The International Hotel was one of Bray’s best-known landmarks from its establishment in 1862 until its demise in 1974. The arrival of the railway in 1854 was the trigger for intense development of Bray and facilitated its growth as a seaside resort and a city suburb. By the beginning of the twentieth century Bray was firmly established as the leading fashionable resort in the country. The hotel was undoubtedly at its prime in these early years.
It had many different uses during its lifetime, from a thriving hotel in the early years to its use during World War I as the Princess Patricia Hospital. Then, from 1936-’39, it became the Friendship Holiday Association Home, and later during World War II it was used as an army base. Bray as a tourist resort declined in the post-war period and, during these years, the enormous International hotel lay idle as filling its rooms was no longer possible.
The Men Behind the Hotel
The role of William Dargan in Bray’s development was tremendous. It was Dargan who had been responsible for bringing the railway to the town, and his vision is evident in the planning of the whole Quinsborough Road area. It was at the eastern end of this road, close to the sea, that the International Hotel would be built. Some associates of Dargan’s were Edward Breslin, a leading businessman and friend, and owner of the Royal Marine Hotel, John Quin of Quin’s Hotel (who owned most of the land in that area) and John Brennan (builder).
Only one lease of 25 October, 1860 between John Quin and William Dargan exists (in the Quin papers):“It relates to the site of the International Hotel which Dargan acquired for an annual rent of £50 sterling. ….. The term of the lease was for 900 years. Dargan agreed to build within two years a ‘private dwellinghouse or houses, or an hotel or both, fronting on to Quinsborough Road’ .”
John Brennan, having made his fortune in America, returned to invest it in his hometown, Bray. The new hotel was to be built by him on William Dargan’s site at a cost of £30,000. It took eighteen months to complete with the assistance of a labour force of some hundred artisans and labourers. It formed a majestic conclusion to the impressive terraces newly erected on each side of the road. This was the setting for the last of the grand buildings to be established on Quinsborough Road, the largest hotel in Ireland at the time – the International Hotel. The first stone had been laid on 18 February 1861 and the hotel opened on 31 May 1862 to coincide with the opening of the International Exhibition in London, after which it was named.
Description of the International
The hotel was truly on a grand scale. Three stories over basement it contained about 250 apartments, 212 of which were bedrooms, and it was estimated that it could accommodate between 300 and 400 people. Although there were no public mains, each storey was furnished with bathrooms and water-closets and all the rooms had an abundance of light. Its great bonus was that it was just across the road from the railway station, and the intention was to make it a first class establishment in every way, conducted somewhat after the continental system.
By this time Bray had begun to describe itself as ‘the Gateway to the Garden of Ireland’. However, hopes of a sustained tourism were never realised. The International changed proprietors at least three times in the 1860s, and once as a vacant premises rather than as a going concern.
Bray as a Tourism Centre
The development strategy in Bray to create the ‘Brighton of Ireland’ was a tremendous success in the early decades. No figures are available for the number of visitors who came to the town in these years but it is clear they were significant: hotels and guesthouses flourished and multiplied and large numbers of day trippers swelled the ranks of the longer-term visitors on week-ends and public holidays. Among distinguished visitors to the town were various members of the royal family including the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1868, Prime-Minister Gladstone in 1877, the Queen of Romania in 1890, various English Lords Mayor and successive Lords Lieutenant. But by the late ‘70s the hotel was in difficulties, and a notice to sell in the Land Courts followed.
In the years that followed, the population of Bray rose and further development occurred. However, there was little or no renewal and Bray did not continued to evolve as a holiday resort. In 1900, the International was purchased by the Bethell Hotels Company who also controlled the Bray Head hotel and the Marine Station Hotel. However, the International’s role as a hotel came to an end, albeit a temporary one, with the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, and it would not reopen as a hotel for another thirty years.
The Princess Patricia Hospital
The Great War, with the social revolution that accompanied it, was to mark a watershed in the town’s development and to bring to an end its Brighton of Ireland image. The hotel was to undergo a change for the next few years. The huge Allied casualty rate on the Western Front resulted in hospitals throughout the British Isles being filled to capacity. So to ease the pressure, the War Department took over hotels and used them as temporary hospitals where servicemen could recover from their wounds. The British Red Cross and the St. John’s Ambulance Association leased the International Hotel in early 1915. A generous share of the huge cost of equipping the hospital was contributed by the people of Bray. It was opened in July 1915 under the name “The Princess Patricia Hospital for Wounded Soldiers”, named with the consent of Her Royal Highness the Princess Patricia of Connaught. It contained over 200 beds. Initially it was used for the fitting of artificial limbs and for any convalescent cases from the Dublin hospitals. Later on it was used for more general war-wounded.
The Post-War Years
The owner, Frank Bethell, resumed possession when the Princess Patricia Hospital was closed in 1919 but the end of the war did not see the International Hotel returning to normal business as it failed to re-open. The entire furnishings of the hotel were advertised for sale by auction on 14th February 1921 and the hotel remained vacant from 1922-1935.
In the 1920s Bray needed to regain some of its old ambience as a seaside resort. This would prove difficult. On exiting the railway station, visitors to Bray were met with the sight of the neglected International Hotel with overgrown gardens and the derelict Marine Station hotel. This situation continued through the 1920s and until the mid 1930s. In 1934, the A.P. Friendship Holidays’ Association, London, was to take over the International Hotel, Bray and it did, in fact, run the hotel for the years 1935-39.
Bray, like the remainder of the country, did not escape the hardship and deprivation of the years of the Second World War. During the war, Bray was a garrison town with the Fifth Battalion of the regular army based in the International Hotel.
International Hotel Reopened
By 1946 the war was over and the country was making efforts to return to normality. In Bray the International Hotel was once again for sale and consequently fell under the management of Mr. J.W. Oppermann, reopening in 1947. Only three years later, in 1950, an attempt was again made to sell, this time as a going concern. The hotel was advertised for auction, on 19th July, 1950 at the premises, fully furnished and equipped. However, the sale was not successful.
In 1961 the hotel finally sold and it became a subsidiary of the Abbey Group Ltd. It was reopened once again on 2nd June 1962 following extensive renovation and refurbishment but by February 1964 was back on the market. Again, it did not sell, and was withdrawn at £90,000.
The End of the International Hotel
Early on June 14th, 1974, fire broke out in the International and the guests that were resident there all managed to escape. The whole building was ablaze within a few hours and left the hotel entirely burnt out. The International site was to lie derelict for nearly twenty years. The beautiful building was not destined to be part of our heritage as it was destroyed in the fire of 1974 and then deemed unsafe, and later demolished. Bray Urban District Council received a planning application from the developer Sean Nolan for the construction of two apartment blocks on the site in 1980. However, this did not go ahead. Finally, in 1990, Bray Leisure Bowl was constructed.
Comments about this page
My great great grandfather Francis Reynolds was the Internatiinal Hotels first Hotel Manager. He also had the Reynolds Hotel in Sackville Street, Dublin. I wish I had a photo of him from the grand opening. Maybe there is one somewhere from a newspaper.
I worked in the International Hotel in the summer of 1959. I remember Alec Corscadden and chef Noel Morris. Beautiful place to work. Many happy memories of the great dances on Saturday nights. I have pictures of the majestic staircase when we had our end of season staff function. Thanks for all the comments.
I used to walk past this hotel on my way to and from school in the late 60s early 70s. My sister and I used to peer through the black wrought iron railings and down to the basement windows below. We managed to get inside to see the grand interior when my mother donated blood there. There were often coaches lined up outside the hotel for, what I understood to be, were for the rugby teams playing an International match that weekend. The Arcadia Ballroom was next door (which later became a cash-and-carry). As children, we could hear the bands playing at night from where we lived nearby. We moved only a couple of months before the hotel burn down. I remember the shock clearly. The forlorn site that stood in place of such grandeur was a sad reminder for many years of a bygone era. With the hotel gone, followed by demolition of The Turkish bath in 1980s and the more recent fires in the victorian houses and shops in the Main Street, it seems like the town’s heritage is sadly disappearing.
My father Noel Morris trained as a chef there at the time Alec Corscadden owned it. I remember getting half a crown on my communion day c 1960 from Mr Corscadden. My father moved to Buckinghamshire for a short time to work for Mr Corscadden.
My father, Gunter Finger was a chef there in the early 1950s.
In the 1960s, Tina and the Mexicans played in the International Hotel. I drove over from Rathfarnham, Co.Dublin on my motorbike to meet up with old friends from Bray, where we went to dance in the hotel. Great times…
Thanks for the Information on Princess Patrica hospital in bray tried WWI in London no information my Granddad British Soldier was in same Hospital lost his toe’s in the war got married to local Girl from bray 1916 my Grandparents never met them believe they went to Dublin to live
My grandmother was a housekeeper in 1953. I also have her reference!
Both my parents worked in the International Hotel in 1963. My father as a waiter in the dining room, my mother as a housemaid. There met in the international Hotel and married in 1964.
I have a copy their references, stating both were honest, sober (!) and concensious. 🙂
It is wonderful to hear so many personal accounts and memories of the International Hotel. It obviously has a fond place in the hearts and minds of many. Please keep the stories coming and we will continue to archive and share them on Our Wicklow Heritage
If memory served me correct did the Coscadden family have an involvement with the hotel?
I worked in the Reception there and later as Secretary there for about a year before the fire disaster. Was there the night it burnt down & lost my entire possessions to include my Granny’s wedding ring. Ran around in my dressing gown all morning phoning rooms to get people out then later cancelling bookings as soon as the writing was on the wall. There was a large golf group due in that very day so alternatives had to be found for them. Stayed on for a time with Abbey Homesteads in town. Fond memories of great times at the Hotel & in Bray; fish & chips after the pubs closed followed by a walk up Bray Head to work it off & clear the heads. Ardmore Studios was just down the road and Sean Connery stayed as did Charlotte Rampling and a host of other artists that I fail to remember now. The International was an institution in Bray, staff stayed working there for years, some nearly a lifetime; the stair case was magnificent and they had great Bands play there & I booked many of them. The resident DJ was Robbie Burn and the house band was a lovely man called Johnny Petrassi. Kevin Quinn was the last Manager there and ran a tidy show as I recall. We were all lucky to get out alive and some of us nearly didn’t but our good angels were on duty that night & many a time since.
I had the pleasure of staying at the International many times during 1966 t0 1970 while working at Industrial Yarns in Bray.
Fabulous hotel, great staff, bar’s restaurant and Cabaret in the basement.
I met my wife in Bray and we had our wedding reception there in 1969.
Many happy memories.
Jeff Kennedy 23/03/17
Paul, thanks for your comments. This article has certainly sparked many memories! If you do manage to find that postcard please feel free to share it with our community heritage archive readers (register as a user and submit). We are always interested to showcase images, photos, stories and other information about different aspects of the heritage of County Wicklow, so keep them coming!
I have some very fond memories of that beautiful International Hotel, I enjoyed my 21st in it around about ’69, also had many nights in the lounge enjoying a beer or two on a Saturday night, a lady named Maureen ? used to serve at the bar, ( lovely lady ) it used to be our favourite spot on Saturday night during those years. Magnificent staircase, just like Titanic’s, maybe even better. I have a postcard photo ( John Hinds ) of the front of the hotel somewhere, must look it up one of these days. BTW, for those looking for info on wounded relatives who spent time in the then Hospital, you should contact the British Army who will I’m sure have all the records. That hotel is very sadly missed today !!
My grandfather was a patient at Princess Patricia Hospital in 1915/1916. He served with the 6th Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers and suffered a leg injured during the landings at Galipoli. I have not been able to find any medical records for the hospital. I have a picture of him which was taken in his ward in 1916.
Anyone able to assist me with where the medical records are presently kept for WW1 patients fitted with artificial limbs at this auxiliary hospital. My grandfather Thomas Lynch was wounded at Ypres. He had an artificial leg fitted possibly in Bray. My grandmother who eloped with him was from Bray and a VAD, possibly at Princess Patricia Auxiliary. If I had his medical records it would be a great start to tracing his regiment details and the different battlefields he served on. Would greatly appreciate any help
I rember the hotel wen I. Was livening in bray Sunday dance seen sum good bands
Was in this hotel in the late 70’s/early 80’s when it was derelict, myself and my brother managed to squeeze by some corrigated iron trying to keep people out. It was really spooky and dark but there were even creepier rays of dusty light shining down from the room in various parts of the foyer I assume it was, it had a magnicifant staricase as far as I remember a bit like the one in Titanic. I think there was also a piano somewhere in there too. I was very errie and we didn’t stay too long.
i enjoyed this story so much ,is there any way i can get a copy of this page as my husband was born in bray , and always telling me about the international.
i remember the international but never knew it’s colourful history or realised that the site lay derelict for 20 years. a very interesting article many thanks
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