellectuals”
These days the Society, while no doubt still perfectly genteel, has modernized and professionalized and boasts a broad section of membership, guests and board members. It also continues its heroic work, performing vital tasks every day critical to the preservation of our heritage. Such work includes funding education and research grants; the awarding of conservation grants; the promotion of traditional building skills and best-practice, as well as advocacy. And of course, crucially, the detailed, painstaking and time-consuming business of making expert interventions, objections and observations in our planning process, when proposed developments threaten to destroy, demolish or degrade built heritage, a constant and ongoing threat as you know
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because in order to fund and perform all this critical work, the IGS need our support ore than ever. if you would like to make a difference, one relatively simple (and highly enjoyable) way to support the IGS is to attend one one of their city walking tours. The Society offers each year a program of walking tours of Dublin history and architecture. This of course, is where we come in! As mentioned above, we (Dublin Decoded) are very proud to supply, design and lead these walks. There are 3 of them coming up over the next 8 weeks, each on different routes and with different themes. One runs very soon: tomorrow Wednesday the 7th of July; one on Wednesday the 21st of July; and finally one more on Wednesday the 18th of August.
Wednesday the 7th of July (tomorrow as I write) is a tour of the Kildare St- Molesworth Street area at 2PM. With its churches and ballrooms; government ministries; museums and libraries; vanished schools and teacher training colleges; aristocratic townhouses, Masonic Halls and concealed Dutch Billies, this entire quarter of the city is a goldmine of fascinating literary, artistic and social history. And of course, some gems of architecture. Blink and you’ll miss it! But if by some miracle you read this in time, booking remains open to 12-noon tomorrow. (We’ve pasted another link to the bookings page below)
Then, on Wednesday the 21st of July, also 2pm, comes a tour of a very different area of central Dublin, encompasssing Smock Alley, Fishamble Street, Werburgh Street, Ship Street and Dublin Castle. This walk dwells on the many fascinating links in this area to Irish literary and theatrical history. Astonishingly, this immediate area includes not just the site of the first-ever recorded play performed in Ireland (a liturgical drama from the 1300s) the but first-ever secular play, Ireland’s first ever purpose-built theatre; and in a different location its oldest surviving theatre. Add that heady mix the epicentre of the book trade and book pirating in 1600s Ireland; the birthplaces of the greatest satirist in the English language and the most eccentric and least understood 19th century poet, not to mention the childhood home of the most successful female novelist of the early 1800s, and you have a smorgasbord of letter and learning, images and ideas to deepen your appreciation of these bookish or theatrical topics, and of this remarkable area of our capital. Do not miss it.
Finally on Wednesday the 18th of August, our final tour for the Irish Georgian Society this summer is Medieval Walls. The ancient walls that surrounded, defined and defended Dublin were mostly pulled down in the 1680s- 1750 era. Yet several large sections still survive, not to mention a handful of smaller fragments often passed by every day without many people noticing them. Its our job on this tour to show you all these sections, big and small, and furthermore, to use the whole circuit to stage a discussion about medieval Dublin in general, with its wars, invasions and rebellions, its catastrophic fires, plagues and explosions. This tour is a terrific way to engage with an often half-forgotten past, and quite frankly is rather a lot of fun.
It’s also a terrific way to support the vital work of the IGS.
You’ll find all three talks, and all of the booking information, ticket prices etc, all on the Events page of the Irish Georgian website. All are welcome. Come join us!
Images: image top: John Speed’s famous 1610 map of Dublin, clearly showing the medieval walls. Below: Dutch Billy Houses and the Free Masons’ Hall on Molesworth Street (tour 1) Drury Lane in London, a typical 18th century theatre; and one with strong Dublin connections. Its legendary owner David Garrick often played the Dublin stage; its later owner was Irish patriot and playwright-genius Richard Brinsley Sheridan. His own father Thomas Sheridan famously managed Dublin’s Smock Alley during its heyday, and its most destructive theatre riots! Picture 3- Arran Henderson on a recent Medieval walls Tour in 2018 with members of the Irish Georgian Society.