Further instances of the near-ubiquitous urban dereliction now found in Ireland: houses close to the central square of Johnstown, County Kilkenny, a town laid out in the 18th century by the Hely family who lived nearby in Foulkstown House. The latter has since been lost, although some of the associated buildings survive. However, it looks like these little properties will not last much longer.
Last week, a group of graduate scholars and fellows from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) held a meeting in Dublin to propose the establishment of an Irish branch of the organisation. SPAB was founded in England in 1877 by two idealists, the designer and writer William Morris and the architect Philip Webb. They, and other members of their circle, were concerned about what they, often correctly, saw as ill-conceived and over-zealous ‘restoration’ of old buildings, the effect of which was to obliterate much evidence of a property’s cumulative history. This is a situation that has pertained here too, and on occasion continues to do so: for example, a particular moment in a house’s evolution can be selected and anything not relevant to that moment is scrupulously removed. Not only does this have the effect of air-brushing the background, but it often leads to speculative adjustment, to a recreation of what those responsible for the restoration believe would be correct. This is what Morris deemed ‘forgery’, and what he and Webb witnessed happening to buildings across England, especially old churches and cathedrals, and the same ill-advised approach was often adopted here (viz. what happened to both Christchurch and St Patrick’s Cathedrals in the 19th century). Repair not Restore is the motto of SPAB.
Here is the most significant, and most often quoted, section of the manifesto written by William Morris in 1877 to define the purpose and ideology of SPAB: ‘It is for all these buildings, therefore, of all times and styles, that we plead, and call upon those who have to deal with them, to put Protection in the place of Restoration, to stave off decay by daily care, to prop a perilous wall or mend a leaky roof by such means as are obviously meant for support or covering, and show no pretence of other art, and otherwise to resist all tampering with either the fabric or ornament of the building as it stands; if it has become inconvenient for its present use, to raise another building rather than alter or enlarge the old one; in fine to treat our ancient buildings as monuments of a bygone art, created by bygone manners, that modern art cannot meddle with without destroying. Thus, and thus only, shall we escape the reproach of our learning being turned into a snare to us; thus, and thus only can we protect our ancient buildings, and hand them down instructive and venerable to those that come after us.’
There are many merits to the creation of an Irish branch of SPAB, not least the opportunity thus provided to draw on its experience, and the skills of both members and graduates from various programmes run by the organisation. We need more skilled conservators across a range of disciplines, and the training courses run by SPAB are unquestionably of high quality. On the other hand, much of what SPAB does in England is already being done here by a number of existing bodies, and there is the risk of already-scarce resources being further diluted by the entry of another player into the field. Multiplication ought not to lead to duplication. Anyone who attended last week’s inaugural meeting could not fail to be impressed by the ardor and commitment of those who had called it. One of the best features of SPAB is the manner in which it puts ideology into practice, through the organising of various events during which members put their talents to use. Today’s photographs show the kind of property where the intervention of SPAB could make a real difference. The pictures are of a collection of buildings in the yards behind an old house in County Wexford. Various structures have undergone alterations and modifications over time, presumably as their purpose, and the needs of earlier owners, has required. Now they have a special patina that only long and diverse history can convey. Repair not Restore would see these buildings retain that patina, while being given the chance to have a viable future. If SPAB in Ireland can do that here, and in many other places around the country, then its establishment will be of inestimable value to us all.
*Anyone interested in making contact with the advocates of an Irish branch of SPAB, at the moment the best means of making contact appears to be through twitter: @SPABIreland.
The upper section of the double-height stair hall in 7 Henrietta Street, Dublin. The house dates from the early 1740s and retains some of its original interior, albeit in a much mutilated condition. For example, as can be seen below with a handful of exceptions the carved balusters were removed over a century ago when the building was divided into tenements and replaced with coarse timber uprights. But the walls retain their plaster panelling, a battered recollection of how splendid this space must once have been.
What still stands of Duleek House, County Meath. The limestone-fronted façade of the building was added c.1750 to a residence probably half a century older, as can be seen by a side-view below. If not designed by Richard Castle the front section was certainly much influenced by him, and the tripartite doorcase is very similar to that of the last surviving 18th century house on Dublin’s O’Connell Street (no. 42).
The interior featured an entrance hall with three arched openings to the rear providing access to the staircase and reception rooms with neo-classical plasterwork. When surveyed for the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Duleek House was still intact and occupied. Since then it has deteriorated into the present dangerous condition and appears unlikely to survive much longer. The building is of course listed for protection.
Buried deep in the undergrowth: the remains of Bellanagare Castle, County Roscommon. This was formerly the seat of the O’Conor family including the antiquarian, proponent of ancient Gaelic culture and ardent advocate of Roman Catholic rights Charles O’Conor (1710-1791) who served as the O’Conor Don (that is, a descendant of the ancient line that provided one hundred Kings of Connacht and eleven High Kings of Ireland). Here he lived until the marriage of his son in 1760 after which he moved to a small cottage nearby. What survives suggests this was a late 17th/early 18th century house, of five bays and with a pedimented façade. Given the importance of Charles O’Conor in Irish history, the building’s present state, on the verge of being entirely overwhelmed by undergrowth, is another sad indictment of how this country treats its heritage.
Looking distinctly down-at-heel, the once-dapper Naper Arms Hotel which occupies a prominent site on The Square in Oldcastle, County Meath. Built in the mid-19th century when the town enjoyed commercial prosperity, the building now offers vivid evidence of the way in which Ireland’s smaller urban centres are embarked on what seems to be irreversible decline. If national and local government are serious about attempting to halt the phenomenon – a new €60 million initiative called ‘Action Plan for Rural Ireland’ was announced on Monday – a good place to start would be obliging owners to give them purpose, on the premise of ‘use it or lose it.’ Otherwise one suspects little will change…
As has been noted here more than once, sometimes even the largest houses in this country can have elusive histories. Such is the case with Kilmanahan Castle, County Waterford. Despite the scale of the property and a prominent location perched high over the river Suir, not to mention its evident age, there appears to be relatively little information available about the place. At its core is an mediaeval castle erected by the FitzGeralds, perhaps the round tower on the south-east of the site: there are a number of similarly circular castles in this part of the country, not least at Moorstown with which Kilmanahan would be linked by family connections. In 1586 the land on which it stood was acquired (as part of a parcel of some 11,500 acres) by Sir Edward Fitton whose father had come to this country and risen to be Lord President of Connaught and Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. However Fitton seems to have over-extended himself and this may explain why in the early years of the 17th century Kilmanahan was bought by Sir James Gough, whose family were wealthy merchants in Waterford city. It next changed hands in 1678 when granted to Godfrey Greene, son of another English-born planter. A Captain in the what was called the King’s Irish Protestant Army, Godfrey had remained loyal to the crown during the Cromwellian interregnum and thus benefitted from the return of the monarchy in 1660. Among the other properties he acquired was the aforementioned Moorstown Castle a few miles away in County Tipperary.
The Greenes remained at Kilmanahan until the mid-19th century. Moorstown was left by Godfrey Greene to his eldest son, Kilmanahan being left to a younger son Rodolphus, as also happened in the next generation (it appears the marriages of Rodolphus’ first two sons displeased their father). The last of the line to spend his lifetime at Kilmanahan was Lieutenant-Colonel Nuttall Greene, born in 1769 and only dying in 1847. It would appear that he and his wife Charlotte Ann Parsons were responsible for greatly extending the castle to the north and west, thereby over-extending themselves with the result that in the aftermath of the Great Famine, Kilmanahan was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court (by a twist of fate, the other branch at Moorstown also lost their estate during the same period). It probably also didn’t help that the couple had a very large number of children, five sons and nine daughters, for whom provision would have had to be made. In any case, although inherited by their heir William Greene the place was sold in 1852; its purchaser resold Kilmanahan just three years later to Thomas Wright Watson who, like several previous owners, had been born in England. By the start of the last century, Kilmanahan had changed hands again, passing into the ownership of the Hely-Hutchinsons, Earls of Donoughmore whose main estate, Knocklofty lay to the immediate south on the other side of the Suir. The Donoughmores sold up and left Ireland more than thirty years ago.
Kilmanahan manifests evidence of having been developed over several distinct periods. The earliest section, as already mentioned, seems to be in the castle in the south-east corner. To the east of this is what looks to have been a projecting three-storey gate house which was then linked to the castle, also subsequently extended in the other direction; the latter portion’s window openings suggest this development took place in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, when the building was occupied by the Fittons and Goughs. The next major building development looks to have happened in the 18th century when a seven-bay, two-storey block was constructed to the immediate north of the old castle. This then became the main entrance front and would have contained the main reception rooms, with a corresponding wing incorporating central canted bow erected west directly above the river. The latter was in turn further extended south with the addition of a slightly smaller service wing, linking to a taller, single-bay block that terminated the river facade. The result of these additions was the creation of a large internal courtyard, accessed through an arch on the south side: inside can be seen the remains of a handsome classical stable block centred on a pedimented, breakfront coach house. At some later date, perhaps during the time of Nuttall and Charlotte Greene, the entire structure was given a gothic carapace, with the addition of abundant castellations, Tudor hood mouldings over the (otherwise classical sash) windows, an elaborate arched moulding over the principal entrance and so forth. The north-east corner of the entrance front was then made into a round tower, to match that already to the south-east (the original castle). A door at the north-western corner carries the Donoughmore coat of arms and the date 1909, indicating this was when the family took over the place, but images in the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Photograph Collection show the work of gothicisation had taken place by then. And as can be seen here, there are further, extensive outbuildings lying to the immediate south, further evidence this was once the centre of a substantial estate. Today, although some planting has been done in the surrounding parkland, Kilmanahan Castle is in poor condition. Since the building is heavily boarded up, investigation of its interior (and the possibility of better understanding the building’s evolution) is not possible. The site’s architectural history retains many secrets, especially when seen – as on the occasion of a recent visit – in winter fog. The weather conspired to shroud Kilmanahan Castle still further in mystery.