Society House, the present number 63 Merrion Square, was acquired by the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1917 and remains central to its identity as a learned society in the heart of Dublin’s historic centre. With its original ancillary buildings intact, coupled with its recently restored early-nineteenth century garden, it remains unique in Dublin as a complete town house complex representative of the late Georgian period.
Although Merrion Square appeared on the rent rolls of the aristocratic Fitzwilliam family as early as 1752, the south side of the square, on which Society House stands, did not commence building until the late 1780s. The ground on which the house was built was leased to Joseph Sandwith, merchant, in January 1787 at the yearly rent of £24 per annum. By the terms of the lease, Sandwith pledged to build a
good and substantial dwelling house with lime and stones, or with bricks and lime and stones, or with bricks and lime, well roofed and covered with slates, not less than 30 ft. in the front and 3 stories and a half high above the cellars at least, and shall make an area of 8 ft. wide at the front of the said house and lay flags before the house for a foot passage in like manner as the same is now done before the houses in Merrion Street and shall pave the whole street before the front of the said house…
Four years later, in May 1791, Sandwith sold his interest in the ground to William Shannon, a public notary. In a mortgage made in November 1792, Shannon was described as ‘then erecting and building one good and substantial Dwelling House’, and the site and building works were valued at £800. In early 1794, the house was evidently fully built and decorated: the fine decorative plasterwork by Andrew Callnan was measured by quantity surveyor Bryan Bolger, and the house was advertised as ‘an elegant new built house’ suitable for ‘a family of rank and fortune’.
Since its completion, the house has been home to many distinguished individuals:
1795–97: Humphrey Minchin, linen draper
1797–1808: Ponsonby Tottenham, MP for Wexford and New Ross
1808–22: Judge Luke Fox, Court of Common Pleas
1822–26: Rev Thomas Brownrigg, Chancellor of Christ Church Cathedral
1827–1917: Lt Col Richard Jones Sankey and his descendants
1917: purchased by the RSAI; ground lease acquired from the Pembroke Estate
Today the surviving stable building is used for the horses of An Garda Síochána, while the living spaces above are rented out as holiday accommodation by the Irish Landmark Trust (more information & images on their website). The restoration of the garden at 63 Merrion Square was undertaken by the RSAI in partnership with the Irish Georgian Society.