Past, present and future: Legacy of Custom House’s history honoured as part of new Visitor Centre conservation works
A month ago on 25 May, we marked the centenary of the 1921 Custom House fire during the War of Independence which claimed nine lives and nearly destroyed the landmark neo-classical building on the River Liffey’s north quay. Today, on 21 June, the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage together mark the rich history of the 230-year-old building by incorporating into its fabric records that link these commemorative events – captured in a newspaper from the day – to the cross-organisational project team involved in the current conservation project at the Custom House Visitor Centre. The refurbishment of the Custom House Visitor Centre this year is carried out by the two Departments with the support of Fáilte Ireland and is a key Decade of Centenaries legacy project.
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Mr Darragh O’Brien, T.D. placed the records chosen to symbolise the continuum between past, present and future in the Visitor Centre. Commenting on the occasion, the Minister said:
“It’s a special privilege for me to be a Government Minister based here in the Custom House, which is one of Ireland’s most remarkable buildings, and one steeped in such a rich and varied history. The opening, later this year, of a major new permanent Visitor Centre is something all of us have looked forward to.
It will give the public a chance to marvel at James Gandon’s architectural masterpiece, and as well an opportunity to immerse themselves in a formative part of our history, including a detailed account of the 1921 burning of the Custom House, one of the most seminal moments in the War of Independence. The opening, during the Centenary year of the burning of the Custom House, will be really significant for Dublin’s North Inner City and we hope to offer a very informative and very interesting visitor attraction.”
In the aftermath of the Custom House fire, the OPW reroofed and restored the building and skilfully reinstated its iconic dome from 1926-9. Through this, as well as through the continuous conservation of the building’s exterior and interior, it has ensured that the Custom House is preserved for generations to come.
Commending the work done by OPW’s Conservation Services, Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Mr Patrick O’Donovan, T.D. said:
“The Visitor Centre itself is an example of some of the finest neo-classical architecture in Europe and its reopening will ensure that this wonderful space is once more accessible to the public. The OPW design team, led by Conservation Services, have coordinated this sensitive refurbishment project. The OPW’s guide service team looks forward to sharing the rich history of this building with visitors and to taking them on a journey from its beginnings right to the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the attack carried out during the War of Independence. New exhibition and interpretation displays have been developed with eminent Irish historians, art historians and architectural historians and will feature, for example, architect James Gandon’s original desk as well as audio visual displays detailing the day of the fire that nearly destroyed the Custom House a hundred years ago.”