A MODERN ADDITION TO A HISTORIC AREA
Despite frequenting the area, I’m unfamiliar with the Grace Gifford House on John’s Lane West. While the building itself is new, I’m interested in learning more about its construction and the history of the site it occupies. Today, the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) uses the structure for student accommodation and exhibitions.
Regrettably, concerns about drug activity around Grace Gifford House exist. This highlights a problem that can sadly deter people from exploring this historic area near John’s Lane church and sections of or off Thomas Street.
Grace Gifford Plunkett was a renowned Irish cartoonist, caricaturist, and illustrator deeply involved in the Republican movement. Her marriage to Joseph Plunkett, a leader of the 1916 Rising, mere hours before his execution is immortalised in the moving Republican ballad “Grace.” Tragically, she died alone in her apartment at 52 South Richmond Street, Dublin, on December 13th, 1955.
For much of its existence, NCAD was situated on Kildare Street, adjacent to the Dáil (Parliament) and the National Library of Ireland. Growing space requirements prompted a relocation to the Liberties in the early 1980s. The College now occupies the former Power’s Whiskey Distillery at 100 Thomas Street, adding modern buildings like Grace Gifford House to a site steeped in history.
This six-acre campus stands beside the iconic Church of St Augustine and St John, designed by Gothic revivalist Edward Welby Pugin. The church boasts beautiful stained glass works by NCAD graduates Michael Healy and Harry Clarke.
The campus blends 19th, 20th, and 21st-century architecture. The imposing five-story Granary, built in 1817, is the most prominent original distillery structure. Other notable repurposed buildings include the Counting House and Offices (housing College Administration), the Clock Building, and the Distiller’s Residence. Remnants of the whiskey-making process, such as giant pot stills and engine houses, lend the area a unique character.
In 1998, NCAD expanded further by acquiring Dublin’s first motorised fire station, now called the Harry Clarke House. In 2009, the modernist NCAD Gallery opened its doors. Since 2017, the College campus has been a key stop on the Dubline (Dublin Discovery Trail), inviting visitors to explore its fascinating past and present.