The National Club at 11 Rutland Square held its inaugural dinner on 1st November 1887. On the occasion, Michael Davitt wished:
‘health, long life and prosperity to the National Club. It fills a void, long keenly felt in the national life of the city, which was once and please God will soon again be, the capital of an independent nation.‘
Freeman’s Journal, 02/11/1887 p. 6
The National Club was located next door to the Grand Orange Hall of Ireland at 12 Rutland Square. It was founded as a political debating and social club in June 1887, with subscriptions for club member ship costing 15s. The club boasted Billiard Tables, a Ball Court and gymnasium, as well as sleeping rooms for country members. Advertisements in the Freeman’s Journal also specified the non-sectarian nature of the Club.
Mr. John O’Leary, one of the club’s founders, presided over the inaugural dinner. O’Leary had returned to Dublin in 1885 following a period of imprisonment for treason and exile in Paris. He was an important figure within Dublin nationalist and cultural circles with W.B. Yeats, Maud Gonne and Katharine Tynan. Indeed O’Leary was elegised in Yeats’ poem ‘September 1913’:
‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.’
This poem was in part inspired by the lack of support for the establishment of a permanent Gallery to house the art collection first offered to Dublin by Sir Hugh Lane in the winter of 1904. Over 100 years later Lane’s collection can be seen at Dublin City Gallery the Hugh Lane at Charlemont House, 23 Parnell Square.
The club was partly funded by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was staunchly supportive of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Dublin Parnell Leadership Committee was based at the club in the 1890s. Charles Stewart Parnell addressed the crowds from the balcony of the National Club on a number of occasions including 24th February 1891 at a presentation of addresses to him by Gaelic Clubs. Following the meeting inside the Club, Parnell addressed the
‘thousands who thronged Rutland Square from the National Club to the Rotunda Garden railings, blocking all vehicular traffic, and the reception he obtained was one which will live long in the memory of all who saw it. ‘
Freeman’s Journal, 25/02/1891 p. 5
In June 1897 the National Club was the focal point for a show of defiance against the official celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Maud Gonne projected a series of lantern slides from the window of the Club, outdoors across the Square showing the real Ireland of hardship and evictions.
The National Club remained at 11 Rutland Square until 1900 when the building was taken over by Dublin County Council, established by the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. The distinctive raven and motto Beart do réir ár mbriathair above the door dates from this period.
The original lessee of No. 11 was Richard Steele, who leased the site from Luke Gardiner in April 1753, thus making No. 11 one of the earliest houses in the row. The house passed into the possession of John Butler of Kilkenny Castle, later Earl of Ormond and Ossory, in the 1770s and was widened with a second staircase added. However, structural alterations by the County Council at the turn of the 20th century removed many of the original Georgian features.
Today 11 Parnell Square is home to the Irish Heritage Trust and Poetry Ireland.
Membership Card for the National Club dated 1893 reproduced by kind permission from Áine Collins.