Spring


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;





The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.





What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins 
Photographed at Coolcarrigan, County Kildare 

Outstanding in its Field



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.


Idiosyncratic


The idiosyncratic façade of Dunmain, County Wexford. The house can be dated to the 1690s when the land on which it stands were bought by Arron Lambert. It subsequently passed through a number of different owners including the owners but has been occupied by the present family since being bought at auction in February 1917. At either end of the five-bay, two-storey over basement building rise conical roofed octagonal towers, weather-slated like the rest of the building; that on the right houses a tiny 19th century chapel on the ground floor. It is unclear whether they are original to the building, or a later insertion. The granite pillared portico approached by a flight of steps looks to have been added in the 19th century.

Look to the Stars



Internationally acclaimed for his work, the astronomer William Edward Wilson was born in 1851 in Belfast, where his grandfather, also called William, had made a fortune in the shipping business. As a result, William senior bought each of his four sons an estate, that given to William junior’s father, John Wilson, being Daramona, County Westmeath. The younger William, not enjoying good health as a child, was educated at home but when he was 19 the opportunity arose to join an expedition travelling to Algeria to witness a total solar eclipse. This inspired his interest in astronomy and in due course he acquired his first telescope. When aged thirty, he constructed his own observatory at Daramona, on a site immediately adjacent to the house. Here he worked for the rest of his life, until his early death in 1908. Among the scientific breakthroughs with which he is credited are the production of the first photo-electric measurements of the brightness of stars and the first accurate determination of the temperature of the solar photosphere. He was also responsible for making a series of outstanding celestial photographs. As a result of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896 and awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Trinity College Dublin in 1901.





Daramona is a mid-19th century, three-bay, two-storey Italianate villa probably built by John Wilson soon after the birth of his son, the future astronomer. There was an older house immediately behind the present one, but it has long since been demolished; it is suggested that the somewhat over-scaled limestone Doric entrance porch was recycled from the previous building. The doorcase behind has a particularly wide fanlight and sidelights. The interior is typical of the period, the most interesting space being the very substantial library, the largest room on the ground floor, which has timber panelled walls and, above the chimneypiece, a panel bearing the family coat of arms. Immediately behind the house, on the site of the earlier house, are two long service wings. Wilson’s two-storey observatory, completed around 1892 and originally domed, stands left of the rear of the house. Beyond it is a curtain wall topped with a balustrade and incorporating a pedimented doorcase leading providing access to the rear avenue.





Not long after Edward Wilson’s death in 1908, his widow and children moved first to County Cavan and then, following the outbreak of troubles in the 1920s, to England. His telescope was offered to the University of London where it remained until 1974; it is now in Liverpool’s Merseyside County Museum. Much of his original instrumentation when to Trinity College Dublin. Meanwhile, Daramona was sold to another family who lived in and maintained the property until it was put on the market in 2000. House and land were then bought by a local building firm which applied to construct 38 houses on the site. Thanks to a campaign by scientists in Ireland and around the world, this application was refused by the county council which in due course conferred protected structure status on the main building, ancillary outhouses, demesne wall and gates. Since then it would appear nothing has been done, so that today Daramona is fast falling into decay and – once more – taking with it part of the national history. Looking for a solution to this problem? One might as well follow William Wilson’s example, and look to the stars.


Whim in All His Improvements


On August 25th 1732, the future Mrs Delany (then the merrily widowed Mrs Pendarves) embarked on a journey from Navan, County Meath to Cootehill, County Cavan. She wrote in her journal, ‘travelled through bad roads and a dull, uninhabited country, till we came to Cabaragh, Mr Prat’s house, an old castle modernized, and made very pretty: the master of it is a virtuoso, and discovers whim in all his improvements. The house stands on the side of a high hill; has some tall old trees about it; the gardens are small but neat; there are two little terrace walks, and down in a hollow is a little commodious lodge where Mr Prat lived whilst his house was repairing. But the thing that most pleased me, was a rivulet that tumbles down from rocks in a little glen, full of shrub-wood and trees; here a fine spring joisns the river, of the sweetest water in the world.’





The ‘Mr Prat’ to whom Mrs Pendarves refers was Mervyn Pratt, a sometime Member of the Irish Parliament representing County Cavan. His father, Joseph Pratt, had been one of two brothers who moved from Leicestershire to Ireland in the mid-17th century, both of them settling in County Meath. However, Joseph made an advantageous marriage to Elizabeth, only daughter and heiress of Col. Thomas Cooch (or Couch) who owned estates in Counties Donegal and Cavan. When he died in 1699, he left his property in the latter county to his grandson Mervyn Pratt, then aged 12. The heir duly settled on his inheritance and married Elizabeth, daughter of a neighbour, the Hon. Thomas Coote of Bellamont, County Cavan. At Cabra (spelled ‘Cabaragh’ by Mrs Pendarves), the couple’s home was an old castle, built at the start of the 17th century by Gerald Fleming (who had in turn been granted territory previously held by a branch of the O’Reilly family). This was the building which was ‘modernized and made very pretty.’





Today the castle at Cabra is just one of a number of buildings constructed or improved by Mervyn Pratt. A walk through the site today leads first to his former stable block (see first set of pictures), popularly known as the Barracks. A long, two-storey gabled block the east side features a series of lunettes resting on a string-course; most of these have been blocked up but two are open as part of doorcases into the building. Nothing remains of the interior. To the west and on higher ground are the remains of the extended old castle, primarily consisting of two four-storey towers, that to the south likely the original Fleming residence. Again, almost nothing survives of the interior, but somehow in the newer block there remains intact one plastered niche, as well as evidence of an adjacent cantilevered staircase. From this high spot, the land begins to drop and, past a typical domed and recessed icehouse, the path leads down to a lake beside which stands what’s left of the ‘little commodious lodge’ where Mervyn Pratt lived while the castle was being restored and enlarged. It has been proposed by Kevin Mulligan that this building (as well as the stables) were designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and originally featured a broad pedimented façade inspired, via the work of Lord Burlington, by Palladio’s Villa Valmarana at Vigardolo. As elsewhere, not a lot remains and indeed at least half of the building no longer stands; the central portion has lost its pediment and, given a flat, utilitarian roof, is now used as a store shed. But at least here, enough does survive for the original concept to be apparent.





The Pratts remained in possession, but perhaps not in residence at Cabra for the rest of the 18th century; in his Statistical Survey of the County of Cavan (1802) Sir Charles Coote while enthusiastic about the improvements undertaken by Mervyn Pratt and his successors in the local town of Kingscourt, was much less engaged with the demesne and buildings at Cabra. ‘The ruins of the old castle,’ he wrote, ‘which was the family mansion, are contiguous to the house, but quite too near to have any pleasing effect, which such pieces of antiquity afford in the landscape.’ Sir Charles was far more enthusiastic about the landscape and house at nearby Cormy (‘very beautiful, and formed with great judgement and true economy’) owned by Henry Foster who was then undertaking to transform a standard Georgian house into a romantic Gothic castle. However, before this work was finished, Cormy was sold to Colonel Joseph Pratt who abandoned the old family old home and renamed the new one Cabra Castle. This remained in the ownership of his descendants until 1964 and has since been used as an hotel. Meanwhile the older Cabra estate fell into neglect until acquired by the national Forest and Wildlife Service in 1959. Today it is run by Coillte (the state forestry body) and open to the public as Dún a Rí forest park.

A Very Sumptuous Establishment


A PhD thesis presented by Michael Ahern in 2003 (and subsequently published) explores the history of the Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, in County Tipperary from the mid-17th to early 20th centuries. In the text, Dr Ahern notes how, ‘One of the most remarkable achievements of this persecuted minority, consisting of farmers, tradesmen and small business people, was the manner in which they triumphed over adversity and, in the course of time, became successful and prosperous members of the middle class. Participation in the affairs of their own Society provided a sound training which enabled members to cope with the business procedures of the secular world. Although the administrative meetings of the Society generally related to religious concerns, a large proportion of their activities was strictly practical in content and created an environment which cultivated business and administrative expertise.’ During the second half of the 18th century, one of the businesses in which they came to have a powerful presence was milling. Certain urban centres likewise became centres for this activity, among them Clonmel, County Tipperary.’ Legislation passed by the Irish parliament in 1757 offered financial incentives for the land carriage of corn to Dublin; for every five hundred-weight of flour brought to market, a premium of three pence per mile (excluding the first 10 miles) was paid. The result was an explosion in both the production of wheat and corn, and the establishment of mills, especially in areas like Clonmel, which benefitted from fast-moving water (in this case, the river Suir). Anner Mill, the first such Quaker operation, was opened here in 1771 by John Grubb, whose family would become synonymous with the industry. Many more followed, so that in 1797 when legislation was proposed to abolish financial incentives, the business was sufficiently well-established as to be in no need of subsidy: ‘The principal millers in the neighbourhood of Clonmell,’ declared John FitzGibbon, Lord Clare, ‘a part of the kingdom from which there is a considerable influx of corn to the city, do not complain of the bill; on the contrary many have declared that they will not suffer any loss from it.’






Of English origin, the Sparrow family had settled in Ireland in the mid-17th century and soon converted to the Quaker faith. They were based in the Wexford region where one of them, Samuel Sparrow, participated in the 1798 Rebellion and then fled to the United States, were he remained for the rest of his life. Long before then, at some date during the first decades of the 18th century, Richard Sparrow moved from Wexford to Clonmel where he established himself as a baker. His son, Simmons Sparrow, was more ambitious and, like many other members of his church, became involved in the area’s burgeoning milling industry. In 1778 he opened a large mill on the north side of Suir Island, which looked across to Clonmel’s quays and which could take advantage of the river’s fast-moving water. This building continued in operation until 1801 when it was destroyed by fire; eight years later the site was sold by the Sparrows to another Quaker, Thomas Hughes. In the meantime, Simmons Sparrow opened another mill to the immediate west of the town at Toberaheena while for a period in the mid-1790s his son Richard leased another two mills still further west along the Suir. Following Simmons Sparrow’s death the business was continued by Richard but he seems to have lived beyond his means and eventually lost everything, dying in Clapham, outside London in 1814 after which his estate in Tipperary was auctioned to pay the deceased’s debts.





In 1798, the American Quaker preacher and abolitionist William Savery visited this country and noted with dismay that ‘Friends in Ireland seemed to live like princes of the earth, more than in any country I have seen – their gardens, horses, carriages, and various conveniences, with the abundance of their tables, appeared to me to call for much more gratitude and humility, than in some instances, it is feared is the case’. While in Clonmel, where he stayed with the successful miller (and Quaker) Sarah Grubb, Savery visited the home of Richard Sparrow, judging it to be ‘a very sumptuous establishment indeed, which I did not omit to tell him was quite too much so’, his stables being fit for a nobleman. The house in question was Oaklands, seen in today’s photographs. Little information exists about the building, the fine entrance to which was shown here last Saturday. Of three storeys over basement, it has four bays, with a central breakfront accommodating two and a plain limestone portico supported by paired Doric columns, behind which was a doorcase with fan- and substantial sidelights. The garden front featured a substantial canted bow and a flight of cast-iron steps giving access to one of the reception rooms. This was one of four such spaces on the ground floor of the ‘sumptuous’ interior, of which little now remains. Following Richard Sparrow’s financial collapse, Oaklands passed to the Rialls, another Quaker family involved in banking. However, within a few years their own fortunes suffered a setback when the bank, like many other such private establishments in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, failed and was forced to close in 1820 (its premises, for a long time part of the Clonmel Arms Hotel, have stood vacant and awaiting redevelopment for some time). In due course they were followed by Colonel Pownoll Phipps, a fascinating character who – for reasons too complicated to explain here – had as a teenage boy found himself stranded with is siblings, but without their parents, in Revolutionary France, and had then gone on to serve in the British army in India under the future Duke of Wellington; he died at Oaklands in 1858 and the estate was, at least for a while, owned by his eldest son. It then passed through a succession of different hands, and was still occupied, but in poor condition, fifteen years ago, later standing empty. The inevitable consequence of this was that the house attracted the attention of vandals and finally was gutted by fire in October 2017, leaving it in the state seen today.

Distinctly Diminutive


The south lodge at Berkeley Forest, County Wexford. Dating from c.1800 it is in Georgian Gothic form and once featured a doorcase (now blocked up) between the two lancet windows with granite surrounds. The other side of the house, which just has two windows, gives an idea of this building’s diminutive proportions.

On the Ball II


Today surrounded by architecturally inconsequential housing estates, this is Ballsgrove, built on raised ground overlooking Drogheda, County Louth. It was built as a country villa by George Ball, member of a family which had been prominent merchants and citizens of the town since the 14th century, although they also owned an estate called Ballygall near Glasnevin, Dublin. This was sold by George Ball in 1725, the proceeds seemingly being used to pay for the construction of Ballsgrove. Facing west, the house is of five bays and two storeys over raised basement. At some date in the 19th century the rear was given single-storey canted bays. These have castellations, as does the the little octagonal pavilion built on the south-east corner seen below.

The Wily Foxes





The Fox family of County Longford were of ancient origin, their name being Ó Sionnaigh before it was anglicized. In the 11th century Tadhg O Catharnaigh (Kearney) was Chief of Teffia in Co. Meath and as a result of his wiliness came to be known as ‘An Sionnach’ – The Fox. His descendants kept the title, and eventually gained control of the Barony of Kilcoursey, County Offaly, the head of the family continuing to be known as The Fox. Among these descendants was one Patrick Fox, who appears to have been based in Dublin in the late 16th century when he worked closely with English government forces and as a result managed to secure lands in what is now County Longford which had hitherto belonged to the O’Farrells. On his death in 1618 he passed the estate to his eldest son Nathaniel, then aged 30, who built a house there, seemingly incorporating parts of the old O’Farrell castle of Rathreagh. This residence was called Foxhall.
Close to the house at Foxhall, Sir Nathaniel Fox erected a small church, now roofless and in poor condition, the south wall of which is dominated by his tomb (he died in 1634). This wonderful monument takes the form of a limestone altar tomb on which can be seen the reclining figure of Sir Nathaniel, garbed as a knight in full armour lying on his side: the head, right hand and left leg of the effigy are long gone, so that just the truncated torso and thigh remain. An orb and skull can be seen at his feet while what remains of his right arm rests on a tasselled cushion. On either side of the effigy are paired Ionic pilasters supporting an arch on which rest sphinxes. Winged putti can be seen within the arch above which is an entablature with obelisks and elaborate scrollwork. A panel above Sir Nathaniel contains the Fox coat of arms, and below two shields is a Latin inscription which translates as follows: ‘Here lies Nathaniel Fox, of Rathreagh, founder of this church, eldest son and heir of Patrick Fox of Moyvore in Co. Westmeath, who had as wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Walter Hussey of Moyhussey Knight. By whom he had 8 sons and 5 daughters, of whom 8 sons and 3 daughters survived. Patrick, son of the aforesaid Nath., sole heir, had as wife, Barbara, daughter of Lord Patrick Plunkett, Baron of Dunsany. The same Nath. and Elizabeth, lived for 25 years as man and wife, and he died at Rathreagh,2nd of Feb. A.D. 1634, aged 46.’ The entrance to the church at the west end is through a fine cut-limestone classical doorcase with a plaque noting that the building was enlarged and restored in 1772. Presumably this work was undertaken by Francis Fox of Foxhall who in 1759 married Mary Edgeworth of Edgeworthstown, linking the two families. This connection was further strengthened in 1824 when their grandson, Major Barry Fox married Mary Edgeworth’s great-niece Sophia, half-sister of writer Maris Edgeworth.





Writing of Foxhall in July 1797, Maria Edgeworth noted that ‘The house is partly an old castle, and the place quite out of order, run to ruin during [Mr Fox’s] two year absence with his regiment of Militia, besides it rained the whole time we were there and the prospect is bounded by black bogs.’ The Mr Fox to whom she here refers was the aforementioned Francis Fox, Colonel of the Longford Militia. One must presume that the condition of the house improved as three years later Maria Edgeworth again wrote to one of her siblings, ‘We – that is my father, Mrs E, Charlotte and Maria are just returned from Foxhall where we have been dining and making merry with excellent raisin wine and walking and seeing the monument and statue recumbent of that valiant knight Sir Nat Fox who has a one foot upon a globe and the other upon a skull.’ Her host Francis Fox had in 1787 married Lady Anne Maxwell, daughter of the first Earl of Farnham. This may be of relevance when one looks at the photograph of Foxhall (the last below), as there are strong similarities between the house and Farnham, the latter remodelled and enlarged from 1802 onwards for the second Lord Farnham (Lady Anne’s brother) to the designs of Francis Johnston (this is even allowing for major alterations made to Farnham in 1961). Both buildings are were of three-storeys and with a three-bay breakfront, the respective owner’s coat of arms being featured in the pediment above. Farnham was certainly larger, suggesting that Francis Fox having found his house, in Maria Edgeworth’s words, ‘run to ruin’ decided to undertake a major refurbishment and to emulate his brother-in-law’s residence. We shall likely never know because the house no longer stands. The last of the male Foxes to live here, Richard Maxwell Fox, died in 1885 and having no living sons the estate was inherited by his eldest daughter Adeline. It would appear neither she nor her two sisters married, and that they preferred to live in England. The greater part of the Fox land having already been sold, the house and demesne went the same way in the 1920s, and the former was eventually demolished by the Land Commission in 1946. The yard buildings, which stood directly behind the house, still survive to give some idea of what the place must once have been like.





Please note: In Ireland, as in so much of the world, a great many buildings are closed to the public at present. On the other hand, locations that are in decay or ruin, and open to the elements are often accessible. As a result, this site is likely to feature many such properties over the coming weeks. The Irish Aesthete apologises, but promises to keep the tone as upbeat and cheerful as possible.