24 August 2018

Three public buildings that
enhance the architectural
elegance of Mullingar

The Courthouse in Mullingar … an elegant example of a courthouse in an Irish provincial town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The Courthouse and the County Hall on Mount Street in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, form an interesting pair of buildings on a roundabout leading into the town centre. I was in Mullingar last week, and the courthouse, county hall and former market house stood out as elegant parts of the architectural legacy of the county town of Co Westmeath.

Mullingar Courthouse is an Italianate classical composition, and it represents one of the most elegant examples of its type in Ireland. It is built in the tradition of Richard Morrison’s courthouse in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, rather than the later Greek temple tradition, found in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and the courthouse in Carlow, modelled on the Temple on the Ilissus in Athens by William Vitruvius Morrison (1794-1838).

The well-detailed façade of the courthouse is built of high quality ashlar limestone masonry. It has two superimposed blind arcades that contain a variety of openings or blank walls and they serve to unify the different elements of the composition.

This courthouse has a handsome and highly literate Italianate façade facing Mount Street and it is one of the key buildings of Mullingar. It was designed by the Dublin architect John Hargrave (1788-1833), one of the most eminent architects of his day.

John Hargrave was the third son of Abraham Hargrave of Cork. He was articled to his father’s relative, Thomas Harrison of Chester, but established his practice in Ireland. He was one of the architects who applied unsuccessfully to succeed Francis Johnston as the architect to the Board of Works in 1826. His application was supported by Lord Forbes and by RH Sheehan.

Hargrave worked from Talbot Street in Dublin from 1826 to 1833. But on 30 August 1833, at the age of 45, he was drowned with his only son, John, and all his family while sailing in his yacht in Cardigan Bay.

Hargrave also designed neighbouring Mullingar Jail, which is now largely demolished. The two buildings in were originally linked by a tunnel for moving prisoners between the court and the cells. The tunnel is said to be there still but is blocked.

The present courthouse replaced an earlier courthouse in Mullingar that stood on Pearse Street.

This building was commissioned by the Westmeath Grand Jury in 1819, in response to an Act of Parliament passed in 1813. It cost £6,700 to build and was opened in 1829. It also served as the headquarters of the Westmeath Grand Jury from 1829 to 1899 and later as the County Council offices from 1900 to 1913, when it was succeeded by the new County Buildings across the street.

The courthouse has formed the backdrop to many important events in the history of Co Westmeath over the last 200 years and is of immense importance to the heritage of the county.

It is a detached, seven-bay, two-storey courthouse, with a five-bay breakfront to the centre of the main façade and recessed two-storey bays to either side. There are flanking single-storey dressed limestone walls to either gable end of building, each with a segmental-headed carriage-arch. There is a three-bay arcade to the centre of the breakfront at the ground floor level.

Throughout the building there are extensive ashlar limestone and cut-stone details, including Doric pilasters at the first-floor level that separate the bays to the advanced breakfront and a moulded string course at the springing point of the arches at first floor level.

The County Hall on Mount Street in Mullingar, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Across the street from the courthouse and on the same roundabout, the County Hall is a late example of an essay in the Italianate classical style. It forms an attractive Classical set piece with the earlier courthouse.

The asymmetrical front façade appears somewhat disjointed, but it is well-built.

It was built in 1910 -1913 on the site of earlier buildings that were part of Mullingar Jail, which was built in 1825, and it may incorporate fabric from earlier jail buildings.

This building is an important part of the architectural heritage and social history of Mullingar. I understand the entrance hall retains some interesting Celtic strapwork-style plasterwork.

The interesting details include an advanced pedimented central bay with a projecting cut limestone Doric porch on a semi-circular-plan with a balustraded parapet over that has cast-iron balustrades, and a three-bay two-storey section to the east with cut limestone Doric pilasters between the bays.

These two buildings stand close to one another in a prominent position at the south end of Mount Street leading into the town centre of Mullingar.

The Market House in Market Place in the centre of Mullingar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Market House in Market Place is another prominently sited and important civic building that played a pivotal role in the economic and social history of Mullingar. Despite some recent alterations to the openings and the removal of the early roughcast rendered finish, this building retains much of its early form and character.

The arcaded ground floor, which was once arcaded, is a typical feature of Irish market houses in Irish provincial towns. The projecting pedimented breakfront with its cupola and clock tower create an attractive centrepiece that give the Market House a sense of authority and a strong presence in the centre of Mullingar.

The Market House was built or rebuilt in 1867 for Fulke Southwell Greville-Nugent (1821-1883), 1st Baron Greville, and was designed by the Dublin architect William Francis Caldbeck (1824-1872).

Caldbeck was a son of Richard Caldbeck and grandson of John Frederick Caldbeck; his great-grandfather was William Caldbeck of Clondalkin and Larch Hill, Whitechurch, Co Dublin, a barrister, gunpowder-miller and amateur architect.

William Francis Caldbeck was a pupil of William Deane Butler, and set up his own in practice in 1844. In 1867, he also described himself as ‘consul for Uruguay and Montevideo.’

His other works include the courthouse in Newcastle West, Co Limerick, and the Carlisle Buildings in D’Olier Street, Dublin. He was also the architect to the National Bank, and his bank buildings include the National Bank (low the Bank of Ireland) in Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Caldbeck died suddenly at his office as 24 Harcourt Street, Dublin, on 30 March 1872 and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery. It was said he left his widow and family ‘perfectly independent.’

Caldbeck’s market house in Mullingar stands on the site of an earlier market house, built around 1730, and Caldbeck’s work may have been no more than a remodelling of the earlier building. The earlier market house stood slightly to the north of the present building and the existing front wall would have been close to the site of the rear wall of the former market house.

This earlier market house was described in 1815 as ‘a two-storey block with eight large gateways’ – not unlike its present appearance. The present Market House is a detached, eight-bay, two-storey building, with an advanced two-bay pedimented breakfront at the centre of the main façade and a louvered cupola and clock tower.

The carved stone coat of arms on the pediment represents Lord Greville, the local landlord who commissioned Caldbeck’s work. A cut stone plaque above the declares with bold confidence in capitals: ‘Market House.’

The Market House served as a wool store in the closing decades of the 19th century, and now serves as a tourist office in the centre of Mullingar. In the square in front, the statue of the popular singer the late Joe Dolan is a popular location for many ‘selfies.’

Like the courthouse and the county hall, the market house remains an important part of the architectural heritage of Mullingar.

The statue of Joe Dolan in front of the Market House in Mullingar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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