Dublin’s historic City Assembly House to reopen this week

Irish Georgian Society restores former civic museum

Donough Cahill of the  Irish Georgian Society  in the City Assembly House on South William Street, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Donough Cahill of the Irish Georgian Society in the City Assembly House on South William Street, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

One of Dublin’s most important Georgian public buildings is to reopen to the public this week a decade after its closure.

The City Assembly House, on South William Street, which was home to the Dublin Civic Museum until its closure in 2003, has been restored by the Irish Georgian Society and is to become a cultural and artistic venue for the city.

The building, which dates from the late 1760s, is of great historical significance having served as city hall when Daniel O’Connell was lord mayor of Dublin. It was also in its time the location of a lottery and a “court of conscience”, or small claims court, but its new use will reflect the original function of the building, according to Donough Cahill, executive director of the Georgian Society.

“It was built by the Society of Artists in Ireland to show artwork to the public. There were already private galleries, but this was the first purpose-built public exhibition room in Ireland and Britain, and possibly in a European context.”

The building was constructed almost 10 years before its neighbour Powerscourt Townhouse and was used by the artists’ society as a gallery and an academy for training European artists for several decades. In 1809, it was acquired by the Dublin City Assembly, the forerunner to Dublin Corporation and Dublin City Council, and was the site of the city’s local government until the corporation moved to its current location on Dame Street in 1852.

Public uses

The assembly house served various public uses over the next century until 1952 when the civic museum opened. Modern building regulations, size restrictions and the need for some structural repairs led to its closure in 2003.

The Georgian Society has taken over the building on a long-term lease from the council and since October of last year has been working on its restoration, Mr Cahill said.

“Its condition was typical of a building that hasn’t been loved for 10 years. It had a very institutional air with linoleum on the floors, the decorative plasterwork was covered by thick layers of paint and the whole building needed to be rewired and replumbed.”

Restoration

So far, €450,000 has been spent on the first phase of the building’s restoration. The society will shortly go to tender for the second phase, which will concentrate on the restoration of the octagonal exhibition gallery, modelled on the design of the Tribuna in Florence’s Uffizi Palace. This work is due to be completed in 2016 to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the building’s construction.

The Assembly House will occasionally be used for private functions to help fund the restoration but, according to Mr Cahill, these will be kept to a minimum and the building will mostly be open to the public free of charge. It reopens on Wednesday with Vanishing Ireland, an exhibition of portrait photographs by James Fennell and Turtle Bunbury looking at traditions of Irish life.

In addition to being a venue for exhibitions, lectures, musical performances and other cultural events, the building is the new headquarters of the Georgian Society and its bookshop will be located on the ground floor.