In a small garden to the rear of Drumcondra House (now part of Dublin City University) can be found three much-weathered stone urns. Originally they stood on the parapet of the building’s south-facing front, thought to have been designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce: the east-facing Baroque facade of the same property has long been attributed to Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei (see An Italian in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). Photographs of Drumcondra House from the late 19th/early 20th centuries, when it as All Hallows College (a training centre for Roman Catholic priests) show the urns still in situ, one in the centre and one at either end. At some date they were taken down, probably because of their condition but it is still possible to see their pedestals on top of the building.
Today a dormitory town sprawling adjacent to Dublin airport, Swords is thought to have originated as a monastic settlement founded by Saint Colmcille in the sixth century. Today the most prominent feature of its pre-modern existence is a medieval castle which, having been left in ruins for hundreds of years, was restored by the local authorities in the late 1990s. The castle is thought to have been constructed around 1200 by John Comyn, a Benedictine monk and former chaplain to Henry II on whose recommendation he was appointed Archbishop of Dublin in 1181 (although he did not arrive in Ireland until some years later). Comyn’s principal residence was St Sepulchre’s Palace in the centre of Dublin, but he had also been granted lands to the north of the city, hence his construction of a castle in Swords. Following Comyn’s death in 1212, it remained a manorial residence for successive Archbishops of Dublin until c.1324 when the then-holder of the office, Alexander de Bicknor, erected a new archiepiscopal palace to the west of Dublin in Tallaght. Swords Castle’s primary function was never defensive (which meant it was vulnerable to attack), and accordingly it lacks the sturdy features of other such Anglo-Norman buildings. Roughly in the shape of a pentagon, the curtain wall, its height varying between three and ten metres, encloses an area of more than an acre, with the gatehouse (and adjacent chapel) to the south and a large, four-storey building known as the Constable’s Tower, to the north: the latter was likely added in the mid-15th century by which time the castle was occupied by the archbishop’s Chief Constable. Other structures inside the enclosure, such as a Great Hall along the east side, have since disappeared.
Although Swords Castle no longer served as a residence for the Archbishops of Dublin after the 1320s, it continued to be an archiepiscopal property, or at least placed by the government at their disposal, and, as mentioned, appears to have been occupied by holders of the office of Chief Constable. Even before being displaced by the palace in Tallaght, the buildings here may have been damaged during the military campaign waged by Edward Bruce in Ireland from 1315-18, and this would have discouraged residency. Already by the 16th century, the place was in poor repair, described in 1583 as ‘the quite spoiled old castle’. In 1641 during the Confederate Wars it briefly served as a meeting place for old Catholic families before they were put to flight by Sir Charles Coote. Thereafter the castle looks to have been abandoned, until, following the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1870, it was sold to the Cobbe family of Newbridge. For much of the last century, the castle was leased to a local shopkeeper who used the site as an orchard. In the 1930s it came under the care of the Office of Public Works before finally being sold in 1985 to the county council.
As already noted, Swords Castle was extensively restored by the local authority in 1996-98. The chapel, for example, had its walls reconstructed and a new oak-beamed roof constructed. Inside, a tiled floor was laid, its design based on remnants found during an earlier archaeological excavation. The windows on the north and south side of the chapel feature the four Evangelists, while that at the east end depicts the Tree of Jesse, inspired by the famous window in Chartres Cathedral. Similarly, considerable work was undertaken on the mid-15th century Constable’s Tower, which once again was given a new timber and slate roof, internal oak floors and new glass in all the windows.
Eight years ago, the local authority, Fingal County Council, commissioned a plan to create what is called the Swords Cultural Quarter adjacent to the old castle; indeed, part of it will be developed on a cleared site running along the eastern side of the ancient structure. The ‘cultural quarter’ will incorporate a library, performance space and arts venue. According to the authority’s own documentation, this scheme ‘is intended to be the town’s centre of knowledge, arts and culture with a strong focus on people and experiences which, through the delivery of a modern, dynamic, inspirational and educational programme of events and activities, will become a destination and a focal point for the local community and visitors.’ Last July, it was announced that the architectural practice O’Donnell + Tuomey would lead the design team, although actual construction work, taken two years, is not expected to begin until autumn 2023. In the interim, there is plenty of time to visit Swords Castle, which is open to the public without charge, in its present guise.
Home since 1870 to the Royal Irish Academy of Music, No.36 Westland Row, Dublin was originally built by Nicholas Tench in 1771 and nine years later leased to Sir Samuel Bradstreet, lawyer and politician: it is thought that the house’s decorative scheme dates from around this time. The neoclassical plasterwork in the main reception rooms is very fine and has been tentatively attributed by Conor Lucey to stuccodore Michael Stapleton, drawing on designs made by Thomas Penrose, architect and Inspector of Civil Buildings for the Board of Works: Penrose also acted as agent for the English architect James Wyatt who had many clients in Ireland. These photographs show some of the plasterwork in a ground floor room adjacent to the entrance hall, and include a series of grisaille medallions with classical figures painted by an unknown hand.
A former entrance to the Rathfarnham Castle estate in County Dublin. Constructed of granite and taking the form of a triumphal arch, the building’s design according to James Howley (in his 1993 book The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland) was inspired by the Porta Portese in Rome: both share a number of features including engaged Doric columns, square recessed panels above niches, and a balustraded top above the arch. One obvious difference is that inside the Rathfarnham entrance can be found a keystone made from Coade stone and representing a hirsute Roman God. When Howley was writing, the architect responsible for this work was unknown, but more recently in his Gazetter to the Gate Lodges of Leinster (2016) J.A.K. Dean has proposed Francis Johnston, the design based on James Wyatt’s entrance to Canterbury Quad, Christ Church College, Oxford: Dean points out that Johnston’s early patron, Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, was a graduate of Christ Church and had provided the funds for the rebuilding of Canterbury Quad. Alas, despite such a distinguished pedigree, today the Rathfarnham arch languishes neglected on a tiny strip of land, surrounded by housing estates and intermittently subjected to vandalism. It deserves better than this: why might it not be moved into the grounds of Rathfarnham Castle, which would provide a safer home than is the case at present.
The Palm House at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Sixty-five feet high, 80 feet wide and 100 feet long, and originally costing £800, the building dates from 1884 when prefabricated from wood and wrought-iron in Paisley, Scotland by the firm of James Boyd & Son. Shipped to Ireland in pieces, the palm house was then assembled on site to replace an earlier structure which had been almost universally condemned for its ugliness. The new version met with a more positive response from the public and lasted until the mid-1990s when a high wind blew in large sections of glass: it was then discovered that much of the building was in a dangerous condition. Following extensive restoration, the Palm House reopened to the public in 2004.
Readers from outside Ireland may not be familiar with Patrick Pearse, one of the key figures in the Easter Rising of 1916, the aftermath of which led to the War of Independence. Born in Dublin in 1879, from an early age Pearse was an ardent advocate for Irish freedom, and arising from this he became what might be described as a cultural nationalist, believing that the Irish language, its preservation and promulgation, were an integral part of ensuring this country’s identity. Although he qualified as a barrister, he soon found a more natural outlet for his beliefs in education, recognising – as had the Jesuit order before him – that the best way to spread his ideas was in the classroom. He also thought the existing education system, imported from England, extremely damaging for the development of the young, calling it ‘the murder machine.’ So, in 1908 he bought an 18th century property called Cullenswood House for £370. Located in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh, Pearse wrote of the property, ‘It is a pleasant thing to be houses in one of the noble old Georgian mansions of Dublin, with an old garden full of fruit-trees under out windows and a hedgerow of old elms, sycamores and beeches as the distant boundary of our playing field.’ Here he now opened a bi-lingual secondary school for boys, St Enda’s (Scoil Éanna) which, despite his lack of business and managerial acumen, flourished. So much so that after two years, he decided the time had come to move to larger premises and to this end in 1910 he bought another Georgian building further removed from the city and surrounded by more land. This was the Hermitage in Rathfarnham.
The Hermitage dates from the last quarter of the 18th century when it was built as a country retreat by Dublin dentist Edward Hudson. Dr Hudson has featured here before, since he was also responsible for developing the core of what is now Glenville Park, County Cork (see A Life’s Work in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). Evidently, although his profession was then in its infancy, dentistry paid well because this particular practitioner had a house in the centre of Dublin as well. In April 1786 he bought from Thomas Conolly of Castletown, County Kildare a piece of land in Rathfarnham hitherto known as the Fields of Odin. Dr Hudson’s romantically-tinged antiquarian interests, fashionable at the time, are reflected in a number of follies he erected in the landscaped grounds of the house, including a rusticated Druid’s Cave and a Gothic watchtower. There is, however, nothing romantic about the house itself, which was designed – by an unknown architect – in the severest neo-classical style and all encased in crisp granite. Of three storeys over basement, the facade is dominated by four giant tetrastyle Doric columns supporting a portico, and approached by a flight of steps. There is absolutely no extraneous detailing permitted, everything is kept to a minimum. Inside the house, none of the main block’s reception rooms is especially large, and once again the decoration is austere with little surface ornament anywhere other than a pair of plaster pilasters topped by urns in what was formerly the study. The varying style of chimneypieces throughout the house reflect the fact that it changed hands on a number of occasions in the 19th century. There are larger spaces to the rear of the building, including a dormitory which appears to have been added soon after the Hermitage was acquired by Pearse and may have been designed by part-time architect Joseph Holloway. A corridor to one side of this room, via a flight of steps, to the biggest space in the house, used while it was a school as a study hall. When this was constructed is unclear: a single-storey extension to one side of the house, it looks as though originally serving as a ballroom, but surprisingly – given the significance of the property in Irish history – information on the architectural evolution of the Hermitage appears relatively scant.
As previously mentioned, in 1910 Pearse moved to the Hermitage, now renamed, like its predecessor, St Enda’s. Here he lived with members of his family, not least his younger brother William, a rather under-appreciated sculptor. Unfortunately, the new St Enda’s did not emulate the success of the earlier school, being too far from the city centre for many day pupils, while not enough boys were registered as boarders. In addition, Pearse decided to turn Cullenswood House, his previous premises, into an equivalent girls’ school, called St Ita’s; this only lasted a couple of years before closing in 1912. As a result of its founder’s idealism outstripping his practical skills, St Enda’s thereafter constantly teetered on the brink of financial disaster. It did not help that during this period, Pearse became increasingly involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, leaving him less time with managing the school. Somehow, it continued until the Easter Rising – in which a large number of former pupils participated – after which, and following the execution of both Patrick and William Pearse, St Enda’s closed. However, later that year it reopened back in Cullenswood House and then, thanks to financial support particularly from the United States, returned to Rathfarnham in 1919, with the building subsequently bought on behalf of the Pearse brothers’ mother, Margaret. After her death in 1932, the school continued to operate for another three years but then closed for good, although Mrs Pearse’s daughter, also called Margaret, remained living on the site until her death in 1968 when the building and grounds were bequeathed to the state. Open to the public, today St Enda’s is a shrine to the memory of Patrick Pearse.
In the late 19th century, and following the flotation of their brewing business on the London Stock Exchange, the Guinness family became enormously wealthy, allowing them to build, or enlarge, private residences for themselves around the outskirts of Dublin. One of these was Farmleigh, acquired by Edward Guinness (later first Earl of Iveagh) which incorporates an earlier building but was given much of its present appearance in the early 1880s by the ubiquitous James Franklin Fuller (although the ballroom and conservatory were both added later and designed by other architects). Farmleigh very much reflects the neo-Georgian luxe taste of the period and contrasts sharply with another house formerly owned by the family, Glenmaroon. This was bought at the start of the last century by one of Lord Iveagh’s sons, Ernest Guinness, who, although there was already a large building on the site, effectively doubled this in size by commissioning another, the two linked by a bridge across the public road that divided them. Glenmaroon, very much in the Home Counties arts and crafts manner (supposedly to please Ernest Guinness’s English-born wife), contrasts strikingly with the former parental home not far away and reflects changes in decorative taste between one generation and the next.
I shall be discussing both of these properties, and several others, in an online talk given for the Royal Oak Foundation next Tuesday, November 9th. Entitled A Stylish Brew: Great Irish Houses of the Guinness Family, more information about this event can be found at Fall 2021 Online Lectures & Tours – Great Irish Houses of the Guinness Family – The Royal Oak Foundation (royal-oak.org)
‘Few cities can boast more extensive conveniences, more eminent beauties, than Dublin… To convey to the curious inquirer adequate ideas of those objects; to diffuse information of a Capital so long undesertly unnoticed, and to give it that place in estimation with regard to others it merits, this work was undertaken.’
From the Preface to A Picturesque and Descriptive view of the City of Dublin.
Published in 1799 as a bound volume with accompanying text, James Malton’s images of Ireland’s capital in the years immediately preceding the Act of Union are justly renowned, not least because so many of the buildings he chose to illustrate still remain, little changed. However, two of the plates are important for offering us views of since-lost properties.
Seen above, the Hibernian Marine Society’s School for the Children of Decayed Seamen) was built between 1770-73 on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay and is thought to have been designed by Thomas Ivory. Run by a charity, the building served as a place of education for boys whose fathers had either lost their lives at sea, or had become impoverished during their service in the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. Accommodating some 160 students and the relevant staff, the school comprised a large three-storey central block flanked by wings, one holding a chapel, the other a dining hall. After being badly damaged by fire in 1872, the building became a warehouse but was demolished in 1979.
The Tholsel, which originated in the Middle Ages, served a diverse range of purposes in the city: meeting place for elected officials, guildhall, court and gaol. In its final incarnation, situated on Skinner’s Row (now a small park opposite Christ Church Cathedral), the building dated from the early 1680s. However, during the course of the 18th century, many of its functions were assumed by other, more modern places like the Four Courts and the Royal Exchange (now City Hall). By the time it was illustrated by Malton, the Tholsel’s days were numbered and it was demolished in 1809.
Both these prints are among those included in an exhibition, Malton’s Dublin, which runs until November 12th at the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square.
Towards the close of Annabel Davis-Goff’s rather marvelous 2003 novel, The Fox’s Walk, set in Ireland in 1916, a British army officer invites a couple of women to take a drive with him in his open-topped motorcar. ‘“You,” Captain Blaine said to Mrs. Coughlan, “will sit here” – he indicated the back seat – “like the Vicereine”.’ Within a few years, such a simile would become redundant, since in this country the role of vicereine ceased to exist but for at least two and half centuries previously, the title had been employed to describe a succession of women who, to varying degrees, had left a mark on Ireland.
Until the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, and the appointment a year later of the first Duke of Ormond as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the crown was only intermittently represented in this country. And even for a century thereafter, the holders of the office might only spend short times in Ireland. Under those circumstances, the presence of their wives here could not be assured. It was only in 1767 that permanent residency was made obligatory for anyone appointed Lord Lieutenant, and spouses were thereafter more than likely to accompany them. Throughout much of this period, Lords Lieutenant were almost invariably English: there was no Irishman in the position between the appointment of the Duke of Tyrconnell (1687) and that of the fourth Earl of Bessborough (1846). Thus their wives were also non-native. Likewise, after the time of the Duke of Tyrconnell, no Roman Catholic held the viceregal office until the last man to do so: Lord FitzAlan of Derwent (April 1921-December 1922). In 1825 there had been a considerable disquiet in Dublin official circles when the then-Lord Lieutenant, Richard, Marquess Wellesley, had married the beautiful American widow Marianne Paterson (née Caton) who was Roman Catholic. As representatives of the British government both Lords Lieutenant and their spouses were required to be conservative (even if they were members of the Liberal party) and certainly not to espouse any radical causes. Inevitably, this hampered even the most intrepid of vicereines and confined their activities to those assured to cause least offence (although, even in the days before Twitter, there were always some observers of the viceregal court who relished taking umbrage at even the most innocuous behaviour).
Just like royal consorts, vicereines were expected to take their cue from their husbands. As the late R.B. McDowell wrote, ‘the vicereine was often an energetic and influential patroness of good causes in her own right’ but some were more active than others. During her husband’s second term (1905-15), the Countess of Aberdeen, for example, was an ardent promoter of Irish crafts (also of Home Rule, for which she was much criticised). She also campaigned indefatigably for the eradication of Tuberculosis in Ireland. Not everyone appreciated her efforts: in 1914 Arthur Griffith wrote that it was Lady Aberdeen rather than ‘the babbling creature who wears the title’ who was the real Lord Lieutenant. However, more usually it tended to be in more genteel areas such as the encouragement of indigenous decorative arts and fashion that vicereines found an outlet for their energy. They could always guarantee personal popularity by ‘dressing Irish’. So, in May 1779 the Countess of Buckinghamshire (who had been born a Conolly of Castletown), announced her intention of dressing exclusively in Irish fabrics at a charity ball. Four years later, her successor Mary, Marchioness of Buckinghamshire requested that guests attending a ball in Dublin Castle would dress solely in Irish fabrics. At the start of the 19th century, The Countess of Hardwicke ordered a quantity of patterned calico from a Mr Clarke of Palmerston to use as wall covering in the Viceregal Lodge in Dublin’s Phoenix Park: some thirty years later, she published a book The Court of Oberon with engravings by Irish artist John Samuel Templeton, to raise funds for the poor and distressed of this country. In 1880 Queen Victoria presented the Duchess of Marlborough with an award to acknowledge the latter’s work in creating a fund to alleviate ‘extreme misery and suffering among the poor.’ Charity work of one kind or another was perhaps the most consistent characteristic of successive vicereines, although some engaged more actively than others: in 1704 for instance, the second Duchess of Ormond was responsible for establishing the first workhouse in Dublin (on the site of the present St James’s Hospital). The challenge for them was to make an impact – and ideally a difference – without overshadowing the authority of their spouses. Regardless of gender, anybody married to someone in a position of power will testify that remains a difficult task.
Vicereines of Ireland: Portraits of Forgotten Women is an exhibition continuing at Dublin Castle until September 5th . The show has been curated by Myles Campbell, who also wrote the excellent accompanying catalogue.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of Maurice Craig’s death, and next year the seventieth anniversary of the publication of Dublin 1660-1860: The Shaping of a City, the book for which he is still best remembered. Seemingly, although it took 13 years for the first run of 2,000 copies to sell, the work has never since been out of print. For many readers, it remains the definitive guide to Ireland’s capital during the Georgian era, despite enormous numbers of other books on the same subject having appeared before and since. Although he came to be regarded as the one of the foremost experts on the country’s architectural history, this was far from being a foregone conclusion. When young, Maurice appears to have entertained notions of being either a painter or a composer, but ultimately realised that the written word was his best form of communication. Even so, his doctoral thesis from Trinity College Dublin was concerned not with buildings but the 19th century poet Walter Savage Landor, and the back of a copy of Dublin 1660-1860 declares ‘his recreations include travel, ship-modelling and the history of transport’. To which one might add vintage motor cars and book-binding, as well as noting that his first book (which appeared in 1948) was a biography of the Earl of Charlemont. And, as anyone who knew Maurice can attest, he loved cats.
In his preface, Maurice Craig announced that Dublin 1660-1860 had been conceived more as a ‘portrait’ than a history, by which he meant the author had opted to focus on certain aspects of the narrative and omit others. Developing the portrait metaphor, he noted that some readers might not appreciate such an approach, ‘but if I paint my sitter in a purple tie, that need not imply that he has no others in his wardrobe.’ Certainly he introduced more colour into his text than is customarily the case, opening the story not in Dublin or even in Ireland, but with a lively description of the fall to Ottoman forces of Constantinople in May 1453. In a variant on the theme of the Butterfly Effect, Maurice proposed a link between ‘this great Levantine catastrophe’ and a date more than 200 years later, July 27th 1662, when James Butler, Duke of Ormonde ‘stepped out of his pinnace on to the sands of Dublin Bay. The Renaissance, in a word, had arrived in Ireland…The Middle Ages were at last at an end.’ It’s a bold statement, and one open to dispute, but it sets the tone for what follows over the next 300-plus pages, across which Maurice painted his portrait of the city with bold strokes and bright shades that help to make this a genuine page-turner. When writing of Aldborough House, for example, he briskly notes how the Stratford family title, ‘passed rapidly through a ludicrous succession of spendthrift holders, ending with the sixth and last Earl who bred dogs, advertised patent pills, and died in Alicante in 1875.’ The point about such prose is that it leaves the reader longing to learn more on the subject. And when writing of 18th century Dublin’s relatively weak literary legacy, he took a clever swipe at the censored Ireland of the mid-1950s, observing that ‘a society uncertain of its foundations and its destiny is, as we are now proving, unhappy ground in which to cultivate the art of letters.’ And again, as anyone who knew him can testify, Maurice was never averse to expressing a personal opinion. Thomas Cooley’s Neoclassical City Hall (the former Royal Exchange), he deemed ‘a little cold…its best points are its site, the excellence of the detail and the grandeur of the central hall. It does not inspire much affection.’
Re-reading Dublin 1660-1860 what strikes this reader once more is Maurice Craig’s exceptional erudition, and his ability to wear a great deal of learning lightly. The book is as much a social as an architectural history of the city, and this makes sense: all buildings, even prisons, are erected with varying degrees of social interaction in mind. So while Maurice provides much information on architects and patrons across the span of 200 years, he also places their enterprises within a broader context. This often leads in turn to the text taking unexpected diversions, as the author shares another piece of historical anecdote with us. For example, at one point, when writing of the growth of newspapers in mid-18th century Ireland, he then reflects on how pamphlets often better reflect concerns of the time. This in turn leads him to describe an occasion in 1759 when rumours of union with Britain led to ‘startling eruptions of popular feeling: the jacquerie broke into the Parliament House, placed an old woman in the Speaker’s Chair, rigged up a gallows and threatened various dignitaries with death,’ all of which sounds reminiscent of events which took place in Washington, D.C. earlier this year. Ending as it does in the mid-19th century, the book concludes on a somewhat melancholy note, Maurice noting how in Dublin ‘after sixty years the loss of political status is beginning to induce an unmistakable feeling of provincialism.’ Since his book first appeared in 1952, many other authors have investigated the development of Ireland’s capital during what has come to be known as the long 18th century, but none has managed to capture so well the atmosphere of that period, to conjure up for us the spirit of the age, and to present it with such grace.
Today’s images are taken from Dublin 1660-1860 and are all by Maurice Craig, demonstrating his talents as an architectural draughtsman.
The Little Museum of Dublin is currently hosting a series of lectures on the city’s history delivered by Professor David Dickson, author of Dublin: The making of a capital city (2014). For more information, see The Dublin Lectures 2021 – The Little Museum of Dublin