Located on the summit of Carrick Wood, County Laois, this is Ireland’s other – and older – Spire. A circular folly crowned with an immensely tall stone conical roof, the date of its construction is uncertain. Writing in 1801, Sir Charles Coote proposed that the spire had been erected ‘to give employment to the poor in the year of the great frost’ (namely 1740-41). On the other hand, in 1814 William Shaw Mason wrote that it had been built ‘by the late Lord Viscount Carlow, grand-father of the present Earl of Portarlington’. Since the Carlow viscountcy was only created in 1776, this suggests a later period of construction. Another notion is that the building was originally a windmill, later converted into a folly. Restored in 2005, it remains in good condition although, alas, marred by the inevitable – and inevitably unimaginative – graffiti.
Known locally as the Lacken Gazebo, this wonderful folly sits on high ground above the north coast of County Mayo, offering spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean. Looking like a bastard child of the Conolly Folly, County Kildare, the building similarly features a series of arches and is crowned by a number of obelisks. Constructed of rubble stone, the building is thought to date from the closing decade of the 18th century when it would have been one of the demesne improvements carried out by Sir John Roger Palmer whose residence, Castle Lacken – now a ruin – stood on ground immediately below.
Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise.
Helen’s Tower, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
A granddaughter of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in 1825 18-year old Helen Sheridan married the Hon Price Blackwood who, although a third son, would become fourth Baron Dufferin and Claneboye owing to the deaths of his two older brothers. The groom’s parents opposed the match, having hoped for a better, more wealthy bride than the beautiful but impoverished Helen Sheridan whose father had died when she was ten, leaving behind a widow and three daughters who lived in a grace-and-favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace. The Blackwoods had one child, a son called Frederick, and lived in London until he inherited the family title and estate in Ireland in 1839. Two years later, Price Dufferine died, having been accidentally prescribed an overdose of morphine by a pharmacist. Like her mother before her, Lady Dufferin was now left a widow, her only son Frederick then aged 15. The two remained close for the next 26 years, until her own death in 1867. Long before then, in 1848 the young Lord Dufferin had embarked on the construction of a tower on his estate at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down. Designed by Scottish architect William Burn, unsurprisingly the building is in the baronial style, of four storeys leading up to a flat, turreted roof that offers superlative views of the surrounding countryside. A porch at the base which provides access to the tower carries a date stone with the year 1850, along with a coronet and two opposed Ds with an ampersand between them, representing the Dufferin title. However, despite carrying this date, the building does not appear to have been finished, until the early 1860s when it was fitted with an interior stone spiral staircase giving access to the upper floors and roof. A room on the second floor has a coffered ceiling, the panels of which are painted with circular inscriptions enclosing coronets and crests. Above this is the oak-panelled library with a ribbed groin vaulted ceiling, the centre of which concludes in a pendant. When completed, the building was named Helen’s Tower, in honour of Lord Dufferin’s mother, who was herself a talented writer and poet. As a result, her son invited a number of the most famous poets of the period – among them Tennyson and Browning – to write verses about Helen Dufferin and her tower: many of these were then engraved on metal plates which can still be seen on the walls of the library.
Who hears of Helen’s Tower, may dream perchance
How the Greek Beauty from the Scaean Gate
Gazed on old friends unanimous in hate,
Death-doom’d because of her fair countenance.
Hearts would leap otherwise, at thy advance,
Lady, to whom this Tower is consecrate!
Like hers, thy face once made all eyes elate,
Yet, unlike hers, was bless’d by every glance.
The Tower of Hate is outworn, far and strange:
A transitory shame of long ago,
It dies into the sand from which it sprang;
But thine, Love’s rock-built Tower, shall fear no change:
God’s self laid stable earth’s foundations so,
When all the morning-stars together sang.
Helen’s Tower, by Robert Browning.
Helen’s Tower is now managed by the Irish Landmark Trust and offered for short-term lets, see: Helen’s Tower | Self Catering Accommodation in Bangor, Co Down (irishlandmark.com)
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!
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
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.
The most famous folly in Ireland, this is the Jealous Wall at Belvedere, County Westmeath. Some 180 feet long, this theatrical sham ruin was constructed around 1760 by Robert Rochfort, first Earl of Belvedere. Intended to look like the remains of an ancient castle, the three-storey wall incorporates a series of stepped towers, some of which have arched Gothic windows and, at the centre of the ground floor, a three-bay loggia. Seemingly it was built in order to block the view from Belvedere south towards Tudenham Park, a house further along Lough Ennell which had been erected some years before by the earl’s younger brother, George Rochfort. The siblings subsequently quarreled, hence the wall was put up here.
The 18th century English polymath Thomas Wright has featured here before because of his rightly-renowned work at Tollymore, County Down (Do the Wright Thing « The Irish Aesthete ), but it is apparent that while in Ireland during the year 1746-47, he also designed a number of other garden buildings elsewhere in the country. One of these is a rustic archway at Belvedere, County Westmeath, which would have been constructed around the same time as the villa here and so commissioned by Robert Rochfort, then Baron Belfield and future first Earl of Belvedere. This extraordinary structure is almost Mannerist in style and, as has been pointed out, would not look out of place in the 16th century Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo: the openings on the facade suggest a giant’s startled face. The arch stands at the end of a long drive from the house and although sometimes thought to have been an entrance lodge, this seems unlikely since its rear – which visitors would have encountered first had it served as a point of arrival to the estate – is unornamented. Clearly therefore the building was meant to close a vista and, since it once held several floors, to offer views back to the main residence and across Lough Ennell: note the wonderful rusticated oriel window on an upper level.
Situated to the immediate north-west of Dundalk, the Dún Dealgan Motte is associated with a number of myths, one of them being that this was the birthplace of the Irish legendary hero, Cúchulainn. Around 1180, the Normans were responsible for creating the present substantial earthwork which consists of a flat-topped mound some ten metres above the surrounding countryside, encircled by a deep fosse with a diameter of around 97 metres. It is likely that a wooden fortification was then erected on the top of the site, but this has long since vanished. Towards the end of the 18th century, a local merchant called Patrick Byrne (sometimes described as a ‘pirate’ since he may have been involved in smuggling) erected the castellated tower that can be seen today. Although damaged in the 1798 rebellion, it remained standing and around the mid-19th century was further enlarged and embellished by Colonel Thomas Vesey Dawson as a country retreat. However, the building subsequently fell into disrepair before being burnt out in the 1920s, leaving just a ruin of the tower, commonly known as Byrne’s Folly.
As far back as the late 13th century Herbertstown, sometimes called Harbourstown, County Meath was associated with the Caddells, a family of Anglo-Norman origin who, despite the Penal Laws, remained true to the Roman Catholic faith and at the same time managed to hold onto their lands in this part of the country. Their residence here, of two storeys and six bays with the facade distinguished by an Ionic portico, was originally constructed in the mid-18th century but presumably later enlarged or altered, as it was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as ‘a handsome modern mansion, with a demesne comprising more than 400 acres tastefully laid out and well-planted, and commanding an extensive view from the summit of a tower within the grounds, which forms a conspicuous landmark to mariners.’ Herbertstown House was demolished at some date in the 1930s/40s but the ‘tower’ survives. Dating from c.1760, it is actually a polygonal limestown gazebo, with large round-headed openings on each side, one of which drops to the ground to provide access to the interior. Although now roofless and open to the elements, a balustraded platform around the top of the building (once section missing) indicates this once held a viewing platform, which makes sense as the gazebo stands at the summit of an artificial mound and offers superlative prospects of the surrounding countryside. Local legend has it that the Caddell responsible for constructing the building used it to watch racing at Bellewstown, some four miles away, after he had fallen out with the event’s organisers.
Dominating the local landscape, this is Castleboy Tower, County Galway. Five storeys high and thought to date from the opening years of the 19th century, the building was once part of an estate owned by a branch of the Persse family, who also lived at the adjacent estate of Roxborough (childhood home of Lady Gregory) , and it would appear to have been constructed as a folly, or perhaps converted into one using an earlier building on the site. When the Land Commission divided up the estate, the tower was left stranded to one side of a small road constructed to provide access to various small farms and now provides the only surviving memory of the Persses’ presence here.
Tucked down a minor rural road, the Stroan Fountain, County Kilkenny was for a long time thought to date from the third quarter of the 18th century: a damaged inscription carries the numerals 66, leading to speculation that these were preceded by 17. However, the rest of the legible text notes that the fountain had been ‘erected by subscription by permission of the Landlord Gervase Bushe. Designed and arranged by Thomas Seigne.’ Bushe was resident at the nearby Kilfane estate, where Seigne acted as land agent from c.1830 to c.1870. The structure comprises a limestone basin covered with a dome on top of which sits an obelisk; by means of a buried pipe, the fountain is fed from a cistern approximately 40 metres to the north-west. The cistern is in turn fed by a natural spring. Three stone steps provide access to the fountain and its two outlets, one for filling barrels placed on a donkey and cart and the other for buckets placed on a pair of stones. By the start of the present century, the fountain and its surroundings had fallen into disrepair but thanks to a number of organisations including a local heritage society, the county council and the Follies Trust, it was underwent restoration in 2010.