The building that later became Government Buildings was the last major public construction completed under British rule.
It was planned to create a block of prestigious, cultural and educational centres, similar to those in South Kensington, London, so the site on Upper Merrion Street was chosen. As such, eighteen four-storey Georgian houses were controversially acquired and demolished to make way for the new scheme.
Edward VII laid the foundation stone in April 1904, and Aston Webb (who redesigned the façade of Buckingham Palace) was appointed project architect. The Irish architect Thomas Manley Deane (who had recently completed work on the National Gallery of Ireland) was appointed as executant architect. His involvement was so important that George V knighted him, on the site, when he opened the first part of the complex in 1911.
Portland Stone was chosen for the decorative facings, with granite from the Ballyknocken quarries in County Wicklow used through the building. Standing on either side of the main entrance are statues of the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton and the scientist Robert Boyle. Above them, a figure depicting science, designed by Oliver Sheppard and sculpted by Albert Power, is reputedly based on Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’.
The complex was completed in March 1922, at a time of political unrest. When the new Irish Free State came into existence Leinster House (then the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society – RDS) became the provisional seat of government. Soon afterwards, the Executive Council, along with other Government Departments, moved into the recently completed north wing.
By the mid-1980s Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald decided to convert the entire complex for government use. To finance the project a terrace of Georgian houses across the road was sold for £17 million. When the refurbishment was completed Taoiseach Charles Haughey moved into his new office in 1991. The work has won many awards, including the RIAI Silver Medal for conservation.