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Leinster House

Leinster House is a beautiful, palace-like complex of buildings occupied by the Irish Parliament, its members, and staff. It is the meeting place of Dail Eireann, the lower house, and Seanad Eireann, the senate, which together form the two houses of the Oireachtas, Parliament. The Parliament sits in session for 90 days each year.

Highlights

  • Impressive Palladian style residence built in the late 18th century
  • Used as a model for the US White House
  • Visited by John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton
  • A painting of the first meeting of Ireland's Dail (parliament) hangs in the building
  • A copy of the Irish proclamation of Independence can be seen in the magnificent main hall
  • The main hall also features paintings of many leading Irish political figures
  • Portraits include Eamonn De Valera and Michael Collins 

Video tour guide of the Leinster House buildings

History

Built in 1748,  Leinster House was commissioned by James FitzGerald, who was from a prominent Irish noble family, known as the Earls of Kildare. 

The Earls of Kildare

The FitzGeralds were in fact a Welsh-Norman dynasty, having arrived in Ireland in 1169 as part of a wider Norman invasion. In 1316, John FitzGerald was granted the title of Earl of Kildare.  The FitzGeralds famously became "more Irish than the Irish themselves". Indeed in 1537, "Silken" Thomas FitzGerald, the 10th Earl of Kildare, led an ultimately failed rebellion against the British forces in Ireland. By the 18th century, the family had acquired significant estates in Kildare and Waterford, to accompany their homestead --- Maynooth castle.

Kildare House

James FitzGerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare, was a leading Irish politician and military figure. He wanted a residency in the city. The new estate was to be FitzGerald's official residence and was originally called Kildare House. Built in the Palladian (Venetian) style popular at the time, the house was designed by leading Georgian architect Richard Cassels. A home fit for a king, it was unique among Dublin residential properties in both size or stature. When the Earl became the first Duke of Leinster in 1766, the Dublin residence was renamed Leinster House.

Wherever I Go, They Will Follow

In the 1740s, the most popular area for aristocratic residents of Dublin was on the north side of the Liffey. Lord Kildare's friends questioned him on the merits of building such an ambitious stately home in an undeveloped area south of the Liffey known as Molesworth's fields. "Wherever I go," Kildare famously replied, "they will follow." Sure enough, in the decades after the construction of Kildare house, the area surrounding Molesworth's fields became the city's new upmarket district. Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square became the location of many aristocratic residences, while previously popular north side estates went up for sale.

Royal Dublin Society

The third Duke of Leinster, Augustus Frederick, sold Leinster House in 1815 to the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) for £10,000. Founded in 1731, the aim of the RDS was to improve the lives of Dublin's many poor, as well as to promote arts, industry, and science in Ireland. In 1897, the society added a lecture theatre -- which today functions as Ireland's Dail chamber (parliament chamber). By the end of the 19th century, the RDS had added two wings were added to the house --- the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland.

Acquired by the Irish State

Since 1922, when the new Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) gained independence from Britain, Leinster House has served as the state's Parliament building.

Famous Visitors

An impressive list of dignitaries has visited Leinster House, including

  • John F. Kennedy
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Bill Clinton
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair
  • French President Francois Mitterand

Inspiration for the U.S. White House?

In 1792, James Hoban from County Kilkenny, who had studied architecture in Dublin before emigrating to the United States aged 19, entered a competition to the design "an American Presidential palace". President George Washington wanted the building to have "the sumptuousness of a palace, the convenience of a house, and the agreeableness of a county seat". Hoban had served his architectural apprenticeship at the Royal Dublin Society in Leinster House (then known as Kildare House), at the time one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in the city. Many have claimed that Hoban used the Leinster House as inspiration. No-one knows for sure, but many features of Hoban's White House design resemble features in Leinster House -- particularly on the building's first and second floors. Hoban's entry was chosen ahead of eight competitors, and he was paid $500 for his design.

Entrance and Tours

Normally, visitors cannot enter the building, unless they are part of a pre-arranged tour or a walk-up tour. Pre-arranged tours are done via a politician or embassy (not a tour operator) so if you want to see inside the building, a walk-up tour is probably your best bet.

Walk-Up Tours

FREE guided tours take place Monday and Friday, 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM. The tour incorporates the Dáil (Upper House) and Seanad (Lower House) Chambers. Booking is not required -- visitors simply have to "walk-up" to the entrance gate at Kildare Street to avail of these tours. However, the peak months for tours are May and June. Note: on the first Friday of every month, the tour is normally not available.

Visitor Tips

If you are taking a guided tour, please note:

  • You must carry identification - a photo ID is best -- for example, a driver's licence, passport, or national ID card
  • Arrive 15 minutes early to ensure your place, since there is no booking
  • There are different entrances to Government Buildings (as Leinster House is often called today) but the tour entrance point is at the Kildare Street Gate
  • The tour takes just under 1 hour
  • You are advised not to take bulky or heavy bags into the building

Image

Leinster House. Image by James Stringer

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