The roofless remains of the former Church of Ireland church in Glanworth, County Cork. It is said to have been built on the site, and perhaps incorporates portions of, a mediaeval parish church which had fallen into ruins by the mid-1690s. In the Saturday Magazine of October 10th 1840 it was described as ‘a plain edifice, with low tower and spire.’ Surrounded by increasingly dilapidated tombs, the building is 18th century with the tower at the west end added later.
The complex history of Montalto, County Down was discussed here two months ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/11/25/montalto). The building’s various alterations, additions and eliminations are reflected in its interior, although in recent years this has enjoyed comprehensive refurbishment. It will be remembered that in the late 1830s M0ntalto’s then-owner, David Stewart Ker decided to enlarge his house not by building up but down, excavating what may already have been a somewhat raised basement to create a new ground floor. The entrance hall, with its screen of Doric columns providing access to the Imperial staircase, dates from this period.
As an ambitious politician and major landowner in this part of the country, David Stewart Ker felt driven further to increase the size of his residence and in the 1850s he added a two-storey ballroom wing to the west of the existing house, together with a new service area to the north. These, together with a number of other portions of Montalto, were demolished in the 1950s, thereby almost halving the size of the place. Further parts to the rear were also taken down following a serious fire in 1985. As a result, Montalto was now a more compact and manageable building, but lacked any really substantial reception rooms on the ground floor. The most important space is upstairs, directly over the entrance and known as the Lady’s Sitting Room; dating from the 1760s, the plasterwork on the walls and ceiling here has been attributed to Dublin stuccodore Robert West. It might be thought that because of the room’s location, it originally served as the entrance hall. However, an account of Montalto 1802 refers to a ‘parlour’ the ceiling of which was ‘ornamented with various figures &c. in stucco’ which sounds like the Lady’s Sitting Room. Research in recent years suggests that the house was reoriented in the early decades of the 19th century and that the original front was to the south west. If this were the case, it explains why there is a long gallery-like passage on this side of the house, once the entrance hall.
Montalto’s present owners bought the property in 1994 and for some years they lived in it with their family. However, over a decade ago they moved out of the building and began to consider what alternative uses it might serve. Working with conservation architect John O’Connell they have gradually restored not just the main house but many other parts of the estate, which is now open to the public. Now used for weddings and other functions, Montalto has been very thoroughly refurbished in a more considered and sensitive fashion than is often the case with such properties. The gallery-like passage on the first-floor, for example, has been re-made into an attractive sitting room, as has its equivalent directly below where the walls are decorated with Chinese papers from de Gournay. Montalto today works hard for its upkeep but still retains much of the character and atmosphere of an Irish country house.
A gate giving access to the walled garden on Inisherk Island, part of the estate at Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. This dates from the 1830s, when the present house was built for the Crichton family. The artist and landscape designer William Sawrey Gilpin laid out the demesne here during this period, so presumably he was responsible for the walled garden also. Running to some three acres, one side – that facing south as customary – was devoted to heated green houses where exotic fruits like peaches and pineapples were grown.
At the centre of the garden stood a palm house that rose 30 feet; it has gone, but the remains of the lily pond that once occupied the centre of the building still remains (albeit bereft of lilies, or even water). The walls on all sides are of brick (more often they are of stone, except on the south side where brick was used because it better retained heat) and have undergone some repair. The best surviving feature are the handsome wrought-iron gates survive on the north and east sides of the garden.
An arched entrance into what was once the Castlepark estate in Golden, County Tipperary. The main house here, demolished several decades ago, dated from the late 18th century when built for Richard Creaghe; the main block was of three bays and two storeys over raised basement. Alterations were carried out to the building in the years prior to the Great Famine to the designs of local architect William Tinsley. However, in the aftermath of the famine, Castlepark was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court and bought by William Scully who renamed it Mantle Hill. A new residence, built some thirty years ago, now stands close to the site of the original house. This entrance is one of two, the other, a typical 1840s set of gates with adjacent lodge lies to the south and looks to have been one of Tinsley’s contributions. However, the west arch looks to be older. MIght it have been associated with Golden Castle, the ruins of which stand not far away on an island in the river Suir to the south-east?
The text below originally appeared here in 2015. Tomorrow at Sotheby’s in London many of the items in the accompanying photographs will be offered for sale; thankfully not all, since some key pieces such as the 1770s sofas, the Axminster carpet from c.1820-30 and 19th century beds with their original hangings have been offered on loan to the state for public display. Nevertheless, the contents of another historic Irish house are being broken up because there is little or no official support for owners of such properties struggling to survive and eventually they are left with no option but to sell.
It is worth pointing out – again – that legislation has existed on the Irish statute books for many decades which is supposed to ensure that valuable paintings, furniture and so forth remain in this country. The Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export) Act dates from 1945 and was, in theory at least, supplemented by the National Cultural Institutions Act of 1997. The idea behind these pieces of legislation is that before any item over a certain fairly low value can leave the country, the parties responsible are required to seek permission from government-appointed authorities (until July 2015 usually one of the main national cultural institutions.*) However, there is no known instance where such an export licence has been refused; auction houses have long understood that this is a mere paper-filling formality. Tomorrow’s sale, for example, also includes a mahogany dining table attributed to Mack, Williams and Gibton and dated c.1815. It was listed in an inventory made of the contents of Carton, County Kildare in 1818 and has remained in the house until now when, after 200 years, it will be offered for sale tomorrow.
Vendors vend, buyers buy, auctioneers auction. Across millennia collections have been assembled and dispersed. There are no villains here, no one deserves to be castigated for acting in an untoward fashion. But there is, as has been the case for too long, evidence of clear neglect on the part of the Irish state towards what becomes of our patrimony, and an obvious want of concern over how this has been steadily whittled down, year by year, house by house. One must ask what is the function of legislation observed in name only? Surely the purpose of enacting the laws mentioned above was to ensure that a reasonable effort would be made to retain valuable works of art and collections in Ireland? That is currently not the case. A general election takes place here in a few weeks’ time: readers might like to ask any candidates they encounter for an opinion on the national heritage and what might be done to retain whatever is still here. Otherwise expect more sales.
Despite the many advances made in Irish architectural history over recent decades, some areas remain in need of further investigation. Among the most obvious of these is the question of attribution. There are significant houses across the country yet to be assigned to any architect, and others which need to have their accreditations reassessed. In the latter category are those properties given accreditations by the late Knight of Glin in the early 1960s when he was engaged on his uncompleted thesis on the subject of Irish Palladianism. At the time there was far less information available on or interest in architectural history than is now the case, and therefore the Knight was to a large extent dependent on instinct when allocating various houses to different architects, about whom little or nothing was known. Often he had to rely on his eye rather than on documentation, and as he admitted towards the end of his life, mistakes were made. To date insufficient effort has been made to correct these and as a result attributions made half a century ago still stand. An obvious opportunity for correction occurred with the appearance of the relevant volume in the Royal Irish Academy’s Art and Architecture of Ireland series published earlier this year, but the editors failed to avail of this opportunity. A reassessment of the Knight’s attributions still awaits requiring someone able to combine scholarship with connoisseurship. Until such time, in particular the output of gentlemen architects like Francis Bindon (whose name has appeared here on more than one occasion) will remain unclear. On the other hand, thanks to another book published in 2015 we are now in a much better position to assess the oeuvre of another talented 18th century amateur, Nathaniel Clements.
In 1754 John Carteret Pilkington published the third and final volume of his late mother Letitia’s celebrated memoirs in which he described Nathaniel Clements as being ‘a certain great man in Ireland, whose place of abode is not remote from Phoenix Park…whose acquirements have justly raised him from obscurity to opulence [and] whose extensive plans in building have excited an universal admiration of his taste in architecture.’ As Clements’ new biographer Anthony Malcomson noted, it was perhaps something of an exaggeration to claim he had raised himself from ‘obscurity’ but as a fifth son he would have been expected to make his own way in the world, especially since his father died when he was only seventeen. That father, Robert Clements had inherited an estate in County Cavan but in 1707 had secured the important, and lucrative, post of Teller to the Irish Exchequer. This job passed to his eldest son Theophilus who badly bungled his own financial affairs as was discovered when he died in 1728. Nevertheless, both the family and Nathaniel Clements were by this time sufficiently well connected for the Tellership of the Exchequer to pass to him, a job he held for the next twenty-seven years during which time, as Pilkington commented, he made himself exceedingly rich. His substantial income was boosted by money received from non-residents in receipt of an Irish pension for whom he acted as agent for decades (Malcolmson estimates that by the mid-1740s his annual income from this job alone was £1,500). He also held numerous other offices, all of which brought in additional funds. Much of this was used to acquire land, the most reliable form of investment in a period when banks failed regularly (as did that established by Clements and a couple of partners in 1759). By the end of his life he had bought up some 85,000 acres spread across three counties and producing an income of around £6,000 each year.
Another area of investment in which Clements engaged was housing, beginning with his participation in the development of Dublin’s Henrietta Street. The man behind this project, and others on the northern banks of the Liffey, was Luke Gardiner to whom Clements was related by marriage. Named after Henrietta, Duchess of Bolton, an old friend of Gardiner, whose husband acted as Ireland’s Lord Lieutenant in 1717-20, the street was from the start intended to be the capital’s premier address, its two sides lined with houses of princely splendor. As so often the case throughout 18th century Dublin, the exterior of the buildings, mostly standard red-brick and occupying sites of varying proportions, gave – and continue to give – insufficient notice of what lay behind the facades. Clements was responsible for constructing a number of houses on the street, beginning with Number 8 which was finished around 1733 and let to Colonel (later General) Richard St George. Three or four others then followed before he moved to Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, the initial development of which was likewise overseen by Gardiner. Here Clements built several more properties including a family residence that came to be known as Leitrim House. But having become ranger of the Phoenix Park in 1750 (having previously acted as deputy-ranger) he embarked on building himself a smart and substantial new villa. The Ranger’s Lodge was a five-bay, two-storey over full-height basement house on either side of which quadrants connected to L-shaped single-storey wings. Clements and his socially-ambitious wife hosted opulent parties on the premises intended to impress their contemporaries and to cement the couple’s place in Ireland’s hierarchy. In June 1760 for example, it was reported that the Clementses ‘gave an elegant entertainment to several of the nobility and gentry at his lodge in the Phoenix Park, which was illuminated in the most brilliant manner.’ Five years after Nathaniel Clements’ death in 1777, his son Robert sold the lodge to the government which then converted – and subsequently – enlarged the building for use as a Viceregal residence. Today the same property is known as Áras an Uachtaráin and occupied by the President of Ireland.
Nathaniel Clements’ engagement in speculative building, together with his reputation as an arbiter of taste, led to several buildings being attributed to him by the Knight of Glin. These included Brookelawn and Colganstown, County Dublin; Williamstown and Newberry Hall, County Kildare; and Beauparc and Belview, County Meath. All can be dated to c.1750-65, and all share certain stylistic similarities, not least reliance on Palladianism which by that date was fast falling from fashion. While respecting the Knight’s notion of Clements as an architect, and one responsible for the houses listed above, Maurice Craig in Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976) proposes that he was ‘eclectic’ not least because ‘he picked and chose his elements from pattern-books and combined them so that they compose well enough together: but they do not interact on one another.’ However, given his many other professional and financial interests, it must now be accepted that Clements was not an architect as we would understand the term. Rather he was an influence, or as Malcomson proposes, ‘a role model’, someone to turn to for advice. Furthermore, the design of his Ranger’s Lodge provided the prototype for a new generation of villa-farms that were not grand country houses but residences at the centre of working estates. All this is applicable to a house which has long been ascribed to Nathaniel Clements because it was built for his eldest son and heir Robert who in 1795 was created first Earl of Leitrim. Killadoon, County Kildare, shown in the pictures here today, surely ought to have been designed by Nathaniel Clements but even Mark Bence-Jones in his 1978 Guide to Irish Country Houses argued that ‘apart from having the “pattern-book” tripartite doorway with a fanlight, a baseless pediment and engaged columns which he seems to have favoured, it lacks the characteristics of the houses known to be by him or convincingly attributed to him.’ In fact, as Malcomson shows, Nathaniel and Robert Clements had a troubled relationship and he proposes that the older man’s input into the house’s design ‘must have been limited.’ The need for a thorough re-examination of 18th century architectural attribution remains.
*In July 2015 An Taisce took a successful case in the High Court against the state delegating responsibility for the granting of export licenses to cultural institutions such as the National Gallery of Ireland. However, this does not appear to have made any difference to such licenses being granted.
Overlooking – and largely overlooked by – traffic on Kildare Street, what’s currently called the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (but was originally the Department of Industry and Commerce) is like a little bit of the Rockefeller Center in Dublin. The building was designed in 1935 by James Boyd Barrett and is constructed of granite with a wonderful five-storey arched window over the entrance, its glazing bars in steel. The limestone relief over the door might be described as Hiberno-Deco, since it depicts Lugh, the Celtic God of Light, animating a fleet of aeroplanes. It was the work of Cork-born sculptor Gabriel Hayes, who was also responsible for another panel on the side elevation (School House Lane East) showing muscular construction workers engaged in various tasks.
The great house at Summerhill, County Meath and its unhappy destruction have been discussed here before (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/04/01/my-name-is-ozymandias). Following its burning in February 1921 the building, having stood a dramatic ruin for some 35 years, was finally demolished in the late 1950s, and that would seem to have been the end of it. However, it transpires that sections of the building were saved and put to new use in the cemetery at another site elsewhere in the county. In 1927 an Irish Roman Catholic organisation, the Missionary Society of St Columban, bought Dowdstown, an old estate in Meath, to which the society moved permanently in 1941, naming the place Dalgan Park after their former premises in County Galway. At some date, presumably when Summerhill was being knocked down, the Missionary Society acquired cut stone from the building and used it to create a pavilion at the top of the cemetery. Of seven bays, it has a breakfront centre with round-arched loggias on either side. The central bay, the lower section rusticated, rises higher than its neighbours, and is flanked by Doric columns. This is very much a new composition made from older elements but it gives an idea of the fine quality of stonework used in the original construction of Summerhill and provides a souvenir of what was lost when the building was demolished. The only incongruous feature is a cheap metal canopy jutting out above the central arch to protect an altar table beneath (the ugly paint used on this, and the interior of the pavilion doesn’t much help either, but these errors are easily reversible. Incidentally, the date 1921 seen in the pedimented attic storey’s oculus must refer not to the death of Summerhill, but to that of an original member of the Missionary Society.
Geoffrey Keating (in Irish Seathrún Céitinn) is thought to have been born c.1569 in County Tipperary; for a long time Burgess was believed his birthplace, but more recently an argument has been advanced for Moorstown Castle, a tower house then occupied by the Keating family. In 1603 he sailed for France where he attended the recently-founded Irish College in Bordeaux. On finishing his studies and being an ordained priest, he returned to Ireland where he took up clerical duties in a parish near Cahir. Over the next twenty years he wrote his major work, completed around 1634, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland, commonly known as The History of Ireland). Written in Irish, this traced the evolution of Keating’s native country from the creation of the world until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans (who were among the author’s own forebears). The manuscript, of which the first version was only published in English in 1723 (and the full text in Irish only at the start of the last century) drew on a wide variety of sources, some of which no longer exist and others of which can be deemed pseudo-historical. Much of the content is therefore open to revision. However, as Bernadette Cunningham wrote in 2001, during a time of enormous social upheaval and political unrest, ‘Keating’s portrayal of Ireland as an ancient and worthy kingdom had enormous attractions for his contemporaries. It told the story of the kingdom of Ireland at a time when the idea of an Irish kingdom mattered a great deal to contemporaries. In consequence, though it may tell us relatively little about early Irish history that cannot be gleaned from other sources, it reveals a great deal about Keating’s own seventeenth-century world.’
Little is known about Keating’s life, or even when and where he died. With regard to the latter, a plaque above the doorcase of a mortuary chapel at Tubrid, County Tipperary carries the following inscription in Latin: ‘Orate Pro Aiabs P. Eugenu: Duhy Vic de Tybrud: et D: Doct Galf: Keating huis Sacelli Fundatoru: necno et pro oibs alusta sacerd. quam laicis quoru corpa in eod: jacet sa A Dom 1644.’ (Pray for the souls of Father Eugenius Duhy, Vicar of Tybrud, and of Geoffrey Keating, D.D., Founders of this Chapel ; and also for all others, both Priests and Laics whose bodies lie in the same chapel. In the year of our Lord 1644.) Accordingly, we know he was dead by this time but the exact date and death remain a mystery. Now roofless and in one corner of a substantial graveyard, the chapel still thanks to the Roman Catholic priest and historian Patrick Power who in the early years of the last century championed the memory of Keating, and arranged to have steel rods inserted into the building to ensure its walls did not collapse.
To the immediate north of the chapel at Tubrid stand the remains of another building, St John’s a former Church of Ireland church thought to have been built on the site of an older place of worship: he buttressed walls of the nave suggest these might even have been retained from the earlier building. Turrets with conical caps stand at each corner of the main body of the church, while the tower has four capped octagonal towers. Many sources (such as http://www.buildingsofireland.ie) give a date of 1819-20 for the church’s construction, meaning it comes from the period when the Board of First Fruits was at its most active. However, the Representative Church Body Library (in effect the archives for the Church of Ireland) holds a number of drawings of the building signed by James Pain and dated 1835: these show exterior and interior ground plans and elevations. In 1823 Pain had been appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for Munster (responsible for all churches and glebe houses in the province) and he continued to work for the board and its successor, the Ecclesiastical Commission, until at least 1843. Therefore one may assume the church was designed by his office and is later than the date usually given. (It is not listed in David Lee’s 2005 monograph on the architect, but on the other hand the author advises that not all churches attributable to Pain are listed in the relevant appendix and recommends consultation of the RCB Library archives). Drawings of the same church also survive from the office of Welland & Gillespie, architects to the Ecclesiastical Commission from 1860 until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland ten years later, but whether these plans were executed or not is unclear. St John’s, Tubrid ceased to be used for services in 1919 and, like its older neighbor, now stands a roofless shell.
A gate lodge at the entrance to the former Castle Morres estate in County Kilkenny. The main house here, built for the de Montmorency family, dated from the mid-18th century, its design attributed to Francis Bindon: the remains of the building were demolished in 1978. This lodge was constructed later, at some point in the second quarter of the 19th century and is presumed to have been the work of Daniel Robertson.
The purity of the building’s cut-limestone Temple pedimented portico façade is rather marred by the later addition of an attic storey, and even more by the rather lumpen extension to one side. Even so, one can still gain an idea of the building’s original appearance (and adjuncts can always be reversed).
The Village at Lyons, County Kildare is often described as a restoration but to be frank it is more a recreation. By the time the late Tony Ryan bought the estate in 1996, the buildings beside the Grand Canal, which had once included a forge, mill and dwelling houses, were in a state of almost total ruin. Therefore the work undertaken here in the years prior to his death in 2007 involved a great deal of architectural salvage, much of it brought from France, although some Irish elements were incorporated such as a mid-19th century conservatory designed by Richard Turner, originally constructed for Ballynegall, County Westmeath. Today the place primarily operates as a wedding venue, providing an alluring stage set for photographs but bearing little resemblance to what originally stood here.