On the south wall of the chancel in a now ruinous late-medieval church in Ardrahan, County Galway can be found a monument to the Taylor family who for many centuries lived nearby in Castle Taylor, a house abandoned in the 1930s and now just a shell. The inscription reads: ‘This monument was erected by Capt. John Taylor and Walter Taylor Esq. for them and their posterities, 1747.’
Described by William Butler Yeats as ‘the drunken man of genius’, architect William Alphonsus Scott was mentioned here earlier this year, with regard to his designs for the model village of Talbot’s Inch, County Kilkenny (see An Act of Philanthropy « The Irish Aesthete). Born in 1871, Scott was the son of an architect who established his own practice in Drogheda, County Louth; after finishing at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, Scott worked for a time in his father’s office, and then in that of Thomas Newenham Deane (where his father had also once worked). He spent a further six years with his father and in 1897 the two men won a commission to design the new town hall in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Scott then moved to London for several years, where he absorbed the influences of the arts and crafts movement, being particularly inspired by the work of Philip Webb and Charles Voysey (the latter apparent in his houses at Talbot’s Inch). Returning to Ireland, he spent a further brief time with his father before establishing his own practice and in 1903 was asked to design a new country house, Killyhevlin on the outskirts of Enniskillen. It appears to have been in consequence of this that Edward Martyn, a key figure in the Irish literary revival, heard of Scott and so recommended him to Martin Morris, future second Lord Killanin, who was seeking an architect to design a new Roman Catholic church in Spiddal, County Galway.
In 1950 Martin Morris’s nephew, the third Lord Killanin, published a long article in The Furrow about St Enda’s church in Spiddal, where his family owned a property. Until the start of the last century, this little town overlooking Galway Bay was just an impoverished hamlet. Nevertheless, as elsewhere across the country, the local Catholic people were determined to have their own decent place of worship; by the 1990s, the existing church was not only too small but in a bad state of repair. The parish priest embarked on a fund-raising campaign, with some £2,725 coming from parishioners, another £1,160 from supporters in the United States and almost £1,300 from the Morris family. Work on the site began in 1904 and was completed three years later; the eventual cost of the building was just over £5,580. As Bridget Hourican has noted in her entry on Scott in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, the architect’s designs ‘were simple, sparing of decoration, boldly executed, and often had a heavy monumental quality.’ These features are certainly apparent in St Enda’s. Constructed from granite with limestone used for the window dressings, the church draws influence from the early Irish Romanesque style, as is especially apparent in the door and window openings, but it is influence not imitation: Scott has borrowed elements from the likes of Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel without copying them. As was noted in an obituary following his early death in 1921, his ambition was ‘to strike out for himself a fresh and original type of design.’
Unlike many other Irish Catholic churches subjected to needless alteration in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, St Enda’s still retains much of the appearance it had when first finished 115 years ago. Writing even before that date, Robert Elliott in Art in Ireland wrote of the building ‘Mr. Scott, with his knowledge of good work, took into consideration I fancy (for I have not cared to ask him), the landscape, the material and the type of the people who will worship in his church; who tell beads, and pray simply rather than desire garish light to read bulky manuals of devotion. Necessary walls with a roof and a tower for bells, and a gallery for singing…’ Like Loughrea Cathedral, County Galway, where Scott would design many of the furnishings, St Enda’s is a repository of early 20th century Irish craftsmanship, with the stained glass windows designed in An Túr Gloine (The Glass Tower), the cooperative established by Sarah Purser in 1903. The finest of these is one dedicated to the memory of Col. the Hon George Morris (father of the third Lord Killanin), killed in France in 1914 while commanding the Irish Guards. The Stations of the Cross, unusually in opus sectile, were designed in 1915 by Ethel Mary Rhind, also of An Túr Gloine. Since the church is in a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) part of the country, the inscriptions beneath each station are in Irish.
It is likely that today the majority of visitors passing through Spiddal merely observe St Enda’s as another place of worship, such as are found in every town and village throughout Ireland. But it is something more than that: the church deserves to be seen and appreciated as one of the birthplaces of a new visual identity here, the manifestation of a wish to create a fresh and distinctive architectural language for the country. Whether that wish was ever completely fulfilled is a discussion for another time.
After Wednesday’s post, here is a somewhat larger memorial, found at Cregaclare, County Galway. This little Gothic mausoleum commemorates John Charles Robert Bingham, fourth Baron Clanmorris who lived in nearby Cregaclare House (since demolished) and who died in 1876. Dating from 1890 and set within the ruins of a late-mediaeval church, the mausoleum was erected by Lord Clanmorris’s widow, Sarah Selina Persse who was also interred there following her death in 1907. The couple’s remains stayed inside the building until 1947 when removed to a graveyard in nearby Ardrahan.
‘Clifden is situated at the head of one of the most picturesque of the many bays of Connemara. It is about four miles from the ocean, but vessels of large tonnage can be brought up within a short distance of the town. The town is protected from the westerly gales by a range of lofty hills. It has been laid out in broad streets, and with some degree of regularity. It is favourably situated for drainage, and has from its situations various other local advantages.
It is mainly to the late John D’Arcy, Esq., of Clifden Castle, that Clifden is indebted for its existence. By granting liberal leases, frequently upon lives renewable forever on payment of small fines, that gentleman induced individuals to lay out their money in buildings of a decent class to such an extent as to form a town. The place now contains nearly 250 dwelling-houses, among which are several tolerable shops. There are also two inns, a large catholic chapel, a protestant church, a dispensary, a corn-store and several flour-mills. Antecedent to the famine, there was a growing export grain trade from this place; and as much as a thousand tons of oats have been shipped here in one year. From the mode in which Clifden was originally let, the amount of rental to its proprietor in no degree represents the value of the town. It produces, under existing leases, little more than £200 per annum. This, however, may be regarded in the light of a ground rent, and the whole of it under every state of circumstances is necessarily well secured.’
‘The D’Arcys of Clifden, who have been referred to as the proprietors of this town, are one of the most ancient and honourable families in Ireland. As their name indicates, they are of Norman extraction. There are said to be more peerages in abeyance in this family, than in any other in the empire. They boast of two baronies in abeyance, of a third forfeited, of three others extinct, and of an earldom, that of Holdernesse, which also expired by want of direct descendants. The first D’Arcy who settled in Ireland, came to the country in 1330. James D’Arcy was Vice-President in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and his son was one of the most distinguished members of the Catholic Convention in Ireland, in 1641. The original lands of the D’Arcys were lost by forfeiture; this, their latest wild possession, was obtained, it is stated, by a female of the family, as a reward of an act of generous heroism in protecting the lives of some English soldiers.’
‘The Clifden estate comprises, in addition to the town, the mansion and demesne of Clifden Castle, numerous islands in the bays and on the coast, and a large extent of territory on the peninsula, on which a reference to the map will show the reader that the town of Clifden stands. Clifden Castle itself is about two miles westward from the town. It stands at the head of a little bay of its own, protected by a semicircle of hills from the winds and storms which sometimes devastate the coast. There are plantations of twenty or thirty years’ growth about the house, which also minister to its protection. The edifice itself is a castellated villa. There is nothing about it which is at all magnificent; but its appearance from all points affords an idea of good taste, and even of refinement. The views from Clifden Castle extend to the ocean, over an expanse of bay, studded with rocky islands, and protected both upon the north and south by a long projecting range of headland. The aspect is wild and varied, and to the lover of marine scenery most striking. The shores are bold and rocky, though not generally lofty. Happy would it be were they more generally visited!’
Text from The Encumbered Estates of Ireland by W.T.H., 1850.
Dating from 1815, as mentioned above, Clifden Castle was built by John D’Arcy who a few years earlier had founded the nearby town of the same name: the architect responsible is unknown. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, his son was obliged to sell house and estate, its new owners – the Eyre family from Bath – buying both for £21, 245. They remained in possession of the place until 1917 when it was controversially sold to a local butcher. A few years later the castle and adjacent land was acquired by a cooperative and in the mid-1930s the building was stripped of all saleable materials and left the ruin still seen today.
On Monday, the Irish Times carried a report noting that Ireland’s Health Service Executive owns hundreds of unused buildings across the state, some of which have been left vacant for decades (see: HSE owns hundreds of unused buildings, figures show (irishtimes.com)). This will not come as news to anyone who is concerned for the welfare of the country’s architectural heritage: the HSE is responsible for many historic sites, and a large number of them have been left not just vacant, but badly neglected, such as the former St Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe, County Galway (above). A vast range of buildings designed by William Murray and opened in 1833, it closed 180 years later and has stood abandoned ever since. The HSE is by no means the only offender in this respect. Columb (originally Wellington) Barracks in Mullingar, County Westmeath provided accommodation for troops from 1819 until 2011, when it closed down: owned by the Department of Defence, the site has since been left largely empty, a prey to vandalism and creeping decay. Last winter – a full decade after the last troops left – the Land Development Agency produced a report on the site, with the promise that further information would follow in due course. No doubt something will eventually happen here, but after 11 years nobody can be accused of rushing into hasty decision-making.
A few points need to be made about both these and many other such premises, the first of which is that they are owned by the people of Ireland: the relevant state bodies in whose care they remain, are supposed to be their custodians. These are national assets, and the abysmal failure to take due care of them is at a cost to everyone else: the more they fall into decay, the less they are worth, to the detriment of all of us. In addition, the two examples shown here, and many more besides, are often close to urban centres and therefore ideally suited to provide ample accommodation for those who unfortunately don’t have it at present. In recent days, for example, it has been reported that a tent village is being prepared for Romanian refugees in Gormanstown, County Meath. This is an extraordinary state of affairs: why should anyone have to sleep in a tent when the HSE, and other agencies, own so many vacant buildings. Furthermore, if the state is supposed to lead by example, what sort of example is set by the likes of the HSE and the Department of Defence? Why should private owners worry about neglecting their property, when state authorities do so on a much larger scale? A reminder: this is a shameful – and shameless – squandering of our assets, and we are the losers as a result.
Since last year, two Cork-based sustainable designers, Jude Sherry and Frank O’Connor have been driving a campaign – primarily via Twitter (look for #derelictireland) but also through other channels – to tackle the shameful and ongoing problem of dereliction in Ireland. This is a long-standing issue which has been allowed to fester for far too long. Last October,
research by UK price comparison website money.co.uk reported that 9.1 % of the State’s housing stock, equating to more than 183,000 units, were classified as vacant – with 4,000 of these being owned by local authorities. Furthermore, the following month it was revealed that during 2020 the same local authorities had collected €378,000 through the Derelict Sites Levy, a small fraction of the almost €12.5 million in cumulative unpaid charges which could have been claimed. A large number of vacant properties can be classified as derelict, which is hardly surprising when owners see so little effort is made to ensure they maintain buildings in their possession. As anyone who has travelled around Ireland can testify, everywhere, in urban and rural settings alike, there are houses falling gradually, and seemingly irrevocably, into decay. These are a blight on a nation and ought to be a matter of shame, but instead too often the only response is indifference. Hence the importance of Sherry and O’Connor’s work.
Close to the shores of Lough Corrib, Oughterard, County Galway lies on the main route to Connemara: almost all traffic heading west passes through the town. Before doing so, all traffic must also pass the shabby remains of the former Connemara Gateway Hotel. This former 62-bedroom property on around six acres closed its doors some years ago, and is currently for sale for €2.4 million. In September 2019, some refurbishment was undertaken as the owner sought to have it leased by the state as a Direct Provision Centre. There had been no consultation with the local population which, when this notion became public, rallied to oppose the scheme; it was duly abandoned. So, the building now sits empty and falling ever further into decay, serving as a welcome when visitors arrive in the west of Ireland. Then, as they leave Oughterard, those visitors have an opportunity to inspect a further example of the national penchant for dereliction: the former Sweeney’s Oughterard House Hotel. The front of this building dates from the early 18th century when it was constructed as a private residence: it was subsequently, and clumsily, extended to the rear. Like the Connemara Gateway Hotel, the property has stood empty for some years and is in an increasingly poor state of repair.
One small Irish town, two large properties capable of providing accommodation to upwards of 100 people left to stand empty and neglected. In Ireland, property ownership is sacrosanct. Owners believe they are entitled to do what they like with the buildings in their possession, and that includes doing nothing. Hence the increasing number of buildings lying vacant and decaying. In February, Irish Times columnist David McWilliams wrote – not for the first time – that dereliction is vandalism and must be stopped (see https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/david-mcwilliams-dereliction-is-vandalism-and-must-be-stopped-1.4798979). What’s more, the state allows this vandalism to persist. Legislation exists providing both national and local governments with the necessary powers to intervene and halt dereliction, but both persistently fail to exercise them. Until they do so, the likes of these two Oughterard buildings will continue to be found right around the country.
As was mentioned last Monday (see A Rich Man’s Extravagance « The Irish Aesthete), Margaret Henry, wife of the man who had commissioned Kylemore Castle, County Galway, died in 1874 while the family was travelling in Egypt. Her body was brought back to Ireland and three years after her death, work began on a commemorative church in the grounds of the estate. The architect responsible was James Franklin Fuller, who chose to design a 14th century English cathedral in miniature, the exterior of dressed rubble limestone relieved with crisp limestone ashlar for the fenestration and porch as well as such details as the angels which conceal dripstones at the base of the steeply pitched roof.
Inside the building, the three-bay nave rises to an elaborate vaulted ceiling supported by piers featuring differently-coloured Irish marbles. At the west end of the chancel, below a hexafoil rose window over two triple lights, the space is occupied by a sandstone sedilia, delicately carved with flowers and foliage. Finished in 1881, and restored in the 1990s, the Kylemore chapel is unquestionably one of Fuller’s finest works and well worth a visit.
Born in County Down in 1766, at the age of 17 Alexander Henry emigrated to America where he established himself as a merchant in Philadelphia. Some years later, his nephew, also called Alexander Henry in turn moved to Philadelphia where he joined his uncle’s business, but then came back across the Atlantic to settle in England in 1804. The following year, in partnership with his elder brother Samuel, he set up a company in Manchester, A & S Henry & Co Ltd, that specialised in the marketing and distribution of cotton. The business was enormously successful, opening branch offices in Bradford, Belfast, Leeds, Huddersfield and Glasgow to act as collecting stations for textile products of all kinds; in consequence, the founding family soon became very wealthy, allowing its members to buy country houses and become Members of Parliament, as Alexander Henry duly did, representing South Lancashire.
Mitchell Henry was born in 1826, second son of Alexander Henry, who some years earlier had married Elizabeth Brush, like him a native of County Down. Mitchell Henry trained to be a doctor, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and senior consultant at the Middlesex Hospital, London by the age of 30. However, following his father’s death in 1858, he ceased practising medicine, instead seeking election as an MP. Before then, he had married Margaret Vaughan whose family, once again, came from County Down; the couple would have nine children. Prior to that, and during their honeymoon, they travelled to the west of Ireland and were much taken with the scenery of Connemara. In consequence, after coming into his considerable inheritance, and following the Great Famine when large swathes of the country were offered for sale, Henry was able to buy Kylemore Lodge and some 13,000 acres of land in the west of Ireland from the impoverished Blake family. Here, from 1864 onwards, he embarked on building a new residence. At that date, this part of the country was exceptionally remote. The architect, and keen self-publicist, James Franklin Fuller, who designed the church at Kylemore (built in memory of Margaret Henry, following her unexpected death in 1874), remembered that to get there ‘was no easy matter. The train landed me at Westport the first day, the next meant posting to Leenane, the third was devoted to castle and church, while the fourth dropped me at Westport in time for the night mail; practically it “spoiled” a week.’ Constructing a large castle was something of an act of folly, since it involved considerable amounts of earthworks to clear the chosen site, as well as moving a road to the opposite side of Lake Pollacappul. As if that didn’t involve sufficient expense, instead of using local stone, the client insisted the building be cased in granite from Dalkey, County Dublin, sent by ship from one side of the country to the other. The main architect to work on this job was Galway-based Samuel Ussher Roberts, a great-grandson of the 18th century Waterford architect John Roberts. His design consists, as Mark Bence-Jones noted, of ‘romantic groupings of battlemented and machiolated towers and turrets’, the facade broken up by large and regular groupings of mullioned windows and oriels.’ The castle benefits enormously from its setting, with the mountains rising immediately to the rear and the lake, in which it is often seen reflected, directly in front. The interiors, beginning with the dark-panelled entrance hall, are harder to judge not least because they have been altered by subsequent owners and in addition were damaged by a fire in 1959. Their appearance, however, lacks the Gothic character of the exterior, and instead displays standard mid-Victorian style. The main reception rooms are large and high-ceilinged, with a variety of marbles employed for the chimney pieces, the finest of these being in the drawing room. The staircase hall leads to a first-floor gallery around which were grouped the main bedrooms. There is little here to set the space apart from any other country house of the period. In addition to the main castle, Mitchell Henry was responsible for commissioning the development of an eight-acre walled garden to supply him with all necessary fruit and vegetables: this has been restored in recent years.
Kylemore Castle was not Mitchell Henry’s only residence: he also owned a large property in London, Stratheden House. Originally designed in the early 1770s by Sir William Chambers, it was bought by Henry in 1863 and transformed into a vast Italianate villa by architect T. H. Wyatt before being filled with the owner’s objects d’art which included an antique bust of Agrippa and The Pompeian Mother, a statue by Giosuè Meli’s depicting a woman and child fleeing from the eruption of Vesuvius: this was displayed in its own Pompeian-style temple within the house. Much of the furniture was modern Italian replicas of originals in the Vatican and the Pitti Palace and among the most remarkable rooms was a library with ebonized woodwork and gold mouldings, green silkhung walls, and an ornate ceiling and frieze in Venetian cinquecento style, embellished with portraits of philosophers and poets. Alas, the extravagance of building and maintaining two such enormous and expensive houses, as well as draining bogland and improving conditions in Connemara, proved to be Henry’s undoing. From being very rich, he became rather poor; at the time of his death in 1910, he had only a few hundred pounds. Ten years earlier, Strathedan House and its contents were sold, and the building soon after pulled down, replaced by a block of apartments. Then in 1903 Kylemore Castle was also sold, to William Montagu, ninth Duke of Manchester and his wife, the American heiress Helena Zimmerman. The duke was a notorious spendthrift, as he proceeded to demonstrate in County Galway where he transformed much of the interior of his new property, taking out large quantities of stained glass from the main staircase window and much Connemara marble from a number of the rooms. Despite the considerable wealth of his wife’s family, he managed to run up an impressive number of debts: by 1918, 66 petitions of bankruptcy had been filed against him in the English courts. Two years later, Kylemore Castle was sold once more, this time to Benedictine nuns from Ypres, Belgian. Now called Kylemore Abbey, the order remains there to the present day. After running a girls’ boarding school on the site for many years, they have now turned it into one of the most successful tourist attractions in this part of Ireland.
Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens, an exhibition curated by the Irish Aesthete and featuring more than fifty specially-commissioned paintings by artists Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse has now opened at Kylemore Abbey where it can be seen until the end of April.
Eight years ago, the Irish Aesthete wrote about the Volunteer Arch at Lawrencetown, County Galway (see: Gateway to the New Year « The Irish Aesthete). As was explained then, this monumental gateway was built in 1782 as the principal entrance to an estate called Bellevue owned by Colonel Walter Lawrence, an ardent supporter of the Volunteer movement and of Henry Grattan’s efforts to achieve greater legislative independence for the Irish parliament. Following the realisation of the latter ambition, the colonel erected this arch which consists of a main entrance flanked by smaller openings which in turn are connected to two-room lodges. The entrance is surmounted by a pediment topped with an urn and with a carved medallion beneath, while sphinxes rest on either side. A recessed panel directly beneath the pediment bears a Latin inscription which translated reads ‘Liberty after a long servitude was won on the 16th April 1782 by the armed sons of Hibernia, who with heroic fortitude, regained their Ancient Laws and established their Ancient Independence.’ The arch was restored some years ago, not least thanks to the efforts of a local voluntary group, but what was once the private entrance to an estate is now a public road and in consequence the structure recently suffered serious damage, as can be seen in the images below: these suggest that a tall vehicle collided with the upper section of the arch, knocking out the keystone and thereby rendering the whole thing vulnerable to collapse. Since it is listed for protection, the local authority has, it seems, committed to carrying out necessary repairs, and these need to be undertaken sooner rather than later if the arch is to survive. But just as importantly, some protective bollards need to be erected in its immediate vicinity, and perhaps something discreet to moderate the height of vehicles passing under the arch. Otherwise this will remain an accident waiting to happen again.
Following last Wednesday’s post on the sad state of Woodlawn, County Galway (see Famously Abandoned « The Irish Aesthete) here are a couple of very early photographs of the place. Dating from the mid-1840s, they show the house prior to its transformation into the building which can be seen (albeit in very poor condition) today. This took place in 1859, seven years after the second baron had married, as his second spouse, the wealthy Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne of Castle Oliver, County Limerick. It can be seen that the house’s facade formerly had full-height bows on either side of a recessed entrance with Venetian window on the first floor, and that there were single-storey wings on either side ending in what look to have been pavilions with three great arched windows beneath pediments. All of this would soon afterwards be encased in an elaborate – and no doubt expensive – Italianate aspect.