A triumphal arch that formerly announced entrance to the Oak Park estate in County Carlow. Constructed of crisp granite, it dates from the late 1830s when designed by William Vitruvius Morrison for owner Colonel Henry Bruen. The external side has flanking screen walls and a carriage turn, while there are paired Ionic columns on either side of the arch. The park side is simpler with Doric pilasters. It seems the architect and his father, Sir Richard Morrison, had previously proposed a similar design to both Barons Court, County Tyrone and Castle Coole, County Fermanagh, so this is a case of third time lucky. There are rooms on either side of the arch which seemingly was occupied up to 1970. The gates which once stood inside the arch are long-since gone as this is now a public road.
‘The Church of St. Nicholas. This massive and interesting building is situated in the demesne of Dunsany, a short distance north-east of the castle. It is probably on the site of the church which existed so early as 1302-1306, and seems to have been rebuilt about the middle of the 15th century by Nicholas Plunkett, first Baron of Dunsany and Killeen. In his will, dated on the feast of St Peter ad Vincula, 1461, although desiring to be “Y beret in ye chaunsell of Killeene before our Lady,” he heaped valuables on “St Nichols Church of Dunsany” – arras and scarlet hangings, crosiers and chalices of silver and gold, the latter being then in course of preparation by a goldsmith of Trim; missals, graduals, hymnals and psalters; a chaplet of pearls for the statue of the Blessed Virgin; copes of gold and red satin; chasubles; 100 shillings off the mill of Alomny (Athlumney); and money off Thomastown; and to find priests to pray for his soul and the souls of his wives Anne Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Preston; “and which of my children that breaketh my will, I leave him Christ’s curse and mine”.’
‘The building is 129 ft. long; the chancel, 21 ft. 3 in. wide and about 51 ft. long; the nave, 21 ft. 5 in. wide and about 55 ft. 6 in. long, the gable being “off the square”; the gable between is 5 ft. 7 in. thick, and the arch about 10 ft. wide. The chancel has a very rich east window inserted by the late Dowager Lady Dunsany to decorate the building, the older window having been destroyed long before, except the ancient sill, still apparent on the outside, and an elegant carving of an ivy spray. There are three windows to the south, and one to the north; the tracery and shafts have nearly disappeared, having been of fine yellow sandstone, like most of the details. The south wall has also a handsome sedile of three cinquefoil arches, the heads crocketed, and a heavy hood moulding, ending in a leaf to the left and a face to the right…North of the chancel is a residence three stories high, the lowest used as a vault by the Lords of Dunsany; fourteen steps lead to the second floor, which has a “squint” looking into the chancel; ten more steps lead to the upper storey. A passage and steps lead over the east gable to its roof. The tower-like S.E. buttress is of unusual dimensions. The nave has two doors (evidently rebuilt in recent times), one at each side. An ambry; a large perpendicular window and a recess occur in each wall. The north recess is two stories high; the upper reached by a staircase in the north pier of the chancel arch, which is round and rudely built, with clumsy projecting jambs, perhaps intended to support a rood beam or loft. The west gable has a large window; its tracery is gone, and its shafts are modern. It is flanked on the north by a lofty battlemented tower with curiously-corbelled roof and large double windows. It has entrances from the nave and from the north and west battlements. Another lofty tower at the south-west angle has a barrel stair of some sixty six steps.’
‘The altar-tomb has been horribly broken since Archdall’s day, and it was with difficulty the fragments of the sides could be found and pieced together…The effigies represent – to the right, a knight in full armour and conical helmet, a long sword on his left thigh, and his hands raised and clasped in prayer, his feet on a dog; to the left rests his wife in peaked head-dress, with traces of rich carving on it, a full-sleeved, long-pleated gown to the feet, which rest on a cushion carved with two birds and a cat’s head. The east slab had three niches, the left now broken away, the central one has a long-robed figure, and the right one a Bishop in pontificals. The west slab is now in the sedile; it has three floriated niches, with the flagellation of our Lord in the centre, and angels with censers on each side. The sides had similar niches, with shields between; the north side is in fragments in the nave, and has the arms of Plunkett (a bend and castle); Flemyng (checquy), 3 (probably Castlemartin), three castles; 4 Plunkett and FitzGerald. The south slab lies against the east gable and has shields of- 1, Plunkett; 2, FitzGerald (a saltire); 3, the heart pierced by two swords; 4, the instruments of the Passion.’
From an account of St Nicholas’ church, Dunsany, County Meath written by Thomas J Westropp and published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 4, No. 3 (September 1894). Since that time, the altar tomb he describes above has been reconstructed and moved to a small space on the north side of the nave.
The mausoleum of the Leigh family near Wellingtonbridge, County Wexford. This was erected in 1824 by Francis Leigh who lived not far away in a house called Rosegarland (and who was clearly planning ahead, since he lived for another 15 years although his son died in 1827; Rosegarland was eventually inherited by a grandson).
It is set into the south wall of an old church on the site and built with views looking across an estuary towards the medieval borough of Clonmines. A date plaque on this side carries the inscription Deus Nobis Haec Otia Fecit (God has given us this tranquility). Derived from Virgil’s Eclogues, it is also the motto of Liverpool city.
Here is a picture of Trinity College, Dublin. Now imagine it overlooked by a 21-storey tower block. But wait; in this instance you won’t need to use your imagination because last week Ireland’s planning authority, An Bord Pleanála approved just such a scheme for a site just outside the walls of the college.
The development, if such it must be called, was originally intended to be 11-storeys of office space, but the company responsible, Marlet Property Group (company slogan ‘Developing City-Shaping Landmarks’ – really?) then applied to add a further ten floors accommodating build-to-rent apartments. Astonishingly, both Dublin City Council and now An Bord Pleanála rolled over and gave their blessing to the project. In doing so, they demonstrated a woeful disregard for the character of Dublin’s historic core: it is inconceivable that such a scheme would be permitted in other capitals such as Paris or Vienna or Rome where the distinctive attributes of an ancient city centre are rightly cherished and protected. Dublin, on the other hand, seems resolutely set on the same path it has followed since the middle of the last century; to obliterate all trace of individuality and to become a poor imitation of some middle-ranking American city.
In reaching this, and other recent decisions, the current members of An Bord Pleanála appear to possess no sense of history, no sense of place, no sense of proportion. The building is devoid of architectural merit, its only distinguishing feature being size: it is an over-scaled monument to corporate blandness. There are sites further down river where plenty of similar blocks have been constructed in recent decades and where such a development would find a natural home. But parking it here, seemingly at random, with no understanding of context, no evidence of coherent planning for the area, no acknowledgement that this is Dublin rather than downtown Dumpsville, and with a flagrant disregard for the fact that it is barely 200 metres away from Trinity College: this just looks wilful. Both Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála are permitting private developers to decide the future shape and character of Ireland’s capital. It makes no sense, and those responsible display no sense.
Footnote: Last Monday Dublin City Councillors voted to retain a 15% cut in the Local Property Tax, even though the authority is likely to suffer a €39 million deficit this year. By reaching this decision, they have rendered themselves still more impotent when it comes to decision-making about how the capital will evolve in the years ahead, thereby transferring still greater control in this matter to unelected, and increasingly non-resident, corporations. Remember Marlet Property Group’s company slogan ‘Developing City-Shaping Landmarks’. That tells you who’s in charge here. Just bear it in mind next time you hear a councillor proclaim how much he/she loves Dublin…
*A reader has suggested that I provide relevant contact details for Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála, so that some of you can express your feelings on this matter to them directly.
They can be reached as follows:
Dublin City Council Planning Department firstname.lastname@example.org
An Bord Pleanála email@example.com.
2012: Dowth Hall, County Meath (https://theirishaesthete.com/2012/12/24/netterville-netterville-where-have-you-been/)
2013: Hazelwood, County Sligo (https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/02/25/sola-perduta-abbandonata/ and https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/12/03/hazelwood/
2014: Moore Hall, County Mayo (https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/06/30/when-moore-is-less/)
2015: Kilshannig, County Cork (https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/05/18/exuberance/)
This week marks the Irish Aesthete’s eighth anniversary. The first post appeared in September 2012 and soon the format was established, with thrice-weekly texts and photographs that have continued to the present and – Deo volente – will continue into the future. As always, sincerest thanks to everyone who has shown interest in and engagement with this site: your support helps to sustain the work. Ireland is a country rich in architectural heritage (albeit not always in the best state of repair) so there’s lots more to see yet. I look forward to your company over the next 12 months. Meanwhile, stay safe, stay well.
2016: Lambay, County Dublin (https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/06/27/a-central-idea-beautifully-phrased/)
2017: Florence Court, County Fermanagh (https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/05/15/florencecourt/)
2018: Larchill, County Kildare (https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/09/17/larchill-gardens/)
Kilwaughter Castle, County Antrim (https://theirishaesthete.com/tag/kilwaughter-castle/)
‘The lodge was built all over and each side of the gate, in two two-storey octagonal turrets joined by a Gothic arch. Four octagonal rooms in the turrets and an up and down room in the arch housed the Conarchy family, who were all, however, quite ordinary shapes.’
The above passage describes the gatelodge entrance to the fictional Kilskour Castle in Sheila Pim’s A Brush with Death, published in 1950. An ardent gardener who wrote extensively on the subject, Pim (1909-1995) also produced four detective novels (often with a strong horticultural theme) from the mid-1940s onwards, although A Brush with Death is more concerned with art and provides an amusing portrait of Dublin’s cultural world in the middle of the last century.
As for the lodge shown here, it was the original entrance to Heywood, County Laois and is thought to have been designed around 1810 by the estate’s then-owner Michael Frederick Trench, who was also responsible for erecting a number of Gothic follies in the grounds (for more on these, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/08/27/heywood/)
Reference was made last Monday to Charles Strickland who for many years in the mid-19th century acted for land agent to the Dillon family in Ireland, not least at Loughglynn, County Roscommon where Strickland lived during the course of his career. He was particularly concerned for the welfare of tenants on the estate for which he held responsibility, not just during the years of the Great Famine, but in its aftermath. Therefore in 1854 he persuaded his employer to provide the necessary funds to erect a new national school opposite the entrance to Loughglynn; this opened to both boys and girls in February 1856. It is a handsome, sturdy building, like the main house faced in limestone, of eight bays and with an entrance in the pedimented porch. At some date it was adapted into a hall, but has since been abandoned and fallen into as pitiful a state as the main house with which it was once connected.
As is well known, many Irish country houses would have been lost forever in the last century had they not been purchased and maintained by members of Roman Catholic religious orders. Often these buildings had to be converted or adapted for their new use and, as a rule, the work was sensitively done, or at least carried out in such a way that any alterations were reversible. Occasionally, however, a more aggressive and unsympathetic approach was taken, as can be seen Loughglynn, County Roscommon. The land on which the house stands had been acquired in somewhat questionable circumstances by a branch of the old Anglo-Norman Dillon family, which had hitherto been based in County Westmeath. In 1622 Theobald Dillon was created first Viscount Dillon of Costello-Gallen and following his death two years later a younger son, Lucas Dillon appears to have settled in Loughglynn with his wife, occupying an old castle that stood on the site. Eventually his descendant, another Theobald, became seventh Viscount Dillon, after the senior branch failed. The Dillons remained owners, although not always occupiers, of the property until the end of the 19th century.
Loughglynn has undergone a number of changes since first built. It has been proposed that Richard Castle was the house’s architect; after all, he did receive other commissions in County Roscommon, including Strokestown, Frenchpark and, possibly, Mount Talbot (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/08/03/mount-talbot/). On the other hand, the date of 1715 is sometimes given for Loughglynn’s construction; if this were the case, it cannot have been designed by Castle as he only came to Ireland in the late 1720s. Stylistically, the house is not dissimilar to other work by the same architect such as Hazelwood, County Sligo (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/12/03/hazelwood/) so he may well have been responsible, but at a somewhat later date. Dressed in limestone ashlar, the centre block was larger than what can be seen today, of two storeys over basement with a dormered attic storey on the high-pitched roof. The ten-bay entrance front had the three centre bays and those at either end breaking forward while on the garden side, there were canted bows on either side of the three-bay centre. On the east side, a single storey quadrant leads to a two-storey wing which forms part of the stable courtyard beyond (curiously, there is no equivalent wing on the other side of the house). So the building stood for a century until 1838 when Dublin architect James Bolger was requested to add another storey to the top of the building, sitting above the original cornice. A fire in 1896 left Loughglynn seriously damaged, and soon afterwards the Dillons sold house and estate. In 1904 the new owners, an order of nuns called the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, embarked on an extensive programme of repairs to the damaged property. This involved taking off the top storey of the building, and making the outer bays on either side single-storey. It may also have been at this time that the west wing, if it existed, was demolished, thereby explaining the lop-sided appearance of the house today.
During the 19th century the Dillons had little direct association with Loughglynn, preferring to live in England on their estate, Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. Therefore a succession of land agents occupied the house in Ireland and looked after the Dillons’ estates. One of them, Charles Strickland (whose nephew Walter Strickland would serve as Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland and publish the two-volume Dictionary of Irish Artists in 1913) is remembered for his generous support of the local people during the years of the Great Famine. On his employer’s land in County Mayo, he also established Charlestown, which is named after Strickland. It was during his successor’s time as agent that Loughglynn suffered its catastrophic fire, and that the Dillons decided to sell house and surrounding land. In 1899 the former, along with 100 acres of surrounding demesne land, was bought by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Elphin; in 1903 he handed over the property to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and it was soon afterwards that restoration work was undertaken on the house. The nuns here ran a school teaching various skills such as lace-making and domestic science, as well as establishing a dairy farm from which cheese was made on the premises. In 1960, during a time when admission to religious orders was at its height, the Franciscan Missionaries needed more space and so constructed a large block between the main house and the east wing. It cannot be claimed that this addition is a thing of beauty, or is in harmony with the older buildings. On the contrary, the 1960s development is ill-conceived and inconsiderate. Perhaps wisely the name of the architect responsible is unknown. The entrance front is now dominated by a pitched roofed former chapel, the centre part of which holds what remains of a window. Meanwhile, to the rear, the impression is given that some old-fashioned vision of a space craft has been ignominiously dumped on the site. Within a few decades, like many other religious orders the Franciscan Missionaries found their numbers in decline and before the end of the last century they were using the buildings as a nursing home, not least for their own elderly residents. Finally, in 2003 the place was sold to a development company which, it seems, had ambitious plans for an hotel, golf resort and so forth. By the time the economic recession had begun towards the end of the decade, little had happened and some years later Loughglynn changed hands again. Meanwhile the house suffered extensive vandalism, with the removal or destruction of almost everything it contained, including lead from the roof. As these photographs show, easy access is no longer possible, but other than the exterior walls there’s little left of the building to preserve. Another of Ireland’s historic houses left to fall into ruin.
Buried deep in woodland by the banks of the river Awbeg stand what remains of the aptly-named Castle Curious. Seemingly it was built c.1845 by one Johnny Roche, newly-returned to Ireland after spending some time in the United States. Back home, he decided to design and construct a residence for himself, adjacent to a mill which he also owned; both buildings are now roofless and in a largely ruinous state. Castle Curious rises three storeys with bowed turrets on either side of the breakfront centre section. It remained Roche’s home until his death in 1884 when he hoped to be buried in a tomb mid-river, a plan which did not come to pass. For this site he had prepared his epitaph to read ‘Here lies the body of poor John Roche, he had his faults but don’t reproach; For when alive his hearth was mellow, An artist, genius and comic fellow.’
For more than 150 years, one of the most prominent landmarks in Dublin was Nelson’s Pillar. Erected in 1809 and rising 134 feet, the fluted limestone column was crowned by a statue of Horatio, Admiral Nelson; visitors could ascent an internal staircase to a viewing platform just below the figure of the Battle of Trafalgar hero. In March 1966 Irish Republicans decided to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising by attempting to blow up the pillar, a botched job but one that did so much damage to the monument that government forces had to finish the job. Various parts of the pillar have turned up over the year, but one interesting portion – 16 granite blocks each measuring two feet square which once formed part of the base carved with the names of Nelson’s most notable victories – can now be seen surrounding a circular pool in the garden behind Butler House in Kilkenny city. Various explanations have been given for how the stones ended in this location, one being that in the 1960s William Walsh, head of Córas Tráchtála Teoranta (the Irish Export Board) and the man responsible for establishing the Kilkenny Design Workshops, saw the pieces, admired their fine lettering and brought them to the city to provide inspiration for graphic designers. Alas, the government short-sightedly closed down the Kilkenny Design Workshops in 1988, but the stones still remain.*