Say More Things
“Dublin is so rich in neoclassical Georgian architecture, overblown and exuberant in its ‘costly magnificence’. The American Federal style was also inspired by the richness of the Irish interior architecture and the boldness of its 18th century furniture. Many fine examples can be found on the East Coast from Boston to Philadelphia.” American art collector and international tastemaker Charles Plante lives and works on either side of the Atlantic.
North Great George’s Street, north of the River Liffey in Dublin, is all about overblown scale architecture and exuberant interior plasterwork. And the owners of the houses would agree it costs a lot to look this magnificent. Since the 1970s, this street has boasted a remarkable group of owners, not least Ireland’s foremost heritage architect John O’Connell. Former Chairman of the Irish bookshop chain Eason and conservationist Harold Clarke lived on the street from the 1960s until the 1980s. The distinguished antiques dealer Willie Dillon was his neighbour at that time.
Thomas McKeown, Chairman of The North Great George’s Street Preservation Society, lives on the street with his wife Adelaide. “In 1767 Sarah Archdall began selling sites to individuals who wanted to build houses on what was then the Mount Eccles Estate. Building started shortly afterwards and North Great George’s Street was essentially completed by about 1800. Then came the Act of Union in 1801 and the relocation of the centre of fashion to the proximity of Leinster House marked the beginning of a slow decline. Indeed, by the early 1900s a group calling themselves the ‘Georgian Society’ was formed to make a historic record of the fine buildings that were apparently already doomed to destruction. This was prophetic and many of the buildings that are documented in their work have long since disappeared.”
“By the beginning of the 20th century a large part of the street was already in multi family tenements and by the mid 1960s some of the houses had been demolished. At this time there was also an increased awareness of the inherent value of our Georgian heritage. On North Great George’s Street, fine houses, needing major restoration, were available for the price of a suburban semi detached. This was recognised by a number of starry eyed individuals who saw the chance to live in a great house – this prize came at the price of much effort, often in the face of official indifference.”
“The result – appreciated by more and more people – is there to see and would probably not have succeeded if a group had not joined forces to form The North Great George’s Street Preservation Society. One of our main objectives has been to have the street designated an Architectural Conservation Area by Dublin City Council. This would prevent excessive development, particularly of the mews lanes. The reinstatement of damaged pavements and the removal of utility wires and cables on the façades is another.”
“The houses on the street are not going to revert to single family homes any time soon, but hopefully there will be a mix of good quality apartments with a limited commercial element that will maintain the vibrancy that has made it the best place in the city centre to live. The Society will continue to strive to attain these objectives and above all preserve the integrity of the street’s great architecture.”
Senator David Norris, renowned James Joyce authority, bought his house in 1978. “What initially attracted me to purchasing a Georgian house was the sense of space and the way in which light poured in through the great windows. I adore the 18th century plasterwork which decorates some of the ceilings. On top of all this, North Great George’s Street is smack bang in the middle of the city. Along the way I suppose the greatest challenge has been finance. In the beginning none of us had any great deal of money and that is when the Society proved a great support. The other thing was finding appropriate craftsmen who were capable of dealing with an 18th century building.”
Architect John Hanley and sculptor John Aboud bought their house in 1987. “Over the next 30 years we gradually turned the house around. We have always enjoyed living here, even in the early years when winter gales would sweep through the rooms. The space and the light, together with the decorative details and the views to the garden, are a constant source of pleasure. The street itself, rising in stately terraces towards Belvedere House, is a magnificent backdrop to our everyday life. And of equal importance is the fact that here we have a close knit village in the midst of the city, where we are surrounded by neighbours and friends who share our pleasure in living here, and our commitment to its future.” The North Great George’s Street Preservation Society celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019.