Galtrim, County Meath was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as being ‘a handsome residence in a well-planted demesne.’ By this date the building was some 35 years in existence, having been constructed c.1802 for the Rev. Thomas Vesey Dawson who was then the local rector. He was a member of the Dawson family, later Earls of Dartrey, who were responsible for developing the Dawson’s Grove estate in County Monaghan (for more on the Dawsons, see A Shining Distinction on Earth, 15th September 2014). Clearly the Rev. Vesey Dawson inherited an interest in architecture, since he invited Francis Johnston to design Gatrim. But there was an additional reason for the commission: during the previous decade Johnston had been employed by Blayney Townley Balfour on the design of Townley Hall, County Louth. The Rev Vesey Dawson’s wife Anne Maria was Townley Balfour’s sister (not his daughter, as is often stated) and was in her own right a talented architectural amateur who is believed to have had an input into Townley Hall (see Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, 10th June 2013) . And in 1806 Johnston would be hired by the Vesey Dawson’s to make alterations and additions to another of their properties, Loughgilly House (now derelict). Thus Galtrim is likely as much to reflect the taste of Mrs Vesey Dawson as her husband.
In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, Maurice Craig described Galtrim as ‘probably the best of Francis Johnston’s smaller houses’ and drew attention to features of its design shared with a couple of other properties, Kilcarty close by in County Meath (by Thomas Ivory and from the 1770s) and Emsworth, County Dublin (by James Gandon, in the mid-1790s). Galtrim is a late-Palladian villa, with a central block of two storeys over basement and single storey wings. The four-bay entrance front is focussed on the tripartite Doric frame that incorporates both door and hall windows. The outer windows of the main block and those in the wings are set within shallow relieving arches. Meanwhile the dominant feature of the garden front is the generous central bow of the drawing room: Casey and Rowan suggest this was originally intended to be thatched ‘to give the house the picturesque cottage orne effect then in vogue during the Regency period. It is flanked by substantial tripartite windows lighting the dining room and morning room respectively. The bow theme is echoed by various features internally, in both the aforementioned morning room and in the staircase hall, and at the east side of the entrance hall. Rightly Casey and Rowan call the result both simple and sophisticated: ‘a meeting of vernacular farmhouse classicism with the suave neo-classicism associated with James Gandon. When Craig wrote of Galtrim in 1976 he noted that the house had been ‘hardly at all altered.’ By then it was occupied by the late Eileen, Countess of Mount Charles who lived there until shortly before her death last November and throughout this period took exemplary care of the place. Now the house is on the market. Time to pray that whoever buys it will respect the building’s distinguished architectural pedigree and ensure that Galtrim continues to be hardly at all altered.’