The City Hall, Dublin (Irish: Halla na Cathrach, Baile ┴tha Cliath), originally the Royal Exchange, is a civic building in Dublin. It was built between 1769 and 1779 to the designs of architect Thomas Cooley and is a notable example of 18th-century architecture in the city.
Located at the top of Parliament Street on the city's southern side, it stands next to Dublin Castle, the centre of British government in Ireland until 1922. The street had been built in 1753, providing a continuation of Capel Street on the north bank of the Liffey, across the newly widened Essex Bridge, and so the exchange ended (and still ends) a long streetscape.
The large size and fine fittings of the Royal exchange, with carved capitals by Simon Vierpyl, and plasterwork by the leading stuccodore Charles Thorpe, reflect the standing and prestige of Dublin in the 18th Century. The neo-classical building contains a central entrance hall or Rotunda, with a large dome supported by twelve columns which is surrounded by an ambulatory where the merchants strolled and discussed business meetings.
The function of the building was to provide a meeting place for Dublin's businessmen, where they could buy and sell goods and trade bills of exchange. It was also close to the then Customs House that stood on the site of today's Clarence Hotel, making it convenient for overseas merchants. The cost of building the exchange was met by the Irish parliament, and this is reflected by the initials "SPQH", standing for "Senatus PopulusQue Hibernicus", meaning "The senate and people of Ireland" (an Irish version of SPQR).
City government had originally been located in the mediŠval Tholsel on Thomas Street,one quarter of a mile to the west, and before that on the Thingmount, where Suffolk Street now runs. In the 1700s meetings were held in South William Street (formerly the Civic Museum).
In 1815 the metal ballustrade of the exchange fell, owing to the pressure against it by a crowd, which led to the death of nine people, with many more injured. This led to crowd restrictions in the building.
In the 1850s, the City Corporation bought the Royal Exchange and converted it for use by city government. The changes included partitions around the ambulatory, the construction of a new staircase from the Rotunda to the upper floors and the sub-division of the vaults for storage. On the 30th September 1852 the Royal Exchange was renamed City Hall at the first meeting of Dublin City Council held there. A series of frescos was later added, representing the regions of Ireland.
Floor mosaic showing city arms and motto
The building was restored to its eighteenth-century appearance at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and Dublin City Council has won awards for the conservation of this historic building.
Most Dublin City Council staff are located in the relatively new and controversial Civic Offices, built from 1979 on the site of a national monument, the Viking city foundations on Wood Quay.
Dublin Corporation itself was renamed in the early 2000s as Dublin City Council, previously the name of the assembly of councillors only. Council meetings take place in City Hall.
There is an exhibition on the history of Dublin City, called "Dublin City Hall, The Story of the Capital," located in the vaults. There is currently little opportunity to see the City Council at work, though the council website has raised the questions of greater public access and of webcasting meetings.