Tuesday, 25 November 2014

I was reminded about the Irish Estates with Irish Life celebrating its 75th birthday and mention of my thesis in the recently published Art and Architecture of Ireland, Vol. IV Architecture 1600-2000 (AAI)(eds.) Rolf Loeber, Hugh Campbell, Livia Hurley, John Montague & Ellen Rowley. I grew up close to this unusual housing estate, attending the primary school directly across the road. It still captures my imagination to this day. I have written about the history of the Irish Estates for 2ha Issue #4 A foreign country, we do things differently here. You can order any of their back issues here. 

Those Curious Houses in Corbally, 

the story of the Irish Estates

Photograph taken from Seán Curtin's Limerick, A Stroll Down Memory Lane
The opening decades of the twentieth century in Limerick city saw an exodus of the middle classes away from the inner to the out suburbs. Subdivision by unscrupulous landlords had rendered Georgian townhouses to little more than tenement slums. These cramped living conditions encouraged tuberculosis outbreaks and the air was a cocktail of smells from the city's tannery and abattoirs. This shift was further intensified by the provision of government subsidies on new houses for owner-occupiers and local authority housing from 1924 with the House (Building Facilities) Act [1]. This was in response to the housing shortage, acute in Limerick, of both private owner-occupiers and local authority housing which was called for by Irish Builder and Engineer in March 1923 [2]. The Home Miscellaneous Provisions Act enacted in 1932 provided local authorities for the first time with state funding for the provision of houses. 

There was a lack of building materials during the interwar years which severely curtailed house building. Undeterred the government encouraged local authorities to continue building, making use of the supplies still available [3]. Limerick had a readily available building material in concrete from the cement factory that operated in Mungret from 1938. This had great significance for Limerick as within a relatively short space of time the city saw the completion of much needed housing schemes such as the Island Field Housing scheme (1934), Thomondgate (1938), Jamesboro (1940-1), Kileely (1942) and Prospect (1944)[4]. Limerick was quickly becoming a modern city with its first Town Planning Consultant in 1938, a year before Cork[5]. Another contributor to Limerick’s commercial expansion was having Rineanna airport (the precursor to Shannon Airport) on its doorstep. It played a pivotal role in trans-Atlantic relations securing routes during the Second World War long before Dublin. In 1946 when tenure data was first collected, less than one-quarter of dwellings in urban areas were owner-occupied (including tenant purchase schemes). By 1971 more than half of all homes (52.5 per cent) in urban areas were owner occupied.
Land Registry of Deeds map of estate

For centuries Corbally maintained a sparsely populated area except for a scattering of small but highly ornamented houses such as India Ville, Park House and Corbally Palace [6]. Corbally Palace was the residence of landowner Pierce A. Shannon [7]. Shannon had purchased the greater part of the townland of Corbally from Col. William Thomas Monsell in 1833 for 22,000 developing the present Corbally Road [8]. When the Limerick Corporation was reformed Shannon took his place in the city administration becoming mayor in 1844. He also orchestrated for Corbally to be included within the city boundaries. His son Patrick Aloysius Shannon began leasing Corbally Palace and tollhouse in 1856. The house was included in the rental but it was eventually sold in 1867. This large three-storey house was last recorded cartographically in 1956 [9]. It became the residence of Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick until it was demolished to make way for St Munchin's College in 1958 [10]. All that remains of Corbally Palace is the entrance gate on the Mill Road. The diocesan seminary had previously been at Park House purchased in 1809 for R.C. Bishop Dr John Young and located further down Corbally Road [11]. Eventually, it too was knocked down for the housing development College Park in 1961. 
Taken from 'Our Catholic Life' Summer  Issue 1962

Recognising the urgency to accommodate the housing needs of the emerging professional middle classes Limerick Corporation identified 'Mr Vaughan's Lands at Corbally' in 1935 as suitable for a housing site with picturesque views of the river Shannon. This site too was once a fine mansion called Lanahrone House (referred to as Albert Villa in Griffiths Valuation 1850) [12]. Lanahrone House was the nineteen-room residence of St Clare Hobson and stood well in from the road and commanded a splendid view of the river [13]. Its gate lodge was on Corbally Road near the Constabulary Barracks (today Sunnyside Montessori School). This greenbelt to the north was far enough outside the city to be near the countryside but still easily commutable to the urban centre. It epitomised the Garden City model of early twentieth century urban planning. The era of the 'big house', the last bastion of luxury in Ireland was over. A request was made 'to take the necessary steps to acquire portion of the lands as a housing site' [14]. The land remained undeveloped for a decade with the Town Planner scheduling it as 'a high-class residential area' according to the City Manager's Minutes. Having first established that there was a housing shortage and based on representations received from the Department of Industry & Commerce, Aer Lingus and the various transatlantic airlines who had bases at Shannon Airport Irish Life Ltd [15] saw Corbally as the perfect location for family accommodation for their staff. All was needed was a contractor with the means to construct these homes.

Irish Estates entrance 1961. Photo taken from Seán Curtin's Limerick, A Stroll
Down Memory Lane
In February 1947 Irish Life submitted their offer to purchase the Lanahrone site [16] and Irish Estates Ltd began construction of the houses after the signing of the deeds on 3 October 1947 [17]. The Irish Estates is a wedge shaped scheme with its single entrance on Corbally Road. The roads of the estate were laid out in 1948 and in April of that year the Managing Director of the Irish Estates Ltd corresponded with the Limerick Corporation regarding the naming of the avenues [18]. They referenced the historical geography of their setting being named Plassey,Lanahrone, Abbey, Shannon and Rhebogue. Lanahrone Avenue comprising of sixty houses that were first constructed in 1947-48 then contractors O'Sullivan Bros subsequently acquired a section of the site and built 74 houses. The estate was eventually completed in 1953 [19]. The Land Registry deeds outline that the houses were to be rented and not bought outright. The rent, charged at £4 per week, was related to what a professional class family could afford. According to one resident who moved into the estate in the 1960s there was a portacabin in the fork in the road near the entrance which houses an estate manager who took care of the maintenance [20]. It was another privilege of renting a property in the Irish Estates. 

The estate comprises of 140 flat-roofed, concrete-built, semi-detached houses with garden to front and rear.They have three-bays and two-storeys save for two single storey detached houses at the entrance to the estate. Indicative of the occupants' social status, each house is furnished with a driveway to park their car and a garage. They are variations of the same International Style of house with simple recessed entrance with projecting concrete canopy and originally would have had screwed metal casement windows. They have a rough-cast wall finish and a unifying platband between ground and first floor levels for horizontal emphasis.The residents have stuck with the same paint palette of light to dark greys and grey blue. Unfortunately almost every house has replaced the original metal casement windows with uPVC ones over the years and in many of the houses the internal arrangement has been altered to create an open plan living space. Each house has a garage and a fuel store to the side and garden to front and rear. All rainwater is carried off at the rear so as not to disrupt the clean smooth look of the properties.
Image taken by author 

The beauty of these homes is their geometric simplicity. What makes this estate even more unusual for Limerick is the sense if space created not only by the generously large roads but also from the lack of boundary walls. This boundary-free layout is reminiscent of North American housing schemes with its expanse of green very pleasing to the eye. The original layout of the houses generally consisted of a ground floor with hall, cloakroom, drawing room, dining room, kitchen and a 'maid's room' as indicated on original plans which appeared in Irish Builder. The kitchen included the 'mod cons' of the day with Bakelite wall switches, the latest solid fuel cooker that heated the water supply and a butler's pantry. Upstairs there were 3-4 bedrooms each with ceramic-tiled fireplaces and built-in wardrobes and a bathroom. The luxury of an indoor bathroom in the forties is not to be underestimated. The 1946 Census recorded that of the 662,000 private dwellings in the country only 15% had a fixed bath, while just 23% had an indoor lavatory [21]. 
Photographs taken by author in December 2009
Despite the fact that Shannon was prospering during this era the demand for houses in the Irish Estates was relatively weak and costs turned out to be considerably greater than originally anticipated. The project was an economic failure for Irish Estates Ltd. Eventually all of the previously rented houses were sold off to tenants and others.It is important to spell out the origins and corporate structure of Irish Life and their subsidiary company Irish Estates Ltd. It was first established in 1939 as a state body and gradually absorbed other Irish assurance companies who had got into financial difficulties. Subsequent British companies withdrew from the Irish market and transferred their portfolios to Irish Life. These included the Prudential, Britannic, Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, the Friendly and the Refuge. The customers of Irish Life were mainly working class families who required burial and limited life insurance. Irish Life employed a great number of collectors who called weekly to collect premium installments. After the building industry was hit by recession in the fifties, Irish Estates was forced to go into liquidation in 1964 and had changed its name and its focus to property management [22]. Ground rents were owned by Irish Life until this property portfolio was bought by Dublin Land Securities from Irish Life in 1982 [23] and after passing hands two more times it was taken over by Lyons and Kenny solicitors in March 2007 through their property investment vehicle Fitzwilliam Land Securities [24]. Irish Life this year became part of the Great-West Lifeco group of life assurance companies.
Irish Estates today. Photograph taken May 2014 courtesy of Patrick Edmund Lynch patricklynch.ie

The organisational structure of Irish Estates Ltd was quite unique for its time in Ireland. The concept which involved the combination of builder and all technical consultants, architects, engineers in a single organisation was proposed and set up by a director of Irish Estates Ltd Mr Frank Boyland who had great experience of the US construction industry. It was envisaged that Irish Estates could construct investment properties for the Irish Life investment portfolio as well as offering a cost effective 'one stop shop' to companies seeking to have built structures like housing, cinemas or factories. Most of their property portfolio was in Dublin such as Mespil Flats on Sussex Road (1959)[25]. The first such project to be undertaken was the Irish Estates. Their view was mainly based on representations received from the Department of Industry and Commerce, Aer Lingus and the various transatlantic airlines that had bases at Shannon Airport. All were seeking family accommodation for their managerial staff. The scheme was designed by Irish Estates Chief Architect W.J. Convery IAA Dictionary of Irish Architects He began his career in Belfast in the 1920s moving to Dublin in the forties to design the Mespil Flats. Convery was directed by Boyland to produce an North American style housing estate. This was to appeal to the employees of Canadian and American airlines working in Shannon Airport for companies such as Trans World Airlines (TWA), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Pan American World Airways who among the first residents of the Irish Estates during that period.  In its six or so decades the estate has been home to notable political figures such as Desmond O’Malley, TD Cabinet Minister and founder of the Progressive Democrats, John Gormley, Green Party TD and current resident Jan O’Sullivan TD Minister for Education and Skills.

Corbally House, typical of the houses in the area before the advent
of suburbia. The Irish Estates stylistically are reminiscent of these 
Georgian blocks. 
The housing estate represents such an exciting age for Limerick with an International airport on its doorstep, affordable motorcars and sleek design utilising the building materials of the day. These houses pre-date the housing standards set by the Department of Local Government in the 1960s regarding hot water facilities, insulation and ventilation. However according to the resident interviewed the flat roof has never given any maintenance issues as would be expected of the flat roof's reputation. The Irish Estates marked the beginning of intensified speculative building in the Corbally area and the end of the 'big house.' It was a slice of the American dream in the suburbs of Limerick city.  

Aerial photo of Limerick city taken mid 20C (taken from Limerick Museum & Archives). Top left of photo is the undeveloped, green Corbally area close to the city centre. 

1 Mary McCarthy 'The provision of rural local-authority domestic space: a comparative north-south study, 1942-60', RIA Proc. 11C (2001), 288. 
We have little doubt that if the housing shortage is ever to be effectively met, the state will have to augment its own particular housing effort by helping the private builder by means of subsidies.’ (Irish Builder, 24 Mar 1923, 218).
3 DLGPH, Memorandum on housing, 12 July 1943, National Archives, DTS/13059A. 
4 John Logan,’ Frugal comfort: housing Limerick’s labourers and artisans 1841-1948,’ in Irwin, Ó Tuathough & Potter (eds), Limerick, history and society (Dublin, 2009), 575.
5 Peter Harbison et al. Irish art and architecture: from prehistory to the present, (London, 1993), 244.
6 Not to be confused with Corbally House nearby which was built in 1824 and is today Corbally House Nursing Home on the Mill Road. 
7 Shannon built up a thriving business in the Cornmarket where he traded as a wholesale ironmonger and ships chandler. He owned property totalling 284 acres including George Street, Bedford Row and Robert Street. His business ventures stretched as far as the Baltic region and Russia. 
8 Maurice Lenihan, (1866) Limerick; its history and antiquities, ecclesiastical, civil and military, 473. 
9 Seán Spellissy (1998) The history of Limerick city, 142. 
10 John Fleming and Seán O'Grady, St Munchin's College, 1691-1761, 110. 
11 Park House is recorded in the Down Survey Map of Limerick in 1657. 
12 Griffith's Valuation of Limerick City, 128. Described in 1856 as a large mansion house 'erected by the late Mr Shannon' and occupied by John Co. Drydale. National Archives: Encumbered Estates Court Rentals (O'Brien), Shannon, 19 July 1856, 41:28, MRGS 39/019/-39/020. 
13 Kevin Hannon, 'The Corbally District,' Old Limerick Journal, 26 (1989), 25. 
14 Limerick City Council Minute Books 3 Oct. 1935 L/MIN/18. 
15 Now Irish Life & Permanent
16 'Submitted offer of Mr D.J. O'Malley, Solr. to purchase the fee simple interest of the Corporation in the plot of ground situated at Corbally adjacent to Athlunkard Bridge, containing 37 perches.' L/MIN/20. 
17 'Cement workers to hold up building' Irish Times, 30 Aug. 1947 and L/MIN/34. 
18 L/MIN/21 Limerick Archives.
19 Irish Builder 98, 11 Feb. 1956: 111. 
20 Interview author conducted in 2009 with Mr Paddy Reidy, resident of Abbey Avenue. 
21 CSO, Census of population of Ireland, vol.4, 1946 (Dublin, 1954), 214-5. 
22 ‘Irish estates being wound up,’ 10 Oct. 1964, Limerick Leader.
23 Irish Times, 7 Apr. 1982.
24 Today the ground rents are only collected for the houses of Plassey Avenue within the estate. E. Gilleece ‘The building types that defined modern Limerick city and the issues arising from the valuation and conservation of mid-twentieth century architecture’, (MUBC, UCD, 2011), 223.
25 'Mansion males way for flats; ceilings saved for state', Irish Times, 24 June 1954. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

My daydream in No.12 Henrietta Street

One rainy October afternoon I was taken on a tour of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Bolton Street and its sister building Linenhall across the road, whetting my appetite to see this frequently referenced institution. DIT Bolton Street was purpose built for technical education almost a century ago in 1911. As a visitor it is an illegible labyrinth of corridors; a disorientating warren of lecture rooms and offices making the best of the footprint it occupied. Its students and staff in conditions seemingly as cramped as the nearby Georgian townhouses were in their tenement reincarnation. My next stop on my architectural sightseeing would contrast greatly with Bolton Street;  DIT’s new campus in Grangegorman, a 73 acre undeveloped walled off void in north central centre. On the way us flâneurs took a little  detour to a secluded cul-de-sac. This urban oasis was created by Henrietta Street and King’s Inns only minutes from Trinity College, Smithfield and Heuston Station. Not another soul was on the street. I associate my childhood with a leafy suburban cul-de-sac; an overriding sense of security along with the constant surveillance. 

This ‘dead end’ was an escape for me from the traffic and noise of the city. Its cobbled street transported me back in time to Georgian Dublin. Having grown up in  Limerick city this architectural language was familiar to me but with larger proportions. I am ashamed to say I studied this area of Dublin in great detail but never paid her visit. My life then as a stream of dashes from Heuston Station to Belfield UCD. As I began to rhapsodize about the timeless beauty of this hidden Georgian neighbourhood a man pushing his bicycle emerged out of No.12. My guide in his North Kerry boldness asked simply “can we go in?” To my surprise we were and so began my Georgian afternoon daydream. Henrietta Street consists of a terrace of Georgian red brick- fronted four-bay, four-storeyed townhouses. The keeper who granted us cheeky tourists entry was a very friendly American chap who told us about how the building these days is used as a location for many television and film productions. Apparently during the previous week the building had opened its door to none other than Josh Hartnett and Eva Green!  
Henrietta Street is considered to be one of the first and finest planned Georgian Streets in Dublin. It was developed in the early 1720s by Luke Gardiner (more on him in my previous post). Thirteen of the original fifteen houses remain today. The street was popularly referred to as Primate's Hill as one of the houses was owned by the Archbishop of Armagh. No.12 had her face cloaked by a veil created by the scaffolding outside. Only inside could you admire her beauty. No.12 had a twin sister; she was built as a pair to No.11 between 1730 and 1733 designed by the architect Edward Lovett Pearce, the hand behind Castletown House. Lovett Pearce was also responsible for No.9. Some of the greatest structural modifications to No.12 occurred from 1780 onwards when Richard Boyle, the 2nd Earl of Shannon, decided to amalgamate the pair of buildings in order to create one vast town residence for himself. This radically altered the internal plan of both houses, while completely transforming the external appearance of No.12. The two houses were later separated after the death of Shannon in 1807. It is ironic that this building that did not seem large enough to accommodate Boyle would become a tenement to multiple families.
Note: For a full sensory experience I recommend listening to http://youtu.be/9sd9gOhjv3o on low volume for rest of the article
Taken on my phone
As you would expect with a property of this age not many original period features remain intact. However with a little imagination you can see how grand and commanding she once. was What I love most about No.12 is her honesty baring the evidence of the past 300 years. Inside the door we were met with a sparsely furnished hall with a staircase that invited you to ascend it. At the top of the first flight I turned right and was cheerfully greeted with a wonderfully bright drawing room. Light delightfully bounced around the high-ceilinged room through the windows. The daylight in here was somehow different to the contemporary buildings I was in earlier that day. The walls were bare save for a very large ornate gold Louis XV style mirror over the fireplace. The craftsmanship of the internal joinery of the window shutters, the cornicing and Neo-classical plasterwork were all exquisite. It was almost impossible to conceive the idea that it was created by human hands. Standing speechless in that drawing room I was almost afraid to breathe in case this Georgian mirage would dissipate and turn to dust. I could not tell you how long I spent in there as I was lost in a state of enchantment, completely under the spell of Number 12. We were two ghosts floating round the room. I had studied the development of Dublin as streets however it was now the fun part of honing in on one particularly building; one which may look like her neighbours but has her own distinct history and personality. On returning home I went into detective/jealous girlfriend mode researching her previous owners and the changes they made. Where did you come from? Who were the people who loved you before I knew you? Did they appreciate you? What are your future prospects?

According to the Condition Survey conducted by the Dublin Civic Trust in 1999 the owner of No.12 is Ian Lumley of An Táisce. He purchased the building in a dilapidated state in the late 1980s. He is lovingly restoring it out of his own pocket aided by a grant for its restorations from the Irish Georgian Society. Helping to breathe life back into this beautiful buildings is a project called At the Drawing Room. Lead by its artistic director Áine Nic An Ríogh it aims to develop the public's awareness of architecture through musical performances encouraging the audience to interact and engage with both the performance and the venue itself. This is part of Áine's research into acoustics in 18th century Irish Country Houses for her PhD with the School of Architecture, UCD. To keep this project going please follow the link to make a donation, no matter how small http://www.thedrawingroom.info/support I like the idea of my blog helping to contribute to this wonderful project which I hope to see mimicked in other cities. There is a fundraising music recital in the Octagonal Room of the City Assembly House on Sunday 23rd of November in aid of the of Rose of Sharon Zimbabwe Orphanage. To book go to http://www.igs.ie/events/detail/musical-recital-in-aid-of-the-rose-of-sharon-zimbabwe-orphanage
Sadly little is known about the tenement history of the street. The returns for the 1901 census shows that up to 19 families totalling 120 people lived in this buildings with each family occupying two, three or four rooms. These rent-paying tenants had occupations such as 'upholsterer', 'dressmaker', 'French polisher' 'iron monger' and those associated with the mode of transport of the day- horses with 'coach trimmer' and bridle stitcher.' According to the 1911 Census 835 people lived in Henrietta Street's 15 houses. It is incredible that this was just over a century ago that Irish people were living in these conditions and that they were the lucky ones. 
Taken on my phone

No sooner did we come in when we had to depart in other to stick to our schedule. The heavy front door shut behind us and I was back in present day Dublin. We made our way to Grangegorman (known in the past as "the Gorman" or "the Dean's Orchard") which in September became DIT’s latest campus. Designed to eventual accommodate 20,000 students this September saw the first 1000 students on campus from Art, Design, Photography, Social Science and Visual Communications. (Irish Independent ‘New DIT Campus opens at Grangegorman to first 1,000 students’ 9 Sept 2014). The task of reintegrating the site back into the urban fabric of Dublin falls under the remit of the Grangegorman Development Agency (GDA). The Master plan was devised by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners (Santa Monica, California) in partnership with local team DMOD Architects www.dmod.ie. Their brief was to respond to the site’s rich historical context opening it up to the surrounding neighbourhood while simultaneously creating a new tourist destination for visitors to the city. DMOD designed the new foyer gallery for Linenhall and back in 2008 they had submitted an entry for the Henrietta Street Ideas Competition http://www.dmod.ie/competitions/no-16-henrietta-street-ideas-competition/
Former Richmond Penitentiary
Area before new campus. Henrietta Street highlighted in red. Screenshot taken from Ordnance Survey Ireland www.osi.ie

Dotted around this impressive site is a complex of former institutions which would have originally been on the outskirts of the city. Their hardness is softened by the beginnings of the landscaping and the retention of mature trees. Retaining the older stone buildings alongside the new builds gives the place a sense of permanence and endurance. It is wonderful that their previous uses can be embraced and not hidden away. I doubt that would have happened thirty, twenty years ago.

Taken on my phone
Taken on my phone
The most prominent building on the site  is the former Richmond Penitentiary with its striking clock tower. It was designed by Francis Johnston (architect of the GPO) and opened in 1820. The penitentiary propagated the radical idea of reform rather than punishment until its closure in 1831. Richmond Lunatic Asylum (which later became St Brendan’s Hospital) is historically the main psychiatric hospital serving the greater Dublin region.  The new buildings will create a sweep of quadrangles like an arm wrapped around the limestone 18th century buildings. These pockets of spaces, places for chance-encounters, are connected by slinky serpentine pathways.  There are 11 protected structures in total on the campus including a former asylum and two churches, one of which will remain as a place of worship on the campus.

The re-use of these buildings on the Grangegorman site reflect our change in perception in mental health history in this country. These institutions once hidden away behind high walls on the outskirts of the city are now integrated within a permeable campus for everyone to enjoy. Likewise Georgian townhouses in the fifties and sixties were neglected being resented for their colonial origins.  While the architectural and historical importance of Henrietta Street is recognised by many, the general awareness of Henrietta Street is quite poor in contrast to other area of Georgian Dublin such as Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares. With the relocation of DIT to Grangegorman it is likely that the near future will see continued physical change in the area and this will impact on the character of Henrietta Street. Buildings adjust and change through time bowing to socio-economic forces, land values and the ebb and flow of the construction industry. Aided by historical context it is feasible for our collective viewpoints to adapt as easily as these urban landscapes.

For more information on No.12 Henrietta Street or architectural and decorative history I highly recommend reading Robert O'Byrne's theirishaesthete.com and for information on the Grangegorman Development Agency check out their website http://ggda.ie/ or if you would like to help the At the Drawing Room Project you can email aine@thedrawingroom.info

Taken on my phone