Eminent Men


The light may be dim but the subject of this sculpture certainly wasn’t. Visitors to the Old Library in Trinity College Dublin tend to be so engaged with the architecture of the space that they don’t notice the plinths holding busts that line either side of the room. The all-male gathering features classical philosophers, distinguished figures associated with the college and also, rightly, a number of famous Irishmen. This is scientist Robert Boyle, discoverer of Boyle’s Law (which explains how pressure is inversely proportional to volume) as represented by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. In 1743 he was commissioned by the college authorities to produce the first 14 busts in the library. Nearby can be seen Dean Swift by Louis-François Roubiliac which dates from c.1748/49 and is the finest item in the collection.

Well Lodged

Hare Island, County Westmeath is located at the southern end of Lough Ree is said to derive its name from the number of hares that once inhabited its 57 acres. It appears there was a monastic settlement here established in the sixth century by St Ciarán before he moved on to Clonmacnoise. However, it was subject to repeated attack and plunder, and cannot have been a very secure place to live. At some point in the second half of the 12th century, the Augustinian canons settled on the island, perhaps under the protection of the local Dillon family who controlled this part of the country. They remained in possession of the island until 1653 when Sir James Dillon went into exile, having formed the famous Dillon Regiment which then fought in the French army. His estates passed into the possession of a Dublin merchant Ridgely Hatfield, who was sheriff of Westmeath and in the 18th century Hare Island next came into the ownership of the Hackett family. They sold it to the Handcocks, landowners in Westmeath whose main seat was at Moydrum Castle (see An Unforgettable Fire, August 15th 2018).






Originally from Lancashire, William Handcock was the first member of his family to settle in Ireland, arriving here during the 1650s. Within a decade he had become a member of the Irish parliament, representing Athlone as did many of his descendants. In this area he built a house called Twyford, which still stands but is now ruinous. The Handcocks prospered and in 1812 William’s great-grandson, also called William, was created the first Baron Castlemaine of Moydrum. Around the same time and presumably to mark his elevation to the peerage, he commissioned the design of Moydrum Castle from Richard Morrison. It is believed that the same architect was responsible for the lodge on Hare Island. A keen sportsman, Lord Castlemaine used the building for fishing and shooting expeditions.






Mark Bence-Jones comments that the lodge on Hare Island gives the impression ‘of having been concocted out of the “left-overs” from several different houses of various styles and periods. Among the elements incorporated are an 18th century classical pedimented doorcase, gothick windows, one of them with a mullioned bay and, on the exterior, a Regency veranda its wide eaves supported by slim iron columns. The main lodge is quite small and of one storey, the main room obviously serving for receptions, parties and dancing. Behind are a handful of smaller spaces, perhaps acting as accommodation. But behind the lodge are further ranges, including a pair of two-storey pavilions facing each other across a narrow courtyard. From what remains, these appear to have been for guests (Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, a cousin of Queen Victoria is said to have stayed on Hare Island in 1850 as a guest of the third Lord Castlemaine). Behind these pavilions are further outbuildings, probably for servants, livestock and so forth. The buildings remained in use until relatively recently, being available for rent. Unfortunately they have now fallen into serious disrepair and the lodge’s future does not look encouraging.

Faulty Vision

 

At the end of last August the Heritage Council, a statutory body ‘working for heritage’ released a five-year strategic plan which proposes to set out a new ‘vision’ for the country’s heritage and to map a route towards its realization (see: https://www.heritagecouncil.ie/news/news-features/heritage-at-the-heart-heritage-council-strategy-2018-2022). As so often with such documents this one is strong on lofty aspiration but rather weak on specific action leading to the achievement of goals. However, the idea is that by 2022 thanks to the council’s vision ‘heritage will be at the heart of Irish society and decision-making and that Ireland will be internationally recognised as a centre of excellence in heritage management, conservation and community engagement.’
On Wednesday a building less than ten minutes’ walk from the Heritage Council’s premises in Kilkenny city was gutted by fire. Adjacent to the Nore and across the river from Kilkenny Castle, for which it once served as a dower house, 88/89 Lower John Street dates in large part from the mid-18th century although it incorporated fabric from a much earlier building and contained the remains of a mid-17th century staircase. Despite its enormous architectural and historic significance – and despite being listed for preservation – the house was permitted by the local authority to stand empty for many years, its garden sheared off for the construction of an hotel, thereby severely compromising the site. Last year the house was finally sold, and hopes were raised that the property, its exterior a much-photographed landmark, would finally be restored. Instead it remained in the same condition until this week when left a smoking ruin.
One might have expected the Heritage Council – which declares its vision to be that ‘heritage is enjoyed, managed and protected for the vital contribution that it makes to both our social and economic well-being’ – would make a statement about this terrible loss so close to its own property. Yet it has remained silent: on Wednesday, the council’s Facebook page opted to post a video of Basque dancers in Galway. And ironically on the day after the fire, the Heritage Council was involved in a conference about urban renewal entitled ‘Unlocking Prosperity through Heritage-Led Regeneration.’ A building within Kilkenny offered an opportunity to demonstrate that the benefits of such regeneration, but that opportunity was missed. The Heritage Council’s home page bears the slogan ‘Our Heritage: Where the Past Meets the Future.’ In the case of 88/89 Lower John Street the past wasn’t given the chance to meet the future and all of us are the poorer. Articulating a ‘vision’ is admirable but occasions like this prove it to be insufficient.

 

A Matter of Concern


The old market house in Ballybay, County Monaghan. It was built in 1848 to replace an earlier building serving the same purpose which stood on another site but found to be in poor condition and demolished. Markets were held on the ground floor under the arches, while the space upstairs was used for a variety of purposes: a schoolhouse, a courthouse, a library and an assembly room for dances and concerts. Designed by William Walker, last year the building was offered for sale: now the old market house stands sadly neglected with the threat that it could yet go the same way as its predecessor.

From Paper to Stone


In 1718 Thomas Willcox left Exeter in Devon, and together with his wife Elizabeth, moved to the American colonies. The couple, who had nine children, settled in the Concord Township of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Here Willcox and a business partner established a paper mill in 1726, the Ivy Mills, today judged to be the second oldest such industry in the United States. It flourished over the coming decades, receiving the first order for paper used in the production of colonial currency: after 1775 the mill’s output was almost entirely devoted to producing paper for such purposes. When the American Revolution began, the Ivy Mill provided paper for currency printed first by the Continental and then the United States governments (Thomas Willcox was a friend of Benjamin Franklin). Interestingly, the Willcox family was always Roman Catholic and are believed to be the oldest members of that faith in Pennsylvania. They established a Mission chapel at the mill in 1730 and provided support for Jesuit priests travelling through this part of the country. The Ivy Mills remained in operation until 1866.





Arthur Valentine Willcox was born in February 1865, a great, great-grandson of Thomas Willcox. He was responsible for building the house seen here: Lisnabrucka, County Galway, which sits above a Connemara lake of the same name. A Philadelphia banker, Willcox was evidently a keen fisherman since in 1910 he invited Dublin architect Laurence McDonnell to design him a new lodge here. McDonnell, who early in his career had worked for both Thomas Newenham Deane and John Franklin Fuller, was responsible for designing the ‘Irish Village’ constructed at Chicago’s World Fair in 1892 before going on to enjoy a flourishing practice closer to home: he seems to have been responsible for quite a number of new buildings on Dublin’s Grafton Street. In 1908 he had undertaken extensive alterations to Ballynahinch Castle, which is only a few miles from Lisnabrucka, and this may explain why Willcox then in turn used the same architect for his own fishing lodge. The surrounding grounds were extensively landscaped during the same period: an article carried by Irish Gardening in January 1917 describes how ‘year by year the process of turning the bare slopes of the hill into wood and garden proceeds. The view from the house across the lake to Ben Lettery is probably unsurpassed by any other…’





Writing of Irish sporting lodges in Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies (Vol.VII, 2004), Patrick Boew noted that such buildings were intended ‘to accommodate a party of friends rather than a family for which a permanent residence might be designed.’ Furthermore its interior decoration ‘reflected the fact that field sports tended to be the preserve, though not the exclusive property, of men. The internal decoration of a lodge was utilitarian and sufficiently sturdy to withstand the heavy wear expected from occupants kitted for outdoor life.’ Such is the case with Lisnabrucka, which as was often the case, has a long facade (of nine bays) and appears to be of one storey with dormer windows inserted into the mansard roof. In fact, the building is more substantial, the sloping site allowing for another, lower storey on the side facing the lake, and upstairs a long corridor off which open a considerable number of bedrooms, although these – as Bowe again notes was customarily the case – are all rather small and narrow. The focus is on the main floor’s reception rooms, in particular a large entrance hall off which open the dining room, drawing room and study, along with sundry service spaces, not least a big kitchen (those sportsmen had substantial appetites). The plain rendered exterior is relieved by a series of concrete columns with Ionic capitals, the whole centred on a door with Tuscan columns supporting a pediment. Lisnabrucka was built at a time when radical social and political change seemed unlikely, but within a decade Ireland would be a fundamentally different country making the construction, or even survival, of such places highly unlikely. This one endured and over the past century, both inside and out has changed very little. As a result it can be deemed a rare surviving example of the Edwardian sporting lodge.

The Last of his Line


From the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Volume XXVIII, Part IV (1898) by Francis Joseph Bigger: ‘The ancient church of Kilmakilloge stands on a rocky eminence a little north of Bunaw. Burials have been very numerous in the interior of the church ruins, and many bones and portions of coffins are strewn about. The gravestones clearly denote the overwhelming proportion of O’Sullivan to any other name; and one curious monument to the east of the church bears an inscription worth recording. This monument is a high, square altar-tomb raised on steps and supported on four carved pillars, the intervening spaces being filled with stone panels. On the east end is the following inscription “I H S This Monument contains the Last Remains of the Late McFININ DUFFE He DEPD THIS LIFE THE 1 DAY of SEPT 1809 aged 58 years Pater Patrie.” This McFinin Duffe was an O’Sullivan, and the last of his line.’

Nature Stakes Her Claim


An abandoned farmhouse in County Westmeath. Normally it is the smaller, less-well constructed buildings which are forsaken, but this one was sturdily built and so its neglected condition is somewhat surprising. The interior still contains much of its furnishings, although now in some disarray. Soon the roof will give way and then the walls tumble, allowing Nature to stake her claim to the site.