An Optimistic Future



Until recently, Doneraile Court, County Cork had an unhappy recent past and what threatened to be an equally unhappy future. One of the earliest non-fortified houses in Ireland, the core of the present building was constructed in the 1720s to the design of Isaac Rothery for Arthur St Leger, first Viscount Doneraile. His great-grandfather Sir Anthony St Leger, who came from Kent, had been sent to Ireland in 1537 by Henry VIII and in 1540 was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. The family gradually acquired land in this country, and in 1636 Sir William St. L:eger, Knight, Lord President of Munster bought what is now Doneraile from its previous owners the Synans for ‘the sum of Three hundred pounds sterling current money of and in England in hand payed to us.’ Until Doneraile Court was built, they lived in an old castle on the opposite side of the river Awbeg. The house has a seven-bay, three-storey facade of cut stone with curved end bows added at a later date in the 18th century. Further additions were made in the following century, including a three-bay porch to the front and a vast dining room of 1869 (demolished during restoration work just over a century later). The interior contains an early 18th century panelled room and an oval late-18th century staircase hall with Adamesque plasterwork on its ceiling.





The last Lord Doneraile to live in the house was the seventh Viscount who had been born and lived in New Zealand before inheriting the title and estate in 1941. He and his wife had no children and following his death in 1957 she remained alone in Doneraile Court. Then in 1968 a 47-year old Californian truck driver called Richard St John St Leger arrived in Ireland with his family and claimed to be the Doneraile heir. An application was lodged with the British House of Lords for his claim to be recognised. While this process was underway and despite objections from the estate’s Trustees, the family moved into the house, initially living with the widowed Lady Doneraile although she later settled in a cottage on the estate. Around the same time the Trustees had reached agreement with the Land Commission for the purchase of Doneraile Court and its lands for £56,800. Richard St Leger meanwhile began refurbishment work on the house with the intention of opening it to the public. The Irish Georgian Society offered support and sent a large number of volunteers to help prior to an opening ceremony planned for July 1969 when the American Ambassador to Ireland would officially open the house. However, just a matter of days beforehand, the Trustees gained an injunction in the High Court against the public opening of Doneraile Court on the grounds that the house’s floors were unsafe. They then proceeded to sell its entire contents to a consortium of antique dealers. Soon afterwards the Land Commission completed the purchase of the estate. His claim to the title never proven, Richard St Leger moved out of the house and later returned to the United States.





The Doneraile estate now passed into State ownership as part of the Office of Public Works’ Department of Forestry and Fisheries. But while care was lavished on the parkland in preparation of being opened to the public, the same was not true for the house which rapidly started to show evidence of neglect and deterioration. Windows were broken by vandals, plasterwork in the hall began to fall off the walls and the 19th century conservatory collapsed. In May 1976 it was announced that Doneraile Court was to be leased to the Irish Georgian Society rent-free on condition that the organisation undertook to restore the building. Gradually the house’s dereliction was brought under control. By the end of 1978 the Irish Georgian Society had spent £25,000 on structural repairs and that figure would climb steadily higher; in 1983 the organization estimated it had spent some £40,000 on the house. The amount would have been much higher but for the fact that much of the work had been undertaken by volunteers. In June 1984 the park at Doneraile was opened to the public but a lot more still needed to be accomplished before the house could follow the demesne’s lead and admit visitors. In 1990 a tearoom began operating in the house’s old kitchen, and in April 1992 the ground floor of Doneraile Court opened with a variety of exhibitions on show, including photographs of restoration work from the very start. Two years later, with the greater part of the restoration work completed at a cost of £500,000, the Irish Georgian Society was at last able to hand the house back to the Office of Public Works. For the next 25 years, the building remained closed and shuttered. Finally, last month it re-opened to the public and for once the wait has been worthwhile. As today’s pictures show, Doneraile Court now looks better than it has for more than half a century, the ground floor rooms impeccably refurbished and decorated. Here is a triumphant demonstration that an historic building, no matter how long neglected, can be brought back to peak condition. What has occurred here can, with sufficient ambition and imagination, also happen elsewhere. Congratulations are merited to all involved in this enterprise, which is ongoing as there are plans to open the first floor in due course. Doneraile Court’s unhappy past has been expunged, and the house can now look forward to an optimistic future.



Next Sunday at 3pm I shall be giving a talk at Doneraile Court on a number of houses elsewhere in County Cork which have not enjoyed its good fortune. For further information, please see: http://doneraileestate.ie/event/robert-obyrne-the-irish-aesthete-in-county-cork/

Once Mighty


Located in north-east County Cork, the village of Glanworth takes its name from the Irish Gleannúir (meaning Valley of the Yews). It was evidently the site of an ancient settlement that included a monastery, since it is believed that in the ninth century this was subjected to attacks by the Vikings, who sailed up the river Funcheon (a tributary of the Blackwater). One of Glanworth’s most distinctive features is its 13-arch limestone bridge crossing the Funcheon. Dating from the first quarter of the 17th century, it is said to be among the oldest and narrowest bridges still in daily use in Ireland. A now-abandoned mill built c.1780 lies beside the bridge, and on a high ridge above both of them are the remains of what was once a mighty castle.






Glanworth Castle was originally built by the Condon family in the late 12th century but by 1300 it had passed into the possession of the Roches, who were styled Lords of Fermoy. The castle remained in their hands until the Confederate Wars of the mid-17th century when it seems to have been badly damaged and likely abandoned. It has stood a ruin ever since. The remains seen today date from four different periods, with the earliest section being the rectangular hall-keep, surrounded by a protective wall nearly six feet thick, with round towers at each corner and a gatehouse on the western side. Not long afterwards, the gatehouse was enlarged and converted into a domestic residence (which the hall-keep had originally been). Then in the 15th century the gatehouse grew up to become a typical tower house. Finally, a separate kitchen building was constructed inside the old walls.






To the immediate north of Glanworth Castle stand two ruined churches, one being the former place of worship of the Church of Ireland which dates from c.1810 and the other being the only surviving remains of a Dominican Friary dedicated to the Holy Cross. It was founded in 1475 by the Roche family who lived adjacent in the castle, but the Dominicans can hardly have been there for very long, since the friary was closed down (as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries) in 1541. At that time the site included a cloister, dormitory, hall ‘and other buildings’ but none of these remain. The church’s finest feature is the east window; in the 19th century this had been moved to the Church of Ireland church but has since been restored to its original location.


Dreaming Spires

An entrance on the eastern side of the Quadrangle at University College Cork. The university is one of three established in 1845 as Queen’s Colleges (after Queen Victoria) and built in the following years: University College Cork officially inaugurated in November 1849. Its architect was local man Sir Thomas Deane, with the involvement of the younger Benjamin Woodward who came to work with him in 1846 (and would become a partner in the firm five years later). The Tudor-Gothic style was intentionally chosen to evoke memories of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and the original buildings, constructed of local limestone, cost £35,000.

What’s Left II

Another set of entrance gates in County Cork, this time dating from the early 19th century and formerly leading to Rye Court. As was discussed some months ago (see last January 26th, https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/01/26/ryecourt), the house here was one of a number burnt by the IRA in this part of the country in June 1921 and has stood a ruin ever since. Entrance to the site is now through a secondary opening to the left of the gates, and between the two rises the ghostly residue of a lodge, soon to be entirely smothered in vegetation.

Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up


Patrick Hennessy’s 1957 portrait of Elizabeth Bowen presides over a room dedicated to her memory in Doneraile Court, County Cork (her own home, nearby Bowen’s Court, was irresponsibly demolished in 1961). After being closed to the public for the past 25 years, Doneraile Court has once more been taken in hand by the Office of Public Works and officially reopens today. The decoration and furnishing of the ground floor rooms displays terrific flair, with a wonderful mixture of items, some in state ownership, others on loan from private collections, all blended together with aplomb. Having woken from its quarter-century slumber, Doneraile Court proves to be the sleeping beauty of Irish country houses: visits are strongly urged.


More on Doneraile Court soon. 

What’s Left


The rusticated limestone gate posts that once led to Ballintober House, County Cork. An old print shows these situated on another site, high above the now-lost house which had been built in the mid-to-late 17th century by the Meade family. Of Gaelic origin, the Meades were long-established in the Cork region, their name sometimes spelled Meagh or Miagh. Adapting and prospering according to changing circumstances, they became considerable landowners and by the early 18th century had been created baronets. In 1765 Sir John Meade, 4th Bt of Ballintober married one of the richest heiresses of the period, Theodosia, daughter of Robert Hawkins Magill of Gill Hall, County Down: eleven years later he became the first Earl of Clanwilliam. He later sold Ballintober and other lands in the area to a cousin, but the Meades remained in the area until the 1940s, after which the house here was demolished. Believed to date from c.1720 these gate posts and a few other remnants in the vicinity survive to indicate the importance of the Ballintober estate.

A Maharajah Remembers


From the exterior, the Church of the Ascension in Timolegue, County Cork looks a typically modest product of the early 19th century. The original place of worship here is first mentioned in 1291, and in the Middle Ages much of the land in this part of the country was under the control of the Barrys, subsequently Earls of Barrymore. The notoriously spendthrift habits of the final holders of this title obliged them to sell their property, which then passed into the possession of the Tonsons, the first of whom had been granted land in Ireland in the mid-17th century. They too were eventually ennobled as Baron Riversdale, and it was the second holder of that title who in 1811, with assistance from the Board of First Fruits, commissioned a new church in Timoleague as the old one had become dangerously dilapidated. The third and last Lord Riversdale died in 1861, by which time the Travers family, who lived beside the church in Timoleague House, were involved with the building. No doubt the interior was still relatively plain, because around this date some controversy arose when, as part of additions to the church – including a new chancel and vestry – a large stained glass window designed by the firm of William Warrington was installed above the altar. Opposed to graven images, the then-Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, William FitzGerald refused to consecrate the chancel unless the window was first covered with a cloth. One suspects he would not have cared for work subsequently undertaken inside the church.




In 1894 Robert Augustus Travers commissioned the decoration of the church’s chancel in memory of his wife Alice. What makes this work exceptional is that it is all in mosaic, supposedly thanks to Italian craftsmen who first laid out each section on the lawns of Timoleague House. The latter building was burnt in December 1920 during the War of Independence, and material relating to the chancel decoration was probably then lost. As a result, today the designer is unknown, but the late Jeremy Williams proposed William Henry Hill of Cork who had earlier served as Diocesan Architect for Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and therefore would have been well-known in Church of Ireland circles. Whoever was responsible displayed tremendous flair. The walls are mostly covered in abstract and floral patterns, with the Greek letters for Alpha and Omega set in oval frames on either side of the East window and elsewhere the Paschal Lamb. Meanwhile the ceiling is likewise decorated, this time a set of eight painted panels each featuring an angel carrying an appropriate text of mourning. In most churches, this might have been deemed sufficient, but more was to follow in due course.




Following the death of Robert Augustus Travers in 1904, the Timoleague estate was inherited by his elder son, another Robert. He decided to continue the decoration of the Church of the Ascension, initially in memory of his father. However, in August 1915 his son Spenser, a Lieutenant in the Royal Munster Fusiliers, was killed at Gallipoli, and so he too is commemorated in a mosaic frieze running beneath stained glass windows on the south wall. Much of the rest of the space is filled with further geometric shapes, along with stylised plants and flowers. As has been widely noted, only on the west wall does the design falter. Here above the entrance door a large panel depicts the Ascension of Christ, eleven Apostles gathered below him and a view of Jerusalem and its Temple shown behind. Both in colour and form, the result is somewhat insipid, a contrast with the boldness found everywhere else in the building. However, all the work might not have been realised, had it not been for assistance from an Indian Maharajah.




Born in 1876, Sir Madho Rao Scindia was ten when, on the death of his father, he became fifth Maharajah of Gwalior. As an adult, one of his closest friends was a man born in the Timoleague area, Aylmer Martin Crofts. The latter studied at what is now University College Cork and became a doctor before joining the British army where he saw service in Afghanistan and Egypt, finally settling in India. For the last twenty years of his professional life, Surgeon-General Crofts acted as chief medical officer for the state of Gwalior, hence his links with the Maharajah. Crofts died in 1915, and it was in memory of his ‘faithful and devoted’ friend that Madho Rao Scindia paid for the remaining decoration of the Church of the Ascension in Timoleague. Work here only finished in 1925, the year in which the Maharajah himself died. A section of the mosaic on the north wall of the nave provides testimony of his support, and the reason he gave it. His involvement helps to explain why much of the semi-abstract floral designs found in the main body of the church is reminiscent of Mughal art. As Jeremy Williams rightly noted, the building is a monument to ‘a living friendship that is being recorded in an extraordinary blend of the European and the Islamic – a hidden masterpiece of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Ireland.’ It is one which ‘transcended the sectarian divide between Irish Catholic and Protestant, The Indian Muslim and Hindu, personal friendship breaking up distinctions of caste and colour.’


In memory of the late Robert Travers. 

Mutilated Remains


Inside the ruined church of Kilcredan, County Cork can be found what was evidently once a fine tomb, its remains protected from the elements by a corrugated tin roof. This marks the final resting place of Robert Tynte, a Somerset-born soldier who came to Ireland in the late 16th century and settled in Youghal, where a late-mediaeval tower house is still called Tynte’s Castle. In 1612 he married Elizabeth Spenser, widow of the poet Edmund Spenser who is said to have begun work on the epic The Faerie Queen while staying in Youghal with his friend Sir Walter Raleigh. Tynte died in 1663 and the tomb has since been much mutilated, both his head and those of the mourning figures who kneel on either side (presumably his wife and daughter) are missing – together with their hands and the commemorative plaque formerly beneath the family coat of arms. Similar butchery has taken place on another memorial tomb high on the facing wall, this one commemorating Edward Harris, a Devon-born lawyer who became Chief Justice of Munster and was buried here, together with his wife Elizabeth, following his death in 1636.

A-Bandon




Like many Irish houses, Castle Bernard, County Cork has a long and complex architectural history, some aspects of which are still not clear. The place takes its name from the Bernard family, the first of whom – christened Francis like many of his successors – came here during the Plantation of Munster in the late 16th century. He acquired lands which had formerly been owned by the O’Mahonys and was centred around a great square tower house called Castle Mahon to the immediate south of the river Bandon. This became the Bernards’ residence, its name at some date changed to Castler Bernard, until c.1715, Francis Bernard, great-grandson of the original settler, and Solicitor-General of Ireland, Prime Serjeant and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas initiated work on a new building, seemingly to the designs of John Coltsman of Cork. This involved adding wings to the old tower house, the whole encased in brick with Corinthian pilasters and other ornamentations in Portland stone. A decade later the surrounding demesne was transformed into a formal garden with terraces, cascades, jets d’eau and statuary. This arrangement lasted until the end of the 18th century when Castle Bernard underwent a further transformation.





In 1794 the Cork architect Michael Shanahan, best-known work commissioned in Ulster by his patron Frederick Hervey, Earl-Bishop of Derry, prepared designs for a new house at Castle Bernard. (For more on Shanahan and the Earl-Bishop, see It’s Downhill All the Way, October 28th 2013 and Let the Door be Instantly Open, For There is Much Wealth Within, March 31st 2014). This involved pulling down the additions to the original tower house, and instead erecting a structure to its immediate east, a linking corridor running between the two. In 1800 another Corkman, William Deane, prepared estimates of £522.4s.4d. for work in finishing the house. In both instances, the client was Francis Bernard who from 1793 gradually scaled the hierarchy of the peerage until 1800 when created first Earl of Bandon. The house he commissioned was classical in style, of two storeys over basement and with a nine-bay entrance front. The garden front was similar but broken by a substantial full-height bow occupying the three centre bays. Just fifteen years later, Lord Bandon undertook further work, this time by an unknown architect, in order to give it the – largely superficial – appearance of a gothic castle, and thereby provide better links both to the old tower house and to the Bernard family’s ancient pedigree. While the garden front experienced little other than the insertion of gothic tracery in its windows, battlements and turrets were added to the façade, and the Bernard coat of arms carved in stone above the main entrance. No great changes were made to the interior, which despite the gothic fenestration otherwise retained its classical decoration. On the ground floor, an entrance hall with Ionic pilasters and columns gave access to a wide corridor which ran like a spine down the centre of the house. Among the reception rooms, the most notable was an oval drawing room overlooking the garden: one sees in its design the abiding influence of the Earl-Bishop on Shanahan.





The Bernard family remained in residence at Castle Bernard until June 1921 when the 70-year old fourth earl and his wife were woken in the early hours of the morning by a group of IRA members and ordered out of the house, which was then set on fire. Lord Bandon was then taken into captivity by the men and held for the next three weeks, constantly moved from house to house before being released at the gates of the now-ruined Castle Bernard after three weeks: during this time he had lost a stone in weight and never recovered from the experience, dying less than three years later. He and his wife had no children, so the title passed to a first cousin twice-removed, Air Chief Marshal Percy Bernard, widely known as ‘Paddy’ Bandon. But he inherited not a lot else and so, although some compensation was received by the family, Castle Bernard was not rebuilt (the fifth earl constructed a modest bungalow behind the ruin). Since he in turn had no son, the earldom became extinct. Although his descendants still live on the estate, the land in front of Castle Bernard is now a golf course.


The Big Castle


What survives of Castlemore, County Cork. Standing on a limestone outcrop, this once-substantial building (caisleán mór: big castle) is believed to have been constructed in the 15th century by the McCarthys, then the dominant family in this part of the world. Towards the end of the 16th century it was held for them by the MacSwineys but then passed into the hands of the Ryes whose main seat, Rye Court, lay just a few miles away (see June 1921 II, January 26th 2019). It was subsequently owned, and occupied, by the Travers family but must have been abandoned by them because photographs of the castle taken by Robert French in the late 19th/early 20th show it as a ruin. Still, at least then it was relatively clear of vegetation and also of other properties. Today Castlemore lies in the middle of a quarry and is in very poor condition.