DUTCH BILLYS: A Hidden Building Tradition
Dublin’s hidden tradition of gabled street architecture will be vividly brought to life at a unique one day conference organised by Dublin Civic Trust in the magnificent surroundings of the House of Lords of the Bank of Ireland, College Green, on Wednesday 12th October.
The term “Dutch Billy” is commonly used to describe the gable-fronted houses and other early buildings built in Dublin in the 1600s and early 1700s. Waves of Huguenot and Quaker immigrants arriving in Ireland during the 1600s, as well as tradespeople and builders from Britain, helped develop the style into the elaborate stepped and curved gables that came to dominate many streets of the city, as well as other towns and cities in Ireland such as Drogheda and Limerick.
This unique conference, the first event of its kind to shine a light on this much forgotten and dismissed phase of Dublin’s architectural history, will showcase the extraordinary diversity and quality of Dublin’s gabled street architecture prior to its Georgian expansion in the 18th century. Many of these early buildings still survive scattered all over the city, often hidden behind deceptive later facades.
Dublin Civic Trust and its team of associates have been to the fore in seeking to highlight and better appreciate this remarkable style of street architecture, and the conference forms the centrepiece of an initiative by the Trust to document this built heritage. According to Geraldine Walsh, CEO of Dublin Civic Trust, “Dublin has an extraordinary architecture inheritance stretching right back to medieval times; however the Dutch Billy tradition has been all but forgotten, supplanted in people’s minds by the great Georgian buildings for which the city is renowned, as well as Victorian architecture and later styles. The “Billys” form the vital link in the evolution of Dublin from a walled medieval settlement to the great Classical planned city we recognise today”.
The conference, which is being opened by President-elect of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, Michelle Fagan, will bring together a host of illustrious and expert speakers on Dublin’s early houses and streetscapes. The venue for the conference recognises the role which College Green played as a nucleus of the city’s gable-fronted architecture.
“The built heritage of Dublin is increasingly recognised as one of its most important assets,” says Ms Walsh, “both for its aesthetic qualities and because it represents an irreplaceable link to our past and to the people and events which have shaped us. The increasing imperative to protect and understand this unique inheritance is recognised by efforts to designate the historic city core as an UNESCO World Heritage Site”.
“This extraordinary phase inIreland’s architectural history has almost entirely vanished and has been largely airbrushed out of history, with Georgian architecture influencing our modern view of how our streets formerly looked. However, many of these early houses with important interiors such as grand staircases and timber panelled rooms still survive today, simply hidden behind Georgian or Victorian facades”.
“The conference aims to highlight this rich heritage and demonstrate how much of it is still at risk due to a lack of recognition and statutory protection”.