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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.

The Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle: A Bicentennial Celebration (2015)

27.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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"The Castle Chapel, when completed, will unquestionably present one of the finest examples of the Gothic style of Architecture extant in Europe."

Such was the expectation of one enthusiastic newspaper correspondent as he watched the Chapel Royal take shape within the walls of Dublin Castle in 1810. The Chapel Royal was designed by the prolific Irish architect Francis Johnston in 1807. It was not the first chapel building at the castle but, architecturally, it was undoubtedly the foremost. It was built as a lavish replacement for the comparatively lacklustre chapel that occupied the same site next to the Record Tower in the Lower Yard. A captivating confection of Gothic fan vaulting, virtuoso plaster ornament and heraldic stained glass, the Chapel Royal crystalized the pretensions and confidence of the British administration in Ireland in the wake of the Act of Union of 1801.

From its opening on Christmas Day 1814, the new chapel served as a central focus of the spiritual and social life of successive lords lieutenant, or viceroys, who continued to represent the interests of British monarchs in Ireland until 1922. Its primary function was as a setting for regular Anglican worship each Sunday, with dedicated pews reserved for the lord lieutenant and his household. On more prestigious occasions, it played witness to all the protocol and pageantry of royal visits, such as that of King George IV, who attended divine service in September 1821. Far from being solely a place of religious ceremony, it gradually developed as an extension of the social life of the State Apartments: an arena in which piety and pomp went hand in hand.

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One hundred years later, political expediency had necessitated the appointment of a Roman Catholic viceroy, as a token of Britain’s conciliatory attitude to the ever-louder cries for Irish independence. The selection of Viscount FitzAlan of Derwent as viceroy swiftly prompted criticism of the ‘anomalous position’ of the Chapel Royal, as an Anglican chapel that could not be attended by the new Catholic viceroy but that still remained ‘a charge on the taxpayers.’ But it mattered little. The first Catholic viceroy for centuries soon became the last ever viceroy of Ireland. Following the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 the Chapel Royal’s future looked uncertain. In 1943, it was re-dedicated as a Roman Catholic church for use by the Irish Defence Forces. Its eventual closure for major renovations in 1983 signalled a renewed period of dormancy from which it has once again begun to emerge.

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Two centuries after its completion, a new project has sought, for the first time, to comprehensively examine and document the history of this landmark Gothic Revival building. This project was conceived by the General Manager of Dublin Castle, Mary Heffernan, in conjunction with architectural historians Dr Myles Campbell and William Derham and has led to two tangible outcomes. An exhibition of artefacts relating to the chapel, many of which have remained in obscurity for several decades, will be on display in the State Apartments at Dublin Castle. Pinnacles, Pomp & Piety: 200 Years of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle runs from 24 September 2015 to 6 March 2016. In addition, a lavishly illustrated book of essays, The Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle: An Architectural History, edited by Campbell and Derham, has been produced by the Office of Public Works.

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Drawing on an abundance of new archival material, the bicentennial project has attempted to foster a meaningful understanding and interpretation of the position of the Chapel Royal in the artistic, social, political, economic and spiritual life of Ireland. It considers a range of themes from the music of the viceregal court to the significance of the building as the first Gothic Revival church in Dublin. Central to this is the notion of the chapel and its architectural development as a barometer of the changing position of religion in Irish life. There have been some illuminating finds. New light has been shed on topics such as the involvement of forgotten local and international craftsmen; the vitriolic criticisms of Roman Catholic influences on changes made to the chapel by Lord Carlisle, during his tenure as viceroy in the 1850s; and a surprising intervention made by former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, in 1990.

Chief among the objects on display in the exhibition will be a magnificent chalice and alms dish that form part of the original collection of Chapel Royal plate; a gift from William III in 1698. This will be the first time the plate has returned to Dublin Castle in almost a century. It comes as a result of the generosity of Christ Church Cathedral, in whose care the collection now rests. Additional items will include the original Dublin-made Arts and Crafts altar chairs; historic drawings; and a collection of embossed Chapel Royal prayer and music books.

All of these efforts coincide with a vibrant new chapter in the Chapel Royal’s history. The recent completion of conservation works by the Office of Public Works has inspired a new interest in the building and has made it suitable once again for public assembly. It now features on the Dublin Castle guided tour. In addition to its enhanced role as an integral part of the Dublin Castle visitor experience, it will also be made available for events in the future. Throughout the year, a series of public concerts is offering a flavour of the music that would once have been heard within its walls. Several of these are being recorded and broadcast by RTÉ Lyric FM. This series of concerts will culminate in a Christmas celebration to bring the chapel’s two-hundredth year of use to a fitting close. And as a new year opens, it is anticipated that the chapel will once more be at the heart of life in Dublin Castle, and that the expectations of the optimistic newspaper correspondent of 1810, will now be more fully appreciated.

Dr Myles Campbell is a curator based in the Office of Public Works at Dublin Castle

This article is taken from the 2015 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated - William Healy

25.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Portrait of Tom Connolly on Horseback, gouache on paper, The Castletown Foundation

William Healy (d. c. 1774) was the younger brother of Robert Healy and he entered Dublin Society Schools in 1769. His work was very similar to his brother and, following Robert's death in 1771, William began producing work in the same style. As a result, their work is almost indistinguishable. Luckily, William signed all his work, making it easier to differentiate the two. In 1774 he held an exhibition of copies after his later brothers work, which seems to have garnered him some of his brother's clients. That same year he submitted his only pieces to the Society of Artists in Ireland exhibitions, both copies of his brothers work. Both of these are now in the National Gallery.

William Healy was the son of a successful Dublin architect/decorator and studied at the Dublin Society Schools, where he mastered chalks and pastel before he established himself at Wood Quay. From there he exhibited portraits at the Society of Artists Exhibition in its first show in the City Assembly House in 1766 and then in every annual exhibition until his death.

Over the coming weeks, leading up to the second anniversary of our exhibition 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated', which opened at the City Assembly House in June 2018, we will be sharing some of the works of the artists whose works were reassembled in that exhibition.

The above text and research was compiled by Aoife Convery in 2018.


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Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated - William Healy

25.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Portrait of Tom Connolly on Horseback, gouache on paper, The Castletown Foundation

William Healy (d. c. 1774) was the younger brother of Robert Healy and he entered Dublin Society Schools in 1769. His work was very similar to his brother and, following Robert's death in 1771, William began producing work in the same style. As a result, their work is almost indistinguishable. Luckily, William signed all his work, making it easier to differentiate the two. In 1774 he held an exhibition of copies after his later brothers work, which seems to have garnered him some of his brother's clients. That same year he submitted his only pieces to the Society of Artists in Ireland exhibitions, both copies of his brothers work. Both of these are now in the National Gallery.

William Healy was the son of a successful Dublin architect/decorator and studied at the Dublin Society Schools, where he mastered chalks and pastel before he established himself at Wood Quay. From there he exhibited portraits at the Society of Artists Exhibition in its first show in the City Assembly House in 1766 and then in every annual exhibition until his death.

Over the coming weeks, leading up to the second anniversary of our exhibition 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated', which opened at the City Assembly House in June 2018, we will be sharing some of the works of the artists whose works were reassembled in that exhibition.

The above text and research was compiled by Aoife Convery in 2018.


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‘Vain Transitory Splendours’: The Irish country house and the art of John Nankivell

20.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Strokestown House, Co. Roscommon

Elizabeth Bowen wrote in Bowen’s Court that Ireland is a country of ruins that “feature the landscape” whether “Lordly or humble, military or domestic, standing up with furious gauntness… or shelving weakly into the soil”. She saw in them an implicit truth: “a ruin stands for either error or failure, and in this country are accepted as part of life”. The desolation of country houses and their demesnes would, by then end of the 20th century, become an all too familiar part of the Irish scenery: miles of crumbling stone walls interrupted by the casual insertion of bungalows, abused entrances with toppled piers and twisted ironwork, bramble engulfed lodges,, deeply-rutted carriage drives leading aimlessly through a wasted park, amidst a few bereft resilient trees— looked upon forlornly by the gutted house, a still-proud block staring, blindly out over the scene “in fright and amazement at the wide light, lovely, unloving country, the unwilling bosom whereon it was set”.

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Trimblestown Castle, Co. Meath

Once a constant in the landscape, with a seeming eternal presence and authority that offered stability with its paternal customs, focused on a largely pliant and dependent community, the Irish country house eventually became “vain transitory splendours”, no longer immune from the vicissitudes of life, the passage of time, or the powers of nature. As the old order was turned on its head, the buildings and their demesnes were quickly transformed into the “visual and cultural apparatus” of a social system that was vanishing, an anachronism that needed no replacement in the modern age, and were thus bound to succumb to the eventual process of being “naturalised to the soil”.

The true extent of the architectural losses accruing in a distinctly apathetic age was made all too apparent across the pages of Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland, a book published jointly by the Irish Architectural Archive and the Irish Georgian Society in 1988. Coinciding with the publication, an exhibition at Kyburg Gallery in London, organised at the instigation of the late Knight of Glin, brought to light - a series of arresting drawings of Irish houses and castles by the distinguished English artist John Nankivell. This was the culmination of more than two decades of travelling in Ireland, recording the sad decline of Irish architectural heritage. What began as fleeting glimpses of distant, decaying ruins from his parents’ car, as they explored Ireland on family holidays, had gradually resulted, year-by-year, in a remarkable collection of pencil-drawn views that are at once romantic and atmospheric—, as well as saddening (to those who cared) and reproachful (to those that didn’t) - love songs to the fast-fading glories of the Irish country house. The sense of poignancy and pathos embodied in these buildings are subjects that naturally appeal to the artist. To the aesthete, ruins have the potential to become beautiful with the passage of time, especially once the precise events and circumstances that led to decay or destruction become fading memories or have been lost in their myth-embroidered stories - or until a disinterested observer like John Nankivell, passionate and concerned about architecture, comes along and praises them in art. And in Irish visual art, no one has ever exploited this more effectively and thoroughly than Nankivell.

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Dunmore House, Co. Galway

Fortunately the ‘consecrating hand of time’ has changed attitudes; the old wounds were slowly healed as negative sentiment moved towards a more benign nostalgia, and so on to the present, where now interest in the Irish country house is now part of the serious business of academic research and professional conservation. By the time Vanishing Country Houses was published, there were already indications of a turning tide as political and social life in the new Republic become settled and secure, moving to an acceptance that these houses were, as Yeats argued in his poem Purgatory, “bricks and mortar possessed by history” and so, intrinsically Irish, and thus part of a greater Irish cultural heritage. Just as the country house, in dying as a social actuality, was becoming sanctified in Irish literature, in the poems of Yeats (and also of John Betjeman, one of Nankivell’s earliest admirers) and the novels of William Trevor, Aidan Higgins and Jennifer Johnston, so too was its spirit being revived in Nankivell’s drawings – suitably redeemed and memorialised as great works of art. Now, through the generosity of Susan and Coleman Burke, all the drawings have been brought together in Ireland for the first time, in an exhibition at the former City Assembly House in Dublin, where the core of the collection will be retained to form part of the Irish Georgian Society’s permanent collection.

Kevin V. Mulligan is an independent architectural historian.

This text is based on the introduction to the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition, and is taken from the 2018 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

You can purchase some of John Nankivell's drawings from our online shop here.

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Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated - Robert Crone

18.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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Robert Crone, A Landscape and Figures, 1770. Private Collection.

Robert Crone (1718-1779) was born in Dublin around 1740. He trained under Robert West in the George's Lane School in Dublin as well as being a pupil of Robert Hunter. In 1758, he was sent to Italy to study and he thrived in Rome, producing art and procuring prints for Dublin collectors and connoisseurs. He settled in London in 1767, where he regularly contributed to the Royal Academy. However, he only submitted a single piece to the Society of Artists of Ireland during the 1770 show, he exhibited A Landscape and Figures. Crone was apparently disfigured and suffered from epilepsy which affected his health and slowed his career, leading to a premature death in 1779.

Over the coming weeks, leading up to the second anniversary of our exhibition 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated', which opened at the City Assembly House in June 2018, we will be sharing some of the works of the artists whose works were reassembled in that exhibition.

The above text and research was compiled by Aoife Convery in 2018.

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‘The Entire Spectrum of Ireland’s Post-Medieval Architecture’: 21 Years of the IGS Journal

13.05.2020

Posted by IGS

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On 15 May the City Assembly House was full to capacity for a twenty-first birthday party for Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, the Journal of the Irish Georgian Society. Another exciting volume under the editorship of Prof. Finola O’Kane was launched by Prof. Andrew Carpenter, founding editor of Eighteenth Century Ireland and general editor of the five-volume Art and Architecture of Ireland published in 2014.

The Irish Georgian Society has been publishing research on Ireland’s art and architecture from close to its inception in 1958, initially through its Quarterly Bulletin. In the first volume of IA&DS, Desmond Guinness, co-founder of the Society, told the story of how the bulletin’s much-loved design was, rather serendipitously, arrived at:

The white and gold organ in the salon at Carton had been installed in 1857, and the Music Association of Ireland arranged a concert to celebrate its one hundredth anniversary while we were living there. It struck me that the programme was very elegantly printed, in a beautiful typeface, using red and black on a handmade cream paper. We were told that the Dolmen Press had printed it, and, when in 1958 we started to plan the Quarterly Bulletin, we went to Liam Miller, who owned the Press, and he agreed to undertake the printing for us.

In 1998 a decision was made to expand the format and, with Seán O’Reilly as editor, Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies was born. Gandon Editions of Kinsale has taken over the mantle of Dolmen Press and has produced and beautifully designed all twenty-one volumes.

At the time of the launch of the rebranded Journal Desmond Guinness explained its extended remit: ‘The new manifestation of the Bulletin acknowledges the importance of the entire spectrum of Ireland’s post-medieval architecture and its special need for protection, interpretation understanding and appreciation’.

Some years later the Knight of Glin again articulated the centrality of the Journal to the IGS: ‘The scrupulous scholarship that the Journal promotes, permeates and informs all our activities’ indeed, he argued that the Journal was ‘one of the things that most differentiates the Irish Georgian Society from other heritage and conservation bodies’.

With these statements of intent the ‘Two Desmonds’ set a hugely ambitious goal for the Journal – to explore the whole of Ireland’s post-medieval art, architecture and material culture – but one which over twenty-one years it has triumphantly fulfilled. Toby Barnard describes the Journal as the first ‘port of call’ for researchers in the field while the catalogue of the great Chicago exhibition of Irish art held in 2015, noting the Art Institute’s collaboration with the IGS on the show, described IA&DS as ‘at the forefront of research into the material world of Ireland’.

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Dr Conor Lucey (past IADS editor), Dr Christine Casey (Trinity College Dublin) and Dr Ellen Rowley (University College Dublin) at last year's launch.

It seems that every significant figure working in the fields of Irish architecture, gardens, painting and the decorative arts has contributed to its pages, notably including Toby Barnard, Mairead Dunlevy, Christine Casey, Alec Cobbe, Jane Fenlon, Eileen Harris, the Knight of Glin, Nicola Gordon Bowe, Rolf Loeber, Desmond Guinness, Peter Harbison and Nicola Figgis, who in 2002 took over the editorship. The Journal has also published the work of subsequent generations of architectural historians including Kevin Mulligan, Finola O’Kane, Conor Lucey, Livia Hurley and Melanie Hayes, and scholars of material culture, perhaps most notably Alison FitzGerald and Anna Moran. Importantly, it has also provided a platform for graduate students, and fledgling scholars at the beginning of their careers.

The generous length which the Journal allows its contributors – in contrast to the bite-sized articles that some other publications demand – gives room for scholars to explore complex material in detail, and the results have frequently been worked up later into monographs. Kevin Mulligan and Patricia McCarthy, for example, published their researches in several volumes of the Journal which were later expanded into notable books on the Irish country house generally, and Ballyfin specifically. Similarly David Skinner expanded his findings on Irish wallpaper, published here in Volume VI, into a much-praised book on the subject.

Eleven years ago, writing at the time of the IA&DS’s tenth anniversary, I noted the breadth of the Journal’s contents in its first decade: ‘Periods and topics range from Arts and Crafts in Kilkenny to medieval churches in south Leinster. There are article on individual building typologies from sporting lodges to railway stations, while material culture in its widest sense is explored – furniture, glass, fireworks and automata…while the histories of patronage, exhibiting and collecting are also discussed’. In the eleven years since then under the editorship of Finola and, immediately prior to that, Conor Lucey, the range of topics has only expanded, with research published on shops and shopping in Georgian Dublin; public lighting in eighteenth-century Cork; elite food culture in Ireland and private theatricals in Irish houses.

Stained glass, sculpture, furniture, silver, carriages, musical instruments, stuccowork, tapestries, photographic albums and bookbindings have all been the subject of articles as have all sorts of buildings: churches, follies, country and town houses, convents. Thematic studies have explored issues of estate development, exhibiting practices, art education, urban planning, and aspects of sociability from country house visiting to music and dancing. Architects including James Gibbs, Frederick Darley and James Pain and artists such as George Barret, Hugh Douglas Hamilton and Charles Jervas have all featured. Intriguing titles invite perusal: ‘an Irish Artist at the Bullfight in 1789’, ‘Bathing in Porphyry on the Banks of the River Liffey’ or ‘Piracy, Property and Politics’.

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Irish Architectural & Decorative Studies - Volume XXI (2019)

The current volume reflects this admirable diversity, though with something of a Dublin focus including, as it does, new research on the Wide Streets Commissioners; the Casino at Marino; the Custom House; the Dublin Society; newly discovered drawings by Hugh Douglas Hamilton relating to his well-known Cries of Dublin; the restoration by Richard Morrison of a Catholic chapel in Wicklow; the 1979 Taoiseach’s House competition, and the much-travelled artist from County Down, Helen Mabel Trevor.

Overseeing the Journal is a distinguished advisory board of leading scholars of art, architecture and design, its members drawn from TCD, UCD, UCL, Maynooth University, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Architectural Archive and the National College of Art and Design. Although technically chaired by the editor, the board is genially presided over by Ireland’s senior architectural historians, David Griffin and Edward McParland. Eddie was once described by the Knight as the éminence grise behind the Journal and a remarkable six of the nine articles in the current issue acknowledge his scholarship in their footnotes. The IGS is delighted that the architectural historian John Montague has recently agreed to join the editorial board. [this still to be confirmed, one of the reasons I want to see a proof!]

IS&DS has been fortunate in attracting sponsors of enormous generosity who have enabled us to produce an expensive publication, the costs of which are not nearly covered by subscriptions. The Apollo Foundation, The Ireland Funds, the Mark Mitchell Fund, the Esmé Mitchell Trust, The Castletown Foundation, the OPW and the Schools of Irish Studies Foundations have all provided funding while for many years we received generous support from the J. Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust and the Estate of the late Paul Mellon. The IGS is also immensely grateful to private donors who have helped cover the costs in recent years.

Following launches of the Journal in Dublin, Chicago, London, Limerick, Kilkenny and Castletown, next year we hope to launch (once again) in Cork with a volume highlighting new research on the architectural history and material culture of Cork city and its environs.

The Journal neatly straddles the educational and conservation remits of the IGS, as Desmond Guinness put it in the quotation above encouraging the ‘protection, interpretation understanding and appreciation’ of our material past and reminding of the deep seriousness of purpose of the Society which should never be forgotten. All members and supporters of the IGS’s goals are encouraged to subscribe.

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