James Malton’s “Powerscourt House. July 1795”
In Christine Casey’s book “The Buildings of Ireland” she describes the townhouse of Lord Powerscourt as “a lumbering granite-fronted essay in last-gasp Palladianism”. That shot across the bow of the building however is balanced with her reference to the “marvelous transitional interior”. Indeed the Robert Mack designed building is an odd building. Hemmed in by the narrow streets it’s hard to get a feeling for the building itself. Malton mentions that “the house is unhappy in point of situation”. It’s not helped that many people would fail to see the front as they would enter it via Clarandon street; the rear of the building. You really do need to step back to appreciate it and realize that it’s a little gem in the city center.
Designed by Robert Mack for the 3rd Viscount of Powerscourt, Richard Wingfield, it was built between 1771 and 1774 from granite mined from the Powerscourt estate in Co. Wicklow. This is one of the few works of Mack who wasn’t the most successful of the era. Thomas Eyre, with an axe to grind, described Mack as “an obscure journeyman stonecutter”. Nevertheless Malton ranked the building as the third best example of town house in Dublin, presumably after Leinster and Charlemont House. The interior that Casey was so impressed by was created by Michael Stapleton and the staircase by James McCullagh.
Only 33 years later the building was sold in 1807 to the government for £15,000. A bargain taking into account it had cost £80,000 to build. It was the home to the Dublin Stamp Office and the Commissioners of Stamp Duties until 1833 when it was sold to a textile firm. Today it’s a rather grand, if cramped, shopping centre.