Leinster House in Dublin
Leinster House is the name of the building housing the Oireachtas, the national parliament of Ireland.
Leinster House was originally the ducal palace of the Dukes of Leinster. Since 1922, it is a complex of buildings, of which the former ducal palace is the core, which house Oireachtas Éireann, its members and staff. The most recognisable part of the complex, and the 'public face' of Leinster House, continues to be the former ducal palace at the core of the complex.
The ducal palace
Leinster House was the former ducal residence in Dublin of the Duke of Leinster, and since 1922 served as the parliament building of the Irish Free State, predecessor of the modern Irish state, before which it functioned as the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society. The society's famous Dublin Spring Show and Dublin Horse Show were held on its Leinster Lawn, facing Merrion Square. The building is the meeting place of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, the two houses of the Oireachtas, and as such the term 'Leinster House' has become a metonym for Irish political activities.
From home of a parliamentarian to home of a parliament
Ireland's parliament over the centuries had met in a number of locations, most notably in the Irish Houses of Parliament at College Green, next to Trinity College, Dublin. Its medieval parliament consisted of two Houses, a House of Commons and a House of Lords. Ireland's senior peer, the Earl of Kildare, had a seat in the Lords. Like all the aristocrats of the period, for the duration of the Social Season and parliamentary sessions, he and his family resided in state in a Dublin residence. (For the rest of the year, they used a number of country residences, notably Frescati House in Blackrock.)
From the late eighteenth century Leinster House (then called Kildare House) was the Earl's official Dublin residence. When it was first built in 1745–48 by James FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, it was located on the unfashionable and isolated south side of the city, far from the main locations of aristocratic residences, namely Rutland Square (now Parnell Square) and Mountjoy Square. The Earl predicted that others would follow; in succeeding decades Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square became the primary location of residences of the aristocracy, with many of their northside residences being sold. (They ended up as slums.) The building itself was designed by acclaimed architect Richard Cassels.
In the history of aristocratic residences in Dublin, no other mansion matched Kildare House for its sheer size or status. When the Earl was made the first Duke of Leinster in 1766, the family's Dublin residence was renamed Leinster House. Its first and second floors were used as the floor model for the White House by its Irish architect, while the house itself was used as a model for the original stone-cut White House exterior.
One famous member of the family who occasionally resided in Leinster House was Lord Edward FitzGerald, who became involved with Irish nationalism during the 1798 Rebellion, which cost him his life. With the passage of the Act of Union in 1800, Ireland ceased to have its own parliament. Without a House of Lords to attend, increasing numbers of aristocrats stopped coming to Dublin, selling off their Dublin residences, in many case to buy residences in London, where the new united parliament met.
RDS headquarters 1815–1922
The 3rd Duke of Leinster sold Leinster House in 1815 to the Royal Dublin Society. At the end of the nineteenth century, two new wings were added, to house the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland. The Natural History Museum was built on the site. Part of this scheme intended to re-clad the house in more attractive Portland stone and extend the portico outwards (as opposed to being attached). This was not undertaken.
Oireachtas from 1922
The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 provided for the creation of a self-governing Irish dominion, to be called the Irish Free State. As plans were made to bring the new state into being, the Provisional Government under W. T. Cosgrave sought a temporary venue for the meetings of the new Chamber of Deputies Dáil Éireann and Senate Seanad Éireann. Plans were made to turn Royal Hospital Kilmainham, an eighteenth-century former soldiers' home in extensive parklands, into a full-time Parliament House. However as it was still under the control of the British Army, who had yet to withdraw from it, and the new Governor-General of the Irish Free State was due to deliver the Speech from the Throne opening parliament within weeks, it was decided to hire the main RDS Lecture Theatre attached to Leinster House for use in December 1922 as a temporary Dáil chamber. The building was bought outright from the RDS in 1924.
The Irish government opted not to close the former ducal palace for immediate renovation (partly due to cost and partly due to the difficulty the Oireachtas would have in functioning, given that the former ducal palace is a central point through which members and staff have to travel to access other parts of the complex). Instead an ongoing process of renovation was commenced, with the upper floor of the former ducal palace cleared of journalists (it had been the base for many) due to the floor's overloading. The journalists previously based on that floor were moved to parliamentary offices outside the complex on Molesworth Street.
- David J. Griffin and Caroline Pegum, Leinster House 1744 - 2000 An Architectural History. The Irish Architectural Archive in association with The Office of Public Works (2000)