Tucked down a minor road north of Drogheda, this is St Nicholas’s church, Ballymakenny, County Louth. It was designed by Thomas Cooley for his patron, Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, whose country residence, Rokeby Hall, stands a few miles further still further north. Cooley died in 1784 before the work was executed and therefore the job passed to the young architect Francis Johnston, then just on the onset of his career. This charming little rural church is 18th century Irish Gothic at its best, a simple design with the tower at the west end flanked by modest vestries and then the main body of the building being a long, plain hall. The most notable feature of the exterior is above the entrance, the archiepiscopal insignia and Robinson’s arms in beautifully crisp limestone (just look at those ribbons ending in tassels). In recent years, the church has been used by a local Baptist group, although it is a pity that much of the glass on the north side (where the latticed windows are actually blind) has been broken and not repaired.
Monthly Archives: July 2022
A Burst of Baroque
After Monday’s post about the remains of the once-splendid Barry residence in Castlelyons, County Cork, readers might be interested to see this: a mausoleum erected not far away in the graveyard of Kill St Anne Church. Dating from c.1753, it commemorates James Barry, fourth Earl of Barrymore who had died five years earlier. Born in 1667, the earl had enjoyed a distinguished military career, supporting William of Orange and then participating in the War of the Spanish Succession during which he rose to the rank of Lieutenant-General. However, late in life, he became a supporter of the Jacobite cause and in 1744 was arrested and imprisoned; following the failure of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s attempted rebellion the following year, the elderly earl was released. He died in January 1748.
His mausoleum in the old village graveyard is constructed of rubble limestone, the eastern facade having an advanced and pedimented centre of red brick, the Serlian opening surrounded by red marble-limestone, its wrought-iron gates topped with an earl’s coronet. To the rear of the groin-vaulted interior is the deceased’s monument composed of different coloured marbles. Completed in 1753, it was the work of David Sheehan and John Houghton, the latter responsible for the angels and presumably the half-length figure of the earl inside a central medallion. Wonderfully unexpected, it is a little bit of Roman baroque in the middle of the Irish countryside.
Decline and Fall
When writing here last month about Fota, County Cork (see Saved for the Nation « The Irish Aesthete), mention was made of the Barrys, Earls of Barrymore. For many centuries, their main residence lay much further north, in Castlelyons. Although subject to dispute, this village’s name (Caisleán Ó Liatháin) is said to derive from having been an important centre in the ancient kingdom of Uí Liatháin. However, in the last quarter of the 12th century, the land in this part of the country came into the hands of the Anglo-Norman knight Philip de Barry; his son William’s ownership of this property was confirmed by King John in 1207. Some time thereafter, the family constructed a castle on a limestone outcrop at Castlelyons and this became one of their most important bases. A settlement grew up around the base of the castle, with a Carmelite priory established to the immediate north in the early 14th century.
David de Barry is thought to have become first Lord Barry in 1261, beginning the family’s ascent through the ranks of the peerage and indicating its increasing importance. In 1541 his descendant John fitz John Barry was created first Viscount Buttevant, and then in 1628 David Barry became the first Earl of Barrymore. He was indirectly responsible for the construction of what can now be seen of the former castle at Castlelyons. The earl had been born in 1605, some months after the death of his father, so that he was raised by his grandfather, the fifth viscount who died in 1617. Young David then became a ward of the powerful Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork. Seeing an opportunity to ally himself with a long-established dynasty in the region, the latter duly arranged a marriage in 1621 between his young charge and his eldest daughter Alice: the bride was aged 14, the groom 16. In the mid-1630s Boyle also decided to rebuild his son-in-law’s residence at Castlelyons, since the Barrys were already heavily in debt (the canny Great Earl had earlier taken on the Barry wardship in exchange for the redemption of substantial mortgages left by the fifth Viscount). A vast new house was erected on the site of the old one, but the Earl of Barrymore had little opportunity to enjoy it, since he died in September 1642, probably as a result of wounds received at the Battle of Liscarroll a couple of weeks’ earlier. His heir, once again a minor, became the second earl. Successive generations then followed, but increasingly the family spent their time in England and it appears that by the mid-18th century the great castle at Castlelyons was falling into disrepair. This probably explains why, in 1771, repair work was undertaken on the building’s roof. Unfortunately, careless workmen left a soldering iron against wooden beams and the place caught fire. The sixth earl – who would die two years later – was as debt-ridden as his forebears and so made no effort to repair the damage. Instead, the castle was abandoned, along with its surrounding gardens, and left to fall into the state of ruin that can be seen today.
Understanding the original layout of Castlelyons Castle can be challenging today, since what would have been the building’s central courtyard has long since been quarried away. In addition (and perhaps as a result of the quarrying), both the west and east ranges have disappeared, leaving just exposed sections of those to the south and north. What still stands on the south-west corner is considered to be the oldest part of the property, perhaps part of the original 13th century construction, with walls in some places 3.4 metres thick. Across what is today a deep ravine rises the north range, dating from the 17th century and dominated by three rectangular chimney stacks that rise above the three-storey block (with a basement at the east end). Beyond the exposed rubble walls, nothing survives of the interior and one must imagine what the house looked like when first built as it then included a great gallery, some 90 feet long and two storeys high, although it appears this may never have been finished (presumably due to the death of the first Earl of Barrymore and the chaos of the Confederate War). The castle was once surrounded by equally splendid grounds, with a large terrace to the immediate north and a series of enclosed gardens to the west and south, of which scant traces remain, serving as witness to the decline and fall of the once-might Barry family.
A reminder to all friends and followers: if you have not yet had an opportunity to see the two exhibitions In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden and Stepping through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens – both curated by the Irish Aesthete – only one week remains to do so. Currently open at the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, South William Street, Dublin – and with free admission – both shows will close next Friday, July 29th. Catch them while you still can…
A Different Sensibility
After Monday’s post about Castlemartyr, readers might be interested in seeing some old photographs of the house’s interior when it was still owned and occupied by the Boyles, Earls of Shannon. The pictures date from the late 19th/early 20th century, and were taken by Nellie Thompson, wife of the sixth earl. The two above show the saloon as it was then decorated, filled with a vast quantity of furniture including a grand piano and a billiard table. The two below reflect the family’s travels overseas and what they had collected: prior to inheriting his title and estate in 1890, for example, the sixth earl had been living in Canada where he served as a Mountie. What most immediately strikes any viewer of these images is how dark and cluttered were the rooms, how filled with furnishings and fabrics, all competing and contrasting with each other. An insight into a different aesthetic sensibility from that of our own age.
À la recherche…
The Earls of Shannon are a branch of the Boyle family, descendants of Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork. The title dates back to 1756 when Lord Cork’s great-grandson Henry Boyle, after a remarkably successful political career which saw him sit on the Irish privy council, serve as chancellor of the exchequer and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons for almost 23 years, was created the first Earl of Shannon. During that period and in the years prior to his death in 1764, he also found time to carry out many other duties, not least looking after the Irish estates of his cousin Richard Boyle, the architect Earl of Burlington, as well as his own property in Castlemartyr, County Cork.
For much of the Middle Ages, Castlemartyr was under the authority of the powerful FitzGerald family, who in 1420 were made governors, or seneschals, of Imokilly (a historic barony that covers a substantial area including Youghal, Cloyne and Midleton). Some twenty years later, Maurice FitzGerald chose to settle in Castlemartyr and erected a substantial tower here. Inevitably, such a prominent building was attacked on more than one occasion, being captured by Sir Henry Sidney in 1569 and again in 1581 by the 10th Earl of Ormond who is said to have hanged the mother of the castle’s owner,John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, from its walls. Although the building was restored and considered extended in the 17th century, further assaults occurred: it was burnt by Lord Inchiquin in 1645, plundered in 1688 and then stormed and burnt by Williamite forces two years later. Not surprisingly, the castle, or what remained of it, was thereafter abandoned and left to fall into a picturesque ruin. At some point in the early 18th century, the future first earl – whose family had been given the property in 1665 – embarked on construction of a new house to the immediate west of the old one, but little information exists about when this work started and what form it took. Further additions and alterations followed over the next two centuries, so that today Castlemartyr is long and low, the centre of the facade marked by a two-storey pedimented limestone portico with Tuscan columns, much the most satisfactory feature of the building. The entrance front likewise shows evidence of regular modifications being made, with a four-bay centre block, a nine-bay wing to the east centred on a bow, and a recessed four-bay block to the west; the loggia here replaced a conservatory in the early 1900s. The demesne was also extensively developed by the first earl and then his heir, the latter described by Arthur Young in 1776 as ‘one of the most distinguished improvers in Ireland.’ The grounds had been extensively planted with trees, some of which survive still, as does the ‘river’ which was created by diverting the Womanagh river to run through a channel cut west of its natural bed.
In 1907 Castlemartyr was sold to the Arnott family, but was then acquired by another owner just a decade later, and in 1929 was bought by members of a Roman Catholic religious order, which used the house as a boarding school. This closed in 2004 and since then, further substantial additions have been made to the site which now operates as an hotel. Taken during the last decades of the 19th century, today’s photographs show the property as it looked when still owned by the Boyles. In the first group, the conservatory still occupies a site on the east side of the garden front, since it was only replaced by a balustraded loggia during the Arnotts’ short tenure. The pictures therefore provide an insight into the house’s appearance and character prior to the place changing hands and purpose several times over the past 115 years.
Four terraced houses in the centre of Dublin indicate the inadequacies of central and local government when it comes to protecting Ireland’s architectural heritage. Aungier Street dates from the mid-17th century when developed by Francis Aungier, first Earl of Longford, who created what was then the city’s finest and – at 70 feet – widest thoroughfare, much of it lined with splendid mansions. Some of these survive behind later facades, and the four in question, Nos.22-25, include one built in the 18th century for Sir Anthony King, Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1778-79; he leased the property to the sculptor John van Nost who had a stoneyard here. These houses have been allowed to stand empty and falling ever further into dereliction for many years: a planning notice on one of them for conversion of the premises into an hotel is dated October 2018. It needs to be reiterated that ample legislation exists to ensure that such neglect of the historic fabric of this and any other urban centre does not exist; that the relevant authorities continue to ignore that legislation and allow such decay serves as a gross indictment of their competence.
Up in Alms
The former Ormonde Hospital in Kilkenny city. Originally established by Walter Butler, 11th Earl of Ormonde in 1632, the Hospital of Our Most Holy Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was actually an almshouse built at 4 High Street (the site today occupied by a bank building) where it remained for the next 200 years, being repaired in 1783 when it provided accommodation for eight widows and their families. In 1839 John Butler, second Marquess of Ormonde moved the hospital to this site on Barrack Street, into a property constructed in the then-fashionable Tudor-revival style, and the old premises on High Street were demolished two years later. Today the building shown here is occupied by various social services.
A Considerable Place of Strength
‘This family is originally of Norman extraction and was anciently called De La Montagne. In the reign of King Edward III, its members were styled Hill, alias De La Montagne; but in succeeding ages, they were known by the name of Hill only.
Sir Moyses Hill, Knt. (descended from the family of Hill, of Devonshire, two members of which were judges of England at the beginning of the 15th century, and one lord mayor of London, anno 1484), went over to Ireland as a military officer, with the Earl of Essex, in 1573, to suppress O’Neill’s rebellion; and was subsequently appointed governor of Olderfleet Castle, an important fortress at the period, as it protected the harbour of Larne from the invasion of the Scots. Sir Moyses represented the county of Antrim in the parliament of 1613, and having distinguished himself during a long life, both as a soldier and a magistrate, died in February 1629-30, and was succeeded by his elder son Peter Hill esq but we pass to his younger son Arthur who eventually inherited the estates on the demise of Peter’s only son Francis Hill esq of Hill Hall, without male issue.
The said Arthur Hill esq of Hillsborough, was colonel of a regiment in the service of King Charles I, and he sate in parliament under the usurpation of Cromwell, as well as after the Restoration, when he was sworn of the privy council…’
From A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire by John Burke, Esq. (1833)
‘Hillsborough: This place, originally called Cromlyn, derived its present name from a castle erected by Sir Arthur Hill in the reign of Chas. I, which at the time of the Restoration, was made a royal fortress by Chas. II, who made Sir Arthur and his heirs hereditary constables, with twenty warders and a well-appointed garrison. The castle if of great strength and is defended by four bastions commanding the road from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus; it is still kept up as a royal garrison under the hereditary constableship of the present Marquess of Downshire, a descendant of the founder, and is also used as an armory for the yeomanry.’
From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (1837)
‘Colonel Hill, having built within a few years, at his own charge, and upon his own lands, during the rebellion, for the encouragement of an English plantation and security of the country, a considerable place of strength, called Hillsborough fortified with four bastions, or flankers, commanding the chief roads in the county of Down leading from Dublin to Belfast and Carrickfergus; His Majesty was pleased to consider that the surprise thereof, upon any insurrection, might prove very prejudicial to his service, and how much it would conduce to His Majesty’s service and the safety of the country that a guard should be placed in that fort for the security thereof; he therefore granted a patent at Westminster for erecting it into a royal garrison by the name of Hillsborough Fort, with a Constable and officers to command it, to be called and known by the name of Constable of Hillsborough Fort, and twenty warders to be nominated and chosen by him; the Constable to have an allowance of 3s. 2d. a day and the warders 6d. each; and this office was granted to him, his heirs and assigns, for ever.’
From Historical Notices of Old Belfast and its Vicinity; A Selection from the Mss. collected by William Pinkerton, Edited with notes by Robert M Young (1896)
Not too far from Termonfeckin Castle, seen here earlier in the week, stands St Fechin’s church, alas now standing forlorn and neglected in the midst of a graveyard. Here can be found a sandstone High Cross, some nine feet tall and somewhat weathered but with an unbroken nimbus ring. Above a tapered shaft decorated on all four sides with abstract, interwoven patterns, the centre of the east face shows the Crucifixion, while the west face depicts Christ in glory.