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The Irish House


Sections of the facade of a building
Archival documents

The Irish House was built in 1870 at the corner of Winetavern Street and Wood Quay in Dublin, and became a popular public house and well-known piece of Celtic Revival architecture.

Embellished by local stuccodores Burnet and Comerford, the building’s facade represented iconographical scenes from Irish history and myth. A figure of Eireann wept forlorn upon her stringless harp, beside her Daniel O’Connell stood clutching the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. Wolfhounds, ‘methers’, the ancient drinking cup of the Irish, the Stone of Destiny, Henry Grattan and a seventeen figure frieze depicting the Act of Union of 1800 all featured. Round towers surmounted the building and projected into the city’s skyline. This exaggerated ornament was typical of much Celtic Revival architecture, where popular Irish symbolism of the time was used in a most exuberant fashion to promote nationalist impulses amongst the populace.

Criticism of the building was harsh. The Irish Builder, June 1870 commentated “…the genius who designed the unsightly structure now in process of erection at the corner of Winetavern Street on the quays (which we understand is intended as a gin palace), having no scope in the sub-structure, directed his entire attention to the super. We were for a considerable time puzzled to discover what its skyline was intended to represent, but plasterers have been busily engaged up it for the past few weeks, and they have brought into view, by plentiful application of Portland cement, six ludicrous imitations of round towers perched upon its parapet."

The building was used as a backdrop for Joe Strick’s film adoption of Ulysses in 1965. While Joyce’s Leopold Bloom had his snack at Davy Byrne's on Duke Street, Strick moved the scene to the Irish House, where Milo O’Shea played Bloom. Racist taunts aimed at Bloom from midday drinkers resulted in a scene outside the facade.

A site acquisition order was announced, with Dublin Corporation making room for their new Civic Offices at Wood Quay. Lord Moyne, then vice-chairman of the Guinness Brewery, financed a project to salvage the exterior of the Irish House. In July 1968 scaffolding went up and all embellishments were removed and transported to a warehouse at the Guinness Hopstore. The initial plan was to see the remnants of the building presented in an Elgin Marbles-like display, an idea that was never realised.

Since moved from storage warehouse to storage warehouse in the city, as a piece of ‘auld’ Dublin made obsolete by urban modernization, protracted negotiations throughout 2002 and 2003 saw the Irish House being donated by Guinness’ new owners Diageo to the Dublin Civic Trust. The facade’s remnants were located in pieces in suburban Dublin in 2006. Its’ subsequent transportation and appearance in an art gallery in 2007, along with archival images and documents, act as a kind of sounding or essay of the situation, a gaze at the logistical and bureaucratic operations of the heritage sector and another moment in the building’s continual existence.