Undoubtedly one of the quirkiest residences in Ireland, this is Boland’s Lock-Keeper’s House. Situated on the 26th lock of the Grand Canal outside Tullamore, County Offaly, the building dates from c.1800 and is thought to have been designed for himself by Michael Hayes, a contractor working on the project. The house has bowed side elevations with semi-conical roofs, and, facing the canal, a bowed and castellated central bay: although it looks to be only two storeys’ high, the land to the rear drops away, allowing for a third floor. Well restored in recent years, the building is now for sale (in case anyone felt like moving home in 2023…)
Located on the north-east corner of the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, this is Scully’s Cross – or at least what remains of it. Dating from 1867, the rusticated base of the structure contains a mausoleum to the wealthy Roman Catholic Scully family: above the entrance is a plaque carved with their name in Irish Ó Scolaidhe. A stepped pyramid then leads up to the base of the cross proper, its shaft, each side of which is carved with a series of biblical scenes, rising some 20 feet high. The top of the cross – ringed in the early Irish Christian style – can be found scattered on the ground around the mausoleum, having fallen when the monument was struck by lightning in 1976.
Writing about Summergrove, County Laois almost half a century ago (Irish Georgian Society Bulletin XVI, October 1973), the late Maurice Craig declared, ‘Of all the houses which are neither ‘big houses’ nor farmhouses, Summer Grove has always seemed to me one of the most attractive, nor has a wider acquaintance with its rivals caused me to modify that opinion.’ While he admitted that ‘the elements of the facade: gibbsian doorway with side lights, venetian window, diocletian window, platband, stone cornice, hipped roof and symmetrical chimneys, are common to a great many mid-eighteenth century houses of about this size, as is the pediment over the breakfront in the centre,’ nevertheless, Maurice was seduced by the building’s irresistible charm. In part, he explained, this derives from ‘the mildly archaic flavour of its rather steep roof with its barely perceptible sprocketing, the interior decoration suggests a date some time around 1760 or even a little later. The Venetian and Diocletian windows go on so long in the provinces that they provide no reliable indication of dates. From the massive triple keystone of the front door projects an elaborate and splendid wrought-iron lamp-bracket, such as would be noteworthy even in Dublin, but in the country is of the very highest rarity. Before leaving the facade we should note the unusually small stones of which it is built, which from a distance seem hardly larger than bricks, and very nearly as regular.’ Thereafter, Maurice noted in his Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976), ‘the main interest in Summer Grove lies in the ingenuity of the planning. In the back half of the house three storeys are fitted into the same height as two on the entrance-front. It is surprising that this method of ‘mezzanine’ planning was not more widely used in country houses, since it results in a small number of high-ceilinged rooms and a rather larger number of low-ceilinged ones, a most desirable result not so easily achieved by conventional planning.’ Among the rere elevation’s most distinctive features are the pair of Venetian windows, one at either end of the top floor.
A date stone discovered some 20 years ago suggests that Summergrove was finished in 1766 but work on the house probably started much earlier. The original owner was one Thomas Sabatier whose Huguenot forebear – likely grandfather – François Sabatier had fled France in the aftermath of the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In 1707, he was listed as living in Mountmellick, a prosperous town just a couple of miles east of Summergrove. Like many other Huguenot families who settled here, the Sabatiers must have flourished, since in 1736, within one or two generations of arrival in this country, they were able to acquire tracts of land in the neighbourhood and embark on building a fine country house. The architect responsible is unknown: the Knight of Glin proposed Henry Pentland, but there is little evidence to support this name, or any other. Regardless, it would appear the costs involved in the building’s construction were greater than had been anticipated because in February 1774 Summergrove was advertised to let for such Term of Years as may be agreed’, the building described as ‘large and commodious, and fit for the immediate Reception of a Gentleman of Fortune,’ the interior being ‘well finished and stucco’d, with every other Necessary, such as Italian, Kilkenny and other Marble Chimney Pieces, Grates, etc.’ Nevertheless, the family remained in possession, if not always in residence, of Summergrove. Thomas Sabatier died in 1784 and was succeeded by his son John who, in turn, died in 1792, followed by two further generations likewise called John. Following the death of the last of these in 1859, the house changed hands for the first time, being acquired by Jonathan Pim, whose Quaker ancestors had settled in Mountmellick at the end of the 17th century. By the beginning of the 19th century the Pims were involved in brewing and other business enterprises, while Jonathan Pim was acting as agent for the Summergrove estate. Having taken over the property, he had little time to enjoy possession, since he died in 1864, being succeeded by his son William, who lived in the house until 1902. Having no children, he left Summergrove to his sister who in turn passed it to her son, William Anthony Robinson who, with his wife lived there until the 1950s when, once more, the house was offered for sale. Thereafter it passed through different owners, not all of whom occupied the building, before being bought 30 years ago by the present owner.
The interiors of Summergrove are quite as engaging as the house’s external appearance. To cite Maurice Craig again, ‘The small square entrance-hall has a Doric entablature over the door and window cases, a flowing rococo centrepiece to the ceiling and, on the inner wall, three elegant arches under a single wide arch, the three doors separated by fluted corinthian pilasters. The right-hand door gives directly on to the staircase, while the middle one is dummy, a device which recalls the entrance to the centre of the Long Gallery at Castletown. On the staircase side the same three doors are under a pediment with ornament a good deal less fruity than that on the hall side, but in the same free-flowing rococo vein. The right-hand room on the ground floor has a coved cornice and ceiling decorated in the Robert West manner with sprays, roses, bunches of grapes and pheasants.’ (Loath as one is to correct Maurice, the inner wall’s middle door is not a dummy, but now serves to provide access to the staircase beyond. Furthermore, the ground floor room with ceiling decorated in the style of Robert West is to the left – not the right – of the entrance.) The rococo plasterwork in Summergrove’s reception rooms varies in quality, that in the entrance hall being charming but somewhat perfunctory, while that in the dining room is of altogether finer quality and clearly by a superior hand. On the other side of the entrance hall, what is now a drawing room has a plain ceiling. The original drawing room – now a bedroom – can be found on the first floor, directly above the dining room has another fine rococo ceiling although this one lacks the latter’s coved frame. And, as the advertisement of 1774 noted, there are some fine chimneypieces, although a couple of these were taken out of the house prior to it being acquired by the present owner, who deserves credit for having found satisfactory replacements. Indeed, he merits praise for having undertaken such a meticulous restoration of Summergrove over the past three decades, so that today this glorious building glows, a burnished gem in Ireland’s Midlands and an example of what can be achieved with sufficient dedication and patience.
A handsome ashlar limestone triumphal arch marking the former entrance into the Johnstown estate, County Tipperary. This structure presumably dates from the last quarter of the 18th century and was erected at the same time as the main house, commissioned for Peter Holmes, M.P. for Banagher, County Offaly in the Irish House of Commons. In typical fashion of the time, he called the place after himself: Peterfield. Members of his family continued to live there until 1865 when the estate was bought for more than £13,000 by William Headech. He had arrived in Ireland around a quarter-century earlier as secretary to the Imperial Slate Quarry Company at Portroe. Headech later bought the company and made a fortune from slate production, allowing him to buy Peterfield, which he renamed Johnstown.
Headech’s descendants continued to live at Johnstown until the 1930s when the property was acquired by the Land Commission. The house, of three storeys over basement and believed to have been designed by architect William Leeson, was unroofed in 1941 and then demolished a couple of decades later, so that today just fragments of this fine property remain.
Below are two older images of the Johnstown, the first taken from a late 18th century engraving by Jonathan Fisher made when the property was still called Peterfield, the second, a photograph by the late Paddy Rossmore, taken in the 1960s when the building, although roofless, was still standing.
Lines from Yeats’ Coole Park come to mind:
‘Here, traveller, scholar, poet take your stand,
When all those rooms and passages are gone,
When nettles wave upon a shapeless mound
And saplings root among the broken stone…’
As its name indicates, the County Longford village of Abbeylara (‘Mainistir Leathrátha’, meaning ‘Abbey of the half – or small – fort’) grew up around a religious house. In this instance, a monastery is supposed to have been founded here in the fifth century by St Patrick, who then appointed St Guasacht as its first abbot. Guasacht, who also acted as Bishop of the short-lived diocese of Granard, just a few miles away, was the son of Maelchu, the man under whom Patrick worked as a slave when a youth in Ireland. Following Patrick’s return to this country, it is said that Maelchu preferred to lock himself into his home and set fire to it – perishing in the flames – rather than encounter his former slave. His son Guasacht, on the other hand, did so and was duly converted to the Christian faith.
The present remains of a monastery at Abbeylara can be traced back to 1205 when the Anglo-Norman knight Richard Tuite invited a group of Cistercian monks to settle there. Tuite, who had come to Ireland as one of Richard de Clare’s supporters, was granted large swathes of land in this part of the country and in 1199 had built one of the largest motte and baileys in Ireland. A daughter house of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin, the Abbeylara monastery was likewise dedicated to the Virgin. When Tuite, by then Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, died in 1210, he was buried here. A century later, in 1315, Edward Bruce – brother of Scotland’s Robert Bruce – who arrived in Ireland with his army earlier that year, having first burnt nearby Granard, seized control of the Abbeylara monastery and spent the winter there. The monks returned following his departure but the establishment’s decline appears to have begun soon after: in both 1410 and 1435 the Papacy permitted funds to be raised for the buildings’ repair through the sale of Indulgences.
From the start of the 15th century until its eventual closure, the monastery at Abbeylara had come under the control of a powerful local family, the O’Farrells, as testified by the fact that successive members of this family were appointed its abbot. The last of them to do so, Richard O’Farrell, surrendered the abbey with its lands and possessions to Henry VIII in 1539: in return, he was appointed Bishop of Ardagh. At the time of its dissolution, the Abbeylara house held over 5,500 acres of land but the buildings were falling into ruins. Today little remains other than the former abbey church’s great central tower, and the adjacent north and south walls: high on the latter can be seen a badly weathered figure which may be a Sheela-na-gig. A Church of Ireland church which once occupied part of the surrounding graveyard has long since been demolished.
After last Monday’s report on the present unhappy state of the Iveagh Markets (see A Preposterous State of Affairs « The Irish Aesthete), here are some images of another initiative undertaken in the late 19th/early 20th centuries by Edward Guinness, first Earl of Iveagh. The Iveagh Trust buildings comprise a series of eight four-storey blocks north of St Patrick’s Cathedral, an area of Dublin which until then had been a warren of lanes and alleys, judged to be ‘centuries deep in filth.’ All this was swept away in the early 1890s for the construction of new housing for some 250 families, designed by Joseph & Smithem in red brick with terracotta used for details such as date stones. Subsequently in 1913, Guinness commissioned the Iveagh Play Centre on Bull Alley Street, designed by McDonnell & Reid, once again in red brick but with extensive use of Portland stone in what might be described as a Queen Anne-inspired idiom. Built at a cost of £38,000, by 1915 the school was attended by 900 children. However, declining attendances and mounting costs eventually led to its closure and in 1976 the building was sold to the Dublin Vocational Educational Committee; today it houses Liberties College which offers further education courses to people in the area.
Founded in 1890 as part of a larger philanthropic initiative by Edward Guinness (head of the family brewery and future first Earl of Iveagh), the Iveagh Trust is one of this country’s most effective, but relatively little-known charities. As the trust’s website explains, Guinness regularly passed through Dublin’s Liberties area on his way to work and ‘was appalled at the conditions that prevailed in this corner of Dublin. A warren of foul-smelling laneways lined with crumbling and overcrowded houses that were no longer fit for habitation.’ Having floated two-thirds of the company in 1886, he became the richest man in the country and so began to think about establishing a charity to address the terrible living conditions experienced by so many people in both Dublin and London, and donated £250,000 ‘for the amelioration of the condition of the poor labouring classes’ in the two cities. Among the trust’s first undertakings was the construction between 1894-1901 on a two acre site at the corner of New Bride Street and Kevin Street of three five-storey blocks originally containing 336 separate flats. But perhaps the best-known work of what in 1903 officially became the Iveagh Trust, was an enormous scheme undertaken at the start of the last century on the area north of St Patrick’s Cathedral and south of Christchurch Cathedral, and running from Bull Alley Street and Bride Street; requiring several acts of parliament to ensure its successful conclusion, the project’s cost exceeded £220,000, with further monies spent on the creation of St Patrick’s Park and other associated works which were directly funded by Edward Guinness.
A superlative example of Edwardian architecture constructed 1901-05, the Bull Alley Estate, designed by the architectural partnership of Joseph & Smithem, comprises eight five-storey blocks today holding 213 apartments (a comprehensive, six-year refurbishment of the entire site was completed in 2012). But of course, the clearance of large areas of the old city for improved housing meant many of the residents lost the place in which they had hitherto earned their meagre livelihoods. In the Liberties, this was especially the case for street traders, who found their former pitches cleared and needed to find an alternative site in which to conduct business. It was for this reason that, according to a report carried in the Irish Times in July 1906, when work commenced on the Bull Alley site, Edward Guinness, by then Viscount Iveagh, undertook ‘to provide suitable accommodation for the vendors within five years.’ He was as good as his word and personally paid for the provision of an alternative venue, the aforementioned Irish Times report which celebrated the official opening of the Iveagh Markets.
Designed by Dublin architect Frederick George Hicks, the Iveagh Markets sits on a parcel of land much of which was formerly occupied by a brewery: the initial cost for the project was some £45,000 but in the end the sum was closer to £60,000 all personally funded by Lord Iveagh. The site includes two covered markets, the larger one, measuring 100 x 150 feet, intended for selling clothes. Roofed in iron and glass, and with a first floor gallery 15 feet wide carried on cast-iron columns around the perimeter of the building, this market also provided the main entrance to the property from Francis Street, the seven-bay facade has an advanced and pedimented breakfront, the granite-fronted ground floor taking the form of an arcade, with quoined arches of Portland stone, each keystone representing various trading nations of the world: the upper parts of the building are of red brick. Behind the clothes market is a second, smaller space measuring 130 x 80 feet where stallholders sold fish, fruit and vegetables. Within the complex and to the immediate north was an area for the disinfection of clothes before they could be offered for sale, with space for 40 washers, four centrifugal wringing machines and 40 hot air drying horses: these facilities represented an enormous improvement in what had previously been available to residents in the area, and reflect Lord Iveagh’s understanding of the importance of good hygiene. A number of other buildings were constructed here for administration and a resident manager.
The Irish Times article of July 26th 1906 noted that although Lord Iveagh had paid for the new markets to be built, on the occasion of their official opening a deed of conveyance and keys to the property were handed over to Dublin’s then-Lord Mayor. ‘The Corporation of the City of Dublin,’ the report added, ‘has undertaken to take over and control the markets as in other parts of the city, and though a further responsibility is thrown on the shoulders of the city fathers, still, everyone will admit it is a worthy one.’ The corporation – now Dublin City Council – continued to exercise that responsibility until the early 1990s, although even before that date inadequate maintenance of the markets meant they were in poor condition. A report commissioned by the local authority and produced in 1992 observed that the ‘restoration of the building to its original splendour and its refurbishment as a modern indoor market would be of considerable economic and social benefit to the surrounding area.’ The following year, the council offered each of the market’s stall holders £20,000 to vacate their stands and give up their licenses, before announcing plans for a £1.25 million refurbishment. However, nothing happened – other than a steady rise in the cost of the proposed refurbishment, and in 1996 the council decided to invite a private developer to take on the job. The following year the council granted Dublin publican Martin Keane a licence to redevelop the site, and all appeared well until questions were asked about whether the council had the authority to issue such a document under the terms of the Dublin Corporation Markets Act, passed in 1901 to allow the construction of the Iveagh Markets. The dispute was only resolved in 2004, it then took a further three years for Mr Keane to obtain planning permission for a scheme that would have included restaurants, a 97-bed hotel, a music venue and an apartment hotel, as well as the refurbishment of the old buildings. This work was never begun and a long, sorry saga over the building then ensued: anyone who wishes to understand what befell the Iveagh Markets over the past 15 years is encouraged to read an article on the subject published in the Irish Times on November 19th (The Iveagh Markets: Can a former Dublin glory be saved? – The Irish Times). At the moment the matter is subject to ongoing mediation but there can be no doubt that Dublin City Council must accept a substantial amount of responsibility for the unhappy situation here. For several decades the local authority has shown scant regard for historic properties in its care. On the other side of the river Liffey, for example, the old Fruit and Vegetable Market, opened in 1892, was closed in August 2019 by the council which said it was about to undertaken a two-year restoration of the site. This was after 17 years of successive announcements of diverse schemes for the building (for a chronology, see Dublin’s Victorian fruit market to close for two years for revamp – The Irish Times). Last August, three years after the Fruit and Vegetable Market was closed (supposedly for just two years), Dublin City Council said that it had ‘initiated a tender process for a design team “to detail the conservation works needed” for the property. Initiating a tender process suggests a great deal more time will pass before anything actually happens and this is just one of a substantial number of projects in which Dublin City Council’s intervention has proven catastrophic. Recently, for example, the council announced that the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, initiated in 2013 (and supposed to have been completed in 2017) would not see even the ‘first phase’ be delivered until at least 2027. Then there is the long-anticipated development of a new public plaza in College Green where successive design schemes have been launched to much fanfare and then quietly abandoned.
As for the Iveagh Markets, it cannot be denied that what ought to be a thriving and valuable public resource which would do much good for not just the local community but all of Dublin, has been allowed to deteriorate over some 30 years to the point where it is now at risk of being lost forever. The gift of a generous man to an impoverished city has been needlessly squandered as a consequence of poor decision-making and lack of action. Who would ever want to gift anything to Ireland’s capital, seeing what its governing body has allowed to become of the Iveagh Markets? Meanwhile, the original benefactor’s other great philanthropic gesture – the many blocks of flats constructed in the greater Liberties area – continue to be managed by a private charity, the Iveagh Trust, and continue to benefit large numbers of people. The contrast between these thriving buildings and the Iveagh Markets could not be more stark.
The Irish Aesthete: Ten Years in the Making can be seen at the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 from December 2nd until December 22nd, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm. Please see https://iarc.ie for further information.
This exhibition has been generously sponsored by Sonbrook.