07 August 2021

A former bank in Ennis
and the sad end to
an architect’s career

The former Provincial Bank on Bindon Street, Ennis, Co Clare … the west side was developed from the 1830s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Following the development of two elegant terraces of Georgian townhouses on Bindon Street, Ennis, Co Clare, in the 1830s and 1850s, the street was completed in the 1860s with the building of the Provincial Bank in 1860-1864, and Saint Columba’s Church in 1869-1871.

A new bank and manager’s residence 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.

The Dublin architect William George Murray was born in Dublin in 1822, the second son of William Murray, 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 died in 1849, and the two younger partners to continue 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 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 branches for the Provincial Bank include banks in Cootehill, Co Cavan, South Mall, Cork, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, College Street, Dublin, Nenagh and Templemore, Co Tipperary, and Omagh, Co Tyrone.

Murray’s bank on Bindon Street, Ennis, is a detached, five-, two-storey Italianate-style bank and manager’s house, built 1864, with an advanced single-storey entrance porch addition.

The Gibbsian door surround is flanked by engaged pilasters with a moulded cornice above the porch. The round-headed windows have roll mouldings and dropped keystones at the ground floor. On the first floor, the segmental-arched windows have architraves and dropped keystones to first floor. The limestone cut-stone walls have string courses at sill levels.

There is a two-storey hip-roofed side entrance extension at the right. There is a hipped slate roof with paired limestone stone brackets under a moulded limestone eaves course, and cut-stone decorations on the chimneystacks.

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.

The bank, now part of the Westin Hotel, was designed by Murray. When the 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 house, Avonmore, Ballybrack, Co Dublin, 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, who married his sister Adelaide Anne in 1871.

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