After last Monday’s piece on the newer portion of Glenmaroon, County Dublin, it is worth drawing attention to one other feature of the house. Some seven years after acquiring and extending the property, in 1911 Ernest Guinness further added to it by building one of the first private swimming pools in Ireland. Designed, like the adjoining house, by Laurence Aloysius McDonnell (together with his partner in the firm, ALexander Reid), the addition which had a smoking room above, cost £5,000. The pool still survives with its original tiled interior, the curved end of windows above the deep end evocative of a bridge on one of the ocean-going yachts on which Guinness so loved to sail.
Glenmaroon, to the immediate west of Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was discussed here a couple of months ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/05/27/glenmaroon). Or at least, part of Glenmaroon was discussed since this is a property in two parts, separated by a public road, and linked by a bridge across the latter. Around 1903 Ernest Guinness bought the original house, built some forty years before by retailer Gilbert Burns. The building’s new owner was the second son of Edward Guinness, created first Earl of Iveagh in 1919. Born in 1876, Ernest Guinness attended Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, leaving university with a degree in engineering. While his two brothers participated in the Boer War, he was sent to Dublin where he trained as a brewer before becoming assistant managing director at Guinness’s in 1902 and vice-chairman in 1913. His professional life was spent at the brewery in St James’s Gate where he always wore around his waist an enormous bunch of keys to the company’s safes. According to his great-nephew, the Hon Desmond Guinness, Ernest ‘was the only one of the family in his generation who really knew the brewery well. He understood and cared about every valve and every pipe, much more so than any of his brothers.’ Ernest Guinness loved machinery. One of the first men of his generation to acquire a motor car, he was later one of the oldest to be issued a British pilot’s licence and came to own four aeroplanes, the only person in Ireland to do so. When the autogyro, a precursor of the helicopter, was manufactured in 1923, he bought one and kept it in his garage. In his fifties he bought a three-engine biplane flying boat to carry family and friends between England and the west of Ireland. There was widespread press coverage of the first occasion on which he made the trip, in September 1928, since it was broken by an overnight stay in Kingston (now Dún Laoghaire) Harbour. Two years earlier at the Vickers’ Supermarine Aviation Works Ernest had supervised the construction of a three-engined monoplane with a wing span of 92 feet. Described as ‘an air yacht’ in addition to the cockpits, this had accommodation for six passengers including a saloon and several cabins equipped with electric lighting and a ventilation system. He was also a passionate sailor, owning a number of superlative vessels, the best known being the Fântome II on which he travelled around the world with his family in 1923-24. Even with boats, his interest was most often of a mechanical bent. On one occasion he ordered a yacht from the firm of Camper and Nicholsons but then requested that the vessel be cut in half to insert a 12-foot section in the middle with a diesel engine. When it was pointed out that this procedure would be more expensive than the simple purchase of an intact new boat, he retorted, ‘Never mind the money. That is how I want it done.’
In 1903 Ernest Guinness married Cloe (Marie Clothilde) Russell, only daughter of Sir Charles Russell, 4th Bt. Her mother was the granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond, making Cloe a direct descendant of Charles II and his French mistress Louise de Kérouaille. The couple had three daughters, Aileen Sibell (b.1904), Maureen Constance (1907) and Oonagh (1910) who would later be known collectively as the Golden Guinness Girls. The had a large house in central London at 17 Grosvenor Place (now occupied by the Irish Embassy) and also a house outside the capital, Holmbury in Surrey (chosen for its proximity to an airfield) in which a system of concealed loudspeakers piped music into every room. But owing to his involvement with the family brewery, Ernest was perceived as being domiciled in Ireland, which explains his purchase of Glenmaroon, from where he daily walked to his office in the Guinness brewery. Initially he lived in the house built for Gilbert Burns, but following his marriage he decided to build a new residence, on the other side of the road. The architect chosen for this task was Dubliner Laurence Aloysius McDonnell. Born around 1858, McDonnell trained with John Joseph O’Callaghan, a devotee of the Gothic revival, before spending time in the offices of Thomas Newenham Deane and John Franklin Fuller and then setting up his own practice in 1886. One of his earliest and most advantageous commissions came from Lady Aberdeen, wife of the former (and future) Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. She and her committee chose McDonnell to design an ‘Irish Industrial Village’ for the Chicago World Fair in 1892. Among his other better-known works are Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway and the Iveagh Play Centre building on Dublin’s Bull Alley Street, the second of these in partnership with Alexander Reid. Glenmaroon was earlier than either of these buildings and seems to have been built in the style of an English Home Counties mansion to please Mrs Guinness, homesick for her own country.
Ernest Guinness’s granddaughter Neelia Plunket later described Glenmaroon as ‘A fascinating but hideous house. Fascinating, because each time we go there, there is some new electrical device or mechanical gadget that makes an organ play, panels in the wall open or something unusual happens.’ This is a reference to one of her grandfather’s odder installations: in one of the main reception rooms stood a coal scuttle with a small button which, when pushed, caused an automatic pipe organ to rise up and begin playing Cherry Ripe, a popular song of the period. As mentioned, in order to link the two buildings, he also organised to have a bridge built above the public road, so that members of the family could cross without having to step outdoors (the present bridge is a later replacement). Seemingly his three daughters watched the drama of the Easter Rising unfold while looking down to Dublin from this bridge. Stylistically, McDonnell’s building is quite different from the earlier house, the loosely neo-Tudor exterior being clad in ashlar limestone on the ground floor, and then brick and wood above. Passing under the porte cochère, internally the most striking room is the entrance hall, panelled in oak and plaster with an elaborate chimneypiece at either end and, facing the doorway, a double-storey oak flying staircase, lit by a vast window filled with art nouveau glass. The main reception rooms off this area are less striking and decorated in an Adam-revival style. Glenmaroon remained in the possession of the Guinness family until Ernest’s death in 1949, after which the entire property passed to the Irish state as part-payment of death duties. The entire complex was later acquired by a religious order, the Daughters of Charity and adapted as a centre for the care of people with intellectual disability. Four years ago, it was placed on the market and since then some essential conservation work has been undertaken on the building. Its long-term future remains to be seen.
Another set of entrance gates in County Cork, this time dating from the early 19th century and formerly leading to Rye Court. As was discussed some months ago (see last January 26th, https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/01/26/ryecourt), the house here was one of a number burnt by the IRA in this part of the country in June 1921 and has stood a ruin ever since. Entrance to the site is now through a secondary opening to the left of the gates, and between the two rises the ghostly residue of a lodge, soon to be entirely smothered in vegetation.
A stretch of the Dublin quays on the south side of the river Liffey known as Usher’s Island takes its name from what was once a prominent family in the fields of both commerce and religion. The Ushers/Usshers liked to believe they were descended from Gilbert de Neville, admiral of William the Conqueror’s fleet in 1066. Whatever their origins, in the 14th century John le Uscher was made Constable of Dublin Castle by Edward I, held the office for several years, and was reappointed to the same position by Edward II (who seems to have been his friend or patron, the original appointment having been given “at the instance of King Edward’s son”). Although he returned to his native Yorkshire on retirement, a presumed grandson Arland Ussher (born c. 1420) settled in Dublin, where he became one of the city’s leading merchants; in 1461, he was bailiff of Dublin and, in 1469, mayor. It was from two sons of his second marriage, John and Christopher Ussher that later Irish Usshers were descended. In the late 16th century, John Ussher built a fine residence for himself called Bridgefoot House: where this once stood is now called Bridgefoot Street, while its former riverside gardens are today covered by the buildings of Usher’s Island and Usher’s Quay. It was on this property that the very first book printed in the Gaelic language, containing an alphabet and Christian catechism, was produced. Its title page contains the following information: ‘Printed in Irish in the town of the Ford of the Hurdles, at the cost of Master John Ussher, alderman, at the head of the Bridge, the 20th day of June 1571.” John Usher’s son, Sir William Usher, paid for the publication of the first New Testament printed in the Irish language; this appeared in 1602. Given their strong adherence to the Protestant faith, it is not surprising the family produced several distinguished Anglican clerics, notably Henry Ussher (c. 1550–1613), one of the founders of Trinity College Dublin and, from 1595, Archbishop of Armagh. One of his nephews, James Ussher (1581–1656), held the same position from 1625 onward. Archbishop James Ussher’s scrupulous study of the Bible and early history led him to write the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (‘Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world’), which first appeared in 1650, together with its continuation, Annalium pars posterior published four years later. Famously his research allowed him to calculate the moment of Earth’s creation: around 6pm on 22 October 4004 BC.
As was so often the case, with the passage of time the Usshers distanced themselves from trade and became increasingly gentrified, acquiring land in different parts of the country, and forming advantageous familial alliances. For example, in 1695 a grandson of Sir William Ussher of Dublin, also called William, married Lettice, daughter and co heiress of Sir Henry Waddington; as a result, part of the Waddington estates in county Galway passed into the possession of the Ussher family. Meanwhile, another of Sir William’s grandsons, Beverley Ussher moved south to County Waterford where he made two successive marriages to heiresses, one being a daughter of Sir Percy Smyth of Ballynatray and the other a daughter of Sir Richard Osborne of Ballintaylor. As a result, a branch of the family settled in the south east of the country, where they built up estates and properties in which to live. Cappagh was one of those houses, constructed during the first decade of the 19th century by Beverley Ussher’s great-grandson Richard Ussher. However, in 1875 the old house was abandoned by Richard’s son, Richard John Ussher in favour of a newer residence on higher grounds and with better views across the surrounding landscape. This building was designed by James Otway and Robert Watt, architects and railway engineers who were also responsible for the line that linked Dungarvan to Mallow, County Cork. A keen fossil hunter, Richard John Ussher was seemingly the first person to discover the remains of a mammoth and a saber-tooth cat in Ireland, as well as that of a Great Auk (the last of these excavated in the sand dunes of Tramore, Co. Waterford). He also developed a passionate interest in ornithology and was a keen collector of bird’s eggs. With co-author Robert Warren, the results of his extensive research were published in 1906 as The Birds of Ireland. However, just a few decades later, the Usshers sold what remained of the Cappagh estate to the family of the present owners.
As can be seen in these photographs, old Cappagh is a most curious building, one that suggests a disparity between ambition and income. The front of the house forms the southern portion of a courtyard. At either end of the façade, the building rises two storeys but then, after just one bay, it becomes single storey and turns into a long, narrow villa. Evidently the Usshers embarked on its construction intending the central portion to be of the same dimensions as those at either end, but then – presumably for economic reasons – this project was abandoned and a more modest scheme accepted. Seemingly its builder, the elder Richard Ussher, participated in the Napoleonic Wars and perhaps on returning from these he realized that he needed to re-evaluate the project. Whatever the explanation, it makes for an unusual frontage. The rear of the building is almost as odd, since a high wall soon cuts off the house – centred on a bow which contains its main staircase – from the rest of the courtyard. The latter features all the usual elements found in proximity to a country house, stables, storerooms, staff accommodation and so forth. Inside old Cappagh, the main entrance leads to a hall at the rear of which climbs the aforementioned principle staircase, with reception rooms to left and right; a number of bedrooms upstairs are accessed either by the main staircase or by other flights of steps at either end of the building. Given its unfinished state, it is easy to understand why the Usshers chose to move to another site and start again in the 1870s, leaving the old house to be used for various purposes. It has stood empty for many years and while the present owners of the property resolutely do their best to maintain the site, inevitably the condition of old Cappagh has deteriorated.
Patrick Hennessy’s 1957 portrait of Elizabeth Bowen presides over a room dedicated to her memory in Doneraile Court, County Cork (her own home, nearby Bowen’s Court, was irresponsibly demolished in 1961). After being closed to the public for the past 25 years, Doneraile Court has once more been taken in hand by the Office of Public Works and officially reopens today. The decoration and furnishing of the ground floor rooms displays terrific flair, with a wonderful mixture of items, some in state ownership, others on loan from private collections, all blended together with aplomb. Having woken from its quarter-century slumber, Doneraile Court proves to be the sleeping beauty of Irish country houses: visits are strongly urged.
The rusticated limestone gate posts that once led to Ballintober House, County Cork. An old print shows these situated on another site, high above the now-lost house which had been built in the mid-to-late 17th century by the Meade family. Of Gaelic origin, the Meades were long-established in the Cork region, their name sometimes spelled Meagh or Miagh. Adapting and prospering according to changing circumstances, they became considerable landowners and by the early 18th century had been created baronets. In 1765 Sir John Meade, 4th Bt of Ballintober married one of the richest heiresses of the period, Theodosia, daughter of Robert Hawkins Magill of Gill Hall, County Down: eleven years later he became the first Earl of Clanwilliam. He later sold Ballintober and other lands in the area to a cousin, but the Meades remained in the area until the 1940s, after which the house here was demolished. Believed to date from c.1720 these gate posts and a few other remnants in the vicinity survive to indicate the importance of the Ballintober estate.
Buried in woodland managed by Coillte, the national forestry commission, this gazebo was once part of the parkland of Emo Court, County Laois. As James Howley noted in his book on The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland (1993), the structure bears similarities to the William Kent-designed Worcester Lodge on the Badminton estate in England. It dates from 1746, whereas the Emo Court gazebo is slightly later, believed to be c.1760. The rusticated base takes the form of a triumphal arch, with extensions on either side, one of which would have held a service room and the other a staircase. The latter provided access to the octagonal first floor, its cut-limestone exterior featuring alternating windows and arched niches with oculi above them all. Here presumably meals were taken on occasion and views across the demesne appreciated. The dome crowning the building has long since been lost, and some of the stonework looks in perilous condition.
The retail history of Ireland remains hugely under-investigated and, as a result, increasingly vulnerable to being lost forever, especially since the advent of multinational chains. Few of the shoppers searching for bargains in the Penneys outlet on Dublin’s Mary Street, for example, will be aware that the building was constructed to house what was then one of the city’s most prestigious department stores, Todd Burns. Dating from 1902-5 and built of red brick with terracotta details, the whole topped by a splendid copper dome, it was designed by local architect William Mansfield Mitchell to replace an earlier Todd Burns store on the same site which had been accidentally destroyed by fire. With an eventual frontage of 120 feet on Mary Street, Todd Burns originally opened for business in 1834, having been established by partners, William Todd and Gilbert Burns. Like many other successful entrepreneurs in Ireland during this period, the two men were of Scottish origin.
In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars and until the outbreak of the Great Famine in 1845, Ireland offered wonderful commercial opportunities to enterprising young Scots. Many of them moved here to establish retail businesses, among the better-known names being John Arnott (whose own department store still operates across the road from the former Todd Burns) and Alexander Findlater. The latter, born in Glasgow, traded in whiskey and later porter and became so wealthy that he was able to invest in other ventures, such as the new store being established by William Todd and Gilbert Burns in 1834. Burns was likewise an immigrant from Scotland, having moved to Dublin some ten years earlier. There were long-standing links between his family and that of Alexander Findlater: in the previous century, his father John Findlater who worked as an Excise Officer in Greenock, Renfrewshire, had been a close friend and champion of Robbie Burns. The poet was the uncle of Gilbert Burns, hence one reason for Findlater’s investment in Todd Burns. It proved to be a wise move, since the new store thrived, so much so that within thirty years Gilbert Burns was able to buy himself a substantial plot of land to the immediate west of the Phoenix Park. There he built himself a splendid residence, originally called Liffeyside but later named Glenmaroon Lodge.
Gilbert Burn’s choice of location for his new home may have been influenced once more by Alexander Findlater who, although having no children of his own, assumed responsibility for a number of orphaned nephews and nieces. Needing somewhere to house them, he took a lease on a house in the vicinity of Glenmaroon Lodge. This lease was only relinquished in 1860, precisely around the time Gilbert Burns began to build the house that still stands here. His architect was Duncan Campbell Ferguson who, as is evident in his name, is likely also to have been originally from Scotland. Built at a cost of some £10,000, Glenmaroon Lodge was by far the most significant commission Ferguson received for a domestic residence and while his design is somewhat lumpen, it makes the most of the site which slopes all the way down to the banks of the river Liffey; formerlt a number of mills operated on this location. When the house was built, the land was laid out in terraces, and elaborately planted in an Italianate manner; views from the south-facing front, and out to the west where more ornamental gardens were arranged, must have been spectacular. Burns died in 1881 at the age of 67 but both his retail business and his house survived, and in due course the subsequent history of Glenmaroon Lodge, and its association with another successful family, the Guinnesses, will be told here.
The history of Coolrain, County Laois is something of a mystery. The main block looks to be early-to-mid 18th century, of two storeys over raised basement and five bays with a central breakfront. The latter features a fine cut-limestone Gibbsian doorcase approached by a short flight of steps and flanked by sidelights, with a Venetian window directly above on the first floor. On either side of the main block, and seeming to be slightly later in date, are fine carriage arches, that to the right (south-east) further extending to a small stable yard. But the carriage arches are just that and no more: there is nothing behind them and the entrances are blocked up (if indeed they were ever open). It would appear their main, perhaps only, function was to extend the house façade and thereby give an impression of greater grandeur to anyone arriving there. Who designed and/or built Coolrain (and when) is unknown, but all indications are that the original owner was a member of the landed gentry with aspirations to climb the social ladder.
At some date after its construction, Coolrain was enlarged by an extension to the rear but only on the left (north-west) side. The gable ends of the older section of the building indicate it was originally just one room deep, with the central portion extended back to accommodate a staircase hall lit by another Venetian window on the return. This window was subsequently blocked up, although one wonders why this was necessary since the extension does not intrude on its space. Aforementioned extension had a kitchen in the basement and a dining room immediately above, and looks to have been added towards the end of the 18th century. The gardens behind presumably ran down to the river Tonet not far away, but to the west of the house and yard are the remains of a little rectangular folly, presumably a tea room (since it has a small basement where the servants could prepare refreshments) from which there would have been a charming view of Coolrain.
In his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis lists Coolrain (then spelt ‘Cooleraine’) as being occupied by one T. Palmer. There were a number of Palmers living in Laois at the time, not least at Cuffsborough some eight miles to the south where the house has a similar doorcase (albeit set into a grander façade). Lewis notes that there were extensive flour and oatmeal mills in the adjacent village of Coolrain, so it may be that the occupants of the big house were involved in such a commercial enterprise. Later it was the residence of the Campion family who farmed the surrounding land until the death in 1921 of the last member to live there. Coolrain seems to have fallen into ruin subsequently, being too big and too hard to maintain for the average farmer. More recently some work was initiated on the outbuildings, but this appears to have been abandoned, and the house now stands in the middle of a field, the mystery of its origins and early history becoming ever-harder to discern.