Une Folie de Grandeur

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Driving west from Limerick city along the N69 after some ten miles one’s attention is caught by the spectacle of immense battlemented ruins to the right. These are the remains of Dromore Castle, built almost 150 years ago, and unroofed for the past sixty. Situated on a promontory overlooking a lake and with sweeping views across the Shannon estuary Dromore’s dramatic silhouette, as has often been commented, would not look out of place above the Rhine. Yet one of the paradoxes of this extravagant building is that the architect responsible was anxious it be historically accurate to Ireland.
Dromore was designed by Edward William Godwin whose influence on the late 19th century Aesthetic movement was considerable, not least because of his advocacy of Japanese taste: Whistler, for example, commissioned Godwin to build him a house in Tite Street (and later married Godwin’s widow) and another of his clients was Oscar Wilde. He also produced many designs for Liberty & Co where in 1884 he became director of the Regent Street store’s new costume department. However earlier in his career Godwin had been a supporter of Ruskinian Gothic and one of the most fascinating aspects of Dromore is the way in which it reflects a transition in his interests and tastes.

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Dromore was commissioned by William Pery in 1866, the year in which he became third Earl of Limerick. The Perys had been prominent in the region since the late 1600s, owning a large amount of land beside the mediaeval Limerick City; here in the second half of the 18th century the earl’s forebear Edmund Sexton Pery laid out what became known as Newtown Pery. Although the family had a large house in the city on Henry Street, it did not have a country residence in Ireland and for the first half of the 19th century the Perys spent the greater part of their time in England.
Hence when William Pery chose to commission Dromore he was indicating a re-engagement with this country. It is open to question whether his decision was received with much favour here. February and March 1867 saw the failed Fenian Rising organised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood and at the end of the latter month the Building News, writing of Dromore, then under construction, noted ‘The corridors are kept on the outer side of the building and all the entrances are well guarded, so that in the event of the country being disturbed, the inmates of Dromore Castle might not only feel secure themselves but be able to give real shelter to others.’ The pictures above and below give an indication of just how difficult it remains to gain access to the building’s interior.

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On receiving the commission from Lord Limerick, Godwin went to a great deal of trouble to make sure the building was authentically Irish in design. With his friend and fellow architect William Burges (then working on St Finbarr’s Cathedral in Cork) he travelled around the country drawing and measuring old castles and churches; what he saw during the journey influenced the eventual building which was finished by 1869.
The initial impression created by Dromore, no doubt due to a lack of external windows on the lower levels of the roughly-dressed limestone structure and the loss of the original softening landscaping, is of sheer unadorned mass. With walls six feet thick, the entrance block to the south is of three storeys, the actual gateway being rather too squat (it immediately proved insufficiently tall to accommodate a coach and four). A tympanum above features carved lions flanking a sequence of heraldic motifs. Behind to the north is a larger five-storey main keep, this accommodated most but not all of the principal reception rooms. These two blocks overlook an internal courtyard on the opposite side of which are a range of service buildings that included both a chapel and a chaplain’s residence (presumably to increase the impression of mediaeval authenticity), as well as a banqueting hall. The last of these could only be reached by crossing over the entrance gateway, which must have been uncomfortable in bad weather. But again, perhaps this was to encourage the sense of re-enacting life in the Middle Ages. Most of the main windows take the form of paired lancets with quatrefoils above, although in the courtyard there are lines of single arched windows. Despite its relative austerity Godwin provided enough variation in the surface rhythm to hold interest; writing in Country Life in November 1964, Mark Bence-Jones noted how ‘There are Irish stepped crenellations, bold chimneys, bartisans and machicoulis on stout corbelling, trefoil windows and angle loops.’ As can be seen, the castle also incorporates a round tower, something not as a rule found in domestic residences, but Godwin appears to have included it on the grounds that such towers were found on Irish fortified sites like that at the Rock of Cashel.

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Godwin was responsible for not just the design of the castle but also much of its interior decoration including chimneypieces, wall paintings, sculpture, tiles, stained and painted glass, brass- and ironwork, and even the furniture, the manufacture of which was undertaken by William Watts of Grafton Street, Dublin. The subject of Dromore’s elaborate interiors will be discussed here at a later date.
When the place was finished its owner professed himself ‘extremely delighted’ with the result. However, the family spent relatively little time at Dromore, and certainly not much after the third earl’s death in 1896. Valued at £75 and ten shillings in 1906, the castle appears to have been almost entirely unused in the aftermath of the First World War and towards the end of the 1930s the whole estate was sold to a local timber merchant called McMahon for a reputed £8,000. However, he did not live there for long and around 1954 Dromore was unroofed to avoid rates being paid on the building (a regrettably common fate for old houses at the time). And so it has remained ever since, indomitable as Godwin intended and proving able to withstand the assault of time and an inclement climate without demonstrating evidence of dilapidation. Rising above the surrounding woodland Dromore’s silhouette continues to dominate the skyline for many miles around and continues to give the impression of a Rhineland castle transported to west Limerick.

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Great Gas

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The ceiling of the library at Killyleagh Castle, County Down. Although the building dates back to the 12th century when constructed by the Norman knight John de Courcy, its present appearance is the result of a complete renovation undertaken 1849-51 to the designs of Charles Lanyon. Exterior and interior alike display terrific exuberance, as well as a wide variety of sources of inspiration, as this ceiling demonstrates. Originally a gasolier would have hung from the centre of the plasterwork.

Acts of Mercy

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Founded in the late 12th century, St Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick contains many attractive features, not least the only surviving mediaeval misericords in Ireland. The lip of these seats was designed to allow members of the cathedral chapter to rest during long services without being seen to sit down, hence their name which derives from the Latin word ‘misericordiae’ (acts of mercy). Those in St Mary’s date from 1480-1500 and are carved in oak from the woods of nearby Cratloe, County Clare. Each one is different and they feature both men and beasts, the latter real as well as imaginary. There are 23 misericords which at some date in the 19th century were removed from the main body of the church and stored in the crypt. Thankfully they survived and can now be seen in the north transept.
The Irish Aesthete takes this opportunity to wish all readers a very Happy Christmas and hopes they receive as much rest as those clerics who once celebrated the occasion by settling onto a misericord.

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Down Patrick’s Way

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The founder of Methodism John Wesley first visited Downpatrick, County Down in June 1778 and in his journal noted that at the top of the town ‘stands the Abbey, on a hill which commands all the country. It is a noble ruin and is far the largest building I have seen in the kingdom.’ Back in Downpatrick in June 1789, he wrote, ‘In the afternoon we viewed the venerable ruins of the Abbey. Great men have talked of rebuilding it for many years; but none moves a hand towards it.’ Wesley was here precipitate, because a year later, some of those ‘great men’ did indeed undertake a complete restoration of the old building.
According to legend, when St Patrick came to preach the Christian message in Ireland in 432 he landed at Saul, County Down and after converting the local chieftain Dichu, there he established his first church. Patrick is said to have died at Saul almost three decades later after which his body was placed on a cart drawn by two untamed oxen with the understanding that where they stopped would be his burial place. That spot was where the Downpatrick’s Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity now stands.

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The association with Ireland’s patron saint meant the hill at Downpatrick soon became a place of worship, although it only assumed this name – as Dún Phádraig – in the 13th century. In any case, it was already the site of an historic settlement: in the second century the Alexandrian Ptolemy mentioned the town (as Dunum) in his Geographia. Meanwhile from around the time of St Patrick onwards the dominant ruling authority in this part of Ireland was the Dál Fiatach dynasty which had its chief royal site in Downpatrick, thereby confirming the place’s political as well as religious importance.
With regard to the latter, a monastery was established at the site of the saint’s burial. This foundation had a chequered history. It was plundered by Viking invaders on a number of occasions and later the stone church and round tower were burnt after being struck by lightning. In 1124 St Malachy became Bishop of Down and undertook a restoration of the building, establishing an order of Augustinian Canons Regular there. These were replaced later in the century by the Norman knight John de Courcy after he had ousted the last King of the Dál Fiatach and seized control of this part of Ireland. De Courcy invited Benedictine monks from St Werburgh’s in Chester to Downpatrick and that order remained responsible for the site until Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century. Before the end of the 12th century the remains of St Patrick had been joined by those of Ss. Brigid and Columba. But this was not enough to preserve the church from further vicissitudes: it was damaged by an earthquake in 1245 and then burned by Edward Bruce in 1315.

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Following the suppression of monasteries, in 1539 Down Cathedral was laid waste by the then Lord Deputy of Ireland Leonard Grey, Viscount Grane who is said to have stabled his horses in the building. Thus it fell into a ruinous state even though in 1609 James I granted the cathedral a charter dedicating it to the Holy Trinity and providing for a Dean and Chapter. So although successive deans continued to be installed, the cathedral was in too poor a condition to be used for services. (In fact when Robert Echlin, Bishop of Down and Connor undertook a visitation of his diocese in 1622 he found all but ten of Down’s churches were in ruins.)
Jonathan Carver’s The New Universal Traveler published in 1779 describes the cathedral as being ‘yet venerable in its ruins. The roof was supported by five handsome arches, which compose a centre aile of twenty-six foot broad, and two lateral ailes each thirteen foot wide. The whole length of the structure is a hundred foot. The heads of the pillars and arches, the tops of the windows, and many niches in the walls, have been adorned with variety of sculpture in stone, some parts of which yet remain. Over the east window, which is very lofty, are three handsome ancient niches, where are the pedestals on which it is supposed the statues of St. Patrick, St. Brigid and St. Columb formerly stood.
Adjoining to the east end of the cathedral are two square columns, one of which is solid and the other hollow; and in it are twenty winding steps, which are supposed to have led up to the roof…There are no ancient monuments remaining in the old abbey, but at the distance of about forty foot from the cathedral, stands a round tower, sixty-six foot high. The thickness of the walls is three foot, and the diameter within, eight foot. On the west side of it is an irregular gap, about ten foot from the top; near a third of the whole circumference being broke off by the injury of time…’

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In 1787 the Hon. And Reverend William Annesley, son of the first Viscount Glerawly, and brother of the first and second Earls Annesley, was appointed Dean of Down and immediately began making plans for the restoration of the ruined cathedral under his care. In this he was greatly helped by Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough who in 1789 was created first Marquis of Downshire. In July of that year the Dean and Chapter met in Downpatrick and passed a resolution committing themselves to the old building’s reconstruction, assisted by Dean Annesley agreeing to give £300 of his annual tithes for this purpose. Lord Downshire provided £568 (and embarked on a lengthy letter-writing campaign to raise funds from other potential donors) and in 1790 an Act of Parliament granted £1,000 from George III provided an equal sum was raised by subscription. The total cost was estimated to be in the region of £5,000. In fact this much had been expended by 1795 when the building was reroofed by otherwise still insufficiently restored; the east window, for example, was glazed in April 1800 and the floor reflagged. Seats were being put in a year later and the organ arrived in July 1802. But as late as July 1810 the third Marquis of Downshire could write that he had visited the building ‘the restoration of which had been promoted by my ancestors, and I am much concerned to observe it still continues in an unfinished state.’ While services were already held there the cathedral was only ready to be consecrated in 1818, the octagonal vestibule and gothic tower at the west end of the building being added in 1826.

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The architect responsible for rebuilding the cathedral was Charles Lilly about whom we know relatively little, although he appears to have originated in Dublin. Lilly was active in County Down during this period: he carried out work for Dean Annesley at his residence Oakley House and also designed the new gaol in Downpatrick in 1789, as well as receiving a number of other public and private commissions. Architectural historians are inclined to be unenthusiastic about his work on the cathedral, regarding it as excessively heavy-handed. It is certainly regrettable that he should have pulled down the old round tower, seemingly on the grounds that it was unstable. And he is criticized for having retained little of the old building, preferring to create his version of a mediaeval cathedral.
On the other hand, one wonders after 250 years of neglect how much was capable of being retained. Furthermore Lilly’s interpretation has a great deal of charm, and none of the turgid heaviness often found in full-blown 19th century cathedral restorations. Down Cathedral displays the delicacy, even frivolity of Gothick, as opposed to the earnestness of Pugin-esque Gothic Revival. The interior is full of light and movement and rhythm, the tiered box pews – those closest to the centre aisle given a series of bow fronts like houses on a Regency terrace – adding a certain theatricality to the space. This impression is enhanced by the line of boxes directly beneath the organ case of the pulpitum: these would not look out of place in an opera house. It may not be historically correct, but Down Cathedral is a delight, its slender sprung arches lifting one’s eyes heavenwards. St Patrick would surely approve of that.

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Unfurling the Foliage

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A section of the stair hall ceiling at Powerscourt House, Dublin. Designed in the early 1770s by Robert Mack, this served as the town residence for the Viscounts Powerscourt until sold to the government in 1807 for £500 less than it had cost to build. The house is rightly famous for its ebullient decoration, not least this ceiling by stuccodore James McCullagh which, along with the surrounding walls, features a riot of compartmentalised acanthus scrolls. The plasterwork in Powerscourt House is of superior quality but difficult to appreciate since the building, which has served as a shopping centre for the past three decades, is excessively cluttered with confusing signage.

In a Gentleman’s Park

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In the early 18th century Joshua Dawson, MP for County Wicklow and Secretary for Ireland during the reign of Queen Anne, laid out the street in Dublin that still bears his name and there built himself a residence which subsequently became the Mansion House. Around the same time he also had a new property constructed at Castle Dawson, the County Derry estate acquired by his grandfather Thomas Dawson in the 1630s.
This house was subsequently demolished by Joshua’s son Arthur who in the mid-1760s built another, called Moyola Park, the garden front of which can be seen here. The building has been subject to several alterations: the block to the left, for example, was only added in the 1920s. But more importantly, the three-sided bows at either end, as well as the plate-glass windows, are 19th century additions. At that point the staircase was moved from the centre of the single bay pedimented breakfront overlooking the gardens garden to elsewhere in the house. One wonders if the original stairs might have been incorporated within some kind of bow, since an arch of cut stone in the middle of the bay differs somewhat in colour from that on either side. Moyola Park has remained in the hands of its original builder’s family although passing through the female line so that the occupants are now called Chichester-Clark; the late James Chichester-Clark, who served as Northern Ireland Prime Minister until his resignation in March 1971, was subsequently created Baron Moyola.

A Place of Magic

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The earliest recorded mention of the County Clare village Sixmilebridge is in the 1681 journal of the English antiquary Thomas Dinely. As its name indicates, Sixmilebridge is located approximately six miles from Thomondgate in Limerick and is the site of a bridge erected over the O’Garney river in 1610 by Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond.
Of particular interest in Dinely’s account of this part of the country is his reference to a castle ‘belonging to Henry Ivers, Esq, well scituate and capable of very considerable improvement, a draught whereof I took on the other side of this leaf…The gentleman, owner hereof, came over (a young man, clerk to one Mr Fowles, a Barrister), since the King’s Restoration, and hath in this time by his Industry, acquired one Thousand pounds a year. The first and chiefest of his rise was occasioned by being concerned in the Revenue as Clerk to the King’s Commissioners for settling the Quit Rents, and afterwards became their Deputy receiver, is now in commission one of his Ma’ties Justice of the Peace, not worth less than sixteen hundred pounds a year.’
Dinely is not altogether accurate since Henry Ivers had actually come to Ireland prior to the Restoration of 1660, being one of the beneficiaries of Cromwell’s sweep across the country. Quit rent was a tax imposed on new settlers granted land by the government and clearly whoever was responsible for its collection could do well, as indeed Ivers did. (By the time of his death in October 1691 he had acquired some 12,000 acres, of which almost half was deemed to be ‘profitable.’) But the great merit of Dinely’s work is that, as he wrote, he included a ‘draught’ or drawing of the old castle owned by Ivers and showing it to be a typical tall tower house of the kind built throughout Ireland in the 16th and early 17th centuries. A massive stone chimney piece in the south hall of the castle’s replacement, presumed to have been salvaged when the latter was demolished, carries the date 1648, which would have made its construction very late for such a building.

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When Henry Ivers died, he left his estate to a second son, the eldest having been disinherited for marrying without his father’s approval, perhaps to a Roman Catholic. John Ievers (as the family now began to spell its name) was Colonel-in-Chief of the Clare Militia Dragoons and an MP for sixteen years. When he died in 1731, his heir – another Henry – clearly decided Dinely had been right half a century before that the old castle was ‘capable of very considerable improvement’ since he knocked it down and built a new house on the site, ever after called Mount Ievers.
We are in the rare position of knowing a great deal about the origins of the house, since the accounts for its construction survive. Mount Ievers was designed by the architect John Rothery (with his son Isaac assuming responsibility for the project after Rothery senior’s death in 1736) and work began in 1733 with completion four years later.
During this time masons working on site were paid five shillings a week, and general labourers five pence. In an average week 11 of the former and 48 of the latter were employed, with the labourers receiving not just their wages but also food and clothes including shoes and supplies of coarse linen woven at Mount Ievers. The house cost £1,478 pounds, seven shillings and nine pence to build, but Henry Ievers noted sundry other expenses incurred such as two horses he had given the architect valued at £15, as well as two mules (£4 and twelve shillings) and 3,000 laths (£1 and ten shillings). Slates priced at nine shillings six pence per thousand came from Broadford ten miles away, while the oak roof timbers, thirty-four tons in weight, came from Portumna; they were brought by boat to Killaloe and then hauled twenty miles overland to the site.

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Writing about Mount Ievers in Country Life in November 1962, Mark Girouard proposed its design derived from that of Chevening in Kent, a house attributed to Inigo Jones and featured in the second volume of Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Brittanicus (1717). Certainly there are many similarities between the two buildings and as Girouard pointed out, ‘an unusual feature shared by both houses, which makes it unlikely that the relation is a coincidence, is the stone cornice with pulvinated frieze below the eaves.’ Of course Mount Ievers was rather anachronistic by the time it was built, but that somehow adds to the place’s charm, as do the two fronts, that to the north faced in brick, that to the south in cut limestone, both of them of seven bays, three storeys over raised basement and with entrances approached by flights of steps. A detail missing from the accounts of the house is the source for the bricks; it is customarily proposed that they came from Holland, a Dutch mill owner who lived near Sixmilebridge shipping rape seed oil to his native country and the vessels on their return bringing bricks to act as ballast. Today after almost three centuries they have mellowed to a soft pink hue lightly dusted with lichen. The west and east sides of the house are rendered with very few windows other than those at either end of corridors running along the centre of each floor.
The tall narrow windows with their thick glazing bars (some of them restored in the last century having been earlier replaced by larger panes of glass), add to the impression of height as does a curious feature of the design whereby each storey is several inches narrower than that below, something almost undetectable to the eye until it is pointed out. The walls are very thick, between four and five feet, and so the entirety of the basement is a series of vaulted chambers needed to support this immense weight.

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The interior of Mount Ievers is relatively simple, with most of the rooms retaining their original plaster panelling, elaborate cornices and panelled doors set in doorcases eight and half feet high. The north entrance hall, which takes up about a third of the ground floor includes a wonderful carved staircase, barley-sugar and fluted balusters alternating. This in turn leads to a very substantial first-floor hall off which open the main bedrooms. On the top floor is a long vaulted gallery, intended to provide a space in which ladies could walk on wet days or to serve as a ballroom, or possibly both. There are some very attractive chimneypieces in the ground floor rooms but these date from the second half of the 18th century and were installed around 1850.
In fact, these small changes made at that time were really the only significant ones the house has experienced. The Ievers family, although initially wealthy and powerful, gradually became neither, and it was a want of funds and of the need to impress that led their house to remain largely unaltered. A mural painted over the mantel in the drawing room not long after the house was completed shows the north front exactly as it is today, and while much of the surrounding formal gardens shown have disappeared other elements like the two brick sentry boxes at the end of the garden remain.
Mount Ievers is a place of quite haunting loveliness, a house that captures the hearts of everyone who has ever visited. ‘Magic is an overworked word,’ commented Mark Girouard, ‘but there is undoubtedly a magic about Mount Ievers. It is a mysterious house, shut away among woods with no outlet to the outer world.’ Similarly Maurice Craig, although observing that the house’s interior ‘is very grand but very, very inconvenient’ had to acknowledge ‘But for the pleasure of living in such a house one would endure much.’ Mount Ievers remains in the hands of the same family for whom it was first built. This adds to its exceptional character and so one hopes that long may an Ievers continue to be in residence.

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