The railway station at Woodlawn, County Galway. TheTudor-esque buildings here are believed to date from 1851, their design is attributed to George Willoughby Hemans, not an architect but a Welsh-born engineer employed by the Midland Great Western Railway. The station stood on land provided by the second Lord Ashtown, through whose Woodlawn estate it passed. This likely explains why there is a stop in what has always been a relatively underpopulated part of the country. Trains still halt here on occasion and a small waiting room is in use but most of these handsome, sturdy limestone buildings are unused and have sadly fallen into disrepair.
Gloster, County Offaly has featured here before (see Spectacle as Drama, August 31st 2015) not least thanks to the exemplary and ongoing restoration programme being carried out there by the present owners. Their latest initiative has involved the very striking eye-catcher folly situated on high ground to the east of the house. Above are a couple of photographs showing how this looked until recently.
The Gloster folly is believed to date from the 1720s, making its construction some twenty years earlier than that of the better-known Conolly Folly in County Kildare. As with the main house here, the design is attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce: his aunt had married Menhop Lloyd, owner of the Gloster estate and it was their son Trevor (first cousin of Pearce) who remodelled Gloster following his inheritance of the place. Rising some twenty feet high, the folly consists of a triumphal arch, flanked by obelisks on substantial plinths. Last year the whole site was cleared of vegetation before both the folly and its wing walls underwent full restoration, thereby ensuring its long-term survival and providing another example of what can be achieved in preserving our architectural heritage. Bravo to all concerned.
About half way on the train journey between Dublin and Cork, passengers will see a vast ruin close to the line: this is Loughmoe Castle, County Tipperary former seat of the Purcell family. The Purcells were of Norman origin, their name derived from the word Pourcel, meaning Piglet and indicating they were once swineherds. Their circumstances improved when members of the family moved to Ireland in the late 12th century and settled in Counties Tipperary and Kilkenny. At the start of the 13th century Hugh Purcell married a daughter of Theobald FitzWalter, Chief Butler of Ireland and founder of the powerful Butler clan. As part of the marriage agreement, the Purcells were granted territory around Loughmore/Loughmoe, which thereafter became their principal residence. The name Loughmoe derives from the Irish ‘Luach Mhagh’ meaning Field of the Reward. This refers to a legend that Purcell won both his bride and estate by meeting a challenge to rid the area of wild beasts. Whatever the truth, this was the start of a powerful and enduring alliance. In 1328 James Butler, first Earl of Ormonde created his kinsman Richard Purcell Baron of Loughmoe: since the title was not granted by the crown it had no official status but was used by successive generations of the family until the last male heir Colonel Nicholas Purcell died in 1722.
The earliest section of Loughmoe Castle is a tower house on the south side of the site, dating from either the 15th or 16th century. Of five storeys, it has curved corners and, on the ground floor, a typical vaulted chamber measuring 37 by 29 feet. At some point in the late 16th or early 17th century, the family greatly expanded the building to the north, creating an immense fortified manor house. The middle section rises four storeys, but that at the far end matches the original tower house by rising five storeys. The main difference between the two portions is that the newer has mullioned windows of eight, six or twelve panels, ensuring the interiors enjoyed much more light. A number of chimney pieces survive within the castle from this period, one of them bearing the arms of the Purcells and Butlers, further evidence of their close links.
The Purcells were still in residence at Loughmoe Castle in the 17th century, but problems arose owing during two great periods of civil disturbance. In the Confederate Wars James Purcell, whose wife Elizabeth was sister of James Butler, first Duke of Ormonde, supported the Roman Catholic cause, with consequences when this side lost. Matters were made worse by his death in 1652, leaving a widow and young son fighting to hold onto the family’s hereditary lands. Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the appointment of the Duke of Ormonde as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland the following year, the Purcells’ circumstances improved. Nicholas’ son James seems to have lived quietly at Loughmoe until the onset of the Williamite Wars when he supported the Catholic James II from the moment the king arrived in Ireland in May 1689. James Purcell fought at the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim, and was a signatory of the Treaty of Limerick. Following the defeat of the Jacobite cause, he did not follow the example of others and flee to France but remained in Ireland, living on at Loughmoe where he appears to have retained his property; in 1705 he was one of the limited number of Roman Catholics permitted to carry firearms. He died in 1722, predeceased by his only son, after which Loughmoe passed to one of his daughters, married to a member of the White family; they were the last link of the Purcells with the castle.
The former National School at Sopwell, County Tipperary. Primary education was officially introduced to Ireland in 1831, with schools run by the National Board of Education. This building apparently dates from six years earlier, but stylistically follows the form of such establishments throughout the country, with two large rooms on either side of the entrance, one for boys and the other for girls: children were segregated by gender rather than by age. According to Samuel Lewis, in 1837 the school had no less than 150 pupils. Seemingly it closed in 1925 and looks to have been converted at some later date into a domestic residence but now stands empty and rather forlorn. Nevertheless, while the timber bargeboards are deteriorating, much of the rest of the structure is still in good condition and it could easily be restored: all the pretty mullioned windows are still intact for example. Note how metal flags flying above the façade gables are punched with the letter ‘T’. This refers to the local landed family, the Trenches who lived close by in Sopwell Hall; presumably it was then resident of the house Francis Trench who was responsible for the building’s original construction.
Despite the best efforts of the city’s planners and developers to turn Dublin’s Upper Abbey Street into a representative example of late 20th century mediocrity, a couple of buildings survive to show what a splendid thoroughfare this once was. In particular, Nos. 124 and 125, originally domestic residences dating from c.1750 merit more than the passing glance they now typically receive from passers-by. At least the latter is being used, but No.124, at one time being used as a radio studio, has now been standing empty for some time, and is beginning to show inevitable evidence of neglect. At the time these properties were built, this area of Dublin was the most prestigious in the capital, yet all parties who might help to revive its fortunes appear determined not to do so.
Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin and author of sundry celebrated works including Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, is associated with Fortgranite, a County Wicklow house, the contents of which are being sold tomorrow. The Swift family’s rise in fortune originated with an earlier cleric, the Rev Thomas Swift who in 1566 became vicar of St Andrew’s church in Canterbury, Kent and subsequently married the heiress daughter of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Godwin. The latter was recalled in the first name of the Rev Thomas’ eldest great-grandson, Godwin Swift, a lawyer who after 1660 served as Attorney General to the Viceroy the Duke of Ormonde, and was duly rewarded for his service with an estate in County Kilkenny, Swifte’s Heath. One of Godwin Swift’s younger brothers, Jonathan, also moved to Ireland but died within a year, aged only 27. He left a pregnant wife who seven months later gave birth to a son, also called Jonathan, the future dean. He benefitted from the support of his uncle Godwin (who incidentally had fifteen sons and four daughters by four wives), and then from the latter’s son Willoughby (Jonathan Swift’s cousin) who paid for his education and secured employment as secretary with Sir William Temple. His later clerical and literary careers are well known. What has any of this to do with Rockgranite? In 1711, Godwin Swift’s grandson Thomas Swift married Frances Dennis, heiress of a timber merchant from Kinsale, County Cork: the couple had two sons, the Rev. Meade Swift-Dennis and John Swift-Dennis. In 1782, these two men were joint beneficiaries of the substantial estate left by their late uncle, James Dennis, former Chief Baron of the Exchequer and first (and last) Lord Tracton. The only condition was that they adopt the arms and name of Dennis. They duly did so, the Rev. Meade Dennis subsequently acquiring the Fortgranite estate which was left to his son Thomas Stratford Dennis. As the latter’s middle name indicates, he was related to the Stratford family, his grandmother being a daughter of the first Earl of Aldborough, a name that has been discussed here more than once (see in particular Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013, A Thundering Disgrace, January 13th 2014 and A Thundering Disgrace No More?, February 27th 2017).
Fortgranite is a house originally dating from c.1730, although sections of the basement suggest that there might already have been a tower house on the site, a not-unusual circumstance. The house was built for one George Pendred, whose family may have been Cornish in origin. He married an heiress Cordelia Saunders, daughter of lawyer and politician Morley Saunders, who c.1716 built a splendid house in County Wicklow, Saunders Grove (burnt 1923). As elsewhere in this take, the son of George and Cordelia Pendred changed his surname to Saunders in order to benefit from a family legacy, and was called Morley Pendred Saunders. His daughter Delia married the Rev. Meade Swift (later Dennis) and in turn their eldest son Thomas Stratford Dennis married his cousin Katherine Saunders. Thus two generations of one family benefitted from marrying two generations of another. In turn Fortgranite appears to have gone through two remodellings in the 19th century, the first c.1810-15 following the marriage of Thomas Dennis to Katherine Saunders, the second undertaken by the couple’s eldest son Meade Dennis in the early 1870s, the last occasion when such enterprises were made before the onset of the Land Wars and consequent decline of Big House estates in the following decade. As a result of these two refurbishments, Fortgranite shows little evidence of its earlier manifestations, displaying the gravitas typical of a high-Victorian country house. Still, until recently the interior was filled with evidence of former eras, and of the diverse families who had both inherited the place and, through marriage and other connections, bequeathed items to it. All either now gone, or about to do so following tomorrow’s contents sale. With them are dispersed the collective links to Patrick Swift, to the Earls of Aldborough, to timber merchants of Cork and Anglican clergy of Westmeath, to an entire history of Ireland’s gentry. All scattered, never to be brought together again.
The church at Dunfierth, County Kildare dates from c.1500 and is associated with the de Bermingham family which at the time was still the dominant family in this part of the country. In 1548 a tomb to Walter de Bermingham was built inside the church, and this featured a number of fine carvings.
In 1815 the de Berminghams had long since gone from the area, and the Hamilton family constructed a vaulted mausoleum inside the former chancel of Dunfierth church. This incorporated a number of carvings from the older tomb, such as a Crucifixion scene, and bands of ‘keeners’ on either side of the structure. Inside the rear wall features the carving of an armoured knight, only really visible if the natural light is sufficiently good. There are other fine pieces of work elsewhere on the site, such as this window on the south wall.
Tucked behind trees and shrubs in the Phoenix Park, and therefore often overlooked, this is Rose Cottage. Traditionally occupied by the Head Deer Keeper, the picturesque, octagonal building dates from c.1800 before being remodelled around 1830 when presumably the veranda was added. It was during the latter period that Decimus Burton was responsible for carrying out various improvements in the park and designing many of the lodges at its gates, so most likely he was responsible for the work here too. The cottage was occupied up to a few years ago, but now appears empty and in need of some attention (those gutters won’t clear themselves…)
The involvement of Irish families in the Caribbean slave trade was discussed here some weeks ago when considering Monasterboice House, County Louth (see Dirty Money, March 11th 2019). The same source of revenue appears to have played a part in funding extensive work in the early 19th century at Kilwaughter Castle, County Antrim. The original house here is believed to date from 1622, a fortified dwelling built by Sir Patrick Agnew who around that time had purchased the land on which it stands from Sir Randall MacDonnell, first Earl of Antrim. Successive generations lived here until William Agnew died in 1776, leaving the property to his grandson Edward Jones, then still a boy, with the proviso that the latter take the surname Agnew. He was a younger son of Valentine Jones, who was extensively involved in slave trading in the West Indies, as was his eldest son (another Valentine) who lived in the Caribbean for some 33 years and, two years before Edward inherited Kilwaughter, was elected a member of the House of Assembly in Barbados. Unfortunately the next generation of Valentine Jones disgraced the family by misappropriating funds and colouring rum to give it the appearance of age: in 1809 he was found guilty of fraud and peculation, and sentenced to three years in Newgate Prison.
Edward Jones Agnew was only a child when he inherited Kilwaughter, and for the next 12 years the estate was administered by agents while he attended Harrow and then Trinity College Dublin. It was only in the late 1780s that he came to County Antrim and took responsibility for Kilwaughter, accompanied by his younger sister Margaret. Seemingly they arrived to find the house almost entirely stripped of its contents: ‘there was not so much as a tablecloth, or a spoon or a knife or fork for them to take their dinner with.’ By this date the old building was neglected, and out-of-date, so its young proprietor decided to embark on a an extensive programme of refurbishment and enlargement. The architect chosen for this task was John Nash, who from 1801 onwards was engaged in designing Killymoon Castle, County Antrim for the Stewart family, cousins of the Agnews. Beginning in 1806, Nash transformed Kilwaugher into an elaborate castle, adding a vast wing to the immediate east of the original fortified house. The focal point of his design is a castellated tower in the south-east corner, its sandstone window sills carved with elaborate abstract decorations. From here, a range of reception rooms ran northwards to a narrower but taller polygonal tower, with views over the parkland towards a newly created lake covering more than five acres. While his land holdings were substantial and could have borne much of the expense involved (Killymoon Castle is supposed to have cost £80,000), might Edward Jones Agnew have benefitted from the estate of his slave-trading father Valentine Jones who died in 1805, just a year before work began at Kilwaughter? The enquiry seems not unreasonable to make.
The later history of Kilwaughter is not especially happy. Edward Jones Agnew never married (nor did his sister Margaret with whom he lived) but had several children with the daughter of a tenant farmer: she and other members of her family were later sent to Baltimore, Maryland with the promise of an annual stipend. When Agnew died in 1834, the estate was inherited by his illegitimate son William who, together with his sister, were then cared for by their aunt Margaret. However, following her death and William Agnew becoming an adult, he moved to Paris and spent most of the next 40 years there, dying unmarried in 1891 and, it seems, leaving sundry debts for the payment of which a mortgage of £30,000 had to be raised. A niece, Mary Maria Augusta Simon (daughter of his sister) next inherited the estate but by this time she was married to an Italian count Ugo Balzani, and living between his family home near Bologna and Oxford. For some thirty years Kilwaughter was rented to John Galt Smith, an Irish linen exporter and distant relative of the Agnews, and his socially ambitious American wife Bessie who modernised the building and entertained extensively; he died in 1899 but she remained there until 1922 before returning to her native country. By now, the castle was surrounded by very little land and when the Second World War broke out it was seized by the government as ‘alien’ property (the Balzani family being Italian and therefore deemed to be enemies of the state). For a period it was occupied by American troops but then stood empty before being sold by the Northern Irish government to a Belfast scrap metal company which stripped off the lead, thereby leading to the roof giving way. What remained was handed back to the Balzani family, and understandably they decided to sell the property: this finally occurred in 1982. Since then efforts have been made to ensure the security of the building, and ideally its restoration: some of the walls are literally in need of support. The present owners, and a number of local people are valiantly battling to save Kilwaughter from total ruin (a task not helped by the presence of lime quarries in the immediate vicinity). As these photographs make plain, those involved in the project face a substantial challenge and deserve all possible assistance.
Much of the information here came from a most interesting article, The Agnews of Kilwaughter by Jacqueline Haugseng-Agnew in Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review, No.32, 2016.
For more on Kilwaughter Castle and work being undertaken to secure its future, please see https://www.kilwaughtercastle.com