Round Room 200 Exhibition At The Mansion House

Dermot Carmody

The Round Room 200 exhibition in the Round Room at the Mansion House was opened on July 19th by the newly elected Lord Mayor of Dublin, Alison Gilliland, recently retired city archivist and historian Dr. Mary Clark and Dublin City Council Assistant Chief Executive, Richard Shakespeare. The free exhibition, which is brought to life by The Conference and Events Venue at the Mansion House in partnership with Dublin City Council, will take visitors on an interactive journey that tells the tale of the important role that the Round Room has played in Dublin’s history for the past two centuries from its unusual origins, the key role it played in Irish nationalism to its usage in the modern day. The exhibition, which was designed and built in partnership with Dublin based Interpretive Creative Design firm Nineyards, has also been created with sustainability at its core by limiting disposable materials used throughout the experience.
Speaking at the opening the Lord Mayor said, “I’m delighted that one of my first duties as Lord Mayor is to welcome the public to a historic, fun, and free event taking place right on my doorstep here in the Round Room. The city is alive with activity this summer, and we’re very excited to offer people of all ages the opportunity to experience the unique and educational Round Room 200 Exhibition in a safe and interactive environment.”

Origins and Royalty at the Mansion House
The Mansion House itself was built in 1710 by MP, merchant and developer Joshua Dawson, after whom Dawson Street, where the building stands, is named. In 1715 Dublin Corporation purchased the house to use as the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin and it has fulfilled that function since then.
The Round Room, designed by Dublin architect John Semple, was built in 1821 to provide a suitable venue for the reception of King George IV on his visit to Dublin. The King was not popular, particularly when he attempted to divorce his estranged wife Caroline Brunswick, whose campaign to be crowned queen had wide support in the country. Dublin was one of the few places where George IV could count on support. (The previous year a deputation from Dublin, led by the Lord Mayor, Abraham Bradley King, had travelled on the Royal Yacht to London in a gesture of loyalty and support to the King.)
The royal visit to Dublin was planned for August 1821 and announced in January of that year. This left little time to raise the considerable finance required and construct the building. Dublin Corporation was in debt and the £8000 required was raised by the city aldermen contributing £333 each. In order to finish the building on time a temporary canvas roof was placed on it, which wasn’t replaced until 1824 by a proper construction!
The Round Room was intended to resemble the circular courtyard of an Arabian palace and inspired partly by similar rooms in the Brighton Pavillion, which George IV had built when Prince of Wales. The ceiling was originally painted as a starry sky.
The association of the Round Room with British royalty continued in the second half of the 19th Century, with the Lord Mayor’s Ball being held there in honour of the future King Edward VII on three occasions: 1861, 1865 and 1868. The Prince of Wales had bought Balmoral Estate in Scotland and the feting of him and later his wife Alexandra in Dublin might have partly been in the hope that the royal couple might make a similar purchase in Ireland, which would have been a huge boost for tourism in the country. That never happened, but the balls themselves provided bursts of excitement and commerce in the city on each occasion.

Place of the Round Room in The Creation of the State
The 20th century saw events of a character very different from the royal extravaganzas of the 19th century at the Mansion House. Only one Lord Mayor between 1900 and 1922 was a unionist. The rest were nationalists or independents, and since usage of the Round Room was at the discretion of the mayor, it became a place where nationalist groups frequently gathered. The most significant of these meetings of course was in 1919 when the 27 newly-elected Sinn Fein MPs who were able to attend met to form the first Dáil Éireann. The first Dáil met at the Mansion house from January to October 1919, with public proceedings taking place in the Round Room. During the War of Independence, British authorities regularly raided the Mansion House. Michael Collins reportedly escaped capture there on one occasion by grabbing a broom and sweeping the floor of the Round Room, successfully escaping the notice of his would-be captors.
The truce ending the War of Independence was negotiated in the Mansion House and the second Dáil was inaugurated in the Round Room in August 1921. Soon after, in January 1922, the first Provisional Government of the Irish Free State was founded at the Mansion House.

Alfie Byrne and the Changing Uses of the Round Room
Possibly the most renowned mayoral resident at the Mansion House in the 20th century was Alfie Byrne, a very popular independent figure who was elected Lord Mayor an unequalled nine consecutive terms -1930-39 – as well as a tenth term in the 1950s. The Mansion House was a centre piece in the refurbishment of Dublin for the hosting of the Eucharistc Congress in 1932. Byrne promoted the use of the Round Room for commercial purposes, such as the showcasing of the new Ford V-8 motor car. It was also the iconic location many times for the Irish Sweepstake draws. From the 1960s to the end of the century the Round Room became more and more frequently used by Dubliners for all manner of events, from the Feis Ceoil to the Irish Antique Dealers Fair. In 1998 the Round Room was renovated and the focus of activities there changed to large public ceremonies, such as the granting of the freedom of the city, as well as being available for events such as wedding receptions. In 2005, The Round Room and adjoining Supper Room at the Mansion became what is now The Conference and Events Venue at The Manson House and its sister company, FIRE Steakhouse and Bar.
The exhibition is a free event, which is suitable for all ages, and will be open to the public until Sunday, 29th August from 11am to 8pm daily. To keep the event safe and socially distanced, numbers are limited, with visitors able to book their spot in advance at