Sir, – Your report of a recent fire at Belcamp House perpetuates (as did a similar report in 2016) the suggestion of its connection to James Hoban, architect of the White House ("Gardaí investigate cause of fire in historic Dublin building", News, May 5th).
Although the friendship of Belcamp’s owner Sir Edward Newenham with George Washington is well verified by their correspondence, mainly on matters environmental and horticultural, there is no evidence that James Hoban was involved with the design or construction of “Bell Champ” (as Washington called it).
Newenham purchased the property in 1763 so it is likely that his plans for it were made in the following years, and perhaps into the 1770s. At that time Hoban was still a teenager working in the carriage shop at Desart Court. Even after he came to the Dublin Society Drawing School in the late 1770s, and worked in the city in the early 1780s (also given as a possible date for Belcamp’s construction), his labours were mainly as an apprentice or assistant to the other prominent architects of the era – Cooley, Ivory and Gandon – on their major public and private undertakings.
The American authorities who have visited Ireland in recent years are of one mind in holding out Leinster House, designed by Richard Castle before Hoban was born, but viewed regularly by him during his Dublin sojourn, as the most important influence on his design for the president’s house and on George Washington’s decision to award him the project.
It is a connection that will be further celebrated in the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of Leinster House’s appropriation for parliamentary use in 1922. – Yours, etc,
The James Hoban Society,