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5 things you didn't know about Government Buildings

Ever wanted a look inside the seat of Government? We've got five things you might not know about the building and its history. Have a look at the building and read up on it before the arrival of the next Government.

  1. It's on Dublin's Merrion Street (not Kildare street, that's our parliament, Leinster House)

You might think Government Buildings is on Dublin’s Kildare Street, where our parliament, Leinster House is, but it’s actually a street down on Merrion Street.

  1. It used to be the Royal College of Science

King Edward the seventh laid the foundation stone for the building in 1904 and it was completed 18 years later.

It was first used by the Royal College of Science which is why you’ll find statues of two of Ireland’s most famous scientists, Robert Boyle and William Rowan Hamilton at the main entrance.

Boyle, the son of the Great Earl of Cork proved the inverse relationship between the volume of gas and its pressure – now known as Boyle’s law.

Hamilton, a mathematician, physicist and astronomer developed important work in optics, dynamics and algebra. One day, while walking with his wife along the Royal Canal, he came up with a new idea that opened a new field in mathematics - Quaternions. He carved the formula in the stone of Brougham Bridge.

The Royal College of Science later merged with University College Dublin, and students remained in the main building until the Office of Public Works (OPW) took over in 1989.

  1. Cabinet

To justify expenditure at the time of building, it was decided that British Government Departments would take offices in the wings, while the college occupied the main part of the building.

After the completion of the North Block in 1922, it was used as the location for the first cabinet meeting of the newly formed Irish Free State Executive Council, while the main building continued to accommodate students.

With a few exceptions, every cabinet meeting since then has been held in the same room.

  1. The refurbishment

After taking over in 1989, OPW began work to convert the laboratories and lecture theatres in the main building into offices suitable for what was to become the Department of the Taoiseach.

Native woods, including sycamore, ash and beech were used to make the furniture throughout the building. The walls in the Taoiseach’s office were panelled with oak from the ancient forest of Coolattin, Co Wicklow. A new table was also commissioned for the refurbished cabinet room. The table designed by Michael Bell Design and made by Fitzgerald Furniture of Kells, contains Irish Burr Walnut. Around 350 people worked on the refurbishment over the project.

The refurbishment was completed in 1990 and Government Buildings was officially open by the Taoiseach at the time, Charles Haughey in January 1991.

  1. It's home to some amazing art

The famous stained glass window in the building was designed by Evie Hone in 1939. The window was commissioned by the Department of Industry and Commerce in Dublin in 1938 for the Irish Pavilion at the New York World Fair in 1939.

The window design, called ‘My Four Green Fields’, depicts the four provinces of Ireland and won Hone a gold medal at the fair. It was kept in storage after the fair, before going on display at the CIE Head Office in O’Connell Street from 1960 to 1983. It went into storage again, before being refurbished and put on display in Government Buildings during the 1990 refurbishment where it still remains.

The fireplace in the Taoiseach’s Office was designed by famous Italian craftsman Pietro Bossi sometime between 1785 and 1898. Bossi used a technique, seen in the fireplace, known as ‘scagliola’ which is inlaying a carved marble background with a coloured marble paste. 

Bossi is believed to have been so secretive when working on a piece that he would sprinkle saw dust on the floor before leaving. That way, if there were footprints in the saw dust when he returned, he knew someone had been in the room and seen his work.

The fireplace in the Taoiseach’s office was saved from a house that was due to be demolished in the late 1800s. It was placed in the Taoiseach’s Office in the North Block, before being moved to the Taoiseach’s new office in the main building during the 1990 refurbishment.

Also found in the Taoiseach’s office, is a painting of Thomas Francis Meagher, the man who brought the Irish National Flag, the tricolour to Ireland. Meagher travelled to France in 1848 to study the revolution and during his time there, was given the tricolour by a French woman sympathetic to the Irish cause. The flag was first flown in Waterford in March 1848.