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Fri 14.1.

New Éire: Ireland’s modernist self-fashioning revisited

Posted by Simon Keane-Cowell on 14.01.2011 - Tagged as: , , , , , , , , ,

Ireland's first apearance on the international exhibitionary stage at the 1939 New York World's Fair saw Michael Scott deliver the ultra-modern Irish Pavilion, complete with externally mounted sculpture of 'Mother Éire' and type by Eric Gill

Ireland is in a reflective mood these days. With the island nation on the edge of Europe facing up to the reality of a severely damaged economy and a decimated construction industry, nostalgia is doing what it’s wont to do. A recently published book on how the country, back in its fledgling days, used the language of modernism in its project of nation-building and an exhibition currently running at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on the development of modernity in Ireland both contribute to a re-engagement with an internationally under-appreciated strand of Irish architecture that sought to posit the state as a modern and democratic society. The grass is sometimes greener, even on the Emerald Isle.

Desmond Fitzgerald and the Office of Public Work's modernist 'Gesamtkunstwerk', Dublin Airport, completed in 1940; photograph by Hugh Doran, 1954, Hugh Doran Collection, Irish Architectural Archive; image courtesy of Irish Museum of Modern Art

Any discussion of architecture in an Irish context is somewhat of a sensitive issue at the moment.

A decade and a half of exhilarating economic growth in the Republic of Ireland came to spectacular end in 2008, when the country had the unfortunate honour of being the first member state of the European Union to enter into recession. And enter is putting it lightly. Plunge might be a more fitting way to describe it. Three years and one IMF bail-out later, and an general election round the corner that will undoubtedly see the incumbent government dramatically kicked out of office for their perceived mismanagement of the economic crisis, and things are looking bleak for the island nation.

Swan song? Daniel Libekind's highly expressive Grand Canal Theatre, situated in Dublin's regenerated docklands area, might be, given Ireland's new economic straits, the country's last 'grand projet' for the foreseeable future; photograph by Ros Kavanagh



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