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The small house with big ideas...

You can find many things in the suburbs of Dublin – decent pubs full of local characters, pleasant parks, Indian restaurants, sometimes even small theatres and tennis clubs, but it's rare that you find one of the finest 18th-Century neoclassical buildings in Europe. Welcome to Marino and more specifically, the Casino in Marino.

Take the right turn after Nazareth House on the Malahide Road and the entrance is through an imposing set of gates and a housing estate.

A broad shaded path surrounded by grass leads you to the building and the noise of the Malahide Road becomes a distant murmur.


Casino means 'small house' and from the road that's just what it looks like – a one-storey, one-room, building. Of course, it's much larger up close, with imposing Doric columns and a steps leading up to a giant door made of Irish oak. But 16 rooms? No way.

The entrance is through the basement and you're into the servants' quarters with its cool stone floors. Here is the kitchen, pantry, scullery, wet room, dry room and the staff offices. It's an eight-four-four formation from the basement up and as I can make out eight rooms on this level, I'm beginning to think this might just work. This funny little building on the Malahide Road, could be a lot cleverer than it looks.

First, a word about the man who created it. By all accounts, when Lord Charlemont hit his teenage years he had a fondness for the temptations and taverns of Dublin and so was packed off on a grand tour of Europe. His lasted nine years and though he travelled widely, he fell in love with the Italian way of life.

He was eventually dragged back to Ireland, given an estate and forced to take part in the life of the nobility. During his travels he had met an architect William Chambers and it was to Chambers he turned to build his retreat, full of illusion and trickery.

Chambers plays with your perception. Large windows cover several floor levels, so you get sneaky glimpses of sections of the windows as you climb the stairs. The glass is curved to hide the dimensions of the rooms inside, to give privacy and, also, back in the day, to protect silk wall coverings (they're sort of like sunglasses for the building).

In the vestibule, what looks like a huge door from the outside is far smaller inside. Throughout the building, doors, windows and alcoves are have been placed purely to create symmetry and clean lines and balance. Curved doors and domed ceilings play with your perception of the space you're in and you're not distracted by colour as the walls are white.

There are 'jib' doors (or joke doors) set into the walls and the beautiful wooden floors display geometric symbols. In one room, there's a hexagram (or is it the Star of David?). Chambers himself said it was a six-sided Chinese star. Apollo appears in a sunburst on the ceiling.

The tiniest room is the Zodiac Room, which has a domed ceiling displaying the signs of the zodiac. Looking into the dome has a disorientating effect after a while. The western (feminine) side of the house has a ladies' drawing room where they did needlepoint and drank tea.


A bit like the Tardis, it's a lot larger inside and it's quite hard to orientate yourself, once inside. As Deirdre, our guide puts it, as you go higher in the building the centre is rising and the east and west sides are falling.

There's no fancy stucco work on the top floor but there is a cleverly designed accordion door to allow the ladies up on to the roof where they would sketch on sunny days.

The state bedroom, or audience chamber, is where Lord Charlemont would have received visitors – reclining on a bed, surrounded by ionic columns decorated with gold leaf.

Water drains off the roof and into four hollow doric columns, which bring the water into the sub soil. Apparently, Chambers saw this method of drainage in China.

Eight tunnels run out of the basement area. Some house today's toilets, one had an ice house, one had a well and one ran to Lord Charlemont's main house, half a kilometre away.

I'm seriously impressed. In the blazing sunshine, four stone lions sit at the four corners of the building, grinning sardonically from their plinths.

Adult entry costs €3