The Second City of the British Empire
Dublin thrived in the eighteenth century, becoming the fifth-largest city in Europe. The ruling class supported arts and higher education and produced some of the most famous thinkers of the day.
The city of Dublin flourished during the Ascendancy. Aristocrats built themselves grand houses in the Georgian style. Urban planners designed a system of bridges and roads that allowed Dublin to expand into a city that stunned visitors from other countries, who didn't expect to find urban grandeur in Ireland.
One of the cultural highlights of the Ascendancy period was the world premiere of Handel's oratorio
The stability of the 1700s allowed professional and intellectual societies to develop and the arts to flourish. The Dublin Society was founded in 1731 to encourage the arts, manufacturing, and agriculture; its members helped develop a distinctively Irish style of architecture and sponsored many large projects, such as botanical gardens and drawing schools. The Royal Irish Academy, founded in 1785, encouraged the study of Irish culture and history.
Many of Ireland's most beautiful country estates, gardens, and urban architecture date to the Protestant Ascendancy period. One impressive estate is Powerscourt House in Enniskerry, near Dublin (its famous gardens weren't built until the nineteenth century). Phoenix Park, opened in 1747, is one of the largest city parks in the world — more than twice as big as New York's Central Park. The Custom House, built in the 1780s, was the first major project of the famous architect James Gandon. He followed this project with designs for the Four Courts, consisting of the High Court and Supreme Court of Ireland. Gandon also had a hand in renovating the cupola of the spectacular Rotunda Hospital, opened in 1757 as Europe's first maternity hospital.
Trinity College came into its prime in the 1700s. Queen Elizabeth I founded it in 1592 to provide an institute of higher education for Protestants in Ireland; for most of its history, it has been completely Protestant. (Catholics were eventually admitted in 1970; the majority of current students are Catholic.)
Many of the college's most important buildings were designed and built in the 1700s, including the Old Library, which now houses the Book of Kells. Trinity College was open to a variety of social classes; though everyone who went there was Anglican (and male), they were certainly not all noblemen. Many famous Irish men of this period got their start there.
One of Trinity's most famous graduates was George Berkeley. He was born in Kilkenny in 1685 and went to Trinity at the age of fifteen, where he proved to be a whiz at philosophy. As an Anglican bishop, he tried to convert Catholics to Protestantism, but he was relatively tolerant of their beliefs. He helped found the University of Pennsylvania, and Berkeley, California, was named after him.