School’s Out (Again)



The former National School in Ardlow, County Cavan. A single-storey, three-bay building, it carries a plaque on the exterior advising date of construction was 1897. As is usually the case, the interior features two large rooms, one for boys, the other for girls, and the remains of a wall to the rear indicate the yard behind was likewise divided. Now empty and losing slates from the roof, so liable to fall into ruin before too long.


A Call to Arms



In November 2011, former Labour TD Willie Penrose announced his intention to resign as a Minister of State as a result of the then-government’s decision to close Columb Barracks in Mullingar, County Westmeath the following year. At the time, the buildings were occupied by some 170 troops who were subsequently moved to the barracks in Athlone. Eight years have since passed without proper use being found for the premises.





Standing in the centre of Mullingar town and occupying some 26 acres of land, the main complex in Columb Barracks are over 200 years old, having been constructed in 1814, and first occupied in 1819, when it was called Wellington Barracks (the name was changed in 1922 in memory of Patrick Columb, a member of the National Army who had been killed in the town not long before). Designed to accommodate 1,000 soldiers, the barracks is U-shaped with a large parade ground at its centre. The three-storey blocks with roughcast rendered walls and cut limestone door- and window cases in each section of the building. The ranges are largely unaltered other than the unfortunate and universal insertion of uPVC windows at some relatively recent date and, on the southern range, openings being widened, apparently in 1980 when someone in authority decided to give them the all the flair of a provincial hotel, complete with porticos supported by spindly Corinthian columns. Even more unfortunate is a serious loss on the west side of the complex. Old photographs show that the centre of this featured a three-bay breakfront, its rusticated ground floor incorporating an arch above which was a tripartite window and, on the top level, a Diocletian window below a pediment. The entire section was swept away in 1966 to create a miserable-looking, single-storey concrete brick gateway marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising. Incidentally, the early photographs (from the French collection in the National Library of Ireland) also show how much better maintained the entire site used to be. Outside the main complex lie a range of other buildings, some in stone (including a chapel dating from 1855), others in brick, constructed over the course of the 19th century to provide facilities for the troops then in residence.






A year ago, thejournal.ie reported that during the previous three years the state had spent over €113,000 paying a private security firm responsible for looking after Columb Barracks in Mullingar. As today’s photographs show, there has been considerable damage to the site, some of the buildings have been badly vandalised while others are suffering from neglect, ultimately adding to the cost of their refurbishment. Almost 20 voluntary organisations – the likes of the local boxing and cycling clubs, a youth café, a men’s shed group and so forth – occupy portions of various premises, presumably on short-term leases and, it would seem, with little security of tenure. But even with their presence, the greater part of the barracks has been allowed to remain in limbo for the past eight years. When the state first embarked on closing down military bases around the country more than two decades ago, it sold a number of them to developers and private organisations. Indeed, some years ago Columb Barracks was placed on the market for sale, but then withdrawn following the establishment by government in September 2018 of a new organization called the Land Development Agency (LDA), the purpose of which is supposed to be the provision of affordable housing. Responsibility for the barracks lay with the Department of Defence, but this now appears to have been transferred to the LDA. A year ago the Department of Housing advised (in finest bureaucratic language) that the LDA was ‘carrying out a technical due diligence process on the Columb Barracks site to determine the development constraints and opportunities, which will take a number of months. Once this process is complete the LDA will determine a delivery strategy for the site.’ The following May then-Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy wrote in response to an enquiry from another TD that the LDA was in the process of advancing agreements with various state bodies in relation to a number of sites including Columb Barracks and furthermore ‘it should be noted that the LDA has commenced preparatory Professional work on each of the eight sites listed above and that the transfer process will not impact the ultimate delivery on those lands. The LDA performs a due diligence process on all sites, which includes an assessment of alternative use potential and development capacity and constraints.’ At the moment on its website (https://lda.ie) the LDA lists the current status of Columb Barracks as ‘Development feasibility study underway.’




Understandably, given its size and location, there has been considerable disquiet in Mullingar about the continuing neglect of Columb Barracks. A local body has been set up, Columb Barracks Restoration & Regeneration Committee (https://columbbarracks.ie) to champion the restoration and refurbishment of the site. It proposes that the former barracks could be transformed into a ‘vibrant community-owned and operated centre, providing education and other community services, based on renewable energy, zero waste and other environmentally sustainable and economically viable activities and practices; and capable of being an agent for the spreading of these practices and ideas, and for the transformation of Mullingar into a twenty-first century transition town.’ As well as the existing voluntary bodies using parts of the place, the committee suggests there could also be both short- and long-term accommodation, a museum, more sports facilities, a concert/theatre space, artists’ workshops, food markets and so forth. Not all of these ideas will necessarily come to fruition, but there are enough of them to give the barracks a real and viable future. Eventually something will be made of the site, but in the meantime eight years have passed during which these buildings, part of the country’s architectural heritage, have been allowed to deteriorate, with the inevitable result that whatever decisions are eventually made about intended purpose, these will cost more to implement because the site will require greater work. In Ireland the wheels of officialdom in Ireland can turn so slowly that they appear not to be moving at all. But surely, before the buildings here fall into further disrepair and suffer further vandalism, the time has come for the relevant state authorities to call a halt to ‘due diligence process’ and ‘assessment of alternative use potential and development capacity and constraints’. After eight years, there can be little left to discuss and analyse and consider and assess. Surely now is the moment instead to initiate action and bring Columb Barracks back into purposeful use?


New Owner Wanted


Kilcormac is a village in County Offaly which at the last census (2016) had a population of 935 persons (the figure was 973 in 1991). The most prominent building on its main, indeed only really significant, street is that shown here: an eight-bay convent built in 1885, probably to the design of William Henry Byrne who specialized in such commissions, for the Sisters of Mercy. Members of the order remained in residence here until two years ago, when the last nuns left and the premises, together with an acre of land to the rear, were put on the market. This is a story that can be told in almost every town and village across the country, where the decline in clerical numbers has made the maintenance of what is almost invariably the most substantial property in the vicinity unsustainable. Often the buildings then sit neglected for years, the only attention they receive from vandals and arsonists. Let’s hope this one, a handsome solid structure with nice brick detailing around the windows and attractive use of the quatrefoil motif, finds a new owner soon.

In Need of Attention



Castle Farm, County Longford, a handsome early 19th century residence that is believed to have been built on the site of, and may incorporate elements of, a late-medieval tower house originally belonging to the O’Farrell family. The Journal of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland 1862-64 noted that ‘the old castle of Ardanragh has been partially converted into a house, and is tenanted by Mr. Shaw, an educated and intelligent man, who farms the adjacent ground.’ A fine building in need of some attention.


Suffering Neglect


As has been discussed here before, Townley Hall, County Louth is one of Ireland’s most perfect neo-classical buildings (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/06/10/la-tout-nest-quordre-et-beaute). The house was designed in the mid-1790s by Francis Johnston, who until then had been employed primarily by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, often to complete commissions left unfinished following the early death of Thomas Cooley in 1784. Townley Hall is his first independent piece of work although here again the client’s involvement was critical since it is known that Blayney Townley Balfour, who owned the property, and his sister Anna Maria were intimately involved in every stage of the design.






Johnston was invited to design not just Townley Hall itself but also a number of ancillary buildings, including a new stableyard. His plans for this survive and are dated between 1799 (work being initiated on the site in May of that year) and 1804. The intention was to build around a rectangular courtyard with coach house and grainstore topped by a cupola on the north side, and stables coming forward to its immediate east and west. The south side was to be taken up by screen wall with arched entrance. Sadly this scheme was never realized, possibly for financial reasons (like many other house builders before and since, Blayney Townley Balfour discovered the initial budget was insufficient). Instead, while the northern range was constructed, it lacked the proposed cupola, and only the western range of stables were finished; a terrace of single-storey cottages runs along the eastern side of the site. Likewise the south wall with entrance arch was left unbuilt, and even a modified plan for railings with piers went unrealized. A drawing of the plan survives a penciled note reading ‘not built yet – 1837 FTB’, those initials standing for Lady Florence Townley Balfour (daughter of the first Earl of Enniskillen) who had married Blayney Townley Balfour in 1797.






As is well known, Townley Hall was sold by the heirs of the Townley Balfour family in the 1950s and, having been owned for a short period of time by Trinity College Dublin, was sold again with the Land Commission taking the greater part of the surrounding estate. Many of the ancillary buildings are no longer part of Townley Hall, including the former stableyard. Almost every other part of the former estate has been restored and brought into use, but sadly this element, which is, it seems, independently owned, has languished in neglect for a number of years, and is now in poor repair. Even if not as originally intended by Johnston, the yard remains associated with what is widely judged to be his masterpiece, and accordingly deserves a better fate.

Bridge over Untroubled Waters


A reminder of a family that once had a powerful presence in County Laois: the early 19th century, five-arched stone bridge across the river Nore at Watercastle. As the inscription advises, it was built (or more correctly rebuilt) in 1808 by Sir Robert Staples who lived not far away in a house called Dunmore. Sir Robert married three times, his third wife being the Hon Jane Vesey, sister of the first Viscount de Vesci who lived not far away at Abbey Leix: the Staples’ and de Vescis are regularly mentioned in the correspondence of Caroline, Countess of Portarlington. Both her former home, Emo Court and that of the de Vescis still stand, but Dunmore is gone. Built in the early 18th century and of three storeys with projecting two storey wings, it was unroofed in the last century and allowed to fall into ruin before being eventually demolished.

Gambling on its Future

The name is Burghéis a dá mhíle of which Two Mile Borris in County Tipperary is so called because located two Irish miles from the town of Thurles (an Irish mile, a measure commonly in use until the 19th century, was just over a quarter longer than its English equivalent). A common place name in Ireland, Borris (Buirgheas) is thought to derive from the Norman for burgage or borough. This tower house, which probably dates from the 16th century, now sits in the middle of a farmyard behind a local guesthouse.
Its future could be open to question because bizarrely, in 2011 the local authority (and indeed An Bord Pleanála, the national planning authority) granted permission for construction in Two Mile Borris of ‘The Tipperary Venue’. This scheme was intended to feature a casino, a racecourse, a 500-roomed hotel, an 18-hole golf course, a greyhound track, a 15,000-seater entertainment venue, and parking for 6,000 cars. Other features included a sprint track, an all-weather floodlit track, an equestrian centre, a replica of the White House (originally designed by James Hoban, who was born in neighbouring County Kilkenny) parking space of 6,000 cars. The project faltered due to a decline in the economy, but also because the proposed casino did not conform to Ireland’s current gambling legislation. But at least part of it may yet be constructed: two years ago Tipperary Co Council agreed to extend the duration time applicable to the planning permission until March 2023.

Something for Everyone



The Taylour family has appeared here before, in connection with Headfort, County Meath (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/02/22/a-unique-legacy). Dating from the 1760s, that house was built for Thomas Taylor, first Earl of Bective (incidentally, it was his son, the first Marquess of Headfort who assumed the new surname of Taylour). One of Lord Bective’s younger sons was the Hon Robert Taylor (b.1760) who in 1783 entered the British army as a cornet in the 5th Dragoons. Thereafter his rise through the ranks was steady and by 1796, having spent time in Flanders and Germany during the French Revolutionary Wars, he was a Colonel. He was here during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and serving as second-in-command to General Lake at the Battle of Ballinamuck in September of that year when the French General and his forces were defeated, thus marking the end of the rising. Taylor continued his career in the army for two more decades, finally being brevetted a full general in 1819. Around this time, or soon after, he acquired a small estate in his native Meath called Dowdstown.





Situated not far from the Hill of Tara, the name Dowdstown presumably derives from the Dowdall family which came to own this property in the 16th century; previously it had been a grange for the Cistercian St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin. At the end of the 17th century it came to be owned by the Rochforts. When General Taylor bought the place, there may have been some kind of dwelling there already, but surviving drawings in the Irish Architectural Archive by James Shiel dated 1820 and 1834 show that improvements were carried out on the site during this period for its new owner (the archive also holds unexecuted drawings for Dowdstown by Birmingham architect Joseph Bateman from 1831). Parts of this building probably survive in the two-storey block to the north of the present main house at Dowdstown, but the residence was likely to have been quite modest. In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) Samuel Lewis notes that ‘the Hon. Gen. Taylor has a seat in the cottage style in a demesne of about 590 acres, of which about 240 are plantations.’ These extensive plantations of trees, long since cut down, gave rise to a notion that General Taylor had been a participant at the Battle of Waterloo and then laid out his grounds to imitate how different regiments were placed on that occasion, with taller trees represented officers. In fact, the roll call of participants at Waterloo does not include Taylor’s name, and as a general he would have been a prominent figure on that occasion. Nor is it mentioned in any of his obituary notices, an extraordinary omission had he been present.





A bachelor, General Taylor died in April 1839, leaving Dowdstown to a nephew, Thomas Edward Taylour whose branch of the family lived at Ardgillan Castle (originally called Prospect House) in County Dublin. It appears that when his mother died twenty years later, Thomas and his younger brother Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor who had inherited Ardgillan swapped properties. Accordingly the Dowdstown estate now passed into the possession of Richard Taylor who, like his uncle before him, was a professional soldier, having entered the British army in 1835 at the age of 16. He subsequently saw service in India on a couple of occasions (being there during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and involved in the Capture of Lucknow), and took part in the Crimean War. Like his uncle he eventually rose to the rank of General and was knighted two years before his death in 1904.
In 1863 he married Lady Jane Hay, a daughter of the eighth Marquess of Tweeddale, and it was no doubt as a result of this union that the ‘cottage style’ property he had inherited at Dowdstown was deemed insufficient. One of the period’s most popular architectural practices, Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, was requested to enlarge the place, possibly with the assistance of another Ulster architect Samuel Patrick Close who worked with the firm on many occasions. As today’s pictures show, Dowdstown might be described as offering something for everyone, since it displays a fantastical array of styles both inside and out. The south-facing façade, for example, is somewhat French in flavour, thanks to a turreted corner with conical slate roof and a large central bow projection. The west-facing entrance front on the other hand, looks more Jacobethan in inspiration, with a four-storey belvedere-topped tower to the immediate left of the main door which has a heavily ornamented porch. The interiors are equally eclectic but the most heavily decorated areas are the drawing room and adjacent staircase hall, each visible to the other thanks to a screen of coloured glass between them, the whole divided into sections by heavy banded pilasters with richly carved capitals; they imitate those in stone on the porch.
It’s open to question how much time the Taylors ever spent living at Dowdstown. For a number of years in the 1880s the General was Governor of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and seems to have settled in England following his retirement, dying in Surrey in 1904. Dowdstown seems to have been rented out for long periods before finally being sold in 1926 to a religious order, the Columban Fathers who initially used it as their own residence before finding other purposes for the building. Since such is no longer the case, the order is now offering Dowdstown for sale.


All that’s Left


Another roofless church, this one in County Galway where the village of Shanaglish derives its name from the Irish ‘Sean Eaglais’ meaning ‘old church’. This is the building in question, at a spot called Beagh. It appears there was already a church here in the ninth century, and that this was subject to attack by marauding Vikings. Then in 1441 the Franciscan order established a friary which survived until the 1580s. The building was used, and extended, by the Church of Ireland in the 17th century at least until 1685 when the parish of Beagh was amalgamated with another nearby. This is all that remains today on the site.