Sent Up in Flames


‘Many a time I walked for three or four hours without meeting even one human being. Here and there a stately mansion, around it the gate lodge of the serf, the winding avenue, the spreading oaks, and the green fields in which no man was visible. Landlordism, the willing instrument of British rule, had wrought this desolation. I renewed my resolve to do my share in bringing about the change that must come sooner or later.’
Dan Breen, My Fight for Irish Freedom (1924) 





“I’ll bloody well settle that: six big houses and castles of their friends, the Imperialists, will go up for this. I don’t know what GHQ will do – but I don’t give a damn.” We selected six houses and castles from the half-inch map, then sent off the order.’
Ernie O’Malley quoting Liam Lynch in On Another Man’s Wound (1936)





‘Castles, mansions and residences were sent up in flames by the IRA immediately after the British fire gangs had razed the homes of Irish Republicans. Our people were suffering in this competition of terror, but the British Loyalists were paying dearly, the demesne walls were tumbling and the British ascendancy was being destroyed. Our only fear was that, as time went on, there would be no more Loyalist’s homes to destroy, for we intended to go on to the bitter end. If the Republicans of West Cork were to be homeless and without shelter, then so too would be the British supporters. ‘
Tom Barry, Guerilla Days in Ireland (1949)

Photographs show Deel Castle, County Mayo, formerly owned by the Gore family, Earls of Arran, and burnt by the IRA in September 1921. 

Ill-Remembered


In the grounds of St Paul’s church, Newtownforbes, County Longford, this is believed to be the grave of Charlotte Brooke, a woman today too-little remembered or celebrated. Born around 1740, she was one of 22 children (only two of whom survived to adulthood) of Irish novelist and dramatist Henry Brooke whose Gustavus Vasa was famously the first play banned under the 1737 Licensing Act: it appears the Prime Minister Robert Walpole the villain of the piece resembled him. From an early age, Charlotte Brooke enjoyed a passionate interest in the Irish language and literature, translating many ancient texts into English so that they could reach an audience beyond these shores: her most celebrated work, Reliques of Irish Poetry, was published in 1788. By that date, she had become impoverished, her own money having been invested in a failed industrial scheme run by a cousin. As a result, she ended her days dependent on friends, dying in County Longford in 1793. Her body is thought to have been buried here, although her name is not on the stone, which instead carried the names of other members of the Brooke family.  

Particularly Commodious


In 1680 two sisters from County Offaly, Elizabeth and Jane Hamilton, were married on the same day. While Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Crosbie, Jane married Sir Thomas’s eldest son (from an earlier marriage), David. Thus the latter’s heir Maurice, future first Baron Branden, was both nephew and cousin of Sir Thomas and Elizabeth Crosbie’s eldest son, also called Thomas. While David inherited the family’s main estate at Ardfert, County Kerry (see An Incomplete Story « The Irish Aesthete), Thomas Crosbie was left another estate further north in the same county at Ballyheigue. The ancient family formerly in occupation here were the Cantillons who supposedly occupied some kind of fortified building; they were displaced in the 17th century by the Crosbies (who, in turn, had been moved by the English government from their own traditional lands in Offaly). The younger Thomas died in late 1730, supposedly after he suffered from exposure and fatigue involved in rescuing the crew and cargo of a Danish vessel, the Golden Lion, which had become stranded on the local coast: the cargo happened to include 12 chests of silver valued at £20,000. A complex drama involving the disappearance of at least some of this silver, and the possible involvement of Thomas’s widow, Lady Margaret Barry (a daughter of the second Earl of Barrymore) then followed; what exactly happened and who benefitted from the theft has never been clearly established. In any case, a new residence was built at Ballyheigue c.1758 by Colonel James Crosbie, heir to the younger Thomas. Seemingly this was a long, low thatched property, by then somewhat old-fashioned in style, and surrounded by an orchard, gardens and bowling green. It was his grandson, another colonel also called James and an MP, first of the Irish Parliament and then, after the 1800 Act of Union, of the Westminster Parliament, who gave the house, renamed Ballyheigue Castle, its present – albeit now semi-ruinous – appearance. 





Two early 19th century engravings exist showing Ballyheigue Castle. The first, engraved by W. Radclyffe and published in 1819, depicts the battlemented building dramatically towering over the edge of a cliff with a precipitous drop straight to the sea. Six years later, James and Henry Storer produced an engraving for J.N. Brewer’s Beauties of Ireland (1826) which shows the castle standing so close to the seashore that waves almost lap the entrance. Both images were highly fanciful, testament to the era’s fondness for romantic settings. In truth, the building is located on ground that gently slopes down to a beach with expansive views across Tralee Bay. As already mentioned, the house was given a comprehensive overhaul shortly before either engraving appeared. Like so many other estate owners of the period, Colonel James Crosbie turned to one of the period’s most hard-working architects in Ireland, Richard Morrison. Around 1809, the latter invited his talented son William Vitruvius Morrison – then aged barely 15 – to come up with a suitable design for the building; responding to the challenge and ‘to the astonishment of his father, he, in the course of a few days, produced the noble design subsequently erected.’ How true this tale, or how much – like those early images – it is just an entertaining fancy, remains unknown. In any case, when the first engraving was published, an accompanying text in J.P. Neale’s Views of Seats reported that the intention of the architect(s) was to give an impression that the castle had been constructed in two different periods, neither of them the early 19th century. Instead, ‘the entrance front exhibiting the rich and ornamental style of the early part of the reign of Henry VIII; the flank elevation towards the sea has the character and appearance of the castellated mansions of King Henry VI.’ Inside, the same document observed, ‘the apartments are elegant, and are arranged upon a plan particularly commodious.’ Both the text and the engraving were heavily reliant upon material provided by Richard Morrison. 





Text here…Colonel Crosbie died in 1836 and four years later, when Ballyheigue Castle was occupied by his heir Pierce, it suffered a terrible fire during which, according to a contemporary report, the entire interior at the front ‘was consumed from the roof to the ground.’ However, most of the contents were saved and the place was soon rebuilt, presumably with the same ‘elegant’ apartments. The last of the Crosbies to live in the house was Pierce’s grandson, Brigadier-General James Dayrolles Crosbie. In 1912 he decided to sell the property for £7,700 to his eldest sister Kathleen who wished to keep Ballyheigue in the family. However, with the onset of the War of Independence and the Civil War, she in turn opted to dispose of the place: it was bought by a local man, Jeremiah Leen, for £4,000. He did not have long to enjoy possession of the building. During the War of Independence, Ballyheigue Castle had been occupied for a period by Crown forces and perhaps for that reason, in May 1921 the house was torched on the instructions of the IRA. Although Leen received some compensation for his loss, the castle was not rebuilt, the main block left a shell, although the service wing to the east, which presumably survived, remained in use. In the 1970s, the western section of the house was converted into a series of apartments but the most important portion, that once containing those elegant apartments, remains a ruin. Meanwhile, in the mid-1990s the surrounding demesne land was converted into a nine-hole golf course, with a club house built behind the castle. Accordingly, a restoration appears unlikely.

Where Goats May Safely Graze




On high ground offering superlative views over the surrounding countryside, this is St Osnadh’s church, Kellistown, County Carlow. It dates from 1810 when built with assistance from the Board of First Fruits, replacing a mediaeval church, the remains of which stand behind the present structure. St Osnadh’s is small and plain, with no windows on the north or west sides and it seems never to have been supported by many parishioners; as early as 1891 an observer noted that it was ‘no longer alas used for Divine Service, and apparently since the demise of its Rector, Rev. Garret, has been more or less closed.’ (This is presumably a reference to the Rev James Perkins Garrett, who died in 1879). Meanwhile, by the same date ‘the burial-ground is being quietly grazed by two goats; a donkey, and occasionally a pig, is allowed to stretch its limbs in a wild chase.’ The grounds today are no longer home to sundry livestock, but the church is a roofless shell.



How the Mighty have Fallen (Part II)


Last July, one of Ireland’s major banks, AIB, announced plans to withdraw all cash services from 70 of its 170 branches. Although the company – in the face of near-universal outcry, not least from politicians in whose constituencies the threatened branches lay – quickly withdrew the proposed withdrawal, its original declaration of intent provided proof of what has long been evident throughout the country: the seemingly irreversible decline of regional towns. One by one, the staples of a thriving Irish urban settlement, whether it be the community hospital, the agricultural mart, the creamery, the post office, the bank and so forth, have packed up and left. For more and more of their needs, residents in smaller towns have been expected to head to a handful of bigger conurbations, where all the major services are congregated. Although this phenomenon is much discussed and analysed, one important aspect of the decline rarely appears in such discourse: the near-total disappearance over recent decades of Roman Catholic religious orders and the consequent abandonment of their buildings. 






The Presentation Order (full title: the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) was founded in Cork in 1775 by Honora ‘Nano’ Nagle, member of a wealthy Roman Catholic family. Within a few years of its establishment, Presentation nuns had begun to open and run schools for girls, first in Ireland and then elsewhere around the world. In its country of origin, the order soon came to have a presence in every town of significance: indeed, by the mid-19th century the presentation of a Presentation Convent and attached school could be seen as indicative of a town’s economic and social importance. There was, therefore, widespread delight when the first three nuns of this order arrived in Mitchelstown, County Cork in June 1853. As if to emphasise the significance of this event, the site they would occupy dominates the town: immediately adjacent to the Catholic church (built at the same time) on high ground to the east of New Square. A month after their arrival, the nuns opened a school and within a few weeks 637 children of all ages had enrolled there for classes. Thus matters continued for the next 150 years, during much of which time it must have seemed as though the Presentation order would long remain a notable presence in Mitchelstown. However, towards the end of the last century, the numbers of nuns declined and those remaining grew ever older. Twenty years ago, in 2002, the last of them left and the convent they had once occupied, along with the school they had run, became vacant.






The former Presentation Convent in Mitchelstown consists of a three-storey, five-bayed central block facing due west. Gable-ended wings on either side extend eastwards to the rear, making the entire building U-shaped. The north wing held the chapel, described by Frank Keohane in his Guide to the Buildings of Cork as ‘a charming if old-fashioned Gothick affair with a rib-vaulted ceiling with bosses and pendants, a gallery on clustered columns and tracery-like panelling to the E wall.’ Following the departure of its original residents, the entire site was sold to a development company, Irish and European Properties, which in 2007 received permission from the local authority to convert the existing buildings for ‘community and commercial use’, create an underground two-screen cinema complex with associated car park spaces and then cover much of the surrounding grounds with apartment blocks. The economic crash of the following years put that scheme on hold but in 2012 Cork County Council granted an extension to the developers’ plans. Nothing happened – except that the company went into receivership – and two years later, in 2014, the council announced plans to prosecute the owners of the former convent under the Derelict Sites Act. Although it seems some remedial works were then carried out on the building, little has since happened and so the place has fallen into a state of almost complete ruin. In the past, the claim was sometimes made that Ireland’s country houses suffered neglect and abandonment because the majority of the population felt no sense of association with them. That argument does not apply in this instance: the Presentation convent was an important part of Mitchelstown’s identity for some 150 years, representative of the town’s importance and a centre of education. There must be many local residents who attended school here, and who can remember how it once looked. Furthermore, it is not as though the convent has disappeared: these buildings still dominate Mitchelstown, but their present condition now tells a very different story, one of disuse and decay. This is not a problem unique to Mitchelstown. There are many other towns throughout Ireland with similarly dilapidated complexes previously occupied by religious orders. As much as the closure of banks and post offices, they demonstrate the ongoing decline of Ireland’s regional towns.

How the Mighty have Fallen



South-east and to the rear of Kilkea Castle, County Kildare are the remains of a 13th century church, once associated – as was the main building – with the FitzGeralds, Earls of Kildare (and later Dukes of Leinster). Only the east gable and the remains of a chapel to the north survive, along with fragments of monuments to this once-mighty family. Inserted into a wall, for example, is a carving of a chained and collared animal, which might be a dog or perhaps a monkey which featured on the FitzGerald arms. Aforementioned arms can also be found on another stone. Kilkea Castle is today an hotel.


A Tale in Three Parts


Ballinafad, County Mayo is a house in three parts, each with its own story. The first of these concerns the Blake family, one of the Tribes of Galway. In 1618/19 Marcus Blake, a younger son of a branch settled at Ballyglunin, County Galway, received grants of land in this part of the country. During the upheavals of the mid-17th century, possession of this property appeared uncertain, but in 1681 Marcus Blake’s grandson was re-granted the land by patent by Charles II, and it would thereafter remain with his descendants for more than 200 years. As attested by a date plaque on the rear of the building, the core of the present house was only constructed in 1827, but there may have been an earlier residence here. The same plaque carries the initials of both Maurice Blake and his wife Anne, an heiress whose money no doubt helped cover the costs of construction. The property was of two storeys over raised and rusticated basement, with five bays and, above the roof parapet, all the chimneys grouped into one stack, thought to be the longest of any such house in Ireland. The most striking feature of the facade is the entrance porch, flanked by flights of steps. Maurice Blake’s grandson, Colonel Maurice Moore (brother of the writer George Moore), whose mother had grown up at Ballinafad, wrote that the porch owed its inspiration to ‘an imperfect memory of one he had seen in Italy.’ Like the Moores, the Blakes were Roman Catholic, and this helps to explain why, in 1908, the youngest son of Maurice and Anne Blake, Llewellyn Blake – who had been made a Papal Count two years earlier – presented the house and estate to the Society of African Missions: seemingly, he believed that such a gesture would ensure the atonement of earlier generations of his family for whatever sins they may have committed. Of course, in the eyes of some Blake relations – not least his nephew George Moore – handing over such a valuable property to a religious order (instead of bequeathing it to them) was a kind of sin. 






When Llewellyn Blake died in 1916, he left £1,500 to have services held in churches for the salvation of the souls of his late wife, mother, father, brothers and sisters. £500 was bequeathed to the Sisters of Charity to assist in their foreign missions for the propagation of the Roman Catholic faith, after which the rest of his estate – valued at some £61,500 – was divided into no less than 15 partes, six of which were to go to the College of the Sacred Heart, as Ballinafad was now known: the rest was split between sundry other religious houses and organisations. Members of the extended family, including the Moore brothers, made efforts to have their claims to the estate recognised but with little success. At Ballinafad, the house served as a seminary for the Society of African Missions but then also became a secondary boarding school for boys. This meant the building had to be enlarged, with a new three-bay wing added to one side of the house in 1931, and another on the other side in 1948. On the exterior, both these are of similar style to the original residence and therefore do not disrupt but merely extend the facade (the interiors, on the other hand, reflect the era of their construction, not least because they were intended for uses such as refectory and dormitory). Further expansion to the rear in the mid-1950s and early 1960s was more overtly utilitarian and reflects the expectations of the mid-20th century that the Roman Catholic church would remain a dominant force in Ireland. However, such notions soon proved illusory and in 1975 the African Missionaries announced their intention to close the school and offer the place for sale. Ballinafad, along with 470 acres, was then bought by a livestock business called Balla Mart which ran an agricultural college here until 1989. The house then sat empty until 2000 when offered for sale with 400 acres for £2.5 million, or £500,000 for the buildings alone. A couple of years later, when Ireland appeared awash with money and development schemes rampant, it was announced that Ballinafad was to be turned into a five-star hotel, but the economic crash occurred before such a scheme was realised. Accordingly, in 2010 the buildings at Ballinafad were once more offered for sale, with a price tag of €499,000, but there were no takers and the property continued to deteriorate. 






Eight years ago, in 2014 a young Australian called Bede Tannock bought Ballinafad, standing on eight acres for  €80,000. Compared with earlier prices sought, the sum seems small but the task faced by the property’s new owner was enormous. By this time, Ballinafad ran to 70,000 square feet of floor space with 110 rooms and 340 windows, all of which was in perilous condition, with widespread water ingress and evidence of considerable vandalism. The interiors were largely uninhabitable and even today, parts of the house await attention but the quantity – and quality – of restoration work undertaken since 2014 is remarkable, especially given the owner’s limited funds. Parts of the building have been used for weddings and corporate events, and for providing guest accommodation. Work continues even though a couple of years ago, Ballinafad was placed on the market. It can only be a matter of time before the fourth chapter in its story begins to be written with, one hopes, the same spirit of optimism and courage that has pervaded the place for the past eight years.

A Local Landmark



A local landmark, this is the round tower at Rattoo, County Kerry. Due to the flatness of the surrounding countryside, it is possible to see this building from many miles distant. Built of yellow sandstone and rising more than 27 metres, the tower dates from c.1100 and is located next to an ancient religious settlement; the ruined church here is 15th century. The conical top remains but a large portion of it was replaced in the early 1880s, while during more recent restoration work, a sheela-na-gig was discovered on the inner face of the north window, the only known example of such carvings on a round tower. Further restoration work was halted during the pandemic and has not since resumed, leaving part of the base stilll encased in scaffolding.


Crumbling is not an Instant’s Act

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —




‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis

An Elemental Rust —




Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crash’s law.


Crumbling is not an Instant’s Act, by Emily Dickinson
Photographs of Rappa Castle, County Mayo

 

A Last Hurrah




This week marks the 150 Anniversary of the consecration of Holy Trinity in Westport, County Mayo, thought to be the last church to be built prior to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, and therefore acting as a last hurrah of the old ecclesiastical order in this country. Designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and constructed on a site provided by the third Marquess of Sligo, the building replaced a late 18th century church (now ruinous) elsewhere on the estate. The work is thought to have cost more than £80,000, this high price explained by the exceptional craftsmanship evident throughout, not least the elaborate carvings around all doors and windows on the exterior; these were the work of one William Ridge, about whom it appears little else is known. The interior is just as generously decorated with stained glass provided by Alexander Gibbs and Company of London, the windows frames in mosaic supplied by another London firm, Clayton and Bell. But the most notable feature of the interior are the inlaid murals covering large areas of the walls. Mostly representing scenes from the Gospels (including a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper over the west door), these are made from white marble with traced designs outlined in dark cement; the backgrounds are of gold leaf. These murals were made for the church by Samuel Poole of M.T. Bayne and Company of Westminster.