Custom House - Open House Dublin 2024
Journal •

Custom House

In the heart of the city centre stands one of Dublin’s most iconic neo-classical buildings. The Custom House  has stood sentinel over the River Liffey for more than 200 years. 

Opened in 1791, the Custom House sits atop a timber raft that is ‘sunk’ into the water-logged trenches it was  built on. The area the Custom House is built on was reclaimed marsh-land from the River Liffey.  Commissioned by John Beresford, and designed by James Gandon, the Custom House took 10 years to  build. 

The Custom House is adorned with beautifully detailed sculptures, most made of the same material as the
building’s exterior, Portland stone. There were 3 sculptors who
worked on the statues: Thomas Banks, Agostino Carlini, and
Edward Smyth. Smyth’s talent as a sculptor was likened to that
of Michelangelo, and as such, it was he who created the
majority of the statues seen on the building today; his most
famous are the 14 riverine heads on the keystones of the
Custom House.

One of Smyth's Riverine Heads - the River Bann

In total there are 536 windows; at the time of Gandon’s design there were not so many, as he alternated the windows with his signature feature, blind niches. Four of these blind niches can still be seen today in the atrium of the building, which the dome shelters.

The Custom House has changed over its 231 years, both in its uses, and in its aesthetics. Today, the front façade of the building is home to a new Visitor Centre, now open to the public for tours.

But what would these walls say if they could talk?

Would these walls tell us of its problematic creation? Why the co-founder of the United Irishmen protested against the build of the new Custom House? Why Gandon couldn’t leave the house without a sword hidden in his cane?

Would these walls tell us of the irony of its statues? Why their representation symbolised something different just 10 years after their design?

Would these walls tell us of the bitterness and hatred that was harboured against the building by the Irish people? Why the IRA chose to consume it in fire as part of their fight for an independent Ireland?

To this day the Custom House, and its walls, carry the scars of its history, allowing the historians who work within it today the privilege of sharing its stories with the public.

The Custom House Visitor Centre
will be running a free specialist
architectural tour for Open House at
2:30pm Oct. 14th – 16th 2022. Please email to make a booking.

A guide giving a tour of the Custom House Visitor Centre to a visitor

Contributed by Shauna Fox

Photography credit goes to Office of Public Works



Instagram @customhousevisitorcentreopw

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Twitter @customhouseopw


Farrell, Audrey. Heritage Ireland, Issue 14, Summer 2021


Exterior of Custom House at night


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