The chequered history of Tailors’ Hall

A guild that clothed gentlemen, officers and servants.

Ian Lumley, Heritage officer of an Taisce spoke to The Liberty to explain the history and the ongoing story of Tailors Hall, Dublin.

Lumley, an expert on its history, described the hall as “a unique survivor in the long-forgotten world of guilds”.

The building is dating from 1710 and is one of the oldest buildings in Dublin, still in use today. Original features include the twisted pine bannisters, and a tavern with a large fireplace in the basement.

The Tailors Guild Coat of Arms Photo: Courtesy Dublin City Council

When I was naked you clothed me

A very fitting title for the coat of arms for the Tailors Guild Crest. Most of the guilds were located in Dublin, with the stipulation that you were a Protestant. Lumley explains that though only Protestants could be members of the guilds, Catholics could be employed on a lowly level. The quality of their work was also tightly controlled by the Council, and if work was not up to scratch, the job could be opened up to outsiders. There were some Huguenots (French Protestants) in the clothing trade too at that time, as they had fled from France in the 17th century, having been persecuted for their religion.

Lumley explained that success was all about connections: a master craftsman could become wealthy by clothing armies, with military uniforms very much in demand at the time. These ‘masters’ also had numerous household staff in their homes, serving at their tables, so velvet, brass buttons and other materials were in demand.  The Huguenots provided textiles such as woven silk and lace.

Accredited annual meetings were a huge event. It was a sort of “old boys club”. Being the mayor/chair you had to pay for a seat in the “high chair”.

At the height of its popularity, between 1700 and 1820s, it doubled up as a ballroom, a music hall and even held fencing classes. The church parades and banquets were very important events in the annual calendar. It is not clear who made all the beautiful ball gowns for the ladies for such events.  Unfortunately, a lot of records were lost, so we are left to surmise.

Wolfe Tone regularly held meetings there. He was secretary of the Catholic Committee and was also a barrister.  He would help draw up resolutions, for example, on removing restrictions on laws which prevented catholics from voting or having access to parliament, as it was purely protestant at the time.  

As a more democratic society evolved in the mid 1800s, and there were more Catholics in business, the vast majority of guilds were abolished in the space of a couple of years, having thrived for nearly 600 years. The Tailors guild survived because it had its own building, whereas a number of other guilds didn’t. It also became a mission school and was involved in charitable acts. In the mid-1840s Tailors Hall was deemed unsafe and was due for demolition, however, Dublin Corporation took it over, and put the money into preserving it.  The Irish Georgian Society launched a fund-raising campaign in the 1960s, now it’s the headquarters for An Taisce, the Heritage Council.

They are working hard on making it a venue once again. It has a pub in the basement: its thick walls and massive fireplace would make for an atmospheric evening. It is open to the public and is accessed from High Street. This entrance is a new arrangement, as unfortunately, the back lane became a place for unsocial behaviour.

The venue area, is available for hire for groups, and special occasions. This is the more historic part of the building, with its coat of arms, balcony and from where there is access to the upper floors.

An Taisce are actively encouraging groups to hold events there and are working on having it as a venue for special interest groups, music sessions etc.

It is well worth a visit, whether it is with a group of friends for a bite to eat, a comedy show or a tour which can be arranged through An Taisce. Check Tailors Hall website for more details.

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