St Patrick and Ireland

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Click on the 'hot spots' below to find out how Ireland is represented in the Houses of Parliament's art and architecture.

St Patrick and Ireland

The fire that destroyed the old Houses of Parliament in 1834 created an unprecedented opportunity to erect a purpose-built parliamentary building for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. As a result, much of the decoration relates to the four nations - England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales - then governed from Westminster.

Sir Charles Barry and AWN Pugin were responsible for the architecture and decorative arts of the new Palace of Westminster. Their schemes contain many images of the four national patron saints, as well as heraldic symbols that relate to the four nations.

A royal commission chaired by Prince Albert oversaw the ‘fine arts’. Like Barry and Pugin, the Fine Arts Commission drew on national emblems and the figures of the patron saints to emphasize the building’s position as the home of the United Kingdom’s legislature.

Later decorative schemes often followed these earlier examples.

This is one of four mosaics depicting the patron saints of Great Britain and Ireland in the Central Lobby of the Palace of Westminster. The scheme was set out by the Fine Arts Commission in 1847: ‘bearing in mind that the Hall is the central point of the whole building...the nationality of the component parts of the United Kingdom should be the idea here illustrated and would be appropriately expressed by representations of the four Patron Saints’.

The mosaic was designed by Professor Robert Anning Bell and made by a team led by mosaicist Gertrude Martin in 1924. In 1922 Ireland had been divided into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (which later became the Republic of Ireland). To reflect this division St Columba and the Red Hand of Ulster (on the left) were used to represent Northern Ireland, while St Brigid and the Irish harp (on the right) represented the Irish Free State.