In The Coombe, an Exhibition Recalls Plans for Totalitarian Christian Capital City

Doireann Ní Ghrioghair was researching architect Daithi Hanly when she came across his “bonkers plans” for a new totalitarian Christian capital city outside of Dublin.

It was urban planning like Nazi architect Albert Speer’s, Ní Ghrioghair says. “Where all the roads would lead into the main area with a big parliament building in the centre.”

The plans included a triumphal arch, with a “column of the resurrection” and a “garden of heroes”.

Hanly, who later became a Dublin City Council architect, outlined his vision for a new city, at the Hill of Tara in County Meath, in Aiséirghe, a magazine published by far-right group Ailtirí na hAiséirghe (Architects of the Resurrection).

On a recent Monday, Ní Ghrioghair opened the large black metal gate leading up the driveway of Pallas Projects studios in The Coombe, Dublin 8.

She leads the way into a small studio space at the back of the building, its walls freshly painted white and her sculptures sitting in on rows of shiny, white slabs of wood on the floor.

The Dublin-based artist is putting the final touches to her latest exhibition in Pallas Projects, due to open on Thursday.

The Declaration of the State Metropolis at Tara features eight 3D-printed sculptures, depicting a dystopian future as described by architect Daithi Hanly in 1942.

Architects of the Resurrection

Ailtirí na hAiséirghe was a “nativist Catholic” political party active during the 1940s. Lead by Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin, it sympathised with the Axis powers during World War II.

The anti-Semitic party had some major ambitions: it wanted to outlaw the English language and force people to speak Irish, end emigration by criminalising it, have full employment, and reconquer Northern Ireland.

“Ailtirí na hAiséirgh talked a lot about Rome and Mussolini in their writings,” Ní Ghrioghair says. “They admired them a lot, it was a more religion-friendly administration than Hitler.”

Far from living on the fringes, the party made headway in the 1945 local elections, topping the polls in two constituencies.

The party was “terrifying”, says Ní Ghrioghair. “It’s completely dystopian. They did gain a bit of traction.”

In 1950, though, the party disbanded in the midst of internal conflict caused by Ó Cuinneagáin’s leadership.

“It self-imploded,” she says. “But they did attract people to their ideology. It was anti-semitic. Anti-British, of course, and they were pro-Axis as well.”

Reimagining Tara

Hanly had written his creed for the new city in Old Irish, which Ní Ghrioghair has printed out for the exhibition on a poster, with an English translation next to it.

There were no drawings of Hanly’s imagined buildings in the magazine, says Ní Ghrioghair. Just drawings of site layouts.

“This was the challenge for me, to use conjecture and imagine what these buildings would have looked like,” she says.

“Hanly spoke of his fondness for the city of New Delhi,” says Ní Ghrioghair, as she walks down one row to a compact sculpture of a triumphal-arch-like monument.

It would stand in the centre of Hanly’s city, she says. “There’s an arch in New Delhi called India Gate by Edward Lutyens, so I thought that was a good arch to appropriate.”

She points to the top of the sculpture: “I put a Celtic cross at the top and the little ‘E’, that was the symbol of their party: ‘E’ for éirígí which means ‘rise up’.”

Photo by Aura McMenamin

She’s also made an Olympic stadium and a building based on the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome, designed during Benito Mussolini’s regime.

The darkest one, Ní Ghrioghair says, is the hospital that Hanly describes. “He talks about an area of land at the edge of the city that nothing can be built on except for asylums and hospitals.”

Says Ní Ghrioghair: “If you think about that and what we know now about what happened in Ireland with asylums and institutions, the idea of that under an administration like this is completely creepy.”

She based her design on those of hospitals built in Ireland in the 1940s, she says, picking up a small black cross next to the sculpture and placing it on the top of the building.

As part of the exhibition, Ní Ghrioghair will give a guided walking tour through the Liberties, asking people to imagine that they’re looking at the ruins of the city of Tara.

How to See It

Ní Ghrioghair recently completed an artist’s residency at UCD’s College of Engineering and Architecture, with the college’s Parity Studios.

She learnt how to 3D print while there, with help from John Ryan from the School of Civil Engineering.

The sculptures sit on raised areas of land. “I wanted to present them the way architectural models are presented,” she says. “It’s usually in this laser-cut way.”

“This is as much about architecture as it is about art for me,” she says. “They have an attractive element.”

She says of the result: “They turned out as beautiful objects. But I guess that’s the attraction of that architecture: it is really fascinating architecture but it has real darkness to it.”

Ní Ghrioghairr says she questioned whether she should actually go through with sculptures.

“Would it be seen as celebratory? It really mattered in how it was presented,” she says. She says she wants to make the sculptures “spot-lit” and “spooky” for the exhibition.

“I want people to be a bit uncomfortable while they’re here,” she says. “This is a vignette of history that most people don’t know.”

Ní Ghrioghair says she wants people to think about how to express nationalism: “Especially coming up to another commemoration period. How do we view ourselves?”

Ní Ghrioghair walks to her sculpture of two apartment blocks, sitting above the rest on a table. Hanly designed the Garden of Remembrance and Dublin City Council housing in the 1960s.

Photo by Aura McMenamin

The Hanly style of social housing is seen everywhere in the city, she says. So she recreated it for the exhibition.

Walking towards the end of the room, Ní Ghrioghair says she reimagined the Garden of Remembrance as the “Garden of Heroes”.

Cut into a valley, the Garden of Heroes has a tall, imposing obelisk in the centre with a large cross-shaped pool laying in front of it and several steps leading up to it.

The result is an ominous monument of light and dark tones that looks like the Speer-designed Cathedral of Light.

“All the national displays would take place here,” she says, pointing to the obelisk.

Knowing that Hanly designed the garden makes you think twice about it, she says.

She doesn’t want to attack Hanly personally, she says. “It’s more about the culture of the time. I don’t know enough about him personally to make a judgment, whether he changed later in life.”

The Declaration of the State Metropolis at Tara runs from 31 October to 16 November. Ní Ghrioghair will give a tour of the Ruins of the Former State Metropolis at Tara, on Thursday 14 November from 6pm.

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Aura McMenamin: Aura McMenamin is a city reporter covering the south side of the city, and jobs. You can reach her at aura@dublininquirer.com.

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