Gambling isn’t one of my vices and so when it was suggested that a visit to the Casino at Marino was a ‘must’ when staying in Dublin, I really wasn’t that keen. Grudgingly I agreed little realising what a treat was to be in store for me. The Casino was completed in 1775 and just like gambling dens its purpose was to entertain, impress and amuse its guests – but on a very different level.
When James Caulfeild, Ist Earl of Charlemont completed anine year Grand Tour of Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt he brought back to Ireland a great hoard of treasures. He also returned with a loveand deep knowledge of the classics and he used this to create a grand neo-classical building to house them. Neither a folly nor a house to be lived in (the main dwelling, Marino House, half a mile away and linked by a tunnel, was demolished in the 1920’s) the Casino was built purely to show off his collections. Caulfeild employed Sir William Chambers as the architect who, busy with Royal clients in London, never visited the site before, during or after completion; most of the work was carried out by the stonemason and sculptor Simon Vierpyl. Chambers was, however, reputed to be immensely proud of his work and justly so.
Everything about Casino Marino was designed to impress and it still does albeit that the contents of the building have long been lost. It stands alone and, nowadays, rather out of context for its landscape of far reaching sea views and open countryside are hidden by the city. It was also built to deceive and it still does this too: what appears to be a square, single storey building is actually one built on a cross over three floors. The huge oak doors are also a deceit for they open to reveal a small entrance, the remainder hidden from the inside by ornate plasterwork. The blacked out single windows are neither of these things for the glass has been bevelled to reflect light making it difficult to see in from outside yet flooding not one but three or more rooms with natural light. The urns sitting high above the pediments are, in fact, cunningly disguised chimneys. Four of the solid looking columns are hollow and channel rainwater from the roof.
The building of the Casino (its name derives from the Italian meaning ‘little house’) was all consuming both in effort and money and the building very quickly fell into disrepair, its art sold to settle debt. By the 1930’s the building was in danger of collapse. Now carefully restored it is possile to explore its sixteen rooms, some of which are reached by ‘secret’ doors. Some of the original parquet wooden flooring survives and one small room has a delightful alcove, its wallpaper still looking fresh. Interestingly, the printing technology of the time prevented continuous rolls being produced and it is possible to see the joints where several large sheets of paper were hung.
Casino Marino is open from March to October. A very knowledgable guide escorts you around the building bringing it back to life with information sprinkled with more than a touch of Irish humour. It is well worth making a special trip to see this very rare example of neo-classical architecture, considered to be the finest in Ireland and just one of three such buildings in Europe.
How to find the Casino Marino