Welcome to My World


As regular visitors to this site will know, in September the Irish Aesthete celebrated its tenth anniversary. To mark this occasion, at the end of the week, an exhibition of photographs taken over the past decade will open at the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square, Dublin.





The Irish Aesthete: Ten Years in the Making will feature a wide selection of images, from country houses to cottages, from industrial buildings to ancient monasteries, from garden follies to graveyards. Some of these properties are in excellent repair, some in need of attention and some – inevitably – have joined Ireland’s already extensive list of ruins. All are part of the country’s architectural heritage and all are worthy of the attention they have received here.





Since 2012 the Irish Aesthete has taken more than 50,000 photographs (all with a mobile phone: we like to travel light). In the weeks ahead, a complete set of these is going to be given to the Irish Architectural Archive, a national institution and invaluable resource for anyone interested in Irish architecture and its history. Knowledge is only of value if it is shared. Providing the IAA with these images means anyone else interested in the country’s built heritage will have an opportunity to examine them and, one hopes, find something useful among the Irish Aesthete’s pictures . Should any reader here be in Dublin over the coming weeks, do pay the IAA a visit (there’s no admission charge). This isn’t the end of the collection; the idea is that it can continue growing as more photographs are taken. The Irish Aesthete has a future, as well as a past.

The Irish Aesthete: Ten Years in the Making can be seen at the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 from December 2nd until December 22nd, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm. See https://iarc.ie for further information
This exhibition has been generously sponsored by Sonbrook. 

 

 

Plainly Ruined



The remains of a church that was once part of a Carmelite monastery in Castlelyons, County Cork. This religious house was established in 1309 by John de Barry, but much of what can be seen today dates from the following century. Although sections of the cloister also survive, the church is the most substantial extant part of the site, a long nave separated from the chancel by a semi-ruinous three-story crossing tower. The building’s best-preserved details can be found on the west front, featuring a pointed doorway with hoodmoulded surround below a twin-light, ogee-headed window.

A Chequered History



Few country houses in Ireland have had such a chequered history in recent decades – and yet somehow survived – as Middleton Park, County Westmeath. The present building dates from the mid-19th century, replacing an earlier residence which had previously belonged to the Berry family. When in 1846 James Middleton Berry inherited from his uncle James Gibbons another estate in the same county, Ballynegall (see Ballynegall « The Irish Aesthete) he sold his original property to George Augustus Boyd. Born in 1817, he was the only son of Abraham Boyd and Jane Mackay, both of whom been married before, she to George Rochfort, second Earl of Belvedere. Since he inherited a considerable portion of the former Belvedere estates through his mother,  in 1867 George Augustus Boyd legally changed his surname to Rochfort-Boyd. With his wife Sarah Jane Woods, he had at least seven children, their eldest daughter Edith in due course marrying Sir Thomas Chapman, who lived at South Hill, County Westmeath (see What Might Have Been « The Irish Aesthete). In due course, that marriage ended badly owing to Sir Thomas embarking on an affair with his own children’s governess: he and she went on to have a family of their own, one of whom was T.E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia.
To go back to George Augustus Rochfort-Boyd, just to complicate matters further, a year after he died in 1877, his heir legally reversed the two surname order, being called Rochfort Hamilton Boyd-Rochfort. All three of his sons had distinguished careers in the British army, the eldest Captain George Boyd-Rochfort being awarded the Victoria Cross in 1915 and the youngest, Captain Sir Cecil Charles Boyd-Rochfort being one of the most successful horse trainers of the mid-20th century. Following the death of the eldest brother in 1940 Middleton Park had been inherited by the middle sibling, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Boyd-Rochfort, who in 1957 decided to sell the property – and so began its decades-long woes.





In 1957 Middleton Park was bought by a German family who, a few years later, in turn sold the place on. In the mid-1970s the house and some 380 acres were acquired by the Fermanagh-born trainer and gambler Barney Curley who, in 1984 decided to dispose of Middleton Park not by the usual means of either auction or private sale, but instead through running a lottery: at the time, Ireland’s property market was extremely depressed and it seemed unlikely Curley would realise much for the place. Tickets were offered at £200 each and, according to a television report of the time, almost 9,000 of these were sold, meaning the vendor would have made around £1.8 million since his expenses were minimal, especially as the event garnered international attention. However, in the aftermath, Curley was prosecuted for promoting an illegal lottery, and sentenced to three months in prison: on appeal, he was given the benefit of the Probation Act, with no conviction recorded provided he contributed £5,000 to a local charity. In July 1992 Middleton Park was on the market once more, this time realising just £300,000 at auction, although at least in part that price was due to the fact that the amount of land around the building was now much less than had previously been the case. In 1999 it was sold to a couple for something less than £500,000 but less than two years later was once more available to purchase, along with just 12 acres, this time for £1.7 million. After a period of neglect, restoration work was undertaken on the building which opened as an hotel, specialising in weddings, in 2007; seven years later, this was sold as a going concern to a UK based private equity firm for around €1m. In 2016, that business closed and soon enough Middleton Park was being offered for sale – yet again. It then sat empty for three years before being bought by the most recent owners who once again had to embark on substantial renovations due to the building’s neglect. 





Middleton Park was designed by the London-born architect George Papworth who had moved to Ireland in 1806 when aged 25. His talent soon attracted aristocratic clients such as Jenico Preston, 12th Viscount Gormanston, for whom he supervised the renovations of Gormanston Castle, County Meath, and Ulick de Burgh, 14th Earl (and future first Marquis) of Clanricarde for whom he undertook similar work at Portumna Castle, County Galway. But he also designed a number of Roman Catholic churches, such as that for the Carmelite order on Whitefriars Street, Dublin, as well as being involved in work on the city’s Pro-Cathedral; another one of his projects was King’s, not Heuston, Bridge over the river Liffey. Middleton Park, dating from c.1850, was a relatively late work, since he died in 1855, and – at least on the exterior – a somewhat anachronistic one, since the design clearly owes much to Francis Johnston’s Ballynegall, which dates from 1808 and to which the Middleton Park estate’s previous owner had moved. In both cases, the building is of six bays and two storeys over basement, the two centre bays delineated by a single-storey Greek Ionic portico. And, as also once at Ballynegall, one side of the block concludes in a substantial conservatory designed by Richard Turner; at Middleton Park, the other side continues in a long, single-storey office range. However, the interiors of the two houses are quite different, not least because the entire centre portion of Middleton Park is given over to a vast, full-height staircase hall, the double-return stairs with scrolling cast-iron balustrade leading up to an impressive first-floor gallery, the whole lit by a vast lantern. Nothing else in the building could hope to match this tour-de-force, and the main reception rooms accordingly are of more modest – and comfortable – proportions, although during its various times as an hotel, a number of substantial function spaces were added to the office range side of the building. That Middleton Park has survived, given such a chequered history, is very fortunate and one must hope that the house’s future is more stable than has been its past. 


An Easy Charm

A couple of chimney pieces in Renvyle House, County Galway. For centuries this property belonged to the Blake family but in 1917 it was sold to the surgeon and writer Oliver St John Gogarty. However, because he served as a Free State senator, not only was Gogarty kidnapped by anti-Treaty supporters in January 1923 but the following month Renvyle House was burnt down. Five years later, it was rebuilt to the designs of Dublin architect Ralph Henry Byrne who enjoyed a hugely successful practice, not least thanks to many commissions from the Roman Catholic church. His work at Renvyle House is in what would have been, by that date, a somewhat anachronistic Arts and Crafts but in its use of natural materials and simple forms the interior displays considerable charm. Even before being rebuilt, Renvyle House had for many decades operated as an hotel, and continues to do so today. 

A Place of Strength


‘The present town of Cahir owes its rise to the late Earl of Glengall, and has been enlarged and greatly improved by the present earl. Cahir, however, is of remote antiquity, and it appears that a castle was built here prior to the year 1142 by Connor, King of Thomond; and in the reign of John, Geoffry de Camoell founded an abbey of which there are still some remains. The manor was one of those belonging to the Butler family, and in the reign of Elizabeth the castle was besieged by the Earl of Essex, with the whole of his army, when the garrison, encouraged by the hostilities then waged by the Earl of Desmond, held out for ten days, but was compelled to surrender. In 1647, this fortress was invested by Lord Inchiquin, and, notwithstanding its great strength, surrendered in a few hours after some of its outworks had been gained by the assailants.
Cahir Castle, the extensive old seat of the Butlers, is in the town. It is in good preservation and occupying the summit of an isolated rock, which rises over the left bank of the Suir, is a highly interesting and picturesque object.’
From A Handbook for Travellers in Ireland by James Fraser, 1844. 





‘The chief historical events connected with the castle were the sieges of it by the Earl of Essex, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and by Lord Inchiquin, in that of Charles I. The readers of English history are familiar with the unhappy expedition of Essex to Ireland, which was greatly promoted by his powerful enemies at court, as certain to end unfortunately, and thus as certainly to break his influence with the queen. Former viceroys and commanders in Ireland had suffered disaster upon disaster; and by the Battle of the Blackwater, in 1598, the English forces were reduced to the lowest ebb. Essex landed with an army of more than 20,000 men, the largest force, according to the Four Masters, sent to Ireland by the English since the invasion of Strongbow. But Essex was no more successful than his predecessors. His orders were, in the first place, to reduce the rebels in Ulster, and to put strong garrisons into their forts; but, instead of this, he marched into Munster and laid siege to Cahir Castle. He invested it with 7,000 foot and 1,200 horse; but the Earl of Desmond and Redmond Burk came to its relief, and Essex found himself unable to reduce it till he had sent to Waterford for heavy ordnance. On the tenth day of the siege, being the 20th of May, 1599, the castle was surrendered to the Earl of Essex and the Queen. But the surrender of the castle was of no real advantage. He made, indeed, capture of the rebels’ cattle in those parts, and drove the rebels themselves into the woods and mountains; but, as fast as he retired again towards Dublin, these rebels came out from their retreats and followed on his track, harassing his rear, so that his return was rather like a rout than the march of a conqueror. The disasters which befell him on this journey completed his ruin.’
From Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain and Ireland by William Howitt, 1864. 





‘During the troubles which followed on the rebellion of 1641, Cahir Castle was taken for the Parliament, by surrender, in the beginning of August 1647 by Lord Inchiquin; and it was again taken in February 1650 by Cromwell himself, the garrison receiving honourable conditions. The reputation which the castle had at this period as a place of strength will appear from the account of its surrender as given in the manuscripts of Mr Cliffe, secretary to General Ireton, published by Borlase. After observing that Cromwell did not deem it prudent to attempt the taking of Clonmel till towards summer, he adds that he “drew his army before a very considerable castle called Cahir Castle, not very far from Clonmel, a place then possessed by one Captain Mathews, who was but a little before married to the Lady Cahir, and had in it a considerable number of men to defend it; the general drew his men before it, and for the better terror in the business brought some cannon with him likewise, there being a great report of the strength of the place, and a story told the general, that the Earl of Essex in Queen Elizabeth’s time, lay seven or eight weeks before it and could not take it. He was notwithstanding then resolved to attempt the taking of it, and in order thereunto, sent them this thundering summons:-
“Sir – Having brought my army and my cannon near this place, according to my usual manner in summoning places, I thought fit to offer you terms honourable for soldiers, that you may march away with your baggage, arms and colours, free from injuries or violence; but if I be, notwithstanding, necessitated to bend my cannon upon you, you must expect what is usual in such cases. To avoid blood, this is offered to you by,
Your Servant,
O. Cromwell”
Notwithstanding the strength of the place, and the unseasonableness of the time of the year, this summons struck such a terror in the garrison, that the same day the governor, Captain Mathews, immediately came to the general and agreed to the surrender.’
From The Irish Penny Journal, Volume 1, No.33, February 1841. 

The Properest House



After Monday’s post about Maynooth Castle, here is another property formerly belonging to the FitzGerald family, and – if not still in their hands – at least in better condition. Kilkea Castle, County Kildare. The original building was erected in 1181 by Walter de Riddlesford but before long passed through marriage to Maurice FitzGerald, third Baron Offaly. While his successors never lived there full-time, Kilkea Castle was consistently maintained: in 1545 the Lord Deputy Anthony St Leger described it as being ‘the properest house and the goodliest lordship the King hath in all this realme.’ Following Maynooth Castle being irreparably damaged in 1642, Kilkea Castle became the FitzGeralds’ main residence until the late 1730s when they transferred to Carton. The building was thereafter let to tenants for the next century before being extensively remodelled by William Deane Butler for the third Duke of Leinster; what one sees today incorporates that Victorian work. Since being sold by the FitzGeralds in the 1960s, Kilkea Castle has been an hotel. 


The Largest and Richest Earl’s House in Ireland


‘Maynooth Castle was the original residence of the Kildare family. The manor of Maynooth in 1176 was granted by Strongbow to Maurice Fitz-Gerald, who erected the castle for protection against the incursions of the natives. His son Gerald, first Baron of Offaly, obtained from John, Lord of Ireland, son of Henry II, a new grant of sundry lordships. Thomas, second Earl, was married to a daughter of the Red Earl of Ulster, and sister to Ellen, the wife of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. During the latter half of the fourteenth century, Maynooth was one of the border fortresses of the Pale, or English possessions, in the defence of which Maurice, fourth Earl of Kildare, distinguished himself. John, the sixth Earl, enlarged the castle (1426) and it was then said to be “the largest and richest earl’s house in Ireland”.’
From an article on Carton in The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, Vol.22, May 16, 1872. 





‘In March 1535 the new Earl of Kildare had with him 120 horse, 240 gallowglasses and 500 kerns. Leaving Maynooth Castle strongly fortified in the hands of his foster brother and confidante Christopher Pareses, he went into Offaly to raise additional adherents for the summer campaign. Skeffington [Sir William Skeffington, then Lord Deputy of Ireland] invested Maynooth Castle of the 14th March, and on the 23rd Parese, consenting to betray his trust, permitted the outer defences to be taken without resistance, after which the keep was carried by assault. A park of heavy artillery, brought up to the siege by the English, and for which the Anglo-Irish were quite unprepared, had no small effect in compelling such a speedy surrender of a place the Earl of Kildare regarded as almost impregnable. Of the garrison, twenty-five were beheaded and one hanged, as it was thought dangerous to spare skilled soldiers. “Great and rich was the spoile, such store of beddes, so many goodly hangings, so rich a wardrobe, such brave furniture, as truly it was accounted, for household stuffe and utensils, one of the richest earl his houses under the crown of England.” Pareses, to increase the estimation in which his treachery should be regarded, dwelt on the trust and confidence bestowed on him; and Stanihurst tells us how his treachery was rewarded; “The Deputy gave his officers to deliver Parese the sum of money that was promised, and after to choppe off his head”.’
From an account of the Rebellion of Silken Thomas and the Siege of Maynooth given in A Compendium of Irish Biography by Alfred Webb, Dublin, 1878.





‘On the 7th January, 1642 a party of Catholics seized and pillaged Maynooth Castle, carrying off the furniture and the library, which was of great value; all the stock, including thirty-nine English cows and oxen, thirty horses worth £270, household goods worth at least £200, and corn and hay worth £300; they also deprived him of rents amounting to at least £600 a year. The castle was soon retaken, but in 1646 was occupied by a detachment sent for that purpose by the Catholic general, Preston [Thomas Preston, first Viscount Tara], when he was advancing against Dublin, and on his retreat it was dismantled, and has never since been inhabited.’
From The Earls of Kildare and Their Ancestors from 1057 to 1773 by the Marquis of Kildare (future fourth Duke of Leinster), Dublin, 1858.

Kept on Ice



Further to Monday’s post about Castle Gore, here is the property’s surviving ice house, located north-west of the now-ruined building and immediately above the river Deel. Prior to the invention of the refrigerator, ice houses were a common feature of country estates, ice being gathered during the winter months and then stored within such sites, usually sunken with an interior lined in brick, in order to preserve the ice for use during summer months. Although the roof is badly overgrown, this example – which probably dates from the late 18th century when Castle Gore was built – preserves much of its original form.


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. 

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.