The main farmyard at Ballinkeele, County Wexford. The classical house here, notable for its massive porte cochère, was designed by Daniel Robertson in 1840 for John Maher; originally from County Tipperary, he had bought the estate 15 years earlier from the previous owner. There had already been a house on the site, and therefore one assumes that this yard also dates from the previous period in Ballinkeele’s history. It is a particularly fine example of country house agricultural architecture, a well-considered melange of stone and brick, with cut granite used for key features such as the entrance arch and window lintels, the whole forming a courtyard around the central well.
According to Burke’s guide to Irish Landed Gentry published in 1899, the Gerrards of Gibbstown, County Meath were ‘a branch of the family to which belonged Sir Gilbert Gerrard, 1st bart., of Fiskerton, co. Lincoln (a descendant of the Gerrards of Ince). During the English Civil War, Sir Gilbert had been an ardent royalist, which may explain why the Gerrards wished to claim association with him. In fact, they were an old Anglo-Norman family who for centuries had been based not far from Gibbstown at the now-ruined Clongill Castle. Gibbtown, meanwhile, belonged to a branch of the Plunket family, who built a tower house here. At some date in the second half of the 17th century, after the lands had been confiscated from the Plunkets, they were acquired by Thomas Gerrard, who died at Gibbstown in 1719, leaving it to his eldest son John. His two other sons were Thomas, who was left Liscarton (see Liscarton « The Irish Aesthete) and Samuel who lived at Clongill from where he corresponded with the likes of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Meanwhile, the main branch remained at Gibbstown, while also spending time at another County Meath property, Boyne Hill. When travelling through Ireland in 1776, Arthur Young visited Gibbstown and met its owner, another Thomas Gerrard with whose farming methods he was much impressed (‘he has made many covered drains with stones, the effect of which is great; and he has his fields fenced in the most perfect manner by deep ditches, high banks and well planted hedges’). At the time the estate ran to 1,200 acres bringing in annual rent of £1,300. Following the second Thomas’ death in 1784, Gibbstown was inherited by his only son John Gerrard, who married a County Galway heiress but the couple had no children, so in 1865 the estate passed to a nephew, once more called Thomas. He likewise had no children, and so following his death in 1913 the place was inherited by a nephew, Major Thomas Gerrard Collins, who two years later assumed the additional surname of Gerrard. He would be the last of the family to live here as by 1927 the Land Commission had moved in and the Gibbstown estate was broken up. The following decade it became a Gaeltacht area (now called Baile Ghib) in which Irish speakers from Donegal, Mayo and Kerry were settled on small holdings of 22 acres each.
Until 1865 the Gerrard family at Gibbstown had occupied what appears to have been a long, two-storey 18th century dwelling attached to the late-medieval tower house. However, when Thomas Gerrard inherited the estate from his uncle, despite being a bachelor he decided to embark on constructing a new residence for himself elsewhere on the estate. This was no modest building but a vast Italianate palazzo designed in the early 1770s by William Henry Lynn. Of three storeys and seven bays, faced with cut limestone and entered beneath a Doric portico, the house also featured a long colonnade which led to a free-standing campanile; it was commonly believed that the cost of building and fitting out the new Gibbstown had run to £250,000. A description of the property in the Irish Times in 1912 noted that the centre of the house was dominated by a hall rising some 80 feet and topped by a stained glass dome, with galleries running around the upper floors off which opened the main bedrooms, each of which were ‘vast and magnificently furnished, the adjacent dressing rooms also being large beyond custom, and each set of rooms was furnished with a different suite of furniture, which formed an interesting study in itself…A circular marble corridor formed an imposing feature of the building, and on the first floor were two great sitting rooms, a long and magnificent drawing room, and a dining room; where the roof and tapestried walls harmonised well with the richness of the furniture.’ Alas, Mr Gerrard and his nephew did not enjoy these surroundings for very long before much of them were destroyed: in April 1912 fire broke out in Gibbstown, largely gutting the two upper floors and destroying the aforementioned stained glass dome in the central hall. Fortunately many of the contents were rescued, including a large collection of Chinese porcelain including some pieces, according to the Irish Times, which had come from Paris’s Tuileries Palace, destroyed in 1871. In May 1913 Thomas Gerrard died at the age of 78, by which time Major Thomas Collins Gerrard had already embarked on a restoration of the house, the architect this time being the ubiquitous James Franklin Fuller. But as already noted above, change was in the air and Gibbstown would not be occupied for much longer. In June 1930, Battersby & Co began auctioning the house’s contents, so substantial that it took a fortnight to dispose of them all. Among the best-sellers was a Chinese Chippendale table that made 110 guineas, a satinwood reading table that went for 30 guineas, a carved Italian marble chimneypiece (33 guineas) and an ormolu and bronze clock surmounted by a figure representing Alexander the Great (22 guineas). So it went on, day after day until everything was gone. Five years later Major Gerrard presented the Royal Dublin Society with a bronze vase four feet, eight inches high on a two-foot high pedestal by Major Gerrard. The vase features the figures of Day and Night after Thorvaldsen from plaques exhibited at the Great Industrial Exhibition held in Dublin in 1853: now painted blue and white and beside a plaque announcing that it had been given on permanent loan by ‘the last Gerrard of Gibbstown’ it can still be seen outside the RDS’s premises.
Major Gerrard died in 1945, but even before then the great Italianate house, built barely 70 years earlier, and rebuilt after the fire just over 30 years before, stood an empty anachronism. In this instance however, unlike many other such buildings, it was not demolished but instead taken down, with the stones carefully numbered before being brought to the Cistercian monks at Mellifont, outside Collon, County Louth; the intention was that they would be used in the erection of a new church. However, that never happened and instead, over a period of time, the stonework was sold off piecemeal and used in various other properties around the area. Meanwhile, a wrought-iron aviary from Gibbstown ended up being used in an arcade in Drogheda, County Louth. So, the late 19th century house has gone, but its predecessor remains – just about. It will be remembered that before Thomas Gerrard embarked on his grandiose scheme, the family had lived in an older building, an extension to the late-medieval Plunket tower house. This structure was incorporated into an immense series of 18th and 19th century yards, including stables, coach houses, animal sheds, staff accommodation and much more. These are in turn linked to very substantial walled gardens, the whole offering testimony to the high standards of farming here noted by Arthur Young back in the 1770s. Internally the house consists of a series of rooms often opening one into the next or connected by long, narrow corridors, suggesting the building is relatively early in date and may even have originated in the 17th century. And a couple of the rooms retain at least some of their charming rococo plasterwork. How much they continue to do so is open to question, since in recent years the site has been used as an urban assault airsoft venue (in which participants attempt to eliminate each other using replica weapons). Good clean fun, no doubt, but not necessarily beneficial for the buildings. It will probably be only a matter of time before the surviving remnants of the Gibbstown estate disappear for good.
The remains of a former estate at Clogher in County Cork. In 1837 Samuel Lewis describes the property as belonging to one ‘G. Bond Low, Esq.’ but provides no further details. The house itself, now a ruin, dates from the early 19th century and is of three stories and five bays. A sense of its character is provided by what survives: a pair of handsome limestone gate posts, beside one of which is a derelict lodge. Not far inside the entrance is a very fine yard, typical of the kind then being erected across the country and, despite neglect, still so sturdy that it begs for restoration: the perfect setting for a number of courtyard dwellings, should someone with sufficient imagination (and funds) be prepared to take on the task.
The stable block on the former estate of Doory Hall, County Longford. The lands here were granted by Charles II to the Jessop family, said to have moved to this country from Derbyshire. The long-forgotten 19th century writer and novelist George H Jessop (who wrote the libretto for Charles Villiers Stanford’s 1896 comic opera Shamus O’Brien) was born here, together with his sister, poet and story writer Mary Kathleen Jessop Another branch of the same family owned an estate in the same county, Mount Jessop but like Doory Hall this long ago went to ruin.
The main house at Doory Hall, now just a shell, is thought to have been designed in the 1820s by John Hargrave, a son of the successful Cork architect Abraham Hargrave; the younger man was responsible for designing a number of buildings, including churches and glebe houses, in County Longford. The stable block is also attributed to him, but could be earlier; the 1820s house replaced an earlier one on the site, so perhaps this is a residue of the previous development? Whatever the past history, at the moment its future does not look promising.
As has been discussed here before, Townley Hall, County Louth is one of Ireland’s most perfect neo-classical buildings (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/06/10/la-tout-nest-quordre-et-beaute). The house was designed in the mid-1790s by Francis Johnston, who until then had been employed primarily by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, often to complete commissions left unfinished following the early death of Thomas Cooley in 1784. Townley Hall is his first independent piece of work although here again the client’s involvement was critical since it is known that Blayney Townley Balfour, who owned the property, and his sister Anna Maria were intimately involved in every stage of the design.
Johnston was invited to design not just Townley Hall itself but also a number of ancillary buildings, including a new stableyard. His plans for this survive and are dated between 1799 (work being initiated on the site in May of that year) and 1804. The intention was to build around a rectangular courtyard with coach house and grainstore topped by a cupola on the north side, and stables coming forward to its immediate east and west. The south side was to be taken up by screen wall with arched entrance. Sadly this scheme was never realized, possibly for financial reasons (like many other house builders before and since, Blayney Townley Balfour discovered the initial budget was insufficient). Instead, while the northern range was constructed, it lacked the proposed cupola, and only the western range of stables were finished; a terrace of single-storey cottages runs along the eastern side of the site. Likewise the south wall with entrance arch was left unbuilt, and even a modified plan for railings with piers went unrealized. A drawing of the plan survives a penciled note reading ‘not built yet – 1837 FTB’, those initials standing for Lady Florence Townley Balfour (daughter of the first Earl of Enniskillen) who had married Blayney Townley Balfour in 1797.
As is well known, Townley Hall was sold by the heirs of the Townley Balfour family in the 1950s and, having been owned for a short period of time by Trinity College Dublin, was sold again with the Land Commission taking the greater part of the surrounding estate. Many of the ancillary buildings are no longer part of Townley Hall, including the former stableyard. Almost every other part of the former estate has been restored and brought into use, but sadly this element, which is, it seems, independently owned, has languished in neglect for a number of years, and is now in poor repair. Even if not as originally intended by Johnston, the yard remains associated with what is widely judged to be his masterpiece, and accordingly deserves a better fate.
Thro’ the long morning have I toil’d
O’er heath and lonely wood,
And cross the dark untrodden glen
The fearful game pursu’d:
But deeper now the gathering clouds
Collect along the sky,
And faint and weary warn my steps
Their homeward course to hie.
And now the driving mist withdraws
Her grey and vapoury veil:
I mark again the sacred tower
I pass’d in yonder dale.
A little while, and I shall gain
Yon hill’s laborious height;
And then perhaps my humble cot
Will chear my grateful sight.
Ah now I see the smoke ascend
From forth the glimmering thatch;
Now my heart beats at every step,
And now I lift the latch;
Now starting from my blazing hearth
My little children bound,
And loud with shrill and clamorous joy
Their happy sire surround.
How sweet when Night first wraps the world
Beneath her sable vest,
To sit beside the crackling fire
With weary limbs at rest;
And think on all the labours past,
That Morn’s bright hours employ’d,
While all, that toil and danger seem’d,
Is now at home enjoy’d.
The wild and fearful distant scene,
Lone covert, whistling storm,
Seem now in Memory’s mellowing eye
To wear a softer form;
And while my wand’rings I describe,
As froths the nut-brown ale,
My dame and little list’ning tribe
With wonder hear the tale.
Then soft enchanting slumbers calm,
My heavy eyelids close,
And on my humble bed I sink
To most profound repose;
Save, that by fits, the scenes of day,
Come glancing on my sight,
And, touch’d by Fancy’s magic wand,
Seem visions of delight.
The Gamekeeper’s Return at Night by Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges (1821).
Photographs of the former Gamekeeper’s Lodge at Woodlawn, County Galway.
Everywhere one travels in Ireland, ranges of abandoned old farm buildings can be found in varying states of dereliction. It’s easy to understand why this should be the case; in many instances, the structures were poorly constructed and are unsuitable for adaptation to modern farming methods. The buildings may no longer be in the right location for whoever is working the land, and not have immediate access to electricity and mains water. None of these drawbacks is incapable of resolution, but frequently the simplest answer looks to be the construction of new facilities and abandonment of old. However, an alternative option does exist for those interested in the conservation of traditional buildings in the Irish countryside.
For the past decade, the Heritage Council has been administering distribution of GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environmental Scheme) Traditional Farm Buildings Grants. As the relevant documentation states, ‘The principal objective of this scheme is to ensure that traditional farm buildings and other related structures that contribute to the character of the landscape, and are of significant heritage value, are conserved for active agricultural use.’ Only farmers approved in the GLAS scheme are eligible, and grants are never for more than 75% of the cost of work with a maximum of €25,000 available. There have been some constraints to the scheme – for example, this year grant offers were only made in April yet all work has to be completed by October – but overall it is hard to fault a programme designed to ensure that not all of Ireland’s traditional agricultural buildings, and the impression they make on our landscape, are lost forever.
Not all agricultural complexes are necessarily best-suited to continue performing their original function, thereby making them ineligible for a Traditional Farm Building Grant. Nevertheless, alternative uses have been found in a number of instances, some of which have featured here in the past, such as the complex at Ballilogue, County Kilkenny (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/10/14/in-the-vernacular) and a not-dissimilar property in County Tipperary (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/11/making-the-most-of-our-own) . Both cases make it clear that older farm buildings can have an afterlife, provided they are perceived with sufficient vision and imagination. This has also been true of another agricultural range at Dromore Yard, County Waterford. Dating back several centuries, the buildings were in a very poor state until taken in hand a few years ago and adapted as a site for performances and associated entertainment. The complex was used last year on a number of occasions during the annual Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, and will serve a similar purpose during the festival again this year (May 29th-June 3rd). Aside from stabilising the buildings and ensuring their future, intervention has been minimal but masterful: their original character and purpose remain apparent. No effort has been made to give them the architectural equivalent of a face-lift. Their age is apparent, their weather-beaten elevations and interiors left unaltered. Dromore Yard shows how easy it can be to give new life and purpose to an old structure: it offers an example that deserves to be more widely emulated.
For further information on this year’s Blackwater Valley Opera Festival, including events at Dromore Yard, see: https://blackwatervalleyoperafestival.com
According to an entry in buildingsofireland.ie, this building ‘gives strong architectural definition to its context, and forms a landmark at a crossroads on the main Virginia-Cavan Road.’ Dating from c.1870, the house was probably built for estate workers employed by the Marquess of Headfort whose former lodge lies not far away.
The building is particularly interesting because although looking like a single house from the front, it actually contained four residences, each with its own entrance. Given such a prominent position on the main road from the north into Virginia, County Cavan and the property’s historic associations its ongoing neglect is regrettable.