Tour Ireland

Architecture, Old and New Dublin

One Day

A day's concentrated sightseeing should embrace a good cross-section of old and new architecture.

Begin at Dublin Airport. The modern terminal, opened in 1972 and expanded over the intervening years, is largely devoid of any architectural merit - it's purely functional, with little nod in the direction of aesthetics - but the original terminal building, opened in 1940, is entirely different. It was designed by Desmond FitzGerald, brother of Dr Garret FitzGerald, a former Taoiseach. Even though the building is now totally overshadowed by more modern buildings surrounding it, you can still see its elegant art deco lines from near the modern terminal building. It's best seen from the outside; the interior has been so altered that little remains of its original layout. The old terminal recalls the distant and long gone days of aviation, when flying was graceful and elegant and passengers dressed almost as if they were going to the races.

The Custom House, designed by Gandon in the late 18th century was built on land reclaimed from the River Liffey and opened in 1792. During the War of Independence (1919-1921) it was set on fire and badly damaged. Much of the subsequent restoration work was poorly executed, but during the 1980s lengthy restoration work on the external and internal fabric righted those wrongs and brought the whole building, including its external statues denoting the rivers of Ireland, back to their pristine state. The Custom House also has a visitor centre that depicts the history of the building and its reconstruction. The Custom House, Dublin; tel (01) 679 3377 (open Mon-Fri, all year).

The General Post Office in O'Connell Street was designed by Francis Johnston in 1814. Although it was largely destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, it was reconstructed during the 1920s.

From the GPO, walk along the north quays of the River Liffey. Along the way, at Ormond Quay, you will see an outstanding example of contemporary architecture at Morrisons Hotel, opened in 1999. Continue further along the quays, to the Four Courts, similar in date and style to the Custom House and likewise damaged during the troubles in earlier 20th-century Ireland. The building was badly damaged by fire in 1922, but subsequently restored. You can inspect the interior, under the great cupola, and climb to the viewing gallery on the roof.

At the back of the Four Courts is Smithfield, once a great square surrounded by distilleries. The distilleries are long gone, although their historical heritage is well recalled in the Old Jameson Centre. In and around the square, considerable construction work has brought a new sense of life. The old distillery chimney has been restored as a viewing platform and is the best alternative to Nelson's Pillar, outside the GPO, blown up in 1966.

Across the river and behind the Civic Offices, which are criticised for their brutalistic design, are Christchurch Cathedral and then St Patrick's Cathedral. The former dates to the 12th century, while the latter is largely a 19th-century reconstruction. From St Patrick's Cathedral, walk the short distance to Parliament Street and the start of Temple Bar.

The whole Temple Bar district, from here to Westmoreland Street, has been revived. Many 18th-century brick buildings have been revitalised, while many modern ones have been blended in. The Irish Film Centre in Eustace Street is one good example of merging old and new; it used to be the old 19th-century Quaker Meeting House, and now houses two cinemas, a restaurant and bar, a film library and film archives. Meeting House Square, just at the side of the Irish Film Centre, is a great gathering place. Other buildings worth seeing include the Green Building, which contains eight apartments and is designed to be 80 per cent energy self-sufficient.

The Temple Bar Gallery and Printworks is at a corner of Temple Bar Square, the other great meeting area in the district. The gallery is designed in prismatic form, taking inspiration from early Cubist paintings and it contains 30 artists' studios. The Arthouse multimedia centre for the arts and the Ark children's cultural centre are also worth an inspection. All in all, Temple Bar provides a useful mingling of 18th- and 19th-century shop and workshop buildings and houses, and late 20th-century architecture, creating a district within an urban area that's unique in Ireland.

At the Trinity College end of Temple Bar is one of the great buildings of 18th-century Dublin, the Bank of Ireland. Originally built as the Houses of Parliament for Ireland, a role it served until the Act of Union (1801), the interior has been carefully preserved, even though it's a working bank, and can be visited daily, Mon-Fri.

Walk from the Bank of Ireland along Nassau Street into South Leinster Street and Merrion Square, about 1 km (0.8 mile). Merrion Square was one of the two great squares built in Dublin in the 18th century. The brick facades remain as they were - at Number 29, on the corner of Lower Fitzwilliam Street and Upper Mount Street, you can visit an exact reconstruction of a late 18th-century house with everything perfect, down to the smallest items of furniture and the wallpaper. Sadly, the rest of the Georgian terrace in Lower Fitzwilliam Street was torn down by the ESB in the 1960s to make a headquarters of hideous design and proportions. Ironically, the ESB is preparing to move its corporate headquarters elsewhere, leaving this lamentable design behind.

Number 29 Merrion Square, Dublin; tel (01) 702 6165 (open daily, all year, for tours).

You may also wish to visit the Irish Architectural Archives, which contain much material on Ireland's architectural history. Irish Architectural Archives, 44/45 Merrion Square, Dublin; tel (01) 676 3430; fax (01) 661 6309; email (open all year, Tues-Fri).

The tour concludes at Sandymount on Dublin Bay, where the old Martello Tower, built in the early years of the 19th century, has been desecrated by shutters put up for a restaurant that functioned here briefly. However, the main structure of the tower is intact. A number of these Martello towers can be seen along the east coast, including Portmarnock, Howth, Dalkey Island and Bray.

Other example tours:
Battle Sites
Lost Villages
For further details on other trails: Travellers' Trails: Ireland by Hugh Oram, from Appletree Press.