The Comet’s Pulsing Rose


The Mussenden Temple erected in 1785 by Frederick Hervey, Bishop of Derry in memory of a deceased cousin. The temple is located in County Derry, the same part of the world in which poet Seamus Heaney was later born. A craftsman with words rather than with brick or stone, Seamus died yesterday and so this image commemorates his passing from our midst. He will be much missed by all of us fortunate to have known him.

Postcard Perfect


Not a picture by John Hinde but a photograph taken earlier this summer of the gate lodge at Fosterstown House, County Meath. Located immediately south of Trim, the main house dates from the 1840s but evidently there was an earlier property on the site since it was recorded that the future Duke of Wellington lived there at least some of the time after he had been elected to the Irish House of Commons as MP for Trim. This information was reported by Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837 when Wellington was still alive (he died fifteen years later). In any case the little white-washed and thatched lodge is older than the house at the end of the drive; it dates from c.1800 and provides a charming introduction to Fosterstown.

A Whiter Shade of Pale


It cannot be claimed that in the 17th and 18th centuries, Ireland’s senior Anglican clergy devoted themselves exclusively to matters religious. Indeed, they were often more preoccupied with politics and the acquisition of material goods than with spirituality, but in at least some instances we are today all the beneficiaries of their activities in these fields. The man who might be said to have set the tone for what followed in the Church of Ireland was Adam Loftus. Born in Yorkshire in 1533, apparently while still an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge he met and impressed Queen Elizabeth and thereafter enjoyed her patronage. Embracing Protestantism, he began to climb through the ranks of the Anglican Church but only really achieved power after serving as chaplain to Thomas Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex following the latter’s appointment as Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland in 1559. By 1561 Loftus was chaplain to the Bishop of Kildare and the same year was appointed to his first living. Thereafter his rise was rapid: in 1563 he was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh at the age of only 28, swapping this four years later for the Archbishopric of Dublin. In 1581 he was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland and then strove to ensure that the country’s first university would be located on a site of his choosing: in 1593 he became the first Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, named after his old alma mater. Meanwhile in addition to building up his political as well as ecclesiastical authority, he was acquiring land so as to leave something for his heirs: he and his wife had twenty children, of whom eight died in infancy.




One of the parcels of land which came into Loftus’s possession was located at Rathfarnham at the foothills of the Dublin mountains, confiscated from James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass after he had rebelled against the crown. A castle of some kind existed on the site but soon after Loftus was granted Rathfarnham in 1583 at a nominal rent of thirty shillings he began work on a new residence, which remains to the present day. Although the interiors were said to have been luxurious, the castle’s external appearance was very much defensive being rectangular in shape with four massive corner flanking towers to allow guards watch for any approach to the building. Four storeys high,its walls are on average some five feet thick and running east-west through the centre of the entire castle is another wall almost ten feet thick: this seems solid but it is now proposed that in fact the wall actually held a series of chambers or corridors from which access was gained to rooms on either side. Nevertheless, Loftus was right to construct such a solid building since its location left Rathfarnham vulnerable to attack from the Wicklow clans. Five years before his death in 1605 it withstood assault from this source, and did so again during the 1641 rebellion before passing back and forth between different sides in the Irish Confederate Wars. It was only towards the late 1650s that the Loftus family was able to regain control of the place.




In the early 18th century Rathfarnham passed to Philip Wharton, who at the age of 19 was created first (and last) Duke of Wharton by George I; Wharton’s mother had been Lucy Loftus, only child of Adam Loftus, Viscount Lisburne. Wharton seems to have been a hopelessly character. His father Thomas Wharton although notoriously dissipated was at least politically astute and one of the leaders of the opposition to James II. Philip Wharton on the other hand, despite having every advantage, set out on a course of ruination that saw him end his days a hopeless drunk in a Spanish monastery, dead at the age of 32. In 1723 indebtedness caused by over-investment in the South Sea Bubble obliged him to sell his Irish estates including Rathfarnham which was bought by William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. He paid £62,000 for house and lands but never lived there, presumably because he had already begun work on his own house at Castletown, County Kildare (see Up Pompeii, June 17th). Instead the castle was let to various tenants who began to refurbish it before the whole place was sold in 1742 to another Anglican cleric, John Hoadly who had just been made Archbishop of Armagh. On his death Rathfarnham passed to Hoadly’s son-in-law Bellingham Boyle but like Philip Wharton he also suffered from chronic indebtedness and so in 1767 Rathfarnham was sold to Nicholas Hume-Loftus, second Earl of Ely, a descendant of the castle’s original builder. On his death without children it was inherited by his uncle Henry Loftus who also had no issue (compared to their forebear with his twenty offspring, these later Loftuses proved to be an unfecund set) and so Rathfarnham was inherited by a nephew Charles Tottenham who in 1800 would become first Marquess of Ely.




The Elys, who owned several estates, spent little time at Rathfarnham which at some date before 1852 was sold to Francis Blackburne, then Lord Chancellor of Ireland; he and his descendants lived there until 1913 when the place was bought by the Jesuit Order who used it as a seminary and added two long wings on the north- and south-east sides of the main building (they also seem to have taken out the main staircase which is a great shame). The Jesuits in turn put the place up for sale in the mid-1980s when it was bought by a firm of property developers. As the area by this date had become a suburb of Dublin and much of the immediately surrounding land was given over to housing estates, there were concerns that the castle itself would be left to fall into ruin or pulled down. In 1987 the Irish State acquired the building and immediate acreage and under the auspices of the Office of Public Works has been engaged in a process of restoration and refurbishment ever since (see
There is a great deal more one could write about Rathfarnham Castle, and perhaps might on another occasion. For the present, the accompanying photographs will give an idea of a notable feature of the building which attracts relatively little notice: its fine plasterwork. Throughout the 18th century a succession of different owners and occupiers did much to improve and update the building, and its interiors reflect changes in taste over that period. Different rooms are decorated in different styles, so that the whole castle becomes a history of fashion in stuccowork, ranging from the lightest rococo to severe neo-classicism (both Sir William Chambers and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart had a hand in the design of some of the interiors). All of it is of high quality and serves as an example of the level of Irish craftsmanship – and the ability to adapt to an evolving clientele – throughout the period. It is a pity more is not made of this aspect of the building since Rathfarnham Castle’s diverse decoration gives it a unique character and deserves to be celebrated. Hence the decision to feature only details of the house’s plasterwork today.


Next Saturday morning, I shall be speaking about Adam Loftus, as well as many of his successors, in the course of a talk entitled ‘Building Bishops: Architectural Ambitions among 18th Century Irish Clergy’ at the Roe Valley Arts and Cultural Centre in Limavady, County Derry as part of a three-day conference devoted to Frederick Hervey, the great Earl-Bishop of Derry. For more information about this event, see:

Ignorance is Never Better than Knowledge

Ballitore 2

Earlier this week photographer James Fennell took a number of extraordinary pictures showing an old house at the entrance to the 18th century planned Quaker village of Ballitore, County Kildare being enveloped within a new structure; once the latter is complete, the old house will be demolished. The company responsible for this undertaking is Glanbia plc which grandiloquently describes itself as ‘a global nutritional solutions and cheese group’ and which on Wednesday announced a 13 per cent rise in revenue to €1.68 billion in the first half of 2013. Glanbia already has a plant in Ballitore and last year applied for planning permission to extend the premises, which involved the demolition of the house, referred to in the application as a ‘two storey office building’ thereby conveniently ignoring its history as part of a long-standing residential settlement.
Permission for this work to proceed was duly granted by Kildare County Council, after its conservation advisors advised that the structure had been so altered and refurbished that it ‘no longer retains any features of special significance’ and could accordingly ‘be deemed to be of little significance within the architectural heritage of Kildare.’ Leaving aside the fact that the local authority permitted those alterations and refurbishments to take place, the approval also ignored the house’s importance within the overall framework of the village of Ballitore, a unique collection of houses that are each part of a greater whole; damage one element and you damage the entire site and thereby irreparably alter its distinctive character. Glanbia is not some foreign entity (its origins lie in the Irish co-operative movement and it ought therefore to have a sense of community) so neither this organisation nor Kildare County Council can claim ignorance of the history of Ballitore. No doubt the inevitable economic arguments will be trotted out in justification for this act of cultural vandalism. Tourism is also an enormously important money-generating industry in Ireland: this is not Soviet Russia and tourists do not come here to look at factories. By assisting in the demolition of a fine old house and its replacement with a characterless monolith, the two bodies responsible will have inflicted damage on both the appearance of Ballitore and on the local economy.

Ballitore 3

No Room at the Inn


Seen from a towpath on the opposite side of the Grand Canal, the old hotel at Robertstown, County Kildare retains its charm. Originally opened in 1801, this hostelry attracted so much business that within three years it had to be extended. But with the advent of railways came a decline in canal business and by 1869 the Royal Irish Constabulary had been granted a lease on the premises. In the last century the building was used for various purposes; from the mid-1960s onwards it was the centrepiece of an annual summer festival in which the Irish Georgian Society became involved. Famously on one occasion a demonstration was given by Desmond Leslie of water-skiing on the canal. What made his activity distinctive was that Leslie was pulled by a horse being ridden at speed along the bank. Now the hotel is empty and falling into dereliction (all window openings are filled with painted boards). A five-year old planning application attached to the main door proposes a four-storey, 44-bedroom extension and sundry other changes but that option now seems unlikely. Although listed as a protected structure, the future does not look good for this important vestige of Irish transport history.


Lost Horizon

belvoir by Kerr 2

Travelling along Belfast’s Outer Ring Road through the the Newtownbreda area one passes signs for Belvoir Park. The picture above, dating from 1805 and painted by Vice Admiral Lord Mark Kerr, shows a house of that name. Today the name is almost all that remains of what was once the largest private residence in this part of the country. An keen amateur watercolourist of some ability Lord Mark, the third son of the 5th Marquess of Lothian, enjoyed a successful career in the Royal Navy until 1805. His connection with Ireland came through marriage in 1799 to Lady Charlotte McDonnell who would later become Countess of Antrim in her own right. During the early 1800s the Kerrs stayed at Belvoir Park, which belonged to Lady Charlotte’s half-brother and it was during this period that Lord Mark painted this picture along with another, both of which were in the collection of the Knight of Glin until sold at Christie’s in 2009.

Belvoir 3a


There are earlier, and finer, views of Belvoir Park, the first of which is shown immediately above. This is one of four oils painted by the artist Jonathan Fisher (fl. 1763 – d. 1809) at the request of the house’s then-owner Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon. Fisher is believed to have been born in the 1740s and to have spent some time in England, first coming to attention here in 1763 when he was awarded a premium for a landscape by the Dublin Society (he would receive another five years later). He exhibited some 57 pictures with the Society of Artists in Ireland between 1765 and 1780, including the four views of Belvoir which were shown in the organisation’s premises on South William Street, Dublin (now the headquarters of the Irish Georgian Society, see Restoration Drama, July 15th). The pictures are highly significant because they show us the house from different aspects when it was newly completed and before alterations were made towards the close of the 18th century. They also offer us views of the landscape around Belfast before the city had much expanded and show how lovely this region looked prior to the onset of the industrial revolution (the last of the pictures at the end of this post offers Fisher’s bucolic view of the area as it would have been seen from the house).

Belvoir 3b

Belvoir entrance to yard 1

Belvoir entrance to yard 2

Sir Moyses Hill was the first member of his family to settle in Ireland in the 1570s and it was his descendant Michael Hill who purchased for £2,000 the land on which stood Belvoir, then called Ballyenaghan, although the family’s main estate was at Hillsborough. Michael Hill’s wife Anne Trevor, subsequently married to Viscount Midleton, is reputed to have given the place its new name, in part owing to the view (‘Belle Vue’) and in part in recollection of Belvoir Castle, the Duke of Rutland’s seat in England where she had spent a large part of her childhood. Thanks to Lady Midleton, the property was inherited by her younger son Arthur who in 1766 was created Viscount Dungannon.
When Walter Harris published his survey of County Down in 1744 he described Belvoir as being ‘laid out lately in Taste; the Avenue is large and handsome, the Fruitery, from an irregular Glyn, is now disposed in regular Canals, with Cascades, Slopes and Terraces, and the Kitchin Ground inclosed with Espaliers, the best of the Gardens lying over the Lagan River, which is navigable to this Place. The Offices are finished, but the House not yet build.’ There does appear to have been a small residence on site but building work on something more splendid must have started soon afterwards. Even so when the indefatigable Mrs Delany came to stay in October 1758 she described it as a ‘charming place, a very good house, though not quite finished.’
Faced in brick, Belvoir Park’s main elevation looked north with views over the Lagan river and thence to the mountains beyond. This front was of seven bays, the three centre ones incorporating immense Ionic pilasters beneath a pediment with carved wooden mouldings. The entrance front faced west while the south side featured a canted bow. Belvoir Park is often attributed to Richard Castle, although if this were so it would have been a very late work since he died in 1751. He certainly designed the nearby Knockbreda Church for Lady Midleton (it can be seen to the left of the house in the first of Fisher’s pictures above). More recently the proposal has been made that a lesser known architect Christopher Myers was responsible for Belvoir Park.

Belvoir 3c

Belvoir just before being blown up

Following the first Lord Dungannon’s death in 1771, title and property alike passed to a young grandson (his only son having predeceased him by a year). The second viscount appears to have lived and entertained lavishly and as a result further work was undertaken on the house, notably by the addition of a third attic storey which can be seen in Lord Mark Kerr’s watercolour. In the mid-1790s Lord Dungannon moved to his Welsh estate and Belvoir Park was left unoccupied except by the agent, and by the Kerrs for a period. Eventually the entire place was sold in 1809 and after passing through various hands was acquired in 1818 by Belfast banker and landowner Robert Bateson around the time he became a baronet. He did much to improve the Belvoir, as did his son Sir Thomas Bateson (later first Lord Deramore) who around 1865 commissioned Newry architect William Barre to carry out some alterations to the house, including balustrades around the roof parapet and a balustraded entrance porch. At that stage the estate ran to more than 6,000 acres but decline set in soon after Lord Deramore’s death in 1890. Belvoir was let to various tenants but by this time Belfast was fast expanding and the land on which house and grounds stood just a few miles from the city centre was wanted for housing. In the 1920s part of the estate became a golf course while it was suggested the house become a residence for the Governor of Northern Ireland (ironically the Hill family’s former principle property, Hillsborough Castle, was instead selected). During the Second World War the site was used by the Admiralty, but from 1950 onwards the buildings started to fall into ruin. The succession of photographs seen here show the building in 1961 shortly before it was blown up by members of the army; today only parts of the old yard remain. 185 acres of the former estate are a forest park but the rest of the land is given over to suburban housing. The loss of Belvoir Park must be judged a grievous one but thankfully the paintings of Jonathan Fisher survive as evidence of this once-fine house. Privately owned, the pictures have been loaned for inclusion in an exhibition on Irish landscape art currently running at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.

Belvoir 3

Up and Away


A view of the circular lantern at the top of the back stairs in Tullynally, County Westmeath. Dating from the early 19th century, this was probably designed by James Shiel as part of a programme of work intended to make the house more gothic in style. Yet there is nothing heavy or oppressive about the space. On the contrary, thanks to Shiel’s lightness of approach, the lantern seems not to sit upon but to hover effortlessly above the stairs.

Rather Arch


The gothick drawing room at Grey Abbey, County Down. Dating from the early 1760s the main part of the house was built in the classical manner by William Montgomery. Following his death in September 1781 while leading British troops at the Battle of Groton Heights during the American War of Independence, the estate was inherited by his brother Hugh. In 1793 the latter married the Hon Emilia Ward, daughter of the first Viscount Bangor who lived on the other side of Strangford Lough at Castle Ward. This house is famous for its dual architecture and decoration: owing to the differing tastes of Lord and Lady bangor one half is in the classical style, the other in gothick. It would appear the Hon Emilia preferred her mother’s predilection and thus caused the redecoration of Grey Abbey’s drawing room.

Relishing the Society of Friends


‘Our eyes were charmed with the sweetest bottom where, through lofty trees, we beheld a variety of pleasant dwellings. Through a road that looked like a fine terrace walk, we turn to this lovely vale, where Nature assisted by Art, gave us the utmost contentment. It is a colony of Quakers, called by the name of Ballitore.’ Thus wrote an unknown visitor to this part of County Kildare in 1748. Ballitore has long been an area where members of the Religious Society of Friends settled. The sect was established in the late 1640s by the English dissenter George Fox but its tenets quickly found a response in Ireland where the first recorded Friends meeting for worship took place in 1654 at a house in Lurgan, County Armagh belonging to William Edmundson.
Before converting to Quakerism and adopting its pacifist principles, he had been a member of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian Army, as was his almost exact contemporary Colonel John Fennell who like Edmundson moved from England to Ireland. In 1675 Edmundson’s diary records travelling from Wales and attending a meeting at Fennell’s Irish house: ‘The wind coming fair we put to sea again and landed at Cork where Friends were glad of my coming. When I had visited Friends’ meetings in that quarter, I went to John Fennell’s in company with several Friends, where we had a refreshing, heavenly meeting. Here divers Friends from Mountmellick and thereabouts came to meet me, in whose company I returned home, where I met with my wife and children in the same love of God that had made us willing to part one with another for a season for the Lord’s service and truth’s sake.’ By this time Edmundson was settled in Rosenallis, County Laois (not far from another Quaker settlement, the aforementioned Mountmellick) while Fennell had acquired land at Kilcommon on the outskirts of Cahir, County Tipperary.



Despite being in (quietly reflective) opposition to the established church and its practitioners accordingly incurring various penalties, Quakerism soon established a presence in Ireland. Already by 1660, the sect had some thirty meeting houses around the country and their numbers continued to grow through the remainder of the 17th and early years of the 18th centuries. Their minority status meant Quakers often gathered together in settlements such as that at Ballitore. The land on which the village stands was purchased in 1685 by two Quakers John Barcroft and Abel Strettel, supposedly after they had discovered the spot while resting their horse en route from Dublin to Cork. The first planned Quaker settlement in these islands, it quickly grew and some forty years later saw the foundation of a boarding school by the Yorkshire-born Abraham Shackleton. Although run on Quaker principles, it was open to children of all denominations and its most celebrated ex-pupil was the orator, statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke.



Not far from Ballitore stands Burtown, originally built for the Quaker Robert Power in 1710 and marked on early maps as Power’s Grove. The house’s original appearance was somewhat different to what can be seen today: of three bays but only one room deep, it seems to have had wings of which just a faint outline remains. In the second half of the 18th century, the property was extended to the rear, notably by the addition of two large bow-fronted rooms one above the other and linked by a splendid staircase accessed via a broad elliptical arch. It is surmised that the ground floor room was intended for dining: it has a charming arched alcove filled with plasterwork representing tendrils of grapevine and flanked by Corinthian-capped pilasters on which sit classical vases. The space seems made for a sideboard which would certainly support the dining room theory. Meanwhile the equally fine room directly above, although now serving as a bedroom, would originally have been a piano nobile drawing room.
Burtown’s plasterwork, probably the work of a travelling stuccadore offering what were then fashionable flourishes, is one of the house’s greatest delights. There is more of it found in the entrance hall, rather Wyatt’esque in style compared with that seen elsewhere in the house. The ceiling is mostly covered in a sequence of swags while the walls have small oval medallions and, a delightfully quirky detail, classical busts on brackets in each of the corners. More work took place to the house in the early 19th century when the front was given its fan-lighted door and the roof those deep eaves so typical of the period.



Traditionally Quakers were renowned for their plain living with all forms of ornamentation eschewed. Burtown’s decoration suggests its owners were perhaps not the strictest adherents of their faith; tellingly William James Fennell who inherited the property in 1890 and was a keen horseman, was ‘asked to leave the Quaker persuasion because of his fondness for driving a carriage with uniform flunkies on the back.’ William James was a direct descendant of Colonel John Fennell and came to live at Burtown through his mother, Jemima Wakefield. The Wakefields had married into the Haughton family who in turn had married members of the Power family, Burtown thus passing several times through the female line. Jemima Wakefield had not expected to come into the property until her brother died after being hit by a stray cricket ball; who knew the game could be so dangerous?
William James Fennell was the great-grandfather of Burtown’s present owner, photographer James Fennell who lives in the house with his wife Joanna and three children. The latest generation has added its own mark while preserving the property’s character and cherishing its history. In particular Burtown’s gardens, which are now open to the public, continue to be expanded and developed. Across three hundred years and four different but inter-related families Burtown has acquired a patina only possible provided there is sufficient time and care. As had that visitor to the area in 1748, today it is still possible to be charmed here when ‘through lofty trees, we beheld a variety of pleasant dwellings.’ Few such houses as Burtown remain in Ireland and it is therefore fortunate that the current owners bring such enthusiasm and commitment to the task of preserving the place into the future.


For more information about Burtown and its gardens, see:

It’s All in the Detail


One of four large urns placed in niches on the first-floor inner landing at Castle Coole, County Fermanagh; two of them (including that shown here) double as stoves, Irish winters being pretty chilly. Although this does not feature, certain architectural details of Castle Coole and a number of other houses in this country are discussed in a recent essay by Calder Loth, Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Member of the Institute of Classical Classical Architecture & Art‘s Advisory Council. Calder was one of the group of ICAA members who toured Ireland last May and who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions. You can find his very informative and beautifully-illustrated piece at: