Sureness of Style
“Is there a good house on Mountjoy Square?” Desirée Shortt asks mischievously. She qualifies herself, “It’s a rhetorical question!” She is talking about the condition of the houses, not the architecture. Ireland’s greatest living china restorer lives a safe block away in the genteel North Great George’s Street. Her neighbours include Senator David Norris and Grade I Conservation Architect John O’Connell. “Dublin is a very beautiful city,” Desirée qualifies herself even further. “Edinburgh is the only comparable city.”
It doesn’t help that Mountjoy Square shares its name with a fairly infamous prison. Slowly, though, the four terraces facing the green are shedding their shady past and early signs of gentrification are shining through on a sunny winter’s morning. There’s something more impressive about Georgian Dublin townhouses than their London counterparts. The brick is redder, the fanlights wider, the first floor windows taller, the basement areas deeper. It’s all about scale: bigger really is better. Everything’s looking up.
John Heagney writes in The Georgian Squares of Dublin, 2006, “Developed by the Gardiner Estate, Mountjoy Square was laid out in 1791 and built between 1793 and 1818. It has the distinction of being Georgian Dublin’s only true square since each of its four sides measures 140 metres in length. Mountjoy Square earned this tribute from contemporary commentators Warburton, Whitelaw and Walsh: ‘This square, which is now completely finished, is neat, simple and elegant, its situation elevated and healthy … the elevation of the houses, the breadth of the streets, so harmonise together, as to give pleasure to the eye of the spectator, and add to the neatness, simplicity, and regularity everywhere visible, entitling the square to rank high among the finest in Europe.’”
He continues, “But perhaps more than Dublin’s other Georgian squares, Mountjoy Square has suffered the depredations of time: after the 1800 Act of Union, it went into decline and many of its fine buildings became tenement dwellings, while a period of protracted neglect during the 20th century led to extensive loss of houses on the west and south sides of the square. The survival of the north and east sides is due largely to the heroic determination of individuals and families who pledged themselves to its continued existence and have laid the foundations for the future renaissance of Mountjoy Square, while a renewed interest in rescuing and cherishing Georgian Dublin bodes well for the future of this important part of the city’s streetscape.”
A driver’s experience is of a cohesive set piece of urban planning and architecture. A streetwalker’s experience is of the finer grain. Cut granite flags, moulded granite paving plinths, cut stone half arches spanning basement areas, cast iron boot scrapers and lantern standards. And those fanlight doorcases with their leaded umbrella like-spokes, miniature glass lanterns, sidelights, columns and friezes. The typical three bay five storey house on Mountjoy Square has 590 square metres of floorspace. Size matters.