The vision of the Irish Georgian Society is to conserve, protect and foster a keen interest and a respect for Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. These aims are achieved through its scholarly and conservation education programmes, through its support of conservation projects and planning issues, and vitally, through its members and their activities.

Desmond Guinness: A Pioneer Passes


Posted by IGS


As many readers will be aware, Desmond Guinness, the pioneer of architectural conservation in Ireland. died last Thursday, at the age of 88. Led by Ireland’s President, Michael D Higgins, many tributes have quite correctly been paid to Desmond and his decades-long defence of the country’s architectural heritage. So, it is easy to forget that for much of that time, he and his supporters received not encomiums but abuse, not praise but criticism, not support but hostility. And yet he continued on his crusade, one which has left this country and its citizens considerably richer than would otherwise be the case.

Although a member of the Irish Guinness family, Desmond spent the greater part of his life in England until, following his marriage to Hermione Marie-Gabrielle von Urach – universally known as Mariga – he moved with her to Ireland and they began looking for somewhere to make their home. It was while engaged in this quest and travelling about the country that the couple became aware of how many old buildings of note in Ireland were being either neglected or demolished. The 1950s were an especially lean era here and, understandably, the losses to her architectural heritage provoked little, if any, protest or regret among the greater part of the Ireland’s impoverished population. Most of them had other, more immediate, concerns than what happened to properties with which they felt no great affinity; in the popular mind, historic houses were associated with the old regime. Inspecting many sites over a couple of years had the effect of refining Desmond and Mariga’s already intuitive aesthetic sensibilities, and it made them acutely aware of just how many 18th and 19th century buildings around the country were at risk of being lost forever. However, it was the demolition of Georgian buildings in Dublin rather than the disappearance of another country house that inspired the couple to establish the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. On their visits to the capital from 1956 onwards, the Guinnesses had seen Dublin Corporation workers clear away magnificent mansions on Lower Dominick Street and Hardwicke Place and replacing them with blocks of local authority flats. Most of these old properties had long ago deteriorated into squalid tenements; their loss, though unwelcome, was comprehensible. But in July 1957 the government authorised the demolition of two 18th century houses on Kildare Place, only a matter of yards from the Dail in Leinster House. No. 2 Kildare Place had been designed by Richard Castle and executed after his death in 1751 by John Ensor; its neighbour was of a slightly later date. Both houses were in excellent condition and there was no reason for their destruction other than an unwillingness on the part of the State to maintain the buildings. This barbarous act on the part of government spurred Desmond and Mariga into direct action, and the Irish Georgian Society was born.


Prior to the establishment of the Irish Georgian Society there had been no organization, or individuals, taking up the cudgels on behalf of the country’s historic properties. Building up credibility was a long and arduous process: during the first decades of its existence the Society – and its founders – had to fight many battles. Some of these were won, others lost. But the biggest battle was against ignorance and indifference: these twin demons had to be faced down over and over again. Desmond experienced much personal hostility, often from those in positions of power who did not like their decisions being called into question. However, he remained resolute in his enterprise, and never wavered in his determination to conserve the architectural legacy left by earlier generations and to encourage wider appreciation of this legacy. The most important example of his industry and imagination can be seen at Castletown, County Kildare. This important building, the first great Palladian house in Ireland dating from the early 18th century, was at risk of being lost forever when Desmond stepped in and used his own money to save the property. Today Castletown is owned by the Irish State and is rightly lauded as a splendid example of Irish design and craftsmanship. But if it had not been for Desmond’s brave initiative, and then the restoration work that he and Mariga oversaw on the house – helped by the many volunteers they inspired – Castletown would now be nothing more than a handful of old black and white photographs. There are many, many other instances of bold decisions being taken by Desmond leading to the survival of important properties throughout the country. It is worth noting that from the mid-1960s onwards, he regularly visited the United States where his mission, and that of the Irish Georgian Society, was better received and supported than was the case back home. The IGS, like many of the buildings it championed, would not be here still were it not for American friends.


A brief personal note. I first met Desmond Guinness when an undergraduate, but only in passing. In the early 1980s and by then living in the Damer House in County Tipperary (an early 18th century house which the Irish Georgian Society had saved from demolition), I met him again and over the next 35 years had the opportunity to come to know him well. Desmond was a man blessed with many advantages; he was exceptionally handsome (those famous pale blue eyes) and possessed an abundance of personal charm, well able to captivate whoever was in his company. He had a deliciously mellifluous voice and engaging manner, which he put to excellent effect on his fund-raising visits to the United States; even today there are elderly American women who shyly blush when they recall being in his presence over half a century ago. In his heyday, he was a tireless advocate, running the society from a room in his County Kildare home, Leixlip Castle where – when not working elsewhere for the society – he was an unfailingly generous host with flawless manners. Leixlip Castle was always the most hospitable of houses, where Desmond was at his easiest and most charming, ensuring it was always a delight to be in his company. There are a great many people, myself included, who are grateful to have benefited from his unflagging kindness and support.
Unlike most countries, Ireland has no official honours system. During his lifetime, Desmond never received the acknowledgement that he deserved for his pioneering work in the area of architectural conservation. Now that he is dead, the best way the Irish state could honour his legacy is by giving more attention to our country’s historic buildings. Otherwise, like Desmond, it will be too late to give them the attention they merit.


Written and reproduced with permission from The Irish Aesthete

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Death of Desmond Guinness, founder of the Irish Georgian Society


Posted by IGS


The Irish Georgian Society has learnt with great sadness that Hon Desmond Guinness (1931-2020) has passed away. We are indebted to his legacy in founding the Irish Georgian Society in 1958, together with the late Mariga Guinness. He boldly championed the cause of Ireland's architectural heritage at a time when it faced great challenges through neglect and the threat of demolition from new development. In spite of hostility in some quarters, through his ardent campaigning, educating and working to save numerous buildings we are surrounded by a rich legacy of historic buildings saved to be celebrated as an integral part of our culture and identity. He has inspired us all and, for the thousands of members and supporters of the Irish Georgian Society in Ireland and around the world, Desmond has truly been a Conservation Hero.

Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

(Portrait of Desmond Guinness by Amelia Stein)

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IGS Walking Tours


Posted by IGS

We are delighted to recommence hosting walking tours for members, but there are a few things to note in relation to safely attending these tours:

  • Individual headset packs will be hired and made available for each person on the tour so that everyone can hear the tour guide while also allowing for 2m physical distancing. Headset packs are disinfected and quarantined for 72 hours by the company after every use.
  • Headphones accompanying the packs are new and disposable and so can either be kept or returned to the tour guide. It is also possible for you to use your own personal headphones if you wish to bring those along.
  • We encourage people to wear masks if they so wish.
  • Please note these are rescheduled tours and numbers are limited so booking early is advised.
  • Meeting point will be confirmed on receipt of booking.

Our upcoming tours will be completely outdoors with no visits.

When implementing Health & safety measures in response to COVID-19 on IGS events, our priority is the wellbeing of our guests and our staff.

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Celebrating Dublin’s Built Heritage talks


Posted by IGS


Image: Pembroke Estate map depicting Upper Baggot Street, reproduced courtesy of National Archives of Ireland.


To mark National Heritage Week 2020, Dublin City Council invited the Irish Georgian Society to partner on the curation of a series of twelve free on-line talks that celebrate aspects of Dublin’s built heritage.

The lectures are broad in their subject matter, addressing themes ranging from domestic life in the Victorian house, 20th century concrete architecture, Georgian speculative development, industrial heritage, Masonic philanthropic endeavours, Tractarian church architecture, and an exploration of an exhibition of Dublin's architectural fragments, to name a few.

These lectures will be available to watch free of charge for the duration of National Heritage Week (Saturday 15th to Sunday 23rd August) through the Events page on the Irish Georgian Society’s website https://www.igs.ie/events

  • Ambition & Architecture: The RDS, Ballsbridge by Professor J. Owen Lewis, President, Royal Dublin Society (Learn More)
  • St. Bartholomew's Church, Clyde Road, Dublin 4: a heritage exploration with Dr Alistair Rowan, founding editor of the Yale University Press Buildings of Ireland 'Pevsner Architectural Guides' (Learn More)
  • Oh, Glorious Precast: Hot Concrete in Ballsbridge by Shane O'Toole, contributor to More Than Concrete Blocks: Dublin City's Twentieth-Century Buildings and Their Stories (Four Courts Press & DCC, 2016 & 2018) (Learn More)
  • Establishing a Suburb: Early building development in the Pembroke Estate outside the Grand Canal by Dr Eve McAulay, Irish Architectural Archive(Learn More)
  • The Masonic Female Orphan School Ballsbridge Dublin by Rebecca Hayes, Curator and Archivist at Freemasons’ Hall, Dublin(Learn More)
  • Upstairs, Downstairs: Dublin’s Victorian houses by Dr Susan Galavan, author of Dublin’s Bourgeois Homes: building the Victorian suburbs 1850-1901 (Routledge, 2017) (Learn More)
  • Tracing the Industrial Landscape of the Pembroke Township by Mary-Liz McCarthy, Assistant Architectural Conservation Officer, Dublin City Council (Learn More)
  • Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection, tour of the Irish Georgian Society’s City Assembly House exhibition with curator, Peter Pearson in conversation with Charles Duggan, Dublin City Council Heritage Officer (Learn More)
  • Our Lady of Refuge Church, Rathmines: patron and architect by Dr Brendan Grimes, Buildings of Ireland (Learn More)
  • Sensitively Adapting Period Houses to Contemporary Life by David Averill, Director, Sheehan Barry Architects(Learn More)
  • "..All the World's a Stage", how the everyday forms the character of our spaces by Niamh Kiernan, Architectural Conservation Officer, Dublin City Council (Learn More)
  • Dublin's Townships by Séamas Ó Maitiú, author of Dublin's Suburban Towns, 1834-1930: Governing Clontarf, Drumcondra, Dalkey, Killiney, Kilmainham, Pembroke, Kingstown, Blackrock, Rathmines, and Rathgar (Four Courts Press, 2003) (Learn More)


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City Assembly House COVID-19 Policy


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Based on current guidelines, the City Assembly House exhibitions will reopen on Tuesday 1 December. Viewing is by appointment at bookshop.

The offices will reopen but some staff will continue to work remotely, so you are advised to email the appropriate staff member with your query.

When implementing Health & safety measures in response to COVID-19 throughout the City Assembly House, our priority is the wellbeing of our guests and our staff.

The City Assembly House (CAH) has always had and will continue to have the health & safety of our visitors and staff as a daily priority, however further control measures have been implemented to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in line with Government and HSA guidelines. Our staff are committed to implementing these measures according to governmental bodies’ advice which we will continue to monitor, review and act on.

Measures we have undertaken at the City Assembly House:

· All our staff have received COVID-19 health and safety training

· Face coverings are mandatory inside the building

· Hand sanitisation stations are available at the entrance to the building and the entrance to the Knight of Glin Exhibition Room

· We will be managing visitor numbers in line with public health and safety guidelines

· For all events, bookings must be made in advance either online or by phone (this includes Culture Night and Open House Dublin), to facilitate social distancing and contact tracing

· During events a one way system will be in operation, visitors will enter through the main entrance and exit through the side door leading onto Coppinger Row (accessible through the emergency exit door in the Knight of Glin Exhibition Room)

· Bathrooms are closed to the public, except during events

· Our cleaning and sanitisation procedures in the building have been increased

· Food and drink cannot be consumed on the premises

· The bookshop is closed for browsing, as physical distancing is not possible. Purchases can be made via contactless card or through a 'click and collect' service for purchases made online via shop.igs.ie or by phone (01 6798675)

· For external events, the event organiser has been briefed on the above measures, as well as our Health and Safety procedures

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

  • The wearing of masks is mandatory indoors.
  • Disposable masks and gloves are available for staff and visitors from the bookshop.
  • Please dispose of used PPE in the bins provided and wash your hands after removal.

Hygiene and Sanitising

  • All surfaces including door handles, banisters and table surfaces will be santised by staff at regular intervals throughout the day
  • Soap is provided in all bathrooms for washing your hands.
  • Hand sanitiser is provided in the entrance hall, bookshop, at entrance to exhibition room.

Social Distancing

  • There is floor vinyl throughout the ground floor and exhibition room, indicating the 2 metre distance recommended for social distancing.
  • Please maintain a 2 metre distance from staff and volunteers and respect their personal space. Avoid all physical contact, such as handshakes, etc.
  • For lectures and performance events, chairs will be spaced out at 2 metres.

City Assembly House Entrance

  • Hand sanitiser is available at entrance
  • Floor vinyl indicates 2m distance recommended for social distancing
  • Queuing system in operation for admittance to building, indicated by tape on steps
  • Sandwich board signage, indicates measures being taken within CAH


  • The bookshop is not accessible for browsing, a ‘click and collect’ service for online shop and phone orders is in operation.
  • Protective screen has been placed at entrance to shop and contactless payment is preferred.

Knight of Glin Exhibition Room

  • Hand sanitiser is available at entrance
  • Doors to exhibition room are propped open for entry, this is the entrance only for guests and not the exit
  • Exiting the exhibition room is through the fire exit staircase onto Coppinger Row. This door will be clearly marked as 'Exit Only'
  • Vinyl stickers are placed on floor around room indicating 2m distance

Isolation Room

If you feel unwell or present COVID-19 symptoms, a designated isolation room is available on the ground floor opposite the bookshop. This is indicated by a sign on the door.

COVID-19 Symptoms

  • a fever (high temperature - 38 degrees Celsius or above)
  • a cough - this can be any kind of cough, not just dry
  • shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you've noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal Visit HSE for detailed list: https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/symptoms.html

If you begin to feel unwell:

  • If you are experiencing any symptoms or feel unwell, please ring the office on 01 679 8675 or alert the bookshop, where a member of our COVID-19 response team will advise you on our procedures.
  • Contact your doctor or medical professional by phone for advice on next steps to be taken in line with HSE and/or government advice available at the time.

Office and Events queries

There is a limited number of staff now working in the office; some staff will continue to work remotely for the foreseeable. City Assembly House and office appointments and meetings are to be made in advance by contacting cityassemblyhouse@igs.ie or by calling 01 679 8675

Updated 23 October 2020

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​'Vain Transitory Splendours'​: Kilronan Castle, County Roscommon


Posted by IGS


Something of a High-Victorian Gothic horror near Keadue, positioned on vast lawns extending down to Lough Meelagh, on ‘one of the most glorious sites for any country house’. It is difficult to deny the sense of overhanging gloom, sadness and grim decay captured in these two drawings, showing the castle in ruins, its plight offering no sense of the sublimity its deeply picturesque setting deserves. Built in at least three stages, there is at its heart an overblown Regency Gothic-Revival castle, known originally as Castle Tenison, now evident only on the south elevation and with just two bays with their Perpendicular windows visible to the left in Nankivell’s more detailed view. Strange for its squareness, its rigidity, and delicate features, nineteenth-century photographs suggest it was a rather unsuccessful effort to re-attire the mediaeval massing of a Castle Rising or Norwich in lithesome Regency detail. Begun in 1813 and completed in 1815, the building was overseen by John Lynn, an English carpenter sent by John Nash to act as clerk of works at Rockingham, eventually becoming the executant architect there after Lord Lorton’s relationship with Nash ended acrimoniously. There is an unmistakable Nash-like quality to Lynn’s castle - confirming the observation made by Thomas Bell, that exposure to Nash ‘transfused into his mind the theory of his profession, and converted him into an architect’. This evident especially in the division of the bays with thin wall buttress rising to finials, the use of distinctive super-mullioned windows and the curious slot-like attic windows which all bear a striking similarity to the expression of the dining room projection on the west front of Nash’s Aqualate Hall, Staffordshire completed in 1809.

Lynn had been recommended by Lord Lorton to Thomas Tenison, the husband of his aunt, Lady Frances King, a daughter of the 1st Earl of Kingston. The new building was completed in the year of Tension’s second marriage in 1815. His son, also Thomas, seems not to have spent much time there, and after his early death in 1843 the property passed to his brother Edward, who renamed it Kilronan in ‘deference to the old associations of the place’. As a younger son Edward King Tenison (1805-78) first pursued a military career, later exchanging it briefly for politics (MP for Leitrim 1847-1852) and in 1838 made an advantageous marriage to Lady Louisa Anson, eldest daughter of Thomas, 1st Earl of Lichfield, Both shared a keen interest in photography and travel, he helping to develop some of its earliest techniques to perfect views of buildings and scenery, while she also enjoyed painting and having travelled in the Holy Land and Egypt, gained a reputation as a travel writer and artist with her publication of Sketches in the East (1846). It seems that on their return to Roscommon in the 1850s after an extended period abroad, they contemplated major works to Kilronan, including by the English architect, antiquary and painter John Chessell Buckler (1793-1894).

Among Buckler’s drawings are a number of schemes for Kilronan, one of these proposing a relatively modest Tudor-Gothic porte cochère over the existing entrance, and the addition of a large flag tower to one side, similar to what is seen here today. It remains unclear how far any of Buckler’s schemes were pursued, if at all. In 1872, coinciding with the marriage of their younger daughter Florence to her cousin the 8th Earl of Kingston, a more ambitious remodelling was planned by Thomas Newenham Deane (1828-1899) which largely resulted in the spreading High-Victorian castle with its signal tower and multitude of gables, built across the entrance front of the earlier block. Deane shared with Louisa Tenison an interest in painting, exhibiting regularly at the RHA. However shared passions did not overcome their disagreements over the work at Castle Tenison and by 1877 he had been replaced by James Franklin Fuller whose hard Gothic aesthetic is evident in the more earnest, rock-faced treatment of the bay windows that dominate in Nankivell’s second view.

The Tenisons’ enjoyment of the finished building was short-lived, Edward dying at Kilronan in 1878 and Louisa, in 1882 at Trieste. Kilronan was subsequently inherited by Florence and Henry, the Earl and Countess of Kingston. After a sale of the contents by their son, the 9th Earl, in the 1930s, the estate was acquired by the Land Commission and in the 1950s, the castle having been sold on was dismantled. It remained ruinous until about 2005 when it was transformed into an hotel, the works including the addition of a thumping great block to one side, nothing more than a monstrous and failed effort to emulate Lynn’s original 1815 block.

The above text, written by Kevin V. Mulligan, is from the catalogue that accompanied the 2018 exhibition 'Vain Transitory Splendours': The Irish Country House and the Art of John Nankivell, and it can be purchased online from the IGS bookshop.


Top: Kilronan Castle, Co. Roscommon (general view) - Available to purchase here

Bottom: Kilronan Castle, Co. Roscommon (detail) - Available to purchase here

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