Architecture - Classical Period


Classical buildings do not appear in Ireland until the later 17th century. An early example (ruined) of a residence which is clearly a classical country house rather than a defensive castle is Eyrecourt, Co. Galway, of the 1660ís. Beaulieu in Co. Louth is an excellent surviving example of a once common type of pre-Palladian Irish country house.

The first Classical public building was the Royal Hospital in Dublin. Designed by Sir William Robinson and built in 1680-84, it was a home for retired soldiers modelled on Les Invalides in Paris. The buildings are ranged around an arcaded courtyard, with the great hall and chapel on one side and the living quarters on the other three. The building is now completely restored.

Palladian architecture, inspired by the buildings and, more frequently, the publications of the sixteenth century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, first appeared in Ireland in the early 1700ís. The largest and most palatial Palladian country house is Castletown in Co. Kildare. Designed by Alessandro Galilei and Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, it was completed between 1722 and 1732: there is a central block, a Roman palazzo, linked to two service wings by curved colonnades of Ionic columns. The interior is noted for its elaborate plasterwork by the Francini brothers. Several other Palladian mansions were built in this period, many of them designed by the German Richard Castle.

Pearce was the most important Palladian architect of his day. His most famous building is the old Parliament House (now the Bank of Ireland) in Dublinís College Green. Designed in 1728, it has a piazza forecourt surrounded on three sides by Ionic colonnades and it is the earliest large-scale Palladian public building in the country. Castle was responsible for Leinster House (1745), designed as a town-house for the Dukes of Leinster, and now the seat of parliament, and for the Rotunda Hospital, which he designed in 1751.

At the end of the 18th century the Palladian style gave way to Neo-Classicism, looking directly to ancient Rome. The great architect of this period was James Gandon (1743-1823). Gandon designed some of the most beautiful public buildings in Dublin including the Custom House, begun in 1781, and the Four Courts (see page 55), begun in 1786. Both buildings present impressive columned riverside facades and each is topped with a magnificent dome. Francis Johnston (1760-1829), who designed the General Post Office in Dublinís OíConnell Street, completed in 1818, exemplified the growing self-confidence of national architects in the post-Gandon era.


by Michael Green
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