27 September 2021

William Murray, the Dublin
architect whose design
almost broke the bank

The former Provincial Bank on the corner of College Street and Westmoreland Street, Dublin, now part of the Westin Hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

When I was visiting Ennis, Co Clare, early last month, I wrote about the architecture of Bindon Street, and how it was completed in the 1860s with the building of the Provincial Bank in 1860-1864, and Saint Columba’s Church in 1869-1871.

The new bank was designed for the Provincial Bank by William George Murray (1822-1871) and built ca 1860-1864. It later became a branch of Allied Irish Bank and is now the offices of the Munster Insurance Group.

Murray was one of the leading architects in Victorian Ireland, designing major banks, insurance offices, and railway stations throughout the island, and his bank in Ennis is typical of his elegant provincial bank buildings.

However, his flourishing architectural career came to an end in court cases, allegations of fraud, financial scandals and public humiliation after he was commissioned to design the Provincial Bank’s headquarters in College Street, Dublin. Murray became the man who almost broke the bank.

The name of the Provincial Bank can still be seen over one small, almost hidden door on College Street(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

It is an intriguing story, and so, when I was in Dublin last week, I decided to visit the former bank on the corner of College Street and Westmoreland Street that is now part of the Westin Hotel.

The bank banked onto Fleet Street, and the building is recognisable to everybody with connections with Trinity College Dublin. I was also familiar with the building when I was working in The Irish Times. Indeed, after it had been coverted from a bank, I was having lunch in the Westin Hotel with some diplomats 20 years ago when the 9/11 crisis erupted on 11 September 2001.

The Dublin architect William George Murray was born in Dublin in 1822, the second son of William Murray, also an architect, and he trained as an architect in his father’s office. In 1845, his father took him and Abraham Denny into partnership as Murray, Son and Denny. William Murray senior died in 1849, and the two younger partners continued to practice as Murray and Denny.

Denny left the architectural profession in 1855, and William George Murray carried on a successful practice on his own. He designed some major banks and insurance offices in Dublin and designed the Royal College of Physicians in Kildare Street. He was also the architect for the Dundalk, Enniskillen and Londonderry Railway Co, designing many railway stations, for the South Dublin Union, and for the Provincial Bank of Ireland.

His bank buildings for the Provincial Bank included banks in Cootehill, Co Cavan, South Mall, Cork, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, College Street, Dublin, Nenagh, and Templemore, Co Tipperary, Omagh, Co Tyrone, and Bindon Street, Ennis, Co Clare.

Murray and Nolan paid attention to even the smallest details (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

However, Murray’s connection with the Provincial Bank ended in bitterness, when the bank took legal action against him and the Dublin building contractor John Nolan, alleging fraud and collusion in connection with the issue of certificates for extra work in building the bank’s headquarters in College Street, Dublin.

When the College Street bank was completed in 1867, the cost was twice the estimate. Before the money ran out, a magnificent banking hall had been built. But there was no money left to provide the planned luxurious first-floor offices for the directors and management.

Although Murray and Nolan were acquitted by the Vice-Chancellor, to the great satisfaction of the Irish Builder, the court of appeal ruled that, because of errors and negligence on Murray’s part, an inquiry should be held to establish whether to pay the sums of money for extra work that Nolan claimed from the bank.

This dispute, involving a contractor Murray had been associated with in a large number of projects over a decade, cast a deep shadow over Murray in the last years of his life. He died at his home at Avonmore, Ballybrack, Co Dublin, 150 years ago on 6 March 1871, leaving effects of about £9,000 and two houses in Ballybrack on 5½ acres of land.

His brief death notice in the Irish Builder noted that ‘he will be remembered in connection with some of the public buildings erected within the space of a few years, and which add so much to the beauty of our city.’

Murray’s pupils and assistants included his son, Albert Edward Murray, who inherited his practice, and Sir Thomas Drew, a leading architect at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, who married Murray’s sister Adelaide Anne in 1871.

Despite the disappaerance of the Provincial Bank, its name can still be seen over one small, almost hidden door on the College Street side of the building.

The former Provincial Bank on the corner of College Street and Westmoreland Street … designed by William George Murray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
121, Saint Nektarios Church, Rethymnon

Saint Nektarios Church … a modern church in the heart of the old town of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

This was a busy weekend, with the Limerick and Killaloe Diocesan Synod meeting on Saturday and two church services on Sunday.

Before today begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks earlier this month.

My photographs this morning (27 September 2021) are from the Church of Saint Nektarios beneath the slopes of the Fortezza in the old town of Rethymnon.

Inside Saint Nektarios … the church has a fresh, cool and inviting interior (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Church of Saint Nektarios on Ioannou Melissinou street in Rethymnon is named in honour of Saint Nektarios of Aegina (1846-1920). Saint Nektarios is also the name of the parish church in the village of Tsesmes, where I was staying this month, the Monastery of Agios Nektarios in Anogeia, about 52 km far from Rethymno, and the church in the village of Saint Nektarios, 75 km south-east of Chania.

Metropolitan Nektarios of Pentapolis, known as the ‘Wonderworker of Aegina,’ is one of the most renowned Greek saints.

Saint Nektarios was born Anastasios Kephalas on 1 October 1846 in Selymbria, to a poor family. At the age of 14, he moved to Constantinople (Istanbul) to continue his education. In 1866, at age 20, he moved to the island of Chios to begin teaching post. At the age of 30, he became a monk on 7 November 1876, in the Monastery of Nea Moni.

Later, he graduated from the University of Athens in 1885, and went to Alexandria, where he was ordained priest and served the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo. He became titular Metropolitan Bishop of Pentapolis in 1889, and served as an assistant bishop in Cairo for a year.

However, he was suspended from his post without explanation and returned to Greece in 1891. There he spent several years in priestly education in Athens, developing courses, writing books, and preaching.

At the request of several nuns, he established Holy Trinity Monastery for them on the island of Aegina in 1904, and he ordained two women as deaconesses in 1911.

He resigned in 1908 at the age of 62, and retired to the convent on Aegina, where he lived the rest of his life as a monk. He died on 8 November 1920, at the age of 74. Saint Nektarios was officially recognised as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1961.

The church is a modern building beneath the slopes of the Venetian Fortezza (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 9: 46-50 (NRSVA):

46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

49 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ 50 But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

The icon of Christ the Great High Priest on the bishop’s chair or throne in the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 September 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Diocese of the Windward Islands, and the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Grenada.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The apse at the east end of Saint Nektarios Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Votive candles lighting in the church in the afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)