Old fashioned art deco chic chef with architectural sizzle

The Dublin College of Catering has played a central role in the training of Irish chefs since its opening in 1941, as St Mary’s College for Domestic Sciences. Over the years many of the country’s best-known chefs have passed through its doors and although the college has now moved to the University of Technology Dublin (TUD) campus in Grangegorman, the building, on the corner of Cathal Brugha Street and Marlborough Street, remains and his contribution to the city’s architecture will continue.

The Restoration College is arguably one of Dublin’s finest buildings and, it’s fair to say, understated, with its understated good taste and unfussy fusion of Irish materials shaped by European sensibility. It was built to plans by Robinson & Keefe, who also created the nearby Carlton Cinema (1938) on O’Connell Street, and the remarkable art deco Dublin Gas Company on D’Olier Street in 1928 (a building that may really be considered “two-sided” when you see both its front and its back).

Robinson & Keefe also designed the technical school, Marino College. Dating back to a few years before Restoration College, it has an endearing little brother atmosphere to the Cathal Brugha Street building by sharing many of its finest features.

As you step away from the hustle and bustle of O’Connell Street and come across the flat-roofed catering college, you can’t help but gaze at it fondly. With its red brick art deco decor and hardwood bay windows spread over four floors, he never insists on anything; its quality and sense of scale are of course enhanced with elegant elegance with the sculpture of the Three Graces by Gabriel Hayes in the west corner. Commissioned by the architects in 1943, Hayes is said to have used three friends as models: a sweeper, a spinner and a sewing machine, representing some of the skills taught in college. The east facing side also has a chamfered corner for a sculpture, but only Hayes’ work has been defined.

The vestibule inside the old College of Catering has octagonal columns and clad in Connemara marble. . . an imperial staircase in patterned terrazzo with chrome steel railing. Photography: Dublin University of Technology

Christine Casey’s Dublin volume of The Buildings of Ireland (Yale) calls the Restoration College a ‘delightful period room’ with its brilliantly lit staircase hall one of the ‘most elegantly detailed 20th century interiors in the city “.

connemara marble

With more details on her winning combination of quality and economy, she adds, “With a simple plan for classrooms at the front and back of a spinal corridor. . . The vestibule has octagonal columns and Connemara marble cladding. . . a patterned terrazzo imperial staircase with chrome steel balustrades. “Connemara marble, Kilkenny limestone, Irish granite worked in Dublin and Irish red bricks from Ballinphellic, Cork” anchor the college in vernacular classicism with no cut corners, the latter giving the building a sense of respectful sympathy. to the nearby Church of Ireland St Thomas. Perhaps the architects had learned a lesson from spirituality.

However, the appreciation of the building was not immediate. According to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, the college was ridiculed in its time for being “parochial”. The inventory has no such qualms about its merits, however, listing the building as “one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in the vicinity.” . . and remains in remarkable condition, both inside and out ”and“ almost all of its interiors and finishes are of high quality [are] a testament to the excellence of its design and specifications ”.

In summary: “He has matured beautifully in his calm and understated manner. “

Originally known as St Mary’s College for Domestic Sciences, it was commissioned by the Free State government and officially opened in June 1941. Its progressive educational aspirations (for the Ireland, in any case) were accompanied by the stilted antediluvian sentiments of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who announced during the ceremony: “Here will be formed the women who will help to build happy houses, for they will be imparted the right knowledge. and the good practice of domestic crafts. The country had a long way to go in terms of women’s equality after the 1916 proclamation.


A first class of students arrived a few months later, in September 1941. Dr Brian Murphy of TUD, writing in History Ireland magazine, said that among the subjects taught at that time were “art, works of art. needlework, laundry, sewing and clothing design, the housewife, cooking (including institutional and hotel work), training of chefs and waitresses, applied sciences, housekeeping and culture physical ”.

Murphy noted that the building cost £ 100,000 (€ 126,974) at the time of construction. “The college was the single largest capital expenditure investment in an educational project in the state’s short history,” he said.

Cathal Brugha Street main entrance to the old Restoration College.  Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Cathal Brugha Street main entrance to the old Restoration College. Photography: Alan Betson

He added, with some sagacity given what he reported on its sale in 2018, that “the building provided lasting value for money.” It was purchased by the Ministry of Education for € 24 million from TUD, with the proceeds going to the development of the Grangegorman campus.

It is understood that the Restoration College building, including the Gilroy McMahon extension in 1997, will eventually accommodate 1,000 children from post-primary schools in the north of the city, although the department said its plans were still “being finalized”.

“It is expected that the property will continue to be used for education,” said a spokesperson. “At the moment, part of the property is being licensed on a short-term basis to Rehab, which uses it for its National Learning Network to provide training and support services to those in need of support. specialized.”

As to whether any of the building’s features will be altered or significantly altered for its new role in education, we’ll have to wait and see.

The long and fruitful association of the building with the hotel school allows it to always have a foot in the past. The thousands of students who have walked through its deep porch covered with granite will undoubtedly bear a fondness for the ancient place. History, meanwhile, records it as one of the best public buildings in the city. Passers-by, with a glance or a fair pause, will continue to admire his legacy and understated dignity as he embarks on a new era. And the timeless delicacy of the Three Graces will, of course, remain one of Dublin’s most charming landmarks.

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