The largest scale restoration project the Cathedral has seen, the Guinness Restoration saved the 19th century building from near certain ruin.
Restoration and preservation is a constant concern for the guardians of the Cathedral, both today and in the past. By the early 19th Century, the cathedral had fallen into a state of complete disrepair. So much so in fact that it was thought to be cheaper to knock the entire building and rebuild it from scratch rather than attempt a restoration. Thankfully this did not turn out to be the case due to the generosity of Benjamin Lee Guinness, a member of the cathedral congregation and grandson of Arthur Guinness.
Guinness had an amateur interest in architecture and so offered to fund a full-scale restoration of the building on the condition that the governing body of the Cathedral gave him free rein to make whatever decisions he thought appropriate in the design of the building. Faced with the prospect of losing the building entirely if they did not grant him this request the Dean and Chapter gladly accepted his generous offer.
The Cathedral we see today is much changed from the original medieval cathedral as a result of this restoration project which was carried out between 1860 and 1865. The main change made by Benjamin Lee Guinness was to remove the interior divisions that would have existed within the Cathedral up until this point; namely the stone pulpitum that would have separated the Choir space from the rest of the Nave, and the walls which would have divided the transepts from the rest of the building, turning the North Transept into the Chapel of Saint Nicholas Without, and the South Transept into the Chapter House of the Cathedral. When the Cathedral reopened in an elaborate ceremony in 1865, Benjamin Lee Guinness was presented with a book of thanks, containing the signatures of Cathedral representatives and the people of Dublin.
Benjamin Lee’s sons continued his generous work by adding the tiles to the floor of the Cathedral and by donating a stained glass window. To this day the Guinness family are generous supporters of the Cathedral and remain an important presence in the life of the Cathedral.
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