The garden front of Palmerstown, County Kildare. The estate here was acquired in the middle of the 17th century by a branch of the Bourke family, later Earls of Mayo, who built a residence later described as ‘an old fashioned house, added to from time to time in an irregular manner, the rooms low and small but enriched with some good pictures, particularly a set of Sir Joshuas.’ In 1872 Richard Southwell Bourke, the sixth earl, was assassinated while serving as Viceroy of India. Subsequently a new house was erected for the family, the costs defrayed by public subscription: a plaque over the entrance notes that it was built ‘by his friends and countrymen.’ Designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt in what is generously described as a Queen-Anne style, the second Palmerstown only lasted half a century, being burnt during the Civil War in January 1923: the elderly seventh earl was a Free State Senator and therefore vulnerable to attack from Anti-Treaty forces. The building was subsequently reconstructed under the supervision of architect Richard Orpen but without its original third-storey Mansard roof. Having changed hands several times in the last century, it is now a wedding venue.
Lohort Castle, County Cork featured here over a year ago (see Surrendering to the Elements, June 19th 2017). Recently a follower of the site, James McErlain was in touch and kindly forwarded some aerial photographs of the site taken a few years ago. These are particularly interesting because they show the outline of an octagonal outer fortification around the perimeter of the castle and ancillary structures. This is not the same as the star-shaped Vaubanesque outerworks depicted in an 18th century engraving (these look to have been approximately where are now a belt of trees around the castle) but indicates a further sequence of defences, perhaps constructed during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s when the place was besieged.
The drawing room ceiling in Killruddery, County Wicklow. This part of the house was designed for the tenth Earl of Meath by Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison in the 1820s. Usually the names of craftsmen employed in such tasks remain unknown but specific information has been found about this ceiling. The principal plasterer was Henry Pobje of Dublin but he didn’t work alone. Fifty years ago in 1968 when Elizabeth, Countess of Meath was repainting the room, she discovered on top of one section of the cornice the name of Simon Gilligan, together with the date 24th April 1824, which was presumably when the plasterwork was completed.
Hare Island, County Westmeath is located at the southern end of Lough Ree is said to derive its name from the number of hares that once inhabited its 57 acres. It appears there was a monastic settlement here established in the sixth century by St Ciarán before he moved on to Clonmacnoise. However, it was subject to repeated attack and plunder, and cannot have been a very secure place to live. At some point in the second half of the 12th century, the Augustinian canons settled on the island, perhaps under the protection of the local Dillon family who controlled this part of the country. They remained in possession of the island until 1653 when Sir James Dillon went into exile, having formed the famous Dillon Regiment which then fought in the French army. His estates passed into the possession of a Dublin merchant Ridgely Hatfield, who was sheriff of Westmeath and in the 18th century Hare Island next came into the ownership of the Hackett family. They sold it to the Handcocks, landowners in Westmeath whose main seat was at Moydrum Castle (see An Unforgettable Fire, August 15th 2018).
Originally from Lancashire, William Handcock was the first member of his family to settle in Ireland, arriving here during the 1650s. Within a decade he had become a member of the Irish parliament, representing Athlone as did many of his descendants. In this area he built a house called Twyford, which still stands but is now ruinous. The Handcocks prospered and in 1812 William’s great-grandson, also called William, was created the first Baron Castlemaine of Moydrum. Around the same time and presumably to mark his elevation to the peerage, he commissioned the design of Moydrum Castle from Richard Morrison. It is believed that the same architect was responsible for the lodge on Hare Island. A keen sportsman, Lord Castlemaine used the building for fishing and shooting expeditions.
Mark Bence-Jones comments that the lodge on Hare Island gives the impression ‘of having been concocted out of the “left-overs” from several different houses of various styles and periods. Among the elements incorporated are an 18th century classical pedimented doorcase, gothick windows, one of them with a mullioned bay and, on the exterior, a Regency veranda its wide eaves supported by slim iron columns. The main lodge is quite small and of one storey, the main room obviously serving for receptions, parties and dancing. Behind are a handful of smaller spaces, perhaps acting as accommodation. But behind the lodge are further ranges, including a pair of two-storey pavilions facing each other across a narrow courtyard. From what remains, these appear to have been for guests (Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, a cousin of Queen Victoria is said to have stayed on Hare Island in 1850 as a guest of the third Lord Castlemaine). Behind these pavilions are further outbuildings, probably for servants, livestock and so forth. The buildings remained in use until relatively recently, being available for rent. Unfortunately they have now fallen into serious disrepair and the lodge’s future does not look encouraging.
In 1718 Thomas Willcox left Exeter in Devon, and together with his wife Elizabeth, moved to the American colonies. The couple, who had nine children, settled in the Concord Township of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Here Willcox and a business partner established a paper mill in 1726, the Ivy Mills, today judged to be the second oldest such industry in the United States. It flourished over the coming decades, receiving the first order for paper used in the production of colonial currency: after 1775 the mill’s output was almost entirely devoted to producing paper for such purposes. When the American Revolution began, the Ivy Mill provided paper for currency printed first by the Continental and then the United States governments (Thomas Willcox was a friend of Benjamin Franklin). Interestingly, the Willcox family was always Roman Catholic and are believed to be the oldest members of that faith in Pennsylvania. They established a Mission chapel at the mill in 1730 and provided support for Jesuit priests travelling through this part of the country. The Ivy Mills remained in operation until 1866.
Arthur Valentine Willcox was born in February 1865, a great, great-grandson of Thomas Willcox. He was responsible for building the house seen here: Lisnabrucka, County Galway, which sits above a Connemara lake of the same name. A Philadelphia banker, Willcox was evidently a keen fisherman since in 1910 he invited Dublin architect Laurence McDonnell to design him a new lodge here. McDonnell, who early in his career had worked for both Thomas Newenham Deane and John Franklin Fuller, was responsible for designing the ‘Irish Village’ constructed at Chicago’s World Fair in 1892 before going on to enjoy a flourishing practice closer to home: he seems to have been responsible for quite a number of new buildings on Dublin’s Grafton Street. In 1908 he had undertaken extensive alterations to Ballynahinch Castle, which is only a few miles from Lisnabrucka, and this may explain why Willcox then in turn used the same architect for his own fishing lodge. The surrounding grounds were extensively landscaped during the same period: an article carried by Irish Gardening in January 1917 describes how ‘year by year the process of turning the bare slopes of the hill into wood and garden proceeds. The view from the house across the lake to Ben Lettery is probably unsurpassed by any other…’
Writing of Irish sporting lodges in Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies (Vol.VII, 2004), Patrick Boew noted that such buildings were intended ‘to accommodate a party of friends rather than a family for which a permanent residence might be designed.’ Furthermore its interior decoration ‘reflected the fact that field sports tended to be the preserve, though not the exclusive property, of men. The internal decoration of a lodge was utilitarian and sufficiently sturdy to withstand the heavy wear expected from occupants kitted for outdoor life.’ Such is the case with Lisnabrucka, which as was often the case, has a long facade (of nine bays) and appears to be of one storey with dormer windows inserted into the mansard roof. In fact, the building is more substantial, the sloping site allowing for another, lower storey on the side facing the lake, and upstairs a long corridor off which open a considerable number of bedrooms, although these – as Bowe again notes was customarily the case – are all rather small and narrow. The focus is on the main floor’s reception rooms, in particular a large entrance hall off which open the dining room, drawing room and study, along with sundry service spaces, not least a big kitchen (those sportsmen had substantial appetites). The plain rendered exterior is relieved by a series of concrete columns with Ionic capitals, the whole centred on a door with Tuscan columns supporting a pediment. Lisnabrucka was built at a time when radical social and political change seemed unlikely, but within a decade Ireland would be a fundamentally different country making the construction, or even survival, of such places highly unlikely. This one endured and over the past century, both inside and out has changed very little. As a result it can be deemed a rare surviving example of the Edwardian sporting lodge.
Six years ago on September 24th 2012, the Irish Aesthete made its debut. What was the intent behind this initiative? Impossible to recall, although then as now a primary motivation was encouraging greater and more widespread engagement with Ireland’s architectural heritage, much of which remains at risk from either neglect or misuse. Over the past six years, some aspects of the site have changed, others remained the same. Very soon, the format of a thrice-weekly posting was established, with longer features each Monday and shorter ones every Wednesday and Saturday. The quality of photographs has certainly improved and, one hopes, will continue to do so (not least thanks to improvements in the calibre of mobile phone cameras). There has been a consistent effort to represent the entire island of Ireland, and to show the good, the bad and – with regrettable frequency – the ugly. What hasn’t altered throughout this period has been the attention of friends and followers, which is enormously appreciated: without regular support and feedback, it is unlikely the Irish Aesthete would have continued for so long. Therefore thank you to everyone who has shown interest in this site: you make it worthwhile. Happily today the Irish Aesthete is read across the world and has led to other opportunities for writing and speaking engagements, thereby helping to spread the gospel of our architectural history. A further outcome is that early next year the first book of Irish Aesthete photographs will be published, about which more in due course. Meanwhile, to mark today’s anniversary, here are six personal favourites taken over the years. You may have made other choices from the site: please feel free to share your own suggestions. Of the six shown above, two are properties in private hands, two are in public ownership, and two are ruins. All however are important elements in our common cultural heritage.
Looking positively Italianate in the early autumn sunshine, the west end of the garden front at Abbeyleix, County Laois. A series of terraces descend to a final series of circular stone steps, an architectural device highly reminiscent of similar work designed in 1906 by Edwin Lutyens for Heywood barely five miles away: might he have had a hand in this too? A sunken area immediately below contains what was once a swimming pool but more recently has been converted into a lily pond, at one end containing a bronze statue of a nude on horseback made by Irish sculptor Olivia Musgrave.
The ruins of old Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. Located on the shore of Upper Lough Erne, this was built in 1610 by Scottish settler Michael Balfour: nine years later it was described by Nicholas Pynnar as ‘a house set of lime and stone’ situated inside ‘a bawn of lime and stone being 60 feet square, 12 feet high with two flankers.’ In 1655 Crom was acquired by the Crichton family who lived here until 1764 when the building was gutted by fire. Following the construction of the present Crom Castle elsewhere on the estate in the 1830s, this ruin was embellished by the addition of long walls concluding in circular flankers on either side of the main block. During the following decade the Crichton Tower, a folly on little Gad Island (seen below) was likewise built as a romantic eye-catcher.
An illustration of a proposed ‘Gothick Temple’ in Batty Langley’s Gothic Architecture Improved by Rules and Proportions in many Grand Designs first published in London in 1742. The long-term influence of this work can be seen in the garden front of a lodge at Castletown, County Kildare which, having been built in 1772 was embellished with a semi-polygonal Gothic façade, built in finely cut deep grey limestone, its design derived from Batty Langley’s book. This volume is one of a number currently on display at the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin featuring items from the Rowan Collection of historic architectural volumes recently deposited with that institution. While relatively few such books were printed in Ireland during the 18th and 19th century, copies of important texts would have been found in the libraries of architects and their clients, and the Rowan Collection can be taken as representative of such a resource. Another volume in the same exhibition is Thomas Rawlins’ Familiar Architecture; consisting of Original Designs for Gentlemen and Tradesmen, Parsonages and Summer-Retreats (1768). It includes the design below for a simple country residence which, although of relatively modest proportions manages to incorporate plenty of rooms. Such houses were built in abundance throughout Ireland in the later Georgian period.
The ruins of Moydrum Castle, County Westmeath. The former seat of the Handcock family, an earlier house here was described in Neale’s Views of Seats (1823) as being ‘nothing more than an ordinary farmhouse, contracted in its dimensions, mean in its external form and inconvenient in its interior arrangements.’ By that date work was already underway to transform and enlarge the building into a neo-Jacobean castle designed by Richard Morrison suitable as a residence for William Handcock, raised to the peerage first as Baron and then Viscount Castlemaine. The completed work was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as ‘a solid castellated mansion with square turrets at each angle beautifully situated on the edge of a small lake and surrounded by an extensive and richly wooded demesne.’ This is what remains of the east-facing façade, the entrance resembling an immense gate-tower. Moydrum was burnt by members of the IRA in July 1921 and has remained derelict ever since: in 1984 a photograph of Moydrum by Anton Corbijn was used on the cover of U2’s album The Unforgettable Fire showing members of the band standing in front of the ruins.