The history of a hospital in Kilmainham goes back to the 12th century. The Knights Templar constructed an abbey on a corner of land granted to them by Hugh Tyrrel, Baron of Castleknock. It was funded by the Earl of Pembroke Richard de Clare or “Stongbow” as he is known in Irish history. After the Knights Templar were infamously suppressed in the 14th century the land was given to another order of Knights -The Knights of St. John. These Knights, who used the building as a hospital, held the land until 1537 when they lost it due to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The old hospital was demolished in 1670.
Dublin’s golden age of architecture is considered to be synonymous with the British Georgian era of 1714 to 1830. In reality the age started before and ended later.
James Malton’s “Old Soldiers Hospital, Kilmainham. February 1794” Arguably the first major public building of the golden era was commissioned in Dublin by The Duke of Ormonde, James Bulter, and built on the site of the old Knights hospital. Inspired by Louis XIV’s Les Invalides in Paris he laid the foundation stone in 1680 and, four years later the Sir William Robinson building, designed to home and hospital army pensioners, was opened. It would serve in this role until 1927. The building, in the Palladian style popular at the time, encloses an inner quadrangle. The north wing of the building, captured by Malton in his etching, contains a baroque chapel and dining hall.
After 1922 the newly independent state looked at the possibility of using the building as the center of government but, due to the dire financial conditions that Ireland found itself in at the time, it was decided it was too costly to renovate and instead Leinster House was selected. The hospital then found itself as the Garda Headquarters but in 1950 the Commissioner and staff returned to their original building in the Phoenix Park.
The building was extensively restored in 1984, it’s 300th year, when it reopened in it’s new role as the Irish Museum of Modern Art.