Sunlight Chambers.

Harry Warren writes:

Walking along Wood Quay towards the city centre on a miserable rainy January day, I couldn’t help but glance through the grey drizzle at the architectural monstrosities of Dublin Civic Offices.

They were erected in one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism in Dublin’s history. The most historically significant area of Viking Dublin was literally destroyed by the then Dublin City Corporation in the name of progress during the late 1970s and early 80s.

The offices, visually having as much merit as some hideous wartime command bunkers, were dumped upon and destroyed one of the greatest and best-preserved Viking settlements anywhere in Europe.

My mood dampened. Ironically a parked cars radio was playing Morrisey’s “Every Day is like Sunday” with the classic lines “In the seaside town, That they forgot to bomb, Come, come, come, nuclear bomb”. Never a more appropriate sentiment I thought.

My spirits lifted when I reached Capel St Bridge (Grattan Bridge). The delightful Florentine style Sunlight Chambers building came into view on the corner of Parliament Street and Essex Quay.

Originally it was the Irish headquarters of Lever Brothers and it was elegantly designed by Edward Ould of Liverpool in 1899. The building was named after their most successful product Sunlight soap. It was one of the first soaps to be made on an industrial scale and brought the company huge success. It is still on sale today in Europe. Levers later merged with a Dutch manufacturer and became Unilever. Today you probably buy their supermarket products like Domestos, Surf, Persil, etc.

Sunlight Chambers was built to impress being Lever’s Dublin headquarters, with its renaissance stye windows on the upper floors, a red terracotta roof with wonderfully sculpted glazed terracotta faience’s or friezes on two levels. They depict animated scenes of agriculture and industry and the making of soap, along with some delightfully sculpted ladies doing washing. Sexist? perhaps by today’s standards but it is of its time and the detail and colours of the friezes are wonderful.

The sculptor, Conrad Dressler, designed and crafted the series of four roundels and twelve panels around the three faces of the building. The glazed ceramic friezes were made in 1902 in Dressler’s pottery works in Buckinghamshire. They were commissioned to fit in with W. H. Lever’s philosophy that “good art should enrich everyday life“.

So, the next time you are in that part of Dublin City, look up and reward yourself with a bit of time to enjoy the beauty of the sculptures and the story they tell.

All pics by Harry Warren

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34 thoughts on “Harry’s Dublin

  1. ian-oh

    I remember doing a project in secondary school about Parliament St. Discovered my great, great grandfather used to live on it. Much of the focus was on this building and the cutlers, Reads, which was there for centuries.

    It gave me a new appreciation for the street and its one of my favourite streets in all of the city centre, especially at night time, great buzz of people transiting through from the quays to other parts of the city.

    1. Brother Barnabas

      it’s such a beautiful street. it was laid out to serve as a continuation of Capel St, Grattan Bridge and then onto Parliament St, leading businessmen and dignitaries- and the eye – to the Royal Exchange (now City Hall). the DCC proposals to pedestrianise College Green would divert most of the buses to Parliament St, which would be a shame – turn it into a noisy, congested bus lane.

      1. Redundant Proofreaders Society


        Spar is its one ugly blemish, along with the ‘characters’ that fester outside of it.

      2. Harry Warren

        Hi Brother Barnabas, It would be an act of environmental vandalism leading to a major hike in pollution along Parliament St if the proposed mess to College Green is created. And before anyone says pedestrianise Parliament St, I would ask them to think of my friends who are of limited mobility and whose access to many parts of the city has been decreased so much by the clueless crew in DCC and their flag wavers.

    2. Bertie blenkinsop

      That’s class Ian.
      Similar to Elf’s “world’s greatest cup of coffee”, I flippantly told my little fella that DiFontaine’s was the world’s greatest pizza and he will only refer to it as such

      1. Redundant Proofreaders Society

        Adore DiFontaine’s. They put a little table outside for d’slice during d’Rona.

      2. Brother Barnabas

        I was told once it was owned by huey from the FLC

        never doubted the truth of that until I mentioned it to great hilarity recently

        1. bertie blenkinsop

          Actually, his wiki page says he used to co own it…

          Morgan previously co-owned The Voodoo Lounge, The Dice Bar and DiFontaine’s Pizza Place in Dublin. Huey also opened Notting Hill Tattoo Studio, Love Hate Social Club with New York Tattoo Artist Ami James in November 2012.

          1. Harry Warren

            Hi bertie blenkinsop, You have created a wave of nostalgia for me! …. e.g. one example out of many, I had the pleasure of chatting with and shaking hands with Wolfgang Flür in The Voodoo Lounge. He was the percussionist in the electronic group Kraftwerk. For me it was like shaking hands with one of the Beatles :)

    3. Cú Chulainn

      Great article as ever Harry. The last panel was never finished. Either they ran out of money or moved. I can’t remember which. Kinda adds to its interest. As for the council bunker. The absolute unforgivable act was after the vandalism of building it a top of what was an intact Viking city, they then went, with huge deep rotatvators and destroyed all of the surrounding area so as to dissuade any reason for future protest near their offices. There was plenty of Dubh Linn city left. Now it is gone. Dublin is a city that has and continues to be exceptionally poorly served by its council and employees.

      1. Harry Warren

        Hi Cú Chulainn, Can you imagine what a tourist attraction Wood Quay could have become if properly handled. It would have been at least as popular as Roman Bath.

  2. goldenbrown

    not everyone agreed with the sentiment…

    “The building met with resistance from architects in Dublin at the time due to the fact that a foreign architect had been hired. Upon its completion, ‘The Irish Builder’ referred to it as the ugliest building in Dublin, while a few years later the same journal called it ‘pretentious and mean’.”


    1. ian-oh

      Jealousy much!

      Its one of the few buildings I would come out to protest if they attempted to demolish or alter, such an amazing place.

      1. goldenbrown

        oh defo!! I’d be right there with you ian-oh

        I’m interested in brickwork myself, there’s some fab intricate stuff still around if u know where to look (usually up lol) I’m lucky to know one of Dublin’s last proper old school masons whom I did a little labouring for back in the day and picked up the bug…maybe Harry could cover a few of the remaining examples around Dublin sometime

        interesting to see though how “Politics” has always been part of Development down the years, a forum for those seeking advantage over others instead of just focussing on the bloody building!!

        1. ian-oh

          Wow, maybe give Harry a shout, that’s a singular experience in the actual sense of the word!

          Sounds like a tale worth telling.

          Also, never thanked Harry for the article, brilliant as ever! So thanks Harry!

      2. bisted

        …I nodded all the way through Harry’s piece because I am in total agreement…the Dublin Civic Offices* are a testament to brutalism and Sam Stevenson…another Dublin treasure…thanks Harry…
        *under the Civic Offices is a vast carpark which is seldom more than quarter full…

        1. Harry Warren

          Hi Bisted, Brutalism has its place in architecture but not where they plonked the Civic Offices. Personally I think it was a testament to gombeen men and brown paper bags personified!

    1. ian-oh

      Depends, I mean there should be, but what would the penalties be if some FF friendly developer decided to knock it down (at 2AM quickly probably?).

      A few grand of a fine, easily paid? I know plenty of other buildings were knocked and the fine was factored into the costs for the new development over the years.

  3. scottser

    good man harry. when are you going to do the casino in marino – or has your visa to the northside expired?

    1. Harry Warren

      Hi scottser, The Casion in Marion is a wonderful building. …Someday when the 5km coronavirus restrictions are removed :)

      1. Redundant Proofreaders Society

        Some very interesting facts about the Casino and its architectural features. Have you got a blog Harry, or do you contribute to a history discussion somewhere? Really enjoy these posts, and of course a fan of Mr. Fallon who also provides a fascinating social history of Dublin. Maybe you are in cahoots?

        1. Harry Warren

          Hi Redundant Proofreaders Society,

          I just enjoy taking photos and if something has a history all the better:)

    1. Harry Warren

      Hi Otis Blue,

      Mr Lever wasn’t really a nice person ;)

      “This is a most thorough study of economic and political realities in the Belgian Congo, an incisive exposé of the colonial regime’s forced labor in favor of the English palm oil company, Huileries du Congo Belge (HBC), the British company of Lord Leverhulme. ”
      ‘Lever set up a private kingdom reliant on the horrific Belgian system of forced labour, a program that reduced the population of Congo by half and accounted for more deaths than the Nazi holocaust.’

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