Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Are organized Decays —
An Elemental Rust —
Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Are organized Decays —
An Elemental Rust —
In December 1661 Roger Palmer was created Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine by Charles II. Palmer’s elevation to the peerage was thanks to his wife – from whom he was by this date already estranged – Barbara Villiers, the king’s maîtresse-en-titre. She had already given birth to one child and over the next dozen years would go on to have another six, none of them by her husband (an indication of their paternity is that they were all given the surname FitzRoy, although the last of them – also called Barbara – is widely thought to have been the result of an affair between her mother and John Churchill, future Duke of Marlborough). Palmer was quiet and studious, devoted to both the Stuart cause and to his Roman Catholic faith; as a result of the latter, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on several occasions. Beautiful, wilful, promiscuous, Barbara Villiers was temperamentally unsuited to be his wife: before the marriage, Palmer’s father had warned the groom that she would make him one of the most miserable men in the world. The prediction proved correct. Her infidelity – and not just with the king – was widely known and being granted an earldom only had the effect of making Palmer the most famous cuckold of the era; it is notable that he never took his seat in the Irish House of Lords (although he was happy to use the title). Barbara Villiers would go on to be created Duchess of Cleveland in her own right, and to receive many presents from the crown, not least the great Tudor palace of Nonsuch, which she arranged to have pulled down, so that the materials could be sold to pay her gambling debts. She also persuaded Charles II to grant her Dublin’s Phoenix Park, but the Lord Lieutenant of the time, James Butler, Duke of Ormond – with whom she had a long-standing feud – successfully ensured that the land did not pass into her hands.
Why was Roger Palmer given Irish, rather than English, titles? Both his family and that of Barbara Villiers had links with this country. On the latter’s side, the connection began with Sir Edward Villiers, born in Leicestershire and the elder half-brother of the early 17th century’s best-known royal favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. In 1625, James I appointed Edward Villiers as Lord President of Munster: this may have come about because Villiers’ wife Barbara St John was a niece of the Tudor adventurer Oliver St John, who had previously held the same office (he also became Lord Deputy of Ireland), and who in 1620 was created Viscount Grandison of Limerick. Since he had no male heir, it was arranged that William Villiers, eldest son of his niece Barbara (wife of Edward Villiers), should inherit the title. The notorious Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, was William Villiers’ daughter. In due course, a member of the Villiers family inter-married with the FitzGeralds of County Waterford: their descendants live still at Dromana, County Waterford.
The origin of the Palmers’ association with Ireland is less clear. It would appear that around the middle of the 17th century, one Thomas Palmer, son of a Norfolk landowner, came to this country and when he died without issue, his brother Roger inherited the deceased sibling’s property here. A grant of land in County Mayo to this Roger Palmer was confirmed by the crown in 1684 (two years earlier, his name had been included in an address of loyalty to Charles II from the nobility and gentry of the same county). Successive generations, usually with the same name of Roger, followed and in 1777 one of these was granted a baronetcy. Sir Roger, as he now became, had some 25 years earlier married Eleanore Ambrose, daughter of a wealthy Dublin brewer. Miss Ambrose was a Roman Catholic whose good looks and ready wit had previously caught the attention of Lord Chesterfield while he was serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On one occasion, he informed George II that he had found only one ‘dangerous papist’ in the country – Eleanor Ambrose – since ‘the brightness of her eyes and the charms of her conversations are indeed perilous.’ At a ball in Dublin Castle to mark the birthday of William III, Miss Ambrose appeared wearing orange lilies on her bodice. Lord Chesterfield wrote her the following lines:
‘Tell me Ambrose, where’s the jest
Of wearing orange on thy breast,
When underneath that bosom shows
The whiteness of the rebel rose?’
The Palmer baronetcy continued until the death without heirs of Sir Roger Palmer, fifth baronet, in 1910. By that date, through a series of judicious marriages, the family owned some 115,000 acres in Ireland, Wales and England.
When Roger Palmer was created a baronet in 1777, it was as Sir Roger Palmer of Castle Lackin. This was an estate in County Mayo, some miles north of Killala, the same land the grant of 1684 had confirmed as belonging to his ancestor. It would appear that around the same time Sir Roger received his baronetcy, he embarked on building a fine residence, looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean and known as Castle Lackin. This was a long, two-storey house, its rather plain exterior distinguished by with a wide curved bow at one end and a sequence of yards, some of them surrounded with battlemented walls and accessed through a pair of castellated gate piers. It is difficult to know how much time the Palmers ever spent in this beautiful but remote spot, since they also had a number of properties in which to live, not least Kenure Park on the outskirts of Dublin, Cefn Park in North Wales and Glen Island in Berkshire. Early in the 19th century, the house was occupied by James Cuffe, first Lord Tyrawley, and subsequently by his daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Charles Knox. In 1841, it was leased to Edward Knox and valued at £58. However, by 1911 – a year after the last baronet’s death – the house was listed as vacant, and in 1916 the former Palmer estate in Mayo was sold to the Congested Districts’ Board. Within a couple of decades, the house here had become derelict, and that remains the case.
For more information on the Palmer estates in County Mayo, readers are encouraged to see The Impact of the Great Famine on Sir William Palmer’s estates in Mayo, 1840-49 by David Byrne (2021).
Sometimes confused with Coolamber Manor in adjacent County Longford, this is Coolamber House, County Westmeath, a building which has undergone various additions and subtractions over the centuries. There may have been an old castle on the site originally, incorporated into the present late-Georgian house constructed in the early 19th century for Robert Blackall, a major in the East India Company. It may have been his son, Samuel Blackall, who carried out alterations to the interior, installing the staircase seen here. He died without heirs and Coolamber subsequently became owned by a branch of the O’Reilly family, one of whom Captain Percy O’Reilly, was member of the Irish polo team that won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics. In 1947 Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony (a son of the last King of Saxony) and his second wife, former actress Virginia Dulon, bought the house and surrounding land and lived there until their respective deaths in 1971 and 2002. The present owners bought the place eight years ago and have gradually been restoring Coolamber as a family home, a wonderful but too-rare instance of such a property making a comeback to its original use.
In Umma-More, a wonderful history of his family published in 1983, the late William Magan writes of one forebear, the eccentric Augusta Magan who in 1880 at the age of 55 became ‘the sole, unencumbered and unfettered owner of virtually all the ancient Magan estates and wealth – twenty thousand acres of some of the best land in the world, valuable houses, parts of Dublin, treasures and riches.’ Alas, over the next twenty-five years until her death in 1905, the unmarried Augusta managed to squander away the greater part of her inheritance: according to William Magan, ‘She lacked drive, energy and will-power to a marked degree. She was devoid of managerial capability. She grossly mismanaged the estates. When she died they were found to be in a dreadful state of neglect. Her houses, likewise, were a shambles.’ By way of confirmation of the last observation, he quotes an official report into the condition of one such property: ‘Every passage and every room to which access could be gained was packed with parcels and packages of all descriptions. Piled on top of the furniture, underneath furniture, piled on the floors, were packages, deed boxes etc., on top of one another. The litter on the main stairs and vestibule was almost knee deep. It took the valuers three whole days to clear the deceased’s bedroom alone of papers and rubbish which had been allowed to accumulate there. Every apartment in the mansion was in the same condition. The most astonishing discovery was that amongst this accumulation were found money and securities for money, jewellery, and valuables of all description. Bank notes for small and large amounts were found adhering to old newspaper wrappers, or thrown carelessly aside in wastepaper baskets. Sovereigns and coins of lesser value were picked up on the floors of the several rooms, or were lying about in tea cups and kitchen utensils and in the most unlikely places…’
Augusta Magan’s peculiar behaviour is often attributed to unrequited love. It appears that as a young woman, she had met Captain Richard Bernard, of Castle Bernard, County Offaly (now known as Kinnitty Castle), and conceived a passion for him. Her feelings, it appears, were not reciprocated since Captain Bernard, three years after returning from the Crimean War, in 1859 married a widow, Ellen Georgiana Handcock; he died in 1877, three years before Augusta Magan came into her great inheritance. Family legend had it that his death was due to an accident while he was participating in a race but given that Bernard, by then a colonel, was 55 at the time this seems unlikely. He was duly buried in his local churchyard, inside the family mausoleum, a four-sided pyramid in the grounds of St Finnian’s church, Kinnitty: dating from c.1830, this building is supposed to have been designed by a member of the Bernard family who some time earlier had visited Egypt. However, the colonel must have died in another part of the country, since at one stage prior to burial, his body was wheeled along the platform of Mullingar station and, according to William Magan, the trolley bearing the deceased’s corpse was afterwards acquired by Augusta Magan who kept it in her room for the rest of her life. As he wrote in Umma-More, it is curious that ‘she should have been so deeply affected emotionally as to have felt unable for the rest of her life to be parted from so unusual, hideous, cumbersome, and useless a piece of furniture as that railway station barrow’. She also possessed a small portrait of Colonel Bernard, likewise discovered after her death.
What has any of the above to do with today’s pictures? They show the grounds of Corke Lodge, County Dublin which were once part of Augusta Magan’s inheritance (her grandmother, Hannah Tilson, had been a great heiress whose family owned considerable estates both in this part of the country and elsewhere, and whose home was the long-since demolished Eagle Hill in Killiney). Commissioned by either Hannah Tilson Magan or her son William Henry, the present house dates from the second decade of the 19th century but, as so often, incorporates an older structure. Its design is attributed to Dublin architect William Farrell who was responsible for Conearl, a large neo-classical house built for the Magans in County Offaly but destroyed by fire only a few decades later. A church at Crinken, close to Corke Lodge, was also designed by Farrell. Augusta Magan seems to have spent little time here, preferring to become a recluse in another family property, Killyon, in County Westmeath. At the beginning of the last century, it was acquired by Sir Stanley Cochrane and today is owned by his great-nephew, architect Alfred Cochrane. He has been responsible for creating the gardens shown here, and for interspersing through them granite stonework which once formed part of Glendalough House, County Wicklow, a vast Tudor-Gothic mansion dating from the 1830s, the greater part of which was demolished half a century ago. Their presence not only enlivens a visit to the grounds of Corke Lodge, but – as souvenirs of a lost world – seem to recall the lonely passion of Augusta Magan.
The gardens of Corke Lodge are open to the public, 9am to 1pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays, until September 8th. For more information, see Corke Lodge — Alfred Cochrane
The mellow charm of Newport House, County Mayo, a property dating from several periods of the 18th century. Overlooking the Newport river, the house was built in the late 18th century by the O’Donnells, descendants of Hugh O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell. In 1780, Neale O’Donnell, having conformed to the Established Church, was created a baronet and soon afterwards acquired property that had previously belonged to the Medlicott family. Here he constructed the present residence, possibly incorporating an earlier building; it was extended to the west (left-hand side), likely by the second baronet, in the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1889 Sir George O’Donnell died without male heirs and the property was then inherited by his niece Millicent. However, her only son, also called George, was killed at Ypres in 1915. Newport House then passed through a couple of hands before becoming a successful hotel. although that business currently appears closed.
In the closing days of Elizabeth I’s reign, Sir John King – a soldier originally from Yorkshire – was granted by the queen a lease on the former Cistercian abbey in Boyle, County Roscommon (see Brought to Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). As an exceptionally able, and loyal, servant of the crown, in 1617 this grant was confirmed by James I, along with surrounding land running to some 4,000 acres; by the time of his death in 1636, King owned land in 21 different counties. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Robert King, also a soldier and statesman who acted as Muster Master-General for Ireland, thereby consolidating the family’s position in this country. In turn his younger son, also called Robert, became a politician and in 1682 received a baronetcy (it was thanks to the marriage of the younger Robert’s elder brother, John King, first Baron Kingston, that lands in Mitchelstown, County Cork now also passed into the family’s possession). Successive generations continued to prosper, and in 1768 Edward King was created first Earl of Kingston.
When the Kings first settled in Ireland, like other such arrivals, they converted the abbey buildings at Boyle into a domestic residence. This appears to have been their home until they built a new house in the centre of the town and moved there. That building was badly damaged by fire around 1720 and in the following years Sir Henry King commissioned a new house in Boyle, which still stands (see Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). That too suffered a fire in 1788 but by then the notion of a landed family having their principal residence in the centre of a provincial town had fallen out of favour and some years earlier, during the 1770s, Edward King, the first Earl of Kingson, had constructed an alternative house on land a few miles outside Boyle and adjacent to Lough Key; when completed, it was given the name Kingston Hall. Here he died in 1797. However, in the early 19th century this property would in turn be superseded by another house, Rockingham, commissioned by General Robert Edward King, first Viscount Lorton and designed by John Nash. King houses seemed doomed to suffer from fire, one of which gutted Rockingham in 1863, after which it was rebuilt. The final conflagration occurred in 1957 when, once more, the house was severely damaged: the shell was entirely cleared from the site in 1971: a spectacularly hideous concrete viewing tower now indicates where it once stood.
Following the construction of Rockingham, Kingston Hall remained in use and became known as the Steward’s House. A long, narrow building of nine bays and two storey-over-basement, it had a one-bay breakfront, although the main entrance was to the immediate left of this. Immediately to the south of the main house is a tall circular dovecote, now missing its capped roof; the base is of cut-stone, but the upper portions of brick. Beyond the west-facing rear is a very substantial courtyard (measuring some 174 by 82 feet) with a second one almost as large beyond this; the north face of these features a succession of large arches, some open, others filled with rubble stone. The scale of these yards indicate Kingston Hall was once an important establishment, but no more. Although the house was still occupied and in good condition well into the last century, it has since fallen into a state of total dereliction, and now stands a roofless shell. Running to approximately five acres, the site has just been sold: it will be interesting to see what the new owners intend to do with this historic property.
After Monday’s post about Quartertown House, County Cork and its links to a nearby mill, here is the decidedly quirky exterior of Millbrook, County Kildare. The house was built in the 1770s by John Greene and, as the name indicates, stood adjacent to a mill and millrace off the river Griese: the mill which stood in a yard immediately behind the building was, alas, demolished in the last century. The facade of Millbrook suggests the house is of two storeys-over-basement, but in fact there is a third, attic floor, only visible when one goes around to the south side as the building is taller at the back than at the front. Note how the millrace flows immediately past the house, a most unusual arrangement (is there any other example in Ireland?) but apparently successful since there is no problem with damp inside. Also, the front section of the house is taken up by a large, two-storey bow, but there is no equivalent at the opposite end which has a flat wall. And then, returning to the facade, the window arrangement is also peculiar, the four to the right being equally spaced apart, but that to the left disposed some distance from the others. All of which begs the question; might Millbrook originally have been a four-bay building, one room deep, much enlarged by John Greene when he took on the property in the 1770s?
Previous entries here over the years have looked at old mill complexes around the country. Ireland never experienced the same industrial revolution as occurred in our nearest neighbour, not least because we never enjoyed the same mineral wealth. However, from the mid-18th century onwards, large-scale mills began to be constructed right around the island, designed to take advantage of the power of our many waterways rather in the way that wind power is now being harnessed here to generate electricity. Many of these complexes were used for grain milling, especially in the south-east where large amounts of wheat and other such crops were grown, but mills were also used for textile spinning, and it was not uncommon for the buildings to serve both purposes, albeit at different periods during their working life. For the vast majority of them, that life has long since come to an end, and they stand empty, often roofless and falling into ruin. Such is the case with the former mill at Quartertown, County Cork.
Dating from c.1810 (the golden age for mills, during the Napoleonic Wars when Ireland’s crops were especially sought), Quartertown Mill may have had its origins back in the 13th century. The present complex is thought to have been built by Major Henry Croker, a younger son of the family whose main seat was Ballynagarde, County Limerick: possession of the land at Quartertown came through his wife Harriet Dillon. Operated by a millstream flowing from a tributary of the river Blackwater, the flour mill and attendant property passed through a couple of hands before coming into the possession of siblings John and Robert Webb in 1853. The industrial buildings suffered a major fire in 1864 but were reconstructed by Robert Webb and resumed activity, employing up to 120 people and remaining in use until the mill finally closed in 1957. But in the previous century, it had obviously been extremely successful, since in 1870 Robert Webb was able to enlarge and improve his nearby home, Quartertown House.
Now just a shell, Quartertown House was originally built in the last quarter of the 18th century, presumably by the Crokers. As mentioned, in 1870 Robert Webb embarked on a major overhaul of the building, choosing as his architect a fellow Corkman, Richard Rolt Brash whose long list of projects – whether a block of villas in Cork City’s Sunday’s Well, a town hall in Bandon, a Roman Catholic church in Buttevant or a flax spinning mill in Douglas – demonstrates a preparedness to provide whatever the client wanted. In Webb’s case, an Italianate villa was required, and duly delivered. The old house, which can be seen below (being to the left) was altogether more modest and smaller, of just five bays and stands behind what can now be seen. Of two storeys over basement, Quartertown House has a rendered, east-facing facade of seven bays with channelled rustication on the ground floor where the round-headed windows are set within square-headed recesses while those on the floor above are square-headed, the whole beneath a heavy modillion cornice. The entrance at the centre (there is a pedimented doorcase buried within the rampant foliage) is marked by an Ionic portico, with a tripartite window above; the south elevation has a canted bay on the basement and ground floor. At some date in the last century, the house was acquired by a Catholic religious order which remained in occupation until the 1970s. However, it then seems to have been abandoned and left to fall into the present sad condition, the roof caved in, the interiors destroyed. Just a hollow shell, there is little to show of the Webb wealth that once paid for the building’s creation.
When writing here last month about Fota, County Cork (see Saved for the Nation « The Irish Aesthete), mention was made of the Barrys, Earls of Barrymore. For many centuries, their main residence lay much further north, in Castlelyons. Although subject to dispute, this village’s name (Caisleán Ó Liatháin) is said to derive from having been an important centre in the ancient kingdom of Uí Liatháin. However, in the last quarter of the 12th century, the land in this part of the country came into the hands of the Anglo-Norman knight Philip de Barry; his son William’s ownership of this property was confirmed by King John in 1207. Some time thereafter, the family constructed a castle on a limestone outcrop at Castlelyons and this became one of their most important bases. A settlement grew up around the base of the castle, with a Carmelite priory established to the immediate north in the early 14th century.
David de Barry is thought to have become first Lord Barry in 1261, beginning the family’s ascent through the ranks of the peerage and indicating its increasing importance. In 1541 his descendant John fitz John Barry was created first Viscount Buttevant, and then in 1628 David Barry became the first Earl of Barrymore. He was indirectly responsible for the construction of what can now be seen of the former castle at Castlelyons. The earl had been born in 1605, some months after the death of his father, so that he was raised by his grandfather, the fifth viscount who died in 1617. Young David then became a ward of the powerful Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork. Seeing an opportunity to ally himself with a long-established dynasty in the region, the latter duly arranged a marriage in 1621 between his young charge and his eldest daughter Alice: the bride was aged 14, the groom 16. In the mid-1630s Boyle also decided to rebuild his son-in-law’s residence at Castlelyons, since the Barrys were already heavily in debt (the canny Great Earl had earlier taken on the Barry wardship in exchange for the redemption of substantial mortgages left by the fifth Viscount). A vast new house was erected on the site of the old one, but the Earl of Barrymore had little opportunity to enjoy it, since he died in September 1642, probably as a result of wounds received at the Battle of Liscarroll a couple of weeks’ earlier. His heir, once again a minor, became the second earl. Successive generations then followed, but increasingly the family spent their time in England and it appears that by the mid-18th century the great castle at Castlelyons was falling into disrepair. This probably explains why, in 1771, repair work was undertaken on the building’s roof. Unfortunately, careless workmen left a soldering iron against wooden beams and the place caught fire. The sixth earl – who would die two years later – was as debt-ridden as his forebears and so made no effort to repair the damage. Instead, the castle was abandoned, along with its surrounding gardens, and left to fall into the state of ruin that can be seen today.
Understanding the original layout of Castlelyons Castle can be challenging today, since what would have been the building’s central courtyard has long since been quarried away. In addition (and perhaps as a result of the quarrying), both the west and east ranges have disappeared, leaving just exposed sections of those to the south and north. What still stands on the south-west corner is considered to be the oldest part of the property, perhaps part of the original 13th century construction, with walls in some places 3.4 metres thick. Across what is today a deep ravine rises the north range, dating from the 17th century and dominated by three rectangular chimney stacks that rise above the three-storey block (with a basement at the east end). Beyond the exposed rubble walls, nothing survives of the interior and one must imagine what the house looked like when first built as it then included a great gallery, some 90 feet long and two storeys high, although it appears this may never have been finished (presumably due to the death of the first Earl of Barrymore and the chaos of the Confederate War). The castle was once surrounded by equally splendid grounds, with a large terrace to the immediate north and a series of enclosed gardens to the west and south, of which scant traces remain, serving as witness to the decline and fall of the once-might Barry family.
After Monday’s post about Castlemartyr, readers might be interested in seeing some old photographs of the house’s interior when it was still owned and occupied by the Boyles, Earls of Shannon. The pictures date from the late 19th/early 20th century, and were taken by Nellie Thompson, wife of the sixth earl. The two above show the saloon as it was then decorated, filled with a vast quantity of furniture including a grand piano and a billiard table. The two below reflect the family’s travels overseas and what they had collected: prior to inheriting his title and estate in 1890, for example, the sixth earl had been living in Canada where he served as a Mountie. What most immediately strikes any viewer of these images is how dark and cluttered were the rooms, how filled with furnishings and fabrics, all competing and contrasting with each other. An insight into a different aesthetic sensibility from that of our own age.