Kilkenny’s Connection to the US: The Story of James Hoban

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Kilkenny’s Connection to the United States: The Story of James Hoban

Kilkenny’s Connection to the United States: The Story of James Hoban

In 1785 a Kilkenny born architect travelled to the United States and would go on to design one of the most famous addresses in the world. From humble beginnings to influencing the world of architecture as we know it, discover the story of James Hoban.

Who was James Hoban?

Born to poor tenant farmers, James Hoban began life in humble conditions in a thatched cottage on the estate of the Earl of Desart in Callan. But early on, the young boy showed promise. At his family home in Cuffesgrange near Callan, he trained as a wheelwright and then a carpenter. Working against the picturesque backdrop of the stately Desart House would go on to greatly influence his future work. But that isn’t the only part of his heritage that lay the groundwork for his future success. The Earl of Desart soon took notice of the young Hoban’s skills and sponsored his studies in Dublin. Hoban excelled in the prestigious Dublin Society’s Drawing School where he went on to win the lauded Duke of Leinster’s medal. After working on various projects in Ireland, Hoban made the bold move to follow his dreams to the United States at the age of thirty.

Laying Foundations

Hoban soon found work as an architect in Philadelphia. Though he made a respectable living working on projects within the district, Hoban had ambitions of a far greater scale. Not long after emigrating, Hoban moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he cemented his reputation as a sought-after architect and eventually attracted the attention of George Washington in 1791 during the President’s Southern Tour. On the president’s advice, Hoban made another move to the District of Columbia the following year where he submitted a bid in a competition to design the Presidential residence.

The Biggest Project Yet

Hoban’s design, which was inspired by Leinster House in Dublin, won the competition and work on the White House began on 12th October 1792, running until 1800. However, Hoban’s hard work was frustrated by the ‘Burning of Washington’ when a British attack against Washington D.C. left the White House in ashes. Only the charred husk of its façade was still standing when the smoke settled. Undeterred, Hoban set about restoring the building which was eventually completed in 1817. Apart from expansion work including the addition of the North and South Porticoes and the West and East Wings, Hoban’s design is still standing proud on Capitol Hill as a symbol of democracy and the power of belief.

Lasting Legacy

Hoban has left an indelible mark on architecture in Ireland, America, and the world beyond. To commemorate his profound legacy, the Irish Post Office took part in its first joint issue with the United States Postal Services issuing the ‘James Hoban Commemoration Stamp’. Though he remained elusive in life and only one portrait of him is known to be in existence, three memorials in Kilkenny also celebrate the famed Architect, along with the Hoban Hotel, named in his honour. And of course, one need only look to one of the most well-known addresses to see the enduring legacy of the Kilkenny native.

With the extraordinary journey of James Hoban, we are reminded of the profound impact one individual's skill, determination, and vision can have on the world. From a modest beginning in Kilkenny to leaving an indelible mark on the architectural landscape of the United States, Hoban's story is a testament to the idea that talent and hard work can transcend boundaries and epochs. It’s also a reminder of the connection Kilkenny has with the wider world. Kilkenny’s history is not restricted by its county borders, or even to the island of Ireland for that matter. And, it's for that reason visitors and friends come from far and wide to experience kilkenny.

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