PHOTOGRAPHED FEBRUARY 2024
A familiar building complex on Jervis Street and Abbey Street in Dublin, once home to a Ben Dunne Gym and the National Leprechaun Museum, has recently been demolished. Unbeknownst to many, the building held a piece of Dublin’s history as Twilfit House. This demolition to make way for a new Premier Inn hotel highlights the ever changing landscape of Dublin.
Twilfit House History
Twilfit House, a three-story, early 20th-century building, was completed around 1930. It was named after the popular corset brand “Twilfit,” manufactured by Leethems. The building served as the company’s Irish headquarters, featuring spacious, well-lit factory floors. Twilfit House represented a shift in Irish industry, moving from home-based production to larger, dedicated workspaces.
Architecturally, the building showcased late Art Deco style, with geometric lines, curved accents, and large windows for ample manufacturing light. While the corset factory is long gone, the building remained until its recent demolition.
The New Development
UK-based Premier Inn developers and owners, Whitebread, purchased Twilfit House and adjacent buildings with the intent to demolish them for a new hotel development. This has sparked debate about preserving Dublin’s historic buildings. Whitebread received planning permission for a 7-story, 180-bedroom hotel and intends to follow the original design by The O’Toole Partnership. While initial projections suggested a 2022 opening, it’s likely the project has faced delays.
Twilfit House’s prime location near O’Connell Street, Temple Bar, Trinity College, and the Jervis Street Luas stop makes it highly attractive for this development.
Contextualising the Change
The Capel Street area is experiencing a surge in hotel development due to factors like its strategic location, increased tourism, revitalization efforts, and developer interest. This rapid growth will impact the area, increasing visitor capacity, potentially boosting the economy, but also possibly altering the streetscape and raising concerns about balancing tourist needs with those of long-term residents.
The Fate of the Leprechaun Museum
Sadly, the National Leprechaun Museum, also housed in the demolished complex, permanently closed in June 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on tourism. While there were hopes of finding a new location, no concrete reopening plans exist at this time.
Wikipedia currently includes the following description:
The National Leprechaun Museum is a privately owned museum dedicated to Irish folklore and mythology, through the oral tradition of storytelling. It is located on Jervis Street in Dublin, Ireland, since 10 March 2010. It claims to be the first leprechaun museum in the world. The Irish Times has referred to it as the “Louvre of leprechauns”.
Tom O’Rahilly designed the museum (with the collaboration of two Italian designers, Elena Micheli and Walter Scipioni) and is its director. O’Rahilly began working on his museum in 2003.
He views it as a “story-telling” tourist attraction designed to give visitors “the leprechaun experience” and introduce visitors to Ireland’s rich storytelling history.
Visitors to the museum follow a guided tour involving several different rooms; each serving as sets for the stories and information. The basics of Leprechaun folklore are explained, including what it is that defines a leprechaun. A history of leprechaun references in popular culture is included, such as Walt Disney’s visit to Ireland which led to his 1959 film Darby O’Gill and the Little People.
There is a tunnel full of optical illusions, a wooden replica of the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland and a room where items such as furniture become unusually large to give the effect that the visitor has become smaller in size.
References to other creatures are included in the tour such as the púca, fairies, banshee and many more. At the end of the tour visitors arrive at a shop where they can purchase souvenirs and merchandise.
The demolition of Twilfit House marks a significant transformation for this Dublin corner. It highlights the tension between preserving history and accommodating the city’s evolving needs.