All Washed Up

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Irish landlords, that small band of men who once owned the greater part of the country, do not enjoy a good reputation here. Judged to have been rapacious and, still worse in the popular imagination, foreign, it cannot be denied that many of their number often put personal interest ahead of concern for the condition of tenants, with disastrous results following the onset of the potato blight in the mid-1840s. However, it would be wrong to tar all landlords with the same blackening brush, since there were a few of them who sought to improve circumstances on their property. Among this unusual group, none was more out of the ordinary than Joseph Henry Blake, third Lord Wallscourt, of Ardfry, County Galway.
The Blakes were one of the Tribes of Galway, fourteen merchant families who dominated life in the western city from the 13th century onwards. They liked to claim descent from Ap-Lake, one of the knight’s of King Arthur’s round table, but in fact they were originally called Caddell, the first of them coming to Ireland in the 12th century with Strongbow: in the early 14th century Richard Caddell, Sheriff of Connacht in 1303, was known as Niger or Black, from which the name Blake evolved.
Like others among the Galway Tribes, the Blakes soon began to acquire land in the surrounding area, a process that accelerated from the late 1500s onwards. Thus in May 1612 Robert Blake of Galway received a grant by letters patent from James I of Ballinacourt (later Wallscourt) and Ardfry, both in County Galway, as well as additional property in County Mayo. His eldest son Richard Blake, a lawyer by training, was knighted in 1624, served as Mayor of Galway 1627-28, and M.P. for the County of Galway in 1639 before becoming Speaker or Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Irish Confederation which sat at Kilkenny from 1647 to 1649. Although the Blakes subsequently lost their lands during the Cromwellian confiscations, they received them back after the Restoration and remained in possession thereafter, basing themselves at Ardfry which lies on the southern shores of Galway Bay.

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Sir Richard Blake’s direct descendants died out in 1744 but a kinsman, Joseph Blake bought the estates from trustees and moved to Ardfry where around 1770 he built a house on the site of an old castle. The new property was long and low, at least nine bays wide and of two storeys over basement, with pyramidal pavilions at either end. Here in 1787 came the Hon Martha Herbert, wife of the rector of Cashel-on-Suir, County Tipperary, together with her daughter Dorothea (author of the celebrated Retrospections published a century after her death). On arrival they found ‘a large party of grandees’ whom Dorothea judged to be a ‘formidable set’ and were informed by their hostess that at Ardfry ‘they seldom or ever sat down to a meal with less than a hundred in family’, the latter term being used more loosely then than would now be the case.
Hitherto the Blakes had remained Roman Catholic but Joseph’s son, Joseph Henry Blake conformed to established church and was thus able to stand for election to the Irish parliament, to which he was elected in 1790. He retained his seat until the Act of Union a decade later and having voted in favour of this legislation was rewarded with a peerage, becoming Baron Wallscourt of Ardfry. However, his marriage to an heiress, Lady Louisa Bermingham, daughter of the first Earl of Louth, did not produce a son and so it was arranged that the title would devolve by special remainder to one of his nephews. Thus following his death in 1803 at the age of 37, Joseph Blake, son of the first Baron’s younger brother, became second Lord Wallscourt. The latter in turn dying in 1816 aged 19, his cousin Joseph Henry Blake (son of another of the first Baron’s brothers) became third Lord Wallscourt.

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Although he had grown up at Ardfry where his father served as land agent, the new Lord Wallscourt had not expected to inherit the estate. At the time of his cousin’s death he was just eighteen and serving as a lieutenant in the army which he had joined after leaving Eton three years earlier. It is often stated that on coming into the title he immediately indulged in reckless spending but one must wonder how much there was to squander: Dorothea Herbert’s observations indicate that the late 18th century Blakes were already living beyond their means, and around 1795 more than 1,500 acres of the original estate (including the townland of Wallscourt) was offered for sale, while another parcel of land was also put on the market. What remained was some 2,834 statute acres (the greater part of it at Ardfry) yielding a notional annual rental of £3,200, although this always depended on the ability and preparedness of tenants to pay what was expected. Lord Wallscourt had financial obligations to meet regardless of actual revenue: various family members and retainers were entitled to an income for the duration of their respective lifetimes to an annual total of £800, and there was a further £7,000 owing, mostly to relatives. Thus the young peer would have found he had little enough to fritter away, especially after 1820 when creditors had the estate placed in trust so as to maximise income and pay off all debts. Under the new arrangement Lord Wallscourt was permitted a yearly allowance of £500.
Thankfully a couple of years later he married a 17-year old English heiress, Elizabeth Lock who was beautiful as well as rich and who would be painted by a family friend, Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1825: this portrait hung in Ardfry until the last century. That same year she and her husband, who had now regained control of his estate, came to look at Ardfry which had been sadly neglected and required extensive renovation. ‘The woods and the walks are certainly very pretty,’ Lady Wallscourt wrote to her mother, ‘and some of the trees very old and remind me of those poor dear old woods at Norbury, but the house is even in a worse state than I had expected, and you know I was not prepared to find grand chose. The building at a distance looks very well and is very handsome, but it seems to me impossible anything can be done to it. There is so much to do, repairing and building, to make it all inhabitable, that I am sure Wallscourt will not attempt it.’ Contrary to expectations, her husband did undertake the necessary work and by the end of the following year, after the building had been given some of the gothic flourishes it retains to this day, the couple moved in with their young children, the occasion marked by a ball given for the servants and tenants. At this event, after some initial hesitancy on the part of the guests, ‘the great decorum and silence gave place to the most violent noise and rioting as they grew merrier, and they danced incessantly to a piper till five. They had enormous suppers of a whole sheep and two or three rounds of beef, and all went home mad drunk with drinking Henry’s health in “the cratur”, as they call whisky.’ Lady Wallscourt soon retired upstairs and allowed the nurse in charge of the children to join the throng where she became ‘quite the life of the party…springing and capering about in a most ludicrous way.’

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And now let us touch briefly on efforts by Lord Wallscourt to improve the circumstances of his tenants. When travelling about Europe as a young man and through meeting sundry liberal thinkers of the period, he had become impressed by ‘some of the theories, then much debated, for lifting the labourer into the position of a partner with the capitalist.’ Following his return to Ireland, in 1831 he was interested to hear how the County Clare landlord and founder of the Hibernian Philanthropic Society John Scott Vandeleur had invited Manchester-born journalist and proto-socialist Edward Thomas Craig to establish a co-operative community on his own estate at Ralahine. This was duly visited by Lord Wallscourt who found much to engage him and having sent his overseer to study the system in more detail he set aside 100 acres at Ardfry for his own socialist experiment. Even if begun on a smaller scale, the scheme fared better and lasted longer than that at Ralahine (which Vandeleur, who was addicted to gambling, managed to lose in a bet in 1833, after which he fled to America leaving his poor former tenants to fend for themselves against unmerciless creditors).
Lord Wallscourt also embarked on other philanthropic enterprises seeking to establish both a national school and an agricultural school as well as sponsoring the education of a number of boys in England and even as far away as Switzerland. He sought to improve the living conditions of tenants, building a two-storey slate-roofed house built as a model to replace the existing thatched cabins of the area. However it proved impossible to find anyone prepared to move into the new property, tenants apparently explaining ‘it would be mighty cold, and my Lord would be expecting me to keep it too clean.’ Eventually after standing empty for five years, a newly-wed couple took the place, on the grounds that it was ‘better than nothing at all.’
During the terrible years of the famine, Lord Wallscourt worked to ensure the well-being of his own tenants, and those on other estates in the area. He sat on a number of relief committees and on the Galway Board of Guardians, where he was critical of the operation of the poor law system and of his fellow guardians, who, he said, seemed ‘little disposed to transact the business for the discharge of which they were elected’. In 1847 he actively associated himself for the first time with the campaign for tenant rights and employed the distinguished agriculturalist Thomas Skilling (later first Professor of Agriculture at Queen’s University, Galway) to create a new tillage project employing labourers and tenants at Ardfry. He even started to establish an agricultural college on the estate.

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One suspects that Lord Wallscourt, however well-intentioned, did not tolerate opposition from his tenants or indeed from anyone else. Evidence for this was provided by his wife when she sought a divorce in 1846 ‘by reason of his cruelty and adultery,’ citing several instances when her husband had assaulted her. He was known to be a man of considerable strength and when young had been a keen boxer (more peculiarly he liked to walk about his house wearing no clothes: eventually Lady Wallscourt persuaded him carry a cowbell in his hand when nude so maidservants had notice of his imminent arrival). The couple suffered the loss of their two elder sons, and it was only during a brief rapprochement in late 1840 that an eventual heir was conceived. It may be that Lady Wallscourt did not care for her husband’s humanitarian enterprises. What, one wonders, must she have made for the welcome he gave to the 1848 Paris insurrection that led to the final overthrow of the French monarchy: he even presided at a celebratory public rally in Dublin. The following year he visited Paris with his young son and while there died after contracting cholera.
His estranged wife now regained control, since the boy Erroll Augustus Blake was then aged only seven. The co-operative projects at Ardfry were abandoned and more familiar methods of estate management re-instated. On the other hand, upon reaching maturity the fourth Lord Wallscourt followed the parental example and undertook diverse improvements, most notably the establishment of an oyster fishery in Galway Bay which provided local employment. In other respects however, he could not be compared with his father, being so small in stature that he was known in the vicinity as ‘the lordeen’: Nationalist politician T.P. O’Connor later remembered meeting ‘a tiny little man, sad, deprecatory, almost timid in manner.’ This may have been because he was oppressed by money worries, especially after his second marriage. His new wife turned out to be a hopeless gambler: in the early years of the last century the lead was stripped from Ardfry’s roof to pay her debts and the contents – including that lovely portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence – sold. Nor did the Wallscourt peerage survive much longer: the fourth lord was succeeded in 1918 by his only son who died without children just two years later.
And so we see Ardfry as it stands today, a shell of a monument to an abandoned social and agricultural experiment. Who knows what might yet have happened here had the third Lord Wallscourt not died in Paris in 1849, and what example it might have given to other landlords in Ireland. The shame is that his efforts to improve the lives of the country’s tenants are today so little known, and the estate on which he carried out his endeavours has been allowed to fall into such disrepair, the trees and hedges cut down, the walls tumbled, the outbuildings and estate cottages gone or, the the main house, little more than four walls. Dorothea Herbert called Ardfry ‘a beautiful place’ and Griffith’s Valuation of 1857 refers to a ‘beautiful and picturesque demesne, well planted with forest and ornamental timber.’ There’s little enough beauty here now.

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For more information on the third Lord Wallscourt, I recommend John Cunningham’s truly excellent essay (to which I am much indebted) ‘Lord Wallscourt of Ardfry (1797-1849)’ in Vol. LVII (2005) of the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society.

An Angel at my Gate

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Once home to the D’Arcy family and likely dating from the very start of the 18th century and distinguished by exceptionally tall chimney stacks, Kiltullagh, County Galway is now a hollow ruin, its walls propped up by a grid of internal scaffolding. One of the approaches to the house is accessed via these gateposts which are probably passed daily by many travellers without a second glance. But closer inspection reveals that the topmost stone of each features a winged cherubic head in mid-relief with largely indecipherable letters to either side. The style suggests these carvings might be contemporaneous with the house, and gives an indication of what has been lost with its destruction.

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Domat Omnia Virtus*

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It seems only fitting that Lough Cutra, County Galway should be battlemented and turreted, and have the, admittedly deceptive, appearance of impregnability since for a long time it was associated with military families. But the spot on which it stands is deeply romantic: the castle is reached at the end of an exceptionally long drive through open parkland and eventually one arrives at a spot which, as the Knight of Glin and Edward Malins wrote in their 1976 book on Irish demesnes, is ‘picturesquely situated high above the banks of the lough, whose waters lash the terrace walls.’ Glin and Malins likewise admired the ‘extensive and deep planting of woods and plantations, and wooded islands with ruins of churches and mountains in the background.’
Based around the 1,000 acre lake several square miles in extent and from which the estate takes its name, Lough Cutra’s ruins indicate how long there has been human settlement here. The present owners explain succinctly the history of the estate, noting that ‘the local area is rich in remnants of churches, cells and monasteries due to the introduction of Christianity. A number of the islands on the lake contain the remnants of stone altars. It is quite likely that St. Patrick passed Lough Cutra on his travels and St. Colman MacDuagh was a relative of Gort’s King Guaire. A holy well with a cross with the date 1745 lies on the Eastern shore of Lough Cutra. The ruined church of Beagh on the North West shore was sacked by the Danes in 866 A.D. and war raged through the district for nearly 1000 years.’
From the 12th century onwards, this territory was controlled by the Ó Seachnasaigh (anglicised as O’Shaughnessy) family. The last to hold the land, Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy, supported James II at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690 and died seven days later in his castle at Gort. His son and heir William went into exile and eventually became a general in the French army. In 1697 the O’Shaughnessy lands were seized and presented to Sir Thomas Prendergast who likewise became a general. The two men, O’Shaughnessy and Prendergast, would fight on opposing sides at the Battle of Malplaquet in September 1709 during which the latter was killed (O’Shaughnessy lived another thirty-five years in exile).

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Despite the best efforts of successive O’Shaughnessys they never regained their former estates which remained in the possession of the Prendergasts, a branch of a family which had likewise been in Ireland for many centuries, descendants of from Maurice de Prendergast, a Norman knight who came to the country in 1169. Following the death of Sir Thomas Prendergast at Malplaquet, the newly-acquired estates in County Galway passed to his seven-year old son, also called Thomas, who in adulthood managed to sit in both the Irish and British Houses of Commons. Since he had no children, on his death in 1760 the property passed to a nephew John Prendergast Smyth, youngest son of Sir Thomas’ sister Elizabeth. Having begun life in the army, he subsequently became a parliamentarian (although in 1793 he was appointed Colonel of the Limerick Volunteers) and joined the peerage first as Baron Kiltartan in 1810 and then six years later as Viscount Gort. He died in 1817, again without children and so once more the estate passed to a nephew, his sister’s son Colonel Charles Vereker. Of Dutch origin, the Verekers had come to Ireland in the middle of the 17th century and prospered despite supporting the two unfortunate Stuarts, Charles I and James II.
Like so many of those who owned Lough Cutra before and after, Charles Vereker was an army man: leading the Limerick Militia established by his uncle, in September 1798 he checked the advance of the French force led by General Humbert at Collooney, County Sligo and later took part in the Battle of Ballinamuck where he was wounded. For all that, again like his uncle he was vehemently opposed to the 1800 Act of Union, declaring ‘I have defended my country with my blood, and there is nothing in the gift of the Crown that would tempt me to betray her by my vote.’ After the Union he represented Limerick in the British House of Commons until becoming second Viscount Gort. Incidentally, he was also last to hold the ancient feudal post of Governor and Constable of the Castle of Limerick.

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The second Lord Gort inherited some 12,000 acres from his uncle, and even before then he had received that part of the estate which included Lough Cutra (then often called Lough Cooter). Here he decided to build a new residence, his initial intention being to commission an Italianate villa at a spot called Situation Hill on the opposite side of the lake from where the house actually stands. However at some date he saw architect John Nash’s own property, East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight. Supposedly accompanying the Prince Regent on a visit to East Cowes, he exclaimed ‘How I wish I could transport this Castle to the banks of Lough Cooter’ to which Nash replied, ‘Give me fifty thousand pounds and I will do it for you.’
In fact the eventual cost was closer to £80,000, probably because extensive work had to be carried out on creating the demesne envisaged by landscape designer John Sutherland: in 1855 J.B. Burke’s Visitation of Seats and Arms reported that the greater part of the area around the house and outbuildings ‘was blasted to a considerable depth out of the solid rock, and the gardens then filled with rich soil carried from distant spots, their walls being formed of limestone laboriously cut to the size of bricks…the undulating sward, which extends from the castle towards the lake is also to a great extent artificial.’ In addition, because of the site’s slope a terrace had to be built up in front of the lake before work on the house could begin.
Although Nash designed Lough Cutra, it is unclear what part, if any, he played in its actual construction. He does appear to have visited Ireland at least once: in 1821 he told the landscape artist and diarist Joseph Farington that he ‘had travelled in the three Kingdoms 11,000 miles in the year and in that time had expended £1,500 in chaise hire.’ The work at Lough Cutra was supervised by James Pain who had been apprenticed to Nash and was highly regarded by the latter. Pain came to Ireland in 1811, and remained here the rest of his life, being joined by his younger brother George Richard in 1815 after which the siblings ran a very successful practice for several decades.

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Since James Pain arrived here in 1811 it is assumed that work started on Lough Cutra around that time. It was still going on in October 1817 since in that month the Limerick Gazette reported ‘with deepest regret’ that earlier in the month when Pain ‘was surveying some part of the beautiful building now going forward at Loughcooter Castle, County Galway, the intended mansion of Lord Viscount Gort, the scaffolding on which he stood gave way, and he was precipitated from an eminence of four stories high – his side first reached the ground, with the head inclining downwards – the collar bone has been broken, the brain has received a severe concussion, and several bruises on different parts of the body. – A report was current in the town on Sunday that he was dead, but we are happy to say, the arrival of Surgeon Franklin who (together with Surgeon Gibson of the City Regt. pofessionally [sic] attended) has not only contradicted that rumour, but has been given sanguine hopes of a speedy recovery.’ Indeed he did make a full recovery, living until 1877.
As originally built, Lough Cutra was more compact than later became the case, with sufficient variation in the disposition of towers and windows to give interest to the exterior. Inside, the main block of two storeys over sunken basement has a vaulted entrance hall behind which runs three reception rooms overlooking the lake. A round tower to one side contains the staircase leading to the first floor bedrooms opening off a top-lit central corridor.
It would appear that not only did Lord Gort spend much more on the property than had been intended but when he inherited his uncle’s estate it was discovered to carry debts of some £60,000. As a result he was rather impoverished and following his death in 1842 so too was his heir. The third Viscount did his best to provide assistance to his tenants during the years of the Great Famine by not collecting rents and providing work on the estate. The consequence was that he bankrupted himself and in 1851 Lough Cutra was offered for sale by order of the Encumbered Estates Court. Some sections of the estate were parcelled off and in 1852 the castle and immediate land was purchased by James Caulfield, in trust for a Mrs Ball, Superior of the Loreto Convent, Rathfarnham, County Dublin for £17,000. Lord Gort moved to England and ironically a few years later as a result of his second marriage came to own East Cowes Castle, the inspiration for his own former property. It was occupied by the family until requisitioned by the army during the Second World War during which the building suffered severe damage. East Cowes Castle was eventually demolished in 1960.

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For a short period of time Lough Cutra Castle became a convent school. However in 1854 it reverted to private ownership after being bought by Field Marshall Hugh Gough, first Viscount Gough. Like the Verekers, the Goughs were another family long settled in this part of Ireland, being descended from three brothers, all Anglican clergymen, who had come here in the early 17th century. Likewise they subsequently became stalwarts of the British army, Hugh Gough’s father serving with Charles Vereker in the Limerick Militia during the 1798 Rebellion. Hugh Gough entered the forces when still in his teens (he was already promoted to the rank of Lieutenant a month before his fifteenth birthday) and fought with the future Duke of Wellington during the Peninsula War. After being responsible for the British forces in China during the First Opium War, he became Commander in Chief of the army in India and was responsible for the defeat of the Sikhs in two wars. It was following his retirement and advancement to the peerage that he decided to buy Lough Cutra, also purchasing back much of the original estate.
Following his acquisition, the castle was considerably extended to the designs of an unknown architect. In April 1855 the Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal advised readers, ‘Loughcooter Castle…the property of General Lord Viscount Gough, is now undergoing vast alterations and improvements There is a new tower at present in a state of progression; there have been large numbers of artizans and labourers employed during the last four months, and from the extensive works about to be executed are likely to be constantly employed for the next two years.’ In the late 1890s the third Viscount Gort commissioned a further extension, known as the Library Wing, from architect George Ashlin to house his grandfather’s war spoils: this was demolished in the 1950s and the cut stone used in the restoration of Bunratty Castle, County Clare. Changes were made to the interior also, some of which have survived. In the drawing room, for example, the walls are papered with the Gough coat of arms created by Coles, and the elaborately painted ceiling is believed to be by John Gregory Crace.
Commentators have often been rather sniffy about the Goughs’ interventions at Lough Cutra, one author opining ‘The additions were heavy and ill-proportioned and turned a neat and successful composition into an unwieldy and rambling one.’ But photographs of the building from the late 19th/early 20th centuries show that some of the changes were not unattractive. Full-length projecting window bays on either side of the main entrance, for example, probably increased the amount of light in the hall immediately behind, while the drawing room certainly benefitted from a similar window overlooking the lake: all of these have long since gone.

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In the 20th century the Gough family, no longer as affluent as had been the case and with the greater part of their estate taken by the Land Commission, could no longer afford to maintain the castle and in the 1928 the family converted part of the stable yard into a residence. Thereafter Lough Cutra stood empty except during the years of the Emergency (1939-45) when it was occupied by members of the Irish army; as with East Cowes Castle at the same time, the outcome was not beneficial for the house. In 1952 the estate was placed on the market and eventually bought by the seventh Viscount Gort, great-grandson of the man who had sold it a century earlier. Lord Gort is today remembered for having bought and restored Bunratty Castle in the 1950s (when stone from parts of the Gough extensions to Lough Cutra were used to make repairs). He gave Lough Cutra to his great-niece the Hon Elizabeth Sidney who in 1966 married Sir Humphrey Wakefield. Together the Wakefields embarked on a restoration of Lough Cutra which by this date was in a near-derelict condition, with much of the interior decoration including the staircase pulled out. Had they not done this work, almost certainly the castle would no longer stand.
However in 1971 the Wakefields divorced and once more the estate was put onto the market. As is well-known Sir Humphrey, who worked in the furniture department of Christie’s before becoming a director of Mallet, went on to buy and restore Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. Here he has one significant souvenir of Lough Cutra: an equestrian statue of the first Viscount Gough. The work has had a troubled history: it was designed by John Henry Foley who died before its completion and there was then difficulty finding a site. Eventually the statue was placed in Dublin’s Phoenix Park where on Christmas Eve 1944 the figure of Lord Gough was beheaded and his sword removed. In November 1956 the right hind leg of his horse was blown off and the following July the entire statue was hurled from its base by a huge explosion. It then languished for almost thirty years in storage before being bought by Robert Guinness, a friend of Wakefield, who afterwards brought the statue to Chillingham where it can now be seen.
As for Lough Cutra, in the aftermath of the Wakefields’ departure the estate was bought by the present owner’s family. Since then the programme of refurbishment has been ongoing, with a new roof on the main body of the castle completed in 2003 and other remedial work done on the tower roofs, plus attention given to buildings such as lodges and yards, as well as the woods and what survives of the once-extensive gardens. As is so often the case, this is a project without visible end but thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of the owner it is also an enterprise that exudes success. Nash’s East Cowes Castle today can be recalled only through old photographs but what might be described as its progeny Lough Cutra Castle looks set to enjoy a long and happy life yet.

The Lough Cutra estate hosts a wide variety of events. For more information, see: http://www.loughcutra.com/

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*Virtue Overcomes All Things: the motto of the Gough family.

Sturdy as an Oak

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In recent months this site has featured more than a few derelict historic properties, and is likely to do so again in the months ahead. Today however the focus is on a house which might easily have been lost altogether but instead has been admirably and impeccably restored. Ballinderry Park, County Galway was built during the first half of the 18th century, perhaps some date in the 1740s. For much of the Middle Ages the lands on which it stood belonged to the Franciscan friars of nearby Kilconnell (see Where There is Darkness, Light, November 18th 2013) but in the late 16th/early 17th century they passed into the hands of English-born judge Sir Charles Calthorpe who in 1584 was made Attorney-General for Ireland. Sometime after his death in 1616, they came into the possession of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Clonfert which thereafter remained the landlord until the third quarter of the 19th century.

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Ballinderry was leased by the Church of Ireland to the Stanford family, one of whom was a revenue collector in the area in the 1680s. The Stanfords, who are recorded as living not far away in Aughrim Castle in 1837, in turn sub-let the Ballinderry estate to the Wards of Ballymacward. The latter were long-settled in the area, having served as hereditary poets to the O Kellys, Lords of Uí Maine, since ancient times the dominant family in this part of the country. In 1786 the tenant was Lewis Ward whose sister Sabina that year married Andrew Comyn, tenant of a small property at Ryefield, County Roscommon. Ultimately their son Nicholas inherited the tenancy and after the Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871 he purchased the freehold of Ballinderry on 547 acres. His son, another Andrew Comyn, married Mary O’Connell, grand-daughter of Daniel O’Connell. In the 1911 Census he is listed as aged 79 and living in the house with his three sons along with two male and three female servants. The Comyns remained at Ballinderry until 1947. Following the family’s departure the Irish Land Commission subdivided the land with the house, yards and a few immediate acres being bought by Mr. Callanan, a local man.

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Ballinderry Park’s current owners George and Susie Gossip write so eloquently that it is best to rely on their own description of the building: ‘The house dates from the first half of the eighteenth century and is largely unaltered, with the exception of a two-storied return at the rear. Two stone-built stable ranges, one mid 19th century and the other considerably earlier, form an enclosed courtyard behind the house, with a pair of tall gates at either end.
Ballinderry is a comparatively small building; seven bays wide and of two stories over a basement. The steeply pitched roof has end gables and hides a third storey, lit by small windows high in the gables. Unusually, the roof over the full-height central bow is taken right up to the level of the main ridge, rather than being returned at a lower level. This gives the house the appearance of having a central tower, rather like a small French château. Apart from the heavy cornice at the eaves and the fine pedimented door case, the façade is free from decoration.
The blank monotony of the end elevations is relieved by the massive stacks, while the rear has been considerably altered, probably on several occasions. In front, the basement is below ground, with its windows opening onto a sunken area like a Dublin town house, but it is several feet above the level of the yard at the rear.
As befits a house of this size the interior is plain, with good shouldered architraves, panelled doors and shutters of heavy 1750s joinery. The staircase, while slightly lighter in style, is the finest internal feature and appears to be original. Were it not for this one would be tempted to suggest that the house could even be earlier, perhaps dating from the 1730s, and this may even be the case. Ballinderry’s chief interest lies in the main façade and in the arrangement and details of the staircase and principal rooms – solid rural grandeur in a miniature scale.’

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When the Gossips bought Ballinderry in 2001, ‘it was in a sorry state, used as a store for country furniture, old farm carts, and an amazing variety of agricultural implements and artifacts. While the roof looked intact from the front, the three large Victorian dormer windows at the rear had collapsed, causing considerable damage, both to roof and to the internal fabric. In addition, vandals had smashed the windows and looted the chimneypieces (which in any case were Victorian replacements).’
The first task was to strip the roof so that its main timbers could be repaired and made good while surviving slates were either saved or replaced. The house is constructed of fieldstone covered in lime render which had become defective and had to be removed. This revealed stone lintels, which showed the original positions of the drawing room and dining room windows since reinstated by local masons. As for the windows these were restored to what the Gossips believed to be their original appearance with unequal sashes on the ground floor using heavy early-Georgian glazing bars in the main house and thin Regency glazing bars in the wing, all specially made for the house.
Internally, although the floors were extremely decayed it was possible to save most of the joists; the boards have now been replaced with wide pine boards sawn from old reclaimed beams. The decorative woodwork had been badly attacked by woodworm but all principal doors and most of the shutters were salvaged, together with enough architrave for it to be copied. The skirting had deteriorated beyond repair and the chair-rail had been removed many years ago, so these also had to be replaced.
Apart from shutters and doors, nothing remained of the original decoration in either the drawing or dining rooms. Both were given new ceilings and the walls paneled in the early 18th century style. The drawing room now contains an early Kilkenny marble chimneypiece from a house in County Waterford, the dining room has an early 18th century slate chimneypiece. Similar extensive work took place in the staircase hall and the first floor bedrooms.

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Thanks to the ministrations of the Gossips, one suspects that Ballinderry today looks better than at any time in its history. The house has a particularly evocative atmosphere, extremely comfortable and aesthetically satisfying. None of the rooms is especially large but there is everywhere a sense of generous space. In part this is due to the ample staircase, its treads wide and deep, and leading to a first floor landing lit from front and rear and of such generous dimensions that it might serve as another sitting room.
Just as importantly, Ballinderry serves as an example of what can be done to save a house that looks on the verge of being lost forever. Of course it takes imagination and patience to bring back a building like this from the brink of ruination but as the accompanying photographs indicate the result more than justifies the effort. Many abandoned houses in Ireland could still be restored provided prospective owners approach the task with the same determination and flair as did the Gossips. The name Ballinderry derives from the Irish Baile an Daoire meaning town, or town-land, of the oak trees. Today the house is once more as sturdy as an oak and ought to survive for as long.

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Ballinderry Park welcomes guests. For more information about the house, including further details of its restoration, see: http://ballinderrypark.com

Gateway to the New Year

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Situated on a quiet country backroad, this is the Volunteer’s Arch at Lawrencetown, County Galway. The monumental gateway was built in 1782 as the principal entrance to an estate called Bellevue owned by Colonel Walter Lawrence, an ardent supporter of the Volunteer movement and of Henry Grattan’s efforts to achieve legislative independence for the Irish parliament. Following the achievement of the latter, Lawrence erected the arch which consists of a main entrance flanked by smaller openings which in turn are connected to two-room lodges. The entrance is surmounted by a pediment topped with an urn and with a carved medallion beneath, while sphinxes rest on either side. A recessed panel directly beneath the pediment bears a Latin inscription which translated reads ‘Liberty after a long servitude was won on the 16th April 1782 by the armed sons of Hibernia, who with heroic fortitude, regained their Ancient Laws and established their Ancient Independence.’ Bellevue is long gone and the gateway, together with a couple of follies, is all that remains of Colonel Lawarence’s efforts. The lodges have recently been restored and perhaps in the coming months might find a use or occupant. And the local authority might like to straighten, or better yet remove, the telegraph pole that mars the appearance of this delightful structure.
The Irish Aesthete takes this opportunity to thank all readers for their invaluable support and interest during the past twelve months, and to wish them a very Happy New Year. There will be lots more of Ireland’s architectural heritage to explore and share in 2014.

Dun and Dusted

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While they claimed direct kinship with Dalaigh, tenth in descent from the 4th century Irish High King Niall of the Nine Hostages, the actual origins of the Dalys of Dunsandle, County Galway are unclear. However they were certainly descended from Dermot Ó Daly (d.1614), described by one recent historian as ‘a chancer whose rapid advancement was due to the success of the Presidency of Connaught and his ability to turn opportunity to advantage…he was an ardent crown supporter and the supposed stability which would accrue as a repercussion of adopting English customs and laws.’ His great-grandson Denis Daly proved equally opportunistic, building up large land-holdings through money made with a thriving legal practice during the turmoils of the late 17th century. In the reign of James II he was made a Judge and Privy Councillor and although a Roman Catholic he managed to hold onto his estates in the aftermath of the Williamite Wars. In fact, both he and his brother Charles continued to acquire more land, supposedly spending some £30,000 so doing: in 1708 Denis Daly paid £9,450 for Dunsandle which had hitherto belonged to the Burkes, Earls of Clanricarde.

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As is far too often the case, we do not know a great deal about who was responsible for designing or building the great house at Dunsandle. And great it certainly was until just over half a century ago. Of finely cut limestone, the centre block rose three storeys over basement, of five bays, both the entrance and garden fronts having a three-bay pedimented breakfront. On either side of the main house ran a single-storey screen wall with pedimented doorways and niches which in turn were linked to substantial two-storey courtyard wings. In 1967 the Knight of Glin tentatively attributed the house to the Italian-born architect and engineer Davis Ducart (Daviso De Arcort) and to-date nobody has come up with a satisfactory alternative.
A handful of late 19th/early 20th century photographs give us the only clear idea of what the interior looked like. The saloon had elaborate and very pretty rococo plasterwork not dissimilar to that seen at Castletown Cox, County Kilkenny (which was designed by Ducart) or that of 86 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin which dates from c.1765. The drawing room is said to have had an ‘Adamesque’ ceiling while the entrance hall contained later plasterwork almost certainly designed by James Wyatt (Denis Daly, of whom more later, in 1780 married the heiress of the first Lord Farnham who had likewise commissioned Wyatt to work on his house). Staircases with carved balusters rose on either side of the hall, leading to bedrooms and sitting rooms on the first floor.
In his 1978 guide to Irish Country Houses, Mark Bence-Jones rightly called Dunsandle ‘until recently the finest C18 house in Co Galway’ and one cannot argue with that, since it was long attested by other sources. As far back as 1786 William Wilson in The Post-Chaise Companion or Traveller’s Directory Through Ireland described Dunsandle as ‘the most magnificent and beautiful seat, with ample demesnes of the Rt. Hon, Denis Daly.’ This makes its loss all the greater.

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The Rt Hon Denis Daly (1748–1791) seems to have been a man of exceptional character. In his memoirs, Henry Grattan who was a close friend, describes Daly as ‘an individual singularly gifted. Born a man of family, of integrity, of courage and of talent, he possessed much knowledge and great good-nature, an excellent understanding and great foresight…In person Denis Daly was handsome, of a pleasing and agreeable address, and so excellent a manner that by it he conciliated everybody… He was a friend to the Catholics and he always supported them. There were men who possessed more diligence and information, but he surpassed them all in talent.’
A fine portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds testifies to Daly’s good looks. As has been mentioned in 1780 he married Lady Henrietta Maxwell, only daughter of the first Earl of Farnham, and thus increased his estates (in the early 19th century they ran to over 33,000 acres) as well as inheriting a house on Dublin’s Henrietta Street. Here he entertained with flair, but also displayed his intellectual interests: elsewhere Grattan wrote ‘at Mr Daly’s we dined among his books as well as at his table – they were on it – they were lying around it…’ Decades after his death Hely Dutton in A Statistical and Agricultural Survey of the County of Galway (1824) observed that Dunsandle’s late owner had ‘not only collected the best editions of the great authors of antiquity, but read books with the ardour of a real lover of literature. His library was uncommonly valuable.’ At least part of that library passed to his younger son Robert Daly who in 1843 became Bishop of Cashel and Waterford.

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In 1845 Denis Daly’s elder son James was created first Baron Dunsandle and Clanconal. He does not appear to have inherited his father’s charm and was widely reported to be unpopular with his tenantry, many of whom supported the cause of the pro-Catholic Ribbonmen in the 1820s; it should be noted that his brother, Bishop Robert Daly was notoriously anti-Catholic. So too was the second Lord Dunsandle who in 1893 disinherited his elder son William when the latter married a Catholic. In any case, William Daly could not have succeeded to the title since he was illegitimate, his parents only marrying twelve years after his birth. It was William Daly’s son Colonel Denis Daly who in 1931 bought Russborough, County Wicklow and thereby ensured that house survived to the present day. Meanwhile William Daly’s brother – yet another Denis (and like his sibling born out of wedlock) – appears to have taken over Dunsandle after their father’s death in 1893. He in turn was succeeded by his son, Major Denis Bowes Daly who was the last of the family to live there.
It is not altogether clear why the Dalys finally sold up and left Dunsandle in 1954. Obviously there was pressure from the Land Commission which wished to acquire the estate so that it could be broken up and distributed among smallholders. But there were also most likely personal reasons too. In 1950 Major Bowes Daly had divorced his first wife to marry Melosine Hanbury (née Cary-Barnard) with whom he had been joint Master of the Galway Blazers for the previous few years. Mrs Hanbury had already had two husbands, her first Wing-Commander Marcus Trundle being in the news a decade ago when it was revealed that in the mid-1930s London police reported he was the secret lover of Wallis Simpson. Whatever the truth about that, it appears that the Major Bowes Daly’s divorce and re-marriage caused a stir in County Galway in the early 1950s with local Catholic clergy advising farmers to boycott the hunt. Eventually the Dalys moved for a few years to Africa, Dunsandle was sold and in 1958 the house unroofed.
As is so often the case, one could write a great deal more about Dunsandle and its owners, although not too much else about the house. Still, as indicated by these photographs taken only last month, it was clearly a building that ought to have been preserved, with only the vestiges of its former splendour remaining. The wings and linking passages are gone, all that remains is the main block and that looks likely to surrender to vegetation in the near future. Soon even the final traces of that elegant plasterwork will be gone and with them three centuries of Irish cultural history, yet another irreparable loss. Below is a photograph of the main façade of Dunsandle included in the 5th volume of the Irish Georgian Society Records published in 1913.

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Where there is Darkness, Light

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Passing through the village of Kilconnell, County Galway one sees an extensive range of ruins to the immediate west of the main street. Here in a field grazed by sheep who look blithely impervious to the architectural glories around them stand the remains of a former Franciscan friary.
There has been some discussion about the precise date of the building’s foundation, perhaps because it is proposed to be on the site of an earlier religious settlement established in the sixth century by St Conal, or Conall (of whom there seems to have been more than one). Hence the Irish placename Cil Chonaill, meaning Conall’s church. In any case, if monks did live here before the Franciscans arrived no evidence of their presence remains. It is most commonly suggested the friars established their house around 1414 at the request of and with assistance from William O’Kelly, Lord of Uí Maine – one of the oldest and largest kingdoms in Connacht that included much of this part of the country – who died in 1420.

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Kilconnell Friary is more elaborate than most such Franciscan establishments. The original body of the church consisted, as was always the case with this religious order, of a single long nave continuing into a choir of similar proportions. A cloister to the immediate north of the church then ran east to a two-storey domestic range that held offices below and a dormitory above. Only the east and part of the south range of the cloister arcades survive but these are notable for the variety of stonemason’s marks carved into them.
Later in the 15th century, and rather unusually, a large square tower was erected at the central point and running the full width of the church; it still rises three storeys higher than the former roof line and can be sighted across the surrounding countryside. It has very handsome vaulting the piers beneath which sport a couple of delicate carvings of an angel and an owl. Around the same period a south aisle was joined to the nave by an arcade as well as a south transept accessible from both nave and choir, with a small chapel added to the immediate east in the 16th century. These adjuncts make Kilconnell larger and finer than the majority of its sister houses in Ireland.

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What further distinguishes Kilconnell Friary from other such churches is its exceptionally impressive collection of niche tombs found lining the walls of both nave and choir. The former holds the most elaborate of all, located just inside the west entrance on the north wall. The upper section is dominated by an ogee canopy with flamboyant stone tracery and capped by a carved panel containing two figures widely believed to represent St Patrick and St Francis. The base of this monument is given over to a long slab featuring six further figures, each identified by name: St John the Evangelist, St Louis of Toulouse, the Virgin, St John the Baptist, St James Major and St Denis of Paris. There has been some speculation why two French saints should appear on this tomb, but perhaps the explanation lies with the family responsible for its erection; unfortunately it is unknown who that might have been.
Another similarly flamboyant gothic tomb, albeit without the carved figures, can be found on the north wall of the choir, this one associated with the O’Daly family and another on the opposite side is an O’Kelly tomb of marginally less splendour. The main windows are also particularly good, including those in the south aisle and transept but best of all, and probably latest, is that on the west wall.

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Kilconnell Friary’s prominence, apparent in its size and decoration, remained long after other religious establishments were closed as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1540s. Although occupied by English troops in 1596, twenty-one years later it was claimed that the buildings were intact and still in use, with a community of six friars. Their lands were granted by James I to the Norfolk-born judge Charles Calthorpe in 1616 and in 1667 Matthias Barnewall, 8th Baron Trimlestown, who on Oliver Cromwell’s orders had been transplanted to Connacht from his family estate in County Meath was interred inside the friary, as commemorated by an armorial tablet set into the wall of the former sacristy.
There were still friars on the site in 1709 and a few remained until 1766. Seemingly the last one, who had been acting as a parish priest, only left in 1801. Long before that date, however, the buildings had become ruinous: an engraving included in Francis Grose’s Antiquities of Ireland published in 1791 shows the church roofless, its walls already half-smothered in foliage (in fact the image suggests the structure was in poorer condition then than is the case today).
In his Tour of Connaught (1839) the Rev. Caesar Otway wrote ‘The shell of the abbey is as picturesque as can be, where there are neither hills, rock, lake nor river, and but a few distant trees to improve the scenery; perhaps its ivy-mantled tower and time-tinted roofless gables, with all their salient angles, producing the happiest effects of light and shadow, are better in keeping with the waste and desolation that preside over the place, destitute as it is of any modern improvement or decoration whatsoever.’ So it remains to this day, a monument to the glories of late-mediaeval Ireland still unadorned by modern improvements and still mostly frequented only by a flock of disinterested sheep.

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The Gates to Nowhere

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A gateway arch looking rather desolate on the side of the road at Northbrook, Aughrim, County Galway. This was not its original location, since the arch came from an estate in neighbouring County Roscommon, possibly Mote Park. The house there, belonging to the Crofton family, was demolished in the 1960s, its contents sold two decades earlier. Little now remains except another entrance gate, a much more substantial Doric triumphal arch surmounted by a lion which dates from c.1800 and is sometimes attributed to James Gandon. If the gateway shown here did come from Mote, it presumably marked a secondary entrance into the demesne.

When nettles wave upon a shapeless mound*

This 18th century mahogany hunt table is due to be auctioned on Sunday by de Vere’s of Dublin. The last time it came on the market was in 1932 when offered in the house contents sale of Coole Park, County Galway, residence of Lady Gregory who had died earlier that year. Some time later, the chairman of Ireland’s Board of Works declared that while Lady Gregory’s place in the pantheon of Anglo-Irish literature was assured, ‘it is straining it somewhat to suggest that her home should be preserved as a National Monument on that account.’ Coole Park, which today would be a place of pilgrimage, was accordingly demolished in 1941.
*from ‘Coole Park’ by W.B. Yeats
Addendum: The table sold for €4,000.