The first stone of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Kilmainham, Dublin, is laid by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, on April 29, 1680. Completed in 1684, it is one of the finest 17th-century buildings in Ireland.
The hospital is built by Sir William Robinson, official State Surveyor General of Ireland for James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to King Charles II, as a home for retired soldiers of the Irish Army and continues in that use for over 250 years. The style is based on Les Invalides in Paris with a formal facade and a large courtyard. The Royal Hospital Chelsea in Chelsea, London is completed two years later and also has similarities in style. A priory, founded in 1174 by Strongbow, exists on the site until the English close it down in the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.
The Richmond Tower at the end of the formal avenue leading to the Royal Hospital is designed by Francis Johnston, one of the leading architects of the day. This gateway originally stands beside the River Liffey at Bloody Bridge (now Rory O’More Bridge), but has to be moved after the arrival of the railway in 1844 increases traffic congestion. Johnston places his personal coat of arms above the arch, concealed by a piece of wood painted to match the stone, his idea being that his arms would be revealed to future generations after the wood becomes rotten. However, his little trick is uncovered when the gateway is taken down for removal. The coat of arms currently on the gateway is that of the Royal Hospital.
The Royal Hospital Kilmainham graveyards, including Bully’s Acre, are 400 metres to the west. A cross-shaft in the former cemetery may be the remains of a boundary cross associated with a ninth-century monastery located at this site.
Following the creation of the Irish Free State the Royal Hospital is considered as a potential home for Oireachtas Éireann, the new Irish national parliament. Eventually it is decided to keep parliament in its temporary home in Leinster House. The Hospital remains the home of a dwindling number of soldiers, before being variously used by the Garda Síochána and as a storage location for property belonging to the National Museum of Ireland. The large statue Queen Victoria which used to stand in the forecourt of Leinster House, before its removal in 1947, is stored in the main courtyard of the Hospital, as are various state carriages, including the famously spectacular State Coach of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The Royal Hospital Kilmainham is finally restored by the Irish Government in 1984 and controversially opens as the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). Some people working in heritage organisations criticise the decision to demolish the eighteenth-century barrack rooms in one section of the quadrangle to create open spaces for the IMMA.
Every year on the National Day of Commemoration, the Sunday nearest July 11, the anniversary of the Truce that ends the Irish War of Independence, the President of Ireland, in the presence of members of the Government of Ireland, members of Dáil Éireann and of Seanad Éireann, the Council of State, the Defence Forces, the Judiciary and the Diplomatic Corps, lays a wreath in the courtyard in memory of all Irishmen and Irishwomen who have died in past wars and on service with the United Nations.
In recent years, Royal Kilmainham Hospital has become a popular location for concerts during the summer months. Acts such as Blur, Leonard Cohen, The Flaming Lips, Jack White and Public Enemy have played within the grounds in the past.