The people, places and things that make Dublin special.
James Caulfeild, the 1st Earl of Charlemont, was a man who did things with style, and then some.
His townhouse on Parnell St, which now houses the Hugh Lane Art Gallery, reflected his elegant, artistic nature, and was initially designed as an adornment to the city, where paintings by Rembrandt and Titian hung. When he embarked upon his Grand Tour – the 18th century equivalent of a gap year – he spent a rather impressive 9 years taking in the delights of Italy, Turkey, Greece and Egypt and became close friends with the future King of Sardinia. As you do.
One lasting souvenir from Caulfeild’s travels was a deep love of everything Italian, resulting in one of Dublin’s most beautiful buildings. After his Grand Tour, Caulfeild commissioned the Scottish-Swedish architect Sir William Chambers to design a summerhouse on the grounds of his main residence, Marino House. The latter, which he named after the Italian town, was torn down in the 1920s to make way for affordable housing, but the Casino at Marino (casino meaning ‘small house’ in Italian – it’s nothing to do with gambling), completed in 1775, still stands and is often regarded as the finest example of Neoclassical architecture in Dublin. Better still, these days it’s open to the public.
It’s the element of surprise that hits you every time you visit the Casino, which took around 20 years to complete. Sure, it might look relatively modest from the outside, but the building actually contains a whopping 16 rooms across 3 floors – size-wise, it’s about the same as a modern family home, albeit the one of your dreams. So much of the Casino is smoke and mirrors: the huge front door is an illusion, with only two panels opening to allow entry, while some of the Tuscan columns surrounding the Casino are actually hollow, to allow rainwater to drain down. The interiors include a state bedroom, reception rooms, kitchen and servants’ quarters, as well as a wine cellar. Rich parquet floors made from rare African and South American woods, ornate plasterwork ceilings and beautiful fireplaces are but some of the exquisite design features; then there’s The Zodiac Room, a study decorated in symbols reflecting Caulfield’s interest in astrology. It’s all terribly beautiful and harmonious and wonderfully judged, and it’s no surprise that it’s become a popular wedding destination.
Rather intriguingly, 8 tunnels lead from the Casino, but their exact purpose remains unclear. One tunnel, which originally connected the Casino to the main house and was subsequently boarded up, was probably used by servants running between the two establishments. There are also rumours that the tunnels were used for target practice during the War of Independence, with the stonework dulling the sound of gunfire.
Although Caulfeild’s son succeeded him, the Earldom died out in 1837 and the Casino fell into disrepair. A major restoration took place in the 1980s and a subsequent revamp happened in 2014, with some controversy surrounding the latter. Once upon a time, the erudite and well-travelled James Caulfeild would have enjoyed a series of formidable sea views from his pocket palace, when the surrounding area was still countryside. Suburban sprawl means that those views are no longer available, but a trip to the Casino still provides a fascinating and visually arresting insight into the life and tastes of a rather fashionable 18th century Earl.
Cherrymount Crescent, Off Malahide Road, Marino. See casinomarino.ie for more details.