This late medieval Gothic design is a distinctive style of architecture, featuring protruding hood mouldings over the windows, fine ogee-headed windows and pointed arched doorways. A characteristic of the architecture of the late medieval period is the abundant decoration carvings on these windows and doors, examples of which survive in the buildings surrounding Garavan’s. Some featured motifs that were connected to the different merchant families, including the Blakes and the Joyces.
There are a number of building phases evident in Garavan’s that make the building a very interesting study. The older building (No.’s 42-44) is a finely built three-storey building, constructed of blocks of cut and dressed stone, bonded with lime mortar in regular courses with narrow joints and evidence of fine architectural features to the windows. The building adjoining it (No. 46) was originally two-storey and features plainer masonry to the wall, though it too had fine windows. This building was extended upwards in the late eighteenth century, using blocks of re-used medieval stone, probably salvaged from a demolished building in the vicinity.
The reason the front facade of Garavan’s looks so different to obviously medieval buildings like Lynch’s Castle is because of a change in architectural taste and fashion in the late eighteenth century. From around 1750 onwards Irish architects and property owners began looking to new developments in England and Europe where there was a revival in Classical architecture that was to become synonymous with the Georgian era. Classical architecture couldn’t be more different from medieval architecture – the larger windows openings, fitted with timber sash windows with six over six or nine over nine panes of clear handmade glass were arranged in a regimented order in plain facades. The doorways were usually ornate, using Classical decoration such as pilasters, capitals, columns etc giving an elegant and affluent appearance. Modern building techniques meant the wall thicknesses were significantly less than in medieval buildings, which gave an even greater feeling of light and style. The medieval lack of apparent order and random insertion of smaller window openings in deep, thick walls was seen as old fashioned and property owners moved en masse to the new architecture. The streetscapes of all the cities and towns in Ireland adopted the new Classical appearance, with a radical alteration in appearance to the medieval city centres.
What is of great interest in Garavan’s is that the medieval building was not knocked to facilitate the new fashion but rather modified and the new window and door arrangements were inserted into existing medieval walls (which at 1m in thickness of stone and mortar was a difficult task). The facades were then rendered over, hiding the old medieval walling and any surviving features. It is not unusual that the medieval building was retained as this practice is known throughout the medieval centres in Ireland but the opportunity to study what lies beneath the plaster is rare and the level of preservation of medieval features is also noteworthy.
The walls at Garavan’s show very clearly how the process of making a medieval building a Classical one was undertaken. The protruding hood mouldings were butchered back to the wall surface and the decorated windows were cut into as required to fit the new long rectangular sash windows. However, the new windows were not expertly fitted, with timber lintels inadequately supported on the new window reveals. This resulted in the need to replace all the window lintels with new steel to ensure the safety of the building and this was the first part of the work undertaken once the render was removed from the building in April. Now the building is being re-rendered again and the building will regain its more usual appearance with new timber sash windows and a freshly painted facade. A number of the medieval features will be exposed, however, to acknowledge the long history of the building and bring to light again decorative features that are again appreciated. It is interesting to note that the plain fronted Georgian buildings went out of fashion in the Victorian era, with a return to an appreciation of Gothic architecture from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.
Twin ogee headed windows in No. 46, Second Floor.