Another Unnecessary Loss

Over two years ago, this site carried an extensive report on the perilous condition of Carstown Manor, County Louth (see A Lamentable Waste, January 26th 2015). Carstown is of enormous significance because in its present form the building dates from the early 17th century and is accordingly a Jacobean manor: there are almost no such properties extant in Ireland. A pair of carved limestone plaques, one at the centre of a massive chimney piece in what would have been the main reception room, the other directly above the entrance door carry the same details, namely the date 1612, a coat of arms combining those of two families, and the initials OP and KH. The latter stand for Oliver Plunkett and his wife Katherine Hussey, both members of prominent local dynasties. The plaques may be presumed to indicate either the couple’s marriage or the date on which they completed work of some kind here. It has long been proposed that the core of Carstown is a late 15th/early 16th century tower house occupying what are today the two eastern bays of the house. However, in 2011 archaeology graduate Michael Corcoran published a paper suggesting that Carstown had begun as a late-mediaeval gabled house. If so, he wrote, ‘it would not only make this rural dwelling unique within the north Pale region, but would place it within a site-type that is vastly under represented in the Irish countryside and under-appreciated in Irish academia.’

Carstown was maintained and occupied until relatively recently but over the past two decades the house has fallen into serious disrepair, despite being listed for protection and the subject of four separate national monument records. Members of County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society have long been campaigning to ensure the building’s future: it has been the subject of repeated attacks by vandals and the greater part of the lead had been stripped from the roof, leaving the interiors vulnerable to the elements. Finally the society’s efforts ensured emergency repairs were carried out in 2016 by Louth County Council. Further critical work to the building by the council, as well as a structural survey part-funded by the Irish Georgian Society, was due to have begun next Monday. However last Sunday the house was set on fire and has effectively been left a shell.
Is this news disappointing? Yes. Is it surprising? No. Carstown Manor, like a great many historic properties across the country, has been allowed to slide into ruin because those in positions of authority have failed to act with sufficient force and speed. Unless enforced, legislation designed to protect our heritage is worthless: owners can simply neglect their legal responsibilities without fear of being brought to justice. So it has proven in this case, and a great many others: Carstown is just the latest in a long and melancholy list of lost buildings. What happened here was unnecessary and avoidable. The national patrimony continues to diminish and we are all left the poorer. County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society intends to hold a meeting as intended next week when they can see how best to preserve what is left at Carstown, not least those two plaques. Their voluntary work is to be applauded. What a shame it is not better emulated by those in a position to do more for our heritage, both in County Louth and throughout the rest of the state.

Photographs of the building on fire taken by Luke Torris.

9 comments on “Another Unnecessary Loss

  1. upsew says:

    so sad to think how quickly idle buildings deteriorate…. we lived for some time in a freezing old house on very low rent, which suited us as we were saving, and suited the owner as it was being broken into…..

  2. And where do we go from here? I’m still reeling from a few things on the September tour and wonder at what point the Irish government and its people will wake up to all of her history and how important it is to preserve, not only for themselves and future generations but for tourism.

  3. James Canning says:

    Quite literally sickening.

  4. irishboyinlondon says:

    this is such a disgrace – our heritage is literally disintegrating in front of us – there must be a way of saving it?

  5. John Phelan says:

    Louth County Council should be forced to rebuild the house! If government places the responsibility of maintenance on city & town councils then they might just make extra sure that buildings don’t deteriorate or are subject to easy access and vandalism by hooligans. There again it is difficult to see any politician in this country man-up and deal with it by creating a National Trust for Ireland, maybe if they collected the taxes they are supposed to from the likes of Apple Inc, the money would be there for our heritage instead of failed policies and schemes such as installation of water meters.

  6. bpmurray9 says:

    It is shameful! There should be a plan to rebuild it. If someone in your country starts a go fund me page for it I will contribute. I’m sure many of my fellow Americans would agree to help.

  7. Christopher Browne says:

    Good afternoon, I am an urban design graduate student and I’m writing a short paper on the role of local authorities in the conservations and protection of buildings and structures. I have several examples of buildings that have been lost, but I was wondering if you could provide me with some more examples, please. I noticed in your article that you mentioned there is a long list of buildings which have suffered a similar fate as Carstown House. Thank you for any help in advance.

    • Thank you for getting in touch. I suggest you read my piece next Monday and then perhaps get in touch with me again…

      • bpmurray9 says:

        I am hoping to hear that the date stones at least were saved. Has an assessment been carried out? Is there anything that can be done? I did read your post that Monday, which was well done, but have heard nothing else about Carstown. Please give us an update.

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