Architecture and Preservation at Open House Dublin

Tyrone House

My last day in Ireland was spent in Dublin. By happenstance Open House Dublin (OHD) was occurring that day and I was able to check out some local built heritage sites.  Open House Dublin is very similar to Doors Open days which allow people to tour buildings which are often closed to the general public and learn about the history of these sites. 

Open House Dublin is free and is sponsored by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF).  The 2013  OHD event featured 100 buildings and many of the sites featured tours by an architect or someone very familiar with the building’s architecture.  The IAF is a non-profit organization aimed at promoting the value of architecture to the general public.  Open House tours which explain the significance of local built heritage is a great way
to interest people in architecture and local heritage.

One of the sites I visited as part of OHD was the Tyrone House which is currently home to the

In Tyrone House Courtyard

Department of Education and Skills.  The building was the first stand alone stone house in Dublin.  A number of the original stonework, plaster ceilings, marble fireplaces, and mahogany woodwork is still in the structure.  The tour guide did an excellent job of contextualizing the building and speaking to the numerous modifications that had occurred in the building since it’s construction in the mid 1700s.

The Tyrone House site also a number of interesting modern art features and additional buildings that were not included in the tour.  The Department of Education and Skills built a replica of the Tyrone building on the site — possibly to create a symmetrical appearance of the grounds — this newer building was not included in the tour but the guide to speak to the aims of the Department to maintain the heritage of the site.

Charlemont House

I also visited the former Charlemont House.  This building dates from 1775 and is currently home to the Dublin City Gallery which is a museum for modern art.  The Charlemont House is limestone faced building  set back from the street.  The main floor of the House has been renovated extensively to accommodate a gallery space.  The upstairs portions of the building apparently retain some of the original fireplaces and detailing however because of a storage issue that area wasn’t accessible during my visit.  The tour at this site was fairly brief and not nearly as detailed as the one at Tyrone House.

Overall my experience during the Open House Dublin event was a positive one.  The guides were friendly and knowledgeable about their respective sites and it was an interesting opportunity to explore parts of Dublin that aren’t tourist destinations and that aren’t always open to the public. 

Old Buildings and Equipment at the Kilbeggan Distillery

Water wheel

The most direct drive from Galway to Dublin takes you along a major motorway, which is pretty devoid of scenery.  But there are a number of small towns along the way if you decide you want to explore.  I ended up stopping at the Kilbeggan Distillery.  The Distillery offers both guided tours and self guided walking tours of the site.  I did a self guided tour and they provide you with an excellent guide that walks you through various well labelled buildings.

The Distillery located on the Kilbeggan river opened in 1757

Copper Pot Still

production on the site continued until 1957 when economic reasons forced the closure of the distillery.  Twenty five years after the closure the local community took over the site and turned it into a museum. The year 2007 marked the 250th anniversary since the establishment of the first Kilbeggan Distillery, in the same year whiskey production resumed on the site. By 2010 the site was working as a fully operational distillery once again. 

I loved the fact that this site combines a museum, historical buildings, and old distillery equipment with a modern day operation.  The site features a functioning water wheel and steam engine.  The old pot stills, fermentation vats, and processing rooms are also still on the site.  The interior of the structure is primarily wooden and the whole inside of the building had a creaky feel that reminded me of a barn.  Considering the fact that portions of the space were used for storage of grains I suppose the barn feeling makes sense.

Working portion of distillery

The self guided tour concludes with a visit to portions of the working distillery.  It was interesting to be able to compare the old equipment with the modern machinery currently being used — the equipment looks very similar but is often made out of slightly different materials.  As part of the tour you also receive a complementary glass of whiskey and a small whiskey glass to take home. The variety of heritage features on this site, combined with the fact that the site wasn’t very busy made the Kilbeggan Distillery an enjoyable experience.

Exploring Galway on Foot

The city of Galway is very walkable.  It is a compact city with lots of walking paths and pedestrian only area.  A few of the places I explored on foot included the Eglington Canal, the Spanish Arch, and the Salthill promenade.  

The canal is bordered by paths which take you through residential areas, parks, and eventually down to the quay.  The quay includes a large outdoor sports area, walking paths right on the coast, and lots of green space.  The quay area is actually a re-greened space that was previously used as a garbage dump, so it was interesting to see the area’s new life and to find so much open space inside the city.

The Spanish Arch is located just outside of the Galway City Museum and is on the left bank of the
Corrib river.  The Arch was built in 1584 and is a portion of the city walls which once enclosed Galway.

Similar to the Spanish Arch, Eyre Square is home to the Browne Door.  Which is the original door from the Browne family homestead in Galway.  The door has been relocated to the Square from Abbeygate street.  Both the Arch and the door have a disembodied feel to them, they are portions of much larger structures and give a brief glimpse into Galway’s past.

The Salthill promenade runs alongside Galway Bay and is a well maintained walking route.  It was
pouring rain for portions of my walk along the promenade, but the view of the bay and seeing parts of Galway that are less tourist and student centric was well worth a bit of rain. 

Natrual Landscape of the Conor Pass

The Conor Pass is the highest mountain pass in Ireland and is located on the North side of the Dingle Peninsula.  The drive through the Conor Pass was breathtaking, beautiful views and very narrow twisty roads on the side of a mountain. The Mountain Pass runs through the Brandon Mountains which is the second highest peak in Ireland at 3127 ft.

There is a great lookout point at the top of the pass which allows you to overlook Dingle, the valley and lakes below, and Brandon Bay.  There are some educational panels at the lookout the explain the geographical historical of the area and talk about how ice ages and natural changes to the area shaped the landscape.

I was lucky to visit the pass on a clear day, as a few locals indicated that if the weather is foggy it is nearly impossible to see anything from the lookout or on the road.  After reaching the top of the Pass the road becomes much more rustic.  The road is for two way traffic however the width of the road can only accommodate one car at a time — so if you meet another car one of you needs to back up along the twisty to a spot that has a wide shoulder.  The driving experience was a tad hair raising but the views of the area were well worth it.

Military History and Stunning Sea Views at Charles Fort

Kinsale, County Cork was one of my favourite spots in Ireland.  The quaint seaside town had small narrow streets, delicious sea food, and a number of local attractions.  Charles Fort located 2km outside of Kinsale is a 17th century star shaped fort.  The distance to the Fort is walkable from the town and the views on the hilly walk of the harbour below are fantastic.

Charles Fort was built by William Robinson, the same architect who built the Royal Hospital Kilmainham that I visited while in Dublin. Designed in the shape of a star, Charles Fort was built to be highly defensible from the water and resistant to cannon fire. However, because of budget reasons the fort was not completed according to Robinson’s original design and the land facing side of the fort was not as defensible as originally planned.  A land based siege during the Williamte War (1689-1691) was successful in defeating the meager land side defense and highlights the flawed nature of Charles Fort.

Mosaic map of Charles Fort

Given how small Kinsale is I was surprised by how busy Charles Fort was during my visit.  There were a couple tour buses and a school group at the site when I arrived.  The site is expansive with layers of fortification to explore, so even though the site was busy there was still lots of room to walk around and not feel crowded. 

There is an exhibition space in what was once barracks that describes the history the area, the building of the fort and the main battles faced by the fort.   The space contains artifacts, text, and audio-visual material that highlight the different occupants of the Fort and the experience of the soldiers who stayed in the Fort. There is also a small photo exhibition in the former power magazine which shows how the power magazine operated and other aspects of military life at the Fort. 

One of the more visual features of Charles Fort is the ‘blast wall’ construction that exists around the perimeter of the Fort.  The thick exterior walls of the fort are surrounded by sections of earth, which are followed by another interior wall.  The sections of earth were included as a means of making the fort stronger in the face of cannonballs.  The earth would absorb the shock of cannonball fire and not crumble in the way that stonewalls typically do.  This practical measure resulted in the present day advantage of an area of land which visitors can walk on and see right to the edge of the fort and into the sea. 

This site wasn’t even on my radar until the owner of the B&B I was staying at recommended a visit to the Fort.  I’m glad I listened to her suggestion as the views from the fort, the history of the site, and the expansive remaining battlements make Charles Fort well worth the visit.  

Gardens and Sculptures at Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone are some of the most well known Irish landmarks.  The Castle was built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, the King of Munster and was one of the more rustic ‘castles’ I saw on my trip.

The staircase up to the top of the Castle was twisty, cramped and not for those who are claustrophobic or afraid of heights.  There’s a rope for visitors to hold on to as they transverse the curvy, narrow stairs but otherwise there isn’t much in the way of support during the climb.   As the stairwell winds upward there are a number of small rooms which visitors can explore.

The bedrooms, kitchen, and dinning room are only identifiable by the signage as
nothing but rock remains in the space.  The views from the top of the castle were pretty remarkable as the Castle overlooked the entire Blarney estate, including the Blarney House and gardens.

I enjoyed the grounds of the Blarney Castle more than the Castle itself.  There were a number of different styles of gardens on the grounds to explore.  The well manicured lawns were contrasted with the wild Rock Close and bog gardens.  The Rock Close area provided a peaceful walk through the woods on a trail lined with modern art sculptures.

In the Rock Close

The Poison Garden and the Irish Garden had added educational elements which aimed to teach visitors about a range of plants.  The poison garden was an interesting concept, it contains poisonous plants from around the world.  The plants are well labeled and describe the nature of the poison, the historical uses of the plants, and how the plants are used today.  The garden is well signed to warn visitors and parents of small children of potential dangers (eg. don’t touch or eat the plants).  The Irish Garden was relatively small but provided an opportunity to see and learn about some of the area’s native plants.

The expansive grounds at the Castle are what made the visit to Blarney worthwhile for me.  The Castle was a fun touristy experience and had a rustic old feel to it.  But, I could have spent hours wondering around the gardens and grounds as there were so many walking paths, sculptures, and variety of flora to see.

Photographs by Andrew MacKay

Natural Landscape and Monastic Ruins in Glendalough

On the way to Kinsale, in Cork County I stopped at the Glendalough Monastic Settlement in Wicklow County.  The Glendalough monastic site is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.  I imagine the drive towards Glendalough from Dublin would be beautiful on a clear day as it takes you through the mountains.  It was foggy during my drive so the views were mostly of mist and a few sheep.

It was pouring rain during my visit to Glendalough but there were still a number of visitors exploring the 6th century Christian monastic site. There is a small visitors center located at the site with an attached exhibition space.  I didn’t go into the museum space during my visit but I did go into the center to get maps of the site which outlined the monastic ruins as well as the walking trails on the site.  Having a description of the monastic ruins was helpful as there is very little signage near the ruins themselves. 

There are a number of monastic ruins on the site including: an arched gateway, a round tower, cathedral, church, and smaller out buildings.  The round tower is the most visible from a distance  and is still in surprisingly good shaping considering portions of the other buildings have collapsed.  The tower is around 30 meters high and served as a landmark, a storehouse, and a safe space during times of pillaging.  The monastic ruins are surrounded by graves and memorials to the brethren who occupied the site.

After exploring the monastic ruins I walked towards the upper lake on one of the walking paths.   The walk was nice though probably would have been more enjoyable in better weather.  The walk did provide a nice glimpse at some of the natural landscape encompassed by the National Park and extensive efforts that have gone into creating trails, walking paths, and nature walks. 

Corporate History at the Guinness Storehouse

Brand or corporate museums have never been high on my list of places to visit.  But, while in Dublin I did visit the Guinness Storehouse.  The Storehouse is really more of a corporate museum than a traditional brewery and the visitor experience has more in common with a museum visit than a brewery tour.

Visits to the Storehouse are self guided and well labelled routes direct visitors to displays about Guinness ingredients, the brewing processing, the Guinness family legacy, worldwide distribution, and past advertising campaigns.  Many of the displays had interactive video or audio components and the shear size of the operation was pretty amazing.  

While some of the displays were educational, the whole experience reminded me a bit of the Biff Tannen Museum from the Back to the Future II movie — where the museum is really just a form of promotional advertising.  Given the corporate nature of the attraction I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised.

Made from old wooden Guinness barrels

Despite the corporate undertones there was some neat components of the visit.  Upon arrival in the main atrium visitors get to see the well known 9000 year lease that Arthur Guinness signed for the St. James’s Gate Brewery site.  One floor also contains an optional tasting experience.  During the tasting experience visitors are directed into a room that has four stations of what looks like dry ice (there is billowing white mist everywhere).  The stations turn out to be different Guinness ingredients and visitors are given the opportunity to smell the ‘smoke’ and guess which ingredient is which.  It’s a neat visual experience and if nothing else it’s worth doing just to see how excited children get at the prospect of a room filled with mist.

With the price of admission visitors are given the opportunity to ‘cash-in’ their ticket for a pint of Guinness.  Visitors have the choice of their enjoying a pint in the Gravity Bar that overlooks Dublin or learning to pour a ‘perfect’ pint of Guinness in a bar on the fourth floor. 

My partner and I opted to learn to pour a Guinness — it was a fun interactive part of the tour which I’m

View from Gravity Bar

glad we decided to do.  And at the end of the pouring experience everyone receives a slightly cheesy certificate that denotes their ability to pour Guinness.  We still went up to the Gravity Bar at the conclusion of our visit and there was some interesting views of the city.  Popular landmarks and heritage sites are labelled on the glass windows in the Gravity Bar so visitors can tell what they are looking at.  The only downside to the spectacular views was how crowded the small Gravity Bar space was.

The Guinness Storehouse was about what I expected it to be, an interesting experience but definitely not one of my favourites.  The building the Guinness Storehouse is located in part of the original brewery site and is quite old.  But the experience doesn’t really touch on any of the built heritage features of the site and focuses more on the “Yay Guinness” experience.

Irish Political History Intertwined with Built Heritage at the Kilmainham Gaol

New cell block.

The Kilmainham Goal was by far my favourite heritage site in Dublin.  The Goal was built in 1796 and was built in the ‘new style’ of the era, a style which moved towards a model of separation of prisoners into individual cells. In the previous local jail the inmates all mixes together in a form of chaos, the new Kilmainham Goal promoted a structured environment that allowed for the maximum number of prisoners under a minimum number of guards.

Access to the Goal is by guided tour only.  Visitors can take in the museum which chronicles the history of the Goal, Irish social movements, and Irish political history while they wait for their guided tour to leave.  The museum also includes a small section on the Goal’s restoration and community support for the restoration project. 

The walking tour of the former jail was extremely well done.  The tour began with an audio-visual

Goal chapel

presentation in the former chapel of the jail.  The presentation provided an overview of the history of the Goal and contextualized the Goal within larger social and political trends in Ireland.

Throughout the tour different cells, rooms, and former prisoners were mentioned and connected to the history of Ireland’s struggle for independence.  From the opening in 1796 until the closing in 1924 many notable Irish nationalist leaders were incarcerated in Kilmainham and a handful of them were hanged on site.  The tour highlights the role the Goal played in the Irish rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1967, 1916, and the Irish War of Independence. The tour guide did an excellent job of explaining aspects of Irish history that many visitors may not be knowledgeable about.  The tour also includes the opportunity to stand inside cells, visit the dead-man’s row style room, and learn about developments in prison architecture.

At the time of my visit there was also an art exhibit installed in the new cell block (bottom right of the third photograph).  Christina Henri’sRoses from the Heart exhibit featured bonnets representing the 25,566 convict women transported to Australia from Britain and Ireland from 1788 to 1853.  Each bonnet was hand stitched with the name of a former inmate.  This installation provided the opportunity to learn and think about the women and children inmates.  According to our guide, the youngest inmate in Kilmainham was five years old and there were many children incarcerated for food related crimes.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Kilmainham Goal.  It’s a bit of a walk from the Dublin city center but is well worth the trek.  The Goal is also right near the old Kilmainham Hospital which has beautiful grounds and now houses the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Photograph credit: Andrew MacKay

Books and Built Heritage: Trinity College Dublin

Long Room at Trinity College Dublin

I recently spent two weeks in Ireland.  This trip included a number of visits to museums, historical sites, and natural heritage places.  This post is the first of many recounting my experiences at these heritage spaces.  

One of the things I had been looking forward to prior to my trip to Ireland was visiting Trinity College Dublin and the Book of Kells exhibit there.  The Trinity College campus is beautiful and many of the residences and classroom buildings are great examples of the preservation of built heritage in Dublin.  For example, the Old Library building which houses the Book of Kells exhibit was constructed in the 1800s and much of the interior and exterior remains true to the original construction.

The actual exhibit which leads up to the Book of Kells is fairly interesting.  It focuses broadly on the book making process, scribes, material usage and providing context to the 9th century origins of the Book of Kells.  Though this information was interesting the layout of the “Turning Light into Darkness” exhibit was confusing and didn’t allow for great traffic flow.  Considering the popularity of the Book of Kells I was surprised by how small of an exhibit space is devoted to contextualizing the book.

Following the opportunity to look at a page from the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh, and the Book of Durrow (or similar texts depending on the days rotation) visitors can do up to the Long Room.  I enjoyed this part of the visit much more than the actual Book of Kells exhibit.  The Long Room is a beautiful old library that houses special collection manuscripts.  The Long Room also includes a number of display cases featuring examples from the Trinity College archival collection. 

During the time of my visit the Long Room also included the temporary exhibit, “Preservation & Conservation: What’s That?”  The the public historian and archivist in me loved the fact that these educational panels which explained essential components of the field were on display.  The exhibit explained historical photograph treatments, book bindings, the difference between preservation and conservation, and what type of education you need to enter this field. 

Overall, I enjoyed the visit to Trinity College but the Book of Kells exhibit and display was probably my least favourite part of the experience.  The Long Room and the campus grounds were far less crowded and much more enjoyable.