Set into the estate walls of Castle Durrow, County Laois, the little church of St Fintan’s dates from the late 18th century when built either by, or with the support of, William Flower, third Viscount Ashbrook. Internally the building is plain, but distinguished by the presence of this organ which was originally installed in the chapel at Trinity College Dublin in 1797. The manufacturer was Samuel Green, ‘Organ builder to their Majesties Isleworth Middx 1797’, the instrument commissioned at a cost of five hundred guineas by George III who then donated it to the college. Forty years later William Telford made a new organ for Trinity College, this one being brought to Durrow in 1842 and placed inside St Fintan’s by the fourth Lord Ashbrook: he had to add a transept to the south side of the building to accommodate the instrument. Today the only Green organ in Ireland, it sits inside a case which looks to date from the installation in Durrow: pipes at either end rest on piers that feature angels carrying the Flower family crest.
Everywhere one travels in Ireland, ranges of abandoned old farm buildings can be found in varying states of dereliction. It’s easy to understand why this should be the case; in many instances, the structures were poorly constructed and are unsuitable for adaptation to modern farming methods. The buildings may no longer be in the right location for whoever is working the land, and not have immediate access to electricity and mains water. None of these drawbacks is incapable of resolution, but frequently the simplest answer looks to be the construction of new facilities and abandonment of old. However, an alternative option does exist for those interested in the conservation of traditional buildings in the Irish countryside.
For the past decade, the Heritage Council has been administering distribution of GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environmental Scheme) Traditional Farm Buildings Grants. As the relevant documentation states, ‘The principal objective of this scheme is to ensure that traditional farm buildings and other related structures that contribute to the character of the landscape, and are of significant heritage value, are conserved for active agricultural use.’ Only farmers approved in the GLAS scheme are eligible, and grants are never for more than 75% of the cost of work with a maximum of €25,000 available. There have been some constraints to the scheme – for example, this year grant offers were only made in April yet all work has to be completed by October – but overall it is hard to fault a programme designed to ensure that not all of Ireland’s traditional agricultural buildings, and the impression they make on our landscape, are lost forever.
Not all agricultural complexes are necessarily best-suited to continue performing their original function, thereby making them ineligible for a Traditional Farm Building Grant. Nevertheless, alternative uses have been found in a number of instances, some of which have featured here in the past, such as the complex at Ballilogue, County Kilkenny (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/10/14/in-the-vernacular) and a not-dissimilar property in County Tipperary (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/11/making-the-most-of-our-own) . Both cases make it clear that older farm buildings can have an afterlife, provided they are perceived with sufficient vision and imagination. This has also been true of another agricultural range at Dromore Yard, County Waterford. Dating back several centuries, the buildings were in a very poor state until taken in hand a few years ago and adapted as a site for performances and associated entertainment. The complex was used last year on a number of occasions during the annual Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, and will serve a similar purpose during the festival again this year (May 29th-June 3rd). Aside from stabilising the buildings and ensuring their future, intervention has been minimal but masterful: their original character and purpose remain apparent. No effort has been made to give them the architectural equivalent of a face-lift. Their age is apparent, their weather-beaten elevations and interiors left unaltered. Dromore Yard shows how easy it can be to give new life and purpose to an old structure: it offers an example that deserves to be more widely emulated.
For further information on this year’s Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, including events at Dromore Yard, see: https://blackwatervalleyoperafestival.com
Opened in 1902, Fortview National School in Clones, County Monaghan was designed by Thomas Elliott from adjacent County Fermanagh. By now almost seventy, Elliott had a long career behind him during which he was responsible for many Orange Halls and Presbyterian churches in West Ulster. The severity of these buildings is reflected in the Clones school, which looks more like a place of worship than a place of education, and can scarcely have inspired the minds of young children arriving for classes.
Constructed of craggy limestone Fortview National School’s austere façade is only slightly relieved by a tower on one side and a gabled porch on the other. A testimony to its solid construction is the fact that the building ceased to be in use ten years ago, but still stands strong. Nevertheless, a shame that it now serves no purpose since water ingress is beginning to be evident, and if left untreated this will lead to long-term damage.
The gable end and centre of the façade of Maud Cottages in Cushendun, County Antrim. A terrace of four houses on the village seafront (and with views across to Scotland when the weather is sufficiently clear), they are of two storeys, the lower white-washed, the upper slate-fronted with a lovely bow at the centre of the block. Built to commemorate Maud McNeil following her death in 1925, the cottages were designed, like much else in Cushendun by Clough Williams-Ellis, best-known for creating the picturesque village of Portmeirion in North Wales. He was responsible for a number of buildings in Cushendun, all commissioned Ronald McNeil (future first Lord Cushendun) and beginning in 1912 with another group of housing built around three sides of a square, all intended to evoke fishermen’s cottages in Maud McNeil’s native Cornwall.
The history of Coolrain, County Laois is something of a mystery. The main block looks to be early-to-mid 18th century, of two storeys over raised basement and five bays with a central breakfront. The latter features a fine cut-limestone Gibbsian doorcase approached by a short flight of steps and flanked by sidelights, with a Venetian window directly above on the first floor. On either side of the main block, and seeming to be slightly later in date, are fine carriage arches, that to the right (south-east) further extending to a small stable yard. But the carriage arches are just that and no more: there is nothing behind them and the entrances are blocked up (if indeed they were ever open). It would appear their main, perhaps only, function was to extend the house façade and thereby give an impression of greater grandeur to anyone arriving there. Who designed and/or built Coolrain (and when) is unknown, but all indications are that the original owner was a member of the landed gentry with aspirations to climb the social ladder.
At some date after its construction, Coolrain was enlarged by an extension to the rear but only on the left (north-west) side. The gable ends of the older section of the building indicate it was originally just one room deep, with the central portion extended back to accommodate a staircase hall lit by another Venetian window on the return. This window was subsequently blocked up, although one wonders why this was necessary since the extension does not intrude on its space. Aforementioned extension had a kitchen in the basement and a dining room immediately above, and looks to have been added towards the end of the 18th century. The gardens behind presumably ran down to the river Tonet not far away, but to the west of the house and yard are the remains of a little rectangular folly, presumably a tea room (since it has a small basement where the servants could prepare refreshments) from which there would have been a charming view of Coolrain.
In his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis lists Coolrain (then spelt ‘Cooleraine’) as being occupied by one T. Palmer. There were a number of Palmers living in Laois at the time, not least at Cuffsborough some eight miles to the south where the house has a similar doorcase (albeit set into a grander façade). Lewis notes that there were extensive flour and oatmeal mills in the adjacent village of Coolrain, so it may be that the occupants of the big house were involved in such a commercial enterprise. Later it was the residence of the Campion family who farmed the surrounding land until the death in 1921 of the last member to live there. Coolrain seems to have fallen into ruin subsequently, being too big and too hard to maintain for the average farmer. More recently some work was initiated on the outbuildings, but this appears to have been abandoned, and the house now stands in the middle of a field, the mystery of its origins and early history becoming ever-harder to discern.
Fortgranite, County Wicklow was discussed here a month ago (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/04/15/fortgranite). The estate’s best-known gatelodge takes the form of a rusticated toy castle, but this one greets visitors at the start of another drive. Of local granite, of course, and dating from c.1840, it is unusual in presenting identical facades both front and rear: on both sides, there is a canted breakfront at the centre of the building featuring a doorcase. Other than for reasons of symmetry, one wonders why the necessity for two entrances in such a small lodge?
Five years ago, the Irish Aesthete featured a tribute to the late Mariga Guinness, co-founder of the Irish Georgian Society; for anyone not familiar with her history, please see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/05/05/marvellous-mariga. Today is the thirtieth anniversary of Mariga’s death at the horribly early age of 56, and so it is opportune to remember her again and to celebrate all that she did for her adopted country of Ireland. An inspiration to so many people during her lifetime, she deserves to be recalled and celebrated as a pioneer in the still-ongoing battle to save our architectural heritage.
Like many Irish houses, Castle Bernard, County Cork has a long and complex architectural history, some aspects of which are still not clear. The place takes its name from the Bernard family, the first of whom – christened Francis like many of his successors – came here during the Plantation of Munster in the late 16th century. He acquired lands which had formerly been owned by the O’Mahonys and was centred around a great square tower house called Castle Mahon to the immediate south of the river Bandon. This became the Bernards’ residence, its name at some date changed to Castler Bernard, until c.1715, Francis Bernard, great-grandson of the original settler, and Solicitor-General of Ireland, Prime Serjeant and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas initiated work on a new building, seemingly to the designs of John Coltsman of Cork. This involved adding wings to the old tower house, the whole encased in brick with Corinthian pilasters and other ornamentations in Portland stone. A decade later the surrounding demesne was transformed into a formal garden with terraces, cascades, jets d’eau and statuary. This arrangement lasted until the end of the 18th century when Castle Bernard underwent a further transformation.
In 1794 the Cork architect Michael Shanahan, best-known work commissioned in Ulster by his patron Frederick Hervey, Earl-Bishop of Derry, prepared designs for a new house at Castle Bernard. (For more on Shanahan and the Earl-Bishop, see It’s Downhill All the Way, October 28th 2013 and Let the Door be Instantly Open, For There is Much Wealth Within, March 31st 2014). This involved pulling down the additions to the original tower house, and instead erecting a structure to its immediate east, a linking corridor running between the two. In 1800 another Corkman, William Deane, prepared estimates of £522.4s.4d. for work in finishing the house. In both instances, the client was Francis Bernard who from 1793 gradually scaled the hierarchy of the peerage until 1800 when created first Earl of Bandon. The house he commissioned was classical in style, of two storeys over basement and with a nine-bay entrance front. The garden front was similar but broken by a substantial full-height bow occupying the three centre bays. Just fifteen years later, Lord Bandon undertook further work, this time by an unknown architect, in order to give it the – largely superficial – appearance of a gothic castle, and thereby provide better links both to the old tower house and to the Bernard family’s ancient pedigree. While the garden front experienced little other than the insertion of gothic tracery in its windows, battlements and turrets were added to the façade, and the Bernard coat of arms carved in stone above the main entrance. No great changes were made to the interior, which despite the gothic fenestration otherwise retained its classical decoration. On the ground floor, an entrance hall with Ionic pilasters and columns gave access to a wide corridor which ran like a spine down the centre of the house. Among the reception rooms, the most notable was an oval drawing room overlooking the garden: one sees in its design the abiding influence of the Earl-Bishop on Shanahan.
The Bernard family remained in residence at Castle Bernard until June 1921 when the 70-year old fourth earl and his wife were woken in the early hours of the morning by a group of IRA members and ordered out of the house, which was then set on fire. Lord Bandon was then taken into captivity by the men and held for the next three weeks, constantly moved from house to house before being released at the gates of the now-ruined Castle Bernard after three weeks: during this time he had lost a stone in weight and never recovered from the experience, dying less than three years later. He and his wife had no children, so the title passed to a first cousin twice-removed, Air Chief Marshal Percy Bernard, widely known as ‘Paddy’ Bandon. But he inherited not a lot else and so, although some compensation was received by the family, Castle Bernard was not rebuilt (the fifth earl constructed a modest bungalow behind the ruin). Since he in turn had no son, the earldom became extinct. Although his descendants still live on the estate, the land in front of Castle Bernard is now a golf course.
Two adjacent ecclesiastical ruins at Taghadoe, County Kildare, that to the left being a truncated round tower. A monastic site us believed to have been established here in the 6th century, its foundation attributed to a Saint Tua. From this evolved the Irish name Teach Tua (House of Tua) which eventually became anglicised as Taghadoe. The tower is all that remains of that religious settlement; rising some 20 metres, it has lost the original conical top.
The adjacent church is presumably on the site of an older structure, of which there are no visible remains. It was built in 1831, likely as part of the church rebuilding programme undertaken by the Church of Ireland’s Board of First Fruits. This must have suffered from a severe shortage of parishioners as it closed for services after just forty years and now stands a roofless shell. The building’s distinctive feature are the four octagonal towers, one at each corner. These lean out at a slight angle, as though in imitation of the older round tower which does likewise.
St John’s church in Clonmellon, County Westmeath featured here three years ago (see Community Spirit, March 28th 2016). A couple of pictures above give an idea of its appearance then. At that time the building was in a state of serious disrepair, but plans were already afoot for its restoration, thanks to a local initiative.
Since 2016, major work has been undertaken to St John’s and the building has now been fully restored and brought back for a wide variety of community uses. It’s hard to believe that as recently as 2016 it looked beyond salvation, but this is another example of how, with sufficient determination and imagination, none of our architectural heritage need be lost. Congratulations (and thanks) to those responsible.