A Shell


The shell of a former school and hall in Portlaw, County Waterford. Dating from 1854, these and many other buildings in the village were designed by one of the most prolific architects of the era, John Skipton Mulvany. He was much patronised by the Quaker Malcolmson family, responsible for various industrial businesses spread across south-east Ireland including in Portlaw.



Once part of a cotton factory complex the present building is listed in www.buildingsofireland.com as being a courthouse, so presumably at some point it also served this purpose. The quality of finish on exterior walls testifies to the building’s high standards but unfortunately nothing of the interior remains. Although disused and derelict, the property is listed for preservation by Waterford County Council.

Et in Arcadia…


Closing the fifteenth annual Historic Houses Conference at Dublin Castle last week, Professor Christopher Ridgway urged the importance of ‘moving the narrative beyond the litany of loss and destruction.’ This site might sometimes seem to deal only in the latter currency, to offer a ceaseless round of bad news, of historic properties fallen into disrepair, of estates permitted to slide into ruin. On occasion however, a more cheerful story can be told, one that has nothing to do with loss and destruction. Such is the case this week at Oakfield, County Donegal.




Oakfield is of interest for many reasons, not least its links to one of the loveliest estates in England: Rousham, Oxfordshire. The main house at Oakfield, built in 1739 at a cost of £1,680, was commissioned by William Cotterell, then-Dean of Raphoe. Cotterell was a younger son of Sir Charles Lodowick Cotterell who, like his father before him (and several generations of the same family thereafter) held the court position of Master of Ceremonies. In 1741 Dean Cotterell’s brother, Sir Clement Cotterell who performed the same role in the royal household, inherited the Rousham estate from a cousin. William Kent had already been working on the gardens at Rousham but now also undertook improvements to the house. Clearly the Cotterell brothers were men of taste and this can also be seen at Oakfield even if Kent did not work there. In fact the house’s elevations are stylistically somewhat anachronistic and seem to harp back to the late 17th century. Nevertheless, tit is a handsome building in an admirably chosen setting: on a bluff offering views across to Croaghan Hill some five miles away. 




Oakfield remained in use as a deanery until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869 when it was sold to Thomas Butler Stoney, another younger son (this time of James Stoney of Rossyvera, County Mayo). A Captain in the Donegal Artillery Militia, Stoney also occupied all the other positions expected of someone in his position: County High Sheriff, Deputy Lieutenant of the county, Justice of the Peace. Following his death in 1912 Oakfield was inherited by his only son, Cecil Robert Vesey Stoney, a keen ornithologist who eventually moved to England in the early 1930s. The house and surrounding lands thereafter passed through several hands before being bought twenty-one years ago by businessman Gerry Robinson who together with his wife Heather has since undertaken an extensive restoration of the property. 




Over the past two decades, not only have the Robinsons restored the residence at the centre of Oakfield, but they have created a 100-acre parkland around it. Some of this is based in the old walled gardens immediately adjacent to the house but the rest is spread over two areas bisected by a road. This division applies also to the spirit of the two sections, the upper garden having a more classical aspect thanks to elements such as a Nymphaeum on one side of the lake. The lower garden’s principal architectural feature is a newly-created castellated tower house overlooking another stretch of water. Between this pair of substantial structures are other, smaller buildings to engage a visitor’s interest. Oakfield is an admirable demonstration of what imaginative vision allied with sound taste can achieve. Walking around the grounds, it is hard to believe this is County Donegal. But that is what sets Oakfield apart: like Rousham on the other side of the Irish Sea, once inside the gates one is temporarily transported to Arcadia.


For more on Oakfield, see: http://www.oakfieldpark.com

Plundered

Another ruined castle, this one in County Tyrone. Believed to date from the mid-14th century, Harry Avery’s Castle is named after the Gaelic chief in this area Henry Aimhréidh O’Neill who died in 1392. As can be seen, not a lot of it remains, other than a pair of D-front towers. Captured by the English forces in 1609, the site was subsequently plundered for stone, which explains why so little remains today.

At the End of the Day


Evening Light at Drummin, County Kildare. The core of the house dates from the mid-18th century when it was built by the Rev. William Grattan. At that time the west facade, seen here, was the entrance front, the door being located where the arched window is now in the middle of the breakfront. At some point in the 19th century, lower wings were added on either side that to the left (north) side becoming the new entrance.

Surrendering to the Elements


Buried in the midst of woodland in north-west County Cork, Lohort Castle has had a turbulent past and, by the look of the place today, is experiencing a none-too secure present. As so often in Ireland, the building’s origins are uncertain. It has been proposed that a castle was constructed here in the late 12th centuries on the instructions of Prince (future King) John, but more likely it was one of the innumerable tower houses that appeared on the Irish landscape in the 15th and 16th centuries. As such it would have been built for the MacCarthys who were then the dominant family in the region. At the time, the castle would have been at the centre of a larger site with other buildings surrounded by an enclosing wall. In plan and form it is typical of the Irish tower house, being rectangular and rising five storeys to a machiolated parapet, with only one small point of access on the ground floor. The building’s most striking feature is its curved external walls, which while unusual are not unique. An engraving from the early 1740s shows it looking much as is still the case today, albeit surrounded by a moat (drained in 1876) and protected by star-shaped Vaubanesque outerworks. The only obvious differences are the stepped gable on the east side of the roof and the chimney stacks: these were added towards the end of the 19th century. 





In the late 1630s Lohort Castle passed out of the hands of the MacCarthys and came into the possession of Sir Philip Perceval, an English adventurer who acquired an extensive estate in Ireland. With the onset of rebellion in 1641 Perceval garrisoned the castle with 150 soldiers but it still fell to the native Irish who remained in occupation until 1650 when besieged by Sir Hardress Waller and his troops. It was written that Waller ‘by the Help of Cannon reduced it in four days’ but there is no evidence of such damage on the exterior walls (which are ten feet thick at the base) so perhaps the threat of cannon fire was enough to encourage surrender. Lohort was duly returned to the Percevals and remained in their hands for several centuries. It was Sir Philip’s grandson, John Perceval, created first Earl of Egmont in 1733, who paid most attention to the building. Formal classical gardens with long straight vistas were laid out in the surrounding grounds while alterations were made inside the main building including the provision of a library and an armoury holding sufficient weapons to equip men. In 1740 the builder John Hickey was hired by Lord Egmont to carry out this work but he miscalculated the costs and the following year was imprisoned for debt. Following the first earl’s death, his son seems to have lost interest in Lohort which was thereafter occupied by an agent.





In the late 19th century, Lohort again changed ownership, being bought by the O’Briens: Sir Timothy O’Brien was a cricketer famous for his short-temper. It was presumably during their tenure that further alterations were made to the original building in the mid-1870s. The need for additional guest accommodation was resolved by an unknown architect designing a large twin-towered gate house at the end of an avenue directly in front of the castle. As well as providing more bedrooms, this building added further drama to the site. The O’Briens were still in ownership when the gatehouse and castle were burnt by the IRA in July 1921 during the War of Independence. However, both were sufficiently sturdy to survive and, after some restoration work, to be habitable once more. This no longer looks to be the case. About a decade ago Lohort was offered for sale, and finally found a buyer at the end of 2011. Either before or after that date some rather aggressive work appears to have been undertaken on the buildings (and to an adjacent stableyard) but then halted. As a result, they are now suffering badly, the gatehouse especially being in pitiful condition. What an English army could not achieve four centuries ago, neglect in our own time may yet accomplish. 

A Merchant Prince


Cork city has long been renowned for its merchant princes, and Sir Mathew Deane was an early example of the breed. Believed to have been born in Bristol in 1623, he came to Ireland as a young man and settled in the south. Evidently he prospered, at different dates serving as mayor and sheriff of Cork; in 1691 he was appointed first master of the newly-established Society of Wholesale and Retayling Merchants. A year later he endowed an almshouse adjacent to St Peter’s church in the city, and in his will left instructions for the construction of a new building to serve the same purpose. Already knighted, he was created a baronet shortly before his death in 1710.

This splendid funerary monument to Sir Mathew and his wife, formerly to one side of the main altar, today occupies the wall of a small chapel on the north-east side of the former St Peter’s church. Flanked by marble columns with Corinthian columns, the figures kneel in prayer on either side of an altar. While it is possible to identify Sir Mathew with ease, his wife poses problems because he married three times. A notice in the chapel calls her ‘Lady Elizabeth’ but none of his spouses was so named, the first being Mary Wallis, the second Martha Boyle and the third Dorothy Ferrar, dowager Countess of Barrymore. St Peter’s is no longer used for services and today serves as an exhibition venue and cultural facility.

In the Round


A monastery is said to have been established by Saint Mochua in Timahoe, County Laois during the seventh century. Not much is known about the site, except that the church here was burnt twice, in 919 and again in 1142, before the religious house was re-founded by the dominant family of the area, the O’Mores. Following the 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries, parts of the site were converted into a church, the remains of which can be seen on the left: to the right is a 19th century former church of Ireland premises, now in use as a heritage centre. The most interesting feature here is the mid-12th century round tower, exceptionally well-preserved  and rising almost 96 feet. The Romanesque doorway, more elaborately carved than is often the case with round towers, is sixteen feet above the ground.

A Work in Progress


Hillsborough Castle, County Down has long been misnamed since there is nothing castle-like about its appearance. The core of the house dates from the 18th century when it was built for the Hill family who were created Marquesses of Downshire. Owners of some 1115,000 acres in Ireland, it was said the Hills could travel from Larne in County Antrim to Blessington, County Wicklow without ever losing sight of their land. At Hillsborough, it appears there was a house on the site by c.1760 but this was enlarged in the mid-1790s for the second marquess to designs of Robert Brettingham. Further additions were made in the late 1820s for the third marquess who employed a local architect, Thomas Duff of Newry. It was at this time that the pedimented portico with four giant Ionic columns was added on the garden facade. This had hitherto been the entrance front, but that was now moved to face the main square of Hillsborough town. Hillsborough Castle remained in the ownership of the Hills until 1922 when sold by the sixth marquess to the British government. The house then served as a residence first for successive governors of Northern Ireland and then for Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland. Since 2014 Hillsborough Castle has been managed by Historic Royal Palaces.





Over the past three years, both the house and grounds at Hillsborough have benefitted from considerable, and ongoing, attention. The gardens run to almost 100 acres and originally incorporated the main road to nearby Moira which ran in front of the Ionic portico and followed the line of the Yew Walk. However here as elsewhere the desire for privacy led the family to enclose this part of their land and lay it out for their own pleasure with the development of water features, ornamental bridges, the Doric Lady Alice’s Temple and a rusticated ice house.





When the scheme of improvements was initiated at Hillsborough in 2014, landscape designer Catherine FitzGerald, eldest daughter of the late Knight of Glin, was appointed to oversee a revitalisation of the gardens. Collaborating with her regular business partner, landscape architect Mark Lutyens, she drew up a master-plan which is being gradually implemented. So far the most notable feature introduced has been the re-working of the terrace outside the drawing room: here a harsh gravel surface has been replaced with reclaimed stone intermingled with diverse planting. Immediately beyond, the Jubilee Parterre has similarly been softened, while thousands of bulbs were planted on either side of the Yew Walk. This is very much a project in progress with much more yet to be done, as is also the case inside the house where extensive refurbishment is likewise underway. The intention is that in the years ahead, Hillsborough will receive in the region of 200,000 visitors, thereby generating revenue that can in turn be used for further developments: an excellent enterprise that merits being emulated elsewhere in Ireland.

Getting It Right


As its name indicates, the little coastal village of Castletownshend, County Cork grew up around a castle occupied from c.1665 onwards by Richard Townsend, and still in the ownership of his descendants. Castletownshend offers an example of how a small urban settlement can retain its character and charm, and thereby attract visitors who during the summer months throng the place. Located on a small side-street rather grandly called The Mall, the mid-18th century house above has retained much of its original appearance, as is the case for the majority of other properties in the village. A number have benefitted from more recent sympathetic owners such as the house below: dating from the 1880s, prior to independence it was occupied by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Castletownshend is a model of how to get it right.

Heavy Industry


The former Wallace’s Mills at Kilcran, County Monaghan. Dating from c.1790 this substantial range of stone buildings offers evidence of the country’s industrial past. The long range to the left operated as a corn mill while that to the right was a scutch mill, driven by water and used in the manufacture of linen to remove impurities from flax fibre through by means of rotating wooden blades. Seemingly it was customary to have the two manufacturing processes – for food and fabric – operating from adjacent premises. Located down a quiet side road, what use now for these substantial properties?