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A Place in History:
The 5-star Merrion hotel is set in the heart of Georgian Dublin on Upper Merrion Street, opposite Government Buildings, the home of the Irish Government. The Main House is comprised of four meticulously restored, Grade I-listed Georgian townhouses. A specially-commissioned contemporary Garden Wing is arranged around two private classical gardens.
Lord Monck (Charles Stanley Monck) built the original houses for wealthy Irish merchants and nobility in the 1760s. Monck lived in No. 22, which became known as Monck House. The most important of the four houses is, however, No. 24 Upper Merrion Street. This was leased to Garrett Wellesley, Earl of Mornington, in 1769, and has since been known as Mornington House. The house is important historically as the birthplace of Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
All four houses were in use as state offices for most of the 20th century. The well-known Irish writer, Flann O'Brien, (also known as Myles na gCopaleen), author of "The Third Policeman", is said to have worked here during his time in the civil service.
Dublin in the 18th Century, A Renaissance:
During the course of the 18th century, Dublin was transformed from a medieval town into one of the finest Georgian cities in Europe. It was an exciting and vibrant time. Peace and stability in the country gave rise to great social and economic activity. Dublin became a thriving capital city with a glittering social scene. Architecture was one of the major outward expressions of this vigorous revival of spirit. Dublin owes many of her great civic buildings to this era, and most of the imposing rosy brick streets and grand squares for which the city is famous were built at this time. Government dignitaries and the aristocracy built townhouses of impressive scale.
Parallel with the burgeoning architecture, there was an upsurge in the intellectual life of the city. One of the results of this was the formation of the Dublin Society in 1731. The Society encouraged many different disciplines; it opened the Botanic Gardens at Glasnevin in 1731, and founded schools of drawing, ornament and architecture.
Large private houses and palatial public buildings provided the backdrop for a society enhanced by luminaries such as Jonathan Swift, author of "Gulliver's Travels", the composer Handel (whose "Messiah" was first performed in Dublin in 1742), Anglo-Irish playwright and novelist, Oliver Goldsmith (The Vicar of Wakefield was published in 1766), and Dublin-born dramatist Richard Sheridan (his "The School for Scandal" opened in 1777). Lord Mornington himself contributed to this revived interest in the arts. In 1757, he established a musical society for "the entertainment of the aristocracy". He later became the first Professor of Music at Trinity College. The planning of Georgian Dublin was assisted by the establishment, in 1757, of the "Commission for Making Wide & Convenient Streets" which left an enduring legacy - Upper Merrion Street measures 102 feet across. The Paving Board, set up in 1773, for "paving, cleaning, lighting, draining and improving the streets", was another example of careful planning. Classical principles were applied to buildings as symmetry and spaciousness were considered an appropriate background for power.
The Houses, Historic Detail:
The four houses that comprise the Main House of The Merrion five star hotel are typical of domestic Georgian architecture in Dublin. The plain exteriors rely for effect on the carefully worked out classical proportions of the timber sash windows and their relation to the whole façade. The door-cases, with their varied treatment and intricate fanlights, were an opportunity for the builder to impose some individuality on the building. In most other areas, the usual leases laid down strict requirements. Internally, there were no such restrictions, explaining the wealth of varied plasterwork and woodwork contained in the houses.
The architectural detail of the houses clearly indicates the progression of their construction. No. 21 has intricate rococo plasterwork and a particularly heavy staircase. The detail lightens as one progresses along the terrace, although No. 22, the first to be built, is an exception. Here the main hall and the principal reception rooms have much lighter detailing, in the neo-classical, Adam style. In the midst of this lighter decoration, there are examples of heavier detail, such as the intricate Corinthian cornice in the stairwell, and the superb coved ceilings and dramatic rococo plasterwork of the Lord Monck suite on the third floor. Monck House was "modernised" in the late 18th century or the beginning of the 19th century. No. 23 was also "modernised" thirty or forty years after completion. The reception rooms in particular changed after 1790, when the windows were enlarged, window boxes and shutters modified, and connections made to the front room. The removal of the principal stairs and hall inside the front door may have been done later in order to increase the number of rooms in the house. Since all four houses are Grade 1 Listed, immense care was taken before work began on the site. Work eventually started in October 1995 to transform the houses into what is now The Merrion.