A Decent Man


It is understandable that obituaries in recent days of Paddy Rossmore should have concentrated on one moment in his life: a short engagement to Marianne Faithfull. Understandable, but regrettable because Paddy was a man who rather shunned publicity and, away from any limelight, engaged in many other noble enterprises. And it is for these that he deserves to be remembered, rather than a brief brush with celebrity. But to explain: while staying with his old friend Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin at Glin Castle, County Limerick Paddy met both Marianne Faithfull and her on/off boyfriend Mick Jagger. Within weeks she had left Jagger and become engaged to Paddy but within months the relationship, which seems to have given greater pleasure to tabloid readers than anyone else, had come to end. In the years I knew him, Paddy only ever referred in passing to the liaison. 





I first met Paddy Rossmore 15 or so years ago with his dear friends Sally Phipps and Virginina Brownlow, Molly Keane’s two daughters. Paddy was, as always, rather diffident but I was familiar with the many photographs he had taken during the 1960s of Ireland’s architectural heritage, and soon proposed that some of these ought to be gathered together and published as a book. Paddy’s career as a photographer had been entirely accidental, begun almost on a whim in 1962. In order to acquire the basic necessary skills, he went to work for a fashion photographer, although he didn’t intend to enter that particular field:  ‘being shy I was never good at photographing people, where you need the ability – which I have always lacked – of being able to do two different things at the same time, keeping people relaxed with talk while attending to camera settings.’ Nevertheless, Paddy’s abilities were quickly noticed by Desmond FitzGerald, who invited him to come on a trip to the west of Ireland and take pictures there of old buildings. ‘Architecture wasn’t at all my subject,’ he explained to me. ‘I just photographed what I was told.’ Other expeditions with Desmond soon followed, often in the company of Mariga Guinness. Paddy later remembered how on many occasions, ‘we would go up these drives and then, if the house wasn’t right, we’d turn around and drive away and the Knight would shriek, “Failure house, failure”!’ Because Desmond FitzGerald and Mariga Guinness decided the itinerary, ‘usually we were searching for buildings displaying the influence of Palladio, an activity which on a few occasions seemed to me to be a little obsessive when so many beautiful rivers (I’m a fisherman) and views of mountain scenery were bypassed. I got rather tired of going around all these houses – so they called me “Crossmore”’ Nevertheless, the experience of visiting historic properties, and having to capture them on film, provided Paddy with invaluable training. In addition, when it came to old buildings, he had two advantages: a naturally sensitive eye, and familiarity with the subject since childhood By the mid-1960s, his abilities as a photographer of buildings had become well-known and he was invited to record them for organisations such as the Irish Georgian Society, as well as for various architectural historians, and for publications like Country Life. But after less than a decade, he stopped taking pictures and in 1980 passed his substantial collection of prints and negatives into the care of the Irish Architectural Archive, which is where I had come to know and admire them. I must confess that the proposed book took longer to produce than really ought to have been the case, as various other projects distracted me from the task. However, I was determined that a new generation should have the opportunity to appreciate Paddy’s pioneering work in the area of Irish architectural photography and finally in October 2019 Paddy Rossmore: Photographs appeared and his work could once more be appreciated





Born in February 1931, William Warner Westenra, always known as Paddy, was the son of the sixth Baron Rossmore whose Dutch forbears moved to Ireland in the early 1660s and settled in Dublin. The family eventually came to own a substantial estate in County Monaghan where, in 1827 the second Lord Rossmore commissioned from architect William Vitruvius Morrison a large neo-Tudor house called Rossmore Castle: in 1858 the building was further extended in the Scottish baronial style by William Henry Lynn. It is said that a competition between the Rossmores and the Shirleys of Lough Fea elsewhere in County Monaghan over which family owned the larger drawing room meant the one in Rossmore Castle was enlarged five times. Famously the building ended up with three substantial towers and 117 windows in 53 different shapes and sizes. However, by the time Paddy was a child, Rossmore Castle was already suffering from rampant dry rot (mushroom spores were found sprouting on the ceiling of the aforementioned drawing room). In 1946 the family moved to Camla Vale, a smaller house on the estate, and the remaining contents of Rossmore Castle were offered for sale: the building was eventually demolished in 1974. Following the sale of Camla Vale, Paddy settled into a former gamekeeper’s lodge on what remained of the estate, until it was burnt out by the IRA in 1981. It was typical of Paddy that he never complained of this misfortune, nor sought to draw attention to his many charitable acts, not the least of which was the establishment in 1973 of the Coolmine Therapeutic Community at Blanchardstown on the outskirts of Dublin. The project incorporated an entirely new non-medical therapeutic approach for people who were drug dependent and has since helped many thousands of addicts. Paddy was self-effacing (for example, he resolutely declined to give any press interviews when his book of photographs was published) and deeply unmaterialistic. Last year he donated Sliabh Beagh, the main remaining portion of the Rossmore family landholding of 2,300 acres that straddles Counties Monaghan and Tyrone, to the charity An Taisce so that it might be preserved for posterity as a public amenity. In addition, many of the family portraits and other items he inherited have long been on loan to Castletown, County Kildare, Paddy – until he moved a couple of years ago into sheltered housing – living in a modest flat in London where I would visit him for tea. An exceptionally and thoroughly decent man, he deserves to be remembered as such, and his quiet selfless work across many fields celebrated. It was a privilege to have known him. 

William Warner Westenra, 7th Baron Rossmore of Monaghan, February 14th 1931-May 4th 2021

Preparing the Ground

One does not, as a rule, associate the late Knight of Glin with gardens (although his wife, Olda FitzGerald is a very fine gardener who has done much splendid work at Glin Castle). However, in 1976 with Edward Malins he co-authored a wonderful book called Lost Demesnes: Irish Landscape Gardening 1660-1845. The fact that an architectural historian should have been involved in this project draws attention to a crucial and often overlooked fact: that any examination of a country house needs to involve an exploration also if the building’s setting. Also, and just as importantly, it is extremely challenging to appreciate properly the layout of a country house demesne if the property which once stood at its centre – and indeed gave reason for its existence – no longer stands: one thinks of sites like Rockingham, County Roscommon and Heywood, County Laois which are like beautiful frames missing the picture which they once surrounded. Rather like books on country houses, both before and since, there have been publications looking at Irish gardens. A book of that name, for example, written by Edward Hyams, appeared in 1967. But this focussed on individual places, as have many of its successors. What set Lost Demesnes apart was that while naturally containing descriptions of many gardens – most of them, as the title indicates, long gone – the book contained a chronological account of the evolution of horticulture in Ireland across almost two centuries. And, as was so often was the case with the Knight’s work, underlying this scholarly investigation was a plea for better understanding and preservation of what country house gardens remained.





In his Foreword to Lost Demesnes, Desmond Guinness noted that ‘the life expectancy of a garden is short, shorter by far than that of the buildings in whose shadow it may chance to lie. And memory of it is shorter still, for if those who described Irish country houses are few and far between, fewer still are those who had anything at all interesting to say about their gardens.’ What makes Lost Demesnes both so significant, and engaging, was precisely that it gathered together all surviving fragments of memory and knowledge, and for the first time presented them to the reader in a coherent narrative. The text is also complemented by an abundance of illustrations (and this is where, one suspects, the Knight played a leading role) that further help when it comes to understanding the specific characteristics of the Irish country house garden and how this evolved over time.
In 1980, four years after Lost Demesnes had appeared, a companion volume was published, Irish Gardens and Demesnes from 1830, again involving Edward Malins as one of the co-authors but this time working with garden historian Patrick Bowe. The second book was intended to continue the story begun by its predecessor, as the two writers make plain in their introduction, bringing the story of Irish gardens up to what was then the present day but is now more than 40 years ago. Indicative of how quickly circumstances can change, the book closes with a discussion of four ‘modern’ gardens largely created in the second half of the last century by private individuals. These are Birr Castle, County Offaly; Malahide Castle, County Dublin; Glenveagh Castle, County Donegal; and Mount Congreve, County Waterford. Of this quartet, only one remains in private ownership (Birr Castle), the other three now being in the care of either the state or the relevant local authority. And as Malins and Bowe noted, such ‘majestic paradises of concentrated immensity’, displaying singular vision and grit in their creation, would likely ‘never again be made by private individuals if taxation continues at the present penal level.’ 





At least part of the fascination of Lost Demesnes and its successor lies in discovering places which have since disappeared, which of course is implied in the former work’s title. The earliest, Baroque-style gardens have fared especially poorly in this country, with only a handful surviving, of which the one in Killruddery, County Wicklow is the most notable example, although fragments of others remain in places like Antrim Castle, County Antrim. Otherwise we must rely on a variety of sources, such as contemporary topographical paintings of the likes of Howth Castle, County Dublin, Carton, County Kildare, Stradbally Hall, County Laois and Mount Ievers, County Clare, all of which show what was later swept away as fashions in garden design changed. Another fascinating resource, especially for famous but now vanished gardens such as that created by Viscount Molesworth at Breckdenstown, County Dublin, is John Rocque’s map of County Dublin produced in 1757, Another invaluable resource, much cited by garden historians, is Mrs Delany’s correspondence; it helps that she was herself a keen gardener at Delville (another sadly lost demesne) and an excellent draughtsman, so that she provides both verbal and visual descriptions of sites around the country. Later, painters and engravers began to produce their own images of Irish gardens and once photography became reasonably common in the 19th century, these places were also widely recorded, not least because by that time gardening was of interest to a wider section of society than had earlier been the case. So the Malins/Bowe volume is replete with photographs from c.1860 onwards offering us an idea of how those great Victorian gardens looked at a time when labour was cheap: included, for example, are two pictures taken in the 1890s of the parterre and terrace gardens at Woodstock, County Kilkenny which demonstrate the enormous work required to maintain such spots in pristine condition. The singular combination of interest and effort are required both to establish and sustain a garden, and this is what makes them so vulnerable to loss, especially in Ireland where our temperate climate means Nature will quickly reclaim any ground she has surrendered to a gardener. Lost Demesnes and Irish Gardens and Demesnes from 1830 were both pioneers in the field, and since then much more research has been undertaken, and published, on the subject of Irish garden history, not least by Drs Finola O’Kane and Vandra Costello. But here, as in other fields of study, it is always worth noting trailblazers who prepared the ground for those who followed.


All today’s photographs taken from Lost Demesnes: Irish Landscape Gardening 1660-1845 and Irish Gardens and Demesnes from 1830

Still Indispensable


In Ireland, when anyone asks ‘Have you looked at Bence-Jones?’ or begins a sentence with the words, ‘Well, Bence-Jones says…’, the reference is to a specific book: Burke’s Guide to Country Houses Volume 1. Ireland. Published in 1978 and featuring almost 2,000 properties, this was intended to be the first in a series of works covering all such properties in Britain and Ireland. As the publisher announced at the time, successive volumes would include ‘the standing and the demolished, the important and the “illustrious obscure” with the result being a series  that would be ‘uniquely comprehensive’ and break new ground in the stressing family connections with individual houses. In fact, only a handful of further volumes appeared before the project ran out of steam, but that covering Ireland was so successful – it ran to six editions – that a decade later the book was republished, this time with a supplement that described an additional 130 houses, as well as additional information on some of those which had already been included in the original work. It also, very helpfully, included an index of family names and which houses were associated with them. Today, more than three decades later and despite all the published research that has appeared over the intervening period, ‘Bence-Jones’ as the author’s gazetteer has come to be known, remains just as important as ever





Mark Bence-Jones was born in England in 1930, his father the younger son of a family which had formerly owned Lisselane, an estate in County Cork (it was sold the year of Mark B-J’s birth). At the age of four he moved to India, his father Colonel Philip Bence-Jones having been appointed head of the engineering school in Lahore. The colonel’s wife May Thomas was a Roman Catholic and at the time of their marriage he had converted to her faith: their son was also an ardent Catholic. In 1945 the family returned to Ireland and four years later bought a property in north County Cork, Glenville which was Mark Bence-Jones’s home thereafter (for more on Glenville, please see: Glenville Park « The Irish Aesthete). After schooling at Ampleforth, he read history at Cambridge and then attended the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, before coming back to live at Glenville and over the next eight years wrote three novels. However, fiction was not to be his natural metier. In 1966 he published The Remarkable Irish, an amusing if somewhat skewed examination of the country at the time (‘Dior and dog’s dinners go hand in hand’ was a typical sentence, along with ‘Old ladies are the chief occupants of roofless country houses’). He produced three books about India, including one on its Viceroys, and another on English Recusant families, but Ireland and specifically her country houses and their owners, was the subject with which he was most comfortable and assured. First published in 1987 Twilight of the Ascendency was especially and rightly popular. An account of the declining years of pre-Independence Ireland’s ruling class, the book includes an abundance of anecdotes which Bence-Jones had gathered on his travels around the country; he was always a keen house guest. What emerges from Twilight is the impression of a fundamentally decent but doomed cadre, out of its depth in a changing world and, with only a few exceptions, unable or unwilling to move with the times. Bence-Jones’s entertaining and sympathetic prose ensured that the book became a best-seller and, like his guide to country houses, established something of a precedent; thereafter what might be summarised as Anglo-Irish social history became a popular subject. 





The greater part of ‘Bence-Jones’ is given over to an alphabetical listing of houses both standing and lost, but the book opens with a substantial bibliography (which now, more than 40 years later, would have to be much longer) and then an architectural glossary. These are followed by an introduction that gives a brief history of the evolution of Irish country houses across the centuries before turning into a passionate advocacy for their preservation: as the author noted, even during the decade before the book’s appearance a number of the important properties had been lost. Bence-Jones believed all such houses were worthy of consideration, even those ‘of no particular architectural merit’ because ‘they have their own charm and character and the patina of age; while their contents, even if not of much interest to the connoisseur of art, is almost always fascinating to the social historian. One can also truthfully say that they have no counterpart anywhere else in Europe.’ This argument retains its validity but, regrettably, seems still not to have been learnt by the relevant authorities in this country who could still help to ensure a viable future for this part of our national heritage.
Then the reader moves onto the main body of the book which rewards repeated exploration, as there always seems to be another house to discover (even if only on the page since the building in question has long since disappeared). Sometimes the focus is on the architecture of a house, on other occasions the author paid more attention to the history of the owners or to stories associated with the building. So the book, as so often with Bence-Jones, is as much social history as anything else. The text is accompanied by an abundance of photographs, many of them drawn from historic sources, others contemporary with the publication. But in so many cases even since then circumstances have changed. Adare Manor, County Limerick for example was still occupied by the Wyndham-Quins when the first edition appeared; just a few years later, the family had to sell the property, and many of its contents were dispersed at auction. Today Adare Manor is an hotel. Similarly, look at the images of a few pages above. One of them shows Marlfield, County Tipperary which, again, was sold by the Bagwell family a few years later (it is currently back on the market). On a more positive note, Bence-Jones also included the early 17th century Portumna Castle, County Galway which was then in a state of near-total ruin. Now the place has been reroofed and extensively restored, thanks to the Office of Public Works. So this is not entirely a story of loss.
With the passage of time, in addition to its many intrinsic merits, ‘Bence-Jones’ has become an important historic document because, as mentioned, so much has since happened within the world of the Irish country house, both good and bad. It could be argued that the book’s contents have been superseded by more recent, and in some instances more scholarly work. In the interim, for instance, a number of volumes in the Pevsner Buildings of Ireland series have been published, but after 40 years there are only six of these (at most one-third of the country). In addition, they cover all built structures, not just country houses and usually mention only in passing places that have since been lost. A number of online resources have also emerged in recent years and deserve to be mentioned, such as Buildings of Ireland: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage and Landed Estates, NUI Galway both of which contain much useful information. Nevertheless, ‘Bence-Jones’ occupies a special place in the canon and continues to be indispensable. It will remain so until someone tackles the task of producing a new edition for the 21st century. 


All pictures today taken from Burke’s Guide to Country Houses Volume 1. Ireland by Mark Bence-Jones 

An Invaluable Record


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of a book that might be said to have initiated modern interest in the Irish country house. Of course, there had been other publications on the subject before, not least the fifth volume of the original Georgian Societies records of 1913, and Sadleir and Dickinson’s Georgian Mansions in Ireland, produced two years later (see Glimpses into a Vanished World « The Irish Aesthete and Enriched with Treasures « The Irish Aesthete). And in the interim, other writers like Mark Girouard and the Knight of Glin had visited various houses around the country, the results of these explorations duly appearing in publications such as Country Life. But Irish Houses & Castles was different because it attempted to give an overview of the country’s historic domestic properties, and in doing so allowed the reader to draw conclusions about what made Ireland’s country houses different from those found elsewhere. The book was jointly authored by Desmond Guinness and William Ryan, the former bringing to the work all the experience and knowledge – and indeed social connections – he had gathered since establishing the Irish Georgian Society with his first wife Mariga 13 years earlier. Indeed, one of the purposes of Irish Houses & Castles was to raise funds for the society, which would receive all royalties from sales. Indicative of the appetite for such publications is the fact that the first American edition of 2,000 copies sold out within a month: over the next decade a further 75,000 more copies were published. The funds raised proved invaluable, since at the time the IGS was in the throes of rescuing Castletown, County Kildare. ‘If ever a book saved a house,’ Desmond later remarked, ‘ours saved Castletown, where weekly wages somehow had to be paid, and restoration work continue.’ 

The Drawing Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath

The Drawing Room, Castletown Cox, County Kilkenny

The Saloon, Bellamont Forest, County Cavan 

The Entrance Hall, Abbey Leix, County Laois 

Irish Houses & Castles featured 39 of the most important remaining historic homes in the country, at least a dozen of which have since either been destroyed or else changed hands with the loss of the original contents. In this way, the book is now an historic record but at the time of publication, it provided valuable information on what was a largely unknown subject, not least thanks to the two authors’ introduction which, after discussing the architectural evolution of Irish houses, moved on to examine the paintings and furniture that had been made for them, and even the gardens, gatehouses and follies that ornamented their surrounding estates. As with the books published earlier in the century, an important although often overlooked feature of Irish Houses & Castles is that it offers an insight into how such properties were decorated at the time, frequently in a style quite unlike that today. For example, there is a photograph of the entrance hall at Abbey Leix, County Laois. Today this has been restored to ensure that the eye is immediately caught by its architectural qualities, but 50 years ago the hall still looked much as it probably did in the late Victorian/Edwardian era: acting as an informal meeting space/sitting room it contained chintz-covered sofas on either side of the chimneypiece, an abundance of side tables and bibelots, and a tall folding screen in front of the front door in order to minimise draughts. The writer is old enough to remember many such house entrance halls decorated in the same fashion, but today they have cleared of clutter and tend to be much more sparsely furnished. And of course, many of the original contents of Abbey Leix, accumulated by successive generations, were dispersed when the house was sold in the mid-1990s; again, one remembers that occasion, typical of the time with the marquee outside the house, the surrounding fields filled with cars and the excitement of eventual prices far exceeding estimates (£700 paid for a selection of old copper pans and jelly moulds expected to go for no more than £120). Now the photographs featured in Irish Houses & Castles have become an invaluable source of information about how the place used to look. 

The Drawing Room, Mount Kennedy, County Wicklow

The Ballroom, Luttrellstown Castle, County Dublin

The Dining Room, Malahide Castle, County Dublin

The Staircase Hall, Rathbeale, County Dublin

The pictures shown here today, all taken from Irish Houses & Castles, demonstrate how vulnerable these properties remain, and how little protection they still have. The dispersal of Abbey Leix’s original contents in the mid-1990s has already been mentioned. To go through the others, one begins with Belvedere, County Westmeath. Today the house is in the care of the local authority which does an admirable job in maintaining the place. But the contents, which included many items originally from Charleville Castle, County Offaly, were all sold in September 1980. Since it appeared in Irish Houses & Castles, Castletown Cox, County Kilkenny has changed hands on a number of occasions, and the same is also true of Bellamont Forest, County Cavan: in both instances the present owners are American. Meanwhile Malahide Castle: two years after Irish Houses & Castles appeared the 7th Lord Talbot de Malahide died suddenly and the property was inherited by his sister Rose, who offered the castle and its contents to the Irish state in lieu of death duties. The offer was declined and as a result, in 1976 a public auction was held with many important items leaving the country. Ironically, the state – which had bought the castle and surrounding 268 acres – found itself bidding against international dealers and collectors in order to buy some pieces so the building would not be entirely denuded. An expensive and unnecessary act of national folly. Meanwhile elsewhere in County Dublin Rathbeale, which had been restored and furnished by Julian and Carola Peck was subsequently sold, the couple moving to County Derry where they restored another important 18th century house, Prehen; alas, since the deaths of the couple and their surviving son, that house and its contents are likewise at risk (see Hanging On « The Irish Aesthete). Luttrellstown Castle, which had been given by Ernest Guinness to his daughter Aileen on the occasion of her first marriage in 1927 (see Temps Perdu « The Irish Aesthete). She had extensively refurbished the house in the 1950s, the work overseen by decorator Felix Habord. Once more, it was sold in 1983 and the fabulous contents again dispersed thanks to an auction lasting several days. Finally, and most tragically, one turns to Powerscourt, County Wicklow which, having been acquired from the Wingfields by the Slazenger family was thoroughly restored and then, just as this work was completed, the building was gutted by fire in November 1974, an irreparable loss to the country’s architectural heritage. If for the photographs and account of Powerscourt alone, this is what makes Irish Houses & Castles such an important document.

The Saloon, Powerscourt, County Wicklow
All pictures taken from Irish Houses & Castles by Desmond Guinness and William Ryan 

A Fine Portrait


This year marks the tenth anniversary of Maurice Craig’s death, and next year the seventieth anniversary of the publication of Dublin 1660-1860: The Shaping of a City, the book for which he is still best remembered. Seemingly, although it took 13 years for the first run of 2,000 copies to sell, the work has never since been out of print. For many readers, it remains the definitive guide to Ireland’s capital during the Georgian era, despite enormous numbers of other books on the same subject having appeared before and since. Although he came to be regarded as the one of the foremost experts on the country’s architectural history, this was far from being a foregone conclusion. When young, Maurice appears to have entertained notions of being either a painter or a composer, but ultimately realised that the written word was his best form of communication. Even so, his doctoral thesis from Trinity College Dublin was concerned not with buildings but the 19th century poet Walter Savage Landor, and the back of a copy of Dublin 1660-1860 declares ‘his recreations include travel, ship-modelling and the history of transport’. To which one might add vintage motor cars and book-binding, as well as noting that his first book (which appeared in 1948) was a biography of the Earl of Charlemont. And, as anyone who knew Maurice can attest, he loved cats.




In his preface, Maurice Craig announced that Dublin 1660-1860 had been conceived more as a ‘portrait’ than a history, by which he meant the author had opted to focus on certain aspects of the narrative and omit others. Developing the portrait metaphor, he noted that some readers might not appreciate such an approach, ‘but if I paint my sitter in a purple tie, that need not imply that he has no others in his wardrobe.’ Certainly he introduced more colour into his text than is customarily the case, opening the story not in Dublin or even in Ireland, but with a lively description of the fall to Ottoman forces of Constantinople in May 1453. In a variant on the theme of the Butterfly Effect, Maurice proposed a link between ‘this great Levantine catastrophe’ and a date more than 200 years later, July 27th 1662, when James Butler, Duke of Ormonde ‘stepped out of his pinnace on to the sands of Dublin Bay. The Renaissance, in a word, had arrived in Ireland…The Middle Ages were at last at an end.’ It’s a bold statement, and one open to dispute, but it sets the tone for what follows over the next 300-plus pages, across which Maurice painted his portrait of the city with bold strokes and bright shades that help to make this a genuine page-turner. When writing of Aldborough House, for example, he briskly notes how the Stratford family title, ‘passed rapidly through a ludicrous succession of spendthrift holders, ending with the sixth and last Earl who bred dogs, advertised patent pills, and died in Alicante in 1875.’ The point about such prose is that it leaves the reader longing to learn more on the subject. And when writing of 18th century Dublin’s relatively weak literary legacy, he took a clever swipe at the censored Ireland of the mid-1950s, observing that ‘a society uncertain of its foundations and its destiny is, as we are now proving, unhappy ground in which to cultivate the art of letters.’ And again, as anyone who knew him can testify, Maurice was never averse to expressing a personal opinion. Thomas Cooley’s Neoclassical City Hall (the former Royal Exchange), he deemed ‘a little cold…its best points are its site, the excellence of the detail and the grandeur of the central hall. It does not inspire much affection.’ 




Re-reading Dublin 1660-1860 what strikes this reader once more is Maurice Craig’s exceptional erudition, and his ability to wear a great deal of learning lightly. The book is as much a social as an architectural history of the city, and this makes sense: all buildings, even prisons, are erected with varying degrees of social interaction in mind. So while Maurice provides much information on architects and patrons across the span of 200 years, he also places their enterprises within a broader context. This often leads in turn to the text taking unexpected diversions, as the author shares another piece of historical anecdote with us. For example, at one point, when writing of the growth of newspapers in mid-18th century Ireland, he then reflects on how pamphlets often better reflect concerns of the time. This in turn leads him to describe an occasion in 1759 when rumours of union with Britain led to ‘startling eruptions of popular feeling: the jacquerie broke into the Parliament House, placed an old woman in the Speaker’s Chair, rigged up a gallows and threatened various dignitaries with death,’ all of which sounds reminiscent of events which took place in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. Ending as it does in the mid-19th century, the book concludes on a somewhat melancholy note, Maurice noting how in Dublin ‘after sixty years the loss of political status is beginning to induce an unmistakable feeling of provincialism.’ Since his book first appeared in 1952, many other authors have investigated the development of Ireland’s capital during what has come to be known as the long 18th century, but none has managed to capture so well the atmosphere of that period, to conjure up for us the spirit of the age, and to present it with such grace. 


Today’s images are taken from Dublin 1660-1860 and are all by Maurice Craig, demonstrating his talents as an architectural draughtsman.
The Little Museum of Dublin is currently hosting a series of lectures on the city’s history delivered by Professor David Dickson, author of
Dublin: The making of a capital city (2014). For more information, see The Dublin Lectures 2021 – The Little Museum of Dublin

O Pioneer!


One suspects that few people today are aware of, let alone have read, the works of Constantia Maxwell who in the middle of the last century was probably the best-known woman writing on Irish history. This is a pity, because she was a first-rate stylist and her books impart a great deal of information in an agreeable fashion, which is often not the case today. Furthermore, she is worthy of study in her own right, being something of an academic pioneer. The daughter of an ophthalmic surgeon, she was born in Dublin in 1886 and was among the first women to be admitted to Trinity College Dublin as an undergraduate (the college had been exclusively male until 1904). In 1909, she became the first woman to join the institution’s academic staff when appointed a lecturer in modern history. Thirty years later, she was the first woman to be made a professor at TCD, when given a chair in economic history and then, when appointed to the Lecky Professorship of History, was again the first woman to hold this chair. Without question, she was an impressive trailblazer, and not just thanks to her ascent of the academic hierarchy. In some respects, not least owing to her interest in Ireland during the 18th century, Maxwell might be considered the successor to Froude and Lecky, but she is less polemical than either of them, less determined to represent a particular point of view, more desirous to engage and hold the reader’s attention. Her knowledge was prodigious – the bibliography for
Country and Town in Ireland under the Georges (of which more below) runs to some 22 pages – but it was lightly worn. There are no stodgy passages in her books, they race along from one anecdote to the next, so that knowledge is shared with the lightest of touches. Her work has sometimes been criticised for concentrating on the ruling elite of the Georgian period, but at the time this was the case with almost anyone writing about the period: history was still perceived as belonging to the victors. Furthermore, as will be seen, she was keenly aware of and sympathetic towards the dreadful misfortunes experienced by the poor during the period under consideration, so censure levelled at her is not altogether fair. The college where she taught for so long offers a scholarship in her name, but surely the time has come for a revival of interest in Constantia Maxwell, and the republication of her books.




Constantia Maxwell enjoyed popular success in 1936 with the publication of Dublin under the Georges, which explored all aspects of the city’s development from 1714 to 1830. In the space of some 300 pages, she celebrated Dublin’s golden age while not overlooking the misery that could be found beneath its glittering surface: an entire chapter is devoted to ‘Life of the Poor’ in which she cites many contemporary visitors to the city. When the English MP John Curwen came in 1818 while he declared ‘the style and beauty of Dublin have greatly surpassed my expectations,’ at the same time he could not but note ‘poverty, disease, and wretchedness exist in every great town, but in Dublin the misery is indescribable.’ Maxwell also quotes from the likes of the Rev James Whitelaw who recounted only too vividly the filth and squalor in which many of the city’s occupants lived. We are inclined to imagine tenements as being the product of the late 19th/early 20th centuries but almost 100 years earlier Whitelaw could write of frequently finding ‘from ten to sixteen persons, of all ages and sexes, in a room not 15 feet square, stretched on a wad of filthy straw swarming with vermin, and without any covering, save the wretched rags that constituted their wearing apparel.’ But of course Maxwell also devoted much attention to the glories of the era, reporting on the lives of the wealthy and the splendid residences they constructed for themselves. Furthermore she took time to look at how those residences were furnished and decorated, thanks to the many specialist craftsmen who flourished owing to the patronage of the domestic market. Everything from wool and linen production to glass and cabinet making was explored in her text, and again the breadth of the author’s reading is impressive; there seem to be no available sources she had not examined. It’s worth remembering that when Maxwell wrote her book, far less relevant material had been placed in the public domain, and far less research into it undertaken. As in so much else, she was a pioneer and almost everyone else who followed, from Maurice Craig onwards, was indebted to her.




Following on from the success of Dublin under the Georges, in 1940 Constantia Maxwell published Country and Town in Ireland under the Georges. This follows much the same format as its predecessor and demonstrates the same depth of knowledge presented in an equally engaging format. Maxwell understood the advantages of the well-told anecdote, whether writing of the foibles of the gentry or the misfortunes of the peasantry. With regard to the latter, she also demonstrated her inherent empathy, observing that her readers ‘need scarcely be reminded that the Irish peasant in the eighteenth century had none of the advantages of the small-holder in England. He had no permanent interest in the soil, because he had no security of tenure. He had no capital to spend upon improvements, and very little knowledge of agriculture. He was the product of an evil land system established by conquest, under which the landlord, who could never feel absolutely secure in the midst of an alien population, looked mainly for immediate profits.’ The consequences of this system were then thoroughly examined over the course of the pages that followed. One chapter of particular interest is devoted to a study of Ireland’s provincial towns during the 18th century. So much attention is paid to Dublin’s growth at the time, it is easy to forget that many other urban centres underwent expansion and improvement from the early 1700s onwards. Many of these became centres of industry and trade, such as Clonmel, County Tipperary, described by John Wesley in 1756 as ‘the pleasantest town beyond all comparison which I have yet seen in Ireland.’ and Cork city which Arthur Young thought displayed ‘by much the most animated scene of shipping in all Ireland.’ Incidentally, with regard to this specific subject, David Dickson – who has already written so eloquently on the developments of both Dublin and Cork – is due to publish his next work The First Irish Cities: An Eighteenth-Century Transformation in May (Yale University Press). In the meantime, for those who have yet to engage with Constantia Maxwell, an investigation of her work is encouraged. Despite the passage of many decades since the books’ first appearance, they continue to engage and inform.


Illustrations taken from Dublin under the Georges and Country and Town in Ireland under the Georges, both by Constantia Maxwell. 

Enriched with Treasures



Heywood, County Laois: Gutted by fire 1950, subsequently demolished

Two weeks ago, the fifth and final volume of records published in 1913 by Ireland’s original Georgian Society was discussed here. That might have been the end of such documentation of this country’s 18th century architectural heritage in the years prior to the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War. But in 1915 two men decided that more research into Irish country houses was required, and so produced a volume called Georgian Mansions in Ireland. The individuals involved, Page Lawrence Dickinson and Thomas Ulick Sadleir, are of some interest. Born in 1881 and 1882 respectively, both were sons of clergymen, Sadleir’s father being a chaplain to the army stationed at the Curragh Camp, County Kildare. After graduating from Trinity College Dublin, Sadleir junior was called to the Irish bar in 1906 and practised on the Leinster circuit for the next ten years. But his real passion was genealogy and even while a student he was working on an unpaid basis in the Office of the Ulster King of Arms at Dublin Castle. In 1915, the year in which Georgian Mansions in Ireland appeared, he was appointed registrar of the Order of St. Patrick at the Office of Arms, becoming Deputy Ulster in 1921, although due to the extensive absences of his superior he was in effect in charge and remained so until 1943 when the Office of Arms was finally transferred to the control of the Irish State. He subsequently became librarian at the King’s Inns in Dublin, remaining there until his death in 1957. As for Dickinson, he was a son of the Dean of the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. In his late teens, he was apprenticed to architect Richard Caulfield Orpen (a brother of the painter William Orpen) with whom he then went into partnership. But he seems to have been as much a writer as an architect, being a frequent contributor to the Irish Builder (of such pieces as ‘Working class homes. Is the present standard reasonable?’ in January 1923, and ‘Competitions. Should they be abolished?’ in November 1924). He was clearly out of sympathy with post-Independence Ireland and for many years lived in England, his nostalgia for the ancien régime apparent in a memoir published in 1929, The Dublin of Yesterday, which as can be imagined was not well received in this country. Nevertheless he did return here, dying at his daughter’s house in County Wicklow in 1958.





Platten Hall, County Meath: demolished c.1950

In their Preface to Georgian Mansions in Ireland, Sadleir and Dickinson rightly acknowledge the work undertaken by the earlier Georgian Society, but note that the fifth volume only examined a few 18th century houses found throughout the country, thereby necessitating their own enterprise. In addition, they observed that while many of Dublin’s great houses had fallen into disrepair, ‘the country houses present a delightful contrast. Some, no doubt, have gone through a “Castle Rack-rent” stage; but – as anyone who cares to consult the long list in the fifth Georgian volume must admit – the vast majority are still family seats, often enriched with treasures of former generations of wealthy art-lovers and travelled collectors.’
Interestingly, Sadleir and Dickinson remark that Irish country houses seldom held valuable china, but ‘good pictures, plate and eighteenth-century furniture are not uncommon.’ Waxing poetic, they then write, ‘How delightful it would be to preserve the individual history of these treasures! The silver bowl on which a spinster aunt lent money to some spendthrift owner, and then returned when a more prudent heir inherited; the family pictures, by Reynolds, Romney, Battoni or that fashionable Irish artist, Hugh Hamilton, preserved by that grandmother who removed to London, and lived to be ninety; the Chippendale chairs which had lain forgotten in an attic. Even the estates themselves have often only been preserved by the saving effects of a long minority, the law of entrail, or marriage with an English heiress.’




Desart Court, County Kilkenny: burnt down by the IRA, February 1923

The main body of text in Georgian Mansions in Ireland is devoted to study of 17 houses (some given more attention than others). Of these, 11 still stand, three remaining in the hands of the original owners’ descendants and another three in private hands, albeit not those of the original family. Two (in Northern Ireland) are National Trust properties, one is an hotel, one belongs to a public company and one has become part of a national institution.  Of the losses, two – Bessborough and Desart Court, both in County Kilkenny – occurred just a few years after the book was published, victims of the campaign waged against such buildings and their owners during the troubles of the early 1920s, one – Heywood, County Laois – was lost owing to an accidental fire in 1950 and two – Platten Hall, County Meath and Turvey, County Dublin – were left to suffer years of neglect before being pulled down.
Despite their optimistic tone about the state of such houses, the authors of Georgian Mansions in Ireland seem to have had an instinctive awareness of impending threat to the buildings’ future, since they made a point of recording not just architectural but also decorative details, describing – and photographing – plasterwork and paintings, chimneypieces and contents of entire rooms, thereby leaving us a detailed record of how such places looked just over a century ago. Occasionally, as with Curraghmore, County Waterford, little has changed during the intervening period, but more often, even if the house still stands, its entire furnishings have been lost or else horribly culled. Again, we owe Sadleir and Dickinson a debt of gratitude for providing us with this invaluable legacy, an opportunity to examine how Irish country houses were once decorated and occupied.



Turvey, County Dublin: demolished, after many years of neglect, 1987 

 

Hot Off the Presses


Due to be officially launched tomorrow, Paddy Rossmore: Photographs is a collection of images of Irish buildings taken over half a century ago. For several years in the 1960s, Paddy journeyed around the country, often in the company of Mariga Guinness and the Knight of Glin, exploring our architectural heritage and recording buildings which, sadly too often, have subsequently been lost. Although not a professional photographer, he had an intuitive eye (and excellent travelling companions) and soon discovered a natural talent for composition. Only a handful of his pictures have ever been published (some in Country Life) and I am very happy to have collaborated with Paddy in producing a representative collection of the work. While the majority of the houses included still stand, and a few have even been restored, others – as mentioned – are no more. Below is a representative example of the latter category, Kenure Park, County Dublin which other than its monumental portico was demolished in 1978.


Paddy Rossmore: Photographs is published by Lilliput Press and is available from all good bookshops (and online from http://www.lilliputpress.ie), price €25.00

Isn’t It Romantic


It is now ten years since the book seen above was first published, and its success among readers helped to inspire the creation of this site. The appetite for information about Ireland’s historic properties, especially among overseas readers and visitors, continues to be astounding, especially when one considers how little is often done to ensure their survival here.




Romantic Irish Homes featured a wide variety of buildings, from relatively modest farmhouses to grand country houses (such as Stradbally Hall, County Laois, the drawing room of which appeared on the book’s cover). Regardless of scale, what they shared was a certain aesthetic: a disregard for passing design trends, an appreciation of the well-used object, a respect for patina. And an abundance of colour: there’s no monochrome interior found between these pages.




Since the book appeared, the Irish Aesthete has discovered many more properties around Ireland which share the same spirit as those featured in Romantic Irish Homes. I will be discussing some of these on Wednesday, November 6th in a talk organized by the Royal Oak Foundation at the Beauregard-Keyes House and Garden Museum in New Orleans, a city imbued with the same romantic spirit.


For more information on my talk in New Orleans, please see: https://www.royal-oak.org/events/2019-fall-new-orleans

A Welcome Addition


‘The house is one of the most extensive in the kingdom, the front exceeding upwards of two hundred feet and one of the most beautiful, being built of the quarries on this estate, and mostly hewn, which gives the whole a magnificent appearance’. So wrote William Wilson in 1803 of the recently built Capard, County Laois. This neo-classical house, situated on high ground with panoramic views across the surrounding countryside, has enjoyed mixed fortunes over the past two centuries with its future uncertain on more than one occasion. However since 2015 its current owners have undertaken a meticulous restoration of both building and demesne so that it is now without doubt one of Ireland’s finest country houses. This week saw the publication of a book chronicling Capard’s history, written by Ciarán Reilly and placing the estate within the context of time and place, allowing readers better to understand the evolution of the midlands region. As handsome as the place itself, Capard: An Irish Country House and Estate is a welcome addition to the field of Irish country house studies


Capard: An Irish Country House and Estate is now available from the Irish Georgian Society, for more information see: https://shop.igs.ie/products/capard-an-irish-country-house-estate