Re: Re: Dublin Castle – Who is in Charge?

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It is a state room that is laden in symbolism and layered with so many decorative interventions that it is not possible to detail all in the space of one post, never mind remark on each.

What is worth noting, however, is that the glitter of the room often tends to distract from its relatively ancient origins. It is only when one mentally strips away the modern decorative scheme, the functional interventions and even the late Georgian decoration itself, that the magic of St. Patrick’s Hall as host to a major event of state truly comes alive. The essential fabric of this grand old lady of a room dates right back to the mid-1740s – an impressive achievement for its time relative to what was being built elsewhere in Dublin, and little short of astonishing relative to the paltry entertaining spaces then available to the ‘real’ royal court in London of the same period. Strip back the 1780s pilasters, the 1840s doorcases, the Victorian balconies and boarded out mirrored walls, the 1880s coved ceiling, and one comes slap up against a brick carcass of a ballroom built 265 years ago on top of late medieval remains. In effect, every dignitary and every individual of public consequence in the State assembles for public celebration and an embracement of history and cultural heritage, in a room of not only evocative antiquity, but also of such a primitive construction than in almost any other context in Ireland would have been demolished long before now.

It is these complex layers of history in the room – its age and traditional nature of construction, the most significant painted ceiling in the State that resides there, the many hundreds of thousands – probably millions – of people who have assembled there, the many knighting ceremonies that transpired there, the kings, queens and consorts that received subjects there, the countless viceroys and lords lieutenants that entertained there on a vast scale, the various lyings-in-state that occurred there, the new role it adopted as foil to inauguration of Head of State of an independent nation – that all lend the room a remarkable significance and symbolism in modern Irish public life. For most citizens to hold such little knowledge of its former role – both positive and negative – and its function in the modern life of the State, is deeply regrettable.

It is a room whose character can change dramatically through use of lighting. What may appear as over-gilded during the day transforms into something very special by night. The deep blue French silk on the walls – an innovative sticky-backed solution of the 1990s that still divides opinion – also takes on a different quality after dark. Probably because you can’t see it.

The chandeliers are by far the most accomplished of all Waterford glass chandeliers ever commissioned for an Irish state room. One might argue this is hardly an auspicious accolade, but in their own right they are exquisitely crafted and perfectly scaled – the latter an often dismissed factor in chandelier design. Correct sizing is half the battle. Remarkably, St. Patrick’s Hall had been left devoid of pendent lighting since the former multitude of electrified viceregal gasoliers were removed roundabout the 1940s. This magnificent Waterford glass pair was commissioned in time for Mary Robinson’s inauguration in 1990.

As mentioned, much of the decoration of what was previously a plain 1740s ballroom dressed up for events, dates to the late 1780s as a result of a vainglorious campaign of public spending under the Marquis of Buckingham following the creation of the Order of St. Patrick in 1783 – hence the new name of St. Patrick’s Hall. Up close, the detail is still crisp and magnificent.

The comprehensively gilded decorative scheme is a twentieth century innovation and also heatedly divides opinion.

The painted ceiling – or rather, painted canvasses erected on the ceiling – are by the Italian artist, Vincent Waldré, or Vincenzo Valdré, painted c. 1787-92. Waldré also painted the giant cove of the ceiling with somewhat ungainly panels, which the Victorians exercised good judgement in promptly plastering over – if not quite in their wholesale destruction.

The President is thus inaugurated beneath St. Patrick lighting the paschal flame amongst native heathens…

A sophisticatedly dressed Henry II receiving the submission of distinctly primitive Irish chieftans…

…aaaand the munificent reign of King George III.

A particularly submissive Hibernia to the right. At least she is apt given we’ve come full circle in the past year or two.

The delightful figures perched up in the cove flank the Star of St. Patrick. I think these date to the 1780s.

The emergency lights the 1980s.

At the back of the room, stoically surveying proceedings, is the man who had the inspiration and the aspiration to create what we have today. In more ways than one, he is intimately linked with the Irish presidency, having commissioned in 1745 not only the ballroom in which the President is inaugurated, but also opened to the public the park in which the President now resides, and laid out the avenue on which the President now drives on the way to the inauguration ceremony. One Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, whose fabulous bust by Roubiliac appropriately takes price of place in the niche beside the main entrance to St. Patrick’s Hall.

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