Midleton College, County Cork was originally endowed in 1696 by Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, former Maid of Honour to Mary Stuart (who had died two years earlier) and former mistress of the latter’s husband, William III. He had granted Lady Orkney large tracts of land in Ireland, and some of these were used to endow the institution, intended for the education of Protestant boys. The building itself appears to have been constructed some 20 years later, the first schoolmaster, the Rev. George Chinnery, being appointed in August 1717. As originally constructed, the building consisted of an H-plan block of two storeys over basement; writing in 1750, Charles Smith referred to a ‘handsome dome’ over the centre but this has long-since disappeared. On the ground floor, the centre of the property was occupied by a school room, lit by the large arched windows on either side of the main entrance approached by a broad flight of steps; the dormitory, lit by three oculi, was directly above, and the schoolmaster lived in one of the wings. The side elevations are of eight bays, the four central ones slightly advanced. The rear of the house shares many features with the facade. The architect is unknown, although the name of Benjamin Crawley, who was involved in the building of a couple of country houses in the south-east of Ireland during this period, has been mentioned. However, the interiors were thoroughly altered in the early 19th century and then later extensions added to the block, so only the exterior bearssome re semblance to the college’s appearance when first constructed.
Category Archives: Cork
Whom Love Binds as One
An ancient story lies behind the name of Ightermurragh Castle, County Cork. In the second quarter of the 17th century, Edmund fitzjohn FitzGerald, son and heir of the last official Seneschal of Imokilly, had three daughters. Since there was no son to inherit his property, he decided to divide it between the trio, allowing them to choose which part of the property they would take. The eldest said ‘Beigh Inse na Chruithneactha agam sa’ (I will have the Wheat Field by the River): this is a tower house called Castle Richard. The middle daughter said ‘An Cnoc Ghlas damh-sa’ ( The Green Hill for me): this is a townland which came to be known as Knockglass. Finally, the youngest daughter, Margaret FitzGerald said ‘Agus an t-Iochtar mo Rogha’ (The lower is my choice): from this utterance the name Ightermurragh is said to have derived.
Margaret FitzGerald married a local man, Edmond Supple, whose family was said to have descended from a Norman knight called de Capel or de la Chapelle. The couple embarked on constructing a new residence for themselves at Ightermurragh; a chimneypiece still extant on the first floor carries the following inscription in Latin ‘Edmundus Suppel Dominus Margritatque Gerald, hanc struxere Domum quos ligat unus amor 1641’ (Edmund Supple and Margaret Gerald, whom love binds as one, built this house in 1641). As was so often the case, especially during the troubled period of the Confederate Wars, the couple did not long enjoy the place: before long: in 1642 the Catholic rebels, having failed to persuade Supple to join them, drove him and his wife and children from Ightermurragh Castle and burnt it out. Edmund Supple died in 1648 and not long after the remains of the building and surrounding lands came into the possession of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery who managed to hold onto this acquisition even after the Restoration of Charles II when many old Irish families managed to have their estates returned to them. Edmund Supple’s descendants instead received other land in the area and built a new house for themselves, which they called Supple’s Court. In the 18th century, Ightermurragh Castle – presumably restored – was leased to a branch of the Smyth family. However, in 1772 Mr Beverley Smyth was attacked by a band of robbers who broke into the building and supposedly roasted the occupant on a gridiron in order to make him tell them where he kept his money. The castle was thereafter abandoned and left to fall into its present condition.
Of five storeys (including an attic and semi-basement) and divided by four string courses, Ightermurragh Castle – really a fortified house – stands on a rise above the river Womanagh and is cruciform in shape. What might be considered the main block runs east to west and measures 72 by 32 feet, with walls some five feet thick. The dimensions of the wings are 20 by 16 feet, the walls around four feet thick;; that to the south held the entrance, to the north the main staircase. Forty-five feet high, the building retains six of the original seven chimneystacks which rise a further ten or 15 feet; twelve of the fireplaces survive in situ. Of various dimensions, there are 45 windows, although none on the west gable end.
An Excellent Example
Dromdihy – otherwise Dromdiah – County Cork has featured here a couple of times, the first occasion almost eight years ago, when the building was in a very poor condition and looked as though it were destined to go the way of so many other abandoned Irish country houses: into oblivion (see pictures above). However, a couple of years later, the property was bought by a couple determined to bring it back to life and when the Irish Aesthete revisited in 2018 (see pictures immediately below) work had begun on clearing the site and parts of Dromdihy hitherto submerged in vegetation had re-emerged. The interior also, much of it previously inaccessible, was likewise visible and even possible to explore (albeit only at basement level, the upper floors having long-since been lost). Further progress was made, but then the pandemic intervened, putting something of a halt to proceedings. Now, however, work on the site has resumed and considerable changes occurred, as can be seen by the latest number of photographs (see bottom series). All being well, within another year or two, Dromdihy will habitable and once more be a family home.
As was noted here back in 2015, Dromdihy dates from the early 1830s when constructed for Roger Green Davis, agent for the absentee landlord Sir Arthur de Capell-Brooke. A description of the house thirty years after being built noted that it ‘consists of a centre and two wings, ornamented with Doric columns and with a portico at the eastern end, by the hall is entered, and off which are hot, cold, vapour and shower baths. The first floor comprises five sitting-rooms; on the second floor are four best bedrooms, with dressing-rooms and water-closet…’ Evidently Green Davis spared no expense on the property: it is said that the stone was cut by craftsmen brought from Italy for the purpose. But if the design was admirable, its execution left something to be desired: seemingly from the start Dromdihy suffered from damp, the roof leaking and the interior manifesting both dry and wet rot. Green Davis’ son John, a barrister, sold the place to William Stopford Hunt, an Assistant Land Commissioner and well-known cricketer. He retained ownership of the estate until 1923, at which time the house and surrounding ninety acres were purchased by the O’Mahony family. They ran a manufacturing and timber business on the estate but by 1944 the house was deemed uninhabitable and its roof removed. It went into decline thereafter, one that until recently looked irreversible. But, as has already been mentioned and as these pictures demonstrate, provided sufficient determination and imagination exist, no building is beyond salvation. Dromdihy deserves to be held up as an example of what can – and should – be done in this country.
The towering remains of Belgooly Mill, County Cork. A smaller operation was built here in the early 1820s by one Thomas Jennings and served as a starch mill and vinegar distillery. In 1832, a flour miller called Peter Downing constructed g a new six-storey boulting mill, capable of producing 15,000 bags of flour annually, at a cost of £7,000: this is what can be seen here. In 1872, the recently-established South of Ireland and County Cork Distillery Company took a lease on the premises and converted them into a whiskey distillery, but just a decade later this business went into liquidation. The distillery’s copper fittings were all stripped out and the mill left empty, although parts of it were used by the local residents for various community purposes. But during the first decades of the last century, the buildings gradually declined and in 1941 they were stripped of all saleable materials – slates, flooring, beams and the like – and left a shell. The Irish Army was then invited to demolish the six-storey grain store using explosives, but despite several attempts to do so, it remained standing, as it still does today.
The remains of a church that was once part of a Carmelite monastery in Castlelyons, County Cork. This religious house was established in 1309 by John de Barry, but much of what can be seen today dates from the following century. Although sections of the cloister also survive, the church is the most substantial extant part of the site, a long nave separated from the chancel by a semi-ruinous three-story crossing tower. The building’s best-preserved details can be found on the west front, featuring a pointed doorway with hoodmoulded surround below a twin-light, ogee-headed window.
How the Mighty have Fallen (Part II)
Last July, one of Ireland’s major banks, AIB, announced plans to withdraw all cash services from 70 of its 170 branches. Although the company – in the face of near-universal outcry, not least from politicians in whose constituencies the threatened branches lay – quickly withdrew the proposed withdrawal, its original declaration of intent provided proof of what has long been evident throughout the country: the seemingly irreversible decline of regional towns. One by one, the staples of a thriving Irish urban settlement, whether it be the community hospital, the agricultural mart, the creamery, the post office, the bank and so forth, have packed up and left. For more and more of their needs, residents in smaller towns have been expected to head to a handful of bigger conurbations, where all the major services are congregated. Although this phenomenon is much discussed and analysed, one important aspect of the decline rarely appears in such discourse: the near-total disappearance over recent decades of Roman Catholic religious orders and the consequent abandonment of their buildings.
The Presentation Order (full title: the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) was founded in Cork in 1775 by Honora ‘Nano’ Nagle, member of a wealthy Roman Catholic family. Within a few years of its establishment, Presentation nuns had begun to open and run schools for girls, first in Ireland and then elsewhere around the world. In its country of origin, the order soon came to have a presence in every town of significance: indeed, by the mid-19th century the presentation of a Presentation Convent and attached school could be seen as indicative of a town’s economic and social importance. There was, therefore, widespread delight when the first three nuns of this order arrived in Mitchelstown, County Cork in June 1853. As if to emphasise the significance of this event, the site they would occupy dominates the town: immediately adjacent to the Catholic church (built at the same time) on high ground to the east of New Square. A month after their arrival, the nuns opened a school and within a few weeks 637 children of all ages had enrolled there for classes. Thus matters continued for the next 150 years, during much of which time it must have seemed as though the Presentation order would long remain a notable presence in Mitchelstown. However, towards the end of the last century, the numbers of nuns declined and those remaining grew ever older. Twenty years ago, in 2002, the last of them left and the convent they had once occupied, along with the school they had run, became vacant.
The former Presentation Convent in Mitchelstown consists of a three-storey, five-bayed central block facing due west. Gable-ended wings on either side extend eastwards to the rear, making the entire building U-shaped. The north wing held the chapel, described by Frank Keohane in his Guide to the Buildings of Cork as ‘a charming if old-fashioned Gothick affair with a rib-vaulted ceiling with bosses and pendants, a gallery on clustered columns and tracery-like panelling to the E wall.’ Following the departure of its original residents, the entire site was sold to a development company, Irish and European Properties, which in 2007 received permission from the local authority to convert the existing buildings for ‘community and commercial use’, create an underground two-screen cinema complex with associated car park spaces and then cover much of the surrounding grounds with apartment blocks. The economic crash of the following years put that scheme on hold but in 2012 Cork County Council granted an extension to the developers’ plans. Nothing happened – except that the company went into receivership – and two years later, in 2014, the council announced plans to prosecute the owners of the former convent under the Derelict Sites Act. Although it seems some remedial works were then carried out on the building, little has since happened and so the place has fallen into a state of almost complete ruin. In the past, the claim was sometimes made that Ireland’s country houses suffered neglect and abandonment because the majority of the population felt no sense of association with them. That argument does not apply in this instance: the Presentation convent was an important part of Mitchelstown’s identity for some 150 years, representative of the town’s importance and a centre of education. There must be many local residents who attended school here, and who can remember how it once looked. Furthermore, it is not as though the convent has disappeared: these buildings still dominate Mitchelstown, but their present condition now tells a very different story, one of disuse and decay. This is not a problem unique to Mitchelstown. There are many other towns throughout Ireland with similarly dilapidated complexes previously occupied by religious orders. As much as the closure of banks and post offices, they demonstrate the ongoing decline of Ireland’s regional towns.
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.
A Resting Place for Kings
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.
Previous entries here over the years have looked at old mill complexes around the country. Ireland never experienced the same industrial revolution as occurred in our nearest neighbour, not least because we never enjoyed the same mineral wealth. However, from the mid-18th century onwards, large-scale mills began to be constructed right around the island, designed to take advantage of the power of our many waterways rather in the way that wind power is now being harnessed here to generate electricity. Many of these complexes were used for grain milling, especially in the south-east where large amounts of wheat and other such crops were grown, but mills were also used for textile spinning, and it was not uncommon for the buildings to serve both purposes, albeit at different periods during their working life. For the vast majority of them, that life has long since come to an end, and they stand empty, often roofless and falling into ruin. Such is the case with the former mill at Quartertown, County Cork.
Dating from c.1810 (the golden age for mills, during the Napoleonic Wars when Ireland’s crops were especially sought), Quartertown Mill may have had its origins back in the 13th century. The present complex is thought to have been built by Major Henry Croker, a younger son of the family whose main seat was Ballynagarde, County Limerick: possession of the land at Quartertown came through his wife Harriet Dillon. Operated by a millstream flowing from a tributary of the river Blackwater, the flour mill and attendant property passed through a couple of hands before coming into the possession of siblings John and Robert Webb in 1853. The industrial buildings suffered a major fire in 1864 but were reconstructed by Robert Webb and resumed activity, employing up to 120 people and remaining in use until the mill finally closed in 1957. But in the previous century, it had obviously been extremely successful, since in 1870 Robert Webb was able to enlarge and improve his nearby home, Quartertown House.
Now just a shell, Quartertown House was originally built in the last quarter of the 18th century, presumably by the Crokers. As mentioned, in 1870 Robert Webb embarked on a major overhaul of the building, choosing as his architect a fellow Corkman, Richard Rolt Brash whose long list of projects – whether a block of villas in Cork City’s Sunday’s Well, a town hall in Bandon, a Roman Catholic church in Buttevant or a flax spinning mill in Douglas – demonstrates a preparedness to provide whatever the client wanted. In Webb’s case, an Italianate villa was required, and duly delivered. The old house, which can be seen below (being to the left) was altogether more modest and smaller, of just five bays and stands behind what can now be seen. Of two storeys over basement, Quartertown House has a rendered, east-facing facade of seven bays with channelled rustication on the ground floor where the round-headed windows are set within square-headed recesses while those on the floor above are square-headed, the whole beneath a heavy modillion cornice. The entrance at the centre (there is a pedimented doorcase buried within the rampant foliage) is marked by an Ionic portico, with a tripartite window above; the south elevation has a canted bay on the basement and ground floor. At some date in the last century, the house was acquired by a Catholic religious order which remained in occupation until the 1970s. However, it then seems to have been abandoned and left to fall into the present sad condition, the roof caved in, the interiors destroyed. Just a hollow shell, there is little to show of the Webb wealth that once paid for the building’s creation.
Next weekend marks the centenary of the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle, County Cork, the biggest country house burnt in Ireland during the War of Independence/Civil War. Designed by siblings James and George Pain, the castle was built in the 1820s for George King, third Earl of Kingston who demolished the previous Palladian house on the site; Lord Kingston specifically required that it be bigger than any other such property in the country. Alas, less than 100 years later it was looted and destroyed, and the site then cleared: a milk-processing plant now stands on the site. To commemorate the events of 1922, Doomed Inheritance, a conference on the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle and other such buildings during that troubled period of Irish history will be held in Mitchelstown, at which the Irish Aesthete will be giving a paper ‘The Ruined Big House: Perception and Reality.’ Further information on the conference can be found here: Doomed Inheritance History Conference Tickets, Fri 12 Aug 2022 at 19:00 | Eventbrite