Our image today is of an original drawing done in 1958 by Belfast artist Raymond Piper (now deceased ) of the beautiful staircase in the Great Southern Hotel. When one entered the hotel, the reception desk was to the left, there was a small corridor leading to the dining room on the left, and another leading to the bar on the right. Just past these was a comfortable lounge area, and at the end of this was this magnificent staircase leading to reception rooms upstairs, and directly to the station platform.
Construction began on the hotel 160 years ago. The site was previously occupied by a block of tenements which was owned by Father Peter Daly. He managed to evict all of the tenants in order to make way for the building of the hotel, which was to be attached to the newly erected railway terminus. The architect for both buildings was John Mulvany and the builder was William Dargan. The new hotel, which cost £30,000 to build, formally opened on August 15, 1852. It was, and is, a landmark building, built of limestone ashlar with a cornice over the heavily rusticated ground floor. The ground floor had recessed and architraved windows and a heavy string-course, and the original facade was topped by a shelf-like Doric cornice. It became known as The Railway Hotel and was the most extensive and luxurious hotel in the west of Ireland.
It quickly established itself as a destination for weary travellers and locals alike as it hosted a huge variety of functions, balls and dances, political rallies, etc. Kings and queens have stayed there as well as presidents, heads of state, legends like Charles Lindberg and Charlie Chaplin, Alcock and Brown, George Best and John Ford, John McCormack and John Wayne, Fred Astaire and Angelica Huston, Richard Harris and Rex Harrison, etc. Lord Oranmore and Browne would take over the complete fifth floor for two weeks during the shooting season. The Aran Island born author Liam O’Flaherty wrote one of his novels there.
There were some interesting historical moments there... in 1857, Prince Louis Napoleon of France arrived and the hospitality he received sent shockwaves through administration and military circles in Dublin and London. Charles Stuart Parnell addressed a mass meeting outside the hotel. During the First World War, military personnel met there regularly to discuss various means of defending the city in the event of a German invasion. Recruiting meetings were held there which sent men to the front lines. The hotel was an assembly point for refugees who were subsequently taken to various locations. In 1915, the British Army requested the building be converted and used as a hospital. In 1918, they requisitioned it, and it remained under their control until the war finished. During the Civil War, the hotel was occupied by Republican Forces under the command of Commandant ‘Baby’ Duggan. The Free State troops made no attempt to attack, and a lack of supplies meant the Republicans were forced to evacuate. The Free Staters took it over and sandbagged the front and the entrance and guarded the hotel until the threat of occupation ceased.
There have been many changes over the years ... in 1932, 35 bedrooms were added. The new ballroom was added in 1963, at which time the staircase in our illustration was replaced. The Claddagh Room and swimming pool were added. The location of the bar seemed to move every few years. In 2002 the hotel closed for major renovations, and in recent times, Gerry Barrett took it over, changed the name to The Meyrick Hotel and updated the decor.
Some of those associated with the building over the years were Brian Collins, who was manager through the 1950s and early 60s; Brendan Maher and Rory Murphy, who followed him as managers; Miss Fox, who was discretion herself at the cocktail bar; Danny Lydon, haute sommelier supreme; Mary Bennett, who started up ‘the shop under the stairs’; her sister Anne Flanagan, who organised the oyster festival here for years; Paddy Duignan, head chef; Bernie Casey and Joe Heskin, who ran the dining room; Paddy Henry, who died as a result of a tragic accident; Tom Flanagan and Eddie Bennett, who greeted people at the door; Paschal Spelman and Dermot Murray and their group who entertained thousands of visitors... the list goes on and on.
The Galway branch of Birdwatch will host their last talk of the season tomorrow evening in the Anno Santo Hotel at 8pm. It will be illustrated and given by John Murphy on the subject of ‘The Birds of Lesvos (also known as Lesbos )’ and all are welcome. Admission is free but contributions are very much appreciated.