Sir John Benson was a distinguished Irish architect in the nineteenth century.
Benson was born in Collooney, County Sligo in 1812. The original house was described as ‘a comfortable one storey thatched house in the village of Collooney’. Later alterations to the house extended it and introduced a slate roof.
At an early age he showed architectural ability, and Edmund Joshua Cooper of Markree Castle, Collooney, sent him at the age of 21 to ‘a technical school in Dublin’. This was the only architectural training that Benson received.
While in Sligo, he worked on alterations to Markree Castle. He designed Victoria Bridge later renamed Hyde (1846), Holy Cross Priory, Sligo Town, (1846) and Church of Assumption, Collooney (1843).
He was later appointed as County Surveyor in Cork and left Sligo. This is where he designed the majority of his work. He designed the Athenaeum which later was the Opera House; as well as the Shandon Butter Market; the Central Markets on Princes Street; and various churches. Benson returned to Sligo in 1864, when he was chosen to be an adjudicator of the Sligo Town Hall design competition.
One of his greatest successes was designing the Crystal Palace exhibition building which was located on the lawns of Leinster House, Dublin. He was knighted for his work at the 1853 exhibition.
The Great Industrial Exhibition in 1853 was held in Dublin. In its day, it was the largest international event to be held in Ireland. The Irish Industrial Exhibition Building, located on the grounds of Leinster House, housed the entire fair. It lasted from the 12 May to 31 October, Queen Victoria made an official visit on 29 August 1853. The exhibition was run to showcase Irish designs and industries, such as the furniture, linen and lace industry. It also was the first world fair to display fine art paintings and photographs.
It was stated that the large ornate glass dome-shaped building left ‘visitors struck with the richness and splendour of the building more than by any of the objects that it contained’.
Benson married Mary Clementina Pyne in 1849 and had no children. Due to ill-health brought on by overwork, he was advised to move to England. Benson died on 17 October 1874 at Alexander Square, Brompton, ‘where he had been residing for some time with Lady Benson’.
O’Rorke, Terence, History of Sligo
Collooney local page: < homepage.tinet.ie/~jas/benson.html >
Architect Biography: < en.wikisource.org/wiki/Benson,_John_(DNB00)ar >
Image of Friary: National Library of Ireland – http://www.nli.ie/
Architect Cork info: < archiseek.com >
Architect info: < http://www.dia.ie >
Other images (Authors own)