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The Museum Building of Trinity College London - A Model of Victorian Craftsmanship

Casey_trinity collegeThis book presents a series of essays exploring the most influential Victorian building in the city of Dublin. In the 1850s, the Museum Building of Trinity College was built to showcase the potential of Irish stone at the start of a golden age of Ireland’s decorative stone industry. 

Those familiar with the building will know it is an Irish geology lesson in itself. The experience that the visitor would have translates into the book very well. Colour photographs are used throughout to capture the sumptuous polychromy and present the detail of the carved ornament of the building. The descriptions by the authors bring the geology to life and make for a fascinating geological tour of the building.

The book goes on to explore the sources of the stone and the pivotal role the museum played. The story of the development of Ireland’s stone industry is a well-researched highlight. This looks at the extraction and marketing of Ireland's coloured limestones and serpentinites. Selecting suitable stone to fulfil both decorative and structural roles was a particular challenge to overcome at some quarries. Interesting research is presented on the evolution of granite quarrying techniques, transport and roads, which led to the migration of the Wicklow quarrying communities. And of course, no story of Irish stone is complete without the Kilkenny Marble. The challenges in transporting the stone and how it compared with native and continental competitors in the Victorian period is fascinating. 

The architectural influences for the Museum Building are researched, with suggestion of influence from other sources including John Ruskin. The story of the innovative ventilation system is also explored. 

We meet the builder and carvers responsible for the construction of the Museum Building in later chapters. The theme of Ireland’s natural resources follows through into the depiction of native Irish plants and animals in the building’s remarkable carvings. Portland Stone was mainly used by the talented team of Irish stone carvers whose work is recorded by the authors in a captivating way. The final section looks at the current conservation of the building by considering the weathering of the exterior and recent cleaning techniques. 

This is an entertaining book representing an inspired and thorough research project. The crucial relationship between architecture and geology is made clear throughout. This is much more than a book about a building and will appeal to any geologist with an interest in Ireland's geology and architecture. 

By Julian Ingram

THE MUSEUM BUILDING OF TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN – A MODEL OF VICTORIAN CRAFTSMANSHIP edited by CHRISTINE CASEY & PATRICK WYSE JACKSON, 2019. Published by Four Courts Press 400pp (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-84682-789-1 List Price £50.00