Presents of Mind III


A niche in the façade of Dublin’s Lying-In Hospital, otherwise known as the Rotunda. Designed by Richard Castle, what is now the world’s oldest continuously operating maternity hospital opened on this site in 1757 and takes its popular name from the adjacent Round Room which with accompanying assembly rooms were constructed to raise income for the institution. The hospital’s façade is of Wicklow granite, the use of which is discussed in The Building Site in Eighteenth-Century Ireland written by the late Arthur Gibney (and edited for publication by Livia Hurley and Edward McParland). While a certain amount of investigation has been conducted into the architecture of the Georgian period, the process of construction during the same era is relatively little studied. This is what makes Gibney’s book so fascinating: he has studied contemporary records to discover how buildings both public and private were put together at the time. The first two chapters examine who was responsible for what on a building site, and the various form of contractual arrangements employed whenever work was undertaken. Regarding the latter, several options were available, some of which involved fixing the final cost in advance (carrying an attendant risk that contractors keen to make a good profit might skimp on materials and finish) while what was known as a measured contract ‘paid each trade separately for measured quantities of work based on agreed rates.’ The potential financial gains to be made by builders, especially in large-scale public schemes, were exposed following a parliamentary enquiry in 1752 into a national barracks building programme: this led to the dismissal of the Surveyor General Arthur Jones Nevill in 1752 (he was expelled from Parliament the following year).
Gibney follows with chapters looking at different areas of the building trade covering carpentry, joinery and the timber trade, wall construction, brickwork and stone, roofing and glazing, plastering and painting. The emergence of builder architects like George Semple and the Ensor brothers is also considered; as Gibney observes, ‘Eighteenth-century craftsmen in Irish cities were essentially part of a middle-class milieu with access to the same opportunities as members of the merchant community.’ By the book’s conclusion, the reader has a full understanding of how buildings were constructed in the 18th century and what characteristics distinguished them from equivalent structures in Britain and elsewhere (it transpires the differences are most immediately evident in the way floors were made). Gibney’s work is a most welcome addition to the field of Irish architectural studies and helps to provide a fuller picture of building work in this country during the Georgian period.


The Building Site in Eighteenth-Century Ireland by Arthur Gibney (edited by Livia Hurley and Edward McParland) is published by Four Courts Press.

No Admission


A blocked doorcase in the former farmyard at Grangemore, County Westmeath. The main house here, now also a ruin, was built in the opening years of the 19th century by a member of the Fetherston family: it later passed by marriage to the Briscoes. During the last century what remained of what was once a substantial estate fell into decline, the house standing empty for periods until it was stripped of disposable assets and unroofed in the late 1950s. Its shell now stands in the midst of fields, as does the complex of which this doorcase forms a part.

‘About five hundred yards from the rock of Cashell’

‘Nov. 21.
Mr Urban,
I send you inclosed a sketch of Hore Abbey, in the county of Tipperary (fig.4). As I am often in the country, and fond of sketching, I shall now and then send you a sketch of some old castle or abbey in this kingdom, which you may think worth a place in your Magazine…





…Formerly there was an abbey of Benedictines or black monks, near St Patrick’s cathedral, at Cashell; but in the year 1272, David MacCarwill, who was then archbishop, having dreamed that the said monks intended cutting off his head, with the advice of his mother, turned them out of their abbey and despoiled them of all its revenues.
Having taken on himself the habit of the Cistercian order the same year, he founded Hore abbey, which was supplied with monks of the same order from Mellifont, in the county of Louth, and endowed it with the possession of the Benedictines, for which, for such an absurd reason, he had so cruelly and unjustly deprived them.
At the general suppression of the monasteries, Patrick Stackboll, who was then abbot, surrendered it the 6th of April, 1541.
Queen Elizabeth granted it to Sir Henry Radcliffe, with all its appurtenances on the 27th of January 1561; since which it has often changed its masters…





…It is situated on a flat, about five hundred yards from the rock of Cashell. The steeple, which is almost perfect, and about 20 feet square, is supported by a number of ogives, springing from each angle, some meeting in an octagon in the centre, and others at the keystone of the arches on which the structure is supported. The choir is about 29 feet in length and 24 in breadth; the east window small and plain. The nave is about 63 feet long and 23 broad.
It is said by the common people there is a subterraneous passge from the cathedral on the rock of Cashell to this abbey, but I could not find the remains of such place.’
P.Q.R.S.T.’


From The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1796

Presents of Mind II


In Ireland the term ‘castle’ is widely applied, on occasion to buildings which have nothing fortified about their appearance, and even lack relevant appurtenances such as towers and battlements. The most widespread appropriation has been for structures that are actually tower houses, built in large numbers between the 15th and early 17th centuries. A typical example is Lackeen Castle, County Tipperary believed to have been constructed for Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn, Chieftain of Ormond (died 1588). Cinneide is the Irish word for ‘Helmeted Head’: the Ua Cinneides were supposedly the first people in this country to wear helmets when going into battle against the Vikings. The name was later anglicised to Kennedy and the family remains widespread in this part Ireland. Although Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn’s son Donnchadh further fortified the castle, in 1653 it was surrendered to English forces. Nevertheless his descendants regained possession of the property and were in occupation in the 18th century. Lackeen is of four storeys and holds the remains of several chimneypieces as well as two flights of stairs, initially a straight run to the first floor, and then a spiral staircase to the upper levels concluding in a large open space, once roofed and containing the main living chambers.
Lackeen is one of thirty-six properties featured in Tarquin Blake’s latest book, Exploring Ireland’s Castles. Some of them – such as those in Trim, Kilkenny and Limerick – really are castles in the original sense of the word and date back to the arrival here of the Normans. Others, like Lackeen, Leap in County Offaly and Fiddaun in County Galway follow the classic tower house form. Another group, including Kanturk, County Cork and Burncourt, County Tipperary are representative of that transitional period in the late 16th/early 17th century when fortified manor houses were constructed. And finally there are a substantial number of buildings dating from the 18th and 19th century like Tullynally, County Westmeath and Lough Cutra, County Galway that were given a castellated appearance in order to imply greater antiquity.
Many of the castles selected by Blake are now ruins, a common enough occurrence for old properties in this country. Others, like Birr Castle and Charleville Forest, both in County Offaly, still retain their roofs. The two latter are in private hands whereas examples are also included of castles in public ownership, like Malahide in County Dublin and Johnstown, County Wexford. It makes for an eclectic and heady mix, all photographed by Blake who accompanies his pictures with a short history of each property. An excellent introduction to the distinctive yet diverse character of Irish ‘castles’.


Exploring Ireland’s Castles by Tarquin Blake is published by the Collins Press

A Tantalising Hint


A former gate lodge to Elm Park, otherwise known as Clarina Park, County Limerick. Designed by brothers James and George Pain, the house here was built 1833-36 for Eyre Massey, third Baron Clarina following the latter’s marriage to 18-year old heiress Susan Barton (her father was the Hiberno-French wine baron Hugh Barton). Built at the cost of £50,000 with an abundance of towers and castellations, Elm Park was demolished in the early 1960s. Today this lodge, the carriageway since enclosed to increase accommodation, is one of the few extant buildings to give a tantalising hint of the lost house’s appearance.

A Castle by the Sea


A story is told that at some ancient date two brothers, members of the O’Connell family, occupied Ballycarbery Castle as constables for the MacCarthy Mór, lords of much of south Kerry. The elder sibling lived on the lower storey, the younger on the upper and both wished to offer dinner to their lord on the same night. Accordingly to settle the dispute MacCarthy Mór declared he would eat with whichever brother had the meal prepared first. The elder then ordered his servants to block up all access to the upper floors and stand guard so that nobody could enter or exit. When his younger brother discovered this scheme, he arranged to have all his pots filled with Spanish wine in which the food was cooked, and by this means he had dinner ready first and was able to entertain the MacCarthy Mór.





The present Ballycarbery Castle appears to be of 16th century origin, although built on the site of an older fortified structure. From about 1350 the building was occupied and under the care of the O’Connells, serving their overlord the aforementioned MacCarthy Mór. The main body of the building is substantial, measuring some 74 by 42.6 feet with a projecting tower in one corner that rising four storeys. Sections of a surrounding bawn wall remain. A large vaulted chamber on the ground floor survives, and portions of other rooms at this level: much the same is true of the floor above, accessed by one of the building’s two staircases. It is easy to understand why a castle was erected here, since the spot on which it stands is close to the edge of the Atlantic, with views for several miles south-west towards Valencia Island and beyond, and towards Caherciveen and its hinterland to the east. Whoever held the castle could see the approach of any potential opponent, on either land or sea, well in advance.





Ballycarbery Castle appears to have remained in the custody of the O’Connells until the early 17th century: by this time, a large portion of the MacCarthy Mór territory – including the Lakes of Killarney – had passed into the possession of the Brownes, future Earls of Kenmare. The castle itself seems to have been attacked and badly damaged by English troops in 1652 but enough survived to ensure its survival. In the 18th century a family called Lauder built a new house attached to one side of the bawn wall: it appears in a watercolour made in 1792 by Daniel Grose. Already a ruin when he saw it, this building was demolished at the start of the last century. Grose’s picture shows large chunks of masonry fallen from the southern section of the castle, this damage presumably from the mid-17th century when the building was subject to attack. In 1910 it was noted that a tenant farmer had demolished some twenty-five feet of the southern outer wall and was clearing away quantities of stone work until cautioned to desist. It looks as though little has changed since then.

Presents of Mind I


One of the gates at the entrance of the Keep Gate standing in the grounds of Birr Castle, County Offaly incorporating the Parsons family coat of arms. With machicolations, slit and loop windows, and crenellated battlements, this two-storey miniature castle was designed by Mary, third Countess of Rosse in 1847-8 and constructed as a famine relief project. Well inside the grounds of the estate, the Keep Gate forms part of a star-shaped moat around the castle, the moat being designed by the Countess’s uncle Captain Richard Wharton Middleton.
The Keep Gate is one of many buildings to feature in a splendid new publication Flights of Fancy: Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly written by County Architect Rachel McKenna. After initial chapters investigating the nature of follies and other demesne architecture, McKenna goes on to consider in depth fifteen different estates in Offaly, some well-known – like Birr and Charleville – others less familiar such as Ballycumber, Prospect and Acres’ Hall. Running to 348 pages, the work is extensively and admirably illustrated with abundant colour photographs, maps and plans, drawings old and new and many other images to complement the text. Published by Offaly County Council, this is a model of the kind of book all local authorities should be producing: one hopes others will follow Offaly’s lead in demonstrating such pride in the region’s built heritage. Hard to fault and impossible to resist, not least because the volume’s price is a very affordable €30.


Flights of Fancy: Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna is published by Offaly County Council.