Domestic Buildings

Long before the monumental tombs of Irish pre-history were constructed, people had been building timber, wattle and thatch houses as their homes. For a long time, and certainly until the end of the Tudor period, the ordinary people in Ireland, as opposed to Norman French and native Gaelic lords, lived in a type of circular thatched hut which is encountered very widely in different civilizations. These buildings existed side by side with the square plan, stone-built towers of three or four storeys which were the houses of the Irish landed class from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. Where a family was wealthy, or of local importance, two or more towers might be built together with a vaulted hall between them or added to one side.

Some notion of the Classical architecture of Renaissance Italy appears in Irish building at the time of the Tudor and Jacobean plantations. The English and Scots settlers brought the new taste with them. The earliest examples of classical architecture tend to be limited to single elements, like doorways or chimneys, or to monuments put up in churches. For the most part Irish domestic building remained medieval and Gothic in its forms until the appearance of the Georgian house. An exception to this is the later Stuart building in Irish towns. Though little survives today it is clear that the growing economies of Dublin and the port cities led to a new domestic architecture, often built of bricks with square-headed windows and other Classical details from the 1680s on.


Georgian Domestic Architecture

Georgian domestic architecture is dominated by Classical ideas. In the great houses of the protestant aristocracy in the country and in the new suburbs of Dublin - Caple Street, Henrietta Street and Dorset Street, north of the river, and Molesworth Street, Kildare Street and Merrion Square on the south - the example of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80) established a system of proportions and of Classical enrichment that has stamped a special character on the Irish countryside and capital.

In the country the houses are built as free-standing symmetrical blocks, usually of three storeys over a basement and frequently with balanced wings on either side to provide an imposing entrance front. In towns the typical Georgian house forms part of a terrace or is built round a square. In Dublin there is often a sunk area before the house to give light to a basement, and railings with a few steps leading over the area to the front door.

Georgian town houses are often built of brick with stone details and slate roofs, partly hidden behind a parapet. They are usually three - sometimes four - storeys high with two, three or even four windows across the front. Front doors in Georgian Ireland are often made to look important by the addition of columns on each side, a Classical entablature over the door and a fan-light window above.

In the Regency and Victorian periods many houses continued to be built in a Georgian manner. Architects also began to experiment with different styles and plans. They built small detached houses, or groups of semi-detached blocks, in new suburbs with gardens and trees round the houses. In the countryside the architectural style might be that of an imitation castle or a Gothic abbey, and, in the towns, a neat Greek villa or an Elizabethan Cottage.


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