What Future?


‘There is also a convent for nuns of the Carmelite order, founded about the year 1680, and removed to its present site in 1829, when the building, including a chapel, was erected, under the direction of the prior of the abbey at a cost of £5,000, defrayed from the funds of the nunnery.’ (Slater’s National Commercial Directory of Ireland, 1846) Here is the former Carmelite convent in Loughrea, County Galway, built adjacent to the remains of an earlier religious foundation dating from 1300 when Carmelite friars settled on the site. It’s curious to see how, when the convent was built on what was then the outskirts of town, the style chosen by an unknown architect was that of a country house, of two storeys and five bays, the two outer ones projecting slightly forward and marked by prominent quoins. And the groundfloor entrance is distinguished by a handsome carved limestone doorcase, with sidelights and a plaque containing a crest above. The impression of a country house is somewhat spoiled by a large array of other structures subsequently added, indicative of what would eventually prove to be a misplaced confidence in the long-term future of the order here: six months ago, the five remaining Carmelite nuns left the property. What now is to be the fate of this building and its immediate neighbours? 

 

A Brighter Future?



The former Town Hall in Loughrea, County Galway. Occupying the site of an earlier linen hall the building, seemingly designed by Samuel Usher Roberts, dates from c.1860 when erected on the instructions of Ulick de Burgh, Marquess of Clanricarde who then owned Loughrea. In 1928 Viscount Lascelles, future sixth Earl of Harewood, who had inherited much of the Clanricarde estate through his grandmother, donated the town hall to the local residents; it was thereafter used as a cinema on the ground floor with a dance hall upstairs. The building was closed down in the late 1980s and has stood empty ever since but of late thanks to persistent efforts by the citizens of Loughrea plans have got underway for its restoration and conversion into a cultural and community centre. With funds now secured and an architectural design team appointed, the hope must be that, after more than 30 years of wasteful neglect, this building finally has a brighter future.*



*P.S. According to a tourist information board opposite the building, it was ‘used as a cinema in the mid 19th century.’ Who knew films were being screened in County Galway so far ahead of anywhere else…

A Fine Past, A Sad Present


Alas, the dilapidated remains of Athcarne Castle, County Meath now indicate little of its distinguished history, which go back at least 900 years. The name of the place is thought to derive from either Ath Cairn (the Bridge/Fording Point at the Cairn) or Ard Cairn (High Cairn). Whichever is the case, this indicates that it was originally the site of a pre-Christian cairn, or burial mound: it may well be that the structure seen today rests on top of or adjacent to a cairn. For hundreds of years, the lands in this part of the country belonged to the Bathe family, descendants of Hugo de Bathe, and Anglo-Norman knight who, as his name explains, came from Bath and who arrived in Ireland with Hugh de Lacy in 1171. It may be that Hugo de Bathe built some kind of castle or defensive fort here but eventually this was succeeded by the tower house which still survives and constitutes the eastern portion of the building. Rising four storeys and presumably erected in the 15th or 16th century, the tower has large window openings on the upper levels which were clearly later than the original structure; those on the topmost floor are topped with stone mouldings and there is a buttress on the north-east corner.






Until the mid-17th century the Bathes were a prominent family in Ireland, with large landholdings in north County Dublin, where they built a number of other castles at places such as Drumcondra and Glasnevin. Three of them would serve as the country’s Lord Chief Justice while John de Bathe was Attorney General in 1564 and then Chancellor of the Exchequer 1577-86. Around 1590 his son William Bathe, a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and then married (as his second wife) Janet Dowdall (as her third husband) built what, from a surviving engraving, appears to have been an Elizabethan manor house onto the west side of the old tower house; it may well have been around this time that the latter’s windows were enlarged. The couple’s respective coats of arms can be seen on a slim tower on the south-west corner of the present building, seemingly having been moved to this location in the 19th century. Despite remaining Roman Catholic, the Bathes appear to have survived and held onto their estates until the outbreak of the Confederate Wars of the 1640s when, along with other landed families of the same faith, they rose in rebellion. And, like so many other landed families of the same faith, upon the arrival of the Cromwellian forces towards the close of the decade, they found themselves on the losing side. As a result, their considerable lands were forfeited and distributed to members of the English army, Athcarne being granted to one Colonel Grace. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the Bathes sought the return of their property, but were unsuccessful, since it was now granted to Charles II’s brother, James, Duke of York (the future James II). Following further appeals, the duke returned Athcarne and surrounding 1,200 acres on a 99 year lease at a peppercorn rent: the rest of their former lands he retained. When James II came to Ireland, it is claimed that he spent the night before the decisive Battle of the Boyne at Athcarne Castle, which was, after all, only rented to the Bathes. In any case, soon after the start of the following century, the family had gone, James II was in exile in France, and Athcarne passed into the hands of another family, the Somervilles who in turn rented it on a long lease to the Garnetts.






Athcarne Castle remained occupied by successive generations of Garnetts until the early 1830s when it was acquired by the Gernons, once more a family of Anglo-Norman origin (mentioned here recently, see Alms and the Man « The Irish Aesthete). It appears the Gernons were responsible for pulling down the Elizabethan manor house and replacing it with a new residence, the remains of which can still be seen. This is a castellated three-storey block originally two rooms’ deep. A modest, single-storey entrance porch was added on the south side (previously access to the building had been from the north). It was probably also around this time that the little tower in the south-west corner was constructed and the Bathe/Dowdall coats of arms, previously on the exterior of the manor house, placed there as a souvenir of the castle’s earlier history. By the last century, the Gernons, rather like their predecessors on the site, were in decline. The surrounding land was sold and finally in 1939 an auction of the contents was held; among the lots, apparently, was a bed dating from the 17th century, the bed in which James II had slept the night before the Battle of the Boyne. In May of that year, the Land Commission offered the castle and remaining 88 acres for sale. Left empty, the building was unroofed and left as a shell in the early 1950s and so it has remained ever since. 

For more information about Athcarne Castle and its history, an invaluable source is Athcarne Castle | Facebook

Continental Influences



At a minor junction on a minor road in County Meath stands this rather fine stone cross, notable for being rather later in date than the many others found around the country. The monument was erected c.1675 by Cecilia Dowdall to mark the occasion of her marriage to Sir Luke Bathe who lived nearby at Athcarne Castle (of which more shortly). Standing some eight feet high, the cross’s east face features a high relief carving of the crucifixion, Christ’s arms raised above his head, and his feet resting on a skull. The west side has a shield containing the arms of the Dowdall and Bathe families and the instruments of Christ’s Passion, below which is a tender carving of the Virgin and Child which displays the influence of Renaissance art not previously seen in such work here in Ireland (Raphael’s Sistine Madonna immediately comes to mind).