Five of Ireland’s most amazing buildings

From castles to cathedrals, there are many ancient edifices across the verdant isle of Ireland. Structures raised from the ground with locally sourced stone and timber, these fascinating buildings open a gateway to the past. Ireland is also a forward-facing country though, and throughout its cities and towns you can also see some of the most audacious examples of modern architecture in Europe.

Explore Ireland’s most unmissable buildings in the following passages.

1. Sean O’Casey Community Centre

East Wall, Dublin

Rising above the two-storey terraced residences of East Wall, stands the Sean O’Casey Community Centre. Built on a site originally cleared for a school, the lofty structure covers 2,500 sqm with a tower that rises five storeys in height, respectfully aligned with the local church’s bell tower.

Referred to by The Architectural Review as “brilliant, disingenuous architectural idealism” this balanced structure features four individual blocks emerging from a single level plinth that is cut out to create four garden courtyards. Circular shaped windows are presented in three different sizes, and roof-mounted lighting punches through the concrete, corrugated façade. Body-height openings expose those within to the outside world in meeting spaces and access points to the court yards, while medium-sized viewing is afforded to those at desk level. The smallest portholes in the walls are all positioned at eye-level.

The stunning building services key needs of the community, from day care for the elderly to a crèche for children. A theatre is fitted for the arts and an indoor hall and all-weather playing field ably provide facilities for sports.

2. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral

Bishop Street, Cork

St Fin Barre’s Cathedral can be found on Holy Island, just south of the banks of the River Lee, which rises from the Shehy Mountains on Cork’s western border. The cathedral is located on a site that hosted at least two churches previously, both also dedicated to Cork City’s patron saint.

While incarnations of the religious edifice existed before, the building that remained by the 1730s was thought featureless and plain. Victorian Architect William Burges was commissioned to create a new design by the middle of the 19th Century and the existing building was demolished and rebuilt.

Styled in Gothic Revival, an architectural style favoured by Burges and even used for his own London home, the cathedral features three spires each topped by a Celtic cross. While much of the building’s exterior was crafted from local Cork limestone, its interior walls were fashioned from stone brought up from Bath.

3. Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Village, County Clare

Built in 1425 and restored in 1956 Bunratty, is one of Ireland’s most beloved castles and officially a National Monument. Since its beginning, versions the castle have been crafted from different materials, ranging from wood cut from the King’s wood of Cratloe to locally sourced white limestone. Many strongholds came and went at this site due to war and structural collapse.

The great building that survives today was constructed by the MacNamara clan. Its builder is widely believed to be clan chieftain Maccon Siodda MacNamara, though he died before the castle was complete and it was under his son Sean Finn that the fortress was finished. By 1558, the castle was in the hands of Irish royalty. The noble house of O’Brien, while in possession, carried out extensive renovations to Bunratty, including installing a lead roof.

By 1804 the castle had fallen into disuse and disrepair and in the 19th Century its Great Hall suffered a roof collapse. It was saved in 1956 by Standish Vereker, 7th Viscount Gort who bought and restored the fortress to its former glory. In 1960, complete with new roofing, artworks from the 1600s and several tapestries, it was declared open to the public.

4. Swiss Cottage

Cahir, Tipperary

Nestled near the heritage town of Cahir in Kilcommon sits this ornamental cottage from the early part of the 19th Century.

Built around the year 1810 the little building’s design of cottage orné is attributed to the Regency period architect, Englishman John Nash. This noted example of the style is one of many structures designed by Nash around Cahir.

While largely used for entertaining guests by the local nobility of the estate where it sits, Swiss Cottage fell into disrepair after a long period of neglect. In 1985, Dublin fashion designer Sybil Connolly, the Irish Georgian Society and the Port Royal Foundation united to restore the cottage, opening it to the public as a museum example of a historic house in 1989.

Planned out in a T-shape, the cottage consists of three bays, verandas on several sides crafted from timber and an ornately designed thatched roof. The building’s interior features a timberwork spiral staircase and parquet floor. A selection of rooms can be seen, still decorated in original wallpapering, examples of the first paper coverings produced in Paris.

5. VISUAL & The George Bernard Shaw Theatre

Old Dublin Road, Carlow

Built to showcase contemporary theatre and visual arts, this astonishing three-storey structure covers 3,726 sqm, providing extensive space for both international and national exhibitions. Designed by Terry Pawson Architects of Dublin, the multifunctional centre for the arts cost over £16 million to construct.

The Irish playwright from whom the building takes its name from is honoured in the design. Opaque glass and steel are positioned like a line of literary masterworks on a library shelf crafted from concrete. By day, natural light is filtered, while in the evening low-level lighting solutions are in place to create a dramatic tone for performance and theatre.

Terry Pawson Architects won an open architectural competition held by the Royal Institute of Architects Ireland (RIAI) to design the theatre in 2004.

From country cottages to cubic community centres, the diverse range of Ireland’s architecture is unmistakable. Regardless of requirements, there is always a nod of respect to what has gone before in these buildings, from steeples supporting ancient symbols to modern structures built no higher than the town church’s campanile. In striving to step forward while appreciating the foundations on which progress is built, each of these truly amazing buildings preserves national identity while creating a uniqueness of its own.

Posted by Mark
September 12, 2019

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