Just an Inch


The somewhat scant remains of Inch Abbey, County Down. Originally on an island in the Quoile marshes (but since these were drained now on the banks of the river Quoile, the first monastic settlement here was established c.800 but few traces of it survive: the buildings were plundered more than once in the 11th and 12th centuries by the Vikings. The present monastery dates from 1180 when Cistercian monks from Furness in Lancashire were settled here by the Anglo-Norman knight John de Courcy and his wife Affreca as an act of atonement for his destruction of another religious house at nearby Erinagh.



Although wealthy, Inch Abbey seems never to have had a particularly large community; growth in numbers weren’t helped by Parliament restricting admission to the monastery to the English or Anglicised Irish. This helps to explain why in the 15th century, the transepts were blocked off and a small church created out of the chancel and the first bay of the nave, the rest of the space being abandoned. The tall east windows survive, as do those to the immediate north and south, but not much else, with few parts of the ancillary buildings still above ground. Inch Abbey was suppressed in 1541 and the site, together with some 850 acres, was granted to Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare.

School’s Out


Marooned in a lake of tarmacadam and looking rather bleak, this is the former National School in Esker, County Galway. Solidly built of limestone and designed in a loosely-Tudoresque fashion, it would have contained little more than two large rooms, one for teaching boys, the other for girls. A well-carved plaque over the entrance carries the date 1858, which was two years after the Board of Works had taken over responsibility for the design of such buildings from the architectural department of the National Education Board. Above the date is an heraldic crest featuring a running stag, presumably part of the coat of arms of the local landowner?

Once One of the Grandest Places in Meath


‘The place is really magnificent; the old house that was burnt down is rebuilding. They live at present in the offices; the garden (or rather improvements, and parks, for it is too extensive to be called a garden), consists of six hundred Irish acres, which makes between eight and nine hundred English. There is a gravel walk from the house to the great lake, fifty-two feet broad, and six hundred yards long. The lake contains 26 acres, is of an irregular shape, with a fort built in all its forms. I never saw so pretty a thing. There are several ships, one a complete man-of-war. My godson [Garret Wellesley, later first Earl of Mornington] is governor of the fort, and lord high admiral; he hoisted all his colours for my reception, and was not a little mortified that I declined the compliment of being saluted from the fort and ship. The part of the lake that just fronts the house forms a very fine bason, and is surrounded by a natural terrace wooded, through which walks are cut, and variety of seats placed, that you may rest and enjoy all the beauties of the place as they change to your eye. The ground as far as you can see ever way is waving in hills and dales, and every remarkable point has either a tuft of trees, a statue, a seat, an obelisk, or a pillar.’
Mrs Delany writing to her sister from Delville on October 15th 1748.





‘Dangan, the former seat of the Wesleys, is distant about seven miles from Trim, and about twenty from Dublin. On the death of Lord Mornington, it became the property of the Marquis of Wellesley, from whom it was purchased by a gentleman named Boroughs, who, after residing there some time, and adding to it many improvements, let it on lease to Mr. Roger O’Connor. While in his possession the house and demesne were dismantled of every article that could be converted into money; the trees (of which there was an immense variety, of prodigious height and girth,) rapidly fell beneath the axe; the gardens were permitted to run waste. An application to the Lord Chancellor proved utterly ineffective, and at length, the premises being largely insured, the house was found to be on fire, and was of course consumed before any assistance could be obtained to extinguish it. One portion of the building, the walls of which are of prodigious thickness, is still inhabited by a farmer, who superintends the property.’
From Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, & by Mr and Mrs S.C. Hall, 1841.





‘Dangan was once one of the grandest places in Meath: all that remains of it now is a ruinous and roofless mansion of cut stone in Italian style, showing by its long range of window opes, and the mouldings of the window-jambs how lordly a dwelling it once was. All of the upper part of the mansion is gone, and of the walls all is destroyed above the height of the parlour windows. Grass grows and cows graze up to the walls. A tree has taken root in what was once the grand hall, and cattle shelter in it at night. An ancient park wall, gapped and broken, encloses what was once an extensive park of over 500 acres. Large herds of cattle have taken the place of deer, and range over it, the property of dairymen, tenants of the park. Long vaulted passages, with groined brick arches, connect the kitchen and the offices with the dwelling-house; these arched ways, once noisy with servants attending upon the gay company that thronged the mansion, are now damp and cheerless and silent as the grave. A large French grille, or gate of florid scroll work, once gave entrance to the park; but grass now grows on each side of the gate, showing how long it is since it was opened to let in company.’
From Dangan and Roger O’Connor by John P. Prendergast in The Irish Monthly, Vol. 12, No. 127 (January 1884)

 

The Holy Trinity Massacre


Prior to the arrival of the Normans, much of what is now eastern County Offaly was under the control of the O’Conor Faly clan. The invaders pushed them west, their lands granted to the knight Robert de Bermingham who had participated in Henry II’s expedition to Ireland in 1172. However, over the next 100 years the O’Conor Faly’s gradually returned to their former territory and in 1294 they captured Kildare Castle. By then their opponent was de Bermingham’s descendant Piers Mac Feorais, Baron of Tothemoy who in 1289 had been appointed by the crown authorities to guard the much of the frontier in Kildare. Finally in 1306 a truce was reached between him and Mac Feorais agreed to act as god-father to the nephew of Murtough O’Conor Faly, then head of the clan.


On the Feast of the Holy Trinity, 1306 the Berminghams and the O’Conor Falys gathered for the baptismal ceremony at Carrickoris church, and then adjoined for a feast at the adjacent feast. However, as the Annals of the Four Masters later recorded, ‘O’Conor Faly (Murtough), Maelmora, his kinsman, and Calvagh O’Conor, with twenty-nine of the chiefs of his people, were slain by Sir Pierce Mac Feorais Bermingham in Mac Feorais’s own castle, by means of treachery and deceit.’ The little godson meanwhile was thrown off the top of the battlements and so died. Now wonderfully peaceful, this is the site, if not the actual building, where the notorious massacre took place.

A Melancholy Gloom


‘Adjoining the castle [in Malahide, County Dublin], and embowered in a thick grove of chestnuts, that, in their leafy honours, cast a melancholy gloom upon the picture, are the roofless ruins of a venerable church, silent, sad, and solitary; its solitude, more striking from the appearance of a low and lonely tomb, standing in the centre of the temple,bearing on its surface the effigy of a female, habited in the costume of two centuries ago.’


‘She was the daughter of a Baron Plunkett, of Killeen, and in early life had been betrothed to the young Lord of Galtrim. Upon the day of celebrating the nuptials, and at the delivery of the last words of the solemn contract, the bridegroom was called away from the altar-steps to head his followers, and scatter a gathering of the Irish. Oh, vanity of earthly hopes ! in a few short hours he was borne homewards to his widowed bride,
“Stretch’d on his shield, like the steel-girt slain
By moonlight seen on the battle plain.”
This sepulchre the curious now often visit to contemplate the resting-place of one who had thus the unusual fortune “to be maid, wife, and widow in a single day.” Her fortune afterwards proved less wayward, for she lived to marry, as her third husband, Sir Richard Talbot, of Malahide.’


From The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland by J. Stirling Coyne and N.P. Willis (1841)

Subject to Change


Few houses in Ulster have as complex a history of building, alteration and demolition as Montalto, County Down. There was likely some kind of residence on the site in the 17th century when this part of the country was still under the control of the McCartan family. However, at some point around 1650 it was either bought by or granted to George Rawdon who had moved from Yorkshire to Ireland twenty years before to manage another estate in County Antrim. Until 1775 the Rawdons’ principal abode was at Moira elsewhere in County Down; Montalto would therefore have been a secondary property. It was the settler’s great-grandson, John Rawdon, created first Earl of Moira in 1761 who decided to move to Montalto and erect the core of the house still seen today. Quite what was there before he took this decision is unclear, as is the precise date of the house’s construction; in their recently published guide to the Buildings of South County Down, Philip Smith suggests work on Montalto may have begun in the second half of the 1750s, soon after the future Lord Moira had finished erecting a splendid town house on Usher’s Island in Dublin. (Later used by the Mendicity Institution, Moira House was demolished in the 1950s, with only the gateposts into the building’s forecourt surviving.) A couple of pictures from the 1790s (one of them depicting a battle in 1798 which took place in nearby Ballynahinch) show Montalto to have a somewhat disordered exterior, suggesting that work undertaken there in the previous years had been sporadic, and based around an earlier structure. The landscape in which the house sits, not least a fish-shaped lake in front of the east-facing entrance, was also undertaken during the same period.




Following his father’s death in 1793, the second Earl of Moira (later first Marquess of Hastings), a distinguished soldier who participated in the American War of Independence and later served as Governor-General of India, inherited estates in England from his mother and therefore sold his Irish property. Montalto was bought in 1802 by a young man called David Ker whose family lived elsewhere in the county. He appears to have undertaken some alterations to the building; a contemporary description notes that he had ‘much improved the house by putting in larger windows, painting, &, &.’ More than thirty years later, Ker’s son, also called David, decided to enlarge the building. The obvious way to do this would have been to add an additional storey above those already standing. In this instance, however, the owner decided to do down rather than up. In other words, the basement was excavated to create what is now Montalto’s ground floor; something similar had been done by his father in the 1820s at the Kers’ other residence in Portavo. The considerable feat of engineering was most likely due to the involvement of a Newtownards builder/architect called Charles Campbell whose son died in 1849 ‘in consequence of a fall which he received from a scaffold whilst pinning a wall at Montalto House.’ In the 1850s David Ker made further additions by adding a two-storey ballroom extension to the rear (west) of the house, along with a new service section. The Kers sold the estate in 1910 to Arthur Vesey Meade, fifth Earl of Clanwilliam, his wife refusing to live in his family home, Gill Hall on the grounds that it was haunted.




In 1950 Lord Clanwilliam attempted to sell Montalto but was unable to find a buyer. Three years later, his son the sixth earl demolished the ballroom and mid-19th century service wing: the outline of the former can be seen delineated by a new beech hedge on the lawns behind the house. In 1979 the house and what remained of the estate was sold to a business consortium but six years later a fire further extensively damaged the building and led to further demolition, so that Montalto today is less than half the size it was a century ago. Nevertheless, it remains a substantial house and, since being acquired by the present owners in the mid-1990s, has been thoroughly restored and opened to the public for weddings and other events. And, as can be seen, the demesne has also received much attention. The house’s interior will be discussed here at a later date.

To a De Gree


The life of Flemish artist Peter de Gree appears to have been short and not especially happy. Born in Antwerp, he originally studied for holy orders but abandoned this for painting, specializing in grisaille work which led to his being noticed by banker David La Touche, as well as Sir Joshua Reynolds. When de Gree came to London in 1785 the latter provided him with fifty guineas and a letter of introduction to the fourth Duke of Rutland, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He arrived in Dublin the same year and soon began to receive commissions. However, as Strickland noted in his 1913 Dictionary of Irish Artists, ‘De Gree, although he worked hard and charged low prices for his pictures, was not very successful. He lived in two small rooms, stinting himself in order to send to his parents in Antwerp all that he could spare of his earnings. The privations he endured broke down his health, and in January 1789, he died in his house in Dame Street.’


De Gree’s first commission in Dublin was to decorate the first floor Music Room of David La Touche’s residence at 52 St Stephen’s Green with a number of panels inspired by musical themes; these remain in situ. The series of large grisaille panels shown here, featuring a number of classical gods and goddesses, as well as playful putti, were originally painted for the house next door, 51 St Stephen’s Green, built around 1760 for the M.P. George Paul Monck, but they were subsequently removed and installed in another house in County Wicklow. More recently the panels were acquired by the Office of Public Works which has its headquarters in 51 St Stephen’s Green. However, that building has undergone many changes since first constructed and so de Gree’s series of grisaille pictures have now been hung in a first floor room on the western side of Dublin Castle’s Upper Yard, one of suite recently redecorated and opened to the public.

A Short Life


All that remains of the former Church of Ireland church of St Nathlash in Rockmills, County Cork. Assisted by a grant of £800 from the Board of First Fruits, it was built in 1811 by Colonel Richard Aldworth whose main residence, Newmarket, was elsewhere in the same county but who kept a sporting lodge close to Rockmills, the latter name derived from the flour mills which Colonel Aldworth had also established in the area. Described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as ‘a small neat structure with a tower and spire’, the church was in use for little more than 65 years. Following the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, the parish of Rockmills was united with that of nearby Kildorrery, and in 1889 the greater part of St Nathlash’s was demolished.

Old Buildings Speak


Time knows no beginning or end
Old Buildings wave and wend,
And the words live on in the wind…




Old Barns Speak
Of braying donkey and milking cow;
Hens and ducklings, screeching and scratching
In the hay-laden, sweet-funk air.




Time knows no beginning or end
Old Buildings wave and wend,
And the words live on in the wind…


Lines from Old Buildings Speak by Marianne Reninger 

Small but Perfectly Formed


The chapel on Lambay Island, County Dublin was originally built on the site of an older ruin in 1833; at the time, the place was owned by the Talbots of Malahide Castle. At the start of the last century, the island was bought by Cecil Baring and his wife Maude, who commissioned Edwin Lutyens to renovate and extend all existing structures on Lambay, not least the late mediaeval castle. Lutyens also transformed the external appearance of the chapel into a small Doric temple (although it was, and still is, used for Christian worship, as the statue of the Virgin on the indicates. Inside the building, a stained glass window designed by Patrick Pollen in the form of a cross was later inserted.