A Room Reborn



Over the past few decades, visitors to Russborough, County Wicklow have become familiar with the house’s drawing room being painted with honey-toned walls and plasterwork picked out in white. However, research in recent years has shown that this scheme only dates from the mid-20th century and that before then the room was decorated in an altogether more florid manner. Surviving photographs from the 19th century, as well as paint analysis, reveals that originally, while the walls were coloured a soft white, their stuccowork was part-gilded and part-coppered, in a fashion unlike anything else found in Ireland or Britain. Commissioned by Joseph Leeson, first Earl of Milltown and designed by Richard Castle, the leading country house architect of the period, Russborough dates from the mid-18th century and many of its contents were collected by Leeson while he undertook two Grand Tours, both including time spent in Rome. There he encountered French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet and from him commissioned a series of eight landscape paintings to hang in the drawing room. These were gradually dispersed so that by the time Sir Alfred Beit bought the property, none remained. In 1968, he bought back four oval pictures and reinstated them in the empty stucco cartouches. More recently, four other landscape paintings, either by Vernet or his pupil Charles Francois Grenier de Lacroix (also known as Vernet Lacroix) were acquired by the Apollo Foundation and lent to Russborough, so that the drawing room, as known to Joseph Leeson, could be recreated. Following many months of work, it opened to the public earlier this week and is a revelation of 18th century decorative taste in Ireland.


All that is Fantastically Eccentric in Architecture


‘It was in the hall of this Castle, then his principal residence, that James, first Duke and twelfth Earl of Ormond, received, as he sat at dinner, on 23d October 1641, intelligence of the great rebellion, in which he so eminently distinguished himself as Commander of the Royal Army. Since that period, none of the Ormond family have resided in Carrick-Castle, which is, however, maintained in good repair, and occupied by a private gentleman, who has evinced excellent taste in the alterations which he has made in the building without impairing the character of its architecture. It stands upon the banks of the river Suir, and near the town of Carrick-on-Suir. This castle was built in the year 1309, by Edmond le Boteler, or Butler, whose son was created Earl of Ormond in 1328. By him it was granted, in 1336, together with its demesnes, to the Franciscan monks of the Abbey of Carrick-on-Suir. But these venerable personages, who probably attached more value to the lands than to the fortress, appear to have permitted it to fall into decay, since we find that, in 1445, Sir Edmund Butler purchased the premises from the Monks, and rebuilt the Castle and Bridge.’
From Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of Ireland, 1830






‘Prior to starting to Waterford, let us not fail to view the fine old castle of the Ormonds, built in 1309, and still remaining in the family. The antique bridge, from the right bank of the river, just above the weir, presents all that is fantastically eccentric in architecture, the ivied house in the centre imparting to it an air of pleasing novelty. The parish chapel is said to have been built by the Ormonds, and the tower attached to the modern building bears proof of high antiquity. We hope tradition speaks “no scandal against Queen Elizabeth,” as the guide points out the grave of Thomas Butler, the putative natural son of her maiden Majesty.’
From The Tourist’s Illustrated Hand-Book for Ireland, 1859






‘I chanced that day to be at Carrick, and I walked to see the old castle. It is beautifully situated in a secluded lawn overhanging the Suir, at a distance of a few hundred yards from the eastern end of the town. I could not ascertain the date of the older, or castellated part of the edifice: the more modern part was erected by Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, in 1565, which date is displayed on the wall of the hall; on which, likewise, there is a rude fresco representing Queen Elizabeth, with the initials E.R. On the opposite wall there is another fresco of the founder, who is said by the tradition of the castle to have found favour as a lover of that princess. The tradition found its way into France, and the family of Lord Galmoye is stated, in a French genealogical work, to descend from her Majesty and her Irish admirer…The curious old mansion founded by “Black Tom Butler” is still habitable. Its front presents a long row of gables in the fashion of Elizabethan manor-houses, with a large Oriel window over the porch. Its large deserted chambers are just as spectral personages might regularly honour with their visits. I accordingly asked if the house was haunted, and was told by the person who showed it, that in the days of the Ormonds, a ghost had been constantly there – a utilitarian ghost, apparently; for he used to officiate as volunteer shoeblack, and to discharge other duties of domestic labour.
The largest apartments are in the upper storey. There is a noble drawing room about sixty feet long, which contains two decorated chimneys. Whatever be the worth of the Galmoye tradition, old “Tom Butler” as the guide familiarly called him, was anxious to record his devotion to Elizabeth; and this he has done by the frequent repetition of her Majesty’s initials and arms in the quaint stucco ornaments of the ceiling.’
From Ireland and her Agitators by W.J. O’Neill, 1867. 

In an Irish Country Garden




The garden front of Ballyvolane, County Cork. Dating back to 1728, the original house was constructed for Sir Richard Pyne, a former Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, of seven bays and three storeys. Almost 150 years later, in 1872 George Pyne, who had recently acquired the estate, commissioned local architect and antiquarian Richard Rolt Brash to remodel the building to give it the present Italianate appearance, as well as remove the top floor. The original gardens at Ballyvolane were laid out in the early 19th century, but much of what can be seen today is due to the work of the Green family who bought the place 70 years ago in 1953. Next Friday, June 30th I shall be giving a talk at Ballyvolane on Ireland’s country house gardens, with cocktails beforehand and dinner after. For more information about this event, please see: Robert O’Byrne aka The Irish Aesthete ‘Irish Country House Gardens’ Talk and Dinner (ballyvolanehouse.ie)



A Wife’s Devoted Attention



The Wilson Lynch family of Belvoir, County Clare may have been descended from one Ralph Wilson, a Cromwellian soldier who settled in this part of the world in the mid-17th century and served as Mayor of Limerick city in 1657, 1663, 1664, 1667 and 1668. In any case, at the end of the same century, a Richard Wilson was acting as agent for Sir Donough O’Brien, first baronet of Lemeneagh and Dromoland. In 1712, his son, also called Richard, leased the lands of Ballycullen from Henry O’Brien, seventh Earl of Thomond: these lands would form a large portion of the eventual Belvoir estate. The Wilsons, who somewhat unusually were Roman Catholic, continued to reside here until the mid-19th century. Richard junior had been succeeded by his eldest son John, who married late in life and died in 1797, leaving a seven year-old son, David John Wilson. On reaching adulthood, he proved to be a landlord with serious concern for improving the condition of his tenantry, building a number of schools on his estate, and also developing one of the first model agricultural schools in the country at Belvoir. Following what became known as the Sixmilebridge Massacre in July 1852 (when soldiers opened fire on a group of protestors during an election, leading to the deaths of seven persons and leaving the same number injured), he published a pamphlet denouncing what had happened and then established a relief fund  for the families of the victims. David J Wilson died in April 1864 when the Belvoir estate passed to his nephew John Wilson Lynch. 





The Lynchs were one of the Tribes of Galway, the 14 powerful families who had effectively ruled the city during the Middle Ages and subsequently become landowners in the surrounding counties. Roman Catholic, like the Wilsons, at the start of the 19th century Mark Lynch of Renmore, County Galway, a successful banker and merchant, was able to buy the Durus (or Doorus) estate outside Kinvara, County Galway from its previous owner, Jacques, Comte de Basterot. In 1820, Mark Lynch’s son, Patrick Marcus Lynch, married Ellen, sister of David John Wilson. Some years later, when Wilson found himself in financial difficulties, his brother-in-law, Patrick M Lynch, lent him money secured by a mortgage on Belvoir and the prospect of a life interest in the Belvoir estate for Lynch’s son John. In due course, following Lynch’s death in 1864, John Wilson Lynch came to be responsible for Belvoir, although he does not seem ever to have lived there, instead leasing the house and surrounding land. By further agreement with David John Wilson’s widow, Mary, on John Wilson Lynch’s death, the estate was to be inherited by his second son, if he should have one. At this time, Wilson Lynch had a very substantial property: according to the 1876 Landowners of Ireland his Duras estate ran to almost 5,410 acres, while the Belvoir estate covered just over 3,100 acres. Within a couple of decades, however, circumstances began to change rapidly, due to the Land Wars and accompanying unrest among tenants. In December 1885, for example, the wife of John Murphy, Belvoir estate bailiff, was shot in the leg. Accordingly, John Wilson Lynch began to sell much of the land and by the time of his death in 1911 he had embarked on disposing of the greater part of the old Belvoir estate. Accordingly, by 1922 his successor there, a younger son William Wilson Lynch, retained just the house and part of the demesne. On his death, he left the property to a housekeeper.





Belvoir would appear to be an 18th century house built by one of the Wilson family, perhaps John who lived here until his death in 1797. A month later, the place was advertised to let, since his heir David John Wilson was, as mentioned, then only a minor of seven. In 1814 it was recorded as being unoccupied in 1814, but presumably some time after that date David John Wilson decided to restore the building and gave its regular two-storey over basement, five bay facade a superficial Gothic makeover. With Tudoresque hooded mouldings over the windows and an ogee doorcase inside an arched porch featuring the family coat of arms. As for the interior, it would seem to have followed the usual layout of two smaller reception rooms to the front and two larger to the rear, with entrance and staircase halls occupying the central portion of the building.  Given that he had other residences elsewhere in Counties Clare and Galway, John Wilson Lynch does not seem to have lived in Belvoir and in 1872, presumably following the death of Mary Wilson,  the house’s furniture was sent to his properties at Duras and Kilcornan. Belvoir was then let to a Lady Loftus, and during the following decade was burnt down; despite an insurance claim, it was never rebuilt. Instead, when William Wilson Lynch came to this there with his wife in the second decade of the last century, they occupied the old service courtyard, which lies to the north-west of the main building; this remained in use until relatively recently but has now begun to fall into ruin. The other notable feature of the property is a chapel to the north of the house and linked to it by a Gothic screen wall. An arch above the doorcase proclaims, ‘The Ladye Chapel, Erected in return for a Wife’s Devoted Attention during a Severe Illness in 1862 & 1863.’ This indicates the little three-bay, single storey building was constructed towards the end of John Wilson Wright’s life in gratitude for his wife Mary’s care. The chapel was maintained and seemingly still in use until a few years ago, but alas has since been vandalised and some of its stained glass windows broken. It seems only a matter of time before it falls into the same condition as the rest of the site. 


Pretty Vacant



On the main street of Shinrone, County Offaly, what should be a pretty family home but is now a vacant and much vandalised property. Likely dating from the 19th century when the village was more prosperous, the building’s interior shows evidence that this was once a fine residence.Inside the hall and facing the entrance, the wall is divided in three by slender arches, the space to the left containing a staircase, that to the right a passageway leading to the rear of the house, while the centre one takes the form of a niche. Reception rooms to the left and right of the hall show further evidence of former glory, all now abandoned and in decay.



A Neighbourhood Replete with History



A modest village in County Laois, Aghaboe (from the Irish Achadh Bhó, meaning ‘field of cows’), has been briefly mentioned here before (see Happily Disposed in the Most Elegant Taste « The Irish Aesthete) in relation to Heywood, some 12 miles away, where a pair of mediaeval windows have been incorporated into an 18th century folly. But Aghaboe itself deserves attention, since it was once the site of an important early Christian monastery, adjacent to which is now a restored early 18th century house along with other buildings of interest. 





The original abbey at Aghaboe was established in the 6th century by St Canice, who was interred here and around whose tomb would grow a substantial monastic settlement. In the 8th century, one of the abbots was St Fergal (otherwise Virgilius), mathematician and astronomer who would later move first to France and then to Austria where he became Abbot of St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg. Nothing from this period in the monastery’s history survives due to repeated assaults on the place. The abbey was attacked and plundered by the Vikings in 913 before being rebuilt in 1052 with the relics of St Canice enshrined here. It was burned again in 1116 and rebuilt in 1189. In 1234 an Augustinian priory was established on the site (a Norman motte and bailey had already been constructed nearby). However, both the priory and a town which had grown up around it were burnt in 1346 by Diarmaid Mac Giollaphádraig, St Canice’s shrine being destroyed in the process.  In 1382 Finghan MacGillapatrick, Lord of Upper Ossory established a Dominican friary here and this survived until its suppression in 1540. What remains at Aghaboe are traces of the Dominican church, a long, barn-like building without aisles typical of the mendicant preaching orders, with one transept at the south-west end. There is a fine window at the east end of the nave and an ogee-headed piscina nearby on the south wall. In the transept, the east wall features a tall arched niche and there are also a couple of smaller aumbries. A watercolour by Daniel Grose dated 1792 depicts an elaborately carved doorcase on the south side but this has since disappeared. A few other traces of the church’s former decoration survive on the exterior of the Church of Ireland church lying behind the ruin: this dates from 1818 although the curious tower here – the lower portion square-shaped, the upper an awkwardly-placed octagon – may be a survivor from the Middle Ages, along with the three much-weathered heads over the west door. 





Just a few hundred yards south-east of the ruined and present churches, and overlooking both, stands Aghaboe House, a curiously double-fronted residence. The south facade, thought to date from c.1730, is of seven bays and two storeys, with a fine limestone pedimented doorcase. The north side is some 40 years later and is of five bays, centred on fan-lit doorway below a Venetian window above which a pediment breaks the shallow roofline. Internally, the house – which may incorporate elements of an older residence – is similarly divided into two parts, suggesting it was originally one room deep, with the larger rooms to the north, not least the double-height staircase hall with benefits from the Venetian window on the upper floor. Recently offered for sale, Aghaboe House was in a semi-ruinous condition when bought almost 40 years ago in 1984 by its present owner who has since gradually restored the building, along with others on the site, including another two-storey block diagonally to the immediate east. This might once have had a match on the western side; if so, it has long since disappeared. For much of the last quarter of the 18th century, Aghaboe House was home to the historian and Church of Ireland clergyman Rev Edward Ledwich (author of the text accompanying Francis Grose’s Antiquities of Ireland, published 1791-95) which suggests it could have served as a glebe house until a new one was built in 1820. The enlargement of the main house might even have been undertaken by Ledwich while he was in residence, since he and his wife had at least four daughters and four sons. Along with its neighbours, Aghaboe House contributes to an assemblage of buildings covering some 1,500 years of Irish history.



For more information about Aghaboe House and its sale, see: Aghaboe House, Aghaboe, Ballacolla, Co. Laois – Property.ie

An Irregular Beauty




Caught in the rain, this is Ballyannan Castle, a semi-fortified house built c.1650 for St John Brodrick, an English soldier who had arrived in Ireland almost a decade earlier as a captain of foot. By deft political footwork, he survived the turmoils of the rest of the century, only dying in 1711 at the age of 84 and leaving behind several sons, one of whom became the first Viscount Midleton. While the Brodrick family survives, Ballyannan did not do so, abandoned by the mid-18th century and already ruinous in 1786. The house is notable for its circular corner towers above which rise exceptionally tall chimneys. Ballyannan was once surrounded by extensive and elaborate pleasure gardens, described in 1743 as containing ‘all the irregular beauties that charm the fancy and delight the senses,’ but little now remains in fields given over to agricultural use, other than a small brick summerhouse (alas, heavy rain discouraged a visit to this. Another time…)



A Complex History


The name of Newcastle, County Longford would seem to indicate that the present house, or an earlier one on or near this site, replaced a more ancient building. The earliest information on the place seems to be from 1680 when the lands of its demesne, formerly part of the O’Farrell territory, are recorded as being purchased by Robert Choppyne (or Choppin) who built here ‘a fayre house and a wooden bridge.’ By this date, he had already become High Sheriff of Longford three years earlier and would go on to represent County Longford in the Irish House of Commons in 1692 before dying a year or two later. The Newcastle property was left to his nephew Anthony Sheppard who continued to acquire more land in the area, but not so fortunate when it came to continuing his line: he and his wife had four sons who died young and one who survived to adulthood, only to predecease his father. And while the estate was left to Sheppard’s daughter Mary, who had married Arthur St. Leger, Viscount Doneraille, she also died without heirs not long after.  So Newcastle passed to Anthony Sheppard’s widowed sister, Frances Harman (her late husband, Sir Wentworth Harman, had died in 1714 when ‘coming in a dark night from Chapel-Izod, his coach overturning, tumbled down a precipice, and he dies in consequence of the wounds and bruises he received’). For many years, the estate was managed by her younger son, the Rev Cutts Harman, who appeared here some months ago with regard to Castlecor (see A Worthy Recipient « The Irish Aesthete). Once again, the direct line failed and so, on the death of the Rev Harman, Castlecor passed to his nephew, Laurence Harman Parsons, on condition that the latter adopt his uncle’s surname: accordingly, he became Laurence Parsons Harman. He would also, in due course, be created Baron Oxmantown, then Viscount Oxmantown and finally first Earl of Rosse in 1806. His only surviving child was a daughter, Frances, who married Robert King, first Viscount Lorton, of Rockingham, County Roscommon. Their younger son, Laurence Harman King-Harman inherited both the Newcastle and Rockingham estates; on his death in 1875 the two were divided, with Newcastle passing to a younger son, Colonel Wentworth King-Harman. The  estate reached its largest extent during this period, running to some 38,616 acres and described in 1900 as ‘a master-piece of smooth and intricate organisation, with walled gardens and glasshouses, its dairy, its laundry, its carpenters, masons and handymen of all estate crafts, the home farm, the gamekeepers and retrievers kennels, its saw-mill and paint shop and deer park for the provision of venison. The place is self-supporting to a much greater degree than most country houses in England.’





The core of Newcastle could date from the late 17th century when Robert Choppyne built his ‘fayre house’ here. However, there is no visible evidence of this building, at least on the exterior where the main facade suggests a classic house from the early-to-mid 18th century of seven bays and two storeys (with perhaps the third added later). Around 1785, soon after Laurence Harman Parsons had inherited the estate, enlargements were made with the construction of slightly projecting wings, single-storey to the east and two-storey to the west. Further alterations took place in the mid-19th century when Newcastle passed into the possession of Laurence Harman King-Harman; the Dutch-style gable over the centre bay probably dates from this period, along with the entrance porch containing a family coat of arms. Internally, the building has undergone many alterations also, so that it is now not easy to detect what is from any particular period. However, there are striking – and now highly coloured – neo-classical Adamesque ceilings in the former drawing and dining rooms, the former featuring a large oval set in a rectangular frame, in which corner panels depict musical instruments. The dining room ceiling is centred on a diamond pattern decorated with urns and scrolling foliage. There is also some extant neo-classical plasterwork on the main staircase.  





While the Newcastle estate may have run to more than 38,000 acres in the 1880s, by the time Colonel Wentworth King-Harman died in 1919, various land acts meant that it had shrunk to less than 1,000 acres. His son, Major Alexander King-Harman, sold more land to the Department of Lands in 1934, leaving just the demesne thereafter. Following the major’s death in 1949, Newcastle was inherited by a cousin, Captain Robert Douglas King-Harman, who two years later sold the house and surrounding land for £11,000 to a religious order, the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary. The house was used as a retirement home for nuns and also as a boarding school, but the Missionary Sisters remained for less than two decades, leaving in 1968, after which Newcastle changed hands on a number of occasions and was run as an hotel. Although it is not open to the public at the moment, the property’s current owner, a Hong Kong businessman, applied to the local authority last August for planning permission to create a holiday park on the surrounding land, incorporating 99 mobile homes, together with ‘an area for touring pitches and casual camping spaces’, a reception hut, a playground and separate grass play area. The adjacent woodland accommodates a Centre Parcs holiday resort which also intends to expand its facilities.





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A Pocket Mansion




Currently for sale, this miniature Tudorbethan house stands a short distance north-east from the site of Kiltanon, County Clare. A substantial property, the latter was built in the 1830s for the Molonys, an ancient Irish family, one of whom – John O’Molony, Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick – followed James II to Paris where he helped to found the Irish College, in which he was buried following his death in 1702. In Ireland, the Molonys subsequently converted to the Established Church but they kept a souvenir of their Catholic forebear: a grey marble table inlaid with two hands of old French cards and a knave of diamonds torn in half as if they had just been thrown down. Seemingly, this piece of furniture had been presented by Louis XIV to the bishop in restitution for the king’s fit of pique over a game of cards in which the cleric was a participant. The table was supposedly lost, along with the rest of Kiltanon’s contents, when the building was burnt by the IRA in September 1920. Given its (somewhat weathered) appearance, it would appear that this little house was once part of the Molony estate and constructed around the same time as the main residence itself.