Familiar to anyone who has driven between Dublin and Cork on the M8, this is Gortmakellis Castle, County Tipperary, a tower house dating from the late 15th or 16th century. Relatively little seems to be known of its history, other than it was once owned by the Stapleton family but around 1650 came into the possession of William Pennefather, an English soldier who settled in this part of the country. His descendants remained in residence until they built a new house Ballyowen (formerly New Park) c.1750 after which Gortmakellis was left to fall into its present roofless condition.
Until recently, Doneraile Court, County Cork had an unhappy recent past and what threatened to be an equally unhappy future. One of the earliest non-fortified houses in Ireland, the core of the present building was constructed in the 1720s to the design of Isaac Rothery for Arthur St Leger, first Viscount Doneraile. His great-grandfather Sir Anthony St Leger, who came from Kent, had been sent to Ireland in 1537 by Henry VIII and in 1540 was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. The family gradually acquired land in this country, and in 1636 Sir William St. L:eger, Knight, Lord President of Munster bought what is now Doneraile from its previous owners the Synans for ‘the sum of Three hundred pounds sterling current money of and in England in hand payed to us.’ Until Doneraile Court was built, they lived in an old castle on the opposite side of the river Awbeg. The house has a seven-bay, three-storey facade of cut stone with curved end bows added at a later date in the 18th century. Further additions were made in the following century, including a three-bay porch to the front and a vast dining room of 1869 (demolished during restoration work just over a century later). The interior contains an early 18th century panelled room and an oval late-18th century staircase hall with Adamesque plasterwork on its ceiling.
The last Lord Doneraile to live in the house was the seventh Viscount who had been born and lived in New Zealand before inheriting the title and estate in 1941. He and his wife had no children and following his death in 1957 she remained alone in Doneraile Court. Then in 1968 a 47-year old Californian truck driver called Richard St John St Leger arrived in Ireland with his family and claimed to be the Doneraile heir. An application was lodged with the British House of Lords for his claim to be recognised. While this process was underway and despite objections from the estate’s Trustees, the family moved into the house, initially living with the widowed Lady Doneraile although she later settled in a cottage on the estate. Around the same time the Trustees had reached agreement with the Land Commission for the purchase of Doneraile Court and its lands for £56,800. Richard St Leger meanwhile began refurbishment work on the house with the intention of opening it to the public. The Irish Georgian Society offered support and sent a large number of volunteers to help prior to an opening ceremony planned for July 1969 when the American Ambassador to Ireland would officially open the house. However, just a matter of days beforehand, the Trustees gained an injunction in the High Court against the public opening of Doneraile Court on the grounds that the house’s floors were unsafe. They then proceeded to sell its entire contents to a consortium of antique dealers. Soon afterwards the Land Commission completed the purchase of the estate. His claim to the title never proven, Richard St Leger moved out of the house and later returned to the United States.
The Doneraile estate now passed into State ownership as part of the Office of Public Works’ Department of Forestry and Fisheries. But while care was lavished on the parkland in preparation of being opened to the public, the same was not true for the house which rapidly started to show evidence of neglect and deterioration. Windows were broken by vandals, plasterwork in the hall began to fall off the walls and the 19th century conservatory collapsed. In May 1976 it was announced that Doneraile Court was to be leased to the Irish Georgian Society rent-free on condition that the organisation undertook to restore the building. Gradually the house’s dereliction was brought under control. By the end of 1978 the Irish Georgian Society had spent £25,000 on structural repairs and that figure would climb steadily higher; in 1983 the organization estimated it had spent some £40,000 on the house. The amount would have been much higher but for the fact that much of the work had been undertaken by volunteers. In June 1984 the park at Doneraile was opened to the public but a lot more still needed to be accomplished before the house could follow the demesne’s lead and admit visitors. In 1990 a tearoom began operating in the house’s old kitchen, and in April 1992 the ground floor of Doneraile Court opened with a variety of exhibitions on show, including photographs of restoration work from the very start. Two years later, with the greater part of the restoration work completed at a cost of £500,000, the Irish Georgian Society was at last able to hand the house back to the Office of Public Works. For the next 25 years, the building remained closed and shuttered. Finally, last month it re-opened to the public and for once the wait has been worthwhile. As today’s pictures show, Doneraile Court now looks better than it has for more than half a century, the ground floor rooms impeccably refurbished and decorated. Here is a triumphant demonstration that an historic building, no matter how long neglected, can be brought back to peak condition. What has occurred here can, with sufficient ambition and imagination, also happen elsewhere. Congratulations are merited to all involved in this enterprise, which is ongoing as there are plans to open the first floor in due course. Doneraile Court’s unhappy past has been expunged, and the house can now look forward to an optimistic future.
Next Sunday at 3pm I shall be giving a talk at Doneraile Court on a number of houses elsewhere in County Cork which have not enjoyed its good fortune. For further information, please see: http://doneraileestate.ie/event/robert-obyrne-the-irish-aesthete-in-county-cork/
Late last January it was reported that a structural engineer was unable to gain access to the Market House in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, following the collapse of an internal load-bearing wall. The building was declared a public safety risk, a safety cordon erected to prevent access, and then the roof removed in order to avoid further collapse. Occupying a prominent site in the centre of the town, the core of the market house dates from c.1790 when constructed by the 11th Lord Blayney to encourage the local linen trade. In 1856 the building was extended with the addition of a courthouse, the principal front which faces down West Street topped by a polygonal cupola with copper dome.
The property of Monaghan County Council, until the start of the present century Castleblayney Market House was used by the Court Services and also served as the town Library. However, failure to maintain the property meant that in 2003 the local authority had to condemn the market house as unsafe: it has stood empty and steadily more dilapidated ever since, so the collapse of an internal wall earlier this year should come as no surprise. A key building in Castleblayney, the market house is – naturally – listed by the county council, its owners, for protection. That protection does not seem to be forthcoming.
The sad remains of Hope Castle, County Monaghan. Built on the edge of Castleblayney, the house – like the town – owes its existence to the Blayney family who settled here at the start of the 17th century. Initially they lived in a castle built by Sir Edward Blayney, created first Baron Blayney in 1721 but at the end of the 18th century his descendant, the 11th Lord Blayney commissioned a new house designed by Dublin-born Robert Woodgate who for several years had worked in London for Sir John Soane. In 1853 the 12th Lord Blayney sold the estate to the rich Henry Thomas Hope; he enlarged and remodelled the building in what has been called ‘a frivolous kind of Italianate classicism.’ Occupied by Queen Victoria’s son the Duke of Connaught for several years at the start of the last century when he served Commander of the Forces in Ireland, Hope Castle was sold in 1928 and served as a military barracks and then a county hospital before being occupied until the mid-1970s by Franciscan nuns. It was then acquired by the local county council, which leased it to an hotelier who was permitted to strip out all of Woodgate’s interiors. In 2010 the building was badly damaged by arsonists and has remained in a sorry state ever since.
Thro’ the long morning have I toil’d
O’er heath and lonely wood,
And cross the dark untrodden glen
The fearful game pursu’d:
But deeper now the gathering clouds
Collect along the sky,
And faint and weary warn my steps
Their homeward course to hie.
And now the driving mist withdraws
Her grey and vapoury veil:
I mark again the sacred tower
I pass’d in yonder dale.
A little while, and I shall gain
Yon hill’s laborious height;
And then perhaps my humble cot
Will chear my grateful sight.
Ah now I see the smoke ascend
From forth the glimmering thatch;
Now my heart beats at every step,
And now I lift the latch;
Now starting from my blazing hearth
My little children bound,
And loud with shrill and clamorous joy
Their happy sire surround.
How sweet when Night first wraps the world
Beneath her sable vest,
To sit beside the crackling fire
With weary limbs at rest;
And think on all the labours past,
That Morn’s bright hours employ’d,
While all, that toil and danger seem’d,
Is now at home enjoy’d.
The wild and fearful distant scene,
Lone covert, whistling storm,
Seem now in Memory’s mellowing eye
To wear a softer form;
And while my wand’rings I describe,
As froths the nut-brown ale,
My dame and little list’ning tribe
With wonder hear the tale.
Then soft enchanting slumbers calm,
My heavy eyelids close,
And on my humble bed I sink
To most profound repose;
Save, that by fits, the scenes of day,
Come glancing on my sight,
And, touch’d by Fancy’s magic wand,
Seem visions of delight.
The Gamekeeper’s Return at Night by Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges (1821).
Photographs of the former Gamekeeper’s Lodge at Woodlawn, County Galway.
The façade of Churchtown, County Kerry. This house replaced nearby Castle Corr (see last Wednesday) as a residence for the McGillycuddy family, and may have been built in part using stone from that now-ruined building. In 1717 Dennis McGillycuddy married Anne Blennerhassett and Churchtown subsequently passed into the possession of her family, remaining with them until the second half of the 19th century when bought by forebears of the present owners (who now offer it as a holiday let). Believed to date from 1740, building is slate-fronted on its southern side and this was also the case with the now-rendered, five-bay façade, plain other than the cut limestone doorcase.
With a backdrop of the McGillycuddy Reeks, evening light shines on what remains of Castle Corr (Cáisleán an Chórraig, the castle of the Marsh), County Kerry. This tower house was built in the middle of the 15th century by the McGillycuddys and, despite the family remaining Roman Catholic and backing James II in the Williamite Wars, they managed to retain the property. Badly damaged during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the building was subsequently restored and continued to serve as a residence until the mid-18th century when nearby Churchtown was built. It is said that the latter’s basement storey was constructed of stone taken from Castle Corr, which has long lost its southern side. What survives today stands somewhat incongruously in the middle of a golf course.
Located in north-east County Cork, the village of Glanworth takes its name from the Irish Gleannúir (meaning Valley of the Yews). It was evidently the site of an ancient settlement that included a monastery, since it is believed that in the ninth century this was subjected to attacks by the Vikings, who sailed up the river Funcheon (a tributary of the Blackwater). One of Glanworth’s most distinctive features is its 13-arch limestone bridge crossing the Funcheon. Dating from the first quarter of the 17th century, it is said to be among the oldest and narrowest bridges still in daily use in Ireland. A now-abandoned mill built c.1780 lies beside the bridge, and on a high ridge above both of them are the remains of what was once a mighty castle.
Glanworth Castle was originally built by the Condon family in the late 12th century but by 1300 it had passed into the possession of the Roches, who were styled Lords of Fermoy. The castle remained in their hands until the Confederate Wars of the mid-17th century when it seems to have been badly damaged and likely abandoned. It has stood a ruin ever since. The remains seen today date from four different periods, with the earliest section being the rectangular hall-keep, surrounded by a protective wall nearly six feet thick, with round towers at each corner and a gatehouse on the western side. Not long afterwards, the gatehouse was enlarged and converted into a domestic residence (which the hall-keep had originally been). Then in the 15th century the gatehouse grew up to become a typical tower house. Finally, a separate kitchen building was constructed inside the old walls.
To the immediate north of Glanworth Castle stand two ruined churches, one being the former place of worship of the Church of Ireland which dates from c.1810 and the other being the only surviving remains of a Dominican Friary dedicated to the Holy Cross. It was founded in 1475 by the Roche family who lived adjacent in the castle, but the Dominicans can hardly have been there for very long, since the friary was closed down (as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries) in 1541. At that time the site included a cloister, dormitory, hall ‘and other buildings’ but none of these remain. The church’s finest feature is the east window; in the 19th century this had been moved to the Church of Ireland church but has since been restored to its original location.
The façade of Slane Castle, County Meath. This dates from c.1785 for William Burton Conyngham who four years earlier had inherited the estate from a childless uncle. In 1773 and 1775 the latter had asked English architect James Wyatt to come up with designs to replace an old house on the site but nothing came of these. Only after Burton Conyngham came into possession of the place were Wyatt’s proposals realised (James Gandon having previously been consulted). Writing in 1820 Francis Johnston (who later worked on the house’s interiors), Wyatt visited Slane in 1785 ‘for that purpose.’ If this is so, it was the only time he actually came to Ireland, despite having many clients here.
After last Monday’s piece on the newer portion of Glenmaroon, County Dublin, it is worth drawing attention to one other feature of the house. Some seven years after acquiring and extending the property, in 1911 Ernest Guinness further added to it by building one of the first private swimming pools in Ireland. Designed, like the adjoining house, by Laurence Aloysius McDonnell (together with his partner in the firm, ALexander Reid), the addition which had a smoking room above, cost £5,000. The pool still survives with its original tiled interior, the curved end of windows above the deep end evocative of a bridge on one of the ocean-going yachts on which Guinness so loved to sail.