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Tunnel vision: Going underground at the Casino Marino

Eight underground tunnels leading out from Dublin’s 18th century Casino Marino… what are they there for?

Image: Paul Hyland/TheJournal.ie

IT HAS BEEN established that there are eight underground tunnels leading out from Dublin’s 18th century Casino Marino…

What is less clear is the purpose of the underground passageways.

Built from the year 1759 by James Caulfeild (1728 – 1799) the 1st Earl of Charlemont, the Casino was an homage to Caulfeild’s nine-year Grand Tour – a common trip taken by the young men of Europe’s upper-class – to Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt before he returned (a little grudgingly) to Ireland to carry out his lordly duties.

The Casino (meaning ‘little house’  in Italian), which was intended to be a reflection of the Italian lifestyle that Caulfeild loved, was built as a pleasure house for the gardens of the estate’s main house, Marino, and shared the sprawling gardens with horned sheep and pineapple trees.

Architect Sir William Chambers, who designed much of Dublin, was in charge of the project – which is now hailed as one of the finest 18th century neo-classical buildings in Europe.

What were the tunnels used for?

The Casino’s tunnels, like the house itself, are approximately 250 years old – but they have never been the subject of an archaeological excavation, guide Rose Anne White told TheJournal.ie.

While some of the spaces would probably have been used for storing fuel or foodstuffs, White explains, the main house of the Marino estate already had ample storage space – so the reason behind the garden’s small pleasure house having eight tunnels has never been satisfactorily explained.

Neither has the reason why they vary so much in structure.

The passageways are not uniform in size or supposed purpose; varying in length from between 10 and 20 ft. Some have steps that lead down to natural springs, while others have several mysterious alcoves carved into their walls.

Tunnel vision: Going underground at the Casino Marino
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  • Stone lion

  • "The temple"

  • Let there be light

  • Natural spring

  • Tunnel vision

  • Deep water

  • Knock, knock

  • The long tunnel

  • Fresh air

  • Tunnel

  • Light at the end of the tunnel

  • The pantry

  • Pipe dreams

  • Entrance hall

  • Servants quarters

  • Rooftop view

  • To the memory of poor Nep

The longest tunnel was originally linked to main house, which was demolished in 1920s to make way for Ireland’s first affordable housing project. And, to provide light and air to those travelling along the passageway, a number of grates where dug from the ceiling. White says this passage was most likely used by servants moving between the main house and the Casino – and by the master of the estate last at night (probably after an ale or two).

Tucked into the left side of this tunnel are two large rooms with curved ceilings and - seemingly useless – inner window spaces. A supposed second passageway – now blocked off – veers to the right of the main route. It is believed that the second passage, along with the main tunnel to Marino House, were blocked by the Christian Brothers when they took over the estate. However, White points out, without a proper excavation, details are frustratingly hazy.

The rumour mill

However, the lack of hard facts hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from spinning over the last century or so, and local stories paint a very colourful picture of life underground at Marino – complete with whispers of Masonic meetings and freedom fighters on the run.

One of the most popular stories claims that the first machine gun in Ireland was fired in the long tunnel during the War of Independence, as the underground passageway could muffle the sounds of target practice. White says that historic documents indicate guns were hidden at a location in or around Marino – which was an area sympathetic to the Republican cause – but unfortunately, the exact place is unknown. Rumours that Michael Collins was hidden from the British authorities in the passageway have also still to be proven.

Inside the temple

Inside the Casino itself are several signs that have given rise to speculation the house was a Masonic lodge – not least of all a huge blazing star set into wooden floor of the entrance hall. However, White explains that Lord Caulfeild, as many of his time, was deeply interested in astrology, symbolism and the occult as well as – quite frankly – showing off: the plethora of symbolic imagery at the Casino include goat’s heads, signs of the Zodiac and stone lions – and demonstrated his sophistication to guests. The house itself, nicknamed “the temple”, was built in the shape of a Greek cross.

Unfortunately for Caulfeild, his decades-long obsession with the Casino eventually bankrupted him and, after his death, his son was forced to sell most of the cultural treasures he amassed over his lifetime. Fortunately for us, the restored and wonderfully maintained building remains one of the accomplished examples of neo-classical architecture in Ireland and one of the finest garden temples in Europe.

The Casino is located at Marino, just off the Malahide Road and only three miles north of the centre of Dublin.

More from TheJournal.ie’s Hidden Ireland series…

In pics: Hidden Ireland – Dublin’s pawnbrokers>

Read: What has happened to Ireland’s workhouses?

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