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.
The Coppinger family has been mentioned here before, in relation to Glenville Park, County Cork (see A Life’s Work in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). They are believed to have been of Viking origin, but long settled in Cork city where in 1319 one Stephen Coppinger was Mayor. Several of his descendants would hold the same position, as well as becoming bailiffs and sheriffs, thereby cementing their position in the area. However, none of this proved sufficient for Walter Coppinger, who emerged in the late 16th century and is always referred to as ‘Sir Walter’ although when he received a knighthood or baronetcy appears unknown. As Mark Samuel has noted, ‘He seems to have been a man of extraordinary vigour and despatch who, alongside a straightforward lust for power and wealth, also had a burning desire to develop his estates, boost productivity and indirectly modernise the whole of south-west Cork.’ In order to achieve these ambitions, Sir Walter, who may have trained as a lawyer, spent much of his time engaged in complex litigation.
As mentioned, Walter Coppinger was very keen both to increase his power and his land holdings. In consequence, he became involved in a long-running legal dispute with several individuals, much of it based around the settlement at Baltimore, County Cork. The lands here had belonged to Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, whose daughter Eileen was married to Coppinger’s brother Richard. However, in 1600 Sir Fineed had leased this part of his property to Northamptonshire-born adventurer Thomas Crooke: the latter then founded the port town of Baltimore as a colony for English settlers. It soon became the centre for a lucrative trade in both pilchards and wine, as well as a base for piracy along the coast: famously, in 1631 Baltimore was attacked by a group of Barbary pirates who carried off a large part of the population, both settlers and native Irish, into slavery. From the start, Coppinger was opposed to this development. In part, this may have been because he was a fervent Roman Catholic and therefore disliked the idea of English Protestants settling in this part of the country. But no doubt the success of Crooke’s venture also irked him, and therefore led Coppinger to embark on a series of lawsuits against the settlers over ownership of their lands, claiming he had acquired rights over them due to a mortgage provided by him to Sir Fineen O’Driscoll’s son Donogh. In 1610 the three men – Coppinger, Crooke and O’Driscoll appear to have reached an agreement whereby they jointly granted a lease to the settlers for 21 years, but litigation continued and was still ongoing at the time of Crooke’s death in 1630. The sack of Baltimore the following year was a blow from which the town never fully recovered, not least because it lost the greater part of its population. This event also seems to have damaged Coppinger’s own financial circumstances: in 1636 he leased Baltimore to one Thomas Bennet of Bandon Bridge and retired to the country where he died three years later.
In 1621 Coppinger embarked on building himself a new residence on a site west of Rosscarbery, County Cork. Like so many other properties constructed during the same period, this was a semi-fortified manor house. Coppinger’s Court, as it is commonly called, was supposed to have a chimney for every week, a door for every month and a window for every day of the year; whether this is true or not, it was certainly intended to display Coppinger’s wealth and authority. The house is Y-shaped, with the main entrance on the north side which is flanked by wings to west and east that project forward in order to create a forecourt. Behind these lies the main body of the building – it would appear the ground floor here was originally divided into a dining chamber and great hall – and then to the south projects an extension that once held the main staircase. Rising four storeys, Coppinger’s Court has gable ends and chimney stacks on every side, together with multiple windows arranged either in pairs or threes, thereby providing more light to the interior than was the case with tower houses built the previous century. The building speaks not only of wealth but also confidence. However, the latter was misplaced because in 1641, just two years after Walter Coppinger’s death and soon after the onset of the Confederate Wars, the house was ransacked and burnt, perhaps by some of those English settlers who had been subject to endless lawsuits from its late owner. Initially forfeited to the Commonwealth, in 1652 the property was returned to James Coppinger (thought to have been Walter’s nephew) after he had been deemed ‘an innocent Papist.’ The restitution was confirmed by Charles II but then in 1690, the family, still Roman Catholic, backed James II and as a result their estate was once more forfeited and this time not returned. Coppinger’s Court seems never to have recovered from the attack in 1641, and thereafter was plundered for stone so that by the mid-18th century, it had fallen into the ruinous state seen today.
This week, the Irish Aesthete turns ten. This site made its debut in September 2012, when blogs were still a forceful presence on social media, Instagram was just an infant, Twitter had not yet turned into an outlet for public rage, Facebook remained popular among teenagers, YouTube had not yet become the place to turn for recipes and exercise tips, and Tiktok was still five years away. (And by the way, the Irish Aesthete can be found on all those sites. Except Tiktok: nobody deserves having to watch a middle-aged man attempting to dance to rap music…)
What was intended when the Irish Aesthete made its debut a decade ago? It’s hard to remember, but probably much the same as is intended today. A means to share a passionate interest in Ireland’s architectural heritage. An aspiration that this interest might, in turn, encourage greater understanding and appreciation of that heritage. A desire to reach an audience beyond these shores. An awareness of the opportunity that social media offers to make contact with that audience (an opportunity often insufficiently, and inexplicably, under-utilised by others working in the same field).
And what, after ten years, has been the outcome? It’s impossible to judge what difference, if any, the presence of the Irish Aesthete has made to anyone else. But, in a rare instance of the first-person singular being employed here, to me it has proven a wonderful calling card, providing the means to connect with like-minded people all over the world. Thanks to this site, I have been privileged to come into contact, sometimes in person, sometimes via other diverse forms of communication, with many of you, a piece of good fortune which might not otherwise have been possible. In fact, although I didn’t realise it at the time, starting the Irish Aesthete was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done (although if I were really smart, I would have started it much sooner). From the very beginning, the Irish Aesthete has been a labour of love, although this site would likely not still be active were that love not reciprocated by its readers. Nevertheless, producing copy three times a week takes up considerable quantities of time, so I hope everyone will understand if that output is henceforth reduced to twice weekly. From now on, there will be new entries every Monday and Friday (with @theirishaesthete on Instagram continuing to appear thrice weekly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). There’s lots more to come and many more places to explore and share with you. So please stay with the Irish Aesthete and spread the word among anyone else you think might be interested. And let me finish by thanking all friends and followers for their support, their loyalty, their abiding interest over the past decade. Be assured that this has been, and continues to be, very much appreciated.
The ruins of Duckett’s Grove, County Carlow featured here some years ago (see Duckett’s Grove « The Irish Aesthete). Now lurking beneath a web of telegraph wires, here is one of the former entrances to the estate which, like the house is today a mere shadow of its former self. Dating from 1853-55, the architect responsible was John McDuff Derick, seemingly a friend of Augustus Welby Pugin and other members of the Gothic Revival movement. For his client, John Dawson Duckett, he produced this quite fantastical structure in local granite, replete with castellations, towers, turrets, bartizans and buttresses, together with a wealth of narrow arched windows. Some 240 feet long, the building is composed of two parts, that on the left (now a public road) intended to provide access to the tenants, that on the right being reserved for members of the Duckett family. The latter’s coats of arms, originally coloured and gilded, are elaborately carved over two of the entrances: one proclaims Spectemur Agendo (Let us be judged by our actions), the other Je Veux le Droit (I will have my Right). At one time, efforts were made to run the family entrance as a pub, but this venture failed and the entire structure now sits in decay, testament to the decline and fall of a landed family.
In December 1661 Roger Palmer was created Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine by Charles II. Palmer’s elevation to the peerage was thanks to his wife – from whom he was by this date already estranged – Barbara Villiers, the king’s maîtresse-en-titre. She had already given birth to one child and over the next dozen years would go on to have another six, none of them by her husband (an indication of their paternity is that they were all given the surname FitzRoy, although the last of them – also called Barbara – is widely thought to have been the result of an affair between her mother and John Churchill, future Duke of Marlborough). Palmer was quiet and studious, devoted to both the Stuart cause and to his Roman Catholic faith; as a result of the latter, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on several occasions. Beautiful, wilful, promiscuous, Barbara Villiers was temperamentally unsuited to be his wife: before the marriage, Palmer’s father had warned the groom that she would make him one of the most miserable men in the world. The prediction proved correct. Her infidelity – and not just with the king – was widely known and being granted an earldom only had the effect of making Palmer the most famous cuckold of the era; it is notable that he never took his seat in the Irish House of Lords (although he was happy to use the title). Barbara Villiers would go on to be created Duchess of Cleveland in her own right, and to receive many presents from the crown, not least the great Tudor palace of Nonsuch, which she arranged to have pulled down, so that the materials could be sold to pay her gambling debts. She also persuaded Charles II to grant her Dublin’s Phoenix Park, but the Lord Lieutenant of the time, James Butler, Duke of Ormond – with whom she had a long-standing feud – successfully ensured that the land did not pass into her hands.
Why was Roger Palmer given Irish, rather than English, titles? Both his family and that of Barbara Villiers had links with this country. On the latter’s side, the connection began with Sir Edward Villiers, born in Leicestershire and the elder half-brother of the early 17th century’s best-known royal favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. In 1625, James I appointed Edward Villiers as Lord President of Munster: this may have come about because Villiers’ wife Barbara St John was a niece of the Tudor adventurer Oliver St John, who had previously held the same office (he also became Lord Deputy of Ireland), and who in 1620 was created Viscount Grandison of Limerick. Since he had no male heir, it was arranged that William Villiers, eldest son of his niece Barbara (wife of Edward Villiers), should inherit the title. The notorious Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, was William Villiers’ daughter. In due course, a member of the Villiers family inter-married with the FitzGeralds of County Waterford: their descendants live still at Dromana, County Waterford.
The origin of the Palmers’ association with Ireland is less clear. It would appear that around the middle of the 17th century, one Thomas Palmer, son of a Norfolk landowner, came to this country and when he died without issue, his brother Roger inherited the deceased sibling’s property here. A grant of land in County Mayo to this Roger Palmer was confirmed by the crown in 1684 (two years earlier, his name had been included in an address of loyalty to Charles II from the nobility and gentry of the same county). Successive generations, usually with the same name of Roger, followed and in 1777 one of these was granted a baronetcy. Sir Roger, as he now became, had some 25 years earlier married Eleanore Ambrose, daughter of a wealthy Dublin brewer. Miss Ambrose was a Roman Catholic whose good looks and ready wit had previously caught the attention of Lord Chesterfield while he was serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On one occasion, he informed George II that he had found only one ‘dangerous papist’ in the country – Eleanor Ambrose – since ‘the brightness of her eyes and the charms of her conversations are indeed perilous.’ At a ball in Dublin Castle to mark the birthday of William III, Miss Ambrose appeared wearing orange lilies on her bodice. Lord Chesterfield wrote her the following lines:
‘Tell me Ambrose, where’s the jest
Of wearing orange on thy breast,
When underneath that bosom shows
The whiteness of the rebel rose?’
The Palmer baronetcy continued until the death without heirs of Sir Roger Palmer, fifth baronet, in 1910. By that date, through a series of judicious marriages, the family owned some 115,000 acres in Ireland, Wales and England.
When Roger Palmer was created a baronet in 1777, it was as Sir Roger Palmer of Castle Lackin. This was an estate in County Mayo, some miles north of Killala, the same land the grant of 1684 had confirmed as belonging to his ancestor. It would appear that around the same time Sir Roger received his baronetcy, he embarked on building a fine residence, looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean and known as Castle Lackin. This was a long, two-storey house, its rather plain exterior distinguished by with a wide curved bow at one end and a sequence of yards, some of them surrounded with battlemented walls and accessed through a pair of castellated gate piers. It is difficult to know how much time the Palmers ever spent in this beautiful but remote spot, since they also had a number of properties in which to live, not least Kenure Park on the outskirts of Dublin, Cefn Park in North Wales and Glen Island in Berkshire. Early in the 19th century, the house was occupied by James Cuffe, first Lord Tyrawley, and subsequently by his daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Charles Knox. In 1841, it was leased to Edward Knox and valued at £58. However, by 1911 – a year after the last baronet’s death – the house was listed as vacant, and in 1916 the former Palmer estate in Mayo was sold to the Congested Districts’ Board. Within a couple of decades, the house here had become derelict, and that remains the case.
For more information on the Palmer estates in County Mayo, readers are encouraged to see The Impact of the Great Famine on Sir William Palmer’s estates in Mayo, 1840-49 by David Byrne (2021).
The chapel which forms a centrepiece of Mitchelstown College, County Cork. Despite its name, this was never an educational establishment, but a group of almshouses occupying the north side of King’s Square and built between 1771-87 under the terms of the will of James King, fourth Baron Kingston, who died ten years before work began on the site. Designed and built by John Morrison, there were originally 24 houses but some of these were later sub-divided so that today there are 31. The chapel originally had a cupola, but this was soon replaced by the tower which can still be seen today: the original 18th century interior was entirely replaced in 1876. Directly beneath is the crypt of the King family where the remains of the 11th Earl of Kingston were recently placed.
Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise.
Helen’s Tower, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
A granddaughter of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in 1825 18-year old Helen Sheridan married the Hon Price Blackwood who, although a third son, would become fourth Baron Dufferin and Claneboye owing to the deaths of his two older brothers. The groom’s parents opposed the match, having hoped for a better, more wealthy bride than the beautiful but impoverished Helen Sheridan whose father had died when she was ten, leaving behind a widow and three daughters who lived in a grace-and-favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace. The Blackwoods had one child, a son called Frederick, and lived in London until he inherited the family title and estate in Ireland in 1839. Two years later, Price Dufferine died, having been accidentally prescribed an overdose of morphine by a pharmacist. Like her mother before her, Lady Dufferin was now left a widow, her only son Frederick then aged 15. The two remained close for the next 26 years, until her own death in 1867. Long before then, in 1848 the young Lord Dufferin had embarked on the construction of a tower on his estate at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down. Designed by Scottish architect William Burn, unsurprisingly the building is in the baronial style, of four storeys leading up to a flat, turreted roof that offers superlative views of the surrounding countryside. A porch at the base which provides access to the tower carries a date stone with the year 1850, along with a coronet and two opposed Ds with an ampersand between them, representing the Dufferin title. However, despite carrying this date, the building does not appear to have been finished, until the early 1860s when it was fitted with an interior stone spiral staircase giving access to the upper floors and roof. A room on the second floor has a coffered ceiling, the panels of which are painted with circular inscriptions enclosing coronets and crests. Above this is the oak-panelled library with a ribbed groin vaulted ceiling, the centre of which concludes in a pendant. When completed, the building was named Helen’s Tower, in honour of Lord Dufferin’s mother, who was herself a talented writer and poet. As a result, her son invited a number of the most famous poets of the period – among them Tennyson and Browning – to write verses about Helen Dufferin and her tower: many of these were then engraved on metal plates which can still be seen on the walls of the library.
Who hears of Helen’s Tower, may dream perchance
How the Greek Beauty from the Scaean Gate
Gazed on old friends unanimous in hate,
Death-doom’d because of her fair countenance.
Hearts would leap otherwise, at thy advance,
Lady, to whom this Tower is consecrate!
Like hers, thy face once made all eyes elate,
Yet, unlike hers, was bless’d by every glance.
The Tower of Hate is outworn, far and strange:
A transitory shame of long ago,
It dies into the sand from which it sprang;
But thine, Love’s rock-built Tower, shall fear no change:
God’s self laid stable earth’s foundations so,
When all the morning-stars together sang.
Helen’s Tower, by Robert Browning.
Helen’s Tower is now managed by the Irish Landmark Trust and offered for short-term lets, see: Helen’s Tower | Self Catering Accommodation in Bangor, Co Down (irishlandmark.com)
Sometimes confused with Coolamber Manor in adjacent County Longford, this is Coolamber House, County Westmeath, a building which has undergone various additions and subtractions over the centuries. There may have been an old castle on the site originally, incorporated into the present late-Georgian house constructed in the early 19th century for Robert Blackall, a major in the East India Company. It may have been his son, Samuel Blackall, who carried out alterations to the interior, installing the staircase seen here. He died without heirs and Coolamber subsequently became owned by a branch of the O’Reilly family, one of whom Captain Percy O’Reilly, was member of the Irish polo team that won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics. In 1947 Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony (a son of the last King of Saxony) and his second wife, former actress Virginia Dulon, bought the house and surrounding land and lived there until their respective deaths in 1971 and 2002. The present owners bought the place eight years ago and have gradually been restoring Coolamber as a family home, a wonderful but too-rare instance of such a property making a comeback to its original use.
Formerly known as Lisbrack House, this building in Newtownforbes, County Longford became an episcopal palace when enlarged and occupied in the early 1870s by George Conroy, Roman Catholic Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. It continued to serve this purpose until c.1920 when used as a novitiate for the nearby Convent of Mercy before in turn becoming a secondary school in 1951 and finally a nursing home. However, in recent years the property has stood empty, surrounded by newly-constructed houses but left to fall into the present state of ruin. In other words, the all-too familiar scenario for an old building in an Irish town.
The mellow charm of Newport House, County Mayo, a property dating from several periods of the 18th century. Overlooking the Newport river, the house was built in the late 18th century by the O’Donnells, descendants of Hugh O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell. In 1780, Neale O’Donnell, having conformed to the Established Church, was created a baronet and soon afterwards acquired property that had previously belonged to the Medlicott family. Here he constructed the present residence, possibly incorporating an earlier building; it was extended to the west (left-hand side), likely by the second baronet, in the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1889 Sir George O’Donnell died without male heirs and the property was then inherited by his niece Millicent. However, her only son, also called George, was killed at Ypres in 1915. Newport House then passed through a couple of hands before becoming a successful hotel. although that business currently appears closed.