I was working over in Ireland last week, staying in Naas, which is about 20 miles from the centre of Dublin. I didn’t get into Dublin while I was there this time, but had to drive through the city centre at the beginning and end of my stay. Due to the time of the year it was dark when I arrived on Sunday and set sail for Holyhead on the Friday.
The Georgian neo-classical Custom House is the dominant building on the north quay to the east of the city centre. And I drove past it driving along the quays on the way to and from the port. It’s one of the most impressive buildings in Dublin, with it’s elegant facade facing the Liffey, but is difficult to see when you’re concentrating on avoiding the busy traffic. It’s best to park up and see it on foot.
It was designed by the English architect, James Gandon and built between 1781 and 1791. The facade facing the Liffey has a central pavilion with it’s pediment supported by four columns is flanked by two colonnaded wings terminated by corner pavilions. The building is larger than it first appears extending back from the river. The other three facades are also impressive. The most imposing feature, though, is the central tower with it’s copper dome. The four facades of the building are decorated with coats-of-arms and ornamental sculptures representing Ireland’s rivers by the Irish sculptor, Edward Smyth. The statue on top of the dome, representing “Commerce” was created by Henry Banks, who also contributed a number of other statues.
As it’s name suggests, the building was originally the headquarters of the Customs and Excise but as the port moved further up the river it became used by the Dublin Local Government. Today it’s the home of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
The Custom House was destroyed during the Irish Civil War of 1921-1922 when it was set on fire by the IRA. The interior was completely destroyed and the central dome collapsed. But the building was restored after the war, the work being completed by 1928. It was originally built entirely of creamy white Portland stone imported from England, but during the renovation major parts of the building were reconstructed using darker Irish Ardbraccan limestone. This is particularly noticeable on the tower supporting the dome. There was a second programme of restoration begun in the 1980s and completed in time for the building’s bi-centenary in 1991.