Thursday, 3 January 2019

Did the Royal Marine Hotel
in Dun Laoghaire financially
ruin William Dargan?

The Royal Marine Hotel stands on grounds that appear to sweep down to Dún Laoghaire Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Royal Marine Hotel, whose lawn sweeps down to the harbour, sits in the heart of Dún Laoghaire, just off Marine Road. I first stayed here almost half a century ago, at the end of 1974, and its Victorian façade and lawns never cease to delight me.

I walked through the grounds briefly again on New Year’s Day [1 January 2019] after strolling through the streets of Dalkey and before going for a brisk late evening walk on the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire.

With the construction of the fine Victorian harbour in 1820, Kingstown or Dún Laoghaire became Ireland’s major harbour as well as a centre for yacht racing and sailing on the east coast of Ireland. Its close proximity to Dublin and impressive waterfront yacht clubs has resulted in Dun Laoghaire staging many major world and European championships since the first recorded Kingstown Regatta in 1828.

The Royal Marine Hotel dates from 1828, when a hotel known as Hayes Hotel, and later as Hayes Royal Hotel, stood on this site overlooking Kingstown Harbour and Dublin Bay. The hotel was bought in 1863 by William Dargan (1799-1867), who built the first railway in Ireland between Dublin and Kingstown.

Three years earlier, William Dargan acquired the site of the International Hotel in Bray and a terrace of houses on a 900-year lease from John Quin in 1860. The new Victorian hotels in Bray included the Royal Marine Hotel, designed by George Wilkinson, the Esplanade Hotel built in 1860, the Strand Hotel which opened in a house once owned by Oscar Wilde, and the Bray Head Hotel, built in 1862.

Now Dargan had elaborate plans for a new hotel in Kingstown. But due to financial constraints these lavish plans were abandoned, the original hotel was remodelled, and the newly developed Royal Marine Hotel first opened its doors in September 1865. The only parts added from the original design were the centrepiece and the south wing. The entire right-hand wing of the hotel was never built as McCurdy planned.

The contractor was Cockburn, and the building costs up to October 1865 were estimated at £25,000.

It is said the new Royal Marine Hotel contributed to Dargan’s eventual financial ruin before he died in 1867. But ever since it first opened its doors this hotel has been a Dublin and Dun Laoghaire institution.

John McCurdy (1824-1885) was appointed the architect for new hotel in 1863, with Thomas A Kelly as superintending architect. John McCurdy, who was born in Dublin ca 1824, was probably a younger son of William McCurdy, who was living at 20 Denzille Street, Dublin, from 1834 or earlier.

McCurdy received his professional training in the office of Frederick Darley, architect to Trinity College Dublin, and became clerk of works at TCD in 1850 at a quarterly salary of £25.

He supervised the erection of the Museum Building in TCD in the 1855. McCurdy then became inspector of new buildings at TCD with a quarterly salary of £28, as well as receiving fees as superintending architect. He remained the official college architect until his death.

He married Lucy Heinekey (1836-1928) in 1857, and they were the parents of Agatha Mary (1858-1927), who married Adam Seaton Findlater (1855-1911), a member of the Findlater family who owned well-known food shops in Dublin, and for five years also owned the Royal Hotel, Bray, also designed by McCurdy. Findlater’s other hotel interests included the St Lawrence Hotel and Royal Hotel in Howth.

McCurdy formed an architectural partnership with William Mansfield Mitchell in 1872, and they practised from Leinster Street, Dublin, as McCurdy and Mitchell until 1882. After that, McCurdy worked from the Office of Works at TCD.

He was architect to the Commissioners for Education of Certain Endowed Schools in 1873-1883, and to the Benchers of King’s Inns. He was also a Blackrock Township Commissioner from 1864 to 1875.

His other works include All Saints’ Church, Proby Square, Blackrock, rebuilding the Bethel Chapel as Christ Church, Dun Laoghaire, the Methodist Church on Victoria Street, Dublin, Glenart Castle, Co Wicklow, the Town Hall in Naas, Co Kildare, and a number of hotels and courthouses throughout Ireland.

McCurdy played an active role in the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland. He was vice-president 1868-1874 and president from 1874 until he died in 1885, and he was also a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (FRIBA, 1876). Just six weeks before his death he led a deputation of architects to meet the new Viceroy, the Earl of Carnarvon.

He died at the age of 61 at his home at Elsinore, 25 Coliemore Road, Dalkey, on 12 September 1885 and was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.

Over the past century and a half, the Royal Marine Hotel has hosted many heads of state, kings, queens and celebrities. Queen Victoria, who arrived in Ireland or left from Kingstown on at least four occasions between 1849 and in 1900, is said to have once enjoyed a 16-course breakfast in the hotel shortly after one arrival. The nearby Victoria Fountain commemorates her visit in 1900.

The first line wireless report on a sports event was made in 20 July 1898 when Marconi transmitted a commentary on the Kingstown Regatta.

Michael Collins is believed to have hidden out in Room 210 with his partner Kitty Kiernan. Laurel and Hardy stayed at the Royal Marine Hotel in 1953 for 33 days from 9 September until 13 October while they were performing at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Other celebrity guests included Frank Sinatra and Charlie Chaplin.

Since then, the hotel has lost much of its original splendour. The roof renovations in 1960 meant getting rid of the French pavilions, the mansard roof and the Victorian tower and dome. Another part of the hotel was demolished to make way for a conference centre and nearby Gresham Terrace was also demolished in the 1970s to make way for a shopping centre.

Today, the Royal Marine Hotel is independently owned and operated by the Neville family from Co Wexford, who bought the hotel in 2003 and completed a complete renovation, restoration and refurbishment programme. The Neville family also owns and runs the Kilkenny River Court Hotel in Kilkenny and the Tower Hotel and Leisure Centre in Waterford.

The hotel was the venue for the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in 2016.

With its high ceilings, ornate pillars, traditional wide corridors, intricate detail on the cornicing, Victorian staircases and large sash windows, the Royal Marine Hotel is a reminder of a bygone age while still offering the facilities of a modern luxury hotel.

The Royal Marine Hotel … as John McCurdy wanted to build it (Image: Archiseek)

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