A relic of Ireland’s industrial past, this is the Suir Mills, standing on the eastern side of the river just outside the town of Cahir, County Tipperary. Dating from the last years of the 18th century, like many other such premises, it was developed by members of the Society of Friends: excluded by law from many other activities, Quakers soon established themselves as millers in Ireland. This particular property is both substantial and compact and, as always, with such buildings, very sturdily constructed. Unfortunately, despite its sturdiness, many years of neglect in our post-industrial age have taken their toll on the mill, not least its roof, so that the whatever about the past, its future looks questionable.
The surviving walls of a church at Derrygonnelly, County Fermanagh. It dates from 1627 when built by Sir John Dunbar, originally from Scotland who had settled in this part of Ireland in the early years of the 17th century; his arms, along with those of his wife Katherine Graham, can be seen on the north side of the building above the doorway. The latter, regularly studded with diamond-cut voussoirs, indicates Renaissance influences, while the tripartite east window with its diminutive ogee arches, is a throw-back to the Gothic period.
‘Clifden is situated at the head of one of the most picturesque of the many bays of Connemara. It is about four miles from the ocean, but vessels of large tonnage can be brought up within a short distance of the town. The town is protected from the westerly gales by a range of lofty hills. It has been laid out in broad streets, and with some degree of regularity. It is favourably situated for drainage, and has from its situations various other local advantages.
It is mainly to the late John D’Arcy, Esq., of Clifden Castle, that Clifden is indebted for its existence. By granting liberal leases, frequently upon lives renewable forever on payment of small fines, that gentleman induced individuals to lay out their money in buildings of a decent class to such an extent as to form a town. The place now contains nearly 250 dwelling-houses, among which are several tolerable shops. There are also two inns, a large catholic chapel, a protestant church, a dispensary, a corn-store and several flour-mills. Antecedent to the famine, there was a growing export grain trade from this place; and as much as a thousand tons of oats have been shipped here in one year. From the mode in which Clifden was originally let, the amount of rental to its proprietor in no degree represents the value of the town. It produces, under existing leases, little more than £200 per annum. This, however, may be regarded in the light of a ground rent, and the whole of it under every state of circumstances is necessarily well secured.’
‘The D’Arcys of Clifden, who have been referred to as the proprietors of this town, are one of the most ancient and honourable families in Ireland. As their name indicates, they are of Norman extraction. There are said to be more peerages in abeyance in this family, than in any other in the empire. They boast of two baronies in abeyance, of a third forfeited, of three others extinct, and of an earldom, that of Holdernesse, which also expired by want of direct descendants. The first D’Arcy who settled in Ireland, came to the country in 1330. James D’Arcy was Vice-President in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and his son was one of the most distinguished members of the Catholic Convention in Ireland, in 1641. The original lands of the D’Arcys were lost by forfeiture; this, their latest wild possession, was obtained, it is stated, by a female of the family, as a reward of an act of generous heroism in protecting the lives of some English soldiers.’
‘The Clifden estate comprises, in addition to the town, the mansion and demesne of Clifden Castle, numerous islands in the bays and on the coast, and a large extent of territory on the peninsula, on which a reference to the map will show the reader that the town of Clifden stands. Clifden Castle itself is about two miles westward from the town. It stands at the head of a little bay of its own, protected by a semicircle of hills from the winds and storms which sometimes devastate the coast. There are plantations of twenty or thirty years’ growth about the house, which also minister to its protection. The edifice itself is a castellated villa. There is nothing about it which is at all magnificent; but its appearance from all points affords an idea of good taste, and even of refinement. The views from Clifden Castle extend to the ocean, over an expanse of bay, studded with rocky islands, and protected both upon the north and south by a long projecting range of headland. The aspect is wild and varied, and to the lover of marine scenery most striking. The shores are bold and rocky, though not generally lofty. Happy would it be were they more generally visited!’
Text from The Encumbered Estates of Ireland by W.T.H., 1850.
Dating from 1815, as mentioned above, Clifden Castle was built by John D’Arcy who a few years earlier had founded the nearby town of the same name: the architect responsible is unknown. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, his son was obliged to sell house and estate, its new owners – the Eyre family from Bath – buying both for £21, 245. They remained in possession of the place until 1917 when it was controversially sold to a local butcher. A few years later the castle and adjacent land was acquired by a cooperative and in the mid-1930s the building was stripped of all saleable materials and left the ruin still seen today.
As many readers will be aware, a splendid book was recently published on one of Ireland’s finest country houses, Townley Hall, County Louth (see Of the Highest Standard « The Irish Aesthete). The building and immediate surroundings have been meticulously maintained by its current custodians but the same cannot be said for the organisation responsible for the wider grounds, including the entrance. Both the gates and the lodge here were, like the house itself, designed by Francis Johnston and ought therefore to be kept in good condition. The photographs above show their state in January, and those below in April: already in poor shape, over those intervening months the gate posts have become even more dilapidated and unless there is due intervention, their future has to be in doubt. The owner in this instance is a state body, Coillte which has an almost unrivalled reputation for neglecting historic buildings supposed to be in its care – cf. Donadea Castle, County Kildare (Another Blot on the Landscape « The Irish Aesthete), Rockingham, County Roscommon (Differing Fates I « The Irish Aesthete) and many other sites. If Coillte cannot look after such properties – and clearly it can’t – then the organisation should hand over responsibility for their maintenance to another body which will show more concern for the protection of our national heritage. It’s worth pointing out that the relevant local authority, Louth County Council, ought by now to have intervened and instructed Coillte to restore these gateposts: in their present state, they provide a very shoddy welcome to Townley Hall and its woodlands.
The remains of the cloister garth at Ballintubber Abbey, County Mayo. This house was founded in 1216 by Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair (Cathal O’Conor) King of Connaught, and given to the Canons Regular of St Augustine. The church was almost destroyed by fire half a century later, but rebuilt and, along with the ancillary buildings, survived until the 17th century when badly damaged by Cromwellian forces. The church and some other structures on the site have been restored over the past 50 years, but the cloister, in its present form dating from the 15th century, remains as shown here.
The Coote family has been mentioned here on several occasions. The first of them to settle in Ireland was Charles Coote, an ambitious soldier who arrived here around 1600 and gradually acquired estates, predominantly in the midlands, before being killed at Trim, County Meath in June 1642 during the Confederate Wars. One of his sons, Chidley Coote, born in 1608, participated in the same wars, rising to the rank of colonel. Unlike his father, he survived those turbulent times and in 1666 was granted some 3,000 acres near Kilmallock, County Limerick by Charles II. There he occupied a property called Castle Coote, which was eventually demolished in the mid-18th century, presumably around the time a new house – called Ash Hill – was built. His heir, another Chidley Coote, rather than the army, chose to become a Church of Ireland clergyman instead, although one of his sons, General Sir Eyre Coote served as a soldier in India for many years. The same was true of one of his nephews, another General Sir Eyre Coote, although the latter’s career ended in disgrace in 1816 after it was discovered that the previous November, he had visited Christ’s Hospital school in Sussex and offered some boys there money if they allowed him to flog them. He then asked them to flog him in turn before providing payment. When this was discovered, General Coote was charged with indecent conduct, although acquitted after making a donation of £1,000 to the school. However, a subsequent investigation by a number of his fellow generals, concluded that Coote was eccentric rather than mad. Nevertheless, his behaviour was deemed unworthy of an officer and a gentleman, and in consequence, he was removed from his regiment and dismissed from the army. Coote’s eccentricity, it was claimed, arose from the effects of the climate on his brain while he served as Governor of Jamaica between 1805 and 1808. Incidentally, it has been claimed that while living on the island, he had an affair with a slave, and that the direct descendant of that relationship was another distinguished soldier and politician, the late General Colin Powell.
To return to the Cootes of Kilmallock, the last of them to live on the Kilmallock estate was yet another Chidley Coote. Curiously, following his death in 1799, the property passed not to one of his sons (he had four by his second marriage) but instead to a cousin, Eyre Evans, whose great-aunt Jane Evans had been Coote’s grandmother: the Evans family was based at Miltown Castle, County Cork. In the early 1830s, Eyre Evans was responsible for transforming the garden front of the house at Ash Hill, of which more below. However, in 1858, in the aftermath of the Great Famine when much land changed hands, part of the estate was sold to one Thomas Weldon. More of the estate was sold by the Evans family in 1880 to Thomas Weldon’s son, John Henry. Following the latter’s death in 1907, the house came to be occupied by his wife’s nephew, Captain Paul Lindsay: in 1946 he sold it to the present owner’s family.
As seen today, Ash Hill reflects the tastes of its different owners, beginning with the Coote family. Seen through imposing limestone gate posts, the entrance front looks onto a wide forecourt, flanked by long, two-storey stable blocks that date from around the second quarter of the 18th century, making them earlier than the main house, believed to date from 1781. Its eleven-bay facade is centred on a single-bay pediment holding a doorcase with wide fanlight and sidelights below a Venetian window. Further along the building are two further doorcases with fanlight and sidelights, although one of these has since been turned into a window. As already mentioned, some 50 years later, further alterations and additions were made to the garden front of the building and they were quite startling. As Samuel Lewis explained in 1837, ‘a large castellated mansion now in progress of erection in the ancient baronial style, consisting of a centre flanked by lofty circular towers and two extensive wings, of which one on the west is connected with a noble gateway leading to the offices, which occupy the sides of a quadrangular area; the whole is of hewn limestone…’ The architect responsible for this work is thought to have been Charles Anderson who had an extensive practice in this part of the country until 1849 when he emigrated to the United States and there enjoyed a successful career until his death 20 years later. As a result of these changes, the house’s name was changed to Ash Hill Towers.
A number of descriptions of Ash Hill in the first decades of the last century survive, giving the impression there was insufficient money to maintain the place. Writing in 1908, Eileen Weldon observed that while the house was big and impressive, it was also rather bare, and that the food on offer was meagre: ‘All we were offered for supper was six slices of toast for five of us and some cold bread. There was tea and butter, but not a sign of anything else. Father had smuggled in a cake from downtown and hidden it in the sideboard so we didn’t fare so badly.’ As for the interiors, ‘The ceilings and fireplaces are beautiful, but oh so dirty. I long to get to work with soap and water, a broom, etc.’ During the early 1920s, the house suffered badly, being occupied by different groups of soldiers on three occasions, none of them treating the place well. Another Weldon family member who called into Ash Hill in 1932 remembered ‘It was unoccupied and badly in need of repair. It was all furnished – about 30 rooms (not one bathroom) but the hand carved marble fireplaces were all bashed and broken – the ancestral pictures had been used for target practice…the lovely books of the library strewn underfoot.’ Seemingly Captain Lindsay offered Ash Hill ‘as a convent or monastery but there were no takers because of its condition.’ Finally, as noted, it was sold in 1946. Subsequently, some of Anderson’s more fanciful decorative flourishes were removed from the garden front, not least the two tall castellated towers and a chapel extension to one side. Internally, other changes had to be made, including the construction of a new main staircase, large parts of its predecessor having been destroyed. What does survive is a series of wonderful ceilings, the majority of them on the first floor which evidently once held the main reception rooms. Two of them look as though they might have been designed by James Wyatt/Thomas Penrose. However, it does not appear man either produced these specific designs. Similarly, the execution is of an exceptionally high standard – those oval medallions holding classical figures – but the stuccodore responsible is unknown. The nearest comparison is the ceiling in the entrance hall at Glin Castle, elsewhere in County Limerick, which dates from the same period. The Ash Hill work has blessedly undergone restoration work in recent years to ensure future survival. Meanwhile, in striking contrast to these neo-classical designs, an adjacent room overlooking the garden holds a really splendid Perpendicular Gothic ceiling, smothered in ribs of fan vaulting. It is this confident mixing of styles within the same building, so typical of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, so anathema to purists, that makes Ash Hill and its history so fascinating to explore.
At the rear of a graveyard in Clonlara, County Clare stands this impressive tomb erected following the death in June 1817 of the Rev. Charles Massy. The second son of Sir Hugh Dillon Massy, he had, like so many other young men in his position, become a Church of Ireland clergyman and as such was permitted to marry. His choice of bride was the 18-year old Mary Ann Ross-Lewin, beautiful and poor and as a result of the latter circumstance, Sir Hugh attempted to persuade his son against the marriage. To no avail: the couple married in 1796 and the following year had a son, named Hugh Dillon after his grandfather. All seemed well until 1803 when the Rev Massy and his wife made the acquaintance of Thomas Taylour, first Marquess of Headfort. At the end of that year, on the Sunday morning after Christmas and while her husband was officiating in church, Mary Anne Massy eloped with the marquess who was not only twice her age but married with four children. A scandal ensued, and the cuckolded clergyman brought a case for Criminal Conversation against Taylour, being awarded £10,000 at the end of a court case in July 1804. The Rev Massy was represented by barrister and orator John Philpot Curran, who was in a positin to sympathise with his client’s circumstances: a decade earlier, he had discovered his own wife Sarah had being having an affair with, and become pregnant by, another man – curiously enough, a Church of Ireland cleric the Rev Abraham Sandys. Curran successfully sued for Criminal Conversation, but, since his own philandering was publicly exposed during the case, he was only awarded a token £50. He and his wife separated but never divorced, whereas the Rev Massy did divorce his errant wife in 1808 and subsequently remarried. As for Mrs Massy, she was left in the disadvantaged position of being a divorced woman as the Marquess of Headfort remained married to his wife. None of this history, of course, is related on the the Rev Massy’s tomb but it seems a shame a monument that provides a link to these scandals of the late Georgian period should be allowed to fall into such poor condition.
Like so many Irish towns, Ennis, County Clare sometimes seems determined not to take best advantage, or best care, of its architectural heritage. Nothing better exemplifies this unfortunate state of affairs than Bindon Street, a short stretch of road comprising two terraces facing each other, both holding six properties. A mixture of two and three bays wide, the houses are of three or four storeys over basement, with handsome limestone doorcases and, in most cases, mellow brick facades. Dating from the early 1830s, Bindon Street has the potential to be a splendid, albeit rather truncated, thoroughfare, a celebration of Ennis’s thriving mercantile and architectural past. Alas, while some of the buildings have been decently maintained, others suggest all is not well. No. 1, for example, is distinguished from the others by a bay window added to the ground floor around the middle of the 19th century. At this level all seems fine, but raise your eyes and note the insertion of unsuitable uPVC windows, at least in some openings – others on the top floors are boarded up. A cause for worry.
P.S. And would someone please do something about all those ugly exposed electric cables snaking across every building.
Rostellan Castle, County Cork is one of Ireland’s great lost houses, demolished less than 80 years ago and obliterated so completely that most visitors to the site would have no idea a substantial residence stood here for several centuries. The original building here is thought to have been constructed by a branch of the FitzGerald family; certainly by the mid-1560s the land it occupied had passed into the possession of Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald, hereditary Dean of Cloyne. Knighted in 1602, he had a daughter Ellen who married Dermot O’Brien, fifth Baron Inchiquin and their eldest son, Murrough O’Brien, sixth Baron and first Earl of Inchiquin, would eventually come to own Rostellan. Remembered as Murchadh na dTóiteán (‘Murrough of the conflagrations’), he became notorious during the Confederate Wars from 1641 onwards for burning the houses, livestock and lands of his opponents, first the Catholic forces and then the Cromwellian army. In 1650 he left Ireland and moved to France where he joined the royal court in exile (and converted to Catholicism), returning to his country three years after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 and thereafter living quietly on estates which had been restored to him by royal act. Although O’Brien’s family had historically been associated with County Clare, where he owned land, his preference in later years was to live at Rostellan, and this remained the case for subsequent generations until the mid-19th century.
Following his death in 1674, the first earl’s estates, including Rostellan, were inherited by his eldest son William O’Brien who had not converted to Catholicism but remained loyal to the Protestant faith. A military man, he had lost an eye in 1660 when he and his father were captured by Algerian corsairs in 1660; 14 years later, he . became Governor of Tangier and Captain General of the King’s Forces there. Back in Ireland, in 1688 he declared his support for William of Orange, but then failed in an effort to raise troops in County Cork to oppose James II. In the aftermath of the Williamite Wars, William III appointed him Governor of Jamaica, where he died of disease in 1692. His heir, the third earl, also William O’Brien seems to have lived a quieter life, spending much of his time at Rostellan where he carried out various improvements, not least walling and damming the surrounding land to stop tidal incursions, since Rostellan sits on a promontory overlooking Lower Cork Harbour; in 1701 he advised Queen Anne that at considerable expense he had ‘prevented the tide from overflowing a parcel of land adjoining to his house at Rostellan, which would be an advantage to the harbour of Cork for small vessels and boats, if a quay was made there, and desiring her Majesty to grant to him and his heirs the said ground, containing about 150 acres.’ In 1710 it was noted that the earl ‘is now att Rostellan…as buesie as ever, building &c; there neaver will be an end. God help him…’ He died in 1719, and was succeeded by his eldest son, yet another William O’Brien, who, in 1720, founded the Water Club of Cork Harbour in 1720; among other offices, he also served as Governor of Clare for more than 30 years and was a Member of the Privy Council of Ireland from 1753. Although he spent much time in England, the fourth earl carried out extensive works on the dwelling house at Rostellan, perhaps incorporating the older building although this is unclear. Legend has it that he built the house on or near the site of an old graveyard, ordering that the tombstones be levelled, according to another version, thrown into the sea. In any case, a woman whose only son was buried there duly laid a curse on him, saying no son would succeed thereafter and that the family line would die out. Indeed, the fourth earl and his wife had four sons, but they all predeceased him and when he died in 1777, Rostellan was inherited by a nephew, Murrough O’Brien, created first Marquess of Thomond in 1800. He in turn had no male heir, so the estate once more passed to a nephew, who had four daughters but no son. Rostellan and the O’Brien lands accordingly passed to a brother, the third and last marquess who, despite being married three times, had no children. And so, on his death in 1855, the curse made over a century earlier came to pass, the line died out and Rostellan was sold. Over the following decades, the property changed hands on a number of occasions, finally being leased in 1930 to Cloyne China Clay Company. who mined clay there for export. That continued for decade, after which the house stood empty until demolished by the Irish Army Corps of Engineers in 1944.
Surviving photographs of Rostellan Castle show a three-storey house with a five-bay entrance front and three-sided bows at each corner. In the 19th century, a Gothic porch was added to the facade and to one side of the house a long, single-storey extension containing a Gothic-style chapel, ending in a squat round tower. All of this, as mentioned, has been entirely swept away, the area now occupied by pitches for a local GAA club. But along the shoreline are traces of the work undertaken by the fourth earl and his successors, not least a causeway with battlemented parapets and, at one point, the remains of a prow-like battery terrace, dating from 1727. Here were formerly set a number of canon, used for starting boat races (the earl having founded the Cork Water Club). Elsewhere along the same shoreline can be seen a rather stock Doric column with vermiculated plinth; originally this supported a lead statue by John van Nost the Younger of Admiral Edward Hawke. And further along are what survives of a battlemented round tower built as a tea house by the first marquess and named after the famous actress Sarah Siddons who he entertained there during one of her visits to Ireland. All in poor condition, these are all that remain of Rostellan Castle and its demesne; soon, like the house itself, they will disappear and with them the last memory of this place.
A worker’s cottage in the hamlet of Glenosheen, County Limerick. It dates from c.1840, around the time a new bog road was built through the area, then part of the Castle Oliver estate. The building’s simple but effective design sets it apart from many other such modest dwellings of the period: for example, the use of brick around the upper sections of the door and windows, in contrast to the limestone rubble with which it is otherwise constructed. Then there are the hooded mouldings above the windows, and the pedimented projection of the gently-arched doorway. This is one of a pair of cottages but unfortunately its neighboutr has had unsympathetic fenestration inserted, with the result that much of its charm is lost.