Wilton House on College Square North, Belfast. Dating from the early 1830s, the neo-classical building was originally constructed as two houses and is believed to have been designed by Thomas Jackson, a young Waterford-born architect who had recently gone into partnership with the older Thomas Duff of Newry. Towards the end of the 19th century, the pair of houses were combined into one so as to operate as the Hotel Metropole. In 1907 it began to be used as a mission hall for the Adult Deaf and Dumb Organisation which through various incarnations remained on the site until 2011. Since then it has sat empty and falling into dereliction, although at least the property still stands, unlike many others in the immediate vicinity which were lost to bombing and subsequent demolition during the 1970s. Wilton House was finally sold last year to developers who have lodged a planning application to convert the house into eight apartments, with a seven-storey extension to the rear containing a further 19 apartments.
‘In 1280, Richard de Burgh was virtually ruler of Connacht, and on June 28, 1283, there was a grant given him and his wife, Margaret, of the land which Emmelina, late Countess of Ulster, held in Ulster. It is therefore more than probable that Emmelina, Dowager Countess of Ulster, suggested to the Red Earl, to make a foundation for the Carthusian Order in Connacht. Anyhow, in or about the year 1280, Richard de Burgo established a monastery for the Chartreuse brethren at Kinalehin, doubtless, colonized from Hinton. King Edward I was favourably disposed towards the new foundation, and, on July 27, 1282, issued letters, dated from Rhuddlan, guaranteeing English protection “for the prior, monks, and lay brothers of the Carthusian Order, de Domo Dei, in Kinalehin”…John de Alatri, Bishop of Clonfert, Papal Nuncio and Collector, was a munificent patron of the Kinalehin house from 1281 to 1295, in which latter year he was translated by Pope Boniface VIII to the Archbishopric of Benevento. His successor, Robert, an English Benedictine monk of Canterbury, was consecrated at Rome by Gerard, Bishop of Sabina, in December, 1295 It is evident from the State Papers that these two bishops of Clonfert were in the favour of the Holy See and of Edward I, and both were on intimate terms with the Red Earl. The Carthusians had also a friend in Stephen de Fulburn, Archbishop of Tuam, who was Lord Justice of Ireland in 1286. William Bermingham, his successor, was also a generous patron, to the detriment, as it would seem, of the English Dominicans of Athenry.
‘The next entry we meet with concerning Kinalehin is in the ecclesiastical taxation made by order of Pope Boniface VIII, in 1302, which, however, was not completed till the year 1307, under Pope Clement V. In this taxation, the Carthusian Priory of Kinalehin, written “Kenaloyn,” is valued at £6 13s. 4d., the tenth being given as 13s. 4d. It is stated to be in the deanery of “Dondery” – now Duniry – in which there were then five rectories, namely, those of Duniry, Lickmolassy, Kinalehin, Lickerrig, and Kilconickny – and six vicarages, viz., Duniry, Lickmolassy, Kinalehin, Kilcorban, Kilmalinoge and Drummackee. The vicarage of Kinalehin is valued at £1 7s. 4d. yearly, and the tenth at 2s. 83/4d.- the sum total of the deanery of Duniry being given as £22 2s. 8d.
Richard de Burgo, Earl of Ulster, was almost at the pinacle of his power in 1307, and on June 15, 1308, he was appointed for a time as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In November, 1307, Robert, Bishop of Clonfert, died, and a licence to elect was issued by Edward II on December, 7 of the same year. The chapter elected Gregory O’Brogan Dean of Clonfert, to the vacant see, who received restitution of temporalities on March 22, 1308. A few months later, Edward de Burgo was provided by Pope Clement V as Provost of Tuam.’
‘The Bruce invasion occasioned considerable unrest in the years 1315-1318, and though the fortunes of war seemed to favour Edward Bruce (who was joined by his brother Robert, in 1317), the victory of Faughart, near Dundalk, on October 14, 1318, established the English power more securely than before.
In Connacht, the death of Felim O’Connor at the battle of Athenry, led to a civil war, and in 1318, Turlough O’Connor had a rival in Cathal O’Connor. The Red Earl, weary of war alarms, retired to the Abbey of Athassel, Co. Tipperary, leaving his vast estates to his grandson William. The English in Thomond got a crushing defeat at Dysert O’Dea, on May 10, 1318. No wonder that the Carthusian monks of Kinalehin felt insecure. What with the retirement of the Red Earl, the constant attacks on Sir William de Burgo, and the internecine feuds of the Irish, the year 1320 found the brethren of the Domus Dei on the slope of Sliabh Echtge, in a pitiable plight. The worthy Bishop of Clonfert died in 1319, and no election of a successor could be made for two years, “owing to the fighting in these parts,” as stated in the brief appointing his successor, John (Archdeacon of Kilmacduagh), in 1322. Accordingly, in 1321, the priory was suppressed by order of the General Chapter of the Grande Chartreuse, and in the same year the Carthusians left Kinalehin for ever. Sir William de Burgo died in 1324, and the Red Earl died penitently with the Augustinian monks of Athassal, on July 29, 1326, being succeeded in his title and possessions by his grandson William, murdered in 1333.
It only remains to add that in 1371 the Franciscans were given the ruinous priory of Kinalehin by Pope Gregory XI, and the friary was built in 1372. It flourished till 1740.’
After last Wednesday’s sad spectacle of the decaying former hospital in Ballinasloe, County Galway, here is a more positive example of what can be done with such properties. The Richmond Surgical Hospital on North Brunswick Street, Dublin originally opened in 1811 in what had once been a 17th century convent. Eventually in 1895 a new building was begun on the site, designed by Dublin practice of Carroll & Batchelor in the then-fashionable English Renaissance idiom employing red brick and terracotta. The U-shaped hospital has a central block with two wings that thrust forward, each with two floors of balconies for convalescents to enjoy light and fresh air, and each topped with ogee-shaped copper domes. The Richmond continued to operate as a hospital until being closed in 1987 during one of the era’s rounds of health service rationalisation. Thereafter it served for a time as a courthouse but in 2013 was bought by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, which body last year opened the building as an education and event centre thereby demonstrating that an old hospital can find a new purpose.
The slowly decaying carcase of the former St Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe, County Galway. Opened in 1833, it was originally called the Connacht District Lunatic Asylum, one of more than twenty built across Ireland during the middle decades of the 19th century. Many of them, including this one, were designed by Dublin architect William Murray who drew on the plans and ideas of his cousin, Francis Johnston: he had been responsible for the first such public institution in Ireland, the Richmond Lunatic Asylum (now part of the Dublin Institute of Technology campus) built 1810-14. St Brigid’s design was inspired by ideas developed at the end of the 18th century by philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham about how best to manage inmates in large institutions. He conceived of a building which he called a Panopticon (from the Greek panotes, meaning ‘all seeing’) which was originally circular, those in charge occupying the central section and thus able to observe what was happening around them. The Ballinasloe hospital is a variation on this theme. Here, as was also the case in the slightly earlier Limerick Lunatic Asylum likewise designed by Murray, wings radiate on four sides from a central block which provided accommodation for the governor and other members of staff: access to the wings and their extensions was only possible via the central block, the importance of which is emphasised by the clock tower topped by copper ogee dome. St Brigid’s is vast. At the turn of the last century, for example, it had more than 1,150 inmates and after that date further buildings were constructed on the site. After closing down in 2013, today most of it stands empty and decaying, like so many other historic properties that are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. The longer the building stands empty and neglected, the more likely it will fall into further decay – or worse be subject to the kind of vandalism from which other similar former institutions have suffered. The state owns St Brigid’s: its present condition sets a poor example of care for what is supposed to be a ‘protected structure’.
Writing in 1744, the indefatigable Mrs Delany described Seaforde, County Down as being ‘a very pleasant place and capable of being made a very fine one; there is more wood than is common in this country and a fine lake of water with very pretty meadows. The house is situated on the side of a hill and looks down on his woods and water. The house is not a very good one, but very well filled; for he has ten children, the youngest about ten years old – but that’s a moderate family to some in this country.’ In fact the ‘he’ to whom Mrs Delany here refers, Matthew Forde (1699-1780) had ten children with his two wives, so it is not surprising to find Mrs Delany some years later worrying that ‘there is one error which most fathers run into, and that is in providing too little for daughters; young men have a thousand ways of improving a little fortune, by professions and employments, if they have good friends, but young gentlewomen have no way, the fortune settled on them is all they are to expect – they are incapable of making an addition.’ In fact, all three Forde daughters did marry, so they must have been provided with some money by their father.
The Forde family claim descent from the Norman de la Fordes who are believed to have settled in Fordestown (now Fordstown), County Meath in the 13th century. The move to County Down occurred in the first half of the 17th century when Mathew Forde, of Dublin and Meath, ought the Barony of Kinelarty, running to more than 20,000 acres, from Thomas Cromwell, future first Earl of Ardglass for £8,000. The acquisition of property here began in 1617 then Forde married Eleanor MacArtan, niece of Phelim Macartan who more than a decade before had sold some of the land of the Lordship of Kinelarty to Lord Ardglass’s father. For the next century or so, the Fordes lived primarily in Dublin (where they sat in the Irish House of Commons) and County Wexford, where they also held property and which they represented in Parliament. It was only during the lifetime of the Matthew Forde of whom Mrs Delany wrote, that they started to spend more time in County Down (and indeed, to stand for election there). The original house at Seaforde, disparagingly described earlier as ‘not a very good one’, had been built by Matthew Forde’s father (also called Matthew). Other than a bare outline in grass, nothing remains of this building, which was destroyed by fire in 1816 and soon afterwards replaced by the present house in severe neo-classical style fronted in sandstone ashlar: its design is attributed to English architect Peter Frederick Robinson. Seaforde remains home to the Forde family.
As Mrs Delany noted, the situation of Seaforde is fine, aided by house and yards being flanked by large lakes to the immediate east and west. To the north of these buildings lies a five-acre walled garden, the origins of which date to the mid-18th century. As was the case with similar estates throughout these islands, in the Victorian era, these gardens were elaborately laid-out with axial paths and complex formal planting. The south-facing wall was covered in a series of greenhouses; tropical fruits such as pineapples grown in these won prizes at fairs in Belfast. However, by the middle of the last century, Seaforde’s walled garden had fallen into dereliction, and all the greenhouses cleared away. It was only following the marriage of Patrick Forde to Lady Anthea Lowry-Corry in 1965 that work began to reclaim the area, and to transform it into what can be seen today. At its centre stands a hornbeam maze, planted in 1975 to mark the Fordes’ tenth wedding anniversary and now the oldest surviving maze in Ireland. Elsewhere, can be seen perhaps the finest collection of Eucryphia on the island, and many specimen trees, as well as some of the earliest Wellingtonia to be grown here (in the mid-19th century). The gardens at Seaforde, together with an adjacent butterfly house, are seasonally open to the public.
The doll’s house façade of Annes Grove, County Cork. Originally called Ballyhimmock, the property was acquired by the Grove family in the first half of the 17th century. They were responsible for building the core of the house, which probably dates from c.1720. In 1766, Francis Annesley (future first Earl Annesley) married the estates’s heiress Mary Grove, who came with a fortune of £30,000. The couple lived on his property in Castlewellan, County Down. However in 1792 Annes Grove was inherited by the earl’s nephew Arthur Annesley on condition that he add Mary Grove’s name to his own: hence the family became Grove Annesley. It was during his lifetime that extensive changes were made to the house, not least the addition of the wooden porch with Doric columns. Famous for its gardens created at the start of the last century and now undergoing restoration, Annes Grove passed into the care of the state three years ago and will open to the public in due course.
Encircled by yew trees, here is the Temple of Mercury in the grounds of Dromoland Castle, County Clare. The building dates from the early 18th century, and appears on an estate map of c.1740 which shows it to have been of a elaborate formal layout that included avenues and terraces, as well as vistas of which this would have formed part, since it stands at the crossing of two straight paths. The temple features eight Doric columns supporting a timber dome covered in lead atop which perches a bronze statue of Mercury.
‘The village of Timoleague [County Cork] is situated on an arm of the ocean, which flows in between the hills, whose feet it washes. It is in the barony of Ibawn and Ballyroe, and eight miles S. W. of Kinsale. It was anciently a place of note, being much frequented by the Spaniards, who imported thither large quantities of wine, and tradition reports that it had fourteen taverns that sold Sack. But the harbour is now quite choked up with sand. A small river discharges itself here, called the Arigideen, or the Little silver Stream; it runs at the foot of an hill, formerly clothed with an oak grove for about a mile, in a picturesque serpentine manner. It passes by O’Shagnessey’s castle, the church-yard, and the walls of the Franciscan abbey. This venerable monastic edifice, whose ruins we have exhibited, was founded by William Barry, Lord of Ibawn ; the 17th December 1373 he died, and was interred in it. In 1400, it was given to Franciscans of the strict observance. John de Courcy, a Monk of this house, and afterwards Bishop of Clogher, with the assistance of James Lord Kinsale, his nephew, built the library, belfry, dormitory, and infirmary, and bequeathed liberally to it. He died in 15 18, and was buried in the church…’
‘Provincial chapters were held in this abbey in 1552 and 1563. Here are several tombs of ancient Irish families j as M’Carthy-righ’s, in the middle of the choir. West of it is an old broken Monument of the O’Cullanes, and on the right hand, that of the Lords de Courcy. The O’Donovans, O’Heas, and others, were interred here. By an inquisition taken, four acres and an half of land were found to belong to the abbey, which were then possessed by Lord Inchiquin, but now by Lord Barrymore. A considerable part of the tithes were granted to the college of Dublin. Near the church is a well, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, celebrated for miraculous cures. St. Molaga is patron of the parish, and it receives its name from an old monastic Cell dedicated to him, called Tea Molaga, or St. Molaga’s house…’
‘The building, though unroofed, is intire, for it was thoroughly repaired in 1604, It consists of a large choir with an aisle : one side of the said aisle is a square cloister arcaded, with a platform in the middle; this leads to several large rooms, one of which is said to have been a chapel, another a chapter-house, the third the refectory, besides a spacious apartment for the Guardian of the house, with kitchen, cellars, &c. the whole forming a large pile of building. There is an handsome Gothic tower, seventy feet high, between the choir and the aisle.’
The grandiously-named Woburn, which stands on the coast in north County Down. Designed by Dublin architect John McCurdy, the house was built in 1866-67 around an earlier seaside villa. This had been owned by wealthy mill owner John Gilmore Dunbar but was spectacularly enlarged into an Italianate mansion by his nephew and heir, George Orr Dunbar: the property subsequently passed to the Pack-Beresford family. Death duties obliged Woburn’s sale in the 1950s, after which it was bought by the Northern Ireland Ministry of Finance and converted into a borstal. More recently it became a training centre for prison officers but following the closure of this facility, the 43-acre site – on which many ancillary buildings had been constructed – stood empty until sold last year. The house’s future is unclear.
Last weekend saw festivities marking the 250th anniversary of Monksgrange, County Wexford. Completed in 1769, the house has remained in the ownership of the original builder’s descendants, something of a rarity in Ireland as is also the property’s extensive archive of documents, thoroughly mined over many years by Philip Bull for his recently-published book, Monksgrange: Portrait of an Irish house and family, 1769–1969 (Four Courts Press). In its simplified Palladian design, the building is representative of the aspirations of the country’s landed gentry in the mid-18th century, adopting and adapting aristocratic taste better to secure its own place in the then-social hierarchy. While Monksgrange has undergone some alterations and modifications over the past two and a half centuries, it retains an important place in the history of our architectural evolution.