Rewind - The Vice-Regal Lodge/Áras an Úachtarain

By Sean Heffernan

For this week’s piece we are popping across the road from a papal site, to a building fit for a President, which in October could have a new tenant with the halldoor key in their hand – though current polls rule it unlikely.

In 1751 the Chief Ranger of the Park, Nathaniel Clements, decided to build a lodge for himself, on the site of an old house called Newtown Lodge.

aras

His main job was keeping an eye on the deer sanctuary established there by the Duke of Ormonde almost 100 years earlier.

He was known as a man who saw himself as very important, and was proud of the fact he was overseer of 1,750 acres of pristine parkland, upon which herds of deer roamed.

Between offices, storage rooms, reception rooms and private quarters, there are 92 doors in the Áras, this is why some mistakenly think there are 92 rooms in the famous building.

At this time the living quarters of the Viceroy to Ireland was in Dublin Castle.

The Viceroy was the King/Queen’s Chief representative in Ireland – an area manager for the island of Ireland, to put it simply.

The first-ever appointee to that position was Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath, who occupied the position from 1172-1173, and from 1177-1184 (the final three years jointly run with Lord Salisbury).

It was not a smooth rule however, as the local chieftains whose lands he had effectively stolen did not like it one bit, and regularly launched raids into his fiefdom in Meath.

Things were sorted per se, but only after bloodshed, when Tighearnán Ó Ruairc, King of Bréifne, was decapitated after a skirmish, and his head placed on the gates of Dublin Castle as a warning to others.

Strongbow

Another more famous holder of the title was Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke – more commonly known by his nickname ‘Strongbow’.

Later the title was vested in Henry Ireton in 1650. He was one of the key right-hand men for the much-despised Oliver Cromwell.

There was another rather famous Lord-Lieutenant in 1782, the year the British Crown bought the big house in the Phoenix Park for the use of the main man in Ireland, William Henry-Cavendish, who a year later spent around eight months in the position of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

In May 1882, a new Viceroy was appointed, but he was to remain in the position for a mere few hours following his arrival off the boat.

As my late friend and historian Shane Kenna outlined in great detail in his writings: Cavendish was accosted by a gang known as the Invincibles, when walking from an event in Dublin Castle. He was joined by Thomas Henry Burke, who accompanied him on his walk back to the lodge.

Blood-soaked scene

A short while later, they were accosted by a group of seven men who have become known as 'The Invincibles'. They stabbed both men to death before fleeing the blood-soaked scene.

It was an event that sent shockwaves through the British Establishment.

The final person to hold the title of Viceroy to Ireland was Edmund FitzAlan-Howard who held the post from April 1921 to December 1922, whereupon the lodge was handed over to the control of Saortstat Éireann, The Irish Free State.

He had been MP for Chichester in southern England prior to the appointment, and was the first Catholic appointed to the job since 1685, due to the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 abolishing the religious bar that had meant only Protestants could hold the post.

From 1922 until 1938 ‘The Governors-General of the Irish Free State’ resided in the Park, with Tim Healy holding the office for six years, upon being replaced by James McNeill who was then replaced by Domhnall Ua Buachalla in 1932.

The King of England George V was still one of the pillars of the Oireachtas, and the Governor was appointed by Dáil Éireann theoretically to act as the monarch’s representative in Ireland.

In 1938 Douglas Hyde became the first President of Ireland in the newly renamed Áras an Úachtarain (roughly translated as House of the Irish President).

Dr Hyde was the first President of a different kind in 1893, when he became the inaugural head of the Gaelic League, an organisation that strove to protect and increase participation in Irish cultural and sporting events such as playing the Uilleann Pipes and Hurling.

He remained in the position until 1945, and in that time was subject to a banning order from the GAA.

Forbidden to be playing other sporting codes

Back then it was expressly forbidden to be playing other sporting codes besides those under the umbrella of the GAA (Rugby Football Cricket and so forth), and stories abound that lads on the school Gaelic football team being given the leather after a teacher found out they were playing for a football or rugby team on the sly outside school hours.

A few months after his inauguration, Dr Hyde attended an international soccer match between Ireland and Poland in Dalymount Park.

Another ordinary fan at the game put in a complaint that the then First Citizen had broken the GAA code relating to foreign games, and this led to his expulsion from the organisation.

Interestingly enough my research of this matter in the past seems to indicate that the tell-tale, despite also breaking the rules by attending the game, did not face any sort of sanction for his indiscretion.

When he passed away in 1914, the Áras was in quite a state of disrepair, and a major demolition and renovation job was undertaken.

Key parts that were given big makeovers were the kitchens, servants’ quarters and the chapel.

A President who has lived long in my memory is Patrick J Hillery, who visited my Primary School then known as Loreto (now St Dominic’s) Primary School to plant a tree and listen to myself and others make ears bleed with our take on Amhrán na Bhfiann.

His successor Mary Robinson was one of the first female heads of state in the world, and as we know did a most remarkable job in her role as Uachtarán na hÉireann for the seven years she occupied the role.

There are guided tours of Áras an Úachtarain on Saturdays, so why not pay it a visit? For more information: http://www.president.ie/en/explore-visit/tours-visits 

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