Like a Doll’s House

The doll’s house façade of Annes Grove, County Cork. Originally called Ballyhimmock, the property was acquired by the Grove family in the first half of the 17th century. They were responsible for building the core of the house, which probably dates from c.1720. In 1766, Francis Annesley (future first Earl Annesley) married the estates’s heiress Mary Grove, who came with a fortune of £30,000. The couple lived on his property in Castlewellan, County Down. However in 1792 Annes Grove was inherited by the earl’s nephew Arthur Annesley on condition that he add Mary Grove’s name to his own: hence the family became Grove Annesley. It was during his lifetime that extensive changes were made to the house, not least the addition of the wooden porch with Doric columns. Famous for its gardens created at the start of the last century and now undergoing restoration, Annes Grove passed into the care of the state three years ago and will open to the public in due course.

Rampant Grandiosity



The grandiously-named Woburn, which stands on the coast in north County Down. Designed by Dublin architect John McCurdy, the house was built in 1866-67 around an earlier seaside villa. This had been owned by wealthy mill owner John Gilmore Dunbar but was spectacularly enlarged into an Italianate mansion by his nephew and heir, George Orr Dunbar: the property subsequently passed to the Pack-Beresford family. Death duties obliged Woburn’s sale in the 1950s, after which it was bought by the Northern Ireland Ministry of Finance and converted into a borstal. More recently it became a training centre for prison officers but following the closure of this facility, the 43-acre site – on which many ancillary buildings had been constructed – stood empty until sold last year. The house’s future is unclear.


A Significant Birthday



Last weekend saw festivities marking the 250th anniversary of Monksgrange, County Wexford. Completed in 1769, the house has remained in the ownership of the original builder’s descendants, something of a rarity in Ireland as is also the property’s extensive archive of documents, thoroughly mined over many years by Philip Bull for his recently-published book, Monksgrange: Portrait of an Irish house and family, 1769–1969 (Four Courts Press). In its simplified Palladian design, the building is representative of the aspirations of the country’s landed gentry in the mid-18th century, adopting and adapting aristocratic taste better to secure its own place in the then-social hierarchy. While Monksgrange has undergone some alterations and modifications over the past two and a half centuries, it retains an important place in the history of our architectural evolution.


All That Remains


When John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington commissioned designs for a residence from architect James Gandon in 1790, he already lived in a fine house. This was Dawson Court, presumably built earlier in the 18th century by his grandfather Ephraim Dawson following the latter’s marriage to Ann Preston, heiress to an estate at Emo, County Laois. Since no pictures or descriptions exist, we know very little about that building, other than it was called Dawson Court and stood somewhere in the vicinity of the present, Gandon-designed Emo Court. The only surviving parts of the building are a pair of carved limestone chimney pieces, one of which remains in a former bedroom on the first floor. The other, once protected by a since-demolished passageway, now sits exposed against a wall to the immediate west of the house.

Testifying to a Loss


The handsome 18th century stable yard at Castle Archdale, County Fermanagh. Dating from the early 1770s, the house here was built to replace an older one which had in turn superseded a plantation castle badly damaged in 1689. Of six bays and three storeys over basement, and the largest Palladian house in Fermanagh, Castle Archdale stood on high ground overlooking the shores of Lower Lough Erne. In 1942 the building was requisitioned by the RAF and thereafter never returned to being a private residence: left to fall into ruin, it was demolished in 1970. The stable yard, which stood directly behind, is all that remains to testify to the house’s former presence. It is now used as offices and the grounds of Castle Archdale used as a caravan park.

An 18th century House Guest


Abbey Leix, County Laois
‘I must return to give you an account of Lady De Vesci’s. I am quite in love with her and with their state of living. It is entirely without form, everybody doing as they please, and always a vast number of people in the house. Lady Knapton, his mother, lives with them, and seems no restraint upon anybody, she is so good-humoured. We were about six or seven ladies and as many gentlemen, divided into different parties about the room, some working, some reading, some playing cards, and the room being large and very full, it had a most comfortable appearance. It opens into the library on one side and the dining-room on the other. As it rained most of the time I was there I did not see much of the grounds, but the park is not laid out, as they have employed all their time and money in making a comfortable house first, which I think the most sensible plan. Lady De Vesci was very loth to let us go so soon, but Mr. Dawson had business at home that prevented our staying longer. However, we go again into their neighbourhood the end of next week, as Sir Robert and Lady Staples have been very pressing with their invitations, and insisted upon our naming the time, which we accordingly did, and Lady De Vesci begs we will come to her again after that, to meet Lord and Lady Tyrone, so you see we have enough to do; besides we have a ball to go to on Wednesday next, which a distant neighbour has invited us to, and when all this is over we meditate a trip to Dublin, to buy some things we have occasion for.’
From Lady Caroline Dawson to Lady Louisa Stuart, September 1778.




Carton, County Kildare
‘At last we have left Dublin, and are arrived at this place, which I find more agreeable than I expected, though I don’t think I should like to stay long; but for a couple of days it will do very well, as there is a good deal to see. I can’t say much for the entertainment within, as the Duchess is not more agreeable in her own house than she was in mine ; however, I am not sure but what I should grow to have some liking, or at least esteem, for her, as I am convinced she is perfectly good and well meaning. The Duke seems very fond of her, and being stupid himself, does not, I daresay, find out that she has any deficiency of understanding. Lady Charlotte [FitzGerald, sister of the Duke of Leinster], who is really sensible, seems to do what she pleases with them both. You will be surprised when I tell you there are at present four generations in the house, the Duchess having her mother and grandmother paying her a visit, which, with her children, makes up four, and the great-grandmother is a very good-looking woman, not older than most people’s mothers, and the Duchess’s mother, Lady St. George, one would take to be fifteen. I must describe her to you, because she is so remarkable. She has a very pretty little figure, with a face not handsome, but well enough, and her dress in the afternoon is a polonaise trimmed with gauze ; upon recollection, I am telling you wrong, for it is a Circassian, all over loops and tassels (like the one Mrs. Stuart brought from Paris last year), and a little black Henri Quatre hat upon her head, with her hair dressed up to it behind. In a morning she wears an orange-coloured habit embroidered, or rather embossed, with gold, and a great rich gold stuff waistcoat, with broad laced ruffles, and a little white beaver hat with a bunch of white feathers upon the top, and a black stock, so that she looks the finest French figure you ever saw. Everything seems to go on in great state here. The Duchess appears in a sack and hoop and diamonds in an afternoon, French horns playing at every meal, and such quantities of plate, etc., that one would imagine oneself in a palace; and there are servants without end.’
From Lady Caroline Dawson to Lady Louisa Stuart, October 1778.



Castletown, County Kildare
‘On Saturday they asked if I should like going to Castletown, Mr. Conolly’s, and upon my answering in the affirmative we set out in the coach and six with all due state. I was very much entertained, as it is a very pretty place, though a flat (which you will not credit, I suppose) ; but there’s very fine wood, a fine river, and views of mountains from every part of it, so the flatness does not strike one so much, and I never saw any place kept so neat and nice. They first carried me to the cottage, for you must know it is quite the fashion in Ireland to have a cottage neatly fitted up with Tunbridge ware, and to drink tea in it during the summer. We then went to the house, which is the largest I ever was in, and reckoned the finest in this kingdom. It has been done up entirely by Lady Louisa, and with a very good taste ; but what struck me most was a gallery, I daresay 150 feet long, furnished in the most delightful manner with fine glasses, books, musical instruments, billiard table, in short, everything that you can think of is in that room, and though so large, is so well filled, that it is the warmest, most comfortable-looking place I ever saw ; and they tell me they live in it quite in winter, for the servants can bring in dinner or supper at one end, without anybody hearing it at the other, in short, I never saw anything so delightful, and I am sure you would have been in raptures. Lady Charlotte [FitzGerald] is so fond of it that she would have me go into every hole and corner of that great house, and then made me walk all over the shrubbery, so that by the time we had finished I was compleatly tired.’
From Lady Caroline Dawson to Lady Louisa Stuart, October 1778




Next Sunday afternoon, I shall be speaking at Emo Court, County Laois on Lady Caroline Dawson and her visits to country houses around Ireland. For further information, please see: http://emocourt.ie/event/robert-obyrne-lady-caroline-dawson-an-18th-century-country-house-guest

 

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/

No Hope



The sad remains of Hope Castle, County Monaghan. Built on the edge of Castleblayney, the house – like the town – owes its existence to the Blayney family who settled here at the start of the 17th century. Initially they lived in a castle built by Sir Edward Blayney, created first Baron Blayney in 1721 but at the end of the 18th century his descendant, the 11th Lord Blayney commissioned a new house designed by Dublin-born Robert Woodgate who for several years had worked in London for Sir John Soane. In 1853 the 12th Lord Blayney sold the estate to the rich Henry Thomas Hope; he enlarged and remodelled the building in what has been called ‘a frivolous kind of Italianate classicism.’ Occupied by Queen Victoria’s son the Duke of Connaught for several years at the start of the last century when he served Commander of the Forces in Ireland, Hope Castle was sold in 1928 and served as a military barracks and then a county hospital before being occupied until the mid-1970s by Franciscan nuns. It was then acquired by the local county council, which leased it to an hotelier who was permitted to strip out all of Woodgate’s interiors. In 2010 the building was badly damaged by arsonists and has remained in a sorry state ever since.


The Gamekeeper’s Return

Thro’ the long morning have I toil’d
O’er heath and lonely wood,
And cross the dark untrodden glen
The fearful game pursu’d:
But deeper now the gathering clouds
Collect along the sky,
And faint and weary warn my steps
Their homeward course to hie.

And now the driving mist withdraws
Her grey and vapoury veil:
I mark again the sacred tower
I pass’d in yonder dale.
A little while, and I shall gain
Yon hill’s laborious height;
And then perhaps my humble cot
Will chear my grateful sight.





Ah now I see the smoke ascend
From forth the glimmering thatch;
Now my heart beats at every step,
And now I lift the latch;
Now starting from my blazing hearth
My little children bound,
And loud with shrill and clamorous joy
Their happy sire surround.

How sweet when Night first wraps the world
Beneath her sable vest,
To sit beside the crackling fire
With weary limbs at rest;
And think on all the labours past,
That Morn’s bright hours employ’d,
While all, that toil and danger seem’d,
Is now at home enjoy’d.





The wild and fearful distant scene,
Lone covert, whistling storm,
Seem now in Memory’s mellowing eye
To wear a softer form;
And while my wand’rings I describe,
As froths the nut-brown ale,
My dame and little list’ning tribe
With wonder hear the tale.

Then soft enchanting slumbers calm,
My heavy eyelids close,
And on my humble bed I sink
To most profound repose;
Save, that by fits, the scenes of day,
Come glancing on my sight,
And, touch’d by Fancy’s magic wand,
Seem visions of delight.

The Gamekeeper’s Return at Night by Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges (1821).
Photographs of the former Gamekeeper’s Lodge at Woodlawn, County Galway. 

The Replacement


The façade of Churchtown, County Kerry. This house replaced nearby Castle Corr (see last Wednesday) as a residence for the McGillycuddy family, and may have been built in part using stone from that now-ruined building. In 1717 Dennis McGillycuddy married Anne Blennerhassett and Churchtown subsequently passed into the possession of her family, remaining with them until the second half of the 19th century when bought by forebears of the present owners (who now offer it as a holiday let). Believed to date from 1740, building is slate-fronted on its southern side and this was also the case with the now-rendered, five-bay façade, plain other than the cut limestone doorcase.