Details of a frieze below the cornice in the drawing room of Newpark, County Sligo. The main part of the present house dates from the last quarter of the 18th century when it was built for the Duke family, which had originally settled in this part of the country in the early 1660s. Much of the decoration of the frieze is in typical late-rococo style, garlands of flowers and leaves scrolling across the surface, intermittently interrupted by urns. But references to the family occur, such as the shield featuring a chevron and three birds, and on another section a coronet from which rise three ostrich plumes. The coronet may be a pun on the Duke family name, but more likely represents the coat of arms of Lucinda Parke, wife of Robert Duke who was responsible for the construction of Newpark.
As already mentioned, June 1921 was a particularly bad month for country house burnings in north-west County Cork. One of those then lost was Rye Court, seat of the Tonson Rye family: the Ryes were originally living in Cork city (where one of their number was mayor in 1667 and 1668) but had moved to Ryecourt before the end of the 17th century. There they built a fine house and, at some date in the second half of the 18th century changed their name to Tonson Rye as a result of marriage into another family. Ryecourt looked south over a fine parkland, many trees of which still survive but the building was gutted by fire in 1921 and subsequently demolished (a small house was built inside the adjacent walled garden). Immediately behind the old house stood a courtyard with offices to east and west, and with gates and railings closing its north side: all these survive, albeit in poor condition, as can be seen here.
During Ireland’s War of Independence, more country houses were burnt in County Cork than in any other part of the country. June 1921 saw a particularly extensive outbreak of arson attacks on such properties in the north-west of the county, one such house being Warren’s Grove. As its name indicates, this belonged to the Warren family whose main residence a few miles away bore the equally imaginative name of Warren’s Court. More is known about the history of the latter than of Warren’s Grove, which seems to date from the early 19th century. In 1837 Samuel Lewis listed the property as belonging to John Borlase Warren, a younger brother of Sir Augustus Warren, third baronet. Following Sir Augustus’ death in 1863 without a direct heir, Warren’s Court – and the baronetcy – was inherited by the now-Sir John Borlase and, following his own death less than eight months later, his eldest son, another Sir Augustus. Accordingly Warren’s Grove became a secondary residence for the family. It was burnt by the IRA in mid-June 1921, along with Warren’s Court (and another Warren property in the same part of the world, Crookstown House). Warren’s Court was subsequently demolished, but the shell of Warren’s Grove still stands, the outbuildings in a courtyard to the rear of the house having been converted of late into holiday accommodation.
Portlaw, County Waterford and its association with the Malcolmson family have been mentioned here before (see: A Shell, June 28th 2017). The Malcolmsons were of Scottish Presbyterian origin but in the mid-18th century one branch became members of the Quaker community. A son of this line, David Malcolmson, settled in Clonmel, County Tipperary where from 1793 onwards he became involved in the corn milling industry and enjoyed such success that when Richard Lalor Shiel visited the town in 1828 he could write ‘Malcolmson’s Mill is I believe the finest in Ireland. Here half the harvest of the adjoining counties as well as Tipperary is powdered.’ By that date the family, fearful that the Corn Laws (restrictions on the import of grain which favoured domestic production) were to be revoked by parliament, had moved into another business in another part of the country. In 1825 Malcolmson took a 999-year lease on a house called Mayfield and the adjacent 16 acres from a local landlord, John Medlycott. A small corn mill, damaged by fire, stood on the site and this was redeveloped as a vast, six-storey cotton mill, building a canal to utilize the power of the adjacent river Clodiagh. The enterprise required large numbers of employees and as a result the little village of Portlaw expanded rapidly. Around the time the Malcolmsons began work on the mill, it comprised less than 400 residents living in 71 houses: by 1841 the population of Portlaw had grown to 3,647 souls occupying 458 houses, most of the latter built by the Malcolmsons as part of a planned urban settlement. The family lived on the edge of the town and directly above the mill in Mayfield.
The core of Mayfield was a classical house dating from c.1740 and it was here the Malcolmsons initially lived. However, in 1849 Joseph Malcolmson, who had assumed responsibility for the business, employed architect William Tinsley to enlarge the building. Like his client, Tinsley originally came from Clonmel and had built up a substantial practice in the area, so he was an obvious choice. However, by the time Joseph Malcolmson decided on a further expansion of Mayfield, Tinsley was no longer available: in 1851 he had emigrated with his family to the United States where he enjoyed an equally successful career before dying in Cincinnati in 1885. So in 1857 Malcolmson instead employed John Skipton Mulvany who specialized in a loosely-Italianate style architecture and who was responsible for giving the house its present appearance. Mulvany added many of Mayfield’s most striking features, not least a three-storey tower that served as an entrance on the house’s eastern front. This rises considerably higher than the rest of the three-storey over basement building which is of seven bays: the tower accordingly provided views both down to the factory and over to the village, allowing the Malcolmsons a paternalistic prospect of their workers. Mulvany was also responsible for the single-storey over basement wings on either side of the main block: that to the south served as a conservatory, that to the north held a pair of reception rooms. However the family were not to enjoy this splendor for long, the cotton factory which generated their wealth being ruined in the aftermath of the American Civil War (the Malcolmsons had extended credit to the losing side).
In the last quarter of the 19th century the Portlaw factory was adapted for spinning but this enterprise didn’t last long and it was only in the early 1930s that a new purpose was found for the complex when it was acquired to act as a tannery by the Irish Leathers Group. Mayfield, which had for a period been occupied by members of the de la Poer Beresford family of nearby Curraghmore, now became an office premises for the new enterprise, and remained as such for the next half century. The tannery closed in the 1980s, and as a result Mayfield no longer had any purpose, although to the end of that decade a proposal was put forward to convert both factory and house into a retirement home. The scheme never took off and for the past thirty-odd years Mayfield has stood empty, falling into its present state of dereliction. As can be seen, little of the original mid-Victorian interiors remains other than fragments of plasterwork and rotting timbers. The exterior of the building has proven more sturdy, and retains the same appearance found in old photographs. But it is difficult to know what sort of future, if any, Mayfield might have. There is an old Irish expression Ní bhíonn cuimhne ar an arán a hitear, commonly translated as ‘Eaten bread is soon forgotten.’ Portlaw as seen today owes its existence to the enterprise and initiative of the Malcolmsons: what a shame that so little has been done to acknowledge their contribution to the area.
The entrance front of Tullynisk, County Offaly. Dating from the early 19th century and replacing an older property on the site, the house is a mixture of the classical and gothic, the former evident in the doorcase with its Ionic columns, the latter in the window directly above. The combination of the two is as unselfconsciously assured as the sheep grazing in the immediate vicinity.
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
‘We are,’ they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will still be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
And Yet the Books by Czeslaw Milosz.
Photographs of the library at Clonalis, County Roscommon (https://clonalis.com)
The garden front of Clonalis, County Roscommon. Ancestral seat of the O’Conor Don (one of Ireland’s most ancient families, descended from the country’s last High Kings), the present house replaced an earlier one elsewhere on the estate. As seen today, Clonalis was designed in 1878 by Frederick Pepys Cockerell, one of his few Irish commissions. It was one of the very first houses in Ireland constructed using concrete, with a cement render finish to the exterior and in a manner that is customarily judged to have blended elements of the Queen Anne style with Italianate classicism. The entrance front (below) is dominated by a three storey tower that projects forward to create a porch for the door on the ground floor. Clonalis is significant for being one of the rare Irish houses still to remain in the hands of the original family
More from Clonalis early in the new year…
Baron Trimlestown is one of the oldest titles in Ireland, created in 1461 for Sir Robert Barnewall. The family were of Norman origin, their name originally de Berneval (from the small seaside town of Berneval-le-Grand, where Oscar Wilde stayed following his release from Reading Gaol in June 1897). Having first moved to England, following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, they followed Richard de Clare to Ireland, the first to do so, Sir Michael de Berneval, landing in Cork in 1172. Rising to power in the Pale, they were responsible for building Drimnagh Castle, now in a suburb of Dublin, and then gradually acquired substantial land holdings in County Meath. Here in Trimlestown, a few miles west of the town of Trim, they erected a mighty castle, probably in the 15th century and perhaps around the time that the title of baron was granted to Sir Robert Barnewall.
The core of Trimlestown Castle is late mediaeval, rising three storeys and with a massive square tower in the south-west corner. The main block is some 114 feet long and 40 feet wide, internally dominated by a two-storey vaulted great hall that faces towards the river Trimlestown: the exterior of this side is marked by massive corner buttresses. On the south-east side of the tower there is (or perhaps was) a shield bearing the arms of the Barnewall and Nugent families – the two had intermarried – but whether it remains in place is impossible to tell due to vegetation covering much of the walls. Considerable alterations to the building were undertaken in the 18th and 19th centuries, when a large addition was made on the northern section of the site. It is likely that at this time towers similar to those on the river front were demolished and a modern house built, the most notable feature of this being a large bow-front with views to the east. Similarities with the work undertaken during the same period at Louth Castle (see Saintly Connections, August 28th 2017) have led to suggestions that Richard Johnston might have been the architect responsible in both instances. This may have happened around 1797 when the 14th Lord Trimlestown, then aged 70, married a woman less than a third of his age: the suggestion is that she got a new house in return for an old husband. Soon afterwards, her husband also inherited Turvey, County Dublin from a distant cousin and in due course the family moved there, leaving Trimlestown Castle to slip into decay.
For much of the 18th century, although the Barnewalls held onto the greater part of their lands, they were unable to use the title Baron Trimlestown. Their problems had begun in the 1640s when Matthias, eighth Lord Trimlestown, had supported the royalist cause, deprived of his estates by Cromwell and banished to County Galway. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he regained the greater part of his original property, but remained true to the Roman Catholic faith, as did his son Robert who sat in James II’s parliament in 1689. The next couple of heirs, because of their support for the Jacobite cause and their loyalty to Catholicism, were not allowed to use the old title. They lived in France and it was only in 1746 that Robert Barnewall (who claimed the title of twelfth Lord Trimlestown) returned to Ireland and took up residence in the old castle. It is likely to have been during his lifetime (he died in 1779) that the building was first modernised. As an ardent supporter of the Catholic cause, it must have been a blow to him when his heir Thomas conformed to the Established Church (thereby reversing the government attainder and allowing him to be acknowledged after his father’s death as the 13th Lord Trimlestown). Thereafter one generation succeeded another, although more than once the title had to go to a cousin as there was no direct heir. However while there is still a Lord Trimlestown – the 21st – he has no known heirs. It seems likely that after more than 550 years one of Ireland’s oldest peerages will go the same way as the castle from which its name was derived, and fall out of use.