Glimpses into a Vanished World

Rossanagh, County Wicklow: the house was subsequently reduced in size and the panelled room removed. 

Two weeks ago, this site discussed the first four volumes of records published by Ireland’s original Georgian Society, established in 1908. The organisation declared from the start an intention that it should exist for a few years only, during which this series would be issued annually as a visual account of Dublin’s architectural heritage, particularly of buildings dating from the 18th century. However, for the final publication, which appeared in 1913, the society ventured outside the capital to explore historic houses around the rest of the country. As the Introduction explained, ‘the Committee thought they would make this fifth volume more interesting by going abroad through Ireland, and examining in the light of prominent examples, how far the Georgian architecture of country houses in Ireland corresponded with that of the capital during this period. In most cases, gentlemen had a hôtel (as the French would call it) in the city which they used especially when they came up to attend the Irish Parliament.’ The text goes on to note that in many instances, either the town or country house has since been lost, in the case of the latter claiming ‘the disappearance was due, not to neglect or poverty, but to wealth and a change of taste.’ It soon becomes evident that the writer(s) of this text did not care for the previous century’s Gothic revival, regarding the work of Francis Johnston and the Morrisons père et fils with a certain disapproval and commenting ‘even these early nineteenth-century houses, which were not Gothic, differ so completely in style from the work of the eighteenth century, that anyone may recognise it at first sight.’

Castletown, County Kildare: the interiors as they were furnished at the start of the last century.

Whether or not one agrees with the fifth volume’s judgemental tone about Irish country houses built later than 1800, the work itself is an invaluable document for several reasons. The first is that it includes photographs and drawings of buildings since lost, quite a lot of them within a decade during the years of Ireland’s War of Independence and Civil War. In some instances, they are almost the only visual evidence of these houses that we still possess. Just as importantly, but perhaps less appreciated, these pictures show how such houses were decorated and furnished at the time. Again, this information is quite priceless since almost without exception the contents of such properties has since been lost or dispersed. For a small number, inventories survive of their contents and for others, lists were compiled by owners when applying for compensation following their houses destruction during the aforementioned years of upheaval. But nothing compares with a photograph, showing individual items in situ and giving us a better understanding than any document could of how such a building functioned. Another helpful feature of this volume is the ‘Catalogue of Georgian Houses in Ireland’, which is a list of such buildings in each county in 1913. It is, of course, far from being complete, and reflects the compilers’ prejudices towards post-1800 houses. Nevertheless, the catalogue provides a reader with ample information, since each entry includes not just the name of the property, but also – where known – the architect and date of construction, original and then owner, sources of information about the place (such as references in earlier published accounts) and finally what is described as ‘particulars.’ The last of these is the most tantalising of all, since it often contains details of houses long-since lost. Few people today, for example, are likely to have heard of Pennyville, otherwise called Croydon Park, which stood in Clontarf, County Dublin and which, according to the catalogue’s compilers was an ‘early house, with very thick walls, and long rooms opening off one another. Drawing-room has coved rococo frieze.’ A photograph exists of James Larkin and members of the Irish Citizen Army drilling in front of Croydon Park in 1914: the house was demolished in the 1920s as part of the Marino housing scheme. Also largely forgotten: Hortland, County Kildare, a house dating from c.1748. Believed to have been designed by Richard Castle, and built for Josiah Hort, Archbishop of Tuam, according to the catalogue the building contained ‘Staircase in side hall, similar to No.20 Kildare St., Dublin [also attributed to Castle], and deep cornice above. State bedroom with coved ceiling. Good mantel in drawing room, in two marbles and carved centre panel, Diana with dog, &c. Cut-stone doorway, with Ionic columns in entablatures.’ The house was subsequently demolished.

Rathbeale Hall, County Dublin: the interiors at the start of the last century.

The fifth volume pays particular attention to nine houses, the majority of which are still standing and only one, Summerhill, County Meath, discussed here in the past (see My Name is Ozymandias « The Irish Aesthete) has been been entirely lost. Of the others, two – Castletown, County Kildare and Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin – are in state ownership, one managed by a trust (Russborough, County Wicklow), one converted into an hotel (Carton, County Kildare) and the other four remain in private ownership, although only one of these still occupied by descendants of the original family, namely Mount Ievers, County Clare (discussed here also some time ago, see A Place of Magic « The Irish Aesthete). How, one wonders, do these statistics compare to those of other countries? And, as already mentioned, another feature of the texts – and their accompanying images – is the information they provide on the properties’ contents at the time since almost without exception these have since been dispersed/lost/destroyed. Among the greatest losses was a superlative panelled mid-18th century saloon formerly in Rossanagh, County Wicklow. Dismantled and removed from the building in the 1920s and sold out of the country, its subsequent fate is unclear, perhaps blown to pieces in a London bombing during the Second World War, perhaps still surviving somewhere in the United States but certainly no longer in its country of origin. Such, regrettably, has too often been the story of our heritage.

Bellamont Forest, County Cavan: as furnished at the start of the last century (with all the paintings still in situ in the saloon). 

9 comments on “Glimpses into a Vanished World

  1. Andrew McCarthy says:

    What a superb hall! I love that it appeared to use a different wood or finishing for the columns and some of the moldings.

  2. Vincent Delany says:

    Interior design works in many ways. Today in laying out a living room it is normal to centralize a room around a view, a fireplace, a TV or just as a conversation area.
    In earlier times rooms were larger, and the furniture was laid out in pockets- an area to move to for music, sewing, writing letters. Each of these pockets were loosely linked together without dividing screens- so that the whole was greater than the parts. Furthermore, space had to be allowed for small collectibles, vases, sculptures etc. often an interior was unsuccessful if the ‘collectible’ was of the wrong size. If you bring a bear back from your travels- a stuffed bear is too big for most rooms, but a bear head can be just right!

  3. Every time I read about the houses we have lost to date in one sitting it brings a deep heaviness over me because Ireland continues along the same path today. This morning’s post about 29 Fitzwilliam Street, among other recent announcements continues the destruction of Ireland’s historic fabric. I’m sure the Georgians that came before us felt the same sadness and angst at trying to preserve what they could. A daunting path fraught with politics.

    • Michael Thomas says:

      Rossanagh and Woodstock in co Kilkenny were often inherited by Tighe cousins when one house had no heir.Usually the case at Woodstock.Another loss due to being destroyed by fire,intentionally,in the 1920,s

  4. Bob F says:

    Thank you Robert, great to see those interiors. There is an interesting link between a destroyed ‘Big House’ (Derriquin Castle in Kerry) and the housing at Croydon Park, a development of about 1750 five-roomed houses. They were being built by Dublin Corporation at a cost of about £650 each and many had been sold on lease to occupants at an average price of £428. Although there was a substantial shortage of funds, the Corporation was under pressure to continue its building programme and lawyers for Col. Warden, Derriquin’s owner, proposed a solution. They approached Dr. O’Dwyer, Dublin City Commissioner, with a view to selling – at a discount – the award granted to Warden for the damage to Derryquin Castle. A Circuit Court Judge in Tralee allowed the “partial reinstatement” to take place in Dublin, providing a minimum of 26 residential were built on either Griffith Avenue or the Marino and Croydon Park development. Warden, then aged 72, agreed to accept the sum of £18,968.10 shillings, a discount of almost a quarter on his award and about a fifth of his original claim.

    • Thanks for this, and yes I was aware of the arrangement. It wasn’t the only one of its kind: the Talbot-Crosbies of Ardfert Abbey elsewhere in Co Kerry made a similar deal (in their case, the houses were built in Carrickmines and Howth).
      As for Col. Warden, one gets the impression that he wasn’t a terribly agreeable character, and his departure from Derryquin went unmourned…

      • Bob F says:

        Yes, he was an odious individual, unpopular with all his neighbours (Bland, Fuller, Stokes) and tenants. He moved to Devon where at 75 he remarried a widow 28 years his junior, and died there on 8 March 1952. He holds the record as being the last surviving veteran of the Anglo-Zulu War.

  5. ldm says:

    Would it be possible for you to post the photos of Summerhill? All of the exterior views I can find are of the entrance front and I’m hoping the Catalogue of Georgian Houses in Ireland contains views of the garden front.

  6. […] of 1913, and Sadleir and Dickinson’s Georgian Mansions in Ireland, produced two years later (see Glimpses into a Vanished World « The Irish Aesthete and Enriched with Treasures « The Irish Aesthete). And in the interim, other writers like Mark […]

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