The Black Castle in Leighlinbridge, County Carlow. The first fortification here was constructed in 1181 on the orders of Anglo-Norman knight Hugh de Lacy to defend a crucial crossing point on the river Barrow (the first bridge followed in the early 14th century). When the Carmelite order came to Ireland in the 1270s, a friary was established adjacent to the castle and it survived until the suppression of all such religious houses in 1540s when the property passed into the hands of Sir Edward Bellingham, Lord Deputy of Ireland. It appears he was responsible for building what stands today, a 16th century three-storey tower house. Badly damaged during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s/50s, the Black Castle thereafter fell into ruin, the south-west corner tumbling down in the late 19th century.
A little classical gem: a lodge at the entrance to St Patrick’s College, Carlow. The English-born architect Thomas Alfred Cobden, who designed the main buildings on the site (and who for a couple of decades received an astonishing number of commissions in this part of the country), is thought to have been also responsible for the lodge which dates from around 1820. It has a beautifully austere facade, the pedimented portico supported by a pair of Doric columns, these features made of the local granite. The interior has an entrance hall and two rooms, but alas at the moment is empty and – inevitably – falling into neglect: surely some use can be found for the place?
Even before the year draws to a welcome close, all language used to describe 2020 has become hopelessly cliched, so let us merely say that its passing will not be much mourned. A lot of what has appeared on this site over the past twelve months has also not been especially cheering, since so much of Ireland’s architectural heritage remains imperilled, vulnerable to the twin risks of neglect and abuse. However, there have been a few happy stories to tell, so today here are some of them again, as a reminder that the past year has not been entirely a period of darkness and gloom: occasional shafts of sunlight were to be seen. Fingers crossed, and glasses raised later this week, that there will be many more such shafts during 2021.
The Irish Aesthete will be taking a break for the rest of the week, returning here refreshed and ready for 2021 next Monday, January 4th. In the meantime, Happy New Year to all friends and followers. Stay safe, stay well.
One of the most perfect neo-classical buildings in Ireland: the Courthouse in Carlow town. Constructed of local granite, the courthouse was designed in 1830 by William Vitruvius Morrison and in part funded by the Bruen family who lived not far away at Oak Park (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/10/03/oak-park-2) and who employed the same architect to design their own house. The building stands in the centre of a wide platform approached by two flights of steps. Its pedimented facade featuring a recessed entrance behind eight giant Ionic columns was inspired by the Temple of Illisus in Athens, believed to date from the mid-5th century BC, but destroyed by the Turks in the late 18th century and known only from the work of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett who had recorded the temple a few years before it was lost. The same fate seemed to threaten Carlow’s courthouse towards the end of the last century after it had fallen into a poor state of repair, but thankfully a full restoration was undertaken and it continues to serve its original purpose and to grace the town of Carlow.
The façade of Oak Park, County Carlow, designed by William Vitruvius Morrison in the early 1830s for Colonel Henry Bruen. The building incorporates an earlier house and was originally a grand villa, of two storeys and five bays, one on either side of the giant tetrastyle portico. The latter, featuring four Ionic columns with wreaths in the frieze above, is almost identical to that at Ballyfin, County Laois and can also be seen at Barons Court, County Tyrone and Mount Stewart, County Down, on all of which buildings the Morrisons, father and son, worked. Oak Park was greatly extended in the 1870s and also extensively restored after a fire in 1902, but some of the original interior decoration survives, notably in the entrance hall and the former library. The last of the Bruen family to live in the house died in 1954; some time earlier his wife had run away with an impoverished Montenegran prince, Milo Petrovic-Njegos. After various legal disputes and changes of ownership had occurred, Oak Park and several hundred acres was acquired by the Irish State; today it serves as the headquarters of Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority.
A triumphal arch that formerly announced entrance to the Oak Park estate in County Carlow. Constructed of crisp granite, it dates from the late 1830s when designed by William Vitruvius Morrison for owner Colonel Henry Bruen. The external side has flanking screen walls and a carriage turn, while there are paired Ionic columns on either side of the arch. The park side is simpler with Doric pilasters. It seems the architect and his father, Sir Richard Morrison, had previously proposed a similar design to both Barons Court, County Tyrone and Castle Coole, County Fermanagh, so this is a case of third time lucky. There are rooms on either side of the arch which seemingly was occupied up to 1970. The gates which once stood inside the arch are long-since gone as this is now a public road.
In 1961, the April-June issue of the Irish Georgian Society’s Bulletin advised readers that a house in County Carlow called Browne’s Hill ‘is to be demolished if a buyer does not come forward within the next month. Situated in a large park with fine timber, Browne’s Hill is in first-rate structural repair and would make a lovely, easily run family home. Although it is on top of a hill with panoramic views, it is not remote, the town of Carlow being only 1 ½ miles away, and Dublin 50 miles.
The house was built in 1763 by an architect named Peters for Robert Browne, in whose family it remained until recently. The three reception rooms have rich plaster ceilings and the original mantlepieces, the front hall is paved with black and white squares, and the kitchen (with Aga) is on the ground floor. The grand staircase leads up to ten bedrooms of various sizes, he principal one being octagonal with windows facing in three directions. There are two bathrooms, three lavatories, oil fired central heating and E.S.B. main electricity.
The courtyard comprises 15 stables, garages, loose boxes, dairy and groom’s house with excellent living accommodation, approximately 5,000 square feet of lofting, all in good condition. For permission to view, apply to – William Mulhall, Auctioneer and Valuer, 60 Dublin St., Carlow.
Price £2,500 with five acres.
A further 68 acres is available, if required, £7,000.’
Browne’s Hill was occupied by successive generations of the same family until 1951 when William Browne-Clayton offered the house for sale with 700 acres. Two years later an English syndicate purchased the estate, along with another nearby, the 1,500 acre Oak Park. These purchases were not well-received locally, farmers in the area believing the land ought to have been divided up among them by the Land Commission. Eventually in 1961 the syndicate, faced with growing hostility, negotiated a deal with the commission, whereby the estate underwent division and the house with its immediate five acres were put on the market with an asking price of £2,500. It was at this point that the Irish Georgian Society placed a notice in its bulletin warning supporters that unless a sympathetic buyer could be found – and soon – the house would be demolished. This news understandably caused alarm among those who were fighting to ensure the survival of the country’s steadily diminishing architectural heritage. Among them was author Anita Leslie, then dividing her time between her own family home, Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, and Oranmore Castle, County Galway, a property she had bought with her husband Bill King. Anita Leslie was also battling to save Dalyston, an important mid-18th century house that had just been sold to a County Longford firm that specialized in stripping old buildings of all saleable assets. Seeing Dalyston unroofed and gradually picked bare, she was determined the same fate should not befall Browne’s Hill and embarked on a campaign to save the property. For a time, she thought it might perhaps be bought by one of her friends, such as the wealthy Simone, Baronne de Bastard who had just spent huge sums restoring the 17th century château de Hautefort in the Dordogne, but it seems Mme de Bastard did not care to purchase a house in the Irish countryside.
As June 1961 drew to a close, the fate of Browne’s Hill seemed sealed: it was destined to be demolished since the best purchase offer had come from the same company that had stripped and unroofed Dalyston. But then the Land Commission, in a rare gesture of sympathy, advised the Irish Georgian Society that it would allow a further six months’ grace before a decision over the house’s future was made. Anita Leslie battled on, helped by another stalwart of the society, Eoin ‘The Pope’ O’Mahony (he had been nicknamed ‘The Pope’ while still a schoolboy after declaring his ambition in life was to hold this title). A wonderfully eccentric character, one-time barrister, orator, genealogist and supporter of many lost causes, in this instance O’Mahony announced that he had persuaded a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge to back a scheme whereby Browne’s Hill would be bought for 2,000 guineas, to be used as a student hostel. Extensive correspondence survives between Anita Leslie, Eoin O’Mahony, and Desmond and Mariga Guinness of the Irish Georgian Society as all of them – sometimes at cross-purposes – sought the best means of securing Browne’s Hill’s long-term future, each of them, and others besides, hounding the local auctioneer William Mulhall for information about possible rival bids for the place. On July 10th, Anita Leslie wrote somewhat histrionically to the Guinnesses, ‘I feel like Atlas holding up the last Georgian houses in Ireland on drooping shoulders & slender purse.’ If necessary, and as a last resort, she was prepared to pay the £2,500 required for Browne’s Hill, thinking it could either be let to a tenant or else run as a guesthouse. Finally, despairing that demolition awaited without her intercession and without telling her husband of the decision, she sent the auctioneer a cheque for the deposit. The cheque was promptly returned: it transpired that another offer for the property had been made – and not by any firm with demolition in mind. Instead, Browne’s Hill was bought by a local travel agent Frank Tully and his wife Patty. They subsequently moved into Browne’s Hill, which remained a family home until Mr Tully died in November 2018. Last month Browne’s Hill came on the market for only the second time since it was built more than 250 years ago.
The original entrance gates to the Browne’s Hill estate, which took the form of a splendid triumphal arch, were sold during this period and bought by University College Dublin, which in 1962 purchased the Lyons estate in County Kildare to run as a research farm. The gates can still be seen there at the entrance to the now-private house at Lyons.
Kilcoltrim, County Carlow: a substantial, five-bay, three storey over basement house that dates from the mid-18th century, it is listed by Samuel Lewis (1837) as being the residence of Edmund Hegarty but has long fallen into ruin. The most notable feature of the building, a cantilevered stone staircase located at the centre of the building, is documented as still intact when David Griffin compiled his list of vanishing or lost Irish country houses in 1988. This feature has since gone and little beyond a disintegrating shell now remains.
Fruit Hill, Co Wexford recently featured here (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/03/07/a-labour-of-love), a sensitively restored house believed to date from the second quarter of the 18th century and notable for being U-shaped with two wings projecting behind the one-room-deep residence with only a narrow passage between them. A similar house stands, just about, in neighbouring County Carlow and is called Mount Pleasant. Mark Bence-Jones’ Guide to Irish Country Houses includes four properties of the same name, but this is none of them. Indeed, little documentation exists about the Carlow house and some of it is erroneous.
Mount Pleasant was built and occupied by the Garrett family. The first of them, James Garrett was the son of a Captain John Garrett, one of five brothers who came to Ireland in the 17th century around the time of the Cromwellian Wars and, like many others, was rewarded for his efforts with a grant of land in County Laois. James Garrett on the other hand settled in Carlow around 1700 when in his mid-20s. He may have been responsible for building a house called Janeville, or it could have been his son whose tomb in the local church refers to ‘the charitable Thomas Garrett of Janeville deceased, Aug.31st, 1759, aged 48 years.’ The same church also contains a monument to another Garrett, the inscription of which runs as follows: ‘Here lie deposited in humble hope of a joyful resurrection the mortal remains of James Garrett, late of Mountpleasant, Esq. – Vain would prove an attempt at panegyric; since no eulogy could do justice to his merits. Reader, wouldst thou be had in everlasting remembrance? Endeavour to emulate his virtues. He departed this life July the 17th, 1818. Aged 72 years.’ Because James Garrett might have been the son of Thomas Garrett, it has often been assumed that the latter’s house, Janeville, was renamed Mount Pleasant by the former, and that they lived in the same property. In fact, this is not the case as Janeville and Mount Pleasant – which is seen in today’s pictures – are different houses, albeit in the same part of the county.
Some four miles apart, Janeville and Mount Pleasant were both once Garrett houses and dated from the early years of the 18th century, but while the first of these is still intact, the second, as can be seen, has fallen into ruin. Stylistically they share similarities, both having five bay facades centred on a granite doorcase with sidelights. Both are also of three storeys, although only two are visible from the front of Janeville which as a delightful Venetian window on the first floor above the entrance. The attic windows can be seen on the double-gabled side elevations. Mount Pleasant, on the other hand, features attic windows on its façade, with a tiny Diocletian window in the centre. And the rear of the building is like that of Fruit Hill, County Wexford, with wings creating a U-shaped house. At Mount Pleasant, the centre of the back evidently had a Gothic arched window, now blocked and the entire west wing was, at some unknown date, allowed to fall into dereliction, the owners only occupying the eastern side of the building. It was sold a couple of years ago, but no work has been done on the property and so the decline continues. However, as Fruit Hill shows, no house is ever beyond redemption; perhaps this one may yet find a saviour.
The entrance to God’s Acre, a small Quaker graveyard in County Carlow. On the north side of the site is a monument erected by Feilding Lecky Watson in memory of his father and all members of his faith who had settled and lived in the area since the first half of the 17th century. In 1923 Mr Lecky Watson and his family moved to Altamont, some eight miles away (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/07/16/altamont-2) where first he and then his daughter Corona North created a spectacular garden. Like the rest of the family, following her death in 1999 she was buried here, her resting place marked by a simple stone.