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Born in a thatched cottage on the estate of the Cuffe family, Earls of Desart at Cuffesgrange, near Callan in County Kilkenny, Ireland, James Hoban rose from journeyman carpenter and wheelwright to become the architect of the world's most famous house. Little is known of the Hoban family's connection to the Cuffes, other than that Hoban's father Edward worked as a tenant farmer or an estate laborer on the Desart Court lands.

Map of Ireland, 1797.

Library of Congress

A View of Kilkenny by Thomas Mitchell, 1757.

The National Gallery of Ireland

His mother Martha's maiden name was Bayne, and he had at least three siblings, Joseph, Philip, and Ann. Hoban, educated at the estate school, probably displayed a talent for drawing and design. With Lord Otway Cuffe's consent, and possibly his patronage, young Hoban attended the Dublin Society's Drawing School.

Hoban surely excelled in his studies, as he received the prestigious Duke of Leinster's medal for drawings of "Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs, & c." from the Dublin Society in 1780. He subsequently found a position as an apprentice to the Cork-born architect Thomas Ivory, the headmaster of the Dublin Society School from 1759 to 1786.

The Duke of Leinster's medal for drawings of "Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs, & c." awarded to James Hoban in November 1780 by the Dublin Society.

Smithsonian Institution

Major extant buildings in Dublin associated with Hoban's student years are the Glendower, Newcomen & Company bank building (today the Rates Office of the Dublin City Council), designed by Ivory; and the Royal Exchange (1769-79), designed by English architect Thomas Cooley and recently restored as Dublin City Hall. Hoban must have been familiar with the Royal Exchange, for he gave President George Washington a detailed summary of its materials and cost in discussions related to the estimates for the President's House.

The former Glendower, Newcomen & Company Bank Building, 2007.

Picture Project/Alamy

"The North Front of the Royal Exchange."

From Robert Pool and John Cash, "Views of the Most Memorable Public Buildings, Monuments and Other Edifices in the City of Dublin," 1780

Thomas Ivory, architect and Hoban's teacher, sits at the center of a meeting discussing the new Blue Coat School, c. 1783.

Board of Governors of the King's Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, courtesy Irish Architectural Archives, with the permission of the Board of Governors of the King’s Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

Hoban and Irish Washington, 1790-1831

In 1816, Irish-born author David Baillie Warden described half the population of Washington, D.C., as being Irish noting that the Irish laborers could easily be identified for their lack of familiarity with the English language. His population estimate was an exaggeration, but his observation that Irish immigrants stood out because of distinctive accents and colorful speech patterns was more accurate. Washington's Irish population swelled with the demand for laborers after the British destroyed the federal buildings in 1814, and increased with the surge of Irish émigrés to America's major cities in the nineteenth century.

Employment on nineteenth-century government building projects, such as roads, canals, bridges, and public works, was seasonal, and frequently subject to the whim of congressional appropriations. Hoban gave a voice in local politics to the great number of Irish immigrants in Washington who worked as both skilled and unskilled laborers, draymen, tavern keepers, blacksmiths, grocers, and boardinghouse proprietors. Hoban was a founder in 1802 of the Society of the Sons of Erin, a group that helped workers in need of housing, food, and medical services.

View of the Church Callan, 1816. Hoban would have known well Saint Mary's Church on Green Street, a major landmark in the market town of Callan since 1460. Part of the church is still used for Anglican services.

British Library Board

Historic Holy Trinity Church in 1875.

Georgetown University Library

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