Restoring an Icon

Ireland’s legendary Shelbourne will reopen in the fall

By: Maryann Hammers

"I’m not just restoring a hotel. I’m restoring a piece of Ireland,” said Liam Doyle, general manager of The Shelbourne. “The Irish have had a love affair with this hotel for almost 200 years.”

After closing in March 2005 for a major restoration, The Shelbourne will reopen in time for the Ryder Cup in September. Upon its reopening, it will for the first time wave the Renaissance flag.

Ireland’s best-known and best-loved hotel, The Shelbourne was mentioned in James Joyce’s “Ulysess;” the Irish Consititution was drafted here in 1922; and authors have written entire novels about the place.

Its guests have included William Thackeray, Princess Grace, the Dalai Lama and President Kennedy. Its location is literally and figuratively in the heart of Dublin, next door to the Parliament and across from St. Stephen’s Green.

“The Shelbourne is the center of Dublin, from a communal, literary and social perspective,” Doyle said.

While the renovation project is so massive that at this writing The Shelbourne looks more like a dusty construction site than a fine hotel, Doyle promises everything will be painstakingly returned to its original splendor. Ceilings that had been lowered during the 1950s are being punched out, revealing their original soaring heights; chandeliers have been temporarily whisked away to restore the intricate gold-leaf design. The elevator, built in 1906 and holding no historical or nostalgic value, will be removed to better highlight the original sweeping 1824 staircase.

“Everything will be as it was designed to be,” Doyle said.

The hotel’s most beloved spots to meet for a drink and a chat will remain exactly where and how they always were just a bit spiffed up. Lord Mayor’s Lounge will continue to be a favorite of Dublin locals and high society, who come for morning coffee and traditional afternoon tea. And politicians and playwrights can continue to belly up to the dark and windowless Horseshoe Bar. Their favorite stool will be waiting. A Dublin landmark for more than 50 years, the Horseshoe is especially popular with the community.

“This is a ‘champagne-and-Guiness’ bar and it’s in the hearts and minds of many a Dubliner,” said Doyle.

Constructed in 1750 as side-by-side Georgian townhomes on fashionable St. Stephen’s Green, The Shelbourne has operated as a hotel since 1824. From the very beginning, it catered to the cream of Irish society. In 1863, it was renovated in mid-Victorian style, designed to compete with Paris and London’s finest hotels. By 1867, the new facade and interior were complete, with a coffee room, ladies coffee room, table d’hote room, reading room, smoking room, billiards room, hairdressing room and telegraph office, as well as 15 bedrooms with bathroom and 24 first-class sitting rooms arranged en suite.

During the 1916 Easter Rising, more than 1,000 Irish men and women rebelled on the streets of Dublin against British rule, but that didn’t stop the fine ladies of the city from convening for afternoon tea. Only when a sniper’s bullet blew off the roses pinned to one of the women’s hats did the guests put down their teacups and hurry to the hotel’s reading room for safety. Six years later the constitution for the new Irish Free State was drafted at The Shelbourne, in Room 112 (now called The Constitution Suite, reserved for functions).

“This,” Doyle said, reverently pausing in the sun-drenched room, “is the best real estate in all of Ireland.”


For pre-opening reservations or information, see or call the pre-opening suite at 353-1-663-4500.

Book reservations through 800-627-7468;

Commission: 8-10 percent.

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