seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Opening of the Custom House in Dublin

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custom-houseThe Custom House (Irish: Teach an Chustaim), a neoclassical 18th century building in Dublin which houses the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, opens on November 7, 1791. It is located on the north bank of the River Liffey, on Custom House Quay between Butt Bridge and Talbot Memorial Bridge.

A previous Custom House had been built in 1707 by engineer Thomas Burgh. However, by the late 18th century it is deemed unfit for purpose.

The building of a new Custom House for Dublin is the idea of John Beresford, who becomes first commissioner of revenue for Ireland in 1780. In 1781 he appoints James Gandon as architect, after Thomas Cooley, the original architect on the project, dies. This is Gandon’s first large scale commission. The new Custom House is unpopular with the Dublin Corporation and some city merchants who complain that it moves the axis of the city, would leave little room for shipping, and is being built on what at the time is a swamp. Purchase of land is delayed and proves exorbitant and the laying of foundations is disrupted by the High Sheriff and members of the Dublin Corporation with a mob of several thousand. However, Beresford is determined to complete the project and ignores the protests.

Construction begins in 1781, and for his assistants Gandon chooses Irish artists such as Meath stone-cutter Henry Darley, mason John Semple, and carpenter Hugh Henry. Every available mason in Dublin is engaged in the work. When it is completed and opens for business on November 7, 1791, it has cost £200,000 to build – a considerable sum at the time. The four facades of the building are decorated with coats-of-arms and ornamental sculptures by Edward Smyth representing Ireland’s rivers. Another artist, Henry Banks, is responsible for the statue on the dome and other statues.

As the port of Dublin moves further downriver, the building’s original use for collecting custom duties becomes obsolete, and it is used as the headquarters of local government in Ireland. During the Irish War of Independence in 1921, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) burns down the Custom House in an attempt to disrupt British rule in Ireland. Gandon’s original interior is completely destroyed in the fire and the central dome collapses. A large quantity of irreplaceable historical records are also destroyed in the fire. Despite achieving its objectives, the attack on the Custom House is a setback for the IRA as a large number of Volunteers are captured either during the attack or when falling back.

After the Anglo-Irish Treaty, it is restored by the Irish Free State government. The results of this reconstruction can still be seen on the building’s exterior today. The dome is rebuilt using Irish Ardbraccan limestone which is noticeably darker than the Portland stone used in the original construction. This is done as an attempt to promote Irish resources.

Further restoration and cleaning of the stonework is done by an Office of Public Works team in the 1980s.

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Author: Jim Doyle

As a descendant of Joshua Doyle (b. 1775, Dublin, Ireland), I have a strong interest in Irish culture and history, which will be the primary focus of this site. I am a Network Engineer at The Computer Hut, LLC, which is my salaried job. I am also Chairman of the City of Little Rock Arts+Culture Commission, Secretary of the Walnut Valley Property Owners Association board and Past-President of the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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