20 October 2015

Pembroke Town Hall and Library
… reminders of a former township

Pembroke Town Hall, Ballsbridge, designed by Edward Carson, was built in 1880 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Between the Said Eucharist at 9 a.m. and the Solemn Eucharist at 11 a.m. in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, on Sunday morning [18 October 2015], I went for a double espresso and short stroll in Ballsbridge.

Two of the buildings that caught my eye during my stroll were the former Pembroke Town Hall on the corner of Merrion Road and Anglesea Road, and the Pembroke Library on Anglesea Road, close to the banks of the River Dodder.

Pembroke Town Hall is a landmark building in Ballsbridge, standing at the corner of a major junction, close to the buildings of the Royal Dublin Society.

The town hall was built in 1880 as the offices of the 15 town commissioners of the Pembroke Township. Pembroke Township included Ballsbridge, Ringsend, Irishtown, Donnybrook and Sandymount.

The commissioners who governed the Pembroke Township and provided services from 1863 to 1930 were elected by wealthy property owners of the area.

Pembroke Township was formed by private Act of Parliament in 1863. The township, which was named after the Earl of Pembroke who owned most of the land in the Dublin 4 area. It included Ringsend which was an old fishing village and Irishtown, an industrial district, as well as Ballsbridge, Sandymount and Donnybrook.

At the time, these areas were expanding apidly and there was a pressing need for an authority to manage sewage, water, paving and other services.

The areas varied in economic and social life. Ringsend was an old fishing village, Irishtown was an industrial district, while the remainder of the township contained mainly affluent residential areas.

But, because there were many low-quality homes at the time, the Pembroke Estate also built many housing projects from the 1880s onwards in areas such as Shelbourne Road and Ringsend, designed to house employees of the estate as well as artisans and craftspeople.

Seven ninths of the Pembroke Township stood on lands that were part of the Pembroke Estate, and the agent of the estate was an ex-officio commissioner, the remaining 14 being elected by property owners. The estate had a great deal of influence on the activities of the commissioners, and also made donations of land for the use of the township.

The township had a population of about 13,200 in 1863, and a land area of 1,592 acres. The Pembroke Urban District Council levied rates on the residents to pave the roads and provide other social services. The first rates struck in 1864 were set at two shillings on the pound.

Lord Pembroke’s agent, who looked after his business interests in Dublin, chaired the town commissioners, and so Lord Pembroke exercised considerable power in the affairs of the township.

The town commissioners were in charge of lighting, streets, public footpaths, the water supply and other public services in the area, and introduced a fire service.

At first, the township offices were in Ballsbridge Terrace, where the Herbert Park Hotel stands today. The new Town Hall was designed in 1879 in the Gothic style by the Dublin architect, surveyor and civil engineer Edward Henry Carson (1822-1881). He was assisted by his pupil John Loftus Robinson.

Carson was the second of the three sons of William Carson, a chip and straw hat merchant, originally from Dumfriesshire, who had moved from Scotland to Dublin to set up in business. Although he was a devout Presbyterian, his brothers, the Revd William Carson and the Revd James Carson, were ordained in the Church of Ireland.

Carson was a pupil of William Deane Butler and became involved in property development in the south suburbs of Dublin, including Marlborough Road in Donnybrook and Belgrave Square in Rathmines. He was architect and surveyor to the National Building and Land Investment Co. of Ireland (1868-1873) and to the Dublin, Rathmines, Rathgar, Rathfarnham & Rathcoole Railway (1868-1874).

Carson’s pupils and assistants included his brother-in-law Sir George Moyers (1836-1916), who was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1881, Richard Chaytor Millar, and John Loftus Robinson, who later formed the partnership of Robinson Keefe.

Carson was a Commissioner of the Pembroke Township from its foundation in 1864 until 1880 and a member of Dublin Corporation in 1877 and 1878, sitting as a Liberal Conservative.

In 1851, he married Isabella Lambert, a daughter of Peter Lambert of Castle Ellen, Co Galway. They were the parents of four sons and two daughters, the third son being Edward Carson, later Lord Carson, the barrister and Unionist politician.

Carson died on 14 February 1881 and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Pembroke Town Hall opened a year before Carson’s death (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Meanwhile, Pembroke Town Hall had opened in the previous year, 1880.

The Building News, describing Pembroke Town Hall, said: “It is built of rough-punched Ballynockan granite set in regular courses, with bands of red sandstone. The principal entrance door and windows of upper storey have columns of polished Aberdeen granite. The building provides accommodation on the ground floor for secretary, engineer, rate collector, post and telegraph office, also sanitary office and care- taker’s apartments.”

On 25 June 1880, The Irish Times praised the new building and said it was “a credit … to the locality.”

It described some of its elegant features, including the ornamental marble pillars at the entrance; a stained glass window at the top of the stairway; a boardroom that was a “model of neatness.” It was fitted with electric bells that linked to each department in the building so that officials could call for instant attendance. There were modern lavatories, a handsome clock on the front of the building, as well as extensive stabling for the commissioners’ horses and sheds for their carts.

The smaller block to the left (south) side is a former fire station designed at the same time.

The township continued to be governed by the commissioners until 1899 when it became an Urban District, with a more democratically elected urban district council.

During the Easter Rising in 1916, the British army requisitioned the Town Hall as a place for holding prisoners, including Eamon de Valera.

After many years of proposed amalgamations of Dublin’s local authorities, the Local Government (Dublin) Act 1930 dissolved Pembroke Urban District and its area was absorbed into the City of Dublin. The other Dublin townships, including Rathmines, Clontarf, Kilmainham and Drumcondra, were dissolved too. The records of the Pembroke township are now contained in Pearse Street Library.

Ringsend Technical School occupied the Town Hall until 1951, when the Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC) moved its headquarters there, where it remains until this day.

Pembroke Library, a graceful building, dates from 1926-1927 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Around the corner from Pembroke Town Hall, Pembroke Library is a graceful building, and surrounded by RDS property.

The library was funded by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, and is the last library of this kind to be built in Ireland. The first librarian was the short story writer Frank O’Connor.

The Pembroke Library was built built between September 1926 and October 1927 by the Pembroke Urban District Council on part of the site of Pembroke Town Hall. The building was designed by the architect Arnold F Hendy of Kaye-Parry, Ross and Hendy, Kildare Street, Dublin, and built by G and T Crampton.

The façade of red brick is classical in style, with an interesting, pedimented central bay, with an inset arch and round window. The curve of the arch and round window is mirrored in the three bays of round headed windows to either side. The roof has a small copper cupola or lantern that provides light and ventilation in the attic.

A wooden porch that was a bad state of repair and that was not aesthetically sympathetic to the building, was removed during recent restoration work and the entrance to the library was restored its original appearance. After the universal access improvement works were completed, Pembroke Library reopened on 16 August 2010.

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