Analysis: ahead of this week's election, here are some things you may not have known about the presidential residence 

By Marion McGarryGalway Mayo Institute of Technology

(1) Áras an Uachtaráin could have been in Limerick

After the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922, many options were explored for the house of the president. In the 1920s, W.T. Cosgrave had investigated the neo-Norman style Glenstal Castle in Co Limerick as a possible future residence for Irish presidents, being "astounded" by Glenstal’s "magnificence". It would have made an interesting choice of residence for an Irish president with its mixture of medieval Irish and English architectural decoration. However, given the precarious economic climate and the distance from Dublin, it was decided not to use Glenstal.

(2) De Valera wanted to demolish it

Although other possibilities were considered, the old vice regal lodge kept coming back into focus as the most suitable choice of residence. Éamon De Valera suggested demolition and building a new residence on the site, in order to obliterate the memories of the former British associations. The outbreak of the Second World War put paid to his plans to demolish and rebuild the house, and instead the emphasis became regeneration and refurbishment of the existing dwelling. By the time President Douglas Hyde became the first president in 1938, it was decided to install him temporarily at the old vice regal lodge - now re-named Áras an Uachtaráin or ‘House of the president’ – as his official residence.

From RTÉ Archives, 16 direct descendants of the Chieftains of Ireland at Áras an Uachtaráin in 1991 for the formation of the Council of Irish Chieftains

(3) Phoenix Park has nothing to do with phoenixes

The house is so synonymous with its setting of Phoenix Park in Dublin, that it is often simply referred to as "the park".. Phoenix Park is one of the largest enclosed public parks in a European capital city, at over 1,750 acres of grassland and tree-lined avenues, it also contains Dublin Zoo as well as other buildings, monuments and amenities.

But the park’s name has nothing to do with Phoenixes. It has Gaelic origins: it is an Anglicisation of fionn uisce which means "clear water". Phoenix Park dates to medieval times when it was first used as a hunting ground in the 1660s and formally designated as a Royal deer park stocked with game for hunting. In the 1740s, most of the park was opened to the public for the first time.

(4) The Áras' life as a red-bricked hunting lodge

In 1751, Nathaniel Clements MP became the Park Ranger for Phoenix Park and built the house that would later become Áras an Uachtaráin. It started out as a ranger’s lodge, a modest villa faced with brick. Following Clements’ death, the lodge was acquired by the British government and the building was made into a residence for the British viceroy. It subsequently became known as the Viceregal lodge until the end of British colonialism in southern Ireland.

From RTÉ Radio One's Drivetime, Della Kilroy reports on the Fáilte garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin to welcome Ireland's new citizens 

In the 19th century, the notable architect Francis Johnson worked on refurbishing the house. He had the walls plastered over and painted white, and added the portico and columns which give the house much of its neoclassical character. Under Johnson’s tenure it began to look like the familiar white house we know today, and its new look echoed its increased importance in Irish affairs at the time.

(5) It was said to have inspired the White House in Washington DC

The best-known view of Áras an Uachtaráin is the garden front portico with its white columns. This view has drawn comparison with the White House, the presidential residence in the United States. It is also a white dwelling of neoclassical design, and its similar use have led to unfounded speculation that the Irish born architect of the White House, James Hoban, took inspiration from what is now the Áras for his design.

From RTÉ Archives, President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh takes viewers of ‘Private View on a tour of Áras an Uachtarain in 1976

(6) Queen Victoria began the ceremonial tree-planting

In the 1850s and 1860s, Queen Victoria ceremonially planted trees in the grounds and began a tradition of dignitaries planting trees there, which Douglas Hyde would repeat as the first Irish president. It is a tradition that continues with Irish presidents and visiting VIPs to this day.

(7) "The house of the president"

Áras an Uachtaráin means ‘house of the president’ and has been the Official Residence of the President of Ireland since 1938. The house and its grounds have been improved and developed since the 1940s, evolving into a homely but grand residence fit for hosting visiting world leaders and dignitaries, ambassadors, and the general public. Yet the house itself has a much longer history stretching to the eighteenth century and to the time of British occupation.  When Ireland was a colony of Britain, the house was traditionally the seat of the vice regent, who was the official representative of the King.

This is an excerpt from See The Wood From The Trees (2018) by Marion McGarry  and Dermot O’Donovan which looks at how storm-felled trees from Áras an Uachtaráin were used by students of GMIT Letterfrack. 

Dr Marion McGarry is an art historian, author, independent researcher and lecturer at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ