The evolution of the Gallery building

Plan for Milltown Wing of National Gallery of Ireland

Plan showing the Dargan Wing and the proposed extension, the Milltown Wing, 1900


The Gallery complex today consists of four interconnected buildings, namely, the Dargan, Milltown, Beit and Millennium Wings. 

Dargan Wing

Dargan Wing, designed by Francis Fowke, and inaugurated in 1864, constitutes the earliest element in the complex. With the agreement of the Royal Dublin Society, Leinster Lawn was selected as the most appropriate site for the Gallery as it was publicly accessible and provided room for future expansion. Sir Richard Griffith (1784-1878), Chairman of the Board of Works and Board member, devised the original idea for the Gallery building.  It was to be a plain, oblong structure, located on one side of Leinster Lawn, facing Merrion Square and the exterior design matching that of Francis Clarendon's elegant Natural History Museum of 1856.  Together the buildings would frame Leinster House, an elegant Palladian mansion, which was then the headquarters of the Royal Dublin Society.  It was estimated that the building could be constructed for under £11,000, £5000 of which was provided by the Dargan Fund and the remainder eventually made up by parliamentary grants.  

Milltown Wing

In 1900, as a direct result of the Milltown Gift, a perennial request to provide for an extension to the Gallery was acted upon.  In a letter to the Treasury, Director Armstrong emphasised, ‘that Lady Milltown’s offer supplies a further and imperative necessity for that extension of the Gallery building which they have felt is their duty for some years past to urge on the Government.’  The Treasury finally reacted positively and plans for a new extension, which had first been designed in 1892 by the architect Sir Thomas Newenhan Deane, were revisited and resubmitted.  Work on the new wing began in 1900, and following the death of Thomas Newenham Deane in 1899, the building, with a new entrance portico, was completed in 1903 by his son, Thomas Manly Deane. Inside, a key decorative feature of the octagonal galleries, still a striking feature today, was the enfilade of doorways carved in walnut by Carlo Cambi of Siena (1847-c.1900), who had worked with Deane on the interiors of the National Museum and National Library of Ireland.  

Beit Wing

MacGreevy had sought government funding to refurbish and increase the size of the Gallery.  His efforts, however, would not come to fruition until James White’s directorship.  Based on designs by Frank du Berry, Senior Architect at the Office of Public Works, construction work was completed in May 1968 at a total cost of £420,000. Opened in 1968, and previously named the North Wing, this wing is today known as the Beit Wing in acknowledgement of the outstanding gift to the Gallery made by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit.  This new wing provided space for a restaurant and ten new exhibition galleries including a special room for miniatures and two large rooms for drawings, thereby increasing the overall hanging space by 50%.  It also delivered a lecture theatre, library and conservation studio.  
During Raymond Keaveney’s period as Director further work had to be carried out on the Beit Wing by the Office of Public Works under architect Stephen Kane.      

Millennium Wing

Conscious of the needs of a growing collection the purchase of the Clare Street buildings had been first mooted in 1929 by Bodkin.  It was not until Raymond Keaveny’s directorship in the 1990s, however, that they were acquired to facilitate the building of a new wing for the Gallery. In 1996, the British firm, Benson & Forsyth, was awarded the commission to design the new extension on the space occupied by premises on Clare Street, and the recently acquired and still-standing structure at No. 5 South Leinster Street.  They drew up plans, which eventually had to be altered due to objections.  No. 5 South Leinster Street and the adjoining mews, which had originally been marked for demolition, were retained following a ruling by An Bord Pleanala.  
In 2002 Benson & Forsyth delivered a landmark cultural and civic facility and a striking modern architectural addition to the city streetscape. The sculptural façade, clad in Portland stone, serves as a bold presence and contrasts with the reserved elegance of the original entrance on Merrion Square.

The future

The Gallery is embarking on another exciting chapter in its development.  The refurbishment of the original 1864 structure and 1903 wing will address the repair of the ageing fabric of the buildings, providing improvements for the management and care of the collection.  It will also unify the disparate elements that constitute the Gallery complex, contributing to a clearer and more coherent structure ultimately enhancing the visitor experience. Find out more