It has made the headlines more than once in recent weeks. The planned redevelopment of its headquarters will have implications for the Georgian Mile’s streetscape. Its reappraisal of the Poolbeg chimneys’ future might change Dublin’s skyline forever. But one part of the ESB’s empire that has stayed under the radar is Number 29, the Georgian House Museum on Lower Fitzwilliam Street.
This well preserved period townhouse, around the corner from the ESB’s headquarters, exhibits the life of an upper middle-class family between 1790 and 1820. Here lived Olivia Beatty (née Bell), widow of a prominent Dublin wine merchant, with her seven children. The city of this 28 foot high, 50 foot deep, house breathed with excitement at the time. Art and culture abounded. A Catholic middle-class was emerging. In the 1750s, celebrated Anglo-French surveyor John Rocque mapped Dublin, describing it and London as two of Europe’s largest and most celebrated cities. Severe poverty existed alongside prosperity.
Olivia Beatty’s life, however, contained tragedy. Earlier in 1794, the year she moved into this house, her husband had died after a few days illness. Married at 21, she was widowed at 33. Maria, one of her two daughters, died in the same year, as did her father-in-law, to whose estate her future became inextricably linked. By 1806, the family had left Dublin.
Despite these tragedies, the Beattys’ world was plush and elegant, and this museum brings it alive in an intimate, interactive way. You can see the rooms as they were – for cooking, educating children, dining, and entertaining – along with all the art and objects that defined the Beattys’ world. You immediately get a flavour of their comfort as well as the contrasting lives of those who served them.
The house retains its original neo-classical interior design and furniture, some of which dates from early 18th century. Paintings by artists such as Thomas Roberts and GF Mulvany still hang. In the attic are the children’s austere quarters, which still contain two 19th century doll houses and give insight into a Georgian education’s values. Upbringing was shorter and more concentrated then. Olivia, the youngest child, married at fifteen.
Museums are often far more engaging with a guided tour. These are only available here at 11am (for groups, pre-booking required) and at 3pm (first come, first serve). To maximise your experience, plan your visit around these. Recent times suggest that enthusiasm for Georgian Dublin remains undimmed almost two hundred years after it ended. This glimpse into that world shows why.