After last week’s tale of improvements at Brandondale, County Kilkenny (see A Good News Story « The Irish Aesthete), here is another cheering story of a young couple taking on a historic country property. As seen here, Edmondstown, County Roscommon is a large Victorian house dating from the 1860s. It was built to replace an earlier residence of the same name which lay a short distance away to the north-east. What the earlier Edmondstown looked like is unknown: William Wilson’s The Post-Chaise Companion or Travellers Directory through Ireland, published in 1786, simply refers to it as ‘the fine seat of Mr. Costello’. The earliest Ordnance Survey Map, produced just over half a century later, shows the house, range of outbuildings and adjacent walled garden: some ruinous sections of these still remain. Of Cambro-Norman origin and originally called de Angulo or Nangle, the Costello family had been living in this part of the country since at least the 16th century, but their main residence was at Castlemore, some five miles south-west of Edmondstown. However, by the late 18th century they had moved to the latter property and in the mid-19th century it was occupied by Thomas Strickland, agent to Viscount Dillon of Loughglynn (see Bleak House « The Irish Aesthete). After passing through successive hands, Castlemore was demolished in the 1960s and only some of the farm buildings still remain.
In the early 19th century, Edmondstown belonged to one Charles Edmund Costello who married as his second wife Dorcas Maria Daniell. Six months before Charles Costello’s death in June 1832, the couple had a son, Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, who would become a captain in the 7th Dragoon Guards and serve as a Justice of the Peace. In 1862 he offered for sale through the Landed Estates’ Court about 1,100 acres in the baronies of Gallen and Costello, County Mayo as well as some 1,050 acres in the parish of St Johns, Barony of Athlone, County Roscommon. It is worth pointing out that even after these sales he still owned 7,513 acres in County Mayo and 1,038 acres in County Roscommon. It may be that the sales of some of his estate provided the funds for Captain Costello to embark on building the new Edmondstown in 1864. Local legend has it that he undertook this project to impress his wife (or prospective wife) but she failed to be charmed and left him. A charming story, but in fact he never married and died in January 1891 at the age of 59. He was buried in the grounds of the former Dominican Priory of Urlaur, founded by his forbears in the 15th century, where the tombstone was inscribed ‘Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, last Dynast and Baron De Angulo.’ It appears that in the years prior to his death, Captain Costello had sold much of the estate to his tenants, the house, having been expected to cost £4,000-£5,000, having eventually required more than twice that sum to finish. And the year after he died, the building with surrounding demesne was bought by the Roman Catholic diocese of Achonry in 1892 for use as a diocesan college. However, a few years later, that institution moved into the nearby town of Ballaghaderreen and for a period Edmondstown sat empty. Then in 1911 the then-Bishop of Achonry Patrick Morrisroe occupied the building, as did his successors for the next century. In 2011 Edmondstown and surrounding 29 acres were offered for sale, the explanation being that the place ‘does not meet contemporary day-to-day living needs, does not provide suitable office space for the administration of the diocese and is isolated.’ Six years later it found new owners, a young couple who with their children live there now.
Edmondstown was designed by Dublin architect John McCurdy who had a distinguished career, one of his earliest works being the plan and internal arrangements of the Museum building at Trinity College Dublin (where he was official architect for some thirty years until his death in 1855), although he tends to be best-remembered for designing the Shelbourne Hotel on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green. Constructed just a couple of years after Edmondstown, that building is altogether more restrained than Captain Costello’s new residence, a High Victorian interpretation of 15th century Italian Gothic. Of four bays and three storeys, despite appearances to the contrary, Edmondstown conforms to the standard country house model, this fact disguised by the multiplicity of towers and turrets, pinnacles and finials that adorn an exterior of snecked rubble limestone banded with red brick. Inset on the facade are a series of stone plaques, one of them above the entrance porch, attesting to the pedigree of the Costellos. Inside, the conformity is more apparent in the arrangement of reception rooms to left and right of the hall, which is separated from the staircase by a pine and glass screen, this inserted after the building had come into the hands of the Catholic church. According to the late Jeremy Williams, this intervention was the work of church decorator Joshua Clarke (father of the more famous stained glass designer Harry Clarke), who was presumably also responsible not just for the screen with its art nouveau glass, but also for the wall and ceiling decoration of the entrance hall and the more elaborate scheme of the coved ceiling above the staircase which features frescoes of the four evangelists. All this might have been lost, as was the case with so many other such properties, were it not for the energy and enthusiasm of the present owners who relish the opportunity to live at Edmondstown and share the place with visitors. We are all the beneficiaries of their commitment to the house. Would that there were still more of their kind throughout the country today.