The Most Beautiful Room in Ireland?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

IMG_7981Since 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 Judgement of Posterity

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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.

Another World

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Has this country ever produced a more self-regarding architect than James Franklin Fuller? In 1916 he published Omniana: The Autobiography of an Irish Octogenarian which includes five appendices, each one dedicated to quotes from press reviews of his earlier, fictional books (‘We have never read a story with greater pleasure,’ Bath Chronicle, ‘As charming as a summer day’s ramble along an unknown lane, rich in unexpected turns and windings,’ Graphic, and so forth). The work also features highlights from his alternative careers, among them being an actor with regional troupes in England; one stint, he informs readers, came to an end the afternoon he found himself in the wardrobe room with nobody except the leading actress who ‘suddenly called on me to enact the part of Joseph while she herself assumed the role of Potiphar’s wife. The result was the same as that recorded in the Scriptures. I fled precipitately – leaving the lady to lock up her theatre.’ Fuller also trained for a period as a mechanical engineer, and was briefly a part-time soldier (he enrolled for what was supposed to be a British legion in Italy under Garibaldi, but to his indignation wound up in the suburbs of London ‘a mere ordinary recruit’ and had to buy his way out of the army). During the course of these adventures and misadventures, Fuller trained in the offices of another Irish-born architect, Frederick William Porter and then worked briefly with several English architects, most notably William Burges and Alfred Waterhouse, before securing a position in 1862 as district architect with the Irish Ecclesiastical Commissioners with responsibility for the north-west region of the country.

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James Franklin Fuller was born in Kerry in 1835, the only son of what can best be described as minor gentry although given his preoccupation with pedigree it is unlikely this is the term he would have chosen. Two further appendices in his autobiography (‘Humour and geniality exude from every line,’ Liverpool Post and Mercury) outline his forebears in both maternal and paternal lines: with regard to the former, he was able to trace his ancestry back to Charlemagne no less, with the latter from Duncan, first King of Scotland. Attention is duly paid in the book’s opening pages to the importance of one’s family possessing the right quarterings, namely those that confer the right ‘to appear at Court functions, presided over by the Sovereign.’ Readers will be relieved to learn that Fuller had these. Later he engages in some consideration of how the newly-rich presume to claim coats of arms to which, in his eyes, they have no right.
The concern with pedigree and the perceived presumptions of arrivistes may explain why Fuller was to have trouble with one of his more important clients, Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, raised to the peerage in 1880 as Baron Ardilaun. Seven years before this elevation Fuller had been engaged by Sir Arthur to enlarge Ashford Castle, County Mayo but the relationship soon turned sour and he was replaced by another architect, George Ashlin (for more about Ashford and the Ardilauns, see Lady Ardilaun Requests the Pleasure…, October 6th last). Without specifically naming Sir Arthur, the following passage in Fuller’s autobiography makes perfectly clear his disdain: ‘Among my clients, at one time, was a multi-millionaire who has been made a lord. Somehow I could not bring myself to appraise him at his own evaluation, or to accept him as a super-man. I labelled him as something quite different. He had long been acclaimed a philanthropist, because of some large gifts for the benefit of the proletariat – gifts which secured him a title and affected his bank balance as much as a drop taken from the ocean affects its volume. We rubbed along for three or four years, until the friction became too acute and then we drifted apart. It was my fault no doubt and it was not wise from a worldly point of view. He lives and flourishes: so “nothing matters.” Nevertheless, the evolution of the plutocrat into the autocrat, and then into the aristocrat is an interesting study…’

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That Fuller always felt himself above the concerns of the insufficiently well-quartered becomes apparent thanks to another passage in his autobiography (‘A rich treat of wit and wisdom and shrewd observation,’ Truth). Following the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 and the loss of his position as one of its district architects, he established his own office in Dublin. From here, he writes, ‘For over half a century I carried on successfully a very extensive practice as an architect; and during the whole of that time, I violated – or rather, persistently disregarded, all the conventional rules which are supposed to be inseparable from success…A few months after opening my offices I discarded the regulation copying-press and the regulation letter-book…The ‘correct’ thing to do with letters received, was to preserve, docket and to pigeon-hole them, in the case of each separate client; whereas nine out of ten of them went into my waste paper basket immediately after receipt. I only preserved, until the finish of the particular business in hand, those that I thought likely to be necessary. I used my own discretion with regard to letters written by myself, only keeping copies of a few…I hardly expect to be believed when I say that, in issuing cheques, I never troubled to fill in the corresponding counterfoils…I kept no ledgers or books of any sort: I could not see the least necessity for them.’ Amazingly Fuller claimed his singular behaviour was ‘to the uniform satisfaction of my clients’ although we have seen that this was certainly not the case with regard to Sir Arthur Guinness.

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Strangely, although Fuller covers a great many subjects in his autobiography (‘A delightful arm-chair companion,’ Daily Graphic), he scarcely mentions many of the buildings for which he was responsible. One of these is shown here, St Anne’s in Clontarf, Dublin. The original early Georgian house on the site was called Thornhill and owned by the Vernons who lived close by in Clontarf Castle. In 1835 Benjamin Lee Guinness, then head of the brewing dynasty, bought Thornhill and its immediately surrounding land: the estate was thereafter increased until it covered more than 500 acres.
Meanwhile the old house was renamed St Anne’s after an ancient well of the same title in the area and was somewhat enlarged. However, the photographs here are of the building after it had been further embellished by Benjamin Lee’s son, the aforementioned Sir Arthur Guinness, Lord Ardilaun who from 1873 once more employed Fuller for this purpose. As can be seen, the eventual house had the appearance of a gargantuan Italianate palazzo, with vast double-height, top-lit galleried hall and equally substantial winter garden reached after an enfilade of reception rooms. The surrounding gardens were similarly transformed with extensive planting of specimen trees and the creation of a sequence of follies including a Herculanean Temple on a mock-ruined bridge abutment which served as a tearoom for the family and a Pompeian Water Temple of Isis by the duckpond.
Even by the time work was completed at St Anne’s in the 1880s, the place had become an anachronism, out of scale and out of sympathy with the Ireland then beginning to emerge. After Lady Ardilaun’s death in 1925, the estate was inherited by one of her husband’s nephews, the Hon Benjamin Plunket, retired Bishop of Meath. Unable to afford its upkeep, in 1939 he sold St Anne’s and almost 450 acres of land to Dublin Corporation for £55,000. The enormous house designed by Fuller stood empty of its original contents and used by the Local Defence Force until gutted by fire in 1943; the ruins were demolished in 1968. By that time 200 acres of the estate had been given over to local housing, the remainder, including the walled garden, is now a public park. Perhaps it is as well Fuller did not dwell so much on the buildings he designed since in this case we are dependent on a collection of old photographs to recall what it looked like.

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Fire and Water

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The facade of 3 Henrietta Street, Dublin. Of four bays and four storeys over basement, the house dates from c.1754 when Owen Wynne of Hazelwood, County Sligo married the Hon Anne Maxwell, daughter of John, first Lord Farnham who occupied the building next door. (For more information on Hazelwood, see Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata*, February 25th 2013). Like many other properties along the street, in the late 19th century No. 3 was divided into tenements and has yet to recover from this fate; in more recent times, it has suffered from water ingress and subsequent timber decay. Its circumstances were not helped by a recent fire immediately outside the property: while the relevant services were able to train their hoses to a certain height, they did not reach the upper section, hence the evidence of smoke damage on already highly vulnerable brickwork.

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Lady Ardilaun Requests the Pleasure…

IMG_6894 Lady Olivia Hedges-White was born at Macroom Castle, County Cork in August 1850. Her father, the Hon William Henry Hare Hedges-White was the second son of the first Earl of Bantry; he had added Hedges to his own surname in 1840 on inheriting the Macroom estate from a cousin, Robert Hedges Eyre. Following the death of his elder brother, the second Earl of Bantry, in 1868 William Hedges-White also succeeded to the Bantry estates, meaning he owned almost 70,000 acres of land in the county (for more on Bantry and the White family, see When It’s Gone, It’s Gone, September 8th last). The third earl married Jane Herbert whose family had owned the Muckross estate in neighbouring County Kerry since the mid-1650s: when the Herberts became immured in debt in the late 1890s, Muckross would be bought by Lady Olive’s husband. She had been the first of the third Earl of Bantry’s daughters to marry, followed in 1874 by her elder sister Lady Elizabeth to Egerton Leigh and then in 1885 by her younger sister Lady Ina to Sewallis Edward Shirley, 10th Earl Ferrers. Lady Olive’s husband, who she married in February 1871, was Sir Arthur Edward Guinness. IMG_6903 IMG_6895 IMG_6917 IMG_6919 IMG_6907 Arthur Edward Guinness was the eldest son of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, first baronet, who greatly expanded the brewery in Dublin and thereby enhanced the family’s fortunes. He married his cousin Elizabeth Guinness with whom he had four children. Arthur Guinness might have been expected to enter the business like his father before him, but in fact he left this task to his younger brother Edward (later first Earl of Iveagh) to whom he sold his half-share of the brewery in 1876. Arthur Guinness’s interests were political and he was elected to his father’s seat in Parliament following a by-election after the latter’s death in 1868. He retained his place at a General Election the same year; unfortunately it was subsequently discovered his agent had bribed an elector and so he was forced to give up the seat. He was re-elected again in 1874 and remained a committed Unionist MP (and lifelong opponent of Home Rule) until raised to the peerage in 1880 as Baron Ardilaun. IMG_6921 IMG_6927 IMG_6929 IMG_6935 IMG_6932 In 1852 Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness bought the Ashford estate on the shores of Ireland’s second largest lake, Lough Corrib, in County Galway. The house at its centre was originally a de Burgo castle and then a shooting lodge belonging to the Browne family. However in the aftermath of the Great Famine the first Lord Oranmore and Browne had been forced to sell the greater part of his land holdings; Ashford and its surrounding 1,179 acres were acquired through the Encumbered Estates Court by the Guinnesses for £11,005. Benjamin Lee and then Arthur Edward greatly enlarged both the house and estate, the latter eventually covering some 33,000 acres, much of which benefitted from judicious tree planting. As for the building, this likewise increased in size from 1873 onwards when Arthur Edward Guinness commissioned a large west wing designed initially by James Franklin Fuller and – following a deterioration in the relationship between architect and client – George Ashlin; by 1915 £1 million had been spent on this project. The new work connected the 18th-century chateau-style lodge of the Brownes with two de Burgo towers and then the greater part of the structure was encased in battlements so that the whole became known as Ashford Castle. Recalling a visit he made there in the 1880s, George Moore would later write, ‘Below us, falling in sweet inclining plain, a sea of green turf flows in and out of stone walls and occasional clumps of trees down to the rocky promontories, the reedy reaches and the long curved woods which sweep about the castle – such a castle as Gautier would have loved to describe – that Lord Ardilaun has built on this beautiful Irish land. There it stands on that green headland with the billows of a tideless sea, lashing about its base; and oh! the towers and battlements rising out of the bending foliage.’IMG_7037 IMG_7042 IMG_7044 IMG_7075 IMG_7082 Ashford was never a permanent residence for the Guinness family but used during winter months for shooting parties and as somewhere to entertain large groups of friends. The photographs above give an idea of such occasions; the first of them, taken in October 1878, featurs a young Oscar Wilde (whose father had a place on Lough Corrib) leaning on a balustrade on the extreme right. Even before his marriage, Arthur Edward Guinness would host weekends in the house, one of which was recorded in a privately-printed book, A Lay of Ashford, which seems to date from around 1869/70. Text and drawings were both by Colonel James O’Hara who lived with his wife and child at Lenaboy Castle on the outskirts of Galway city, a property only built earlier in the decade to the design of Samuel Ussher Roberts (grandson of the famous 18th century Waterford architect John Roberts). The book describes the entertainment laid on for the guests, not least the creation of a temporary ballroom so that a dance could be held for them. There was also boating on the lake and a picnic. Among those present who have been identified were the host’s youngest brother, Captain Lee Guinness, David Plunket, later first Lord Rathmore (whose older brother was married to the host’s aunt), Lord and Lady Clanmorris, Lord and Lady John Manners, Robert Algernon Persse of Roxborough, County Galway (a brother of Augusta, Lady Gregory), Miss Alice Eyre of Eyrecourt and sundry other members of local families: all appear in Colonel O’Hara’s book, as does Ashford itself before the house was so extensively altered. IMG_6982 IMG_6963 IMG_6973 IMG_6967 IMG_6971 Olive Ardilaun liked to paint, and collected her watercolour in a bound album. Most of them depict the landscape around Ashford but as can be seen in the first painting above, she also reproduced scenes from the family house on the north side of Dublin Bay. This was St Anne’s, originally called Thornhill, an 18th century property which Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness had bought with fifty-two acres in 1835 from John Venables Vernon of neighbouring Clontarf Castle. The old house was pulled down in 1850 and replaced with another in the Italianate style. At the same time the name was changed to St Anne’s (after an old well on the site) and more land acquired so that the grounds eventually amounted to some 500 acres. As at Ashford, from 1873 onwards Arthur and Olive Guinness embarked on an ambitious extension to the main house, once more using the designs of James Franklin Fuller. The result, Mark Bence-Jones later wrote was ‘a palace comparable to the best of the mansions that were being built at that period in the USA by people like the Vanderbilts, in taste no less than in grandeur.’ This, the Ardilauns’ main residence, was where they held parties and balls during the annual season, hosting a house party each year during the week of the Dublin Horse Show and entertaining visiting dignitaries, not least Queen Victoria who came here for dinner in April 1900 (the future George V’s signature and that of his wife Mary can be seen in the visitors’ book for August 22nd 1897; he would spend a week shooting at Ashford in 1905). IMG_6954 IMG_7088 IMG_6949 IMG_6962 IMG_6955 Even during their lifetimes, the hospitality offered by the Ardilauns was exceptional: few if any other Irish landowners had the income to entertain in such a grand manner. And with the dawn of the new century and changes in this country’s economic and political circumstances they increasingly became anachronisms, reflections of another era. Lord Ardilaun died in January 1915 but his wife lived another decade. The couple had no offspring and the widowed Lady Ardilaun, while materially comfortable, was an isolated figure during her final years: Lady Gregory described her as ‘a lonely figure in her wealth, childless and feeling the old life shattered around her.’ She gave up Ashford which went to her husband’s nephew, the Hon Ernest Guinness, and Macroom Castle, which she had inherited from her father and to which she was devoted as a descendant of the original MacCarthy family, was burnt out by Anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War; the grounds were sold to a group of local businessmen two years later. In a 1949 memoir Bricks and Flowers, her cousin Katherine Everett (née Herbert) gives a description of Lady Ardilaun at this time, fearful of the world in which she now found herself and, despite the Guinness money, occupying an increasingly decrepit St Anne’s, its gardens falling into decay, the roof of the winter garden leaking whenever it rained, the quantity of water sometimes so great it would knock out the central heating boiler in the basement. When the cold and damp became too intense, she would move with her maid and secretary to the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. Lady Ardilaun finally died in December 1925 at the age of 75. IMG_6975 All the pictures shown here come from a series of albums being sold by Adam’s at this year’s Country House Collections auction in Slane Castle, County Meath next Sunday and Monday, 12th and 13th October. For more information, please see: http://www.adams.ie/Country-House-Collections-at-Slane-Castle/12-10-2014?gridtype=listview

The End is Nigh…

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Around the corner from St Catherine’s church on Thomas Street, Dublin and indeed integrated into that building is this residence on Thomas Court, probably the former presbytery. The Gibbsian doorcase and carriage arch are typical of the 1760s when the church was rebuilt to John Smyth’s design and according to Graham Hickey of the Dublin Civic Trust, ‘the L-shaped plan of the house accords with John Rocque’s depiction of the site on his map of 1756, before the church was rebuilt, lending the tantalising possibility that it incorporates early fabric. It almost certainly contains recycled material from the previous building. It has since lost its original roof to a flat 20th-century affair.’
Seriously altered in the second half of the last century when converted into a number of residential units, the building then suffered damage as a result of a fire last winter. It now looks to be in very poor state and unless remedial work is undertaken soon the only outcome will be further decline and, as has happened far too often in this country, the threat of demolition due to claims of the property being in dangerous condition.

Their Name Liveth for Evermore

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‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, August 4th 1914.
On this day one hundred years ago Britain declared war on Germany. It is not known for certain how many Irishmen participated in the fighting that followed until the cessation of hostilities in November 1918. At the start of the war, the British army contained 28,000 Irish-born regular soldiers and 30,000 reservists, all of whom were immediately called up. In addition, over the next four years some 148,000 men enlisted, bringing the eventual figure to over 200,000.
However, this does not include members of the officer classes, members of the British Royal Navy and fledgling Royal Air Force nor those Irish-born men who served in the Australian and New Zealand, Canadian and South African armed forces. Nor, it has been noted, does it include emigrants living in Britain who signed up and would have been accordingly listed as British. In other words, the final figure was likely to have been much higher than the 200,000 or so known Irish participants in the armed forces.

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Similar uncertainty surrounds the number of Irish who died during the First World War. In the early 1920s around £5,000 of the National War Memorial fund was spent collecting records of all known deceased and publishing a list of these in an eight-volume set of Ireland’s Memorial Records. One hundred copies were produced ‘for distribution through the principal libraries of the country’ with design and decoration, printing, and binding ‘carried out by Irish artists and workers of the highest reputation and efficiency.’ The best-known contributor to this work was Harry Clarke, today primarily remembered for his stained glass. For the memorial records, Clarke created a title page and seven page borders, repeated throughout the volumes and, as Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe has commented, incorporating ‘Celtic and Art Deco motifs, battle scenes in silhouette, medals, insignia and religious and mythological scenes, all drawn in pen and ink.’ The volumes list a total of 49,435 names and this has since often been taken as an accurate figure for the number of Irishmen who died in service during the years 1914-1918. However, the list is of soldiers who died in Irish regiments, some of whom were not Irish while Irishmen who fought in non-Irish regiments are not included.

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The history of Ireland’s National War Memorial Gardens has been equally chequered. In the aftermath of the Great War, although many people wished to commemorate those who had died in the preceding years, the spirit of the age proved unpropitious. In July 1919 a meeting attended by more than 100 representatives was held in Dublin at which it was agreed there should be a permanent memorial and a committee was accordingly established to raise funds for this purpose. (It was money from this source which paid for the publication of Ireland’s Memorial Records). The main veterans’ group, the Legion of Irish Ex-Servicemen – later the British Legion (Irish Free State Region) – proposed the memorial be ‘a statue, obelisk or cenotaph of exceptional beauty and grandeur, sited in some central part of the City of Dublin.’ Accordingly the memorial trustees considered buying the private gardens in the centre of Merrion Square and building a monument there before presenting the whole site to the relevant authorities for use as a public park. The scheme failed to gain sufficient support both within and outside official circles: for example, the author, wit and surgeon Oliver St John Gogarty, then a Senator, declared ‘A war memorial is a comfortless thing’ and argued the money collected should be spent on housing for ex-servicemen. The Phoenix Park was also proposed as a location and the matter dragged on until 1929 – more than a decade after the war had ended – before the government suggested a memorial park be laid out on a site already in public ownership and known as Longmeadows on the southern banks of the Liffey. The scheme embodied the idea of a public park laid out at state expense and incorporating a Garden of Remembrance funded by the Memorial Committee: the eventual cost for the entire site’s development was almost evenly split between the two. In the same vein, the workforce, drawn from the unemployed, ensured half were former First World War ex-British Army and half ex-Irish Army men. And to provide them with as much work as possible the use of mechanical equipment was restricted: even granite blocks of seven and eight tonnes were manhandled into place with primitive tackles of poles and ropes.

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Ireland’s National War Memorial Gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens whose mother was Irish and who had already worked in this country on several occasions, notably at Lambay Island, Howth Castle and Heywood, County Laois (for the last of these, see To Smooth the Lawn, To Decorate the Dale, May 12th last). In addition, Lutyens had already been responsible for designing several other commemorative sites, not least the Cenotaph in London. He was the natural choice for this commission and responded with a plan that is graceful, reflective and dignified.
The Memorial Gardens occupy only part of a larger site developed as a public park. Responding to the Phoenix Park on the opposite side of the river Liffey, Lutyens’ intervention begins close to the water with a small domed temple. A plaque on the floor of this building carries the following lines from Rupert Brookes’ second War Sonnet:
‘We have found safety with all things undying/The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth/The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying/And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth.’
From here the design is arranged symmetrically on a north-south axis, the ground ahead gently rising to several short flights of steps that give access to the main site, with its emphasis on the Stone of Remembrance. Made from a single block of Irish granite, weighing seven and a half tons and taking the form of an altar, the stone’s dimensions are identical to First World War memorials found elsewhere around the world. Here it is in turn aligned to the Great Cross of Sacrifice which stands behind. On the cope of the wall at the cross are inscribed the words ‘TO THE MEMORY OF THE 49,400 IRISHMEN WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR, 1914-18.’ Immediately beyond further flights of steps lead to the top of the gardens.
On either side of the central stone is a broad circular basin from which rises an obelisk, sometimes compared to a candle flanking a place of worship. To either side of these are pairs of square pavilions linked by oak beam pergolas draped in clematis and wisteria. The pavilions represent the four provinces of Ireland, and contain various mementoes including a set of Ireland’s Memorial Records and the Ginchy Cross. The latter is a wooden cross of Celtic design some 13ft high and erected in 1917 as a memorial to the 4,354 men of the 16th Irish Division who died in the two engagements at Guillemont and Ginchy during the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Later replaced by a stone cross, the original was brought back to Ireland in 1926. All the structures on the site are of granite other than the site’s enclosing wall built of limestone rubble.

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While the diverse built elements on the site are symbolically important, this is primarily a garden and as such one of Lutyens’ finest designs. In certain sections he deployed only a handful of plants. From the lower temple, for example, a number of paths radiate out each planted with various trees intended to provide contrast in form and colour. Some of these have had to be replanted due to age and storm damage, and in the case of the elms which were felled by Dutch Elm Disease thirty years ago, replaced altogether by lime trees. The central lawn, with its focus on the Stone of Remembrance and the Great Cross of Sacrifice, rightly contains nothing but grass, with banks of trees largely enclosing the area to the south while due to the land sloping down northwards the view is across the river to the Phoenix Park.
In contrast, beyond the paired pavilions to east and west are large sunken rose gardens that descend in terraces to circular lily ponds. Lutyens’ intention was to provide visitors with a meditative space devoid of military emblems and instead serving as a setting in which we can reflect on our mortality. Having viewed the consequences of war in the central lawn, we are now given the opportunity to consider it in a more ruminative fahion in the rose gardens. The planting of these was overseen by a committee of eminent horticulturists, including former keeper of the National Botanic Gardens Sir Frederick Moore and the assistant superintendent of the Phoenix Park A. F. Pearson. The original four thousand roses, purchased in multiples of fifty, included popular varieties such as ‘Shot Silk’, ‘Madame Butterfly’, and ‘Etoile de Hollande’ but not all have survived. Thus more recent replanting of the beds led to the inclusion of the ‘Peace’ rose produced by Meilland of France in 1945. However, it is intended that, in time, the existing roses be replaced by those varieties selected at the time of the garden’s first creation.
Incidentally, one part of Lutyens’ design was never executed: a three-arched pedestrian bridge across the Liffey providing access to the Phoenix Park. How wonderful if this were at last instated in time to mark the centenary of the First World War’s conclusion in 2018.

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Although final agreement on the garden’s development was only reached in late 1933, work had already begun on its development and everything was completed by spring 1939. ‘It is with a spirit of confidence,’ declared the trustees of War Memorial Committee, ‘that we commit this noble memorial of Irish valour to the care and custody of the Government of Ireland.’ An official opening of the garden was proposed for late July 1939 but long before this date political tensions elsewhere in Europe meant the dedication ceremony’s postponement. The Second World War then intervened, although from 1940 onwards commemorative ceremonies were held on the site.
Nevertheless no formal state occasion took place. On two occasions in the 1950s, December 1956 and October 1958 dissident republicans attempted to blow up the memorial cross: on the second occasion it was reported that ‘the flash of the explosion was seen in Rialto, almost two miles away.’ Somehow in both instances the monument survived this inglorious assault but far more insidious was the ongoing neglect of the site by state and civic authorities.
Finally in the early 1980s, by which time the gardens had fallen into a shamefully shabby condition, a programme of restoration began and at last in 1988 the official ceremony of dedication, delayed for almost four decades, took place. Since that date the place has been consistently maintained although its location, somewhat away from the city centre and today surrounded by housing, means the National War Memorial Gardens is something of an under-valued resource. But they merit a visit, if only to remind all of us that while humanity has been responsible for acts of appalling barbarism, it can also claim redemption through the creation of beauty. Especially on today’s anniversary, both deserve to be remembered.

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Like many other people around the world I have been much moved by this wordless response from customarily articulate spokesman for UNRWA Christopher Gunness to the horror he has witnessed during the present conflict in Gaza. If you have not yet watched it, I would encourage you to do so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFd8jVrbf0A