Open House festival, gave everyone the chance to have a snoop around some of the city’s most visually arresting architecture accompanied by professionals and enthusiasts to explain what’s on show.
Some particularly worthwhile places were the Oratory in Dún Laoghaire, which houses one of the most superb collections of early 20th Century Irish art, Cabinteely House, where after taking in the Japanese gardens you can recline on the magnificent 18th Century staircase, and the Living_Room, a design collaboration between students and architects which takes the form of a densely structured and gigantic tree house at Mercy College, Coolock.
In the spirit of Halloween, we’ve picked these four places for you to visit, spots that we think are not only architecturally interesting, but more importantly, seriously spooky.
If you’re on a weird building buzz, it’s definitely in your best interests to pop into the Grand Masonic Lodge on Molesworth Street, home of the Freemasons of Ireland, for a pleasantly weird tour. Whatever Dan Brown books may have you believe, the Freemasons are probably just a glorified boys club who like to propagate an air of mystery while at the same time asserting that there’s nothing strange going on. Apparently the lads-only secret society spend most of their time getting rascally drunk. While at one time the club may have been useful for men in business to lend each other a sly hand, nowadays it’s mostly people dressing up in silly hats and pouring hot wax on each other’s chests, or whatever it is they get up to in their meetings.
Turn away now if you’re precious about your architecture – this isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s some seriously tacky décor to be seen inside the Lodge. It moves from a quite impressive main hall, to some offensively kitsch medieval and Egyptian themed antechambers, the different rooms managing to display whatever mysticism was in vogue at the time of their construction. While the most obvious scary element here might just be the terrifying bad taste of generations past, you could also try and have a go on the gigantic organ in the main room, surrounded by altars with funny lamps and tables with weird staves. Other rooms have hidden gems, like tables supported by devilish looking goat legs or some ceremonial swords. All in all, there’s no doubt that you’ll get your €2 worth.
Glasnevin Cemetery, the setting for the Hades episode in Ulysses, is coming on in years – 2012 will see in its 180th birthday.
If you enjoy the odd bit of lurking about in graveyards you could hardly pick a swisher burial ground. A good spot to start off is their gigantic tower. Cool Fact: the watchtower was built to keep an eye on the graves – the bodies were constantly being stolen to be used as cadavers for experiments or medical research. The cemetery’s own museum even has mock-ups of some of the more inventive methods employed by the grave-robbers. There’s a particularly gruesome diorama of a man who instead of digging the entire coffin up, dug a tunnel to the head of the coffin, fastened a noose around the corpse’s neck, and is proceeding to hoist him back to the surface – delightful. From here, you might want to amble past the more garish modern tombstones, and get to the good stuff. Glasnevin has a lot going for it in terms of history, as in, lots of very interesting people have ended up in its gloomy bosom. It might be worth visiting the graves of Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera and see if their ghosts are still aruging over the treaty, or maybe they’re more concerned about whether Liam Neeson and Snape did them justice in the film. If you can, try and book a place on the Glasnevin Gravedigger Cemetery Tour which runs from the 26th to the 31st as part of their Samhain festival. You’ll be escorted through the cemetery by gravedigger Jim, otherwise known as the “Ace of Spades”, who will regale you with local legends and stories of Glasnevin’s past.
This library, built in the shadow of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral at the turn of the 18th century, is Ireland’s oldest public library and should be on everyone’s list to visit. Tucked away on a curved, cobbled street, it and its immediate surroundings look like they haven’t changed for 300 years. Inside, too, the library is for the most part untouched, comprising of two long corridors with books shelved in alcoves complete with rolling ladders to reach upper levels. Maybe the weirdest remnant of times past are the cages readers used to be locked in to study the books, lest they try and nick one while the librarians weren’t looking.
The library is said to be still haunted by its founder, then Archbishop, Narcissus Marsh. The story goes that Grace, Marsh’s 19-year-old niece, whom he’d raised from a child and was then working as his housekeeper, fell in love with a salty sea captain. Marsh made his opposition to the relationship known, as he thought Grace’s suitor to be unsuitable. Grace pleaded with him, but getting nowhere realised that her only option would be to elope. The morning she and her lover left, Grace wrote a note for her uncle, explaining her disappearance and asking for forgiveness. Not wanting to leave it anywhere the Archbishop would find it with enough time to stop her, she hid it in one of the thousands of books in his library. Marsh died without ever finding the note, and apparently his ghost searches for it to this day, banging desks, rattling the reading cages and leafing through book after book. However, Marsh’s ghost, in true librarian fashion, is said to always returns the books he searches to the shelves he found them on.
The back of Saint Michan’s church, facing on to Church Street behind the Four Courts, is quite unremarkable. Grey and plain as the church appears from this view, it houses some exciting secrets. The inside décor is heavy on the varnished wood and the main room is dominated by an imposing organ on which, legend has it, Handel practised for his first performance of “Messiah”. But it’s outside, through metal trapdoors resembling American Mid-West storm cellars, and under the church itself that the main attraction is hidden. In two low, dark tunnels running beneath the width of the church there is vault after dilapidated vault of crumbling human remains. Some of these are private vaults with barred doors, but others are wide open. Bones and skulls spill out on to the floor as over the years coffins stacked five-high gave way and burst, strewing their contents. Rooms in better condition contain some of the more famous people inhumed here. The Sheare brothers, executed by the British for their part in the 1798 Uprising, even had their coffins replaced as part of the 200-year commemorations of that rebellion, only to find that they had been drawn and quartered, as well as hanged for treason – the death warrant for which is displayed beside their coffins. The most fascinating vault contains four mummies, preserved by the stale air in the tunnel, with their caskets open to view. Believed to be the remains of a monk, a nun, a thief and a soldier, these bodies still have leathery skin and fingernails visible – and if you’re feeling particularly brave, you can rub one of their fingers, now smooth and shiny from years of rubbing, for good luck.