Misplaced Priorities

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This weekend the grounds of Westport House, County Mayo play host to a music festival. Revellers of sensitive disposition are advised not to venture into the adjacent town as the neglect of its historic core can only lead to feelings of disgust. In the closing decades of the 18th century, the centre of Westport town was laid out by John Browne, third Earl of Altamont (and later first Marquess of Sligo); its design is often attributed to James Wyatt – who was certainly responsible for some of the house’s interiors – but there is no direct evidence to support this.
In any case what cannot be questioned is that Westport has the potential to be one of the most attractive towns in Ireland, a potential which at present is being squandered as the photograph above shows. This is a former coaching inn standing on the North Mall and overlooking the canalised Carrowbeg river. In 1835 John Barrow described it as being a hostelry ‘where the most fastidious could scarcely fail to be pleased’ and seven years later Thackeray called ‘one of the prettiest, comfortablest inns in Ireland.’ The hotel continued in business for over two centuries until 2006 when plans were announced for its refurbishment: since then this crucial site has remained shut, despite Westport being heavily dependant on tourism.
If only this were an isolated case, but worse can be found towards the eastern end of the North Mall where the hotel’s equivalent can be seen below. Of similar date, five bays and two storeys, and originally created as a private residence the building served for many years as a bank until that closed in 2007 since when it has likewise been permitted to fall into the present state of decay. Furthermore the same is true of several other properties along the mall, their roofs sagging, their window frames decaying, the whole spectacle a sad testament to on-going neglect.
Almost 180 years ago John Barrow regarded the North Mall as ‘bearing a close resemblance to a street in a Dutch town’ although it is unlikely any local authority in Holland would allow such dereliction to occur. Mayo County Council’s current development plan for Westport states ‘It is the policy of the Council to maintain, conserve and protect the architectural quality, character and scale of the town.’ Looking at these pictures, it is hard to find evidence of the policy being put into practice. Westport even has a town architect who as recently as last November could be found lecturing the burghers of Fermoy, County Cork on how to improve their historic centre. He would do better to stay at home and ensure the place where he is employed, officially designated a Heritage Town of Ireland, holds onto its heritage before this is lost forever.

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M’Lady’s Chamber

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A proposal for the decoration of the Duchess of Leinster’s dressing room on the first floor garden front of Leinster House in Dublin. The building was designed in 1745 by Richard Castle, but this plan is believed to date from the end of the following decade and to have been made by the English architect Isaac Ware. His connection to the FitzGerald family was most likely through Henry Fox, brother-in-law of the first Duke of Leinster but Ware had other Irish links too. Supposedly as an eight-year old London chimneysweep, he was discovered by Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington (and fourth Earl of Cork) sketching the elevation of Inigo Jone’s Whitehall Banqueting Hall. According to this story, Lord Burlington was so impressed by the child’s natural talent that he gave him a formal education and then sent him to Italy to study architecture. And one of Ware’s most celebrated buildings was Chesterfield House in London designed for Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield who served as Lord Lieutenant in Ireland around the time work began on Leinster House: although unexecuted, the dressing room’s French rococo style bears similarities to the music room in Chesterfield House (sadly demolished in 1937).
This drawing is one of a large number once kept at the Leinsters’ country house, Carton, County Kildare and then later moved to the Leinster Estate Office at 13 Lower Dominick Street, Dublin. When that building was demolished in 1958 the drawings were saved by Desmond and Mariga Guinness who thereafter built up a large holding of historical architectural designs; this was acquired in its entirety by the Irish Architectural Archive in 1996. A selection of items from the Guinness Collection, including this drawing, is on display at the archive until August 22nd. For further information, see: http://www.iarc.ie/exhibitions

Paradise Lost

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This page from the Dublin Penny Journal of December 5th 1835 shows the casino at Marino, Dublin completed sixty years earlier to the designs of Sir William Chambers. As discussed here before (see Casino Royale, March 25th 2013) the casino was only one of a number of buildings erected in the grounds of the first Earl of Charlemont’s estate. Close to the casino, for example, stood a tall Gothic tower known as ‘Rosamund’s Bower’ and likely designed by Johann Heinrich Muntz, a Swiss-born painter and architect encouraged by Horace Walpole to move to England where he worked with Chambers. Unfortunately Lord Charlemont’s architectural ambitions exceeded his income, leaving his heirs somewhat impoverished and resulting in the park at Marino soon falling into decay: the Dublin Penny Journal notes that Rosamund’s Bower was already in ruins and strangers seldom visited the place any more.
Ultimately all except the casino was swept away, and at the moment that building plays host to a fascinating exhibition Paradise Lost: Lord Charlemont’s Garden at Marino which is demands to be seen (and is accompanied by a very smart and informative catalogue). Next Tuesday, June 10th the Office of Public Works and the Irish Georgian Society are holding a study day in the latter’s Dublin headquarters on South William Street exploring this long-vanished parkland and its legacy. For booking and more information, please see http://www.igs.ie/events.

In Exchange

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A 1792 print by James Malton of the Tholsel in Dublin. Seemingly the word Tholsel derives from the old English ‘toll’ meaning tax and ‘sael’ meaning hall, and it was thus a place where taxes and the like were paid. But in the mediaeval city it also served as court house, custom-house, guildhall and merchants’ meeting place. By the 17th century the original Tholsel had fallen into disrepair and in the 1680s was replaced by the structure seen here, standing on Skinner’s Row (opposite Christ Church Cathedral). This baroque building had an open arcade on the ground floor where mercantile business could be conducted, and a chamber for council meetings of Dublin Corporation upstairs. Its façade was adorned with two niches containing statues of Charles II and his brother the Duke of York (later and briefly James II) behind which rose a tower and weather vane. However, by the time Malton’s print was published the towner had been taken down and early in the following century the entire building was demolished, its functions superseded by Thomas Cooley’s Exchange (now City Hall) on Dame Street, and the City Assembly House on South William Street where the local authority preferred to meet. Next Wednesday evening, May 21st, I shall be introducing a talk by Andrew Bonar Law on Malton’s Irish prints to be given in the self-same City Assembly House, now headquarters for the Irish Georgian Society. For further information, see: http://www.igs.ie/events/detail/the-irish-prints-of-james-malton-lecture-by-andrew-bonar-law

When an Irishman’s Home is by Castle

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Although now considered central Dublin, St Stephen’s Green originally stood outside the city walls, its name deriving from a church and leper hospital founded at the end of the 12th century a short distance to the west (at the junction of what are now Mercer and Stephen’s Streets). During the following centuries, the green comprised marshy ground with an area of around sixty acres used for common grazing land (hence anyone presented with the Freedom of the City of Dublin acquires the right to graze sheep in St Stephen’s Green).
In 1635 the City Corporation passed legislation stating ‘That no parsel of the Greenes or commons of the city shall henceforth be lett, but wholie kept for the use of the citizens and others to walke and take open aire, by this reason this cittie is at present groweing very populous.’ However, in 1663 the same city fathers decided that, given Dublin’s expansion, this plot of common land should be exploited for its commercial potential. A survey was conducted of the site and the following year a central green area of twenty-seven acres marked out, with the surrounding ground divided along four sides into ninety-six building plots; on average these had a frontage of sixty feet and a depth of 200 feet. The ground rent generated by this scheme was used to construct the park’s walls and paving. Owners of sites had to build properties at least two storeys high and with roofs of either slate or tile. Furthermore they were each obliged to plant six sycamore trees near the park wall so as to improve its appearance.

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Progress on building around the green was initially slow, and not helped by the disruptions of the later 17th century. Charles Brooking’s 1728 map of Dublin shows many vacant plots but thereafter development was rapid and within a few decades all four sides were filled with some of the grandest private residences in the city. As with similar developments elsewhere in the city, because the owner of each site served as his own developer, there was often considerable difference in appearance between one building and its neighbours: the English travel writer Richard Twiss, in his controversial 1775 book A Tour of Ireland, observed that the houses in St Stephen’s Green were ‘so extremely irregular, that they are scarcely two of the same height, breadth, materials or architecture.’ To our eyes this lack of regularity is precisely what lends the place its charm, but Twiss’ rational 18th century mind felt otherwise.
We do not know who was responsible for the design of the majority of the original houses in St Stephen’s Green, possibly in many cases no architect was employed. However on some occasions the client did hire a professional, as was the case at no.80 on the south side of the green. This was built 1736-7 for Robert Clayton, then Bishop of Cork and Orrery (and subsequently transferred to the diocese of Clogher). A wealthy man, Clayton employed Richard Castle to design his new townhouse at no.80. Of three storeys over basement, it was fronted in brick on the upper levels but the ground floor had a stone portico similar to that of Inigo Jones’ church of St Paul in Covent Garden, London. The first floor saloon overlooking St Stephen’s Green was especially admired: even before the house was complete, John Boyle, fifth Earl of Orrery was writing to Bishop Clayton that he had visited the property in the company of its architect and commenting ‘This comes to congratulate your Lordp upon your new House in Stevens-Green. Felices quorum iam maria surgunt! [Happy those whose seas rise]…Your Palace, my Lord, appears finely upon Paper, and to shew you that the whole pleases me, I even admire your Coal Cellars. Your great Room will probably bring the Earl of Burlington over to this Kingdom…’ Unfortunately towards the end of his life, Bishop Clayton succumbed to the heresy of Arianism for which at the time of his death in 1758 he was due to be prosecuted by his fellow clerics. His residence meanwhile was from the 1860s onwards subsumed into what today is known as Iveagh House although parts of it, including the saloon, remain.

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As mentioned, the heretically-inclined Bishop Clayton employed Richard Castle to design his townhouse on St Stephen’s Green and so too in 1738 Captain Hugh Montgomery for a residence at no.85 just a few doors to the immediate west: this building is now part of the Newman House complex. By this date, Castle was the most successful and fashionable architect in the country and his services much in demand. Until recently little was known of his origins, since he only comes to public attention after arriving here in 1728 at the behest of Sir Gustavus Hume to design a house on the latter’s County Fermanagh estate.
However, research conducted by Loreto Calderón and Konrad Dechant (and published in The Eighteenth-Century Dublin Town House, ed. Christine Casey, 2010) has revealed much more about Castle’s background.
Since he came from Germany, and his name was often spelled Cassels, it was assumed that his family originated in Hesse-Kassel. In fact, he was one of four sons of an English-born Jewish merchant, Joseph Riccardo and his second, Bombay-born, wife Rachel Burges who by 1699 were settled in Saxony where Joseph became Director of Munitions and Mines to the Elector Frederick Augustus I, the ruler first responsible for beautifying Dresden where the Riccardo family eventually came to live. Presumably thanks to his father’s involvement in mining, the young Richard Castle developed an interest in engineering and in the early 1720s spent time in France and the Netherlands studying canals and fortifications. In 1725 he was in London, calling himself ‘Richard Castle, gentleman’ and subscribing to the third volume of Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Britannicus, from which it is possible to deduce he was in some way associated with Lord Burlington’s circle of neo-Palladians. Following his move to Ireland, and his work for Sir Gustavus Hume, he came to Dublin and was engaged as a draughtsman by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, then engaged to design a new Parliament House in College Green. Ultimately Castle would become Pearce’s successor as Ireland’s premier architect.

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Today Richard Castle is primarily remembered as the architect responsible for some of the country’s most splendid country houses such as Russborough and Powerscourt, both County Wicklow, Carton in County Kildare and Summerhill, County Meath (for the last of these, see My Name is Ozymandias, April 1st 2013). But his services were also in demand for aristocratic town houses in Dublin where he designed not just the two in St Stephen’s Green already mentioned, but also Tyrone House on Marlborough Street (dating from 1740 and now part of the Department of Education) and of course Leinster House on Kildare Street (1745-48) which since 1922 has been the seat of the Oireachtas.
Less familiar is the building featured today which he designed towards the end of his life. This stands on the west side of St Stephen’s Green, an area which suffered particular damage in the final quarter of the last century with this pair of houses being the only survivors from the 18th century (the nearby College of Surgeons dates from 1805 and the Unitarian Church further south from 1861). Otherwise the entire west side was cleared of its history, to be replaced by the long stretches of the lacklustre office and retail development one now sees. For this reason, the survival of Castle’s design, which constitute 119 and 120 St Stephen’s Green, is all the more precious. The site was acquired by the architect himself and it would seem that, following the example of other craftsmen of the period, he undertook the scheme in a personal capacity. But building work could hardly have progressed far prior to his death in 1751, after which a decade passed before two of his brothers (who were beneficiaries of his will) travelled from Saxony to liquidate the dead man’s assets. The property then passed into the possession of a Richard Thwaites who was able to lease the completed houses in 1764.

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As can be seen from the topmost picture, Castle’s plan for 119-120 St Stephen’s Green provides a single red-brick facade for the two properties, as though it were one very large house. Although each building is of two bays, they share a first-floor blind Venetian window above which are respectively a likewise blank oculus and carved tablet, a string course on the first floor and a heavy stone cornice below the attic storey being likewise communal. These devices were borrowed from Pearce who used them first at Bellamont Forest, County Cavan (see (La Belle au Bois Dormant, January 21st 2013), the blind Venetian window on the house’s side elevations and the oculus in the entrance hall (where until 2012 the succession of oculi held 18th century busts, see The Bellamont Busts, March 18th 2013). Castle had a limited repertoire of motifs which he was inclined to repeat, and here are two of his favourites, found in both exterior and interior of several country houses he designed. And in turn his deployment of them inspired others to do likewise, not least amateur architect Frances Bindon who is believed to have worked with Castle at both Russborough and Belan, County Kildare (see Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013). Bindon’s design for John Square, Limerick contains the same blind Venetian windows, lined in brick, with oval blind oculi above (see When New Becomes Old, March 24th last). Unfortunately today it is hard to appreciate the effect of Castle’s once-unified facade for 119-120 St Stephen’s Green since the ground floor of no.119 has been so badly compromised. No.120 however is better preserved and retains its rusticated doorcase.
Likewise, as these photographs show, the interior of no.120 has undergone relatively little change although one wonders whether the design was by Castle or someone else after his death. Here the staircase is not facing the entrance but at right angles and set back between front parlour and ground floor dining room, light being provided by large round-headed windows on the south wall (which faces onto a laneway). Both the ground and first floor have kept their late rococo plasterwork ceilings, in every case an effervescence of trailing garlands and floral motifs. The neo-classical chimney pieces are clearly of later date but of sufficient quality to justify their presence. One other curious feature is a gilded wooden relief panel set above the door of the former dining room and depicting drunk Bacchus being led away by his followers: its basic frame leads one to ask did this come from somewhere else?
From the late 18th century onwards the west side of St Stephen’s Green was susceptible to commercial use and by the early 1800s houses began ceasing to serve as private residences: thus the preservation of no.120 is especially welcome. Today the building is occupied by a financial group, the staff of which understand their good fortune to work in such agreeable and historic surroundings – as opposed to the anaemic office blocks found on either side.

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With thanks to Sarasin & Partners for permitting me to visit the building

In Praise of Narcissism

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Although undoubtedly a great humanitarian, Jonathan Swift was also capable of outbursts of spite. As evidence of which one cites his short essay Character of Primate Marsh, believed to have been written around 1710 (although only published thirty-five years later). In this piece of invective against the then-Archbishop of Armagh, Swift wrote ‘Marsh has the reputation of the most profound and universal learning; this is the general opinion, neither can it be easily disproved. An old rusty iron-chest in a banker’s shop, strongly lockt, and wonderful heavy, is full of gold; this is the general opinion, neither can it be disproved, provided the key be lost, and what is in it be wedged so close that it will not by any motion discover the metal by the clinking…No man will either be glad or sorry at his death, except his successor.’ Certainly following Marsh’s elevation to the primacy his successor in the archdiocese of Dublin William King was equally unkind, describing him as being ‘very dextrous at doing nothing.’ Of course unlike Swift and King, and despite being a Lord Justice of Ireland on six occasions, Marsh does not appear to have been particularly interested in politics and this could explain the two men’s dismissive remarks. Because despite what they might have thought and did write, Archbishop Marsh was far from being an ineffectual cleric and left a lasting and generous legacy through the establishment of the first public library in Ireland.

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Narcissus Marsh was born in Wiltshire in 1638 ‘of honest parents,’ as he wrote in his diary. His name, while unusual, was not so distinctive as that given to either of his two brothers who were christened Epaphroditus and Onesiphorus: all three derive from persons mentioned in St Paul’s Epistles. While an undergraduate at Oxford Marsh decided to take orders and soon after was offered a living in Swindon, only subsequently discovering that he was expected to marry a friend of the people responsible for his preferment. This he refused, having determined never to marry since he believed he could only serve the church while a bachelor.
Returning to Oxford he continued his studies until appointed Principal of St Alban Hall in Oxford by the first Duke of Ormond who was Chancellor of the University; it was presumably through this connection that in 1679 he came to Ireland to take up the Provostship of Trinity College in Dublin. One of his greatest achievements during this time was arranging for an Irish translation of the Old Testament (the New Testament having already been translated earlier in the century). He also employed, at his own expense, a former Catholic priest, Paul Higgins, to teach Irish to the students at Trinity College and to preach an Irish sermon once a month; seemingly both sermons and lectures were extremely popular.
Marsh was appointed Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin in 1683 but following the accession of James II found himself much harassed and eventually retreated to England, only returning to this country after the Battle of the Boyne. In 1690 he was made Archbishop of Cashel and four years later moved to Dublin. Finally in 1703 he became Archbishop of Armagh and remained there until his death ten years later.

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It was while Provost of Trinity College that Marsh conceived the notion of establishing a new public library in Dublin. He had already undertaken work to improve the college’s own facilities, revising the library regulations, and insisting that when a keeper was appointed all the books in his care must be accounted for, either replacing or paying for any that had been lost. But Marsh also noticed how hard it was for potential scholars to use the college library, remarking that what rendered it inaccessible to the greater part of the population was that according to the institution’s statutes ‘no man, besides the Provost and Fellows is permitted to study there, unless carry’d up thither by one of them, who is bound to be present all the time the other stays in the library: and ‘twas this, and this consideration alone that at first mov’d me to think of building a library in some other place (than in the college) for public use, where all might have free access, seeing they cannot have it in the College; nor are our booksellers’ shops furnished anything tolerably with other books than new trifles and pamphlets, and not well with them also.’
Hence following his appointment to Dublin Marsh embarked on the creating a library which, while a place of scholarship, would also be open to everyone. To ensure its legal status, he wished the new foundation to be incorporated through an Act of Parliament. However, the bill he drew up for this purpose met with severe opposition from some of his fellow clerics, including Jonathan Swift. Because the new library was within the grounds of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Marsh proposed that its keeper also be the cathedral’s Precentor (that is, the clergyman in charge of organising liturgy and worship). Those against this move were concerned that property belonging to the Church of Ireland might be lost to the library, the board of which could come to exercise authority over the Precentor. A second point of complaint arose from Marsh’s intention to appoint as keeper a Huguenot refugee, Elias Bouhéreau (of whom more below) based on the latter’s commitment to donate his own collection of books to the library, a requirement allowing the opposition to claim the Archbishop had engaged in simony through what was effectively the sale of an ecclesiastical office. These matters may seem of small importance to us today, but they caused a great deal of trouble at the time and delayed the official establishment of the library. Ultimately Marsh was forced to abandon the link between Keeper and Precentor (although Elias Bouhéreau did take up his duties) and in 1707, by which time he had transferred to Armagh, he was able to see passed an act ‘for settling and preserving a Publick Library for ever.’

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One of the few 18th century buildings in Ireland still used for its original purpose, Marsh’s Library holds a collection of over 25,000 books and 300 manuscripts. There are eighty books printed before 1501, 430 books printed in Italy before 1600, 1,200 books printed in England before 1640 and 5,000 books printed in England before 1700. At the heart of all this material is the library assembled by Edward Stillingfleet, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London and from 1689 Bishop of Worcester. Following his death in 1699, there was much public interest in what would happen to Stillingfeet’s books, deemed to constitute the best private library in the British Isles. Efforts were made to keep it in England but in 1705 the entire printed collection of almost 10,000 books was purchased by Marsh for just over £2,000 and brought to Dublin where it has remained ever since. It contains works on diverse subjects including theology, history, the classics, law, medicine and travel, whereas Marsh’s own collection reflects his interest in oriental studies including Arabic and Hebrew books as well as his engagement with the Irish language: in 1695 he had bought a number of manuscripts belonging to the distinguished jurist and orientalist, Dudley Loftus (of whom Marsh wrote that he ‘never knew so much Learning in the Keeping of a Fool,’ although this did not stop him acquiring Loftus’ collection).
Then there are the books that originally belonged to the institution’s first librarian, Dr Elias Bouhéreau, a Huguenot doctor from La Rochelle who had left France following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Bouhéreau’s collection contains many works relating to his native country and to the various religious controversies of the 17th century as well as medical texts. Finally a fourth major collection was bequeathed to Marsh’s library in 1745 by John Stearne, former Bishop of Clogher (who left his manuscripts to Trinity College, Dublin where he had earlier provided £1,000 to build a printing house). As former Keeper Muriel McCarthy has noted, ‘It is easy to forget that in the early eighteenth century Marsh’s would have been regarded as a modern library with the latest books and a modern classification system. To study and examine the books in Marsh’s is to explore a world which has been one of the hallmarks of Europe’s great cultural heritage.’

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Not only have the contents of Marsh’s library scarcely altered since originally assembled by its founder, but so too has its appearance remained much the same. Built at a cost of £5,000 the core of the building was designed 1701-3 by Sir William Robinson who for the previous three decades had acted as Surveyor General of Ireland and whose other extant works include the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. In 1710 Thomas Burgh, who had succeeded Robinson as Surveyor General, extended the library by adding another wing and also designed its entrance porch. Thereafter little happened structurally until the mid-19th century when, as part of the restoration work to St Patrick’s Cathedral underwritten by Benjamin Lee Guinness, a new entrance front and stair hall was built, as well as a Gothic gateway. At the same time the easterly churchyard elevation was clad in limestone, but the 18th century brick courtyard on the other side of the library survives, as do the original interiors.
The library proper is primarily composed of two first-floor galleries, the earlier (designed by Robinson) running sixty feet south-north, while that added by Burgh at right-angles to the north corner is linked by a librarian’s room and runs seventy-six feet west-east. At the latter end is a short further extension which originally provided direct access to the former Archbishop of Dublin’s Palace of St Sepulchre. This stretch is distinguished by having three enclosed alcoves known as ‘cages’, their carved timber tympana decorated with gothick tracery and finials: these spaces were intended to ensure the safety of the smaller, more valuable books since users could be locked inside. The main galleries are indebted for their appearance to Oxford’s 17th century Bodleian Library, with which Marsh was familiar from his time at that university, and which he cited in correspondence when discussing his own intentions; he wrote to a friend and fellow cleric Dr Thomas Smith that the Dublin building’s upper part ‘is contrived like the cross part of the Bodleyan Library.’ On either side of both galleries and at right angles to the windows are a succession of dark oak bookcases, the stack end of each treated as a pedimented pier with painted and gilded cartouches bearing classmarks while the top is surmounted by carved cartouches with mitre and stole finials. The uniformity of this design, and the fact that it has not been subject to alteration, helps to give the galleries their special character and to link today’s users to their 18th century precursors.
Marsh’s Library remains dedicated to its original purpose but in addition welcomes visitors and hosts temporary exhibitions (the next of which, Imagining Japan, 1570-1750, opens to the public on April 16th). It is one of our best and least changed bonds with the dynamism of Georgian Dublin, an era more often honoured in the breach than in observance of due respect for its achievements. But by remaining true to the founder’s original wishes Marsh’s Library both honours the past and bears witness to the erroneousness of Swift’s unkind remarks.

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With thanks to the staff, Governors and Guardians of Marsh’s Library. For more information, see: http://www.marshlibrary.ie

A Pale Reflection

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120 St Stephen’s Green is one of a pair of houses on the west side of the square designed by Richard Castle to look from the exterior like a single unit. Following Castle’s death in 1751, the development was sold by his executors to Richard Thwaites who by 1764 had completed and leased the houses. No. 120 is the finer, and more intact of the two and contains some delicious rococo plasterwork such as that seen here reflected in a mirror over the first-floor saloon chimneypiece.
More about 120 St Stephen’s Green in the coming weeks.

Hail Glorious Knights of St Patrick

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Above is a portrait of George III’s fifth son Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and, from 1837 until his death fourteen years later, King of Hanover: he was also Earl of Armagh in the Irish peerage. The picture is of interest because it shows the Duke in the robes of a Knight Companion of the Order of St Patrick to which he was appointed in August 1821.
Dormant without being extinct, the Illustrious Order of St Patrick was established in February 1783 by George III ‘to distinguish the virtue, loyalty and fidelity of his subjects in Ireland.’ Note that its creation came the year after Grattan and his supporters had secured greater autonomy for the Irish parliament; the new chivalric order was intended to ensure firmer ties, at least among members of the peerage, to the British crown. Modelled on the very much older Order of the Garter, initially it consisted of the ruling Sovereign, a Grand Master (always the current Lord Lieutenant) and fifteen Knights Companions (this number later increased). In addition the Archbishop of Armagh served as Prelate of the Order, the Archbishop of Dublin as Chancellor, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin as Registrar and other posts included a Secretary, Genealogist, Usher and King of Arms. Naturally St Patrick was patron of the order, its motto being ‘Quis separabit?’ Latin for ‘Who will separate us?’ (an allusion to St Paul’s enquiry in his Letter to the Romans, ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’).

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As can be seen above, the first Knights were invested on 11th March 1783 in a ceremony held in the great ballroom of Dublin Castle, renamed St Patrick’s Hall and forever after known as such. The Order’s statutes restricted membership to men who were both knights and gentlemen, the latter being defined as having three generations of ‘noblesse’, that is ancestors bearing coats of arms on both their father’s and mother’s side. In fact only Irish Peers, and the occasional foreign princes, were ever created Knights of St Patrick.
Among the Knights Founders were George III’s fourth son, Prince Edward Augustus, later Duke of Kent and father of the future Queen Victoria: in his absence he was represented by Robert Deane, first Baron Muskerry. The only other absentee was Henry Loftus, Earl of Ely, then taking the waters in Bath in what proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to improve his health (he would be dead within two months); he was represented by John Joshua, second Baron Carysfort. The other new Knights were all present, including the second Duke of Leinster, the 12th Earl of Clanrickarde, the 6th Earl of Westmeath, the fifth Earl of Inchiquin, the second Earl of Shannon, the second Earl of Mornington (father of the future Duke of Wellington) and the great Earl of Charlemont. Only one peer declined to join the new order, Randal MacDonnell, Earl of Antrim because he was already a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath, and it was not permitted to hold both knighthoods: his place was taken by Arthur Gore, second Earl of Arran.

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Installation of P of Wales (later Edward VII) as Kn of St P

Formal ceremonies to mark the foundation of the Order took place on 17th March 1783. The day began with a ceremony in St Patrick’s Cathedral to which the Knights, after gathering at Dublin Castle, had all processed in their robes. The cathedral’s old choir was now designated the Chapel of the Order, in which each knight was required to affix his arms to his stall and to display his family banner above. Investiture of new Knights continued to take place in the cathedral choir until the official disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by Gladstone’s Liberal government in January 1871.
Following a service at St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Knights returned to Dublin Castle where the Lord Lieutenant, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, Earl Temple held a banquet in St Patrick’s Hall. The first picture shows this occasion with Lord Temple at the centre and the other Knights in all their finery, including cloaks and plumed tricornes, disposed on either side of him. Lady Temple is shown seated on the extreme left although in fact she was in the gallery behind her husband. This commemorative picture was created by a Sussex-born artist called John Keyse Sherwin who began his working life as a wood-cutter but subsequently acquired fame for his prints. However he hungered to become known as a painter, and so laboured on large canvases such as one some fifty feet long representing the Installation of the Knights of St Patrick. It was not a success, with one observer deriding the result as ‘a wretched daub.’ Still, this work, which became a popular engraving, helps to give us some idea of the occasion.
The second painting, by the Waterford-born artist Michael Angelo Hayes, depicts the March 1868 investiture as a Knight of St Patrick of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). The ceremony took place after St Patrick’s Cathedral had been extensively restored earlier in the decade thanks to the beneficence of brewer Benjamin Lee Guinness. It was one of the last occasions when such a ceremony involving the Order took place at this location.

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Although the Order’s original statutes were quite strict, they gradually became more relaxed. For example, when George IV visited in Ireland in 1821 the event was marked by the investiture of an additional six Knights of St Patrick (its membership was eventually increased to twenty-two). One of those appointed by the king was the first Roman Catholic to be so honoured, Arthur Plunkett, 8th Earl of Fingall. His family had always remained loyal to the old faith, and Lord Fingall was a leading supporter of Catholic Emancipation. This was not a position meeting with the King’s approval (nor that of his younger brother the aforementioned Duke of Cumberland who was vehemently opposed to the repeal of the old Penal Laws). Nevertheless in August 1821 Lord Fingall became a Knight of St Patrick. Strangely the most articulate opposition to his investiture came from Lord Byron, by then living in Italy (he would die less than three years later while trying to help Greece achieve independence from the Ottoman Empire). Hearing of the king’s visit to Ireland, and of the enthusiastic manner in which he was received, the poet wrote The Irish Avatar in which he castigated this country’s natives for their servile behaviour before the monarch. Specifically he wrote, ‘Will thy yard of blue riband, poor Fingal, recall/The fetters from millions of Catholic limbs?/Or, has it not bound thee the fastest of all/The slaves, who now hail their betrayer with hymns?’

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As already mentioned, once Gladstone’s government saw through legislation for the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland and thus ended its link with the state, the connection between the Knights of St Patrick and St Patrick’s Cathedral was also broken, the latter no longer serving as a venue for the former’s investiture ceremonies (these were subsequently moved to St Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Cathedral). It was decided that the heraldic banners of all knights at the time of the change would be left hanging over their respective choir stalls, along with their helmets and swords. And as can be seen above, so they remain to the present day, a reminder of a minor but fascinating detail of Irish history.
As for the Illustrious Order of St Patrick the last peer to be appointed to its ranks was James Hamilton, third Duke of Abercorn in June 1922. Three members of the British royal family followed: Edward, Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor) in 1927; Henry, Duke of Gloucester in 1934 and George, Duke of York (later George VI) in 1936. Although there have been no new Knights since then and there are no living ones since the death of the Duke of Gloucester in 1972, the order was never abolished and in theory could be revived. It seems an unlikely prospect, but then so once did a State Visit by the President of Ireland to Britain, and that takes place next month…
Happy St Patrick’s Day to all readers and followers of The Irish Aesthete.

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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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Completely Floored

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Two sections of the marquetry floors in the saloon at Ballyfin, County Laois. Dating from the 1820s and designed by the Morrisons père et fils, the house was built for Sir Charles Coote, premier baronet of Ireland. As such it was intended to reflect his status and was decorated with unusual lavishness and with inspiration from diverse sources: the floor here seemingly derives from Southern Spain’s Moorish architecture and is the most exotic in the country.

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Much more on Ballyfin in the coming weeks.