History of City Hall
Dublin City Hall was built between 1769 and 1779. After a hotly contested competition to find a designer, Dublin’s top architect, James Gandon took second place to Thomas Cooley, a young London architect who undertook the project at the age of just 29.
Cooley’s ideas were ambitious and daring. The stained glass dome in the City Hall’s ceiling was originally designed to be left open, similar to the Pantheon – but Ireland’s rainy weather soon put an end to that. German mason, Simon Vierpyl was responsible for the stonework; while the gilded work was taken care of by stuccadore, Charles Thorpe, who later went on to become Lord Mayor of Dublin.
Originally built as the Royal Exchange, the City Hall was an epicentre of trade in Dublin for the latter part of the 18th century. This was where people came to exchange Irish Punt to English Sterling; where merchants and guildsmen gathered to discuss their trades. Even the very planning of the city itself took place here, with the Wide Streets Commission meeting here in the late 1780s and 1790s. And with the coffee rooms (today’s Council Chambers) upstairs, City Hall truly was a thriving, vibrant meeting place – which gave rise to some of the building’s more exceptional designs. Those walking around the Rotunda’s outer ring will notice a distinct echo when they speak; this was purposely added to the design so that private conversations would be muffled.
When the Act of Union was introduced in 1800, Dublin’s economy was devastated and Ireland’s currency was eventually amalgamated into sterling. The building fell out of use and was rented out, even becoming the site of Daniel O’Connell’s first public – and perhaps most famous – address on the Act of Union. In 1852, Dublin City Council bought the building and made some structural changes, before it was restored to its original state during refurbishment in advance of the millennium.
Around the Rotunda are four statues: Daniel O’Connell, Thomas Drummond, Thomas Davis and Charles Lucas.
Daniel "The Liberator" O’Connell is most noted as a Catholic emancipator, who worked to abolish laws discriminating against the Catholic people of Ireland.
Thomas Drummond was the Irish Secretary and an engineer. 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 chief organiser of the Young Irelander movement, who was an advocate for unity between Irish Catholics and Protestants. His statue was built in 1943 to mark his contribution to the arts.
Charles Lucas was a prominent figure in the development of Dublin city as we know it today. He was a member of the Wide Streets Commission, which developed the areas we now call O’Connell Street, d’Olier Street, Henry Street, Westmoreland Street and the College Green area. He also had great influence on the guilds in Dublin.
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 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 H. Sibthorpe & Son of Dublin.
Surrounding the dome of the Rotunda are 12 murals. Painted between 1914 and 1919 by James Ward and his pupils, more information on each of them can be found on the City Hall 12 Murals page.
1916-1922: The Civil War and the War of Independence
In 1916, the City Hall was used as a garrison and hospital for the Irish Citizen army. The building was seized by Sean Connolly, who had a key due to his job in the motor department. 35 people, mostly women, were based here under the instruction of Kathleen Lynn.
The first Dublin casualty of the 1916 Rising, a guard named James O’Brien, was shot by Connolly, who was himself killed here by a sniper based on the City Hall’s roof; by midnight that same evening, Lynn had surrendered to the British. The entire siege lasted about 12 hours.