Bleak House


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.

3 comments on “Bleak House

  1. raymond blair says:

    A very fitting title – a truly tragic and bleak outcome!

  2. James Kelly says:

    My mother and her sisters learned lace making and domestic “science” at the convent from 1915 to 1935. They lived on the Demense (Aughaderry).
    A number of family members entered the FMM order and traveled the world.
    All my family have a close spot in our hearts and memory of this wonderful place.

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