The Irish Georgian Society, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, has done the State some service, not least in changing public perceptions of the real value of our architectural heritage. Certainly, no Government Minister nowadays would be so ignorant and prejudiced as one of their predecessors, who said in the wake of two fine Georgian houses on Dublin’s Kildare Place being demolished in 1958: “I was glad to see them go. They stood for everything I hate.” Nor would any architect today make the claim, as many did in the past, that these houses were “jerry-built” and only intended to last a lifetime. Since then, several modern buildings dating from the 1970s and 1980s have been replaced, usually with better works of architecture, while the 18th century terraces so characteristic of the city are still standing more than 200 years after they were built.
That so much has survived is a tangible tribute to the valiant efforts of the Irish Georgian Society as well as An Taisce and others, such as the Dublin Civic Group and the late Deirdre Kelly and Uinseann MacEoin. As Robert O’Byrne recounts in his illustrated commemorative book published this week, The Irish Georgian Society, A Celebration, founders Desmond Guinness and his first wife Mariga managed not only to save Castletown House in Co Kildare, Ireland’s most important Palladian mansion, but also to fire young people with enthusiasm, even passion, about the need to protect and preserve an irreplaceable architectural legacy.