Tucked away in a corner of the grounds of Kinnitty Castle, County Offaly is this sandstone High Cross, thought originally to have stood not far away on the site of a monastery at Drumcullen. An inscription on the south face of the base records that it was commissioned by Máel Sechnaill, High King of Ireland (846-62) while on the other side the cross is noted as being the work of ‘Colman’. The monument now rises seven feet 10 inches but was originally almost three feet taller, the cross-head being damaged. The north face offers, among other scenes, Eve tempting Adam, the south shows the Crucifixion.
Kinnitty Castle, County Offaly was originally known as Castle Bernard, its name reflecting that of the man responsible for commissioning much of what is seen today, Thomas Bernard, although an earlier house is incorporated to the rear of the building. All cased in crisp limestone, it was designed in the early 1830s by architect siblings James and George Pain, and reflects the period’s fondness for the Tudor-Revival style, although an octagonal tower on the south-west corner harks back to an earlier era. Kinnitty Castle was burnt out in 1922 and subsequently rebuilt, before becoming an agricultural college in the 1950s. A quarter of a century ago it was converted into an hotel, and remains so to the present. Inside the main gates is a pretty Tudoresque lodge (with the most charming ogee-headed doorcase) which is thought to be older than the main house, perhaps dating to the opening years of the 19th century and designed by Samuel Beazley. Alas, despite providing a first impression for guests to the hotel, it stands empty and has been allowed to fall into the present sad condition.
When writing about Ireland’s ruined country houses, the reason given for their destruction can sometimes be official indifference but rarely official action. However, the fate of Drum Manor, County Tyrone demonstrates that sometimes the latter happens. The origins of the property lie with Alexander Richardson, member of a family of Edinburgh burgesses who in 1617 bought the land on which it stands and constructed a house called Manor Richardson. His descendants remained there for the next two centuries and then in 1829 Drum Manor underwent a complete transformation.
In 1829 Major William Stewart Richardson-Brady remodelled Drum Manor to the designs of an unknown architect, and given the new name of Oaklands. The house became a two-storey, three-bay villa dressed up with Tudor-Revival dressings, such as crenellations along the roofline, along with buttresses on the facade, a gabled single-storey entrance porch flanked by projecting bays with mullioned windows. The major’s only child, Augusta Le Vicomte, first married another Major, Hugh Massy, but following his death less than two years later, she married Henry James Stuart-Richardson, future fifth Earl Castle Stewart of Stuart Castle, elsewhere in County Tyrone (also since lost).
In 1869 Augusta and Henry James Stuart-Richardson aggrandised Oaklands, which now became Drum Manor, at the cost of some £10,000. The architect in this instance was William Hastings of Belfast, most of whose commissions were in neighbouring County Antrim. He was responsible for giving the house its most dominant features, not least a four-storey square tower with castellated and machiolated parapet. Inside, the building’s principal reception rooms radiated off a double-height central hall with a gallery running around the first floor. Elaborate works were also undertaken in the surrounding demesne, much of which survives in better condition than the main building. This survived until 1964 when the estate was acquired by the Northern Ireland Forestry Service; just over a decade later, that organisation demolished much of Drum Manor, seemingly in order to avoid incurring further rates liability. Today, just the shell survives.
Across the road from the old tower house in Ardmayle, County Tipperary stands this handsome church dedicated to St John the Baptist, reputedly standing in a place of worship since the 12th century. In its present form, only the tower at the west end is part of the original building, although a window inserted into this looks late-medieval. According to Lewis, writing in 1837, the rest of the building was reconstructed 22 years earlier, thanks to a gift of £800 and a loan of a further £150 by the Board of First Fruits. Until 1987, St John’s was used for Church of Ireland services but was subsequently restored by the local heritage society and is now used for a variety of purposes.
What remains of an old tower house in Ardmayle, County Tipperary. Some four storeys high and likely dating from the 15th century, it is one of two ‘castles’ close to each other, the other being a later fortified manor, also now in ruins. Around 1225 the lands here were acquired by Richard Mór de Burgh, 1st Lord of Connaught (c. 1194 – 1242), Justicar of Ireland, following his marriage to Egidia de Lacy, daughter of Walter de Lacy, and Margaret de Braose. Later they passed into the ownership of the Butlers and finally the Cootes before it appears the place was abandoned. Today is home only to cattle who can take shelter from the elements under a fine vaulted roof.
‘The Abbey of Killagha [County Kerry] was erected on the site of the abbey of St. Coleman by Geoffrey de Marisco for Canons Regular of St. Augustine, and dedicated to our Blessed Lady. Hervey de Marisco, one of the first Norman knights who came to Ireland, acquired large tracts of land in Tipperary, Wexford and Kerry. He died without descendants, and his large estates passed to his brother, Geoffrey. The latter is mentioned as Judiciary of Ireland in 1215. Smith, in his “History of Kerry”, says Killagha was erected in the reign of Henry III, which would be some time after 1216. Geoffrey de Marisco founded also a house for Knights Hospitallers in Awney in Limerick, and built the castle of Castleisland.
It is to be regretted that the records of the Augustinian order in Ireland are of the most meagre character. The Canons Regular aimed at a contemplative rather than a missionary life. They sought to realise the spirit of an à Kempis rather than a Dominic. Hence they were not bound up in such close relations with the people among whom they lived as were, for example, the Dominicans or Franciscans. When the ties were broken in the sixteenth century that bound the Canons Regular to their abbeys, they did not look back with the same wistful longing as did the members of these two orders, to recover their lost homes and renew old relations. As a consequence, we see the Dominicans and Franciscans dwelling once more beside their old monasteries, while hardly an instance occurs of the Canons Regular returning to the place that they left.’
‘The Abbey of Our Lady grew into importance soon after the Canons Regular had taken possession of it. It received large tracts of land in different parts of the county. Tithes and glebes were added, and the abbey became very wealthy. The Canons Regular happily united industrious habits of life with contemplation, and probably spent part of their time in manual labour. Lands were tilled and woods planted, and the surroundings of Our Lady’s Abbey became quickly changed. The place came to be recognised as one of unusual beauty, and the abbey henceforth to be known as Killagha, or the Abbey of Our Lady de Bello Loco…
…I have very little to record of Killagha during the intervening years down to the sixteenth century. Some improvements were made in the church, most probably in the fifteenth century. The beautiful east window was put in, also a handsome double-lancet window at the south side of the chancel, an aumbry within the sanctuary, two Gothic doors leading to the church from the south side, and a square window of three lights in the western gable. The insertion of these windows and doors has led Archdall to conclude that the foundation of the abbey is of more recent date than that assigned to it. “The architecture,” he says, “which is of a dark marble, bespeaks the structure to be much more modern than the time before mentioned.” The windows and doors that I have named are, indeed, more modern, but the other parts of the building, which are altogether different in character from the insertions, date most probably from the time of Henry III.’
‘The church is the only portion of the abbey buildings that at present remains; a few feet of masonry attaching to the south side of the chancel are all that we now see of what was once the abbey of Killagha. I am inclined to think that the materials of the abbey were removed soon after it was destroyed in 1649, as Smith and Archdall make particular reference to the church, but make no reference to the abbey structure…
The church is of rubble masonry, and though of plain workmanship, is solidly constructed. Though still in a fair state of preservation, there are evidences of approaching decay. Rents appear in the western gable, and the southern wall; and the joints are becoming much open in the east window. The church, rectangular and without aisles, lies east and west, and very long for its width; length 128 feet five inches, and breadth 23 inches five inches. The walls are very massive, those at the sides 4 feet 8 inches, and in parts 5 feet, eastern gable 4 feet 4 inches, western 4 feet 7 inches. It was divided, at intersection of chancel and nave by a steeple, or bell tower.’
Extracts from The Abbey of Killagha, Parish of Kilcoleman, Co. Kerry by the Rev. James Carmody in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland , Series 5, Vol. XVI, 1906.
Born in Killough, County Down, during the first half of the 19th century Charles Shiel became a highly successful merchant based in Liverpool until he retired to Ireland ten years before his death in 1861. He and his wife had no children, so he established a charity to provide accommodation in almshouses, specifying that ‘the inmates are, from time to time as vacancies occur, to be chosen without reference to religious creed from among the most deserving of such applicants.’ There are five groups of Shiels’ Almshouses around the country, with 126 of them in total, all still serving their original purpose. Those shown here are in Dungannon, County Tyrone. designed in 1867 in a loosely Gothic idiom by the firm of Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, constructed of local sandstone rubble with red sandstone for detailing, and green slate bands. Very well maintained, each of the houses is two storey and has a small yard to the rear, with the whole group set in landscaped grounds. Understandably, there is high demand for these residences.
Not far from Ballyadams Castle, County Laois (see Monday’s post, Saved by Two Daughters) can be found what remains of the parish’s old church, surrounded by old tombstones. Inside the ruined buildings are two interesting monuments, both badly worn. On the ground in the south-east corner is the recumbent figure of Walter Hartpole, Dean of Leighlin who died in 1597. On the opposite wall is a tablet erected in 1631 to Robert Bowen who had died a decade earlier, having inherited Ballyadams Castle from his father John Thomas Bowen: Robert had been married to Alice Hartpole, a daughter of Walter. The upper portion of this monument features a crest and coat of arms, and text proclaiming as following:
‘An epitaph on the death of Robert Bowen Esquire.
If tears prevent not every readers eye may well perceive that in this tomb doth lie
Friends hope foes dread whose thrice victorious hand gained love, wrought peace within this joyful land
Whose worth doth mount itself on angels wings
Whose great descent was first from Royal Kings
Whose never dying virtues live for why
Whose fame’s eterniz’d he can never dy’
Formerly the upper section of the chest tomb was decorated with the figure of the deceased in full armour, with his wife by his side, but these were destroyed in the 19th century. All that remains are the figures below of the couple’s four children.
Like so many other similar buildings in Ireland, the history of Ballyadams Castle, County Laois is often unclear, although its name appears to derive from one Adam O’More who lived here in the late 15th century. At least part of the castle, however, may be some 200 years older, since – as Andrew Tierney has pointed out in his admirable guide to Central Leinster (part of the Buildings of Ireland series) – the two upper storeys of the central B-plan block are a later addition to what was already there, and the earlier section looks not dissimilar to the Norman gatehouses of Welsh castles from the late 13th/early 14th centuries. Tierney therefore speculates that this section of the building may be the remnants of the castle of ‘Kilmokedy’ recorded as being in the possession of the de la Poers in 1346.
Whatever about its earlier history, certainly by the start of the 16th century Ballyadams Castle was in the possession of the O’Mores, then the dominant family in this part of the country. During the upheavals which then followed, in 1551 it was granted by the Earl of Desmond to the Welsh-born John Thomas Bowen, known as ‘John of the Pike’ since he always carried one of these weapons (and, according to legend, did not hesitate to use it). The Bowens remained in occupation thereafter, although this was threatened in 1643 during the Confederate Wars, as the third Earl of Castlehaven would record in his memoirs: ‘While this place was putting in order, I went with a party of horse to Ballyadams, a Castle about a mile distant belonging to Sir John Bowen, Provost Marshal an old soldier, and my long acquaintance. I went to speak with him and after some kind expressions, told him I must put a garrison into his Castle. He flatly denied me and calling for his wife and two very fair daughters, he had desired only one favour, that in case I was resolved to use violence, I would show him where I intended to plant my guns and make my breach. I satisfied his curiosity and asked him what he meant by this question. Because saith he swearing with some warmth, I will cover that, or any other your Lordship shoots at, by hanging out both my daughters in chairs. ’tis true the place was not of much importance, however this conceit saved it.’ So, thanks to this act of bravado, Ballyadams continued to be home to further generations of the same family, and it may have been Sir John’s son William who added a large, two-storey house to the rear and one side of the house, indicating that the Bowen’s now felt secure in their property. At the start of the 18th century Katherine Bowen, William Bowen’s only surviving child and heiress to the place, married Pierce Butler from County Tipperary. In 1759 their grandson sold Ballyadams to Garret Fitz David Butler. Members of the same family own the place still.
In 1837 Samuel Lewis recorded the castle as being ‘the residence of Capt. Butler.’ However, back in August 1782 the antiquary Austin Cooper had visited Ballyadams and came away with quite a different impression of the building. He noted that ‘the front consists of two large round towers between which is an entrance, and over it a wall is carried in a line with the exterior limits of these towers, so as to form a machicolation over the door. Adjoining these towers on each side are two large modem wings, one of which is kept in repair as a lodge by Mr Butler, the present propriotor; the other was never finished. The inside of the castle exhibits a scene sufficient to excite compassion from every lover of ancient grandeur – the boarded floors all torn up, the plastered wall and ceilings threatening the observer with destruction and to complete this grand scene of desolation, the great state room still remains hung with elegant tapestrys now left to rot away.’ Similarly, in 1826 James Norris Brewer described how ‘the ruins of the embattled walls, projecting towers, and elevated keep of this antient edifice, produce an interesting and highly picturesque effect.’ Therefore it would seem that the castle had already begun to fall into disrepair before the end of the 18th century and has been a ruin for more than 200 years, still highly picturesque. Unfortunately, it has been prey to more recent assault than that threatened by Lord Castlehaven in 1643: until three years ago, a pair of iron-studded wooden doors that formerly hung at the entrance to the old castle were stolen. Believed to date from the 17th century, and so perhaps installed when the house to the rear was being erected, the doors were each about eight feet high, three feet wide and over three inches thick. Alas, they have not been seen since.
Ireland’s country house gardens are too often one of our lesser known, and insufficiently appreciated, assets. Developed from the 16th century onwards, they reflect the history and evolution of Ireland, changing and evolving as did the country and reflecting not just alterations in taste but also the developments in horticulture, and the introduction of new plant species. Country house gardens were often the places where early scientific research took place, as owners sought better understanding of the terrain, what might grow there, and to what use it could be put. But they were also places of beauty, where rare trees, shrubs and flowers were cultivated with the purpose of captivating the eye and soothing the mind. Whether it be the formality of the gardens at Killruddery, County Wicklow (the finest surviving example of this style in Ireland and Britain) or the classical landscape of Ballyfin, County Laois, the grandeur of Powerscourt, County Wicklow or the Robinsonian romance of Mount Usher, County Wicklow, Ireland has a wealth of spectacular historic gardens, all of which benefit from our rich soil and temperate climate, as well as ample rainfall.
A new two-part documentary, Ireland’s Historic Gardens, written and presented by the Irish Aesthete, begins on Irish television, RTÉ One, tomorrow evening (Sunday 26th September) and tells the story of these sites across the centuries, featuring interviews with many gardeners and garden historians who help to explain how extraordinarily blessed we are with the legacy bequeathed to us by our forebears. And even without any words, the filming of the gardens demonstrates their inherent magic. Do watch, and enjoy, if you can. The second part will be shown the following Sunday, October 3rd, and brings the story up to the present day.
Ireland’s Historic Gardens (Part One) can be seen on Sunday, September 26th on RTÉ One, 6.30-7.30pm. Part Two will be screened the following Sunday, October 3rd at the same time.