The remaining wall of a Jacobean fortified manor in Newtownstewart, County Tyrone built around 1619 with fashionable stepped gables. The town’s name derives from that of Sir William Stewart, a Scottish settler who married one of the daughters of Sir Robert Newcomen, believed to be responsible for starting work on the building. It endured considerable damage during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, especially after being captured by Sir Phelim O’Neill and was then further damaged in 1689 on the instructions of James II who ordered that both house and town be set alight. The property has stood a ruin ever since.
Another funerary monument in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, this one carved by Sir Francis Chantrey in 1826. It represents the Hon William Stuart, Archbishop of Armagh who died in London in 1822 at the age of 68 owing to an unfortunate error. As recounted by The Gentleman’s Magazine at the time: ‘The death of his Grace took place under circumstances of a peculiarly distressing nature, which have excited in the breast of every human being, to whose knowledge they have come, feelings of the deepest regret and commiseration. This melancholy event was unhappily occasioned by an unfortunate mistake in administering a quantity of laudanum instead of a draught. His Lordship was attended in the morning of the 6th by Sir H. Halford, who wrote a prescription for a draught which was immediately sent to the shop of Mr Jones, the apothecary, in Mount-street, in order that it might be prepared. His Lordship having expressed some impatience that the draught had not arrived, Mrs Stuart enquired of the servants if it had come; and being answered in the affirmative, she desired that it might be brought to her immediately. The man had just before received it, together with a small phial of laudanum and camphorated spirits, which he occasionally used himself as an external embrocation. Most unluckily, in the hurry of the moment, instead of giving the draught intended for the Archbishop, he accidentally substituted the bottle which contained the embrocation. The under butler instantly carried it to Mrs Stuart without examination, and that lady not having a doubt that it was the medicine which had been recommended by Sir H. Halford, poured it into a glass and gave it to her husband!- In a few minutes, however, the dreadful mistake was discovered; upon which Mrs Stuart rushed from the presence of the Archbishop into the street, with the phial in her hand, and in a state of speechless distraction. Mr Jones the apothecary having procured the usual antidote, lost not a moment in accompanying Mrs Stuart back to Hill-street where he administered to his Lordship, now almost in a state of stupor, the strongest emetics and used every means which his skill and ingenuity could suggest, to remove the poison from his stomach, all, however, without effect.’
And the moral of this unhappy episode: always check anything brought to you by the under butler…
‘It is a high house, standing on high ground; without a tree, bush or offices in sight, nothing can be more uncompromising than it looks from this road. We soon after approach two bridges over different rivers, which rise after a subterranean course…the old gentleman [Christopher French St George] built the house and an excellent one it is – finished it in the best manner – with painted ceilings to all the lower rooms, and to the hall, which is large and handsome – he furnished it in the best style of those days – of about twenty years back, lived in it and enjoyed it, and 9 or 10 years ago resigned it to his son, who soon after married Lady Harriet St. Lawrence, and they have lived happily and have seldom left it, never for any length of time – they have six little girls – and they appear very happy – Mr St. George an excellent country gentleman, improving his estate, fond of hunting, shooting and all country sports…’
From the Journal of Mary Beaufort, September 1808
‘In the afternoon Tilly Redington and I drove over to Tyrone House. A bigger and much grander edition of Ross – a great square cut-stone house of three stories, with an area – perfectly empty – and such ceilings, architraves, teak doors and chimney-pieces as one sees in old houses in Dublin. It is on a long promontory by the sea and there rioted three or four generations of St. Georges – living with country-women, occasionally marrying them, all illegitimate four times over. No so long ago eight of these awful half-peasant families roosted together in that lovely house, and fought, and barricaded and drank, till the police had to intervene – about 150 years ago a very grand Lady Harriet St Lawrence married a St. George, and lived there, and was so corroded with pride that she would not allow her daughters to associate with the Galway people. She lived to see them marry two men in the yard. Yesterday as we left an old Miss St. George, daughter of the last owner, was at the door in a donkey trap-she lives near, in a bit of the castle, and since her people died she will not go into Tyrone House, or into the enormous yard, or the beautiful old garden. She was a strange mixture of distinction and commonness, like her breeding, and it was very sad to see her at the door of that great house – If we dare to write up that subject!’
From a letter written by Violet Martin to Edith Oliver, March 18th 1912
‘A correspondent has sent some interesting but sad details of the malicious burning of Tyrone House…It was in the late Georgian style and the finest house in Ireland. The ceilings were all painted by Italian masters and were regular works of art. The mantle pieces were all of rare Italian marble and very costly. In the hall was a fine full sized marble statue of Baron St George the founder of that once great family. It was the work of an Italian artist. The head was broken off the night of the raid deliberately it must be said. All the ceilings are now ruined and the mantle pieces also, and the entire structure an empty shell and ruin. There was no grounds for the report that the military or police intended or were to occupy the house, and agrarian motives are believed to have inspired and instigated this most foul and reprehensible act of purely wanton destruction. Of late years the place was freely allowed to be used by pleasure parties who came out from Loughrea and other places to have a dance which cost them nothing and to enjoy themselves, and who were never prevented from having their pleasure and a dance on the spacious floor of the dining room, and they can now no longer do so, and where in olden days the finest balls in the Co. Galway took place.’
From the Tuam Herald, September 4th 1920.
I shall be speaking of Tyrone House, County Galway and the St George family next Friday, September 22nd at 12 midday during the 2017 Irish Antique Dealers Association Fair in the RDS, Dublin. For more information, please see: http://www.iada.ie/antique-fairs
The extraordinary Shrigley Monument, County Down. This stands close to the site of what was once a vast mill and village developed by entrepreneur John Martin. In 1870 the local people decided to acknowledge Martin’s contribution to the area’s prosperity by erecting a monument in his honour. Following a public competition, the prize for its design was won by the young Belfast-born architect Timothy Hevey. Erected in 1871, the monument has a square base, originally with a drinking fountain at the centre and with a lamp on each corner. An octagonal arcade climbs up to a square tower supported by flying buttresses which used to feature a clock. The latter has long since gone, along with greater part of the formerly adjacent factory and the Victorian village. And the monument is in parlous condition, testament to truth of the Irish adage Eaten Bread is Soon Forgotten.
Inside the walled garden at Powerscourt, County Wicklow: a view of the Bamberg Gate, its upper section of ironwork designed to give the illusion of a lengthy vista beyond. This work of art was originally constructed in Vienna in 1770 and installed in Bamberg Cathedral, Northern Bavaria. Probably in the late 1820s, when all Baroque additions were stripped from the building, the gate was removed and sold: around 1870 Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt bought it from a London dealer and placed it in the present position. On the opposite side of the walled garden is the so-called Chorus Gate, the design supposedly based on a 17th century original (although this has not been found) and likewise purchased in London. Its intricate ironwork features myriad winged seraphim blowing trumpets. Both gates have recently been cleaned and re-gilded.
Two centuries ago large parts of Ireland enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, and thanks to this affluence there was something of a rural building boom in the post-1800 period with many new houses constructed by both landowners and their more affluent tenants. This Tipperary property would appear to be just such a house. Standing on land that was once part of a large estate, it was probably erected by and for a lessee at the start of the 19th century; the wide overhanging eaves are a feature of that period and in this instance they project almost a foot from the walls, supported on slabs of cantilevered slate. The same slate, which comes from a local quarry extensively mined in earlier centuries but long since abandoned, also covers the roof which is hipped rather than gable-ended. The latter style, easier and less expensive to create, is the norm across much of Ireland and hipped roofs tend to be found in those parts of the countryside where farmers enjoyed the largest incomes. In this instance, the roof was so well constructed that when the present owner bought the house in 1995 he found it required no restoration, other than replacement of old guttering.
While the exterior was sound, a lot of work had to be done to the interior because although uninterruptedly occupied from the time of its construction until the late 1980s, the house had no plumbing of any kind and the only evidence of electricity was a single light bulb hanging from the ceilings of the kitchen, parlour and principle bedroom. Throughout the premises are indications the original builders had aspirations to raise themselves in the social hierarchy of pre-famine Ireland. The most primitive aspect of the house’s design is found in its treatment of the staircase which, in spite of its elegant joinery, is awkwardly sited to cut across the frame of a door leading into a former pantry (now the kitchen). Likewise its wide treads interrupt the lines of the window immediately beyond – on the other hand this feature can be in many large country houses also. Unsatisfactorily resolved design elements indicates the house’s first owners wanted to build themselves a home that aped aspects of bigger properties but obviously were not sufficiently wealthy or important enough to employ an architect or able to work out certain technical difficulties for themselves.
On the other hand, they were in a position to borrow certain decorative details from elsewhere and to impose these on the structure. The space above the main bedroom’s windows, for example, is filled with curved plaster decoration that makes the room look far grander than would otherwise be the case. And in the parlour immediately below, a handsome, glass-fronted cabinet was inserted into the wall to the immediate left of the fireplace, presumably for the display of cherished pieces of china and other heirlooms. All the windows have the same fine shutters but on the groundfloor metal bars protect the windows from possible intruders – another sign of the early tenant farmers’ relative prosperity. Aspirations towards gentility can also be found in the different ceiling treatments: those in the parlour and main bedroom are plastered and corniced (and had centre plaster roses – although no light ever hung from either), whereas that in the central room – which would once have been the kitchen – has exposed beams and, in contrast to the parlour’s elegant fitted cabinet, contained a traditional dresser, the impression of which could still be seen on one wall when the present owner bought the house. Likewise, instead of plaster the substantial upper landing ceiling was originally open to the rafters but for a long time has been covered in painted timber sheeting. This first floor landing is one of the house’s most distinctive attributes. Located directly above the kitchen which had an open fireplace, it would most likely have been warmer than the bedrooms to either side and so perhaps this was where the house’s children would have slept. here…
Houses such as this can be found in abundance throughout the Irish countryside, but – unlike this one – they are almost invariably in poor condition or have been abandoned. Our traditional vernacular architecture has been insufficiently appreciated, with the result that much of it has been irretrievably lost. Yet as this building demonstrates, such houses – once occupied by tenant farmers – possess many sterling qualities and can with relative ease be made into comfortable homes (and probably at less expense than undertaking a new-build). Additions, like the conservatory here on the garden front of the house, help to ease the span of centuries and make the place suitable for contemporary living. These properties are as much part of our national heritage as any other historic house. Accordingly they ought to be better cherished than is presently the case.
This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Irish Aesthete: hard to imagine when the site made its debut in September 2012 that it would continue for as long – and that there would still remain so much to show and discuss. Yet the fact is that the country’s architectural heritage requires constant observation and comment. Whether large or small, grand or humble, our historic buildings deserve to be better understood and better protected. Without wishing to sound grandiose or self-important, such is the purpose of the Irish Aesthete: to bring Ireland’s architectural heritage to as broad an audience as possible because the more people know and appreciate what we have, the higher the likelihood it will survive into the future. Very many thanks to all friends and supporters over the past five years, your ongoing interest has proven invaluable. Please spread the word. As today’s building shows, we need to learn how to make the most of our own. here…
The remains of Balfour Castle, County Fermanagh. In 1618/19 the surveyor Captain Nicholas Pynnar noted that the Scottish settler James Balfour, first Lord Glenawley had ‘laid the foundation of a bawne of lime and stone 70 ft square, of which the two sides are raised 15 ft high. There is also a castle of the same length, of which the one half is built two stories high and is to be three stories and a half high.’ Because of Balfour’s origins, the castle was built very much in the Scottish style of a fortified house, necessary because it was damaged during both the Confederacy Wars of the 1640s and the Williamite wars later in the same century. However, it remained occupied until 1803 until destroyed by arson, the person responsible believed to have been a member of the Maguire clan which had once owned all the land in this part of the country. Balfour Castle has remained a ruin ever since and now looks over a graveyard on one side and a housing estate on the other.