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Bank of Ireland (Irish Houses of Parliament), Dublin, Ireland

July 26th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

The Irish Houses of Parliament (also known as the Irish Parliament House, now called the Bank of Ireland, College Green due to its modern day use as a branch of the bank) was the world's first purpose-built two-chamber parliament house. It served as the seat of both chambers (the Lords and Commons) of the Irish parliament of the Kingdom of Ireland for most of the eighteenth century until that parliament was abolished by the Act of Union in 1800 when the island became part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In the 17th century, parliament had settled in Chichester House, a mansion in Hoggen Green (later renamed College Green) that had been owned by Sir George Carew, President of Munster and Lord High Treasurer of Ireland, and which had been built on the site of a nunnery disbanded by King Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries. Carew's house, (later renamed Chichester House after a later owner Sir Arthur Chichester) was already a building of sufficient importance to have become a temporary home of the Kingdom of Ireland's law courts during the Michaelmas law term in 1605. Most famously, the legal documentation facilitating the Plantation of Ulster had been signed in the house on 16 November 1612.

Pearce's design for the new Irish Houses of Parliament was revolutionary. The building was effectively semi-circular in shape, occupying nearly an acre and a half (6,000 m²) of ground. Unlike Chichester House, which was set far back from Hoggen Green, the new building was to open up directly onto the Green, as the above photograph shows. The principal entrance consisted of a colonnade of Ionic columns extending around three sides of the entrance quadrangle, forming a letter 'E' (see picture at the bottom of the page). Three statues, representing Hibernia (the Latin name for Ireland), Fidelity and Commerce stood above the portico. Over the main entrance, the royal coat of arms were cut in stone.

The building itself underwent extensions by renowned architect James Gandon (Pearce died young, robbing Ireland of a young architect of outstanding potential.) In particular, Gandon, who was responsible for three of Dublin's finest buildings, the Custom House, the Four Courts and the King's Inns, added on a new peers' entrance onto Westmoreland Street (shown above) at the east of the building between 1785 and 1789. Unlike the main entrance to the south, which came to be known as the House of Commons entrance, Gandon's peers' entrance used six Corinthian columns, at the request of peers who wished to have their entrance marked by a different look to the entrance of the commoners who used Ionic columns. Over the entrance, three statues were placed, representing Fortitude, Justice and Liberty. A curved wall joined the Pearce entrance to Gandon's extension. That this curved wall did not actually mark the exterior of the building but masked the actual uneven joins of some of the extension is shown in the view at the bottom of this page.

The curved wall, though an instantly recognisable aspect of the building today, in fact bears little resemblance to the building as it was in its parliamentary days. Gandon's wall was built of granite, with inset alcoves. Another extension was made on the west side into Foster place by another architect, Robert Parke, in 1787; while matching Gandon's portico, he tried a different and highly unsuccessful solution, linking the other portico to the main Pearce one by a set of ionic pillars. The result proved unattractive. When the Bank of Ireland took over the building, it created an architectural unity by replacing this set of ionic columns by a curved wall similar to that built on the east side by Gandon. Ionic columns were then added to both curved walls, given the extensions an architectural and visual unity that had been lacking and producing the building's exterior as it is today.

The interior of the Houses of Parliament contained one unusual and highly symbolic act. While in many converted parliamentary buildings where both houses met in the one building, both houses were given equality or indeed the upper house was given a more symbolic location within the building, in the Irish Houses of Parliament the House of Commons was given pride of place with its octagonal parliamentary chamber located in the centre of the building. In contrast, the smaller House of Lords was demoted to a sideline position nearby. However the domed House of Commons chamber was later destroyed by fire. A less elaborate new chamber, minus its dome, was rebuilt in the same location and opened in 1796, four years before the House of Commons' ultimate abolition.

Some history:

Initially the former Houses of Parliament was used for a variety of purposes; as a militant garrison and an art gallery. In 1803 the fledgling Bank of Ireland bought the building from the British government for £40,000 for use as its headquarters. One provisio is stipulated; it must be so adapted that it never could be used as a parliament again. As a result, the only recently rebuilt House of Commons chamber, though one of Dublin's finest locations, was broken up to form a number of small offices but primarily replaced by a magnificent cash office added by the architect employed to oversee the conversion, Francis Johnston, then the most prominent architect working in Ireland. However contrary to the stipulation, the House of Lords chamber survived almost unscathed. It was used as the board room for the bank until in the 1970s the Bank of Ireland moved its headquarters to elsewhere. The chamber is now open to the public and is used for various publication functions, including music recitals.

Of the contents of the building, some have survived in different locations. The Mace of the House of Commons remained in the family of the last Speaker of the House of Commons, John Foster. The Bank of Ireland bought the Mace at a sale in Christies in London in 1937. The Chair of the Speaker of the House of Commons is now in the possession of the Royal Dublin Society, while a bench from the Commons is in the Royal Irish Academy. The original two tapestries have remained in the House of Lords. The Chandelier of the House of Commons now hangs in the Examination Hall of Trinity College Dublin. The woolsack, on which the Lord Chancellor of Ireland sat when chairing sessions of the House of Lords, is now back in location in the chamber on display. Copies of debates of the old Irish parliament are now kept in Ireland's modern day parliament house, Leinster House, so keeping a direct link between the old bicameral parliament of the Kingdom of Ireland and the modern day bicameral parliament of the modern Republic of Ireland.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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