Our Industrial Past


The roofless remains of Woods Mill, County Offaly, so named because when described in the 1840s it was operated by one Thomas Woods. Dating from the late 18th/early 19th century, a time when increasing numbers of these commercial complexes were being constructed throughout the country, the building is of five storeys and six storeys. It operated as both a flour mill (water-powered thanks to the adjacent Little Brosna river) and a kiln. Converted to a saw mill at the end of the 19th century, it now stands empty, another mute witness to our increasingly lost industrial heritage.

A Tale of Two Parts




The retail history of Ireland remains hugely under-investigated and, as a result, increasingly vulnerable to being lost forever, especially since the advent of multinational chains. Few of the shoppers searching for bargains in the Penneys outlet on Dublin’s Mary Street, for example, will be aware that the building was constructed to house what was then one of the city’s most prestigious department stores, Todd Burns. Dating from 1902-5 and built of red brick with terracotta details, the whole topped by a splendid copper dome, it was designed by local architect William Mansfield Mitchell to replace an earlier Todd Burns store on the same site which had been accidentally destroyed by fire. With an eventual frontage of 120 feet on Mary Street, Todd Burns originally opened for business in 1834, having been established by partners, William Todd and Gilbert Burns. Like many other successful entrepreneurs in Ireland during this period, the two men were of Scottish origin.






In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and until the outbreak of the Great Famine in 1845, Ireland offered wonderful commercial opportunities to enterprising young Scots. Many of them moved here to establish retail businesses, among the better-known names being John Arnott (whose own department store still operates across the road from the former Todd Burns) and Alexander Findlater. The latter, born in Glasgow, traded in whiskey and later porter and became so wealthy that he was able to invest in other ventures, such as the new store being established by William Todd and Gilbert Burns in 1834. Burns was likewise an immigrant from Scotland, having moved to Dublin some ten years earlier. There were long-standing links between his family and that of Alexander Findlater: in the previous century, his father John Findlater who worked as an Excise Officer in Greenock, Renfrewshire, had been a close friend and champion of Robbie Burns. The poet was the uncle of Gilbert Burns, hence one reason for Findlater’s investment in Todd Burns. It proved to be a wise move, since the new store thrived, so much so that within thirty years Gilbert Burns was able to buy himself a substantial plot of land to the immediate west of the Phoenix Park. There he built himself a splendid residence, originally called Liffeyside but later named Glenmaroon Lodge.






Gilbert Burn’s choice of location for his new home may have been influenced once more by Alexander Findlater who, although having no children of his own, assumed responsibility for a number of orphaned nephews and nieces. Needing somewhere to house them, he took a lease on a house in the vicinity of Glenmaroon Lodge. This lease was only relinquished in 1860, precisely around the time Gilbert Burns began to build the house that still stands here. His architect was Duncan Campbell Ferguson who, as is evident in his name, is likely also to have been originally from Scotland. Built at a cost of some £10,000, Glenmaroon Lodge was by far the most significant commission Ferguson received for a domestic residence and while his design is somewhat lumpen, it makes the most of the site which slopes all the way down to the banks of the river Liffey; formerlt a number of mills operated on this location. When the house was built, the land was laid out in terraces, and elaborately planted in an Italianate manner; views from the south-facing front, and out to the west where more ornamental gardens were arranged, must have been spectacular. Burns died in 1881 at the age of 67 but both his retail business and his house survived, and in due course the subsequent history of Glenmaroon Lodge, and its association with another successful family, the Guinnesses, will be told here.



More on Glenmaroon in due course. 

Mutilated Remains


Inside the ruined church of Kilcredan, County Cork can be found what was evidently once a fine tomb, its remains protected from the elements by a corrugated tin roof. This marks the final resting place of Robert Tynte, a Somerset-born soldier who came to Ireland in the late 16th century and settled in Youghal, where a late-mediaeval tower house is still called Tynte’s Castle. In 1612 he married Elizabeth Spenser, widow of the poet Edmund Spenser who is said to have begun work on the epic The Faerie Queen while staying in Youghal with his friend Sir Walter Raleigh. Tynte died in 1663 and the tomb has since been much mutilated, both his head and those of the mourning figures who kneel on either side (presumably his wife and daughter) are missing – together with their hands and the commemorative plaque formerly beneath the family coat of arms. Similar butchery has taken place on another memorial tomb high on the facing wall, this one commemorating Edward Harris, a Devon-born lawyer who became Chief Justice of Munster and was buried here, together with his wife Elizabeth, following his death in 1636.

Celestial Sounds


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.

Intervention Minimal but Masterful


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

School’s Out – Again


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.

Cornwall in Ulster



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.


Something of a Mystery


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.

Back and Front


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?

A Heroine’s Anniversary


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.