Another abandoned Church of Ireland church, this one in Dungarvan, County Kilkenny. It dates from 1812 when constructed with help from the Board of First Fruits. As earlier gravestones around the building attest, his was not the first such place of worship on the site. A drawing made in 1799 by amateur artist Austin Cooper, after an original by landscape painter James George Oben, shows the church’s predecessor: what would appear to be a late-medieval structure with a bellcote on the west end and a door on the north wall. The main body of the building was roofless but the east end featured a four-storey tower with crenellations, which presumably provided accommodation for the cleric who conducted services. Today the church which replaced it is in no better condition.
Commissioned by Arthur and Sarah Cooper, this is Coopershill, County Sligo. Its design traditionally attributed to amateur architect Francis Bindon, the house is a square block of cut limestone, three storeys over basement and with a particularly handsome Gibbsian doorcase with Venetian window above. Replacing an older property on lower ground and closer to the river Unshin, work on Coopershill began in 1755 and continued for almost 20 years, since it was not completed until 1774. Reputedly Arthur Cooper placed two buckets filled with gold sovereigns on the ground, and this was to be the cost of the property; in the event, more money had to be raised before the work was concluded (Irish landowners of the period almost invariably underestimated the expenditure on a new house).
The interiors of Coopershill indicate rooms were decorated at different periods, probably as further funds became available. There is little plasterwork anywhere, except for a fine frieze in the entrance hall and on the ceiling of the staircase hall to the rear of the building. The latter has delicate Adamesque tendrils scrolling between slim urns, which are also a feature of the deep frieze running below the cornice. As so often in Irish country houses, the first floor bedroom passage is generously wide: it has been proposed that this was to allow women somewhere to walk up and down on the (frequent) days when it was too wet to take exercise outdoors. Whether this is true or not, the wide bedroom landing is a frequent feature of 18th century houses in Ireland.
Coopershill, County Sligo has remained in the ownership of the same family since first being built in the third quarter of the 18th century; it is now occupied by members of the seventh generation. However, in 1860 Charles William Cooper changed his surname to O’Hara in order to inherit Annaghmore, another estate elsewhere in the same county (see High Victoriana « The Irish Aesthete). For the past half century or so, the O’Haras have been offering accommodation at Coopershill to paying guests.
Another splendid stableyard, this one directly behind the main house at Ballindoolin, County Kildare. Dating from c.1810 when constructed for the Bors, a family of Dutch extraction, the land to the rear rises up, meaning the yard must be approached via a flight of granite steps. Directly ahead is the yard bell sitting atop a pediment, with three arched openings below. That to the left leads to the second yard, for agricultural use, that in the middle is a coach house and that to the right, created to achieve symmetry, reveals a modest entrance behind the double doors. Limestone ashlar is used for window, door and arch openings while the rest of the yard buildings are of limestone rubble visible through the flaking render.
As was mentioned last Monday (see A Rich Man’s Extravagance « The Irish Aesthete), Margaret Henry, wife of the man who had commissioned Kylemore Castle, County Galway, died in 1874 while the family was travelling in Egypt. Her body was brought back to Ireland and three years after her death, work began on a commemorative church in the grounds of the estate. The architect responsible was James Franklin Fuller, who chose to design a 14th century English cathedral in miniature, the exterior of dressed rubble limestone relieved with crisp limestone ashlar for the fenestration and porch as well as such details as the angels which conceal dripstones at the base of the steeply pitched roof.
Inside the building, the three-bay nave rises to an elaborate vaulted ceiling supported by piers featuring differently-coloured Irish marbles. At the west end of the chancel, below a hexafoil rose window over two triple lights, the space is occupied by a sandstone sedilia, delicately carved with flowers and foliage. Finished in 1881, and restored in the 1990s, the Kylemore chapel is unquestionably one of Fuller’s finest works and well worth a visit.
Born in County Down in 1766, at the age of 17 Alexander Henry emigrated to America where he established himself as a merchant in Philadelphia. Some years later, his nephew, also called Alexander Henry in turn moved to Philadelphia where he joined his uncle’s business, but then came back across the Atlantic to settle in England in 1804. The following year, in partnership with his elder brother Samuel, he set up a company in Manchester, A & S Henry & Co Ltd, that specialised in the marketing and distribution of cotton. The business was enormously successful, opening branch offices in Bradford, Belfast, Leeds, Huddersfield and Glasgow to act as collecting stations for textile products of all kinds; in consequence, the founding family soon became very wealthy, allowing its members to buy country houses and become Members of Parliament, as Alexander Henry duly did, representing South Lancashire.
Mitchell Henry was born in 1826, second son of Alexander Henry, who some years earlier had married Elizabeth Brush, like him a native of County Down. Mitchell Henry trained to be a doctor, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and senior consultant at the Middlesex Hospital, London by the age of 30. However, following his father’s death in 1858, he ceased practising medicine, instead seeking election as an MP. Before then, he had married Margaret Vaughan whose family, once again, came from County Down; the couple would have nine children. Prior to that, and during their honeymoon, they travelled to the west of Ireland and were much taken with the scenery of Connemara. In consequence, after coming into his considerable inheritance, and following the Great Famine when large swathes of the country were offered for sale, Henry was able to buy Kylemore Lodge and some 13,000 acres of land in the west of Ireland from the impoverished Blake family. Here, from 1864 onwards, he embarked on building a new residence. At that date, this part of the country was exceptionally remote. The architect, and keen self-publicist, James Franklin Fuller, who designed the church at Kylemore (built in memory of Margaret Henry, following her unexpected death in 1874), remembered that to get there ‘was no easy matter. The train landed me at Westport the first day, the next meant posting to Leenane, the third was devoted to castle and church, while the fourth dropped me at Westport in time for the night mail; practically it “spoiled” a week.’ Constructing a large castle was something of an act of folly, since it involved considerable amounts of earthworks to clear the chosen site, as well as moving a road to the opposite side of Lake Pollacappul. As if that didn’t involve sufficient expense, instead of using local stone, the client insisted the building be cased in granite from Dalkey, County Dublin, sent by ship from one side of the country to the other. The main architect to work on this job was Galway-based Samuel Ussher Roberts, a great-grandson of the 18th century Waterford architect John Roberts. His design consists, as Mark Bence-Jones noted, of ‘romantic groupings of battlemented and machiolated towers and turrets’, the facade broken up by large and regular groupings of mullioned windows and oriels.’ The castle benefits enormously from its setting, with the mountains rising immediately to the rear and the lake, in which it is often seen reflected, directly in front. The interiors, beginning with the dark-panelled entrance hall, are harder to judge not least because they have been altered by subsequent owners and in addition were damaged by a fire in 1959. Their appearance, however, lacks the Gothic character of the exterior, and instead displays standard mid-Victorian style. The main reception rooms are large and high-ceilinged, with a variety of marbles employed for the chimney pieces, the finest of these being in the drawing room. The staircase hall leads to a first-floor gallery around which were grouped the main bedrooms. There is little here to set the space apart from any other country house of the period. In addition to the main castle, Mitchell Henry was responsible for commissioning the development of an eight-acre walled garden to supply him with all necessary fruit and vegetables: this has been restored in recent years.
Kylemore Castle was not Mitchell Henry’s only residence: he also owned a large property in London, Stratheden House. Originally designed in the early 1770s by Sir William Chambers, it was bought by Henry in 1863 and transformed into a vast Italianate villa by architect T. H. Wyatt before being filled with the owner’s objects d’art which included an antique bust of Agrippa and The Pompeian Mother, a statue by Giosuè Meli’s depicting a woman and child fleeing from the eruption of Vesuvius: this was displayed in its own Pompeian-style temple within the house. Much of the furniture was modern Italian replicas of originals in the Vatican and the Pitti Palace and among the most remarkable rooms was a library with ebonized woodwork and gold mouldings, green silkhung walls, and an ornate ceiling and frieze in Venetian cinquecento style, embellished with portraits of philosophers and poets. Alas, the extravagance of building and maintaining two such enormous and expensive houses, as well as draining bogland and improving conditions in Connemara, proved to be Henry’s undoing. From being very rich, he became rather poor; at the time of his death in 1910, he had only a few hundred pounds. Ten years earlier, Strathedan House and its contents were sold, and the building soon after pulled down, replaced by a block of apartments. Then in 1903 Kylemore Castle was also sold, to William Montagu, ninth Duke of Manchester and his wife, the American heiress Helena Zimmerman. The duke was a notorious spendthrift, as he proceeded to demonstrate in County Galway where he transformed much of the interior of his new property, taking out large quantities of stained glass from the main staircase window and much Connemara marble from a number of the rooms. Despite the considerable wealth of his wife’s family, he managed to run up an impressive number of debts: by 1918, 66 petitions of bankruptcy had been filed against him in the English courts. Two years later, Kylemore Castle was sold once more, this time to Benedictine nuns from Ypres, Belgian. Now called Kylemore Abbey, the order remains there to the present day. After running a girls’ boarding school on the site for many years, they have now turned it into one of the most successful tourist attractions in this part of Ireland.
Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens, an exhibition curated by the Irish Aesthete and featuring more than fifty specially-commissioned paintings by artists Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse has now opened at Kylemore Abbey where it can be seen until the end of April.
The 18th century English polymath Thomas Wright has featured here before because of his rightly-renowned work at Tollymore, County Down (Do the Wright Thing « The Irish Aesthete ), but it is apparent that while in Ireland during the year 1746-47, he also designed a number of other garden buildings elsewhere in the country. One of these is a rustic archway at Belvedere, County Westmeath, which would have been constructed around the same time as the villa here and so commissioned by Robert Rochfort, then Baron Belfield and future first Earl of Belvedere. This extraordinary structure is almost Mannerist in style and, as has been pointed out, would not look out of place in the 16th century Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo: the openings on the facade suggest a giant’s startled face. The arch stands at the end of a long drive from the house and although sometimes thought to have been an entrance lodge, this seems unlikely since its rear – which visitors would have encountered first had it served as a point of arrival to the estate – is unornamented. Clearly therefore the building was meant to close a vista and, since it once held several floors, to offer views back to the main residence and across Lough Ennell: note the wonderful rusticated oriel window on an upper level.
Today known as Mount St Anne’s, this handsome villa was originally called Mount Henry, presumably after Henry Smyth who in the first decade of the 19th century commissioned the building’s design from Sir Richard Morrison: the central recessed entrance with pedimented Ionic portico between bowed bays can also be seen, albeit on a larger scale, on the facade of Lyons, County Kildare, for which Morrison was also responsible. It is unclear whether the now-exposed stone walls were once stuccoed. A wing containing a billiard room was added in 1868 by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon but otherwise few changes were made to the house even after it was acquired by the Presentation order of nuns in the 1930s but some thirty years later, when the Roman Catholic church was going through an expansionist phase, an oratory and other ancillary buildings, none of them of particular architectural merit (or displaying much sympathy with Morrison’s work) were constructed to the rear of the villa. Today Mount St Anne’s is used as a retreat and conference centre.
Regular readers will be aware that over the past couple of years, the Irish Aesthete has devoted much time and attention to the subject of the Irish country house garden and its evolution since the early 17th century. This study has taken a number of forms, including an exhibition of paintings of walled gardens (which show, incidentally, can at present be seen in Kylemore Abbey, County Galway, which has its own restored walled garden), a two-part television documentary, and a conference on the subject. The last of these, held last autumn, has now spawned a book, Digging New Ground: The Irish Country House Garden 1650-1900. Co-edited by Professor Finola O’Kane, the publication contains essays from a wide variety of knowledgeable experts in this field of study, all of whom offer fresh insights into their chosen topic.
Country house gardens, like country houses themselves, only really begin to appear in Ireland from c.1600 onwards; prior to that date, the only cultivated areas resembling gardens as we know them would have been attached to religious houses, monasteries and convents. In her contribution, Vandra Costello looks at these early domestic gardens and what form they took, much influenced by ideas from Italy, France and Holland, while Terence Reeves-Smyth explores the evolution of the walled garden, once an essential feature of any country house of substance. But while early gardens almost celebrated their artifice, from the mid-18th century onwards, the natural and the romantic – sometimes in conflict, sometimes in harmony – came to dominate horticultural theory and practice alike, influenced by such notable English practitioners as Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. However, during this period Ireland produced her own distinguished garden designers, not least John Sutherland whose highly successful career is examined by Patrick Bowe. Thomas Pakenham looks at the creation of arboretums in this country, and Seamus O’Brien explores the explorers: those intrepid botanical hunters forever in search of new plant species to bring back to Ireland. There are essays on garden buildings by Ruth Musielak, on the effect of technological advances in the production of glass and iron by Laura Johnstone, on evaluations of and improvements in gardening during the 19th century by Finola O’Kane, and an assessment of the Irish country house garden in the 21st century by Catherine FitzGerald. Plus, the Irish Aesthete tells the story of John Hennessy Saul, born into a family of gardeners, who emigrated to the United States where he established a thriving horticultural business, involved in the design and creation of gardeners throughout that country.
John Hennessy Saul was born in December 1819 at Carey’s Wood, a dower house on the Castlemartyr estate owned by the Boyles, Earls of Shannon: appropriately enough, the place, now called Carewswood, is a garden centre. Both Saul’s grandfather and father were gardeners, so it was almost inevitable that this would also be his choice of profession, as was also the case for several of his brothers. After working first in Ireland and then in England for some years, in 1851 he emigrated to the United States where he was almost immediately employed by the country’s most influential landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, with whom he then worked on the layout of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Following Downing’s untimely death in July 1852, Saul established his own business in the city, and within a few years was running an 80-acre nursery supplying plants to customers from the Atlantic to the Pacific, not least Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City, along with many other public and private commissions. Saul’s catalogues often offered opportunities to buy varieties of plants that he had cultivated: charmingly, he tended to call these after his wife. He also wrote regular specialist articles for all the leading horticultural publications of the time, won prizes in all the major competitions then being held and served on a number of important horticultural boards and committees. When the District of Columbia’s Board of Works established a Parks Commission in Washington in 1871, Saul was one of its founding board members and produced plans to increase the number of trees throughout the city: he was serving as the commission’s chairman at the time of his death, aged 77, in May 1897. John Hennessy Saul was clearly a remarkable man, and an outstanding horticulturist who learnt his skills while young and working in an Irish country house garden. Across the centuries, emigration has sent millions of Irish men and women around the world, and it seems probable that at least some of them worked in the same field as Saul, and perhaps enjoyed similar success. Their stories wait to be rediscovered and told, thereby enriching Ireland’s own gardening history.
The main farmyard at Ballinkeele, County Wexford. The classical house here, notable for its massive porte cochère, was designed by Daniel Robertson in 1840 for John Maher; originally from County Tipperary, he had bought the estate 15 years earlier from the previous owner. There had already been a house on the site, and therefore one assumes that this yard also dates from the previous period in Ballinkeele’s history. It is a particularly fine example of country house agricultural architecture, a well-considered melange of stone and brick, with cut granite used for key features such as the entrance arch and window lintels, the whole forming a courtyard around the central well.
After last Wednesday’s entry about the mausoleum at Fore, County Westmeath (To the Fore « The Irish Aesthete), here is the burial site of another branch of the same family. Located in Killare, this one holds the remains of the Nugents of Ballinacor, a property they acquired in the first half of the 17th century. Although confiscated by the Cromwellian government, Ballinacor was subsequently returned to Edmond Nugent after he had been declared ‘An innocent Papist.’ Indeed, successive generations remained loyal to their Roman Catholic faith, one of them, John Nugent, fighting for the French army and being awarded the Cross of St Louis for his bravery at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745, when the British and Dutch forces under the Duke of Cumberland were defeated. Nugents remained at Ballinacor, an 18th century house, until the aftermath of the Great Famine when it was sold in the Encumbered Estates Court in 1852. Ballinacor was demolished as recently as 1995, meaning this mausoleum provides the only surviving evidence of the Nugent family’s long presence in the area.