History of the Courthouse
The building is of National significance and is an important part of the architectural, historical and social heritage of Mullingar. Its Architect, John Hargrave, was one of the most eminent Architects of his day and the Courthouse is one of his most significant works. It 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. It replaced an older Courthouse which stood in Pearse (then Earl) Street. The Westmeath Grand Jury had the Courthouse constructed further to 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.
The Courthouse was linked to Mullingar Jail by an underground tunnel, part of which survives. The construction of the new jail was ordered by the Westmeath Grand Jury in 1819 and £11,626 was given for the building project in 1823. Historically both the Courts and County Council evolved from the Grand Jury system. 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.
The Courthouse has had a rich history of uses. In addition to Court use it was used in 1843 by Westmeath Farming Society to hold a cattle show in the Courthouse yard, and the building 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.
Ruth Illingworth carried out work on the history of the building for The Courts Service. She notes that James Joyce accompanied his father to the Courthouse in 1900 when his father was updating the electoral rolls. During the Civil War anti treaty forces occupied the courthouse and county buildings but evacuated them undamaged but destroyed the RIC barracks. Consequently when the first Gardai 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 1970’s.
Courthouse Facilities: Adaptation & Extension in 2018
The adaptation and extension of the existing Mullingar Courthouse building has allowed the Courts Service to provide appropriate modern facilities for a historic county town, while contributing to the ongoing regeneration and evolution of the town. The building provides significantly improved Courthouse facilities for all its users and allows the continued use of the building for its original purpose and consolidates civic uses in this part of the town.
Facilities in the extended building, now approaching 3,257m2, include 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. The courtrooms are all accessible. All circulation routes within the building – public, staff/judiciary, custody and jury are fully accessible.
The overall new composition respects the existing building and the extension uses similar high quality stone materials whilst providing a contemporary expression of an important civic function.
Internally the building is organised around the original central stone staircase. There are three Courtrooms, one at each level of the building. The central location of the Courtrooms allows the functional ease of circulation routes for Judges, Jury, the Public, and those in custody to be optimised.
The completed building, is the latest civic development of the historic and evolving fabric of Mullingar Town and will contribute to the life of the town and county for many years into the future.
The design and layout of the building reflects the needs, privacy and dignity of all who are asked to work, appear before, or be held accountable for their actions, in the courts which sit there. It is in keeping with the best standards of design and construction of courthouses in the world.
The main public staircase is self-supporting with cantilevered stair threads – which was a significant feat of engineering in its day. It has been restored to its original self-supporting configuration after a number of decades of being supported by a steel frame.
Mullingar Courthouse doesn’t just house court activities. It is home to some other creatures. There are swift nesting boxes on the exterior and there is a ‘bat cave’ in the attic.
Mullingar Courthouse is supported by Mullingar Court Office