The skeleton of a former parish church at Rathbarry, County Cork. It dates from 1825 when constructed at a cost of £1,900, of which £1,000 was provided by John Evans-Freke, sixth Baron Carbury who lived in nearby Castle Freke: the family mausoleum is immediately south of the church. The building is more elaborate than most such structures erected at the time with help from the Board of First Fruits, the three-storey buttressed tower finished with a slender pinnacle in each corner, and the main entrance on the west front being via a projecting narthex. Inside the chancel and below the east window are the surviving portions of late-19th century mosaic work provided by the ninth baron and his wife. The church ceased to be used for services in 1927, just over a century after it had been finished.
In January 1799 Isaac Corry was appointed Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, and five months later, in order to raise money for Britain’s war against France, he introduced a property tax, based on the number of windows in any building, which for obvious reasons made him deeply unpopular throughout the country. Born in Newry in 1753, Corry was the descendant of a Scotsman who had settled in Ireland in the first quarter of the previous century. The family flourished (Rockcorry, County Monaghan derives its name from one of them), not least thanks to their involvement in trade: Isaac Corry’s father was both a merchant and an MP for Newry, his son succeeding him in the latter position. Although called to the bar, Corry does not seem to have practised much as a lawyer, preferring political life although he had limited private means during a period when election campaigns could be expensive affairs and candidates therefore needed to be wealthy. In 1788 he became Clerk of the Irish Ordnance, and the following year a Commissioner of the Revenue before being made a Privy Counsellor in 1795. As the 18th century came to a close, Corry became an ardent supporter of the union with Britain, bringing him into conflict with Henry Grattan who, on one occasion, described him in the House of Commons as ‘a half-bred lawyer, a half-bred statesman, a mock patriot, a swaggering bully and finished coxcomb, a coward, a liar and a rascal.’ The two men subsequently fought a duel, one of a number in which Corry participated during his lifetime and on this occasion he was wounded. It has been claimed that the actual Act of Union was drafted in the drawing room of Corry’s country house, Derrymore, County Armagh.
A substantial thatched cottage orné, Derrymore dates from c.1777. The architect is unknown, although it has been proposed that the landscape designer John Sutherland was responsible, since Sir Charles Coote wrote in 1804 that Sutherland had been responsible for laying out the surrounding demesne; Coote also described the house as ‘the most elegant summer lodge I have ever seen.’ Although of one storey over basement, Derrymore is more substantial than might initially appear to be the case, since it consists of an elongated U, two substantial wings projecting back from the central block, creating a slim courtyard between them. The main entrance is at the top of the courtyard, a fanlit doorcase leading to a hallway on either side of which are domed and curved vestibules that give access to the wings. Directly in front is the drawing room, a plain space notable for its exceptionally large bay window that runs almost the full height of the building flanked by quatrefoils under hood mouldings. The bay is composed of 82 panes of glass and there are further mullioned windows on each of the wings, which ought to have left Corry paying a very substantial tax bill following the introduction of his own legislation in 1799 – except that a clause in the bill allowed for any window, no matter how big, to be considered as just one provided each pane did not exceed 12 inches in width. Nevertheless, financial difficulties eventually obliged him to sell the property some years before his death in 1813. Derrymore then passed through several hands before being donated to the National Trust in 1952. Today the wings are occupied by tenants and the drawing room only intermittently open to visitors.
After last Monday’s post about the house on Fota Island, County Cork, it is worth noting that the immediate demesne, including one of Ireland’s most important late 19th/early 20th century arboretums, also survives and can be visited. To the rear of the main building lie a series of walled gardens which have been well-maintained by the Office of Public Works and at the top of these the Irish Heritage Trust has restored a series of greenhouses now filled with plants. In consequence, the site provides an opportunity to explore an Irish country house in its original setting, something not always possible.
The Irish Aesthete is delighted to announce the publication of his latest book, Left without a Handkerchief. A long time in the making, this tells the stories of ten Irish families across the centuries, leading up to the moment when each of their homes was attacked and most often burned during the troubles of the early 1920s. Whence the title? On January 10th 1923 Louise Bagwell wrote a short letter to her mother-in-law Harriet describing what had taken place during the previous night. Around 12.30am, a large number of men had arrived at Marlfield, County Tipperary, home to generations of the Bagwell family for some 230 years, and informed the occupants they had ten minutes to dress and gather up whatever items they could. Meanwhile, the intruders sprinkled petrol around the ground floor rooms and applied a match. ‘Then’, Louise Bagwell explained, ‘for an hour we had to stand and watch the darling old home burn.’ Only when the fire had done sufficient damage to the building did the men depart: afterwards its chatelaine discovered they had taken her bag and coat with them. Everything had been lost, she lamented, all the family’s possessions going back generations, leaving them with little other than the clothes they had hastily donned: ‘We hadn’t even a handkerchief.’
Photograph shows Ardfert, County Kerry, burnt on 3rd August 1922 and subsequently demolished. Left without a Handkerchief is published by Lilliput Press (please see Left Without a Handkerchief by Robert O’Byrne – The Lilliput Press)
Some readers may be familiar with the history of Richard Barry, seventh and penultimate Earl of Barrymore. He was almost the end of the line of a family which could trace its ancestry back to participation in the Norman Conquest of England (1066) and then the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland (1169 onwards): their name derives from Barry in Glamorganshire, Wales where their forebear had been granted lands by William the Conqueror. In this country, they acquired substantial territories in what is now East Cork, and remained prominent there for many centuries, being created first Baron Barry (c.1261), then Viscount Buttevant (1541) and finally Earl of Barrymore (1628).
One generation of Barrys duly followed another until the advent of the seventh earl (born 1769) who inherited his title and estates at the age of three, following the death of his father. His mother would die when he was eleven, and it was perhaps this absence of parental authority which led to Lord Barrymore acquiring such a notorious reputation for dissipation as an adult, known as the Rake of Rakes or Hellgate. On the other hand, his siblings were as bad. His only sister Caroline was called ‘Billingsgate’ because she swore like a fishwife (London’s Billingsgate was home to the city’s fishmarket) and of his two brothers, Henry, the last earl was called ‘Cripplegate’ because he had a clubfoot, and Augustus, called ‘Newgate’ because, despite being an Anglican clergyman, he was a compulsive gambler (Newgate being the debtors’ prison in London). The seventh earl also liked to gamble, as well as being addicted to boxing, racing and acting (he built his own theatre in Berkshire at a cost of £60,000). Eventually, his debts grew so great that he was forced to sell most of the family’s property in Ireland; he is said to have squandered some £300,000 during his lifetime. This came to an abrupt end in 1793 when, as a Captain in the Royal Berkshire Militia, he was escorting some French prisoners to a camp and his rifle accidentally went off, wounding him so badly that he was dead within the hour: he was still aged only 24.
What has all this to do with the pictures shown here? This is Fota, County Cork, built on an island which had long been part of the Barrys’ lands and had somehow not been sold due the excesses of the seventh earl. In the early 19th century, it passed into the ownership of John Smith-Barry who, while illegitimate, was a descendant of the fourth earl of Barrymore and sought – unsuccessfully – to have the title recreated for him after the eighth earl’s death in 1823. The transformation of Fota, it has been suggested, can be connected with Smith-Barry’s efforts to be raised to the peerage. Hitherto the house had been a modest 18th century hunting lodge, probably used by the Barrys’ agents, since the family were not resident in Ireland. But in the mid-1820s, the building was greatly enlarged by father-and-son team Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison. They proposed two schemes, one of which was for Fota’s transformation into a Tudorbethan mansion, not unlike schemes on which the pair had already embarked at Killruddery, County Wicklow and Glenarm, County Antrim, with an entrance tower indebted to that at Burghley House. This idea was rejected in favour of a neo-classical design, the original five-bay building widened with an extra bay on either side and then further lengthened by the addition of two projecting pedimented wings to create a shallow courtyard, the whole centred on a single-storey limestone Doric portico. Bows were added to the garden front, one of these accommodating the drawing room, while the extensions at either end of the facade hold the dining room and library. The exterior is rendered with limestone dressings, which adds to the impression of crisp severity. A long two-storey extension to the north-west contains the service wing; in the 1870s, the front of his was hidden by a conservatory (later converted into a long gallery) leading to a billiard room.
The first interior encountered at Fota – the entrance hall – is also the most successful. Running the length of the original house on the site and concluding at either end with small lobbies, it is divided into three spaces by screens of paired Ionic scagliola columns supporting entablatures decorated with plasterwork with a repeated pattern of wreaths and the Smith-Barry crest; the floor is covered in Portland stone. The abiding impression is of cool composure and absolute assurance in the handling of what could have been just a long, low corridor. In their decoration, the main reception rooms bear strong similarities with those of the contemporaneous Ballyfin, County Laois, both being indebted to the work of Percier and Fontaine: the ceilings in the drawing room (and its anteroom) were painted and stencilled in the 1890s by the Dublin firm of Sibthorpe & Son. The dining room has a screen of grey scagliola columns at the sideboard end of the space and, once again, rich ceiling plasterwork featuring trellises intertwined with vines. Although sparsely furnished in places, Fota, today in the care of the Irish Heritage Trust, looks so well that it is easy to forget that just a few decades ago the house’s future looked in serious jeopardy, following the death of the last of the Smith-Barrys and the estate’s subsequent sale and resale. The history of a period when it seemed Fota might be left to fall into disrepair is too complex – and perhaps still too recent – to be told here. That it has survived is thanks to a small number of determined individuals (not least plucky Richard Wood) who courageously undertook to go to battle for the place. Too many other such Irish houses, in similar perilous positions, have been at risk – and indeed continue to be so. Let us rejoice, therefore, over this sheep, which might have been lost but has been found and brought back into the fold.
This handsome early 19th century residence stands at one end of Barrack Street in Killala, County Mayo. Of three bays and two storeys, for a period during the pre-Independence period it provided accommodation for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary but of late has stood empty and falling into dereliction, like so many other historic houses in Irish regional towns (further down the same street, there is the shell of what must once have been an equally fine property).
What survives of Ballug Castle, on the Cooley Peninsula, County Louth. This is thought to be a 15th or early 16th century tower house to which a gable-ended dwelling was added, probably in the late 17th century. Originally the tower would have had a barrel-vaulted ceiling but this has since collapsed, along with a spiral staircase occupying a turret in the south-east corner.
The ruins of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales are justifiably famous, but less well known is what remains of her little sister, also called Tintern Abbey, in County Wexford. This foundation was often called Tintern de Voto, owing to the fact that it was established as the result of a vow taken by William Marshal, first Earl of Pembroke. Seemingly while sailing to Ireland in 1200, his ship was caught in a violent storm and he promised to establish a monastery close to the spot where he landed. The vessel came into Bannow Bay and here the abbey was duly built, and endowed with 3,500 hectares of land. Marshal was already patron of the Cistercian Tintern Abbey in Wales (which was duly known as Tintern Major), and so monks from that house were brought to this country to set up the new monastery, which soon grew into one of Ireland’s most important religious settlements, successive abbots sitting as peers in the Irish parliament until the mid-15th century and enjoying considerable prestige.
Cistercian monks remained in residence at Tintern Abbey until 1539 when, on instructions from the English government, the entire property, valued at over £93, was seized and granted first to Sir James Croft, future Lord Deputy of Ireland, and then in 1557 leased to the Staffordshire-born soldier Sir Anthony Colclough; 18 years later he received ownership of the former abbey, which he had already converted into a domestic residence (although it had been attacked and burnt by the Irish in 1562). Although the building was subject to attack during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, Colclough’s descendants remained on the site, albeit often through complicated lines of inheritance, until 1959 when the last member of the family to live there, Lucy Biddulph-Colclough, handed over what remained of the property to the Irish state.
Placed in the care of the Office of Public Works in 1963, it was almost twenty years later before restoration began on Tintern Abbey, an enterprise that involved returning the site to its monastic origins. One must lament that this approach was taken, since the place had been a rare surviving example in Ireland of a religious building converted to secular, domestic use; had a different approach been taken during the restoration, today it would offer a fascinating opportunity to explore that aspect of post-Reformation history. Little evidence now remains of the Colcloughs’ centuries’ long occupation of the property, although of course it can be detected in the layout of the surrounding landscape. But the building itself is almost clinically clean and largely devoid of personal character. A short walk away from the main complex is a little late-mediaeval single cell chapel, known as a Capella-ante-portas, built to serve the needs of the local lay population who were not permitted within the precincts of the abbey. It contains a number of Colclough funerary monuments, including a large stone plaque mounted on the south wall commemorating the original Sir Anthony. Here, rather than within the monastery, can be found a better sense of the former secular ownership of Tintern Abbey.
The sham fort at Tyrella, County Down. This charming little folly stands on a rise above the main house and with views across the surrounding countryside and seascape. It is believed to date from the mid-19th century, being created to accommodate three cannon rescued after the SS Great Britain – at the time the world’s largest passenger ship – ran aground on a nearby beach in 1846 (seemingly the ship’s crew mistook the newly constructed St John’s Point Lighthouse for a lighthouse on the Isle of Man).
On the south wall of the chancel in a now ruinous late-medieval church in Ardrahan, County Galway can be found a monument to the Taylor family who for many centuries lived nearby in Castle Taylor, a house abandoned in the 1930s and now just a shell. The inscription reads: ‘This monument was erected by Capt. John Taylor and Walter Taylor Esq. for them and their posterities, 1747.’