Formerly known as Lisbrack House, this building in Newtownforbes, County Longford became an episcopal palace when enlarged and occupied in the early 1870s by George Conroy, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. It continued to serve this purpose until c.1920 when used as a novitiate for the nearby Convent of Mercy before in turn becoming a secondary school in 1951 and finally a nursing home. However, in recent years the property has stood empty, surrounded by newly-constructed houses but left to fall into the present state of ruin. In other words, the all-too familiar scenario for an old building in an Irish town.
Monthly Archives: August 2022
The Lonely Passion of Augusta Magan
In Umma-More, a wonderful history of his family published in 1983, the late William Magan writes of one forebear, the eccentric Augusta Magan who in 1880 at the age of 55 became ‘the sole, unencumbered and unfettered owner of virtually all the ancient Magan estates and wealth – twenty thousand acres of some of the best land in the world, valuable houses, parts of Dublin, treasures and riches.’ Alas, over the next twenty-five years until her death in 1905, the unmarried Augusta managed to squander away the greater part of her inheritance: according to William Magan, ‘She lacked drive, energy and will-power to a marked degree. She was devoid of managerial capability. She grossly mismanaged the estates. When she died they were found to be in a dreadful state of neglect. Her houses, likewise, were a shambles.’ By way of confirmation of the last observation, he quotes an official report into the condition of one such property: ‘Every passage and every room to which access could be gained was packed with parcels and packages of all descriptions. Piled on top of the furniture, underneath furniture, piled on the floors, were packages, deed boxes etc., on top of one another. The litter on the main stairs and vestibule was almost knee deep. It took the valuers three whole days to clear the deceased’s bedroom alone of papers and rubbish which had been allowed to accumulate there. Every apartment in the mansion was in the same condition. The most astonishing discovery was that amongst this accumulation were found money and securities for money, jewellery, and valuables of all description. Bank notes for small and large amounts were found adhering to old newspaper wrappers, or thrown carelessly aside in wastepaper baskets. Sovereigns and coins of lesser value were picked up on the floors of the several rooms, or were lying about in tea cups and kitchen utensils and in the most unlikely places…’
Augusta Magan’s peculiar behaviour is often attributed to unrequited love. It appears that as a young woman, she had met Captain Richard Bernard, of Castle Bernard, County Offaly (now known as Kinnitty Castle), and conceived a passion for him. Her feelings, it appears, were not reciprocated since Captain Bernard, three years after returning from the Crimean War, in 1859 married a widow, Ellen Georgiana Handcock; he died in 1877, three years before Augusta Magan came into her great inheritance. Family legend had it that his death was due to an accident while he was participating in a race but given that Bernard, by then a colonel, was 55 at the time this seems unlikely. He was duly buried in his local churchyard, inside the family mausoleum, a four-sided pyramid in the grounds of St Finnian’s church, Kinnitty: dating from c.1830, this building is supposed to have been designed by a member of the Bernard family who some time earlier had visited Egypt. However, the colonel must have died in another part of the country, since at one stage prior to burial, his body was wheeled along the platform of Mullingar station and, according to William Magan, the trolley bearing the deceased’s corpse was afterwards acquired by Augusta Magan who kept it in her room for the rest of her life. As he wrote in Umma-More, it is curious that ‘she should have been so deeply affected emotionally as to have felt unable for the rest of her life to be parted from so unusual, hideous, cumbersome, and useless a piece of furniture as that railway station barrow’. She also possessed a small portrait of Colonel Bernard, likewise discovered after her death.
What has any of the above to do with today’s pictures? They show the grounds of Corke Lodge, County Dublin which were once part of Augusta Magan’s inheritance (her grandmother, Hannah Tilson, had been a great heiress whose family owned considerable estates both in this part of the country and elsewhere, and whose home was the long-since demolished Eagle Hill in Killiney). Commissioned by either Hannah Tilson Magan or her son William Henry, the present house dates from the second decade of the 19th century but, as so often, incorporates an older structure. Its design is attributed to Dublin architect William Farrell who was responsible for Conearl, a large neo-classical house built for the Magans in County Offaly but destroyed by fire only a few decades later. A church at Crinken, close to Corke Lodge, was also designed by Farrell. Augusta Magan seems to have spent little time here, preferring to become a recluse in another family property, Killyon, in County Westmeath. At the beginning of the last century, it was acquired by Sir Stanley Cochrane and today is owned by his great-nephew, architect Alfred Cochrane. He has been responsible for creating the gardens shown here, and for interspersing through them granite stonework which once formed part of Glendalough House, County Wicklow, a vast Tudor-Gothic mansion dating from the 1830s, the greater part of which was demolished half a century ago. Their presence not only enlivens a visit to the grounds of Corke Lodge, but – as souvenirs of a lost world – seem to recall the lonely passion of Augusta Magan.
The gardens of Corke Lodge are open to the public, 9am to 1pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays, until September 8th. For more information, see Corke Lodge — Alfred Cochrane
A Mellow Charm
The mellow charm of Newport House, County Mayo, a property dating from several periods of the 18th century. Overlooking the Newport river, the house was built in the late 18th century by the O’Donnells, descendants of Hugh O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell. In 1780, Neale O’Donnell, having conformed to the Established Church, was created a baronet and soon afterwards acquired property that had previously belonged to the Medlicott family. Here he constructed the present residence, possibly incorporating an earlier building; it was extended to the west (left-hand side), likely by the second baronet, in the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1889 Sir George O’Donnell died without male heirs and the property was then inherited by his niece Millicent. However, her only son, also called George, was killed at Ypres in 1915. Newport House then passed through a couple of hands before becoming a successful hotel. although that business currently appears closed.
On the Game
Buried in woodland to the north of the main house, this is an early 19th century gothick lodge at Mount Stewart, County Down. Known as the ‘Gamekeeper’s House’, the building is thought to have been constructed around 1810 or possibly a little later and was given the appearance of a miniature fort, thanks to crenellations along the top and the little pyramidal finials at each corner. Above the pointed arch windows and entrance are blind quatrefoils, another fanciful detail. Inside, there are just two rooms, each with a vaulted ceiling rising the full height of the house: the gabled timber porch was a late 19th century addition. This charming lodge was used by a hunting syndicate until about six years ago, but is now standing empty and, alas, falling into disrepair.
Where the Lord was once King
In the closing days of Elizabeth I’s reign, Sir John King – a soldier originally from Yorkshire – was granted by the queen a lease on the former Cistercian abbey in Boyle, County Roscommon (see Brought to Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). As an exceptionally able, and loyal, servant of the crown, in 1617 this grant was confirmed by James I, along with surrounding land running to some 4,000 acres; by the time of his death in 1636, King owned land in 21 different counties. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Robert King, also a soldier and statesman who acted as Muster Master-General for Ireland, thereby consolidating the family’s position in this country. In turn his younger son, also called Robert, became a politician and in 1682 received a baronetcy (it was thanks to the marriage of the younger Robert’s elder brother, John King, first Baron Kingston, that lands in Mitchelstown, County Cork now also passed into the family’s possession). Successive generations continued to prosper, and in 1768 Edward King was created first Earl of Kingston.
When the Kings first settled in Ireland, like other such arrivals, they converted the abbey buildings at Boyle into a domestic residence. This appears to have been their home until they built a new house in the centre of the town and moved there. That building was badly damaged by fire around 1720 and in the following years Sir Henry King commissioned a new house in Boyle, which still stands (see Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). That too suffered a fire in 1788 but by then the notion of a landed family having their principal residence in the centre of a provincial town had fallen out of favour and some years earlier, during the 1770s, Edward King, the first Earl of Kingson, had constructed an alternative house on land a few miles outside Boyle and adjacent to Lough Key; when completed, it was given the name Kingston Hall. Here he died in 1797. However, in the early 19th century this property would in turn be superseded by another house, Rockingham, commissioned by General Robert Edward King, first Viscount Lorton and designed by John Nash. King houses seemed doomed to suffer from fire, one of which gutted Rockingham in 1863, after which it was rebuilt. The final conflagration occurred in 1957 when, once more, the house was severely damaged: the shell was entirely cleared from the site in 1971: a spectacularly hideous concrete viewing tower now indicates where it once stood.
Following the construction of Rockingham, Kingston Hall remained in use and became known as the Steward’s House. A long, narrow building of nine bays and two storey-over-basement, it had a one-bay breakfront, although the main entrance was to the immediate left of this. Immediately to the south of the main house is a tall circular dovecote, now missing its capped roof; the base is of cut-stone, but the upper portions of brick. Beyond the west-facing rear is a very substantial courtyard (measuring some 174 by 82 feet) with a second one almost as large beyond this; the north face of these features a succession of large arches, some open, others filled with rubble stone. The scale of these yards indicate Kingston Hall was once an important establishment, but no more. Although the house was still occupied and in good condition well into the last century, it has since fallen into a state of total dereliction, and now stands a roofless shell. Running to approximately five acres, the site has just been sold: it will be interesting to see what the new owners intend to do with this historic property.
A Right Pair
The village of Villierstown, County Waterford was established in the 1740s by John Villiers, first Earl Grandison who wished to have a settlement for weavers and other personnel working in the linen industry he was then establishing in the area. The industry has long-since gone, but two monuments still stand in the centre of the village recalling later members of the family. In front of the church (constructed by Lord Grandison in 1748) is a High Cross erected by Henry Villiers-Stuart in memory of his parents, Henry, Baron Stuart de Decies and his Austrian-born wife Pauline. Due to doubts over the validity of their marriage, following Lord Stuart de Decies’ death in 1874 the title was not inherited by the next generation. To the immediate west is a second monument, this one a public fountain in rock-faced limestone ashlar; it was erected in 1910 by the younger Henry’s children in memory of their mother Mary who had died three years earlier.
Familiar to anyone approaching Wexford town from points north, this is Ferrycarrig Castle, actually a tower house built by the Roche family in the 15th century. Perched atop an outcrop of rock, it had the specific purpose of guarding a ferry which for many centuries was the only way to cross the river Slaney at this point and thus gain access to the south bank where stood the nearby town; a wooden bridge was only constructed in 1794. Rectangular in shape and of four storeys, it appears to have remained in the possession of the Roches until the aftermath of the Confederate Wars.
Pretty as a Picture
The thatched lodge at Derrymore, County Armagh featured here some time ago (see The Most Elegant Summer Lodge « The Irish Aesthete). That building dates from the mid-1770s, making it at least 30 years older than another fanciful cottage orné, this one in County Tipperary. Popularly known as the Swiss Cottage, the later example was constructed c.1810 for Richard Butler, 10th Baron Caher (created Earl of Glengall 1816). Member of a branch of the Butler family which had been dominant in this part of the country for hundreds of years, his own forebears had been settled at Cahir Castle since the 14th century. They remained there until c.1770 when a new residence, Cahir House (now an hotel) was built. Richard Butler was never expected to inherit the title and associated estate. However, following the death in June 1788 of the 8th baron, a distant relative, without heirs – and then the death of Richard Butler’s own father a month later – at the age of just 12 he came into considerable wealth. At the time, he was living in poverty in France, but then returned to Ireland, where he was accommodated by the eccentric widow Arabella Jeffereyes of Blarney Castle. There was method behind Mrs Jeffereyes kindness: within a few years, she had arranged the marriage of her daughter Emilia (then aged just 16) to the wealthy Lord Caher. Soon afterwards the couple returned to live at Cahir House where, according to Dorothea Herbert, they threw ‘a most flaming Fête Champêtre’ during which the young Lady Caher ‘danced an Irish jig in her stockings to the music of an old piper. We had a superb supper in the three largest rooms, all crowded as full as they could hold and we did not get home till eight o’clock next morning and so slept all the next day.’
The tone set by the party they had thrown after their return to Cahir House, the Butlers appear to have led an exceedingly merry life, dividing their time between County Tipperary and London where, following the implementation of the Act of Union, Lord Caher served as an Irish representative peer in the Westminster House of Lords. It may have been there that he made the acquaintance of architect John Nash, who would be responsible for designing a number of buildings in Cahir, including St Paul’s church (Figures of Mystery « The Irish Aesthete) and the adjacent Erasmus Smith School (Well Schooled « The Irish Aesthete) as well as the sadly-demolished Shanbally Castle just a few miles away. Accordingly, the Swiss Cottage is attributed to Nash, not least because of its resemblance to similar picturesque buildings he designed during the same period at Blaise Hamlet on the outskirts of Bristol. The cottage was sketched in 1814, indicating its completion by that date, and two years later was mentioned in an account of local races: ‘the tout ensemble of the Cottage affording a display of rural decoration not easy to be equalled in this country for chasteness of character and richness of fancy.’ Perched above the river Suir and just two kilometres south of Cahir, the cottage was never intended to be a permanent residence, but rather somewhere to visit, perhaps for a meal, perhaps an overnight stay in good weather. Built to a T-plan and of two storeys over basement, the cottage has rustic timber verandas around most of its exterior and a thatched roof. French windows open onto the surrounding grounds and there are a number of balconies on the first floor: much of the exterior is covered in wooden lattice trellising. The overall effect is exceedingly charming.
Three years after becoming an earl, Richard Butler died and was succeeded by his only son, also called Richard. Despite marrying an heiress, he would find expenditure exceeded income, particularly after 1839 when he embarked on the restoration of Cahir Castle, and the rebuilding of much of the town of Cahir. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, it transpired that Lord Glengall’s debts amounted to a prodigious £300,000, the situation not helped by a lawsuit over their inheritance between Lady Glengall and her sister. The earl was duly declared bankrupt in 1849 and everything offered for sale, although some of the estate was subsequently recovered by his elder daughter, Lady Margaret Charteris. Somehow, the Swiss Cottage survived, although by the mid-1980s it was in poor condition, sitting empty and a prey to vandals. Before the building became a complete ruin, the local community bought it in 1985 with the aid of a £10,000 grant from the Irish Georgian Society. Work then began on salvaging the Swiss Cottage and the greater part of the funds for this project came, via the IGS, from the American Port Royal Foundation and its President Mrs Christian Aall (the foundation had already donated money towards the cottage’s purchase). Restoration work took three years to complete, overseen by architect Austin Dunphy assisted by John Redmill, with much of the labour provided under a government youth training scheme. New tree trunk posts were put up to support the shingled roof that surrounds the cottage at first floor level, later internal partitions removed and new wiring and plumbing installed. The building was re-thatched, and early 19th century wallpapers, not least a set in the salon by Joseph Dufour of Paris depicting Les Rives du Bosphore, scrupulously restored by David Skinner. Irish couturier Sybil Connolly was given responsibility for overseeing the interior decoration and arranged for a set of grotto chairs to be made for the ground floor rooms. Work on the Swiss Cottage was completed in September 1989 and the building has since been open to the public under the management of the Office of Public Works.
Not So Imperial
A fine carved limestone doorcase, formerly one of the entrances to the now-shut Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo. Occupying one side of the town’s Mall and tracing its origins as a hostelry back to 1795, the Imperial (formerly Daly’s) Hotel was also the site where the National Land League was founded almost 143 years ago, on August 16th 1879. The building closed for business in 2009 and two years later was bought by Mayo County Council, which has since produced various ‘masterplans’ for the premises but not embarked on any of them, instead leaving this important building to deteriorate. It should be noted that in the same area of Castlebar, the council also owns the former post office and the former barracks, both of which have similarly suffered years of neglect as a consequence of a failure to implement a much-heralded programme of urban renewal. Once again, it is hard to see why any private owner of an historic property in Ireland should embark on restoration when such a poor example is provided by the relevant local authority.
After Monday’s post about Quartertown House, County Cork and its links to a nearby mill, here is the decidedly quirky exterior of Millbrook, County Kildare. The house was built in the 1770s by John Greene and, as the name indicates, stood adjacent to a mill and millrace off the river Griese: the mill which stood in a yard immediately behind the building was, alas, demolished in the last century. The facade of Millbrook suggests the house is of two storeys-over-basement, but in fact there is a third, attic floor, only visible when one goes around to the south side as the building is taller at the back than at the front. Note how the millrace flows immediately past the house, a most unusual arrangement (is there any other example in Ireland?) but apparently successful since there is no problem with damp inside. Also, the front section of the house is taken up by a large, two-storey bow, but there is no equivalent at the opposite end which has a flat wall. And then, returning to the facade, the window arrangement is also peculiar, the four to the right being equally spaced apart, but that to the left disposed some distance from the others. All of which begs the question; might Millbrook originally have been a four-bay building, one room deep, much enlarged by John Greene when he took on the property in the 1770s?