The thatched lodge at Derrymore, County Armagh featured here some time ago (see The Most Elegant Summer Lodge « The Irish Aesthete). That building dates from the mid-1770s, making it at least 30 years older than another fanciful cottage orné, this one in County Tipperary. Popularly known as the Swiss Cottage, the later example was constructed c.1810 for Richard Butler, 10th Baron Caher (created Earl of Glengall 1816). Member of a branch of the Butler family which had been dominant in this part of the country for hundreds of years, his own forebears had been settled at Cahir Castle since the 14th century. They remained there until c.1770 when a new residence, Cahir House (now an hotel) was built. Richard Butler was never expected to inherit the title and associated estate. However, following the death in June 1788 of the 8th baron, a distant relative, without heirs – and then the death of Richard Butler’s own father a month later – at the age of just 12 he came into considerable wealth. At the time, he was living in poverty in France, but then returned to Ireland, where he was accommodated by the eccentric widow Arabella Jeffereyes of Blarney Castle. There was method behind Mrs Jeffereyes kindness: within a few years, she had arranged the marriage of her daughter Emilia (then aged just 16) to the wealthy Lord Caher. Soon afterwards the couple returned to live at Cahir House where, according to Dorothea Herbert, they threw ‘a most flaming Fête Champêtre’ during which the young Lady Caher ‘danced an Irish jig in her stockings to the music of an old piper. We had a superb supper in the three largest rooms, all crowded as full as they could hold and we did not get home till eight o’clock next morning and so slept all the next day.’
The tone set by the party they had thrown after their return to Cahir House, the Butlers appear to have led an exceedingly merry life, dividing their time between County Tipperary and London where, following the implementation of the Act of Union, Lord Caher served as an Irish representative peer in the Westminster House of Lords. It may have been there that he made the acquaintance of architect John Nash, who would be responsible for designing a number of buildings in Cahir, including St Paul’s church (Figures of Mystery « The Irish Aesthete) and the adjacent Erasmus Smith School (Well Schooled « The Irish Aesthete) as well as the sadly-demolished Shanbally Castle just a few miles away. Accordingly, the Swiss Cottage is attributed to Nash, not least because of its resemblance to similar picturesque buildings he designed during the same period at Blaise Hamlet on the outskirts of Bristol. The cottage was sketched in 1814, indicating its completion by that date, and two years later was mentioned in an account of local races: ‘the tout ensemble of the Cottage affording a display of rural decoration not easy to be equalled in this country for chasteness of character and richness of fancy.’ Perched above the river Suir and just two kilometres south of Cahir, the cottage was never intended to be a permanent residence, but rather somewhere to visit, perhaps for a meal, perhaps an overnight stay in good weather. Built to a T-plan and of two storeys over basement, the cottage has rustic timber verandas around most of its exterior and a thatched roof. French windows open onto the surrounding grounds and there are a number of balconies on the first floor: much of the exterior is covered in wooden lattice trellising. The overall effect is exceedingly charming.
Three years after becoming an earl, Richard Butler died and was succeeded by his only son, also called Richard. Despite marrying an heiress, he would find expenditure exceeded income, particularly after 1839 when he embarked on the restoration of Cahir Castle, and the rebuilding of much of the town of Cahir. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, it transpired that Lord Glengall’s debts amounted to a prodigious £300,000, the situation not helped by a lawsuit over their inheritance between Lady Glengall and her sister. The earl was duly declared bankrupt in 1849 and everything offered for sale, although some of the estate was subsequently recovered by his elder daughter, Lady Margaret Charteris. Somehow, the Swiss Cottage survived, although by the mid-1980s it was in poor condition, sitting empty and a prey to vandals. Before the building became a complete ruin, the local community bought it in 1985 with the aid of a £10,000 grant from the Irish Georgian Society. Work then began on salvaging the Swiss Cottage and the greater part of the funds for this project came, via the IGS, from the American Port Royal Foundation and its President Mrs Christian Aall (the foundation had already donated money towards the cottage’s purchase). Restoration work took three years to complete, overseen by architect Austin Dunphy assisted by John Redmill, with much of the labour provided under a government youth training scheme. New tree trunk posts were put up to support the shingled roof that surrounds the cottage at first floor level, later internal partitions removed and new wiring and plumbing installed. The building was re-thatched, and early 19th century wallpapers, not least a set in the salon by Joseph Dufour of Paris depicting Les Rives du Bosphore, scrupulously restored by David Skinner. Irish couturier Sybil Connolly was given responsibility for overseeing the interior decoration and arranged for a set of grotto chairs to be made for the ground floor rooms. Work on the Swiss Cottage was completed in September 1989 and the building has since been open to the public under the management of the Office of Public Works.