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Visiting Government Buildings, Dublin, Ireland: Edwardian Baroque and neo-Classical headquarters of the Irish Premier

Updated on May 3, 2012
Flag of the Republic of Ireland
Flag of the Republic of Ireland | Source
The former Royal College of Science in Dublin, now Irish Government Buildings.
The former Royal College of Science in Dublin, now Irish Government Buildings. | Source
Map location of Dublin, Ireland
Map location of Dublin, Ireland | Source

Hub of a mature institutional culture

The Republic of Ireland's Head of Goverment is known as the Taoiseach, and he (thus far it has always been a he) has his offices in these fine Buildings in Dublin (Irish: Baile Átha Cliath). The offices house the Department of the Taoiseach. among other government departments, and the building itself is (maybe somewhat prosaically) known as Government Buildings (Irish: Tithe an Rialtais).

At least, the name reflects their current use.

The Buildings previously housed the Royal College of Science in Ireland (Irish: Coláiste Ríoga Eolaíocht Éireann), later, part of University College Dublin (Irish: Coláiste Ollscoile, Baile Átha Cliath).

The architects responsible for the Buildings were Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930)(1) and Sir Thomas Manly Deane (1851-1933), who worked in the Edwardian Baroque and neo-Classical styles. Over the decades, including after the Irish Government took over the Buildings, the stonework was gradually affected by weathering.

But in one of the Premierships of Charles J. Haughey (2), Government Buildings underwent a thorough refurbishment by OPW Architects. Local humourists (of whom Dubliners boast very many) promptly called the result the 'Taj MaHaughey'. Other commentary ran a gammut of opinion; firstly it was claimed that Mr Haughey had spent too much money on the Buildings' renewal; then, when the Taoiseach began to receive European heads of government at the Buildings, people began to say that it had, after all, been money well spent. (Notwithstanding some questions, Mr. Haughey could never win, when it came to his critics.)

Guided tours of the building are sometimes given on Saturdays, subject to pressures of government business. A number of years ago I was very interested to join one of such tours. I was interested to see a sign on the door of one office, only a short walking distance from that of the Taoiseach , which belonged to Dr. Martin Mansergh, who served as an advisor to three, Fianna Fáil Taoisígh : Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Bertie Ahern, prior to being himself elected to Dáil Éireann and serving as a government minister. Dr. Mansergh, a former diplomat and academic, is an acknowledged expert on Irish history and political theory. It is in any case clear that the institutional culture of Dublin's governmental hub is heir to much distinguished thought.

Prominent features of the Buildings include their Portland stone facing, a prominent dome which looms imposingly over a central courtyard; a pillared entrance separates this courtyard from nearby Merrion Street (Irish: Sráid Mhuirfean ). Stained glass by Evie Hall (1894-1955) gives special character to the main entrance hall of the Buildings.

Currently, the Irish Taoiseach who occupies Government Buildings is Fine Gael 's Enda Kenny, who took over from former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Brian Cowen in 2011.

Interestingly, before Irish independence was realized, the British authorities tried to use the Buildings as a parliament venue, but only 4 elected members showed up.

Oh well.



(1) Other projects with which Architect Webb was involved include: Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial, and Admiralty Arch, London, England, and the Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, Birmingham University, England, and many others.

(2) Charles J. Haughey served as Taoiseach 1979-1981, 1982, 1987-1992.

Also worth seeing

Dublin is a richly rewarding city for the visitor interested in architecture and history. A few of its prominent buildings include: a few of these include: nearby Leinster House (Irish: Teach Laighean ) — seat of Dáil Éireann —, the City Hall (Irish: Halla na Cathrach ) the Four Courts (Irish: Na Ceithre Cúirteanna ), the GPO (Irish: Ard-Oifig an Phoist ), the Custom House (Irish: Teach an Chustaim ), the Old Houses of Parliament (Irish: Tithe na Parlaiminte ), Trinity College (Irish: Coláiste na Tríonóide ), Dublin Castle (Irish: Caisleán Bhaile Átha Cliath ), and many others.


How to get there: Aer Lingus flies from New York and Boston to Dublin Airport (Irish: Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath ), from where car rental is available. Car parking can be difficult in Dublin City centre and a good way to get around the city is by Dublin Bus (Irish: Bus Átha Cliath ) Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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