Plasterwork decoration in a recessed niche in the dining room of Bracklyn, County Westmeath. The house was built c.1790 by a branch of the Fetherston-Haugh family on land acquired from the Pakenhams in the same county. It occupies the site of a 15th century castle, some of which may have been incorporated into Bracklyn, which in keeping with the taste of the period has chaste neo-classical interiors throughout, as can also be seen below in this detail of an archway in the staircase hall.
Leaving the Empty Room
The door had a double lock,
and the joke was on me.
You might call it protection
against self, this joke,
and it wasn’t very funny:
I kept the door locked
in order to think twice.
The room itself: knickknacks,
chairs, and a couch,
the normal accoutrements.
And yet it was an empty room,
if you know what I mean.
I had a ticket in my head:
Anytime, it said, another joke.
How I wished I had a deadline
to leave the empty room,
or that the corridor outside
would show itself
to be a secret tunnel, perhaps
a winding path. Maybe I needed
a certain romance of departure
to kick in, as if I were waiting
for magic instead of courage,
or something else
I didn’t have. No doubt
you’re wondering if other people
inhabited the empty room.
Of course. What’s true emptiness
without other people?
I thought twice many times.
But when I left, I can’t say
I made a decision. I just followed
my body out the door,
one quick step after another,
even as the room started to fill
with what I’d been sure wasn’t there.
All photographs of New Hall, County Clare about which more next week.
Detail of a chimneypiece in the first floor drawing room of the former Bishop’s Palace in Waterford city. This building was designed c.1741 by Richard Castle and constructed on the site of a mediaeval Episcopal residence: it continued to serve this purpose until the last century and underwent various changes of use until restored in recent years and opened as a museum. Since the original chimneypieces were lost at some date, care has been taken to find appropriate replacements. This example, of Carrara white and Siena marble, came from the workshop of the Darley family in Dublin; its centre tablet feauring dolphin-handled ewers is similar to a design published by Sir William Chambers who, of course, was the architect responsible for Charlemont House and the Casino at Marino outside Dublin. Waterford Bishop’s Palace is currently hosting an exhibition on the local Roberts family, several members of which were notable artists and architects in the 18th century.
Looking not unlike a gigantic lemon squeezer: a hollow octagonal limestone obelisk with angled ribs and graduated elliptical piercings to faces. It stands in the grounds of Garbally, County Galway, an estate formerly belonging to the Trenches, Earls of Clancarty. It is sometimes proposed that the obelisk was originally the spire of St John’s Church at nearby Kilclooney after that building was damaged by fire. However an inscription on the base advises ‘This spire finished in December 1811 was erected from a design presented gratuitously by J. T. Grove Esq. Architect of the British Post Office and Board of Works to Richard Earl of Clancarty’. John Groves was an English architect and although he produced designs for a couple of other projects in Ireland, this is his only extant work here making it very much one of a kind. Garbally remained in the hands of the Trench family until the last century: since the 1920s it has been a school.
‘To delight in the aspects of sentient ruin might appear a heartless pastime, and the pleasure, I confess, shows the note of perversity.’ From Italian Hours (1873) by Henry James.
‘I salute you, lonely ruins. While your aspect repulses with a secret fear the gaze of the vulgar, my heart finds in contemplating you the charm of a thousand sentiments and thoughts. How many useful lessons and touching reflections do you not offer to the spirit which knows how to consult you!’
From Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires (1791) by Constantin François Chasseboeuf, comte de Volney.
‘I do love these ancient ruins
We never tread upon them but we set
Our foot upon some reverend history;
And, questionless, here in this open court,
Which now lies naked to the injuries
Of stormy weather, some men lie interr’d
Lov’d the church so well, and gave so largely to ’t,
They thought it should have canopied their bones
Till dooms-day. But all things have their end;
Churches and cities, which have diseases like to men,
Must have like death that we have.’
From The Duchess of Malfi (1612) by John Webster.
‘The ideas aroused within me by ruins are lofty. Everything vanishes, everything perishes, everything passes away, only the world remains, time alone endures. How old is this world! I walk between these two eternities…What is my ephemeral existence compared to that of this crumbling stone?’
From Denis Diderot’s Salon (1767).
‘At fifteen I went with the army,
At fourscore I came home.
On the way I met a man from the village,
I asked him who there was at home.
That over there is your house,
All covered over with trees and bushes.
Rabbits had run in at the dog-hole,
Pheasants flew down from the beams of the roof.
In the courtyard was growing some wild grain;
And by the well, some wild mallows.
I’ll boil the grain and make porridge,
I’ll pluck the mallows and make soup.
Soup and porridge are both cooked,
But there is no one to eat them with.
I went out and looked towards the east,
While tears fell and wetted my clothes.’
Chinese poem by an unknown author, translated by Arthur Waley (1919).
‘What are our woes and sufferance? Come and see
The cypress, hear the owl, and plod your way
O’er steps of broken thrones and temples, ye
Whose agonies are evils of a day! A world is at our feet as fragile as our clay. . . .
Then let the winds howl on! Their harmony
Shall henceforth be my music, and the night
The sound shall temper with the owlets’ cry,
As I now hear them in the fading light…’
From Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818) by Lord Byron.
‘Where rev’rend shrines in gothic grandeur stood,
The nettle, or the noxious night-shade spreads;
And ashlings, wafted from the neighboring wood,
Through the worn turrets wave their trembling heads.
I left the mantling shade in moral mood . . .
Sigh’d, as the mould’ring monuments I viewed.
Inexorably calm, with silent pace,
Here Time has pass’d What ruin marks his way!
This pile, now crumbling o’er its hallow’d base,
Turn’d not his step, nor could his course delay.’
From Poems chiefly Pastoral (1766) by John Cunningham.
‘Fall’n, fall’n, a silent heap; her heroes all
Sunk in their urns; behold the pride of pomp.
The throne of nations fall’n; obscur’d by dust;
Ev’n yet majestical; the solemn scene
Elates the soul, while now the rising Sun
Flames on the ruins in the purer air
Towering aloft upon the glittering plain,
Like broken rocks, a vast circumference;
Rent palaces, crush’d columns, rifled moles…’
From The Ruins of Rome (1740) by John Dyer.
‘…Since first these ruins fell, how chang’d the scene!
What busy, bustling mortals, now unknown,
Have come and gone, as tho’ there nought had been,
Since first Oblivion call’d the spot her own.
Ye busy, bustling mortals, known before,
Of what you’ve done, where went, or what you see,
Of what your hopes attain’d to, (now no more,)
For everlasting lies a mystery.
Like yours, awaits for me that common lot;
‘Tis mine to be of every hope bereft:
A few more years and I shall be forgot,
And not a vestige of my memory left.’
From Elegy on the Ruins of Pickworth (1818) by John Clare
‘Amidst the gloom arose the ruins of the abbey, tinged with a bright ray, which discovered a profusion of rich Gothic workmanship; and exhibited in pleasing contrast the grey stone of which the ruins are composed, with the feathering foliage that floated round them. . . . The imagination formed it, after the vision vanished.’
From Observations on the River Wye, and several parts of South Wales, etc. relative chiefly to picturesque beauty; made in the summer of the year 1770 (1782) by William Gilpin.
A view by Irish architect Jeremy Williams of Enniscoe, County Mayo. The house was built in two stages, the original part to the rear in the 1740s by George Jackson and then, about half a century late the front section added by his son and namesake. It is known that work was completed by 1798 since some damage was done to the building during the rebellion of that year, which in this part of the country included a French invasion led by General Humbert. Enniscoe survived and remains in the hands of the two George Jacksons’ descendants.
More on Enniscoe shortly.
The so-called Triumphal Arch into the grounds of Doneraile Court, County Cork. Believed to date from c.1830 and sometimes attributed to George Pain, it was erected during the lifetime of Hayes St Leger, third Viscount Doneraile whose family had occupied the estate since 1629 when Sir William St. Leger, Lord President of Munster acquired the lands for £1,800. The gateway was erected soon after a new road was made around the edge of the parkland to replace that which had previously run directly in front of the house. The Ionic capitals on the pillars to either side of the main arch contrast with the Doric order used for the pedimented lodge immediately inside the gates, although both presumably date from the same time. The two have recently been restored by the Office of Public Works.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Not necessarily the best photograph to have been shown here, but it gives some idea of an exhibition currently running at 5 Rutland Street, Limerick. The house dates from the 1770s and is one of a terrace that marks both chronologically and literally the onset of the city’s Newtown Pery district. After serving as a butcher’s shop, in recent years the premises – like its neighbours – has stood empty and neglected. However, overseen by conservation architect Cáit ni Cheallachain and historian Dr Ursula Callaghan, and as part of the local Irish Georgian Society chapter’s contribution to Limerick City of Culture leaks have been fixed, an outbreak of dry rot arrested, wallpaper stripped, paintwork cleaned (including all the staircase banisters), and the entire site given a fresh purpose: as a Pop Up Museum exploring aspects of Limerick’s rich cultural heritage from the Georgian era. This is an imaginative and exciting initiative showing what can be done in a building that otherwise risked becoming further prey to vandalism and decay. The Pop Up Museum is open at weekends from 10am to 5pm and on Wednesday evenings from 4pm to 9pm and runs until the end of this month: pop in while you can.
The greater part of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin dates from the first half of the 13th century but six hundred years later much of the structure had fallen into disrepair. Therefore the dean and chapter were extremely grateful when in 1860 the wealthy brewer Benjamin Lee Guinness wrote offering to underwrite a complete restoration of the building, the only condition being that he be subject to no interference: the project took five years and cost £150,000. One of the alterations made by Guinness was raising the floor of the nave to the same height as that of the choir. In the process, new tiles were laid down, of which these are an example, based on mediaeval designs and covering the entire nave.