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Mullingar courthouse reopens with a flourish – and a bill for €14m

23 Nov 2018 / courts Print

Mullingar courthouse reopened by Chief Justice

The refurbished and extended Mullingar courthouse was officially opened today by Chief Justice Frank Clarke.

This opening is the final part of a €140 million investment in a bundle of seven new courts which created almost 1,000 jobs in the construction industry.

Delighted

At the opening Justice minister Charlie Flanagan said: “I am delighted to be here in Mullingar for the official opening of the refurbished and extended courthouse building.

"It is going to be a busy courthouse.

"Almost 6,000 criminal, family law and civil matters were dealt with in Mullingar Circuit and District Courts in 2017. 

"While this is the final courthouse in the Courts PPP package, under the Government’s National Development Plan 2018-2027 further new and refurbished courthouses will be delivered in regional cities and county towns including Galway, Wicklow, Portlaoise, Tralee and Roscommon and provincial locations such as a Dungloe and Tuam.”

Further refurbishments promised

"While this is the final courthouse in the Courts PPP package, under the Government’s National Development Plan 2018-2027 further new and refurbished courthouses will be delivered in regional cities and county towns including Galway, Wicklow, Portlaoise, Tralee and Roscommon and provincial locations such as a Dungloe and Tuam.”

The completed building, with its prominent form and location, is the latest civic addition to the historic and evolving fabric of Mullingar after its €14 million extension and refurbishment. 

Floor area

It has a floor area of close to 3,257m2 and the capital cost was €14 million. 

Chief Justice Frank Clarke congratulated all those involved in the project and said at the opening: “The new courthouse here in Mullingar is built to reflect the best of current thinking on courthouse design, insofar as it is possible within the confines of an historic building. 

“The building is designed and built to be universally accessible and this is important to those with mobility difficulties and also as a symbol of the accessibility of justice in our community.”

Facilities

The building provides significantly improved facilities, with three courtrooms and a new public office. 

The family law courtroom is on a new floor, which did not exist in the original courthouse.

User facilities include a vulnerable witness suite, victim support room, legal practitioners’ room, enhanced custody facilities, media room, jury rooms, consultation rooms and other support facilities. 

All circulation routes within the building – public, staff/judiciary, custody and jury are fully accessible. 

Layout

A Courts Service spokesman said that the design and layout reflect the needs, privacy and dignity of all who are asked to work, appear before, or be held accountable for their actions, in the courts that sit there. 

The Mullingar courthouse architect, John Hargrave, was eminent in his day and the building is an accomplished Italianate classical composition, representing one of the most elegant examples of its type in Ireland. 

The courthouse was constructed in 1824 to 1829. A street of 26 houses and shops was demolished to make way for the courthouse at the time.

It replaced an older courthouse which stood in Pearse (then Earl) Street. The Westmeath Grand Jury had the courthouse constructed as a result of an Act of Parliament in 1813. The act required “The building and repairing of courthouses and session houses in Ireland”. It cost £6,700 to erect and was opened in the spring of 1829.

Tunnel

The courthouse was linked to Mullingar Jail by an underground tunnel, part of which survives.

The jail was demolished in 1910 for new county council buildings (although some parts remain and the foundation walls of parts of the jail are visible).

The courthouse was badly damaged in the ‘big wind’ of January 1839. 

Rich history

The Courthouse has had a rich history of uses and was the venue in 1843 for Westmeath Farming Society to hold a cattle show and was used for orchestral concerts in 1852. The building was also used as a polling station and election rallies were held outside the building. 

Mullingar Town Commissioners held their first meeting in the building in May 1856. 

Historian Ruth Illingworth notes that James Joyce accompanied his father to the courthouse in 1900 when his father was updating the electoral rolls.

Civil War

During the Civil War, anti-Treaty forces occupied the courthouse and county buildings but evacuated them undamaged but destroyed the RIC barracks. 

When the first gardaí arrived in Mullingar in 1922 they were housed in the courthouse where they remained until 1925.

The forecourt of the courthouse was reduced in the early 20th century including the removal of the original gate posts and the second entrance. 

There were significant interventions to the building in the 20th century including the insertion of a first floor in one of the courtrooms. The surviving courtroom was substantially remodelled in the 1970s. 

Nesting boxes

There are swift nesting boxes on the exterior and there is a bat cave in the attic. 

McCann FitzGerald were legal advisors on the project and Michael O’Boyle was the conservation architect.

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