One of the reasons we adore unique buildings is because they’re just that: unique. Think about it. You’re not going to find two examples of monasteries perched precariously on an Atlantic island. And there’s little chance of a gas lit pub with Italian panelling and service buttons having a twin.
Until now, you may have also thought that the White House, silent star of Lee Daniels' film The Butler, was one of a kind. We’ve got news for you: it has a little sister.
And if you don’t believe us, just ask the Irish president. He lives there.
Welcome to Dublin City. Welcome to one of Europe’s largest city parks, the Phoenix Park, and welcome to the White House in miniature: Áras an Uachtaráin (House of the President).
Thanks to movies like Oprah Winfrey’s The Butler, Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day and countless news bulletins, the White House is instantly recognisable. And while the Irish President’s abode isn’t exactly a mirror image (many say that it is Dublin’s Leinster House on which the White House template was based), it sure comes close. That angled three-point portico, those stoic Greek columns and those gleaming white-washed walls. Seeing double yet?
History of a house
But get this: the Áras, as it’s known locally, may be over 260 years old, but it has only housed Ireland’s presidents since 1938. Author, historian and founder of the Facebook project Wistorical, Turtle Bunbury tells us who and what went before.
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“The Áras was built by the banker and architect Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Clements. In April 1751, Nat was appointed Chief Ranger and Master of Game for Phoenix Park, overseeing the deer sanctuary established by the Great Duke of Ormonde nearly a century earlier”.
It was under this title that Clements built what was then known as Ranger’s Lodge. This, as Turtle tells us, “became home to the British Viceroy and is now Áras an Uachtaráin – the residence of the President of Ireland.”
Nathaniel 'Nat' Clements courtesy of Charlie and Sally Clements, Killadoon House
Let there be light
Since its build the Áras has come rather a long way. A gas line was connected to the building in 1852, and it took another candle-lit 56 years for electricity to reach its hallowed halls. The visits of Queen Victoria in 1856 and King George in 1911 also stirred Dublin’s builders and architects into action, seeing East and West wings added respectively.
But the Áras isn’t alone in the huge expanse of the Phoenix Park. Thousands of folks, including Beyoncé, have cycled through the 1752-acre spread, thanks to Paul McQuaid’s Phoenix Park Bike Hire ("I've had tonnes of visitors come back from a cycle and ask me why we've got a mini White House in the park," laughs Paul).
The Walled Gardens, too, are a constant hive of digging, planting and growing that reaches fever pitch at the annual Bloom Festival each June. Ask any Dublin kid what the Phoenix Park is famous for, though, and they won’t be long answering: The Zoo.
The Mini White House with a zoo. Kind of catchy, isn’t it?