From an old photograph album, a view of New Park, County Kilkenny. Situated high above the river Suir on the opposite bank to the City of Waterford and with parkland running down to the water, the house was built in the second half of the 18th century by Simon Newport, who established the region’s largest and most important bank, Simon Newport and Sons: at the time there was a common expression in Waterford, ‘as good as Newport’s notes.’ Unfortunately in 1820 the bank failed and the founder’s younger son William Newport who was then responsible for its affairs committed suicide. Although he repudiated any personal liability Simon Newport’s elder son, Sir John Newport, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer who was then an M.P. in London, contributed at least £5,000 towards numerous local compensation claims. On his death in 1843, New Park was inherited by Sir John’s only surviving nephew, the Rev. John Newport and when he died sixteen years later, the estate was sold to Fitzmaurice Gustavus Bloomfield whose mother had been heiress to the Castle Caldwell estate in County Fermanagh. New Park remained with the Bloomfield family until the house was destroyed by fire in 1932: below is a photograph of its appearance after the conflagration.
Among the most engaging books of architectural history published during the last century was Maurice Craig’s Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976). From its title alone, one recognises this was a work out of the ordinary: Maurice was not interested in examining the more familiar big houses of Ireland many of which even by that date had been ‘accorded some fitting attention in fittingly sumptuous books.’ Instead he turned his well-honed eye on a category of dwellings which had hitherto been the subject of little scrutiny; indeed since then it has not received much more coverage. ‘If I have laid what some readers may think is undue emphasis on certain buildings which may appear small, insignificant and not very exciting to look at,’ he wrote in his preface, ‘it is because I believe they are essential links in the chain of evolution.’
Later in the Introduction he commented, ‘An unhappily high proportion of the houses illustrated in this book have either disappeared or have been mutilated or have fallen into disrepair. There are three reasons for this. One is that there seems to be a baleful correlation between architectural quality and misfortune. Too often it is the best buildings which fall victim to malice, neglect, ignorance, poverty or some amalgam of these evils; or to what can be worst of all, uncertainty of title especially when combined with bucolic paranoia. A second reason is that when a house is threatened or destroyed, the least we can do for it is to record its qualities, since it can no longer speak for itself. Finally there are times when the dereliction of a house gives opportunities for investigating, measuring and anatomising it, which would not occur if in normal occupation.’
So Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size concentrated on those properties ‘built by or lived in by minor gentry or prosperous farmers, or by manufacturers or traders, or occupied as dower houses, agent’s houses or as glebe-houses. The gulf between the ‘big house’ and the cottage has perhaps been over-emphasised by historians, and too much has been made of the absence of a middle class.’ The house featured today, Ballysallagh, County Kilkenny, is a representative example of this category.
The land on which Ballysallagh stands was for long owned by members of the Purcell family. The Purcells were of Anglo-Norman origin, their name believed to derive from the old French word ‘pourcel’ meaning piglet. Sir Hugh Purcell is said to have participated in the Norman invasion of Ireland and in the early 13th century his grandson, also called Sir Hugh, married a daughter of Theobald FitzWalter, Chief Butler of Ireland. This union was the origin of the link between the family and the powerful Butlers; in 1328 James Butler, first Earl of Ormond granted the Purcells the feudal title of Baron of Loughmoe, County Tipperary. The grandfather of the late 17th century composer Henry Purcell was a cousin of the Baron of Loughmoe.
Allied to the Butlers, the Purcells were concentrated in Counties Tipperary and Kilkenny and the lands of Ballysallagh remained in their possession during the Tudor colonisation despite periodic attempts at rebellion: in December 1571 Nicholas Purcell fitz Edmund of Ballysallagh was pardoned by the crown authorities, as was Edmund Purcell in 1589 and Edmund Purcell fitz Nicholas in 1600. However in 1653 Nicholas Purcell forfeited Ballysallagh and 758 acres under the Cromwellian seizures, and a large number of members of the family were certified for transplantation to Connaught. Yet the family remained on the site, most likely as tenants; in the early 18th century James Purcell was living at Ballysallagh and in 1720 his daughter and heiress, Mary Purcell wed Gerald Byrne from County Carlow who was assigned the property as part of the marriage settlement. It seems likely the couple built the present house soon afterwards: a stone at the front carries the date 1722.
Gerald and Mary Byrne had several children, only one of whom, their daughter Catherine, survived to adulthood. (Gerald Byrne also had an illegitimate son, James Byrne to whom in his will he left farm stock and land.) Dying in 1740 at the age of 26 Catherine predeceased both her parents but not before marrying William Doyle of County Kildare, with whom she had three children, two sons and a daughter. One of those sons, Gerald Doyle, inherited Ballysallagh from his grandfather Gerald Byrne in 1760. Two years after the death of Catherine Doyle her husband, Gerald Doyle’s father, had married again, his second wife being Frances Purcell of Usher’s Island, Dublin; with her, he had another three children, once more two sons and a daughter. However, neither Gerald Doyle nor his older brother Laurence married and in 1785 they sold their interest in Ballysallagh and its 450 acres to the family of their step-mother. Thus it remained in the possession of the Doyles, albeit not descended by blood from the original Purcells. Instead it belonged to the children of William Doyle’s second marriage, first another William Doyle, who also lived in Rutland Square, Dublin and died unmarried in 1847 and then Joseph Doyle, a doctor who served as Surgeon to the College at Maynooth, County Kildare. He likewise married a Purcell and the couple had a son John Joseph Doyle who inherited Ballysallagh and lived there until his death in 1890 at the age of 75. John Joseph’s son Gerald Doyle was the last of the family to live at Ballysallagh: following his death in 1939 for the first time the place was put on the market.
Despite Ballysallagh’s somewhat convoluted history of descent given above, the fact that the house did not pass beyond different branches of the same family for more than 200 years explains why it remained relatively unchanged after being first built in the early 18th century. There are a few decorative elements that were altered according to shifts in fashion and perhaps the advent of additional funds: the drawing room, for example, contains a white marble chimney piece that looks to be from the mid-19th century. Prior to that, in 1810 folding doors were introduced halfway back the entrance hall so as to separate it from the rear stairs. Above those doors is a splendidly wide fanlight (to provide more light to the front section of the hall should the doors be shut) and on an adjacent wall hangs a matching glazed wall cabinet with columns and a richly carved frieze.
Internally the house follows a tripartite plan, with main reception rooms to right and left of the entrance hall and behind these smaller rooms, a study and butler’s pantry. The wooden staircase is accommodated in a full height extension to the rear of the main block and leads to a spacious first-floor landing, an especially pleasing feature in houses such as this, with four bedrooms, two on either side. Another staircase of Kilkenny limestone, also fitted into the rear extension, provides access to the basement which continues to hold the house’s kitchen and other service areas. Externally, the building has a simple but satisfying symmetry, of five bays and two storeys over a raised basement. Maurice Craig reproduced the facade in Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size and noted a number of distinctive features such as a limestone plat-band in place of a cornice beneath the steeply pitched roof (in fact, there is a cornice but partially obscured by the guttering), and the fact that the end quoins are bolder and better finished than those of the single-bay breakfront. The entrance is approached by a flight of limestone steps, its door having a Gothic-glazed fanlight that the present owners have copied for the small lunette window in the breakfront pediment.
In February 1940 Ballysallagh and some 117 acres were offered for sale, a poster produced by the auctioneers describing it as a ‘splendid stone-built residential and agricultural property.’ At the start of the following month, a two-day auction saw the dispersal of the house’s contents: a newspaper advertisement went through many of the lots, including in the entrance hall a ‘large Antique Hanging China Display Press, enclosed by two glazed panel doors of unique design, Ornamental Frieze and Fluted Columns.’ Either this failed to find a buyer or the difficulty of removing the cabinet from the wall was recognised. Whatever the explanation, it remains in place, unlike other pieces accumulated by successive generations of Purcells, Byrnes and Doyles, such as the drawing room’s ‘Splendid Round Mahogany table, with rope edge and claw feet’ or the dining room’s ‘Small Sheraton mahogany wine cooler, with brass mountings on castors.’ These meagre descriptions are all that remain to indicate how the house was furnished over the course of two centuries. The present owners bought Ballysallagh in 1987 and since then have worked without cease to bring the place to its present excellent condition: looking at it today, one might imagine the property had never changed hands. Extensive work has been undertaken both indoors and outside. With regard to the latter, new formal gardens have been laid out behind the house and a maple walk created leading to a small folly. In his Introduction to Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, Maurice Craig advised that the buildings featured had been chosen ‘for a combination of their architectural quality and the significance of their typology of the subject.’ Ballysallagh deserves attention and plaudits for the same reasons: even since the book first appeared quite a number of properties it covered have been lost. This makes Ballysallagh’s survival all the more precious.
The Gothic Revival mausoleum of the St George family at Drumacoo, County Galway. Dating from 1830, it was incorporated into the remains of a thirteenth century church on the site in order to receive the body of Lady Harriet St George, daughter of the second Earl of Howth.
In Ireland with Emily, first published in his 1945 collection New Bats in Old Belfries, John Betjeman wrote of the building,
‘There in pinnacled protection
One extinguished family waits
A Church of Ireland resurrection
By the broken, rusty gates
Sheepswool, straw and droppings cover
Graves of spinster, rake and lover
Whose fantastic mausoleum
Sings its own seablown Te Deum
In and out the slipping slates’
The splendid gateposts of Sylvan Park, County Meath. The 18th century house here belonged to the Rowley family which had first settled in this country during the reign of James I and one branch of which was responsible for commissioning Summerhill, elsewhere in the same county (for more on Summerhill, see My Name is Ozymandias, April 1st 2013). In the mid-19th century Sylvan Park was occupied by Standish Grady Rowley, who owned an estate of more than 1,100 acres in the area. The property passed out of the family in the last century and was subsequently demolished, leaving just these cut limestone gateposts as a memento of its presence together with a decaying lodge tucked inside.
In early June 1741, the Dublin News-Letter carried the following notice: ‘The interest of the late Captain Hugh Montgomery’s new house on the south side of Stephen’s Green in this city of Dublin, being a term of 299 years from the 25th March 1738, subject to a yearly ground rent of £13.6s is to be sold by cant to the fairest bidder, by his executors, at the said house, on the 24th day of this instant at 11 o’clock in the forenoon. Where also will be exposed to sale some pictures and some household furniture that never have been used, and several pieces of fine Italian marbles, and also a neat Berlin chariot and one pair of Harnesses, as good as new, having been seldom used. A person will attend at said house on Monday next, and every day and till the day of sale, between the hours of eleven and three o’clock in the afternoon.’ The house in question still stands, at 85 St Stephen’s Green and contains a room that can rightly lay claim to be the most beautiful in Ireland.
Hugh Montgomerie (which was how he and his father spelled the family name) had a somewhat unconventional background, as has been explained in an essay on 85 St Stephen’s Green written by Loreto Calderón and Konrad Dechant carried in The Eighteenth Century Dublin Townhouse (ed. Christine Casey, Four Courts Press, 2010). His paternal line descended from Thomas Montgomery who settled in Ulster at the start of the 17th century and who was one of the first twelve burgesses of Newtownards, County Down. Hugh Montgomerie’s father, another Thomas, had as Calderón and Dechant note, a somewhat chequered career. While studying law in London he had repeatedly come to the relevant authorities’ attention for unruly behaviour and in 1684 was convicted and sentenced to death for having killed another man in the gardens of the Middle Temple. Curiously enough his older brother had likewise been found guilty of murder but thanks to the intervention of their father, Captain Hugh Montgomery of Drogheda, both men received a royal pardon. Furthermore, two years later Thomas Montgomerie was knighted by James II and not long afterwards sailed to Barbados where he had been appointed Attorney-General. His time on the island did not go well, in part because he was under suspicion for harbouring Jacobite and Catholic sympathies, and in September 1690 Sir Thomas returned to England where he was subsequently wounded in a duel. Hugh Montgomerie was one of five children born to Sir Thomas and Clemence Hovell, although the couple only married in 1714 – after the birth of their offspring and just a year before the death of Sir Thomas. Clemence Hovell had been previously married to Charles Stuart, son of Sir Nicholas Stuart, and her first husband only died in 1709; hence the illegitimacy of her children with Sir Thomas Montgomerie.
In 1738 Hugh Montgomerie married Mary Bingham, eldest daughter of Sir John Bingham of Mayo; the bride was described in the press at the time as ‘A lady of great beauty, extraordinary merit and a large fortune.’ Although he inherited a portion of his mother’s estates, it was presumably the last of Mary Bingham’s listed advantages that allowed Hugh Montgomerie in the year of his marriage to commission the design of a new Dublin residence from the era’s most fashionable architect, Richard Castle. Once more thanks to the industry of Calderón and Dechant we now know a great deal more about Castle’s background than was previously the case. To synopsise their findings, his real name was David Riccardo (or Richardo), one of four sons of an English-born Jewish merchant, Joseph Riccardo, and his second wife Rachel Burges (who had been born in Bombay). By 1708 the Riccardo family were living in Dresden where Joseph had been appointed Director of Munitions and Mines by Augustus ‘the Strong’, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Following the example of his father, the future Richard Castle is believed to have pursued an interest in engineering, travelling through France and the Low Countries before moving to England in 1725 where he is listed as a subscriber to the third volume of Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus. From this fact one can deduce he most likely came into contact with the amateur architect Earl of Burlington and his circle. It is thought Castle moved to Ireland in 1728 at the invitation of Sir Gustavus Hume and soon after began working as a draughtsman for Edward Lovett Pearce, then preparing his designs for the new Houses of Parliament in Dublin.
For Captain Hugh Montgomerie, Castle designed what Christine Casey has described as a ‘dimunitive Palladian palazzo’ of three bays and two storeys with a Doric entablature, rusticated ground floor and a central, first-floor Venetian window flanked by sash windows with entablature-less segmental pediments. Those three windows light the great glory of the building, its saloon which provides superlative views northwards across St Stephen’s Green. But who would wish to look outwards when there is so much to see inside, especially since the saloon was impeccably restored in 1993. At that time the windows were returned to their original dimensions and the chimneypiece reconstructed. The greatest delight, however, lies overhead, thanks to the lavish ceiling attributed to the Ticinese siblings, Paul and Philip Lafranchini. The cove contains six oval frames with figures linked together by a frieze of putti playing with oak garlands. The similarities to another frieze created by Giuseppe Artari at Houghton, Norfolk have long been noted, and Calderón and Dechant point out that Hillington Hall, family home of Hugh Montgomerie’s mother, stood not far arway from Houghton. One might wonder also if Castle visited the house during his time in England, since its original architect was Colen Campbell. As for the main figures in the saloon of 85 St Stephen’s Green, the inspiration for several of these came from paintings by the 17th century French artist Simon Vouet in the Salon de Mars at Versailles. While various explanations of its iconography have been advanced, as Christine Casey has written, ‘Whatever about its meaning or lack of it, the ceiling is a vigorous example of the Late Baroque decorative style favoured by Castle for the interiors of his otherwise reticent Palladian buildings.’ Just as importantly, the diverse decorative elements come together to form a satisfyingly unified whole. Exuberance and restraint balance each other admirably to warrant neither gets the upper hand but instead work to create a harmonious whole. Captain Hugh Montgomerie scarcely had an opportunity to enjoy his splendid new Dublin residence since he died of consumption in May 1741 and, as has been noted, within a month the building was put up for sale. Somehow the house survived subsequent changes of ownership and use, and remains for us to enjoy today. Is the saloon of 85 St Stephen’s Green the most beautiful room in Ireland? Certainly it must rank high on anyone’s shortlist for this title.
Since the 19th century 85 St Stephen’s Green (and its neighbour No.86) has been under the care of University College Dublin and can be visited on request. For more information, see: http://www.ucd.ie/campusdevelopment/developmentprojects/programmeforpreservationofperiodhouses/newmanhouse
The 18th century soldier and politician Sir Boyle Roche is remembered for having once asked during the course of a debate in the Irish House of Commons, ‘Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?’ His near contemporary, James Caulfeild, first Earl of Charlemont, could have provided a suitable riposte, since posterity has judged him a worthy patriot and citizen of this country. Above is a photograph of one of Lord Charlemont’s greatest legacies, the Casino he commissioned to the design of Sir William Chambers in the grounds of Marino, Dublin. The building appears on the cover of a volume dealing with architecture in the Royal Irish Academy’s new series on Art and Architecture of Ireland. This splendid five-volume project is due to be launched tomorrow in Dublin’s Mansion House by An Taoiseach, Mr Enda Kenny. No doubt kind words will be said all round, and no mention will be made of the cuts inflicted on the country’s cultural heritage by Mr Kenny and his government. Nobody will speak of the 40 per cent fall in the National Museum of Ireland’s annual grant-in-aid over the past five years (and the resultant failure to carry out essential maintenance works to the structure of the Natural History Museum thereby causing it to fall further into disrepair), or the 44 per cent diminution of the National Library of Ireland’s grant over the same period. And the subject of the 12 per cent drop in funding to heritage in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht’s 2015 budget allocation is unlikely to feature in any speech made at tomorrow’s event.* Such is the nature of celebratory occasions, especially when politicians are present. So while nothing of import will be uttered tomorrow, we must derive comfort from the knowledge that posterity will have plenty to say about Mr Kenny and his cabinet colleagues, and their resolutely philistine ways.
*Before anyone points out this RIA project has been part-funded by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, it should be noted that state support was agreed in 2008, three years before the present government came into office; the latter cannot therefore claim any credit for financial assistance committed to the volumes’ publication.
Evidence that if books do furnish a room, the appropriate effects also help. Two views of the library at Tullynally, County Westmeath. In the first, an oak side table in the gothic manner on which to rest a volume or two, in the second a set of mahogany steps to reach the upper shelves. Together they help to ensure time spent here is particularly agreeable. (For more about Tullynally and its library, see A Bibliophile’s Bliss, May 6th 2013).