Kildare Street Club

Kildare Street Club

In Brief

At the turn of the century the "Kildare street club" was Dublin's most exclusive men's club, catering to the Anglo-Irish gentry in a striking building just south of Trinity College. Dress was important: Bloom thinks in Circe of a "Kildare street club toff," and Tom Kernan proudly supposes that his splendid second-hand topcoat may once have turned heads there: "Some Kildare street club toff had it probably." ("Toff," according to the OED, is "An appellation given by the lower classes to a person who is stylishly dressed or who has a smart appearance; a swell; hence, one of the well-to-do, a 'nob'.")

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Founded in 1782 for males of the Ascendancy class, the Club originally occupied a house on Kildare Street, and then two houses, but by the 1850s it was doing so well that more space was needed, and three houses on Kildare and Leinster Streets were demolished to make space for a grand new L-shaped structure. This new building, designed by Benjamin Woodward and Thomas Newenham Deane, the architect who designed the National Library and National Museum, opened in 1860. It featured highly distinctive arched windows with pairs of slender columns between them, and "whimsical beasts" carved around the bases of the columns. These animals are often said to have been carved by the O'Shea brothers, but Robert Nicholson attributes the work to C. W. Harrison (Ulysses Guide, 176).

Perhaps the animals were playing in George Moore's mind when he composed an unforgettable portrait of the club in the first chapter of Parnell and His Island (1877):

The Kildare Street Club is one of the most important institutions in Dublin. It represents in the most complete acceptation of the word the rent party in Ireland; better still, it represents all that is respectable, that is to say, those who are gifted with an oyster-like capacity for understanding this one thing: that they should continue to get fat in the bed in which they were born. This club is a sort of oyster-bed into which all the eldest sons of the landed gentry fall as a matter of course. There they remain spending their days, drinking sherry and cursing Gladstone in a sort of dialect, a dead language which the larva-like stupidity of the club has preserved. The green banners of the League are passing, the cries of a new Ireland awaken the dormant air, the oysters rush to their window—they stand there open-mouthed, real pantomime oysters, and from the corner of Frederick Street a group of young girls watch them in silent admiration.
The Club had its own cricket ground, billiard rooms, card-playing rooms, reading rooms, and drinking rooms. In his notes for Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist, Gifford quotes one member to the effect that it was "the only place in Ireland where one can enjoy decent caviar."

Independence in 1922 spelled the end of the club's growth and the beginning of its slow decline. It eventually merged with the Dublin University Club and moved to new premises on the north side of St. Stephen's Green. The building on Kildare Street still stands, but it is now used by other organizations, particularly the Alliance Française.

JH 2019
The newly built Kildare Street Club in 1860. Source: