seamus dubhghaill

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


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Opening of the Custom House in Dublin

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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The Jeanie Johnston Begins 4-Month Voyage Around Ireland

jeanie-johnstonThe Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a three-masted barque that was originally built in 1847 in Quebec, Canada, by the Scottish-born shipbuilder John Munn, begins a four-month voyage around Ireland on June 9, 2004.

The original Jeanie Johnston makes her maiden emigrant voyage on April 24, 1848, from Blennerville, County Kerry to Quebec with 193 emigrants on board who are fleeing the effects of the Great Famine that is ravaging Ireland. Between 1848 and 1855, the Jeanie Johnston makes sixteen voyages to North America, sailing to Quebec, Baltimore, and New York. Ships that transport emigrants out of Ireland during this period become known as “famine ships” or “coffin ships.”

The project to build a replica is conceived in the late 1980s, but does not become a reality until November 1993 when a feasibility study is completed. In May 1995, The Jeanie Johnston (Ireland) Company Ltd. is incorporated. The ship is designed by Fred Walker, former Chief Naval Architect with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

The original plans are to launch the ship from her shipyard in Blennerville, but a 19th-century shipwreck is discovered by marine archaeologists while a channel is being dredged. To preserve the find, on April 19, 2000 the hull of the Jeanie Johnston is hauled to the shore and loaded onto a shallow-draft barge. There she is fitted with masts and sails, and on May 4 is transported to Fenit, a short distance away. On May 6 the barge is submerged and the Jeanie Johnston takes to the water for the first time. The next day she is officially christened by President Mary McAleese.

In 2003, the replica Jeanie Johnston sails from Tralee to Canada and the United States visiting 32 U.S. and Canadian cities and attracting over 100,000 visitors.

The replica is currently owned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority who bought it in 2005 for a reported 2.7 million Euro, which were used to clear outstanding loans on the vessel guaranteed by Tralee Town Council and Kerry County Council. It is docked at Custom House Quay in the centre of Dublin.