On the banks of the river Barrow, at the point where Counties Carlow and Laois shade into each other, stands this building, known as Clongrennan Lock (also Lanigan’s Lock). Not far away are what remains of Clongrennane Castle, a 15th century construction, with the now-ruined early 19th century residence of the Rochfort family close by. Was this building, with its little turreted towers at each corner, originally part of the same estate? There appears to be no information available about the site: all answers welcome.
In his Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters, Ellis Waterhouse describes Thomas Frye (1710-62) as ‘one of the most original and least standardised portrait painters of his generation.’ Frye was born in Edenderry, County Offaly, a younger son of one John Fry whose father, born in Holland of English parents, appears to have settled in Ireland in the 17th century. Little is known of Frye’s training, although in their book on Ireland’s Painters, Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin note that his earliest signed work, dated 1732, ‘seems to have silvery echoes of James Latham’ so perhaps he spent time in the latter’s studio. Around this time, or even earlier, Frye left Ireland and by 1736 had settled in London where he was sufficiently well-known to be commissioned to paint the portrait of Frederick, Prince of Wales for the Company of Saddlers. While Frye specialised in portraiture, from the mid-1740s onwards, he became involved in the manufacture of fine porcelain and from around 1747 onwards he managed a factory producing this ware which he had co-founded in Bow on the outskirts of London. Due to ill-health, he had to retire from the business in 1759 but then concentrated on creating mezzotints, in which medium he again displayed both imagination and innovation. Today Frye is best-remembered for two series of mezzotints issued in the years immediately prior to his death; these show a fondness for dramatic chiaroscuro and what has been called a ‘Gothic intensity.’ As is widely known, these pictures would have a considerable influence on Joseph Wright of Derby and other later artists. Published in 1760 and 1761, the two series are all of heads, almost life-size, and although the sitters were unnamed, they are believed to have been taken from life: Strickland, in his Dictionary of Irish Artists (1913) reports that Frye had difficulty persuading ladies to sit for these pictures, as they were uncertain of the company in which their portraits would appear. Strickland also recorded that having been very corpulent and prone to gout, Frye adopted a spare diet, in consequence of which he ‘fell into consumption’ and died in April 1762.
For a long time, two of Thomas Frye’s portraits hung in a house called Frybrook, in Boyle, County Roscommon. This property dates from some time after 1742 when the Edenderry merchant Henry Fry (older brother of the aforementioned Thomas Frye) was invited to move to Boyle by James King, fourth Baron Kingston whose family owned the town and, when there, lived in King House. As with many other large landowners of the time, King was keen to improve the economic circumstances of his estate, and thereby increase his own income, so Fry was expected not just to settle in Boyle but also to establish a weaving business there. The Frys appear to have prospered; in 1835, Henry Fry of Frybrook and his relative, also called Henry Fry, of another house in the vicinity, Fairyhill, were founding members of the Boyle branch of the Agricultural and Commercial Bank (although this venture failed nationally after only a couple of years). Successive generations of Frys continued to live in the family home until the 1980s when, for the first time, it was offered for sale. Thereafter the house somehow survived but slowly fell into decline and appeared at risk of being lost forever until purchased by the present owners five years ago.
Frybrook is located in the centre of Boyle, on land immediately north of the river (also called Boyle) with its gate lodge – now a cafe – standing immediately beside the town’s main bridge. Found at the end of a short drive, the house is of five bays and three storeys, the absence of a basement explained by the proximity of the river, with its threat of flooding. Frybrook is rather more grand than the usual urban residence, its facade suggesting a country house, with a pedimented limestone doorcase with sidelights below a Venetian window above which is an oculus window. Inside, the ground floor has an entrance hall with main staircase to the rear, and reception rooms to the right and left; behind these, and down a few steps are the former servants’ quarters. The stairs climb to the first floor where additional large reception rooms, with fine cornices and handsome architraves above the windows, can be found; originally the main bedrooms were on the floor above. On the way up to this level, unusually the return is semi-elliptical with a door in its centre giving access to the service areas to the rear of the house. As mentioned, Frybrook was at risk of being lost before being bought by the present owners five years ago. Since acquiring the building, they have undertaken extensive restoration and plan to open Frybrook as a guest house in 2024.
Inside a walled enclosure overlooking the plains of County Kildare, the church of Oughterard (from the Irish Uachtar Árd, meaning ‘a high place’) is thought to have been originally established in the sixth or seventh centuries, although the present buildings are of later date. What remains of what must once have been a substantial religious settlement are a truncated round tower and a barrel-vaulted chancel with a 14th century three-light window at the east end. Much of the nave has been lost, but on the south wall is the burial site of Arthur Guinness, founder of a certain well-known Irish business. The reason he was entombed here: his maternal grandfather William Read was a tenant farmer in this part of the country (and, it is sometimes said, Arthur Guinness was born in his mother’s family house when she returned there for the event).
‘Whilst there is scarcely an old castle, abbey or ruin of any pretensions throughout the length and breadth of Green Erin, since the introduction of cheap literature, that has not been over and over described till we have naturally began to tire of their repetition, is it not strange that none of these popular writers have as yet attempted a description of the many remnants of antiquity abounding in Clonmore in the County of Carlow, particularly its venerable castle? From Ben-Hadir to Ben-Urris, from Donaghadee to Dingle, there is scarcely a place whose particular beauties have not at some time been duly chronicled; guide books in variety too, have been given to the public of Antrim and Cork, of Wicklow and Kerry, and every picturesque locality round our island; yet amongst them all, poor Clonmore – but a few hours drive (only thirty-five Irish miles) from the metropolis – has been completely unheeded and neglected. None of the Penny Journals published by Folds or Coldwell, Hardy, or Gunn and Cameron have even mentioned its name! Grose, in his Antiquities of Ireland, published in 1791-3, has given two neat views of the castle, which the Author of these pages is happy to say he has a few copies of; but then Dr. Ledwich, who furnished the descriptive portion of that work, on account of Grose’s premature death, has dismissed the subject in a few lines. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary and Ryan’s History of the County Carlow, both of their accounts of the castle and its antiquities are meagre enough, and incorrect in some particulars, which I intend to point out as I proceed; and, with the exception of these three publications, no recent writer that I could come at has ever favoured us with even a single line on the subject.’
From The Antiquities and History of Cluain-Mor-Maedhoc, Now Clonmore by John MacCall (1862)
Clonmore Castle: The spacious piece of antiquity of this place is situate near Hacketstown, and in the barony of Rathvilly. In shape it is square; one hundred and seventy feet by the same. The castle has towers at each angle, and is surrounded by a fosse, of about twenty feet in depth. The walls are five feet thick; and the narrow, stone-cased windows were obviously furnished with iron bars. One of the side walls has disappeared, but the other three are in good preservation and, if unassailed by the Gothic hands of man, will probably resist the tooth of Time for ages to come. The demolished wall, was no doubt removed in order to procure ingress to two or three cabins and their appurtenances, which classically ornament the interior. Indeed, I have been credibly informed, that part of the window-cases now serve the very ignoble purpose of forming part of the materials of some pig-sties! But such desecration of ancient works of art, by the unthinking and ignorant, is not at all an uncommon circumstance in this country.’
From The History And Antiquities Of The County Of Carlow by John Ryan (1833)
‘Cromwell’s army landed in Dublin in August 1649 and in 1650 the Cromwellian colonels, Hewson and Reynolds, captured the castle and ordered it to be slighted so as to make it indefensible, reducing the castle to the ruins that may be seen today. The fortress was both strong and large, square in plan, with high curtain walls defended with a tower at each corner. Although the Parliamentarians destroyed the gatehouse, extensive ruins indicating various halls and chambers remain. The northeast tower, known as the Six Windows, is still well preserved complete with a gargoyle known as “the pooka’s head.” Patrick Wall was granted the castle of Ballynekill (Clonmore) following the restoration of Charles II, together with 69 acres and 1 rood. In 1697, following the Williamite Settlement, what remained of the castle passed into the hands of Ralph Howard of Dublin. He was created Baron Clonmore in 1776, elevated to Viscount Wicklow in 1785, and his son Robert was made Earl of Wicklow in 1793. Clonmore was still in the hands of the Howard family in 1823, but then, around 1900, it passed to the Stopford family, Earls of Courtown.’
From The Byrnes and the O’Byrnes, Vol. II by Daniel Byrne-Rothwell (2010)
Welcome to Ireland’s equivalent of the Taj Mahal, and the smallest chapel in Europe (also reputedly the second-smallest in the world), located in the centre of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. Designed by architect William Hague and completed in 1879, the chapel was commissioned by local businessman Edward Costello to commemorate his wife Mary Josephine who had died two years earlier at the age of 47. Erected on the site of a former Methodist chapel and faced with ashlar limestone, the building measures 12 feet wide by 16 feet long. Crests on either side of the entrance contain the letters EMC and the Costello coat of arms with the motto ‘Ne te quaesiveris extra’ (Do not look outside for yourself). Lined in Bath stone, the interior has a carved marble altar behind which are stained glass windows by Mayer of Munich. Sunk into the floor and on either side of tiles bearing symbols of the Passion of Christ, are two large sheets of glass: through that on the left can be seen the coffin of Mrs Costello, while her husband’s remains lie to the right.
In 1598, at the age of 18 Lettice FitzGerald married Sir Robert Digby, a Warwickshire landowner. Born in 1580, Lettice was the only child of Gerald FitzGerald, eldest son of the 11th Earl of Kildare. However, her father died around the time of her birth, leaving her, she would claim, as heir general to the great FitzGerald estates. Her cousin, who had become 14th Earl of Kildare, begged to differ and so in 1602 Lettice and her husband embarked on a long and costly law suit – the Jacobean equivalent of Jarndyce v Jarndyce – in pursuit of her entitlements. During the course of a legal battle that lasted almost two decades, they were able to prove that the will of Lettice’s grandfather had been fraudulently altered after his death in order to disinherit her, but still the fight continued. Eventually, in 1619 King James I, while rejecting Lettice’s claim to be the 11th Earl’s heir general, granted her and her heirs the manor of Geashill, comprising some 30,000 acres in King’s County (now Offaly), thereby partitioning the FitzGerald patrimony. The following year, the king recognised Lettice as Baroness Offaly for life, on the understanding that after her death the title would revert to the Earls of Kildare.
At the centre of the Geashill estate lay a castle, originally erected in the late 12th or early 13th century by Maurice FitzGerald, second Baron Offaly. For a considerable period during the Middle Ages, this property had been in the hands of the O’Dempsey clan, but was back under the control of the FitzGeralds by the time Lettice was born. It is here that she chose to live following the death of her husband, Sir Robert Digby, in 1618 and the confirmation by the crown of her right to the estate soon afterwards. By then in her early 60s, Lettice was in residence at Geashill Castle at the onset of the Confederate Wars in 1641 and that found herself besieged by the O’Dempseys, to whom she was related. They offered her and her family safe passage if the castle was surrendered, otherwise it would be burnt down. In the face of this threat, she replied ‘Being free from offending His Majesty, or doing wrong to any of you, I will live and die innocently, and will do my best to defend my own, leaving the issue to God.’ The siege was eventually lifted, but renewed the following spring when the attackers arrived with a make-shift cannon: it exploded at the first shot, as did a second attempt using the same device. Meanwhile, as Terry Clain notes in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, Lettice ‘affected an aristocratic sang-froid in the face of imminent peril.’ Eventually, in October 1642 she was persuaded by allies to leave the property and subsequently retired to live on her late husband’s property in Warwickshire, where she died in 1658. Geashill Castle and the surrounding estate was inherited by her grandson, the second Baron Digby (her eldest son having predeceased her), whose heirs continued to own the property until the last century.
At some date, perhaps as early as the 17th century, the Digbys built a new house to the immediate east of the old castle, part of which was most likely incorporated into the structure, where material from the abandoned building was probably also reused. The house appears to have been substantial but somewhat plain, of seven bays and two storeys, with a series of service extensions and yards further to the east. The south front had short projecting wings on either side of the central three bays creating a shallow forecourt. In 1860, Dublin architect James Rawson Carroll remodelled the house, adding a porch on the south side, a canted bay window on the ground floor of the north side and cambered arches over the windows on the west. The Digbys chose to live on their English estate, Sherborne Castle in Dorset, so the house at Geashill was occupied by a succession of agents who looked after the family’s Irish property; in the opening decades of the last century, the agent was Reginald Digby, a cousin of Lord Digby. In 1922, Mr Digby needed to go to London for an operation, but was unwilling to leave Geashill Castle unattended, aware that the place would be vulnerable to assault, this being at the height of the Civil War. However, eventually he was required to leave and on August 19th 1922, the building was attacked and burnt. Like other house owners whose property suffered in this way, the Digbys applied for compensation from the courts but because nobody was resident in Geashill Castle at the time, it was argued that the family was entitled to only minimal funding. In consequence, the house was not rebuilt but left as a ruin. Under the terms of the Wyndham Act of 1903, most of the ancient estate had already been sold to tenants and in 1926 the Land Commission took over the demesne, thereby ending a link with this part of the country that stretched back not just to plucky Lettice Digby in the 17th century but as far as the O’Dempseys in the 14th century.
The name of St Olav’s church in Waterford testifies to the city’s Viking origins: Olaf II was a Norweigan king killed at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, and canonised in 1164. The original church here, likely made of wood, is supposed to have been constructed around 1050, long before Olav became a saint, so it must have been named after him at a later date, perhaps when the stone structure was built. The latter had fallen into ruin by the early 17th century and only an arched doorcase survives at the west end of the present church, which occupies the same site but was erected in the 1730s on the instructions of the then-Bishop of Waterford, Thomas Milles: its design has been attributed to William Halfpenny who, during the same period, produced designs for the Bishop’s Palace and Christ Church Cathedral, neither of which were executed (see: The Finest 18th century Ecclesiastical Building in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). St Olav’s remained a place of worship until 1970 and today serves as a community centre.
Anyone who travels about Ireland cannot fail to notice the sheer number of vacant buildings which have been left to fall into dereliction and which are intermittently the subject of attention on this site. Sadly, such is the case with today’s property, Kilheffernan Cottage, County Tipperary.
This is a curious building in three parts and the challenge for anyone looking at the place is working out dates of construction for each member of the trio. To the left (westerly) is a two storey, three bay house with two deep windows, six over six panes, on the ground floor and a blank wall between them; marks on the exterior render suggest that there was once a door here providing access to the house. The building to the right (east) now has a steeply pitched corrugated iron roof but, it is proposed in buildingsofireland.ie, was originally thatched. Four pretty glazed doors with decorative overlights open to a large single room which, in turn, leads into the little link building, an entrance hall with coved ceiling and glazed porch to the front. As for the largest of the buildings, the ground floor contains two reception rooms as well as a kitchen and ancillary rooms to the rear. The most notable feature is the wooden spiral staircase that snakes up to the first floor bedrooms and bathrooms. Unfortunately, having been neglected for a long period, slates have been lost from the roof and the interior has suffered severe damage from water ingress; regrettably, all the chimneypieces have also been removed. There is a range of outbuildings to the rear of the property.
Tracing the history of Kilheffernan Cottage is something of a challenge. At least some of it must date from the 18th century. According to landedestates.ie, a Thomas Ryan, whose family had been resident in the area since the early 1700s, was proprietor of the place in 1814. Samuel Lewis likewise lists T. Ryan as being there in 1837 and by the time of Griffith’s Valuation a couple of decades later, Patrick Fennelly held the house – valued at £10 and 13 shillings – from Thomas Ryan. In 1922 the historian Maurice O’Connell, a descendant of Daniel O’Connell, was born at Kilheffernan Cottage where his parents were then living. In 2005, the year of Maurice O’Connell’s death, the place was offered for sale with 15 acres. Since then, it would appear to have sat empty and allowed to fall into its present condition. Inevitably, the house is included on the local authority’s list of protected structures.
Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries, marking the country’s ten years of transformation 1913-23 is now drawing to a close, but there are still opportunities for analysis and reflection about what happened during that period. On Saturday, October 7th the Irish Aesthete will be participating in County Tipperary’s annual Dromineer Nenagh Literary Festival (celebrating its own 20th anniversary), in conversation with poet Vona Groarke about some of the great houses which were burnt in the early 1920s, many of them never rebuilt and lost forever. One such was Ardfert, County Kerry, set on fire in August 1922. The photographs above show the building before and after the conflagration, while those below are images of the interior, including the panelled hall with its classical grisaille figures, and the splendid main staircase, all lost in that fire, after which the house was pulled down so that nothing survives as a memory of its existence.
For further information about this event and others in the Dromineer Nenagh Literary Festival, please see: Left without a Handkerchief – dnlf
Follies of all varieties have featured here in the past, but one genre is especially interesting: the building designed to look older than was actually the case. In Ireland, some of the earliest examples of this style, in the form of faux-antique rusticated buildings, can be found at Tollymore Park, County Down (see Do the Wright Thing « The Irish Aesthete), the design of, or at least inspiration for, which came from Thomas Wright who visited the estate in September 1746. Wright is also credited with being responsible for the Rustic Arch at Belvedere, County Westmeath (see Very Mannered « The Irish Aesthete) which dates from around the same period as he was in this country. But the fashion for such structures lingered long after his departure, as is demonstrated by the gatelodge at Bracklyn, County Westmeath (see Refined Rusticity « The Irish Aesthete) where a shield above the bellcote arch bears the date 1821, although the building may have been constructed earlier. Nevertheless, it provides evidence that rusticity achieved nationwide popularity, with one fine example being found in County Laois.
The grotto at Ballyfin, County Laois probably dates from the third quarter of the 18th century, when the estate belonged to William Pole who lived there with his wife, Lady Sarah Moore. The couple were responsible for laying out the demesne in the newly-fashionable arcadian manner, not least by the addition of a large, man-made lake, close to which the grotto can be found. And like the lake, this structure was intended to look as though designed by nature, rather than a clever piece of artifice. The grotto lies below a mound on top of which once stood a long-since lost summer house, a suitable destination for a stroll from the main house. And while the latter would have demonstrated the civilised character of its owners, the grotto was, in parallel, intended to display their romantic sensibilities, influenced by Rousseau-esque notions of the noble savage. A roughly circular space in front of the little building is centred on a small pond, fed by a stream that trickles over stones down one side of the mound. The grotto occupies a generous portion of the circle, and takes the form of a primitive temple, with the substantial portico supported by large vertical boulders imitating columns, complete with uncut capitals. Beyond the portico are three openings, the middle one providing an entrance to the interior, one large room, the floor inlaid with pebbles around another circular pool. Above this rises the vaulted ceiling, a rustic version of that found in the Pantheon in Rome complete with central opening. In this instance, however, the view is not of open sky but of another giant stone seemingly hovering in space (although in fact it is supported by a number of other boulders not visible while inside the chamber). As already noted, the grotto at Ballyfin was envisaged to look as though nobody had been involved in its construction but instead had just happened, like a cave. But also highly popular during the same period were another kind of artificial building: the sham ruin.
The same romantic sensibility that led to the construction of Ballyfin’s grotto was also responsible for inspiring the ‘ruin’ seen at Killua Castle, County Westmeath. The castle is itself a sham, since when originally constructed by Sir Benjamin Chapman around 1784 this was a strictly classical house. It was Sir Benjamin’s brother and heir, Sir Thomas Chapman, who , after inheriting the estate in 1810 set about transforming the building into the castle seen today. However, perhaps he was inspired by work already undertaken within the demesne by his sibling. In 1800 Sir Benjamin had acquired some of the stonework from the medieval Franciscan friary at Multyfarnham, elsewhere in the same county, and used this to create a charming ‘ruin’ visible from the garden front of the house and occupying a mound overlooking the lake he had created some years earlier. He was by no means the only, or even the first, estate owner to recycle materials from another, older site. In the demesne at Heywood, County Laois Michael Frederick Trench had built an artificial ruined abbey, incorporating fine traceried windows said to be 15th century and to have been brought from the former Dominican friary at Aghaboe, some twelve miles away. The sham ruin at Killua is not intended to look like the remains of an old religious establishment (Sir Benjamin simultaneously employed other stonework to ‘embellish’ the old St. Lua’s Church, lying to the south-east of the demesne), but instead to suggest these were the surviving sections of an old castle or fortified residence. It comprises a two-storey, octagonal tower on octagonal plan with an adjacent wall constructed to look like the remains of a gable end of a building. Like the grotto at Ballyfin, it served no practical purpose other than to delight the eye and to provide a destination when residents of the main house and their guests undertook a walk. Thankfully in recent years both these follies have been restored by their respective owners so that they can continue to do the same today.