Making the Most of Our Own

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…

24 comments on “Making the Most of Our Own

  1. Donald Knox says:

    Lovely house. Buildings like this are often abandoned . Great to see such painstaking restoration,but are the sashes appropriate?

  2. Robert Towers says:

    Dear Robert,

    Congratulations on the 5th. Always opened with anticipation and enjoyed.

    Best wishes,


  3. upsew says:

    really lovely house, its got great integrity – I was brought up in a house similar – built 1799 with later additions and original sash windows which were rather draughty by the 1980s, a lot of the rooms were as fancy as they could be but had the quirks (half of the rooms in the house were quadrilaterals – no square 90o corners) but I always loved the generous proportions and these quriks….

  4. Bob Frewen says:

    Congratulations on the ‘birthday’ and thank you for all the work you put into the research. Looking forward to reading the blog (and learning!) for many more years.
    Best wishes,

  5. liam mansfield says:

    Robert, is this your country retreat?

  6. lawrieweed says:

    I love this house and the grounds – more pictures of how it is situated.

  7. Tim Guilbride says:

    What a beautiful house! Charming and welcoming, with the ease of today but a respect for the past. Private homes like this are the hardest of all to get to see – your coverage of them is a constant pleasure. Congratulations!

  8. Carol says:

    Congratulations on the 5th birthday with a big thank you for giving so much enjoyment and education.

  9. Rose Anne White says:

    Congratulations on five years of great posts!!

  10. Peter Davidson says:

    Congratulations and sincere thanks on your fifth anniversary.

  11. Charlie Lynch says:

    Hi Robert, just to say that I have enjoyed your blog immensely for the last two years or so and that I appreciated its quality and getting to find out about so many wonderful buildings. The house you feature above and the points you make about cherishing our built heritage are both excellent. Sadly, many people of my generation (30ish) and younger have increasingly little hope of ever owning their own houses, let alone wonders like that shown above. However, in the unlikely instance that this became possible, I would certainly choose something older rather than the rather depressing offerings that many seem to prefer.

  12. Michael says:

    Thank you for this piece, and for all that preceded it as well as all that, we hope, will follow. Informative and enjoyable.

  13. Sophie says:

    What a beautiful house. Could you let me know the colours you chose in the hallway and on the stairs? Many thanks

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