Take Three

Door 2
This week the Irish Aesthete celebrates its third birthday. When first posting in September 2012, I had no idea that the project would develop as it has since done, nor that it would attract such a loyal following (and certainly not that I would still be doing this now). A sincere thanks to everyone who has been reading these pages over the intervening period, and for your support and encouragement which – as any writer can confirm – make such a difference. Your own contributions and comments continue to be most welcome although a courteous tone is necessary if you wish for a response.
Over the past three years many posts have been gloomy or dispiriting in character, reflecting the problems faced by Ireland’s architectural heritage, and its want of sufficient support from public and private quarters alike. But given today’s occasion demands a more celebratory spirit, here is a trio of historic houses which have been featured before, all of them restored and brought back to vibrant life thanks to the imagination and passion of their respective owners.

Rokeby Hall, County Louth which first featured here in February 2013 (Building on a Prelate’s Ambition) was built in the 1780s as a country retreat for then-Archbishop of Armagh Richard Robinson. As his architect Robinson chose Thomas Cooley who had already been responsible for many of the new buildings in Armagh, including the Archbishop’s Palace. Unfortunately Cooley died in 1784 and so his plans were handed over to the youthful Francis Johnston: born in Armagh, Johnston’s abilities had been noticed by Robinson who sent him as an apprentice to Cooley in 1778. The house’s severe limestone façade hides a more inviting interior, of three storeys over basement, since Rokeby contains a particularly generous attic concealed behind the parapet, centred on a circular room lit by glazed dome. A similar circular landing on the first floor provides access to the main bedrooms.
Descendants of the Robinson family remained in possession, although not necessarily in occupation, of Rokeby until the middle of the last century. Thereafter the property passed through a variety of hands often with unfortunate consequences. When the present owners bought the place in 1995, for example, the library had been stripped of its bookcases and divided in two with one half used as a kitchen. Over the past twenty years, a process of reclamation has taken place, driven by the correct balance of enthusiasm, commitment and ongoing research into the house’s history. Most recently the present owners have impeccably restored Rokeby’s mid-19th century conservatory.

The County Cork farmhouse shown above was discussed here in May 2014 (A Dash of Panache). when I noted that far too many such buildings in Ireland are abandoned to the elements ‘for no apparent reason other than the fallacious notion that they have ceased to be fit for purpose.’ This is especially true of the country’s older domestic dwellings, ripe for adaptation to contemporary use but instead deserted in favour of something newer – something which will in turn no doubt suffer the same fate. Indeed, one has only to venture into the countryside to see bungalows considered the ne plus ultra of modernity a few decades ago now drifting into a ruinous condition. More regrettably the same fate befalls far too many of Ireland’s handsome old farmhouses which with just a modicum of inventiveness could be given fresh leases of life as an alternative to their more common fate: mouldering into dereliction.
That looked the only prospect for this property until it was taken on by the present owner and brought back to life after a half-century of being left unoccupied. A low-key and sympathetic approach was adopted to the rescue programme. The old kitchen, for example, retains its original tiled floor and as much of the old ochre wall colouring as could be preserved; new cupboards have been sympathetically painted to harmonise with what was already in situ. A slightly more elaborate approach was taken to the decoration of two reception rooms to the front of the house – the chimneypieces here are clearly not original – but they share the same comfortable, unassuming character found throughout the building, as does the large glazed space that now runs along the ground floor. Chairs, tables and other items of furniture have been picked up over a period of time and during the course of extensive travels, none of them for great price. Most of the artwork was acquired in the same way or came via friends. The result serves as a model of how to transform an apparently unsalvageable old farmhouse into a comfortable and smart private residence

The double-height entrance hall of Gloster, County Offaly featured here last month (Spectacle as Drama) but the rest of this house merits equal attention. Gloster is believed to date from the third decade of the 18th century and to have been designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, a cousin of then-owner Trevor Lloyd. The original two-storey building was of nine bays but two further bays were later added on either side making the facade exceptionally long. A series of terraces in front offer views to a lake and then mountains beyond, while another vista is closed by an arch flanked by obelisks. The sense of baroque theatre evident in Gloster’s siting continues indoors, and not just thanks to its spectacular entrance hall. To left and right run further rooms providing a wonderful enfilade rarely found in Ireland. These reflect changes in taste after the house was first constructed. The cornicing in the sitting room above, for example, is evidently from later in the 18th century as is the chimney piece but there is no sense of disharmony anywhere and diverse stylistic elements comfortably co-exist.
Gloster remained in the ownership of the Lloyds until 1958 when it was sold to the Salesian order of nuns who opened a convalescent home in the house and built a large school to the rear. When I first visited in the early 1980s the nuns were still in occupation but it was already evident that they were struggling to maintain the property. Indeed in 1990 they closed down operations and Gloster’s future looked uncertain, especially since it changed hands on a couple of occasions. Thankfully the present owners bought the place in 2001 and since then they have worked tirelessly and splendidly to turn around Gloster’s prospects. Inevitably, given the scale of the undertaking, this remains a work in progress. But already an enormous and admirable programme of restoration and refurbishment has been undertaken. Gloser demonstrates what can be done, even on limited means, provided the task is accompanied by sufficient courage and verve.

Door 1
My thanks again to all readers and followers of the Irish Aesthete for your ongoing support. Please encourage more people to become interested and engaged in Ireland’s architectural heritage. You can also discover me on Facebook (TheIrishAesthete), Twitter (@IrishAesthete), Pinterest (irishaesthete) and Instagram (The.Irish.Aesthete).

28 comments on “Take Three

  1. Maureen Dunne says:

    Happy birthday to you Irish Aesthete….may you continue to flourish and keep us informed about beautiful architecture, whether it’s renovated or indeed its ruins reflecting its former glory.

  2. Penny Perrick says:

    A very happy birthday. Along with listening to BBC Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day, reading your latest posting is my favourite moment of the morning.

  3. rowingguy says:

    Happy 3rd Birthday 🙂

  4. Gerald Mc Carthy says:

    Happy 3rd Birthday to your wonderful informative postings. Looking forward to many more!

  5. Sheila Robinson says:

    Happy Birthday.

  6. Michelle says:

    Thank you, Robert, for your dedication to Irish history. I always look forward to your posts and especially your elegant writing. Please keep the wonderful stories coming!

  7. Simon Toone says:

    Happy 3rd Birthday, may your postings continue to be that wonderful cocktail of wit, intelligence and charm

  8. James Canning says:


  9. Thom Hickey says:

    Thanks very much for such continuing excellence. I have been wonderfully informed and educated. Regards Thom.

  10. Patrick says:

    This must surely be the only place on the entire internet where interesting , intelligent , honest, well researched, unbiased , important information is given freely without any attempt to sell you anything , to influence you by advertising or to ask for support in any way.
    It is us , your lucky audience who should thank you Robert for this amazing website and for your altruism .

  11. David O'Grady says:

    Congratulations on three great years, Robert. You indulge and spoil your readers.
    Looking forward to many more years of uplifting connectedness with the past and with your readership.

  12. I am probably one of your newest admirers , and also one of the biggest. Happy Birthday!

  13. wildninja says:

    Thank you for all of your hard work that goes into this. I absorb every post and appreciate your stunning photos and eloquent writing.

  14. Thanks to you all for your kind remarks, each of them v much appreciated and found encouraging…

  15. Michael Thomas says:

    Thank you for your very enjoyable Architectural Wild Goose Chase’s,if they can be described as such!!

  16. lawrieweed says:

    We so enjoy and learn so much from the Irish Aesthete. You are the Wikipedia of Irish Genealogy and Cultural and Architectural History.

  17. Ballinrobe37 says:

    Congrats and thank you for 3 years of your brilliant articles I have learnt more about architecture and buildings than I did working on building sites since I started to work as a carpenter aged 15 in 1961 Keep up the good work

    Sent from my iPad


  18. Mark says:

    I stumbled across your blog some months ago and have enjoyed reading your posts. I am Barbadian by birth living in Canada, my Irish ancestry goes back almost 400 years to Cork when 2 brothers set out from Kinsale for Barbados. Carry on your great work.

  19. Niall O'Mahony says:

    I visit here daily eagerly awaiting a new entry. Thanks so much for the most informative, passionate and engaging website I have come across.

  20. Robert Christopher Burke van Rhijn says:

    For 2 years I have looked forward with enthusiasm to each next tipple of The Irish Asthete, a warming blend of information, devotion with a hint of aserbic exhortation. It does go down smooth, invigorates and promotes harmony and goodwill.
    Slainte! Clonmorlinn

  21. Melissa O'Neill says:

    Informative and articulate articles but most of all superb images. Well done Robert and happy birthday!

  22. winnie says:

    “Happy Birthday To You!”

  23. Happy birthday to the best blog on the internet, and thank you Robert for the high quality of scholarship, the great photos, and the palpable passion that goes into each post. Also, it has become a pleasure that takes the sting out of monday mornings and makes me look forward instead!

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