It’s strange today to think that the Eiffel tower was hated by the Parisians when it opened in 1889. Equally difficult is that one of the most beautiful buildings in Dublin should have met with resistance from Dublin Corporation and the businesses of Dublin. However, as it was to be the headquarters of the Commissioners of Custom and Excise, then maybe the resistance was less for the design than for it’s function.
English architect James Gandon was commissioned by John Beresford, the Chief Revenue Commissioner, with designing and building The Custom House.
Custom House, July 1792 Irish sculptor Edward Smyth was employeed to create the sculptors and friezes that would adore the Portland stone building and in doing so also created a lasting partership with Gandon. It took 10 years from 1781 to 1791 and during that period, as it happens, James Gandon would hire another James, one James Malton as a drawing clerk. Malton would work for Gandon for three years before a falling out would lead him to be dismissed. Whatever the facts behind the dismissal it would not stop Malton including not just The Custom House in his prints but other works of Gandons – The Four Courts, Royal Infirmary and parts of the Rotunda.
For almost a century the view eastwards down the Liffey from Carlise Bridge, would you believe yet another of Gandon’s designs, would be graced by the Custom House
View of Custom House before the Loop Line bridge was built. but in 1891 a controversial new bridge was constructed – the Loop Line Bridge. Controversial because the wrought iron bridge would block the view of the Custom House. Dubliners had forgotten their opposition a hundred years prior and had fallen in love with Gandons work. Opposition to the bridge failed and view down the Liffey all but stops now at the Loop Line bridge.
This was to turn out to be the least of the insults that the Custom House would suffer. Within thirty years the building was a burned out husk; the dome collapsed and Gandon and Smyths interior of the building lost. During the War of Independence the building, now a centre of local government, was attacked and occupied by Irish Republican forces. In the ensuing battle the Custom House caught fire and burnt for five days.
Luckily, post independence, the new Irish Government decided to restore the building rather than tear it down. The dome was reconstructed but instead of using (British) Portland stone (Irish) Ardbraccan stone was chosen. This stonework is noticeably darker in colour than the Portland stone used in the rest of the building. In time for it’s 200th birthday in 1989 the Office of Public Works carried out more restoration and cleaning of the stonework.