City Hall is an open door, but like most open doors in the city the locals don’t tend to wander in. If you do walk in though you’re rewarded by the sight of a beautiful rotunda, the centrepiece of the 1779 building designed by the architect Thomas Cooley. There are a whole series of excellent murals to view inside the building, telling the story of Dublin. Work on these murals began in 1914, and was undertaken by students of the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, under their Headmaster James Ward. I sent Paul Reynolds of Rabble fame in to photograph them, lacking anything even resembling a camera myself!
Philip McEvansoneya has noted that “The subject matter was suggested by Alderman Thomas Kelly, the senior Sinn Féin councillor on Dublin Corporation.” The Corporation would have had a strong nationalist prescence even in the years prior to the Easter Rising, refusing to officially welcome several Royals to Dublin in the early twentieth century. McEvansoneya has noted in Irish Arts Review that there seems to be three themes running through the murals – “Dublin legends and history, Irish christianity and the historic struggle for Irish independence.”
The first reference to the murals I can find is a letter from James Ward to the Dublin Corporation in October 1913 offering to provide students and designs for paintings in the Rotunda of City Hall. The Irish Times reported that “On the motion of Alderman T.Kelly, it was resolved to accept the offer, provided the designs were of historical subjects connected to the city, and that the Corporation approved of them.”
By January, 1915, the same newspaper were reporting that the first two of the murals were in place. The first depicted the arrival of Saint Patrick in Dublin, while the second showed the coming of the Norse.The murals were not completed until 1919, when the Corporation thanked Ward at a function below the paintings, over which the Lord Mayor presided.
My favourite of the murals depicts the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, and shows an aged Brian Boru upon a horse. There will be much focus on this moment in Irish history next year, an event around which much mythology and folklore has grown. The arrival of the Anglo-Normans is also depicted, with Richard de Clare, or Strongbow, arriving at the gates of Dublin.
Lambert Simnel, ‘Pretender to the Throne’, is shown being paraded through Dublin. Simnel was crowned in Christ Church Cathedral in May 1487, and then carried through the streets of the city. He was about ten years old at the time, and one historian has noted “He was merely a commonplace tool to be used for important ends, and the attempt to overthrow Henry VII would have taken place had Simnel never existed.”
Below are the remainder of the set Paul snapped, including the four provincial shields. They are beautiful works of art, certainly worth dropping in for a look the next time you’re passing. For further information, an interesting article from Irish Arts Review can be read here.