I've never seen drawings either, but apparently there were draft or preliminary plans drawn up by Cooley shortly after the completion of the Public Records wing for a Courts complex at this site also, roughly along the lines of the plan that we have now, but with a single semi-enclosed rectangular courtyard – presumably open to the river - and the central block absorbed into the northern range. The plan of Government Buildings minus its street frontage is probably a reasonably representative expression of such a concept. Agreed the plans would be interesting to get hold of.
As regards the chronology of building the Four Courts, as previously mentioned Cooley’s building was begun in 1776 and seemingly finished by 1784, the year that Cooley died. Notably it was James Gandon that signed one of the final payments for this work in that same year – 1784 – indicating he was on the scene as replacement architect long before 1786 when the foundation stone for the Four Courts was laid. Ground works began in the latter quarter of 1785. What is generally unknown is that the building of the Four Courts was fraught with as much, if not greater, difficulty than that of the Custom House - allbeit for different reasons - with Gandon embroiled in a plethora of vindictive public attacks that were as much political as they were critical of his work. Work was also halted at times, and the entire project constantly under political scrutiny and review. All of this is detailed to illuminating effect in Hugo Duffy’s seminal book on Gandon: James Gandon and his Times
, published in 1999.
An extract from Gandon’s diaries gives a precise chronology of the major construction events. In 1794:
“The statues had been placed on the pediment of the portico, and four of the columns, complete with their entablature, were raised and set around the drum of the dome, so that some idea could be formed of what was intended: from this circumstance I was in hopes to secure the completeness of the design whenever it was resumed. The dome, from its eminence was now become the most conspicuous feature of the public of Dublin, and from many adjacent parts of the country was seen with imposing effect.”
Later in 1794:
“...the remaining columns around the dome, with the entablature, were completed and the roof covered; in the meantime the internal scaffold was raised for finishing the vault of the internal dome; all the foliage, with the medallions being cast, and afterwards repaired by carvers, which added greatly to their boldness of relief, and every department went on with the same expedition. The Courts were ready for the reception of the Judges, who held their first term therein on Monday, the 8th November, 1796, being ten years and eight months from the laying of the first stone. But it must be remarked that works were suspended for nearly three years, while the south eastern portion of the offices were being erected. It was not until the year 1798 that the foundations were laid for the east wing of the remaining offices, nor, owing to the political events which then convulsed society, was it until 1802 that the screen arcade, and wings of offices were finally completed.”
The person generally associated with the personal attacks in contemporary newspapers was none other than James Malton, clearly a volatile character with a major chip on his shoulder. He had earlier worked for Gandon as his (highly accomplished) draughtsman for about three years. While the anonymous ‘Malton Letters’ have never been proven conclusively to have been by him – and there are some causes in the letters to attribute them elsewhere – on the whole it is accepted that he is by far the most likely candidate responsible.
The biography of Gandon published by his son in the 19th century observed cuttingly about Malton: “He [Gandon] took him into his office, and kept him employed for nearly three years; but he so frequently betrayed all official confidence, and was guilty of so many irregularities, that it became quite necessary to dismiss him from the employment. He subsequently published views of the public buildings of Dublin, which, so far as delineation went, were certainly accurate, but his letter-press descriptions were envenomed with the most malignant misrepresentations.”
I've never really understood why Malton's view of the Four Courts - or rather his depiction of the drum and dome - is so unflattering, cartoon-like even, especially relative to his other elegant and proportional drawings, but his string of attacks on this building in particular would suggest that he wasn't exactly favourably disposed to an accurate, never mind favourable, representation...
Incidentally the plans depicted in Gandon's famous portrait by Tilly Kettle are none other than...