Building on Stones of Ireland: George Wilkinson's 'Practical Geology and Ancient Architecture' (1845)

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George Wilkinson (1813/4-1890) was an English architect employed by the Irish Poor Law Commissioners in 1839 to facilitate the construction of numerous workhouses throughout Ireland in response to growing numbers of homeless poor. While historians have written of the Poor Laws and the workhouses, Wilkinson’s contribution to the implementation of both merits further study, particularly in light of his broader views on architecture, Irish civilisation and the prospects for a country in a time of famine. Of equal interest to his buildings, though generally overlooked, is a treatise he published in 1845, titled Practical Geology and Ancient Architecture, which reveals both Wilkinson’s philosophical and practical concerns. In this book, ostensibly a survey of indigenous building materials, the architect and “petrologist” wrote of the need to honour traces of human settlement preserved in the forms of Ireland’s ancient monuments. In doing so, his text offers another, less explicit call to foster a sense of Irish identity, along with the country’s buildings. It is an argument that dovetails easily with the underlying rationale for the workhouse system that people, particularly the poor, are better off when they are fixed in one place as opposed to another.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)151-175
JournalEtudes Irlandaises
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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