One of James Gandon’s designs for the façade of Emo Court, County Laois. In the 1780s the architect was employed by enlightened patron John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington to come up with plans for a new house on his country estate. This is one of Gandon’s proposals, and interesting to compare with Emo Court as eventually built. The process was devilled with setbacks, beginning with the Lord Portarlington’s unexpected death in 1798, by which time only the shell of the house had been constructed. It took more than sixty years, and the involvement of a number of other architects, before work on the building was finally completed. As a result and reflecting changes in taste, various alterations, external and internal, were made to the original scheme. Many of Gandon’s original drawings, plus those of his successors, are currently on display in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin. Below is one of the Gandon proposals for the garden front, and a photograph of the same prospect today.
Monthly Archives: February 2019
All Things Human Hang by a Slender Thread
From History of the Irish Hierarchy by Rev. Thomas Walsh (1864):
‘Athassel, in the Barony of Clanwilliam, and on the west side of the river Suir. William Fitz Adelm de Burgo founded this abbey under the evocation of St. Edmund, king and confessor, for canons regular of St. Augustine.
A.D. 1204, the founder was interred here.
A.D. 1309, the prior was sued by Leopold de Mareys and Company, merchants of Lucca, for the sum of five hundred marcs, £2,500 sterling.
A.D. 1319, the town of Athassel was maliciously burned by the Lord John Fitz Thomas.
A.D. 1326, Richard, the Red Earl of Ulster, was interred here.
A.D. 1326, Bryan O’Brien burned Athassel to the ground.
A.D. 1482, David was prior.
A.D. 1524, Edmund Butler was prior, and the last who presided over this venerable establishment. Its property in land consisted of 768 acres, besides twenty messuages, and the income of rectories amounting to £111 16s 8d, or twenty-two marcs, which would in American money exceed $550.
All this property was granted forever to Thomas, earl of Ormond, at the yearly rent of £49 3s 9d. Queen Elizabeth confirmed this grant and remitted the reserved rent.
Athassel is one of the most extensive ruins in the kingdom, and scarcely yielded to any in extent and splendor. The whole work was uniform, regular, and finished in a fine limestone.’
From The Official Illustrated Guide to the Great Southern and Western Railway by George S. Measom (1867):
‘The site was chosen with the usual taste and judgement of “monks of old”; although a few shriveled trees are now all that remains of the woods by which it was formerly encompassed, and of which there is abundant evidence. A gentle, fertilizing and productive river still rolls beside its shattered glories; and the ruins afford ample proof of the vast extent, as well as the singular beauty of the structure, when the “Holy Augustinians” kept state within its walls. To their order may be traced the most elaborate and highly wrought of all the ecclesiastical edifices in Ireland; their abbeys in that country “evincing a style of architectural elegance and grandeur but little inferior to their fabrics in England and on the Continent”.’
From The Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland (1846):
‘The ruins of the edifice are still extensive, and indicate its former magnitude and splendor. The choir measured 44 feet by 26; the nave, of the same breadth as the choir and supported by lateral aisles, was externally 117 feet in length; the tower was square and lofty; and the cloisters were extensive. A tolerable view of the ruins from the north-west, and exhibiting the dilapidated tower, the roofless nave, the cloisters and a roofless chapel in the south-west corner, is given by Dr. Ledwich in his Antiquaries of Ireland. “We cannot,” says that antiquary, “behold the numerous arches, walls, windows, and heaps of masonry promiscuously mixed in one common ruin, without saying with Ovid: Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo: Et subito casu, quæ valuere, ruunt.’ [All things human hang by a slender thread: that which seemed to stand strong, suddenly falls into ruin]
The House by the Churchyard
In 1863 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu published one of his most successful works The House by the Churchyard. The book, which like many 19th century novels was initially serialized and accordingly has a convoluted plot, is set in the village of Chapelizod to the immediate west of central Dublin. Sheridan Le Fanu knew the area well: not long after he was born in 1814 his father, an Anglican clergyman, was appointed chaplain of the Royal Hibernian Military School (now St Mary’s Hospital) in the Phoenix Park which lies directly north of Chapelizod. This is the eponymous House by the Churchyard, standing – just about – outside the gates of the adjacent St Laurence’s Church. The building is believed to date from c.1740, just a few decades before the period in which Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel is set. It has been standing empty and neglected for some years and now looks to be in a seriously dilapidated condition. Unless there is an intervention soon, it will be necessary to write another book, this one called The Lost House by the Churchyard.
Incidentally, this is not the only historic property in Chapelizod in perilous condition: a little to the east, the last surviving house from a terrace built around 1700 is boarded up and on the verge of disintegration.
At the end of the sixth century a holy man called Fintán but now better known as St Munna, established a religious settlement at Taghmon, County Westmeath (Teach Munna: St Munna’s church). This flourished, and came to boast some 230 monks, but the present building on the site dates from the mid-15th century. This may have been before or after the place was ransacked in 1452 by Farrell MacGeoghegan in whose family territory it lay. The need for security explains the church’s most striking feature, the fortified tower at its west end where a resident priest could be safe from attack. This is of four storeys and configured like many of the tower houses then being constructed across the country, with a store on the ground floor and living/sleeping quarters on the upper levels.
In the 16th century St Munna’s church passed under the control of the Nugent family but had become ruinous within 100 years. However, by 1755 it was being used by the Church of Ireland for services and in 1843 extensive restoration work was carried out under the supervision of Joseph Welland, head architect for the Board of Ecclesiastical Commissioners: it is no longer in use for services. Aside from the tower, the building’s other notable feature is a sheela-na-gig above a window on the north wall.
The Catholic Committee (sometimes called the Catholic Convention) was a body set up in 1757 to campaign for the repeal of the Penal Laws, and greater religious and political freedom for members of the Roman Catholic church. One of its founders was the antiquarian Charles O’Conor who lived in County Roscommon, and it is likely that as a result of his involvement other men in the same part of the country became involved with the committee. Hugh O’Beirne was among this number, a merchant based in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim who eventually became sufficiently affluent that he was able to acquire several thousand acres of land and build himself a residence at Jamestown, County Leitrim. In late 1792 Theobald Wolfe Tone, then Assistant Secretary of the Catholic Committee, encountered Hugh O’Beirne at a gathering in Dublin and wrote, ‘Met “Met Mr. O’Beirne of Co Leitrim, a sensible man. . . says the common people are up in high spirits and anxious for the event. Bravo! Better to have the peasantry of one county than twenty members of Parliament.’
Hugh O’Beirne took the Oath of Allegiance to the United Irishmen but does not seem to have been penalized for his association with the society in the aftermath of 1798: in the years before his death in 1813, he was a Justice of the Peace for Roscommon. He was succeeded by his son Francis, likewise a J.P. and also Deputy Lieutenant for County Leitrim. In 1843 he enlarged the small Catholic chapel built by his father for the people of Jamestown; behind this Francis also erected a school and schoolmaster’s house. On his death in 1854, the estate – which at its height ran to over 7,500 acres in County Leitrim (and almost another 250 in neighbouring Roscommon) – passed to his son Hugh. His children seem to have been the last of the O’Beirnes to have lived in Jamestown, one son, likewise called Hugh, entered the British Diplomatic Service and along with Lord Kitchener drowned when the vessel they were on, HMS Hampshire, was sunk by a German U-boat off the Orkney coast in June 1916.
The house shown in today’s photographs, Tinny Park, County Roscommon, was until recently owned by a branch of the same family. It is believed to date from around the mid-19th century and is a typical gentleman farmer’s residence, complete with handsome yard to the rear. Of two storeys over basement with a central door approached via a short flight of stone steps, the interior conforms to the usual country house plan, albeit on a small scale: double doors to the rear of the two main reception rooms lead to smaller spaces, and the entrance hall is largely taken up by a staircase. Unoccupied for the previous ten years, Tinny Park was offered for sale for the first time in the summer of 2016, the price on just over six acres was a modest €250,000. It duly sold and, evidently, refurbishment work began, not all of it advantageous: old photographs show the exterior covered in render, all of which has been stripped away. This work now looks to have stalled and when visited last winter the house wore a forsaken appearance. One can only hope that restoration has since resumed (and that in due course the exterior will be correctly re-rendered).
In a Sorry (es)State
According to an entry in buildingsofireland.ie, this building ‘gives strong architectural definition to its context, and forms a landmark at a crossroads on the main Virginia-Cavan Road.’ Dating from c.1870, the house was probably built for estate workers employed by the Marquess of Headfort whose former lodge lies not far away.
The building is particularly interesting because although looking like a single house from the front, it actually contained four residences, each with its own entrance. Given such a prominent position on the main road from the north into Virginia, County Cavan and the property’s historic associations its ongoing neglect is regrettable.
The Hiberno-Italian Link
Further to Monday’s post about Drumcondra House, Dublin, here are portraits of the two men discussed. Above is the funerary monument to Marmaduke Coghill erected in the adjacent church by the deceased’s sister Mary. It was carved by (and bears the signature of) the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers who was based in London: this work seems to have been his most important Irish commission, aside from a series of fourteen busts which can be seen in the Long Room of the Old Library, Trinity College Dublin. Clearly proud of her sibling, Mary Coghill made sure his extensive list of achievements and virtues were recorded on the substantial base below the central figure. Meanwhile in the entrance hall of Castletown, County Kildare can be seen this portrait of the Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei, responsible for the initial design of the house, and perhaps of Drumcondra House too. Painted by Giuseppe Berti in 1735, it shows Galilei seated before an open window through which can be seen the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano which he had designed three years earlier: plans for it can also be seen below his left hand.
An Italian in Ireland
In May 1717 Robert, first Viscount Molesworth wrote from England to his wife Letitia with advice of a planned return to Ireland and the fact that ‘I will carry with me the best architect in Europe.’ The latter was a young Florentine, Alessandro Galilei (1691-1737) who had been brought to London in 1714 by Lord Molesworth’s eldest son John, for the previous three years British Envoy to Florence. It was presumably there that he met Galilei and when Molesworth was recalled to London, he invited the architect, then aged 23, to accompany him with the expectation of commissions from English clients. The Molesworths, père et fils, were key figures in a group of enthusiastic cultural patrons described by the viscount as the ‘new Junta for Architecture.’ Their mission: to reconfigure architectural design on these islands in the neo-classical style, or what one of them called ‘Grecian & best taste’. Although Galilei spent four years in England, with a six-month interlude in Ireland in 1718, and despite backing from the Molesworths and other members of their circle, he achieved almost no success: for example, he made designs for new churches then being commissioned in London but none of them was executed. Similarly, despite being recommended by Lord Molesworth to design St Werburgh’s in Dublin in 1715, he did not get the job: the viscount later wrote that those behind the commission were ‘uncapable of comprehending what an artist Galilei is’. The fact that he was a Roman Catholic is thought also not to have helped his cause. Understandably in August 1719 he returned to Florence, where he was created Engineer of Court Buildings and Fortresses by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Despite further importuning from the Molesworths and others, he never returned to this part of the world. In 1730, the Florentine pope Clement XII invited him to Rome where his best-known work, the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano (1732) can still be seen: he died in the city five years after its completion.
Marmaduke Coghill was born in Dublin in 1673, eldest son of Sir John Coghill, Judge of the Prerogative Court and one of the Masters in Chancery. Marmaduke was something of an infant prodigy, entering Trinity College at the age of fourteen and graduating as a Bachelor of Law four years later. At 19 he was a member of the Irish House of Commons, sitting for the next 50 years first representing the Borough of Armagh and then Dublin University. In due course liken his father before him he served as a judge of the Prerogative Court and later became Chancellor of the Exchequer in Ireland. He was described by a contemporary as being ‘a zealous and active friend, and of an engaging and affable manner, but he was not blessed with good looks’ (another account called him ‘a fat apoplectic looking old gentleman with short legs and a shorter throat’).
Following his father’s death in 1699 Marmaduke Coghill inherited land on the outskirts of Dublin, in an area called Clonturk but now known as Drumcondra. Initially he lived there in an extant house which still stands, Belvedere (or Belvidere), of which more on another occasion. However, in the early 1720s he embarked on building a new residence not far away, Drumcondra House. Here he lived with his sister Mary, like him unmarried, until his death in 1738; five years later she built a church close to the house and inside erected a monument to her brother sculpted by Peter Scheemakers. Following her death, Drumcondra House passed to a niece, Hester Coghill who was married to Charles Moore, Earl of Charleville. The family subsequently rented out the property as a private residence until the early 1840s when acquired by a Vincentian priest who established a Missionary College on the site, All Hallows. A few years ago the property passed into the hands of Dublin City University to become part of that institution’s campus.
So what are the links between Drumcondra House and Alessandro Galilei? As mentioned, the latter had scant success gaining commissions while in either England or Ireland, but the one building with which he has always been associated is Castletown, County Kildare. While Galilei was in Ireland with the Molesworths, he seems to have met William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons and the country’s richest man: it was for Conolly that the architect proposed the basic design of Castletown’s façade, although work on the building did not begin until 1722 (by which time Galilei had long since returned to Italy) and is thought to have been overseen by Edward Lovett Pearce. Marmaduke Coghill was a friend and political ally of Conolly, so there is no reason why he should not also have met Galilei and indeed likewise have asked him for advice and designs for his own new residence in Drumcondra. To the immediate east of the main house is the shell of a classical temple (see below), its pedimented stone façade featuring a central doorcase with segmental pediment flanked by windows with regular pediments on either side of which is a pilaster topped with Corinthian capital. The design for this building has long been attributed to Galilei, but why not also therefore the façade of the house which the temple faces? As can be seen by the photograph on the top of this page, it has many of the same features albeit on a larger scale, suggesting that whoever was responsible for one was also architect of the other. As Maurice Craig once wrote of the façade, ‘there is nothing much resembling it anywhere else in Ireland.’ Matters are complicated because the south face of Drumcondra House, altogether more severe and pure (a two-storey pedimented breakfront imposed on the central portion of an otherwise plain, three-storey, seven-bay block) was designed Coghill by Edward Lovett Pearce in 1726. And of course, that was precisely when Pearce was also working at Castletown for Coghill’s friend William Conolly. All of which suggests that Galilei achieved more in Ireland than is usually thought, and certainly more than he ever did in England. Meanwhile, as these other images will show, the interiors of Drumcondra House, currently undergoing a gradual programme of restoration and refurbishment, reveal some of the most intact early 18th century panelled rooms in the country. A building worthy of further study.
The first building seen by visitors to Carton, County Kildare is a boathouse on the north side of the Rye Water. Said to have been constructed in expectation of a visit by Queen Victoria in the mid-19th century, the boathouse makes an excellent first impression, provided not inspected too closely. Look at the other side of the building: here are slates already fallen off the roof, and others on the verge of doing so, allowing rainwater to damage the fabric. Unless necessary repairs are carried out by the hotel owners, the first building seen by visitors to Carton could yet be a ruin.
Going to Market
Set back from Main Street and perhaps the most significant building in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim, this is the former Market House. It dates from 1834 when the design was commissioned by Nathaniel Clements, second Earl of Leitrim from Dublin architect William Farrell. The latter is best known for the many churches he designed across Ulster. The building features crisp sandstone with rusticated groundfloor and a pediment in the tympanum of which are the Clements coat of arms and motto Patriis virtutibus (By Hereditary Virtues).