Not far from Ballyadams Castle, County Laois (see Monday’s post, Saved by Two Daughters) can be found what remains of the parish’s old church, surrounded by old tombstones. Inside the ruined buildings are two interesting monuments, both badly worn. On the ground in the south-east corner is the recumbent figure of Walter Hartpole, Dean of Leighlin who died in 1597. On the opposite wall is a tablet erected in 1631 to Robert Bowen who had died a decade earlier, having inherited Ballyadams Castle from his father John Thomas Bowen: Robert had been married to Alice Hartpole, a daughter of Walter. The upper portion of this monument features a crest and coat of arms, and text proclaiming as following:
‘An epitaph on the death of Robert Bowen Esquire.
If tears prevent not every readers eye may well perceive that in this tomb doth lie
Friends hope foes dread whose thrice victorious hand gained love, wrought peace within this joyful land
Whose worth doth mount itself on angels wings
Whose great descent was first from Royal Kings
Whose never dying virtues live for why
Whose fame’s eterniz’d he can never dy’
Formerly the upper section of the chest tomb was decorated with the figure of the deceased in full armour, with his wife by his side, but these were destroyed in the 19th century. All that remains are the figures below of the couple’s four children.
Like so many other similar buildings in Ireland, the history of Ballyadams Castle, County Laois is often unclear, although its name appears to derive from one Adam O’More who lived here in the late 15th century. At least part of the castle, however, may be some 200 years older, since – as Andrew Tierney has pointed out in his admirable guide to Central Leinster (part of the Buildings of Ireland series) – the two upper storeys of the central B-plan block are a later addition to what was already there, and the earlier section looks not dissimilar to the Norman gatehouses of Welsh castles from the late 13th/early 14th centuries. Tierney therefore speculates that this section of the building may be the remnants of the castle of ‘Kilmokedy’ recorded as being in the possession of the de la Poers in 1346.
Whatever about its earlier history, certainly by the start of the 16th century Ballyadams Castle was in the possession of the O’Mores, then the dominant family in this part of the country. During the upheavals which then followed, in 1551 it was granted by the Earl of Desmond to the Welsh-born John Thomas Bowen, known as ‘John of the Pike’ since he always carried one of these weapons (and, according to legend, did not hesitate to use it). The Bowens remained in occupation thereafter, although this was threatened in 1643 during the Confederate Wars, as the third Earl of Castlehaven would record in his memoirs: ‘While this place was putting in order, I went with a party of horse to Ballyadams, a Castle about a mile distant belonging to Sir John Bowen, Provost Marshal an old soldier, and my long acquaintance. I went to speak with him and after some kind expressions, told him I must put a garrison into his Castle. He flatly denied me and calling for his wife and two very fair daughters, he had desired only one favour, that in case I was resolved to use violence, I would show him where I intended to plant my guns and make my breach. I satisfied his curiosity and asked him what he meant by this question. Because saith he swearing with some warmth, I will cover that, or any other your Lordship shoots at, by hanging out both my daughters in chairs. ’tis true the place was not of much importance, however this conceit saved it.’ So, thanks to this act of bravado, Ballyadams continued to be home to further generations of the same family, and it may have been Sir John’s son William who added a large, two-storey house to the rear and one side of the house, indicating that the Bowen’s now felt secure in their property. At the start of the 18th century Katherine Bowen, William Bowen’s only surviving child and heiress to the place, married Pierce Butler from County Tipperary. In 1759 their grandson sold Ballyadams to Garret Fitz David Butler. Members of the same family own the place still.
In 1837 Samuel Lewis recorded the castle as being ‘the residence of Capt. Butler.’ However, back in August 1782 the antiquary Austin Cooper had visited Ballyadams and came away with quite a different impression of the building. He noted that ‘the front consists of two large round towers between which is an entrance, and over it a wall is carried in a line with the exterior limits of these towers, so as to form a machicolation over the door. Adjoining these towers on each side are two large modem wings, one of which is kept in repair as a lodge by Mr Butler, the present propriotor; the other was never finished. The inside of the castle exhibits a scene sufficient to excite compassion from every lover of ancient grandeur – the boarded floors all torn up, the plastered wall and ceilings threatening the observer with destruction and to complete this grand scene of desolation, the great state room still remains hung with elegant tapestrys now left to rot away.’ Similarly, in 1826 James Norris Brewer described how ‘the ruins of the embattled walls, projecting towers, and elevated keep of this antient edifice, produce an interesting and highly picturesque effect.’ Therefore it would seem that the castle had already begun to fall into disrepair before the end of the 18th century and has been a ruin for more than 200 years, still highly picturesque. Unfortunately, it has been prey to more recent assault than that threatened by Lord Castlehaven in 1643: until three years ago, a pair of iron-studded wooden doors that formerly hung at the entrance to the old castle were stolen. Believed to date from the 17th century, and so perhaps installed when the house to the rear was being erected, the doors were each about eight feet high, three feet wide and over three inches thick. Alas, they have not been seen since.
Ireland’s country house gardens are too often one of our lesser known, and insufficiently appreciated, assets. Developed from the 16th century onwards, they reflect the history and evolution of Ireland, changing and evolving as did the country and reflecting not just alterations in taste but also the developments in horticulture, and the introduction of new plant species. Country house gardens were often the places where early scientific research took place, as owners sought better understanding of the terrain, what might grow there, and to what use it could be put. But they were also places of beauty, where rare trees, shrubs and flowers were cultivated with the purpose of captivating the eye and soothing the mind. Whether it be the formality of the gardens at Killruddery, County Wicklow (the finest surviving example of this style in Ireland and Britain) or the classical landscape of Ballyfin, County Laois, the grandeur of Powerscourt, County Wicklow or the Robinsonian romance of Mount Usher, County Wicklow, Ireland has a wealth of spectacular historic gardens, all of which benefit from our rich soil and temperate climate, as well as ample rainfall.
A new two-part documentary, Ireland’s Historic Gardens, written and presented by the Irish Aesthete, begins on Irish television, RTÉ One, tomorrow evening (Sunday 26th September) and tells the story of these sites across the centuries, featuring interviews with many gardeners and garden historians who help to explain how extraordinarily blessed we are with the legacy bequeathed to us by our forebears. And even without any words, the filming of the gardens demonstrates their inherent magic. Do watch, and enjoy, if you can. The second part will be shown the following Sunday, October 3rd, and brings the story up to the present day.
Ireland’s Historic Gardens (Part One) can be seen on Sunday, September 26th on RTÉ One, 6.30-7.30pm. Part Two will be screened the following Sunday, October 3rd at the same time.
Tomorrow, Thursday 23rd September, sees the opening of an exhibition in Dublin curated by the Irish Aesthete. Stepping through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens features specially commissioned paintings by four artists on this theme, the quartet being Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse. All of them are lifelong gardeners and they bring horticultural understanding to the subject, as well as their inherent artistic skills. Garden historian Terence Reeves-Smith has estimated that there are some 8,000 walled gardens on the island of Ireland, in varying states of repair and use. Many have been lost altogether – one can see their crumbling walls in fields around the countryside – but others still serve their original purpose and some have been brought back to life in recent years. The exhibition includes examples of walled gardens in all conditions and sizes, and gives an understanding of how important these sites were – and are – for producing fruit and vegetables across many centuries. But the pictures also show how different artists can respond to the same theme and, in a few instances, to the same gardens, demonstrating how each of us approach a place with our own interpretation of its appearance.
Stepping through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens takes place at the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2 and opens to the public on Friday 24th September, running for two months.
For more information, please visit www.igs.ie
This week, rather to one’s own surprise, the Irish Aesthete celebrates a ninth birthday, the first, somewhat tentative, post having been made in late September 2012. Anybody who has embarked on such a venture, will testify to a want of certainty about how long it will last, and indeed many such enterprises fall by the wayside after a few months. When this site made its debut, blogs were highly popular whereas now they are less frequently encountered, not least because there are now many more alternative online options. Instagram, for example, had already existed for two years, but had yet to reach anything like the audience it now enjoys (incidentally, the Irish Aesthete can also be found on Instagram, see @theirishaesthete). But as a rule those alternatives are only good for quick soundbites, and do not allow for substantial communication or investigation. And that is why this site continues to appear thrice-weekly: because often something more than a picture and a couple of explanatory lines of text is required.
A year or so after the Irish Aesthete first appeared, regular enquiries were made about whether there might be enough material to sustain it for much longer. Well, it appears that there has been – and still is – more than enough. Even during the past 18 months when the country was intermittently in lockdown, enough could be found to ensure not a post was missed. Of course, maintaining a site such as this can sometimes be a chore, but the task has always been fascinating, not least because over nine years many places that might otherwise have remained unvisited have instead been explored, investigated, studied, sometimes celebrated, ofttimes mourned. And this period of time and the visits undertaken therein have always been enjoyed in the company – metaphorical if not literal – of the friends and followers who have been so good as to stay loyal to the Irish Aesthete. To all of you, many thanks and here’s to 2022 when we will be able to mark a tenth anniversary together. Meanwhile, stay safe everyone.
What’s left of Blackhall Castle, County Kildare. A typical late-medieval tower house of four storeys, it was built by the Eustace family who controlled much of this part of the country between the 13th and early 17th centuries. The building survived intact until February 1999 when, in the aftermath of a storm, the entire east front collapsed, bringing down much of the south and north walls. Today the exposed west wall provides an interesting spectacle, offering a display of how the different levels were arranged, from a vaulted chamber on the ground floor up to a well-lit living space with large fireplace at the very top of the building, access provided by a spiral staircase in the south-west corner. A sheila-na-gig once set higher into the castle has been moved into a wall space at eye level.
This week’s ruined church can be found at Skirk, County Laois on a high site with wonderful views across the surrounding countryside. There seems to be some uncertainty about when it was constructed, since some writers propose a mid-18th century date. However, the usually reliable Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) says it was built in 1831 thanks to a loan of £500 from the Board of First Fruits. The latter option makes more sense since to the immediate south are the remains of an older, late medieval church, a section of which seemingly collapsed in the 1830s so that now only the east gable and a portion of one wall survive: it appears that this was used as a mausoleum, the blocked entrance to which can still be seen.
Killeedy, County Limerick was originally called Cluain Chreadháil, meaning ‘the meadow with a good depth of soil.’ However, its name changed after this part of the country became associated with Saint Íte (otherwise Ita), said to have embodied the six virtues of Irish womanhood: wisdom, purity, beauty, musical ability, gentle speech and needle skills. Interesting to see the last of these judged a virtue. Although born in County Waterford, at the age of sixteen Íte is supposed to have been led by a series of heavenly lights to Cluain Chreadháil where she founded a convent and there spent the rest of her life As a result, the place came to be called Cill Íde (the Church of Ita), anglicised to Killeedy.
Thought to stand on the site of an older building dating from the 10th century, Glenquin Castle in Killeedy was built by the O’Hallinan family (their name deriving from the Irish Ó hAilgheanáin, meaning mild or noble). When the castle was built seems unclear; both the mid-15th and mid-16th centuries are proposed. Regardless, it is typical of tower houses being constructed at the time right around the country. Of limestone and rectangular in shape, it measures 10×15 metres and rises six storeys and some 20 metres high, to a crenellated roofline. Each floor is reached via a spiral staircase located to the left of the entrance doorcase (which has a murder hole directly above it). Two of the six storeys hold substantial barrel vaulted rooms, and some of the rooms have paired arched windows.
In typical behaviour of the time, the O’Hallinans appear to have been dispossessed of Glenquin Castle by the O’Briens, but then fell into the hands of the Geraldines during the course of the Desmond Rebellions before being confiscated by the English crown in 1571. Granted to Sir Walter Raleigh, who supposedly demolished part of the structure, the castle was then granted to Sir William Courtenay, who received large tracts of former Desmond land, amounting to some 85,000 acres in this part of the country. In the 1840s the castle was restored by Alfred Furlong, agent to the tenth Earl of Devon (a descendant of Sir William Courtenay). Further work on the site was undertaken in more recent times by the Office of Public Works, hence its surprisingly tidy present appearance.
An excellent example of good vernacular architecture in the village of Carbury, County Kildare. Dating from c.1800, it is a typical, five-bay, two-storey domestic dwelling, the modest door (that discreet fanlight tucked above) and windows representing a lack of pretension, as do the outbuildings immediately behind. But then, at some later date, perhaps not much later, a single bay extension was added to one side, taking the form of a semi-circle in order to follow the line of the road as it curves around. Utterly charming.
Long in ruins, this is Christ Church, otherwise Magourney parish church in Coachford, County Cork. In 1750 Charles Smith called it ‘new’ suggesting the building had likely been constructed in the first half of the 18th century. Thanks to funds provided by the ever-helpful Board of First Fruits, in 1818/19 it was extensively refurbished and the tower raised to its present level with blind lunettes and oculi; the little flanking pavilions, one of which held the vestry, the other a staircase, date from the same period. Just a few decades later, however, the parish embarked on building another new church, and this one was deconsecrated in the late 1850s.