In the summer of 2019 our family had the chance to spend almost three months in Dublin and I’ll try to tell you about everything interesting, popular or not, in the city. Overall, I wouldn’t say that I liked Dublin much, unlike Ireland. If you go out of the city everything is gorgeous, but Dublin itself not so much… There were amazing places, of course, and I will tell you about one of them now.
Dublin Castle is the heart of historic Dublin. It is one of the most important buildings in Irish history. The city gets its name from the Black Pool – ‘Dubh Linn’ – which was on the site of the present Castle garden where the River Liffey met the River Poddle. The original fortification may have been an early Gaelic Ring Fort. Later a Viking Fortress stood on this site.
From 1204 until 1922 it was the seat of English, and later British rule in Ireland. During that time, it served principally as a residence for the British monarch’s Irish representative, the Viceroy of Ireland, and as a ceremonial and administrative centre. The Castle was originally developed as a medieval fortress under the orders of King John of England.
Following the fire, a campaign of rebuilding in the late-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the Castle transformed from a medieval bastion into a Georgian palace. The new building included a suite of grand reception rooms known as the State Apartments. These palatial spaces accommodated the Viceroy and were the focus of great state occasions.
On 16 January 1922, the last ever Viceroy of Ireland handed Dublin Castle over to Michael Collins and the government of the newly-independent Irish state. The end of the British presence had come about in the wake of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish War of Independence. These momentous events paved the way for the creation of the Republic of Ireland and were closely associated with the history of Dublin Castle. Since that historic moment, a tradition of state ceremony has been maintained at the Castle. Successive Irish governments have continued to use it for important national events, such as state dinners and commemorations. Since 1938, each one of Ireland’s presidents has been inaugurated in St Patrick’s Hall, the grandest of the State Apartments.
Below the Castle, excavations have uncovered parts of the structure of the medieval castle alongside the remains of some of Viking Dublin’s original defences. These defences take the form of a stone covered embankment, a section of which has been preserved within the massive circular walls of the thirteenth-century Powder Tower.
Visible to visitors is a section of the Castle’s medieval curtain wall with a postern gate and a set of steps that led down to the original moat. The River Poddle, which still flows under the Castle grounds today, would have been diverted in order to create a moat that surrounded the Castle. Other medieval features on the site include part of the early town wall with an archway that allowed the moat to pass under it
The Medieval Tower is one of the oldest, most intact and most important parts of the city of Dublin to survive today. Dating from 1204-28, it was largely constructed during the reign of Henry III, King of England and Lord of Ireland. Its walls are up to 4.8 meters thick.
In 1811 the tower was converted to hold state papers, at which time it was revamped to complement the new Chapel Royal being constructed next to it. The height of the tower was raised and its parapet was capped with new masonry battlements.
Like all the early buildings of the Castle, it has had a variety of functions over the centuries. In its early use as the king’s Wardrobe Tower, armour, clothes and the king’s treasure were stored there. The Wardrobe was also the name for the department of the royal household that managed the king’s personal property. The tower was later used to house prisoners. By the seventeenth century it had been renamed the Gunner’s Tower and probably served as the headquarters for the Master Gunner of Ireland. Finally, in 1811, it was converted to hold treasures of a different kind, in the form of state papers and records. Expensively bound books and ancient manuscripts, as well as the correspondence of Viceroys and governments, were all neatly arranged and safely stored here up until 1989.
The Medieval Tower is currently closed to the public pending restoration.
The State Apartments dominate the south range of the Upper Courtyard. They were built as the residential and public quarters of the viceregal court and were the seat of the executive and focus of fashionable and extravagant social life. Today the Apartments are the venue for Ireland’s Presidencies of the European Union, presidential inaugurations and prestigious functions.
The Grand Staircase – This grand imperial staircase was the first of its type in Dublin and was created in 1749. Its generous architectural form created a suitably imposing first impression of the State Apartments. During the social season, debutantes and members of the aristocracy ascended this staircase in court dress on their way to attend balls, dinners and presentation ceremonies given by the Viceroy. Since 1938, it has been part of the main ceremonial route used during the inauguration of the President of Ireland in the State Apartments.
The State Corridor – This great neoclassical corridor was designed in 1758. It provided access to a series of formal State reception rooms overlooking the main courtyard, as well as to the quarters of the Viceroy and his family overlooking the Castle gardens. At its far end, it led to the Privy Council Chamber. It was to this room that each new Viceroy processed when being sworn into office. On 16 January 1922, the Privy Council Chamber was the setting for the handover of Dublin Castle from the last Viceroy to Michael Collins and the new government of the Irish Free State.
The State Apartments Galleries – These four rooms were originally the quarters of the Viceroy and his family. They included the State Bedchamber, the Viceroy’s Study, the Viceroy’s Dressing Room and the Vicereine’s Boudoir. Two of the rooms feature exquisite rococo plasterwork ceilings dating from the 1750s by the renowned stuccodore Bartholomew Cramillion. Today the rooms are used as gallery spaces for a vibrant programme of exhibitions, many of which explore themes relating to the Castle’s history.
The James Connolly Room is an important landmark in the story of the Easter Rising of 1916. The room was once part of the Viceroy’s quarters. In 1915 this room, together with the rest of the State Apartments, became a Red Cross Hospital for soldiers wounded in World War I. It was here, in 1916, that James Connolly was treated for the injuries he had sustained in leading a rebellion against British rule in Ireland. Known as the Easter Rising, the rebellion resulted in the execution of the rebel leaders. On 12 May 1916, James Connolly was brought from here to be executed at Kilmainham Gaol.
The Apollo Room derives its name from the figure of the mythological Greek god of the arts and music, Apollo, at the center of its plasterwork ceiling. Having been rescued from a nearby Georgian townhouse in 1912, this room was installed in the State Apartments in the 1960s during an ambitious restoration project. Inscribed with the date 1746, the ceiling arrived at Dublin Castle in eleven separate pieces that were seamlessly reunited to form a superb example of eighteenth-century craftsmanship.
The State Drawing Room was created in 1838 and was used mainly by successive Vicereines (the wives of the Viceroys) as a formal sitting room and for holding audiences with Irish courtiers. During the royal visits of 1907 and 1911 Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary also received guests in this room.
The Throne Room was once the epicentre of royal ceremony in Ireland. It was created in 1788 as an audience chamber in which the Viceroy received guests on behalf of the British monarch. It was also where young debutantes were presented at court to mark their formal entry into aristocratic society. The throne was made for the visit to Ireland of King George IV, in 1821. It was later used by Queen Victoria and King Edward VII during their visits to the Castle. The last monarch to use it before Irish independence was King George V, in 1911. On display over the doors in this space are six important mythological paintings by the Italian artist Gaetano Gandolfi, painted in 1767.
The Portrait Gallery – This room takes its name from the collection of portraits of Irish Viceroys that have hung on its walls since 1849. The room’s main function was as a dining room where State dinners were held. In the early eighteenth century, expensive and exotic foods such as anchovies, mangoes, caviar and orange blossom water were served here, reflecting the wealth and status of the Viceroy and his court.
The Wedgwood Room takes its name from the blue and white decorative scheme that recalls the colours of Wedgwood pottery. It was completed in 1777 in the neoclassical style and later became the Castle’s billiard room. Lit only from above by a small glass-domed roof, it was a favourite place for the creation of temporary indoor gardens filled with exotic birds, trees and water fountains in the nineteenth century. These installations provided cooling refreshment for guests at the Castle’s crowded State balls and receptions.
The circular Gothic Room was created as a supper room in 1775 during the reconstruction of the medieval Bermingham Tower. The room’s location directly above the State kitchen made it a convenient place for holding private dinners and serving refreshments during balls. With its pointed arches and Gothic forms, it is architecturally significant as the earliest example of the Gothic Revival style in a State building in Ireland.
St Patrick’s Hall is one of Ireland’s greatest ceremonial rooms. It was developed in the mid-eighteenth century as the Castle’s ballroom. In 1788, the Italian artist Vincenzo Waldré began work on the painted ceiling that survives today as the most important scheme of its type in Ireland. The hall was for many years the meeting place of the Knights of St Patrick, Ireland’s chivalric order of knights whose flags still adorn its walls. Over the years it has been used to entertain some of Ireland’s most prominent State visitors including John F. Kennedy, Princess Grace of Monaco and Queen Elizabeth II.
There has been a chapel at Dublin Castle since at least 1242. The present chapel was designed by Francis Johnston and was opened, as the Anglican chapel of the Viceroy, on Christmas Day 1814. Although several times smaller than Johnston’s nearby General Post Office, it was as expensive to build. It became known as the Chapel Royal after King George IV attended service on 2 September 1821.
Following Irish independence in 1922, it lay dormant before becoming a Roman Catholic church in 1943. It is now deconsecrated. The galleries and stained glass windows are ornamented with coats of arms representing many of Ireland’s Viceroys. The arms of the last Viceroy, Lord FitzAlan Howard, filled the very last available space in the last available window when they were installed in 1922.
You can visit the Dublin castle with organised tour or by yourself. Bur on the self tour you can see only the State Apartments and its price is 8 euro. The organised one takes you everywhere and costs 12 euro. Check the working hours here.
The Castle Gardens, however, are free of charge.
There have been gardens at Dublin Castle since the early years of the 17 century. They are situated immediately south of the Chapel Royal and the State Apartments within an enclosing stone wall. The gardens are entered through wrought-iron gates of Celtic-inspired spirals. Beyond a ‘four seasons’ garden lie four smaller gardens, one at each corner of the site. All contain specially commissioned works of sculpture. Three of these have since been designated as memorial gardens. One is dedicated to the memory of investigative journalist Veronica Guerin. Another contains a bronze sculpture commemorating the Special Olympics held in Ireland in 2003, with the names of the 30,000 volunteers who contributed to the games inscribed on plaques.
The third and largest of these corner gardens is the sheltered Garda Memorial Garden, redesigned and completed in 2009. In this garden the names of all members of the Gardaí (Irish Police) killed in the line of duty are inscribed on a roll of honour. Several sculptural works are also incorporated into the layout. These works and the overall design of the garden are intended to reflect how the premature deaths of loved ones leave a trace or imprint, like ripples in a pool, on the lives of those left behind.
At the heart of the gardens is the grassy sward of the Dubh Linn Garden, where patterns representing sea serpents are cut into the lawn. This lawn is on or near the site of the original dubh linn or ‘black pool’, where the Vikings harboured their ships and set up a trading base. It was this pool that gave its name to the city: Dublin.
The castle is absolutely a must see when in Dublin, but if you don’t have enough time to see it inside and out, you can check out only its fabulous exterior. It’s quite impressive.
Stay tuned and don’t stop travelling!