A terrace of seven cottages, built for workers on the Ballymascanlan estate, County Louth. buildingsofireland.com proposes a date of c.1820 for these, at a time when the property was owned, but perhaps not occupied, by Sir Frederick Foster. The main house, originally a late 18th century classical block, was given an extensive overhaul by an unknown architect in the 1840s, transforming it into a Tudor-Gothic mansion, so it may be that the cottages – with their towering diagonal brick chimneys and mullioned windows – were constructed at the same time. The whole terrace now stands sadly empty and falling into dereliction, its location on the edge of a busy road not helping to make the location attractive for prospective occupants.
Recently offered for sale, this is Newcastle, County Westmeath, an early 19th century gentleman’s residence that, from the front looks like a relatively modest house, essentially just a couple of rooms on the ground floor and basement. Step around to the rear of the building, however, and one realises how deceptive this initial impression can be. In fact, Newcastle is a lot more substantial than first seemed to be the case, with the projecting staircase bow an especially charming feature.
Eighteen years ago, Lissan, County Tyrone featured in a BBC television series called Restoration, in which historic properties were pitted against each other, with one of them receiving a large grant towards ensuring its survival: think of it as a kind of genteel gladiatorial fight. Alas, Lissan was not the winner, but the publicity generated by the house’s appearance helped bring the building – and its somewhat perilous condition – to attention. Until the death of its last occupant, Hazel Radclyffe Dolling, in 2006, the property had been owned by the same family for almost 400 years. Her forebear, Thomas Staples, had moved from outside Bristol to this country in the early part of the 17th century and in 1622 married an heiress called Charity Jones, and six years later he was created a baronet, this hereditary title being inherited by successive generations until the death of the 17th baronet in 2013 when it became extinct. Along the way, there were some eccentric holders, the best-known being Sir Robert Ponsonby Staples who in the late 19th and early 20th century gained a reputation as a fine painter, first exhibiting in the Royal Academy in 1875. As a young man, he was part of the Marlborough House set that gathered around the future Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, but was also associated with London’s influential Grosvenor Gallery, established by a cousin, Sir Coutts Lindsay. Among Sir Robert’s more idiosyncratic traits was his disinclination to wear shoes, believing that these blocked out natural electricity from the earth that was essential for good health. As a result, he became known as the barefoot baronet.
Presumably with the help of his heiress wife’s money, Thomas Staples was able to build the core of what is today’s house at Lissan, although there was already an even older building on the site and much of what we see now dates from later in the century, thanks to the fourth baronet. During the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, Lisan was taken by the O’Quinns, with Lady Staples and her children being held captive first at Moneymore Castle and then at Castlecaulfield where they were kept for two years before being released. The second and third baronets died without children, so eventually it was Sir Thomas’s youngest son Robert who inherited Lissan and became fourth baronet: as though to make up for his elder siblings’ lack of offspring, he and his wife, Mary Vesey, another heiress, had ten children. As mentioned, he was responsible for further embellishing the property so that in 1703 Thomas Ashe could describe it as an ‘extraordinary good stone house; the rooms are very noble, lofty and large.’ At some point in the 18th century the architect Davis Ducart may have been involved in reworking the building (a bridge in the grounds is attributed to him) but subsequent generations of the family left a more decisive mark on the place, not least Sir Nathaniel Staples, tenth baronet who in the 1880s added a rather distended porte-cochère to the entrance front (its outermost section contained a small waiting room for coachmen) and also the bulbous clock tower onto the western side of the house. Seemingly the clock, dating from 1820 and previously gracing the market house in Magherafelt, had been destined for a church until it was instead bought by Sir Nathaniel and installed at Lissan. In 1865 Sir Nathaniel had inherited the house and land from his uncle the ninth baronet, but not the rest of the family property (including the largest house in Dublin’s Merrion Square, now home to the Irish Architectural Archive), thereby leaving the family in somewhat straitened circumstances. Problems grew worse following the tenth baronet’s death in 1899, his heir, Sir John Staples being pronounced insane and spending his life in a number of asylums. Responsibility for the estate passed to the second son, James Head Staples who, to make ends meet, took in boarders while his wife taught cookery and lace-making to women in the area. Responsibility in turn passed to the next brother, the aforementioned barefoot baronet who likewise struggled to keep the place going.
The entrance hall in Lissan, County Tyrone is dominated by a vast oak staircase ascending the full height of the building. Dating from the 1880s, this is one of the alterations made to the house by Sir Nathaniel Staples, who, having ejected his wife, was living there with a mistress, Mary Potter, daughter of his land agent. Forced to act after rooms directly above the original entrance hall had collapsed, Sir Nathaniel recycled some of the previous staircase’s timber, notably for the balustrades, wood for the rest coming from the estate’s grounds. Once described as having the character ‘of a vast adventure playground’, the result is distinctly odd. Presumably designed by Sir Nathaniel (would any architect wish to claim credit for it?) the staircase takes no account of the space in which it sits, cutting across windows, jutting out in a variety of directions, and sometimes leading to dead ends. It certainly leaves an indelible impression on visitors.
At some date after 1820 Sir Thomas Staples, ninth baronet, added a single storey ballroom to the east side of Lissan, County Tyrone, its full-length windows offering views to the gardens below; a conservatory, since gone, was erected to the immediate front of the room. A successful lawyer married to an heiress, Sir Thomas could afford to spend money on this extension, which was provided with a sprung floor and an early form of central heating. The walls were covered with Chinese paper which may originally have been purchased for Kilkenny Castle by Sir Thomas’s sister Grace who was married to the Marquess of Ormonde. Only portions of the paper survive, and as can be seen, these have been ‘improved’ with additions by later owners. Having fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair, the house was rescued by a charitable organisation, the Friends of Lissan House Trust, which has already undertaken trojan work ensuring the restoration and survival of this important property. Although much remains to be done, since 2012 the house has been open to the public and acts as a venue for a wide variety of events.
Located in the nave of one of the Irish Aesthete’s favourite buildings, St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, this early Christian carving of a man holding a book was discovered in the 19th century when the old well near Lismore Castle was being cleared. The figure likely formed some part of a support for the monastery that once stood on that site. St Carthage’s needs funds at present to improve the lighting, heating and sound and so, determined to ensure the cathedral has a viable future, not just as a place of worship but also a venue for other events, a number of locals have come together with a clever initiative. Verso Arts is an online auction which will be held two weeks’ hence on Saturday November 6th and feature more than 800 postcard-sized works by artists, some well-known (who would have guessed Joanna Lumley was such a dab hand with the paintbrush), others less familiar. All are being offered for the same price of €50 and all are listed anonymously, on a first-bid, first-secure basis. (They are all on exhibition at present in Lismore Castle Art Gallery). Absolutely all proceeds from the auction will go to St Carthage’s Cathedral, thereby helping to guarantee the old man above will still be visible for many years to come, as well as the wonderful McGrath Tomb below, dating from 1543 and without doubt one of the finest surviving examples of 16th century carving in Ireland.
All works included in the Verso Art auction are currently on view in Lismore Castle Arts Gallery, County Waterford until October 31st. For more information on the auction and how to bid, please see: Verso Art – VersoArt
Now in the middle of a busy farmyard but presumably once standing on its own, this is Clara Castle, a five-storey late 15th/early 16th century tower house in County Kilkenny. It was originally constructed for the Shortall family but in the second half of the 17th century passed into the possession of the Byrnes, successive generations occupying the building until 1905. Alas, the building does not seem to be open to visitors at present, as seemingly it has well-preserved interiors on the upper floors, including original oak beams and floorboards, no doubt due to the fact that it remained a residence into the last century.
‘Ballymote Castle – Just near the town of that name is 150 feet square, sixty high, and flanked and quoined by towers six feet broad in the wall, with a strong rampart and parapet all around. The front is very regular, and the whole of this ruin equally handsome and strong.
It was built in the year 1300 by Richard de Bourg, second Earl of Ulster. This castle, and that of Sligo, being in the hands of the Irish, made a considerable stand against the reduction of that part of the country. But Ireton, having joined with Sir Charles Coote, retook them in 1652.’
From Statistical Survey of the County of Sligo by James M’Parlan, 1802.
As M’Parlan noted more than 200 years ago, Ballymote Castle, County Sligo was originally built in 1300 by Richard de Burgh, second Earl of Ulster, often called the Red Earl, a great-grandson of the Anglo-Norman knight, William de Burgh who had arrived in Ireland in 1185 and before his death had already taken the title ‘Lord of Connacht.’ Like his forebear, the second earl was ambitious and combative, and often in opposition to his fellow Norman lords, not least John FitzThomas, first Earl of Kildare. However, his pugnaciousness failed him in 1315 following the invasion of Ulster by Edward Bruce. The latter’s brother, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, was married to de Burgh’s daughter Elizabeth (the couple’s son would become David II of Scotland) but that did not stop him attacking the earl and defeating him in battle in County Antrim (Edward Bruce would in turn be defeated and killed three years later at the Battle of Faughart).
It was during the upheaval that followed his defeat by Bruce’s army that the earl lost his recently-built castle in Ballymote, which was then seized by the O’Connor clan. Thereafter no one was able to hold onto it for very long. Just twenty years later the O’Connors lost the castle to the MacDermots who would, in turn lose it to the MacDonaghs in 1381. For the next two centuries, ownership of the castle passed back and forth between these local families. Finally in 1577 it fell to the English. However, Richard Bingham, appointed Governor of Connacht, sacked the place in 1584, and a few years later it was attacked and burnt by an alliance of local families, the O’Connors, O’Hartes and O’Dowds. Next the MacDonaghs regained control of the site, but soon after sold it to the O’Donnells, supposedly for £400 and 300 cattle. Following the defeat of Red Hugh O’Donnell at the Battle of Kinsale (1601), the castle once again passed into English hands. In 1610 it was granted by the crown to Sir William Taaffe whose son John was created Baron of Ballymote in 1628. But during the Confederate Wars it was once more subject to attack and in 1652 was taken by General Ireton. Finally, in the Williamite Wars, the castle was once again taken by the MacDonaghs before being surrendered to Arthur Forbes, Viscount Granard in 1690. Given such a history, it is remarkable that much of the building still stood, but at that point Ballymote Castle was finally abandoned, its moat filled in and the place left to become the ruin that can be seen today.
Tucked away in a corner of the grounds of Kinnitty Castle, County Offaly is this sandstone High Cross, thought originally to have stood not far away on the site of a monastery at Drumcullen. An inscription on the south face of the base records that it was commissioned by Máel Sechnaill, High King of Ireland (846-62) while on the other side the cross is noted as being the work of ‘Colman’. The monument now rises seven feet 10 inches but was originally almost three feet taller, the cross-head being damaged. The north face offers, among other scenes, Eve tempting Adam, the south shows the Crucifixion.
Kinnitty Castle, County Offaly was originally known as Castle Bernard, its name reflecting that of the man responsible for commissioning much of what is seen today, Thomas Bernard, although an earlier house is incorporated to the rear of the building. All cased in crisp limestone, it was designed in the early 1830s by architect siblings James and George Pain, and reflects the period’s fondness for the Tudor-Revival style, although an octagonal tower on the south-west corner harks back to an earlier era. Kinnitty Castle was burnt out in 1922 and subsequently rebuilt, before becoming an agricultural college in the 1950s. A quarter of a century ago it was converted into an hotel, and remains so to the present. Inside the main gates is a pretty Tudoresque lodge (with the most charming ogee-headed doorcase) which is thought to be older than the main house, perhaps dating to the opening years of the 19th century and designed by Samuel Beazley. Alas, despite providing a first impression for guests to the hotel, it stands empty and has been allowed to fall into the present sad condition.
When writing about Ireland’s ruined country houses, the reason given for their destruction can sometimes be official indifference but rarely official action. However, the fate of Drum Manor, County Tyrone demonstrates that sometimes the latter happens. The origins of the property lie with Alexander Richardson, member of a family of Edinburgh burgesses who in 1617 bought the land on which it stands and constructed a house called Manor Richardson. His descendants remained there for the next two centuries and then in 1829 Drum Manor underwent a complete transformation.
In 1829 Major William Stewart Richardson-Brady remodelled Drum Manor to the designs of an unknown architect, and given the new name of Oaklands. The house became a two-storey, three-bay villa dressed up with Tudor-Revival dressings, such as crenellations along the roofline, along with buttresses on the facade, a gabled single-storey entrance porch flanked by projecting bays with mullioned windows. The major’s only child, Augusta Le Vicomte, first married another Major, Hugh Massy, but following his death less than two years later, she married Henry James Stuart-Richardson, future fifth Earl Castle Stewart of Stuart Castle, elsewhere in County Tyrone (also since lost).
In 1869 Augusta and Henry James Stuart-Richardson aggrandised Oaklands, which now became Drum Manor, at the cost of some £10,000. The architect in this instance was William Hastings of Belfast, most of whose commissions were in neighbouring County Antrim. He was responsible for giving the house its most dominant features, not least a four-storey square tower with castellated and machiolated parapet. Inside, the building’s principal reception rooms radiated off a double-height central hall with a gallery running around the first floor. Elaborate works were also undertaken in the surrounding demesne, much of which survives in better condition than the main building. This survived until 1964 when the estate was acquired by the Northern Ireland Forestry Service; just over a decade later, that organisation demolished much of Drum Manor, seemingly in order to avoid incurring further rates liability. Today, just the shell survives.
Across the road from the old tower house in Ardmayle, County Tipperary stands this handsome church dedicated to St John the Baptist, reputedly standing in a place of worship since the 12th century. In its present form, only the tower at the west end is part of the original building, although a window inserted into this looks late-medieval. According to Lewis, writing in 1837, the rest of the building was reconstructed 22 years earlier, thanks to a gift of £800 and a loan of a further £150 by the Board of First Fruits. Until 1987, St John’s was used for Church of Ireland services but was subsequently restored by the local heritage society and is now used for a variety of purposes.