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TCD unveils renovation of its oldest building, once a murder scene

The Rubrics, which is 320 years old, has reopened after €12.5m renovation

Trinity College Dublin’s oldest building, and the scene of the university’s only known murder, has reopened following a €12.5 million restoration, conservation and modernisation programme.

The Rubrics building, “Ireland’s oldest surviving purpose-built residential building”, according to the university, was built between 1699 and 1705 and has since been in continuous use for housing.

The first structure built on Library Square, the Rubrics sits at its eastern end, making it visible straight ahead after passing through the university’s front gate. Thomas Burgh’s library to the south of the square, which houses the Book of Kells was built around 1712.

Two further red brick residential buildings, similar to the Rubrics were built to the west and north completely enclosing the square. The western building was demolished around 1850 to make way for the campanile while the northern building, which became known as “Rotten Row”, was demolished in the 1890s and replaced by the Graduates Memorial Building.


Despite enduring the ignominy of several insensitive interventions over the years, including the addition of pebble-dash to its rear and internal partitions that in some cases ran down the centre of windows, the Rubrics, which consists of five adjoining houses, has survived. However, it had become increasingly dilapidated, with rotten floorboards and peeling plaster in some rooms.

While parts of the building had been upgraded over the years a decision was made in 2017 to undertake a complete refurbishment programme, externally and internally, preserving original fabric, but also bringing the building up to modern living standards.

“In 2016 we had external consultants in who identified a number of issues, including fire safety concerns that had to be addressed if it was to continue as accommodation,” said Prof Kevin O’Kelly of the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering.

“We had got to the point where we had to make a decision to either mothball the building, or undertake a complete refurbishment, and even if we mothballed it, it’s a national monument and we’d still have to look after it, so in 2017 we decided to go with the refurbishment.”

The work involved the restoration of the roof, original floorboards and windows, and the removal of many 20th-century “features” including plywood that had been nailed over original floors. Modern kitchens and bathrooms were also installed resulting in a total of 17 one-bed apartments, nine student rooms and five guest rooms, along with research spaces.

The project also involved a complete energy upgrade of the building, said Prof O’Kelly.

“We drilled 21 boreholes in the ground outside to a depth of 175m – that’s 1½ times the size of the Spire – for a ground source heat pump and that provides 100 per cent of the heat for the building and 80 per cent of the hot water.”

The rooms will be used to accommodate students, but also new staff for up to six months while they search for permanent accommodation in Dublin.

In its history, the building had many famous residents, including former president Douglas Hyde and writers Oliver Goldsmith and John McGahern, but it has also had a brush with Infamy. In 1734 junior dean Edward Ford was shot dead in his rooms in the Rubrics by a mob of drunken students, who considered him an overly harsh disciplinarian.

While Ford’s has been the only recorded murder on the campus, in 1695 Trinity provost George Brown was killed when hit on the head during a student riot. His family clearly held no ill will against the college as his estate part-funded the £4,000 it cost to build the Rubrics.

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Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times