Kings and queens never lived in Dublin Castle, but it is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions and its image appears on many Irish gifts. Constructed in 1204 on a Viking site, the original Dublin Castle burned down in 1684. Visitors to the rebuilt Georgian castle today can still see traces of the Viking ruins and the first castle, including the round tower that survived the blaze.
Dublin Castle sits in the heart of the city, a couple of blocks south of the River Liffey on bustling Dame Street. It’s a stone’s throw from popular spots including Christchurch Cathedral, the Olympia Theatre and the Temple Bar district. In addition to busloads of tourists, many gold Irish gifts have passed through this building. It houses the Assay Office.
Since 1637, the Assay Office has had responsibility for hallmarking gold and silver pieces made in Ireland. If your Irish gifts include fine jewelry, you can see this tiny mark on them. The design of Irish hallmarks has changed many times over the years, but basically it includes initials to indicate who made it, the Assay Office’s unique Hibernia hallmark, and a number to show the purity of the metal. Those are the compulsory hallmarks. On occasion, the Assay Office has also used special optional marks to mark the event, so to speak! In 1973, a special hallmark celebrated Ireland’s entry into the European Community as it was then. In 1988, a mark was designed using the three towers of County Dublin’s crest to commemorate the city’s millennium.
Dublin Castle Then & Now
From the time the original castle was built until Irish independence in 1922, Dublin Castle was home to British rule in Ireland. The viceroy and visiting royalty stayed and entertained at the castle, and today tourists can visit the State Apartments where lavish social events were hosted. Of course, the castle was also where more mundane bureaucracy happened.
When Ireland gained independence, the British surrendered Dublin Castle to the new government. The State Apartments continued to host elegant parties with distinguished guests including Benjamin Franklin, Princess Grace of Morocco, John F. Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle and Nelson Mandela.
Today, Dublin Castle is a beloved landmark featuring a lovely park that draws office workers seeking some fresh air on their lunch break as well as tourists from near and far. The castle has its own museum featuring a fine collection of paintings as well as period furniture, tapestries, stained glass and textiles. The Chester Beatty Library and Museum is also located within the castle’s grounds. Once a private collection, the museum is now open to the public showcasing manuscripts, rare books and artwork from Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
Throughout all the changes, the Assay Office continued along assessing silver and metal and hallmarking it. The symbols marked on silver and gold Irish gifts changed over time, but for centuries have assured people of the purity of the gold and silver used in the jewelry they purchased.