James Gandon, Dublin's best known architect, was responsible for such works in Dublin as the Four Courts, the Custom House, the King's Inns and additions to the Parliament House (now the Bank of Ireland).
Gandon was born in London of Huguenot extraction. At the age of 14 he was sent to Shipley's Drawing Academy where he studied the classics, mathematics, arts and particularly architecture. He met many of his future friends during his two years at Shipley's, at the end of which he became apprenticed to William Chambers. At that time Chambers was in the midst of composing his great work, his Treatise on Civil Architecture. Gandon's drawings are among these. Apart from the Treatise, work included the Arch at Wilton and the Casino at Marino, Kew.
In 1765, Gandon finished his association with William Chambers and began work on Sir Samuel Hillier's estate near Wolverhampton. Gandon's practice grew slowly and remained small. His first major work was Shire Hall in Nottingham, for use by the Grand Jury, which commenced in 1769. At the same time he entered a design in the competition for a new Royal Exchange for Dublin. The design entered by Thomas Cooley was chosen, Gandon's design was second.
He was married on 26th July, 1770 to Miss Eleanor Smullen, Covent Garden. They bought a house in London and had six children. From 1771 to 1777 little is known of his architectural work. In 1780 a Russian Princess invited him to Russia to build in St. Petersburg. This offer included an official post with a military rank. Instead he accepted an offer from the Right Honourable John Beresford, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Revenue, to design a new Custom House in Dublin. Gandon arrived in Dublin on 26th April 1781 but work did not commence for a couple of months as there was angry opposition from the merchants who were against the relocation from the existing Custom House at Capel Street Bridge. The first stone was eventually laid on 8th August 1781 and was completed in 1791. During the building of the Custom House, Gandon went to London to visit his wife and family. He intended to sell his house and return to Dublin with his family but his wife was ill and died soon after his arrival. He returned to Dublin in March 1782 with his three youngest children; James aged eight,Mary Anne aged ten and Elizabeth aged six.
In 1784 Gandon undertook the building of the new courthouse in Waterford. During the 1780's Gandon became a consultant to the Wide Streets Commissioners of Dublin and designed a number of buildings including Carlisle Bridge and improvements to the Rotunda lying-in hospital and gardens. Meanwhile he was commissioned to make extensions to the Parliament House, Westmoreland Street. Work commenced in May 1785 and was completed by 29th April 1789, at a cost of just over twenty thousand pounds.
After the death of Thomas Cooley in 1784, James Gandon was appointed to complete the work of building the new Four Courts. The foundation was laid on 3rd March 1786. 1798 the foundations were laid for the east wing of the remaining offices. Work was finally completed in 1802.
The King's Inns was his last great building in Dublin. Standing with Henrietta Street to its rear and Constitution Hill to its front, it was built between 1795 and 1827. It has recently been extensively restored by the Benchers of the Honorable Society of King's Inns. The dining room there now contains the only Gandon interior (apart from some rooms inside the east portico of the Bank of Ireland building) to survive intact in a major public building. All the others have been burnt or bombed during the wars of the early 20th century or have since been radically altered.
After a long and fruitful life he was buried by his own request in the grave of his lifelong friend, Francis Grose in Drumcondra Cemetery. The inscription reads: "Such was the respect in which Gandon was held by his neighbours and friends from around his home in Lucan that they refused carriages and walked the 16 miles to and from Drumcondra on the day of his funeral."