< IRELAND | DUBLIN: The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel
The Shelbourne Hotel was established in 1824 by Martin Burke, a native of Tipperary, whose ambition was to open a hotel in Dublin that would "woo genteel custom who wanted solid, comfortable and serviceable accommodation at a fashionable address". To make his dreams come true, Burke leased three houses at Dublin’s most prestigious address - numbers 27, 28 and 29 St. Stephen’s Green, and “in consideration of a down payment of £1,000 and the promise of a further £2,000 at a later date, and a yearly rent of £300” Burke and his heirs were granted the leasehold interest for 150 years.
Burke named his new, luxury hotel The Shelbourne, after William, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, Prime Minister of
Great Britain from 1782-83. Within a year of its opening, The Shelbourne was firmly established as a
favourite of visitors ‘doing the season’ and was at the centre of Irish upper class social life. In
1825, gas lighting came to Dublin and The Shelbourne Hotel was the first Dublin hotel to be lit by gaslight.
In 1842, during his famous visit to Ireland, William Thackeray stayed in the hotel and wrote in his Irish
Sketch Book that he found the hotel “majestically conducted by clerks and other officers”.
Within twenty five years of opening, Martin Burke added the adjoining houses, 30 and 31 St. Stephen’s Green and 12 Kildare Street. This group of houses, together with their gardens and outbuildings, stood on the site of what is still today the main Shelbourne Hotel building. At the time of Martin Burke’s death in 1863, The Shelbourne’s position as ‘Dublin’s premier hotel’ was unassailable. Martin Burke is remembered as a great hotelier who ‘contributed to the welfare and improvement of Dublin’.
In 1865, The Shelbourne Hotel was purchased by Messrs Jury, Cotton and Goldman, who undertook extensive rebuilding and renovations and in 1867, the hotel was officially reopened, complete with coffee room, ladies’ coffee room, table d’hote room, general reading room, smoking room, billiards room, hairdressing room and telegraph office, as well as 15 bedrooms with bathrooms and 24 first-class sitting rooms arranged en suite.
During 1871, the Gaiety Theatre opened its doors and famous actors and actresses from London companies became frequent visitors to the hotel. The playwright, George Moore, while staying at The Shelbourne, was inspired to write ‘The Bending of the Bough’ and ‘A Drama in Muslin’.
During the period 1880 – 1900, The Shelbourne became the focus of Irish social and sporting life. The year revolved around the social seasons – racing, bloodstock and shows at the Royal Dublin Society (RDS).
Between 1906 and 1913, The Shelbourne enjoyed great success. New additions included the telephone and a lift. Guests started arriving by car and tram. The summer of 1912 saw a great influx of visitors from USA, Japan and Australia.
In 1914 with the outbreak of war, several of the hotel’s German staff were interned and The Shelbourne unofficially became the hub of military activity.
The Republican Rising of Easter 1916 was a seminal date in the Shelbourne’s history. The hotel owners remained loyal to the Crown during the Easter Rebellion. However, some staff members did not. It emerged later that one hotel porter made regular forays up to the rooftop and signalled the movement of troops within the hotel to the rebel forces across the Green. Yet, despite all the disturbances, the hotel management and staff managed to carry on almost as normal. On Easter Monday when fighting broke out on the Green, afternoon tea was transferred from the Drawing Room to the Writing and Reading Room at the rear of the hotel for safety (this room is now the Horseshoe Bar). On Tuesday afternoon, forty soldiers were sent to garrison the hotel, making it a legitimate target for the rebels across the Green. The Shelbourne came under regular fire for the remainder of the week. The windows were sandbagged and shuttered; the great entrance door was barricaded. A skeleton staff operated the hotel’s services and titled guests acted as waiters. By Wednesday, the hotel opened its doors to receive the injured, irrespective of the side on which side they fought. The young rebels - who over the past days fired gunshots at the hotel - were now its guests, having their wounds treated by women whose very existence they threatened.
During the Civil War, The Shelbourne was home to the new army of Ireland. From February to May 1922, The Shelbourne played host to its most historic meeting – the drafting of the Irish Constitution. Bunreacht na hÉireann was drawn up in room 112, under the chairmanship of Michael Collins. This room is now The Constitution Room. The war, as it affected The Shelbourne directly, lasted only a couple of weeks and, by August 1922, calm and customers returned again to The Shelbourne.
During the period 1919 – 1945, movement between the British mainland and Ireland was suspended. The Shelbourne patrons consisted mainly of the Diplomatic Corps and journalists and, from 1939, Ulster families seeking a brief respite from the blackouts and rationing brought about by the outbreak of World War II. Known as ‘the Emergency’, the war altered the cast at The Shelbourne and expanded it enormously. The year-end figures for visitors staying during the Emergency show an average annual increase of about 6,000 per year, starting at 19,333 in 1940 and rising to 61,496 in 1946. Arrivals into Dublin found a sharp contrast to the austerity that they had left behind, either in England or in the North. A few days at The Shelbourne offered a welcome respite from anxiety and isolation. In 1956, the ballroom was added to the hotel and immediately became the premier venue for Dublin’s society events. During this time, The Shelbourne’s international guest list read like a cast list of a Cecil B. de Mille movie - James Cagney, Maureen O’Hara, John Wayne, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rock Hudson, Burl Ives, Orsen Welles, Robert Taylor and Rita Hayworth.
In 1958, John and Jacqueline Kennedy stayed in the Tonga Suite named after Queen Salote of Tonga who had stayed there five years previously and she had a special bed constructed for her visit. John F. Kennedy was to return again on an official visit in June 1963 as President of the United States, only a few months before his assassination.
The Shelbourne also provided a meeting venue for many of Ireland’s musical and literary geniuses, including Count John McCormack, Sean O Riada, Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Seamus Heaney. In fact, one of Ireland’s greatest traditional musical groups, The Chieftains, was formed after Sean O Riada suggested it to Paddy Moloney in The Horseshoe Bar.
In March 2005, The Shelbourne Hotel closed for an extensive restoration project. The Horseshoe Bar, The Lord Mayor’s Lounge and The Constitution Room have all been elegantly restored while a new restaurant, The Saddle Room and No. 27 Bar & Lounge have been added. The luxurious guestrooms are designed by award–winning designer Frank Nicholson.
In 2011, The Shelbourne Hotel was featured in Steven Soderbergh's movie "Haywire", starring Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender.
#Michael O'Sullivan, Bernardine O'Neill: The Shelbourne and its People
Blackwater Press, 1999 | ISBN-10: 1841314420; ISBN-13: 978-1841314426
English language | 195 pages | Hardcover
| Buy it at Amazon | Buy it at Alibris |