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Leinster House: A Tour and History

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Tour
Please click on any image below to see information about that section of LeinsterHouse
:

Kildare Street Entrance   Merrion Street Entrance   Entrance Hall   The Dáil Chamber   Chair and Dais of the Ceann Comhairle   Ceann Comhairle's Bell   The Seanad Chamber   Cathaoirleach's Bell   The Library

History
The history of Leinster House - the building that now houses the National Parliament of Ireland - evolved in stages.

James Fitzgerald - Earl of Kildare
James Fitzgerald
The Earl of Kildare
The house was originally known as Kildare House after James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare, who commissioned it to be built between 1745-47: James Fitzgerald set out to create the stateliest of Dublin Georgian Mansions to reflect his eminent position in Irish society. It is told that the Earl had said that fashion would follow in whatever direction he led.  In succeeding, he caused an unfashionable area of the city to become a desirable one. On becoming the Duke of Leinster in 1776 (Dublin and Kildare are in the province of Leinster) the house was renamed Leinster House.

The designer of Leinster House was the architect Richard Cassels (or Castle), who was born in Hesse-Cassel in Germany about 1690. The design is characteristic of buildings of the period in Ireland and England. It has been claimed that it formed a model for the design of the White House, the residence of the President of the United States. This claim may have its origins in the career of James Hoban, who in 1792 won the competition for the design of the White House. He was an Irishman, born in Callan, County Kilkenny in 1762, and studied architecture in Dublin, and consequently, would have had an opportunity of studying the design of Leinster House.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald
Lord Edward Fitzgerald
Supporter of the United Irishmen, who advocated complete separation of Ireland from England, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, fifth son of the first Duke of Leinster, was arrested shortly before the insurrection of May 1798 and died of wounds received during his capture. No doubt it was beyond his wildest dreams that many years later the Irish Parliament would be located in his family home.

In 1815, Augustus Frederick, the third Duke of Leinster, sold the mansion to the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) for £10,000 and a yearly rent of £600 which was later redeemed. The purpose of the society was to improve the wretched conditions of the people.

Many important public institutions of the present day owe their origins to the RDS:

The Society made extensive additions to the house, most notably the lecture theatre, later to become the Dáil Chamber.

A number of historic events took place in Leinster House. The first balloon ascent in Ireland was made in July 1783 by Richard Crosbie from Leinster Lawn. The Great Industrial Exhibition was opened on Leinster Lawn on 12 May 1853.

After the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, the Government secured a part of Leinster House for parliamentary use. The entire building was acquired by the State in 1924.

Today, Leinster House is the seat of the two Houses of the Oireachtas (National Parliament), comprising Dáil Éireann (the House of Representatives) and Seanad Éireann (the Senate).

The purpose which it now serves may put off to some distant time the "unhappy day" referred to in the inscription on the foundation stone, which in translation from the original Latin reads:

The house,
of which this stone is the foundation,
James, twentieth Earl of Kildare,
caused to be erected in Molesworth's field,
in the year of our Lord 1747.
Hence learn, whenever, in some unhappy day,
you light on the ruins of so great a mansion,
of what worth he was who built it,
and how frail all things are,
when such memorials of such men cannot outlive misfortune.
By Richard Castle, Architect


Further reading:

Tithe an Oireachtas
The Irish Parliament
Democracy at Work,
The Stationery Office, Dublin (1996)

Leinster House
Seat of Dáil Éireann Seanad Éireann,
John R. Tobin, Clerk of Seanad Éireann,
The Stationery Office Dublin (1985)

Leinster House
1744 - 2000 An Architectural History
David J. Griffin and Caroline Pegum
The Irish Architectural Archive, 73 Merrion Square, Dublin 2
in association with
The Office of Public Works, 51 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2
(2000)

See also Bibliographical Note.

* There is some evidence to suggest that the word "parliament" may have been in use as early as 1234-35, but the earliest known Irish parliament for which there is a definitive record met on 18 June 1264 at Castledermot, County Kildare.