History of City Hall

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Image of the West Doors       The dome

City Hall was built between 1769 and 1779. The build took ten years to complete. When they decided to build City Hall a competition was advertised and 62 submissions were made. The winner of this Competition was Thomas Cooley, a young architect from London. At the time, James Gandon would have been the primary architect in Dublin, but his designs came second in the competition. Thomas Cooley was also tendered to build the Four Courts, however at 44 years of age, he fell ill and died and therefore James Gandon became the primary architect in the building of the Four Courts.

If you look to the ceiling you will see that there is a stained glass dome, initially this was meant to be left open, in the same vein as the Pantheon, however given that we are in Ireland and it rains so often, they decided to cover it in. The stone work was done by a German man called Simon Vierpyl, and the stuccodore responsible for the gilded work was a man called Charles Thorpe.

Initially when City Hall was built, it was built as The Royal Exchange. This was where you would have come to exchange Irish Punt into English Sterling. This was where merchants and guildsmen gathered to discuss their trading affairs. If you look out the West door onto Castle Street, that was where the banks were located and if you look out the windows to the east, where the trading happened. Over by the Olympia Theatre was where debts were collected. This really was an epicentre of trade in Dublin for the later part of the 18th Century.

The Wide Streets Commission used the building in the late 1780s and 1790s to meet to discuss the planning of the city. If you walk around the outer ring of the Rotunda, you will notice that there is a distinct echo, this was done intentionally. When Thomas Cooley was designing the building, he designed it so that the echo would muffle private conversations that were had when walking around the room. 

Upstairs, in what are now the Council Chambers, there were coffee rooms. Coffee House Culture in the Dublin in the 18th and 19th Century was quite popular. Coffee was a luxury item and therefore very expensive to buy, and this made it very fashionable in those days.

In 1800 the Act of Union was introduced and this had a devastating effect on the economy in Dublin, and by 1827 the currency was amalgamated. The building fell into disuse and was then rented out. This was actually where O’Connell gave his first public address on the Act of Union and it is one of his most famous addresses. In 1852 this building was bought by Dublin City Council, and they had partitions put up for privacy. Since then, in 1998- 2000 Dublin City Council restored the building to it’s original state as part of a refurbishment plan for the millennium.

1916-1922 (the civil war, the war of independence)

In 1916 this building was used as a Garrison for the Irish Citizen Army. Sean Connolly seized the building using a key, because at the time he worked in the motor department and would have had access to the building. He came in through the West door. There were 35 people based here, mostly women. These women were under the instruction of a woman named Kathleen Lynn, and the building was used as a hospital primarily.

The first casualty of 1916, was a Guard named James O’Brien at Dublin Castle and he was shot by Sean Connolly, while on duty closing the Gate to Dublin Castle. Sean Connolly also died here, he was shot by a sniper on the roof of City Hall. By midnight that same evening, Kathleen Lynn surrendered to the British. In total the entire siege lasted about 12 hours.

Around the Rotunda you will see 4 statues; O’Connell, Drummond, Thomas Davis and Charles Lucas.

Daniel ‘the Liberator’ O’Connell was most noted as a catholic emancipator, he worked to abolish laws discriminating against the catholic people of Ireland.

Thomas Drummond was the Irish Secretary and an engineer (1791-1840). He was most famous for the design of a lighthouse light that is still in use today. In 1840, at the age of 43, he fell ill with TB and died. One of his greatest contributions to the Irish political landscape was the abolishment of a law that ordered 1/10th of all income to be paid to the Church of Ireland

Thomas Davis was a famous poet and this statue was built in 1943 to mark his contribution to the Arts.

Charles Lucas was a prominent figure in the development of the city as we know it today. He was a member of the Wide Streets Commission and they developed the areas the we now call O’Connell street, d’Olier street, Henry street, Westmoreland street and college green area. He also had great influence on the guilds in Dublin.

There are 12 Murals surrounding the dome. These Murals were painted between 1914 and 1919 by a man called James Ward and his pupils. He was the master at the Metropolitan Institute of Art in Dublin at the time. The subject matter was suggested by Alderman Thomas Kelly, and they are based around events in the history of Dublin. There was a budget of £350 pounds for the frescos and they were restored by a man called Matthew Moss in 1968. More information can be found on our Facebook page on each of these murals.

The central part of the Rotunda, including the mosaic Coat of Arms, was re-laid in 1898 to a design of the then City Architect Charles J. McCarthy.  The white marble surrounding the Coat of Arms is actually Portland stone from the Isle of Wight. The light grey-blue marble is Sicilian; the black marble is from Co. Kilkenny; the green marble is from Co. Galway; and the red marble is from Co.  Cork. All of the marble is two inches thick and is grouted with Portland cement.  The work was carried out by Sibthorpe and Sons of Dublin.