A Preposterous State of Affairs



Founded in 1890 as part of a larger philanthropic initiative by Edward Guinness (head of the family brewery and future first Earl of Iveagh), the Iveagh Trust is one of this country’s most effective, but relatively little-known charities. As the trust’s website explains, Guinness regularly passed through Dublin’s Liberties area on his way to work and ‘was appalled at the conditions that prevailed in this corner of Dublin. A warren of foul-smelling laneways lined with crumbling and overcrowded houses that were no longer fit for habitation.’  Having floated two-thirds of the company in 1886, he became the richest man in the country and so began to think about establishing a charity to address the terrible living conditions experienced by so many people in both Dublin and London, and donated £250,000 ‘for the amelioration of the condition of the poor labouring classes’ in the two cities. Among the trust’s first undertakings was the construction between 1894-1901 on a two acre site at the corner of New Bride Street and Kevin Street of three five-storey blocks originally containing 336 separate flats. But perhaps the best-known work of what in 1903 officially became the Iveagh Trust, was an enormous scheme undertaken at the start of the last century on the area north of St Patrick’s Cathedral and south of Christchurch Cathedral, and running from Bull Alley Street and Bride Street; requiring several acts of parliament to ensure its successful conclusion, the project’s cost exceeded £220,000, with further monies spent on the creation of St Patrick’s Park and other associated works which were directly funded by Edward Guinness. 
A superlative example of Edwardian architecture constructed 1901-05, the Bull Alley Estate, designed by the architectural partnership of Joseph & Smithem, comprises eight five-storey blocks today holding 213 apartments (a comprehensive, six-year refurbishment of the entire site was completed in 2012). But of course, the clearance of large areas of the old city for improved housing meant many of the residents lost the place in which they had hitherto earned their meagre livelihoods. In the Liberties, this was especially the case for street traders, who found their former pitches cleared and needed to find an alternative site in which to conduct business. It was for this reason that, according to a report carried in the Irish Times in July 1906, when work commenced on the Bull Alley site, Edward Guinness, by then Viscount Iveagh, undertook ‘to provide suitable accommodation for the vendors within five years.’ He was as good as his word and personally paid for the provision of an alternative venue, the aforementioned Irish Times report which celebrated the official opening of the Iveagh Markets.





Designed by Dublin architect Frederick George Hicks, the Iveagh Markets sits on a parcel of land much of which was formerly occupied by a brewery: the initial cost for the project was some £45,000 but in the end the sum was closer to £60,000 all personally funded by Lord Iveagh. The site includes two covered markets, the larger one, measuring 100 x 150 feet, intended for selling clothes. Roofed in iron and glass, and with a first floor gallery 15 feet wide carried on cast-iron columns around the perimeter of the building, this market also provided the main entrance to the property from Francis Street, the seven-bay facade has an advanced and pedimented breakfront, the granite-fronted ground floor taking the form of an arcade, with quoined arches of Portland stone, each keystone representing various trading nations of the world: the upper parts of the building are of red brick. Behind the clothes market is a second, smaller space measuring 130 x 80 feet where stallholders sold fish, fruit and vegetables. Within the complex and to the immediate north was an area for the disinfection of clothes before they could be offered for sale, with space for 40 washers, four centrifugal wringing machines and 40 hot air drying horses: these facilities represented an enormous improvement in what had previously been available to residents in the area, and reflect Lord Iveagh’s understanding of the importance of good hygiene. A number of other buildings were constructed here for administration and a resident manager. 





The Irish Times article of July 26th 1906 noted that although Lord Iveagh had paid for the new markets to be built, on the occasion of their official opening a deed of conveyance and keys to the property were handed over to Dublin’s then-Lord Mayor. ‘The Corporation of the City of Dublin,’ the report added, ‘has undertaken to take over and control the markets as in other parts of the city, and though a further responsibility is thrown on the shoulders of the city fathers, still, everyone will admit it is a worthy one.’ The corporation – now Dublin City Council – continued to exercise that responsibility until the early 1990s, although even before that date inadequate maintenance of the markets meant they were in poor condition. A report commissioned by the local authority and produced in 1992 observed that the ‘restoration of the building to its original splendour and its refurbishment as a modern indoor market would be of considerable economic and social benefit to the surrounding area.’ The following year, the council offered each of the market’s stall holders £20,000 to vacate their stands and give up their licenses, before announcing plans for a £1.25 million refurbishment. However, nothing happened – other than a steady rise in the cost of the proposed refurbishment, and in 1996 the council decided to invite a private developer to take on the job. The following year the council granted Dublin publican Martin Keane a licence to redevelop the site, and all appeared well until questions were asked about whether the council had the authority to issue such a document under the terms of the Dublin Corporation Markets Act, passed in 1901 to allow the construction of the Iveagh Markets. The dispute was only resolved in 2004, it then took a further three years for Mr Keane to obtain planning permission for a scheme that would have included restaurants, a 97-bed hotel, a music venue and an apartment hotel, as well as the refurbishment of the old buildings. This work was never begun and a long, sorry saga over the building then ensued: anyone who wishes to understand what befell the Iveagh Markets over the past 15 years is encouraged to read an article on the subject published in the Irish Times on November 19th (The Iveagh Markets: Can a former Dublin glory be saved? – The Irish Times). At the moment the matter is subject to ongoing mediation but there can be no doubt that Dublin City Council must accept a substantial amount of responsibility for the unhappy situation here. For several decades the local authority has shown scant regard for historic properties in its care. On the other side of the river Liffey, for example, the old Fruit and Vegetable Market, opened in 1892, was closed in August 2019 by the council which said it was about to undertaken a two-year restoration of the site. This was after 17 years of successive announcements of diverse schemes for the building (for a chronology, see Dublin’s Victorian fruit market to close for two years for revamp – The Irish Times). Last August, three years after the Fruit and Vegetable Market was closed (supposedly for just two years), Dublin City Council said that it had ‘initiated a tender process for a design team “to detail the conservation works needed” for the property. Initiating a tender process suggests a great deal more time will pass before anything actually happens and this is just one of a substantial number of projects in which Dublin City Council’s intervention has proven catastrophic. Recently, for example, the council announced that the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, initiated in 2013 (and supposed to have been completed in 2017) would not see even the ‘first phase’ be delivered until at least 2027. Then there is the long-anticipated development of a new public plaza in College Green where successive design schemes have been launched to much fanfare and then quietly abandoned.
As for the Iveagh Markets, it cannot be denied that what ought to be a thriving and valuable public resource which would do much good for not just the local community but all of Dublin, has been allowed to deteriorate over some 30 years to the point where it is now at risk of being lost forever. The gift of a generous man to an impoverished city has been needlessly squandered as a consequence of poor decision-making and lack of action. Who would ever want to gift anything to Ireland’s capital, seeing what its governing body has allowed to become of the Iveagh Markets? Meanwhile, the original benefactor’s other great philanthropic gesture – the many blocks of flats constructed in the greater Liberties area – continue to be managed by a private charity, the Iveagh Trust, and continue to benefit large numbers of people. The contrast between these thriving buildings and the Iveagh Markets could not be more stark.   


The Lonely Passion of Augusta Magan


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

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,





Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.





O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.
Photographs of the Casino at Marino, Dublin, designed by Sir William Chambers for James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont. 

Ending Shortly




A reminder to all friends and followers: if you have not yet had an opportunity to see the two exhibitions In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden and Stepping through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens – both curated by the Irish Aesthete – only one week remains to do so. Currently open at the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, South William Street, Dublin – and with free admission – both shows will close next Friday, July 29th. Catch them while you still can…



Gross Negligence



Four terraced houses in the centre of Dublin indicate the inadequacies of central and local government when it comes to protecting Ireland’s architectural heritage. Aungier Street dates from the mid-17th century when developed by Francis Aungier, first Earl of Longford, who created what was then the city’s finest and – at 70 feet – widest thoroughfare, much of it lined with splendid mansions. Some of these survive behind later facades, and the four in question, Nos.22-25, include one built in the 18th century for Sir Anthony King, Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1778-79; he leased the property to the sculptor John van Nost who had a stoneyard here. These houses have been allowed to stand empty and falling ever further into dereliction for many years: a planning notice on one of them for conversion of the premises into an hotel is dated October 2018. It needs to be reiterated that ample legislation exists to ensure that such neglect of the historic fabric of this and any other urban centre does not exist; that the relevant authorities continue to ignore that legislation and allow such decay serves as a gross indictment of their competence. 


In Harmony with Nature


‘Ireland is far more favoured by latitude than Britain, is healthier and has a much milder climate, so that snow rarely lasts for more than three days. Hay is never cut in summer for winter use nor are stables built for their beasts. No reptile is found there nor could a serpent survive; for although serpents have often been brought from Britain, as soon as the ship approaches land they are affected by the scent of the air and quickly perish…The island abounds in milk and honey, nor does it lack vines, fish, and birds.’
The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed c.731 A.D.
‘The Irish climate is favourable to many plants which, though neglected, do better in Ireland than the countries from which they are imported.’
Dr Peter Lombard, De Regno Hiberniae Commentarius, 1600. 





Across the centuries, observers have remarked on the kindly character of the Irish climate. While conditions vary somewhat from east to west, and from north to south, this island does not, as a rule, suffer from extremes of temperature: despite being on the same latitude as Newfoundland in Canada, our winters are generally mild (only dropping a few degrees below 0 °C) and our summers cool (even at their highest they seldom exceed 25 °C). Although winds are plentiful, they are rarely extreme and rainfall is abundant: the eastern half of the country averages 750-1,000 mm of rain per annum, that to the west 1,000-1,400 mm. These circumstances are further aided by the character of Irish soil, much of it rich and fertile. We enjoy a temperate climate perfect for the cultivation of a wide diversity of plants. And yet the cultivation of those plants and the creation of gardens in which to enjoy them, came relatively late to Ireland. 





During the last century, in the aftermath of the First World War and the War of Independence, many Irish country house gardens were lost. The breaking up of the great estates, together with increased taxation and rising labour costs, combined to make the maintenance of these sites unfeasible for owners. Just as many country houses fell into dilapidation and ruin, so too did their surrounding demesnes and gardens. But it was not entirely a story of loss. From the late 19th century onwards, a number of Irish houses and estates had been taken over by Catholic religious orders, for use as schools, seminaries and so forth. Often the new owners sought to maintain the grounds of their property, thereby ensuring the survival of their predecessors’ work. Furthermore, in the early 1990s, growing public awareness and appreciation of our historic sites led to the establishment of a Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme. Grant-aided by the European Regional Development Fund and with a £4 million allocation, this scheme oversaw the restoration of some 24 gardens throughout the country.
Despite straitened circumstances, throughout the 20th century some country house owners continued to maintain their gardens and, in addition, a number of spectacular  new ones were created. Across the millennia, gardening has been a passion exerting authority over some property owners and from which, as a rule, they never wish to be released. Happily, this remains the case in Ireland. And while, in the past, that passion might have been largely private, to be shared only with family and friends, today more and more of our finest gardens are open to the public, permitting all of us to revel in their outstanding qualities.


In Harmony with Nature:: The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900 is now open at the Irish Georgian Society’s headquarters, the City Assembly House, South William Street, Dublin and will continue to the end of July. For further information, please see In Harmony with Nature, the Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900 | Irish Georgian Society (igs.ie)


 

Drumcondra Urns



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.


Palatial


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. 

A Light Hand



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.