Too Large for Modern Rural Life

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During the reign of James I the splendidly named Sir Faithful Fortescue whose family originated in Devon came to this country where prior to his death in 1666 he bought an estate in County Louth. From him descended several branches of the Fortescues, one of which eventually acquired the titles of Viscount and Earl of Clermont. Meanwhile the parcel of land first acquired by Sir Faithful was further supplemented by various successors and came to include an estate called Stephenstown close to the village of Knockbridge. Here sometime around 1785-90, Matthew Fortescue built a new house to mark his marriage to Mary-Anne McClintock whose own Louth-based family had, through her mother (a Foster), already inter-married with the Fortescues.

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Stephenstown is a large, square house of two storeys over raised basement and with five bays to each side. Around 1820, the next generation of Fortescues added single-storey over basement wings to either side but that to the south was subsequently demolished. At some other date seemingly the building’s windows were given Tudor-revival hood mouldings, probably not unlike the make-over given during the same period to nearby Glyde Court (see The Scattering, April 20th 2015). However later again these openings reverted to a classical model, with classical pediments on the ground floor and entablatures on the first, the whole covered in cement render. A single storey porch on the entrance front was the only other alteration. From what remains, it would appear the interior had delicate neo-classical plasterwork, perhaps on the ceilings (none of which survive) and certainly on friezes below the cornice in diverse rooms.

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It is not easy to piece together the history of Stephenstown in the last century. The last direct descendant of the original builder was another Matthew Fortescue who in 1894 married a cousin, Edith Fairlie-Cuninghame. He died twenty years later without a direct heir, after which his widow married an Australian clergyman, the Rev. Henry Pyke who took on the Fortescue surname to become Pyke-Fortescue. Curiously the couple are listed as dying on the same day, 24th September 1936, upon which Stephenstown seemingly passed to another relative, Digby Hamilton. He sold up in the 1970s after which the house stood empty (and the trees in the surrounding parkland were all cut down). When Alistair Rowan and Christine Casey published their volume on the buildings of North Leinster in 1993, they noted that Stephenstown was ‘an elegant house, too large for modern rural life, empty in 1985, and likely to become derelict.’ That likelihood has since become a reality.

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End of the Road

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A fine five-bay townhouse on the Doneraile Road in Castletownroche, County Cork. Of two storeys over basement, this is the end of a terrace of such buildings on the street dating from c.1810 and distinguished by their handsome doorcases and wide roof eaves. Unfortunately in this instance the property’s condition suggests it may also soon be the end of the line here.

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Lip Service 

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As is still remembered, legislation collectively known as the Penal Laws meant that for much of the 18th century Roman Catholics under the authority of the British government found it hard to practice or express their faith publicly. It is worth pointing out that these laws were as much an affliction in England, Wales and Scotland as they were in Ireland, but the numbers of Catholics here were proportionately far greater than in those other countries. only in the late 1700s/early 1800s was the legislation gradually relaxed, ultimately leading up to the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 which created full emancipation for members of this faith. But even prior to that date, Catholics had begun to embark on the construction of what at the time were always called chapels, buildings in which they could gather to hold their services. The great age of Catholic church building came in the post-emancipation era, which makes these early buildings all the more precious since relatively few of them still survive. They tended to be simple in form and design, not least because the costs involved in putting them up were borne by the local population, few of whom would have been wealthy. Weekly collections among the faithful led to the creation of a fund which was then used to pay for construction costs: Thackeray’s account of visiting various chapels during his tour of Ireland in 1842 make plain that the majority of those in attendance were the poorest of the poor.

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St Brigid’s in Portumna, County Galway dates from 1825, and was therefore constructed a few years before full Catholic Emancipation had been achieved. A basic T-plan in form, it has a three-bay nave leading up to a pair of wide single-bay transepts, this simple design being a reflection of the limited resources then available. In 1858 a three-bay wide and one-bay deep porch was added to the west end, rising two storeys before being topped by a square-plan tower drum. It may be around this time that the exterior of St Brigid’s received its neo-gothic ornamentation such as the crenellated parapets and towers, and corner buttresses, thereby dressing up the original structure. In this form it remained in use for the next century. However in the late 1950s a new St Brigid’s was built on the adjacent former market square, using stone from the Portumna Castle which had been built in the 1860s and gutted by fire in 1922: evidently the local community felt their old church was no longer good enough for services. The now redundant church was converted into a sports hall, and served as such for some time before being deemed unfit for that purpose also. Since then it would appear the building (transferred into private ownership) and an adjacent abandoned convent, has sat empty, a prey to the elements and to vandalism.

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How, one wonders, might the generation which contributed often very tiny sums of money judge what has become of St Brigid’s church in our own age? Would they consider the shillings and pence they could scarcely have afforded to hand over well-spent on a building which their descendants seem willing to leave fall into dereliction? Would they be satisfied that this is how their legacy, the hard-earned – and hard-paid for – right to free and open expression of faith, should be treated in such a fashion? Asking these questions is not intended to offend or to criticise the burghers of Portumna. The present circumstances of St Brigid’s are by no means unique: they are replicated in towns right across the country and are symptomatic of a greater problem.  Like so many other historic properties in Ireland, this one is listed by the local county council as being a ‘protected structure’ but one wonders what protection it is being offered. According to information provided by the Citizens Information Board, ‘A protected structure is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view. If you are the owner or occupier of a protected structure, you are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered, whether through damage or neglect.’ That legal obligation is meant to be enforced by the relevant local authority: there is no evidence of enforcement here but again that is hardly unusual. Last week, after two months’ negotiation between political parties, this country finally got a new government. When the various ministerial portfolios were announced, there was no reference to anyone being responsible for the department of heritage: apparently it comes under the remit of the Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts & the Gaeltacht but is of so little consequence that the name wasn’t even judged worthy of inclusion in this long-winded title. Too often the excuse offered for neglect of the country’s architectural heritage is that it represents the interests or legacy of alien others: this is the explanation customarily proffered to explain the wasteful abandonment of our country houses, for example. Nothing could more truly be representative of the national narrative than St Brigid’s, raised by and for the local population to serve their needs and to express their beliefs. Its neglect, like the title of new government ministries and the manner in which legislation regarding protected structures fails to be enforced, accurately express Ireland’s attitude towards our heritage: we may pay lip service to the visible evidence of our past but really we don’t care what becomes of it.

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In Limbo

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Tyrrell is a common Irish surname but as with so many others, its origin is Anglo-Norman. At a date around the 1170s Hugh Tyrel (or Tirrell) came to this country and acquired the Barony of Fertullagh, County Westmeath running to some 39,000 acres, as well as land in Castleknock closer to Dublin. The Tyrrells thereafter flourished, in part because like so many others of their ilk they gradually became integrated with the indigenous population. The best-remembered member of the family is Captain Richard Tyrrell who in July 1597 defeated a superior force of English soldiers at a place in Westmeath thereafter known as Tyrrellspass. The Berminghams likewise were a Norman family, the first of whom Richard de Bermingham came to Ireland in the 1170s. Initially they settled in County Galway but also became established further east. Thomas Bermingham, the last Baron of Athenry and Earl of Louth died without a male heir in 1799 and with his death the main branch came to an end. More than half a century earlier, the Tyrrells and the Berminghams had coincided when in 1735 Walter Bermingham sold Grange Castle, County Kildare to Thomas Tyrrell.

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Today set in the midst of a series of stone enclosures Grange Castle is most likely a 15th century tower house, one of a number of defensive properties built by the Berminghams in this part of the country, not least nearby Carrick Castle, which is earlier in date but now in poorer condition. Grange has survived better no doubt because it remained in use as a domestic residence. In addition, at some date in the late 16th/early 17th century it was modernised, as can be seen by the larger window openings, the tall chimney stacks (indicating an increased number of hearths) and the ornamental crenellations around the roofline. Further improvements appear to have occurred not long after the castle was acquired by the Tyrrells when a single storey house was added to the immediate west. Linked to the castle at the rear, this evidently contained the main reception rooms, with the older section presumably being utilised as sleeping quarters. The main point of access was through the house, via a fine carved limestone doorcase, its pediment containing the Tyrrell coat of arms and their motto Veritas Via Vitae (a variant of Christ’s words in St John’s Gospel, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’).

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Grange Castle remained in the ownership of the Tyrrells until 1988 when responsibility for the mediaeval structure was handed over to the state. However the later house, and surrounding outbuildings remain in the ownership of the family. In the mid-1990s a charitable trust was established to restore the property with the intention that it be opened to the public. Over the course of several years a considerable amount of work was undertaken to improve both house and grounds. However in 2003 this enterprise came to a close and it appears that ever since the place has sat empty, and a prey to vandals. The castle itself is secure, the only access being via a locked door to the rear of the house. The latter however is easily accessed and accordingly has suffered some despoliation. At the same time the damage is not so grave to render the project beyond re-activation, and perhaps this will occur. For the moment Grange Castle appears to be in limbo.

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An Architectural Conundrum

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In Three Homes, a memoir published in 1938, playwright and author Lennox Robinson, together with his siblings Tom and Nora, recalled their childhood in late 19th century County Cork. Robinson was born in Douglas, now a dormitory suburb of Cork city but then still a separate village lying a few miles to the south-east. The youngest child of a stockbroker-turned-clergyman, he was born in a since-demolished property called Westgrove but often visited his aunt Eleanor, who had married a wealthy brewer, John Frazer Crichton, in Donnybrook House which still stands. This the Robinsons in their recollections describe as being ‘lowbuilt, old and charmingly planned, rooms open one into the other on the ground floor a bedroom opened off the dining room, the drawing room on the opposite side of the hall had its back drawing room and the same plan was repeated in the bedrooms upstairs.’ More than a century later, although the condition of the building has somewhat deteriorated, the layout remains unchanged.

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The origins of Donnybrook House are unclear. We know that by the mid-18th century the land on which it stands had come into the ownership of the Davies family as the Rev Boyle Davies, Dean of Cloyne died there in 1763. He was the son of another of those ambitious Anglican clerics so common to the era, in this case the Rev Rowland Davies whose father of the same name had come to Ireland from Herefordshire probably in the 1640s: Rowland Davies was born in Cork in 1649. He entered Trinity College Dublin in 1665 and initially seemed destined for a career in medicine before switching to the church. After taking orders in 1671 he held several minor offices and then became Dean of Cloyne in 1679. An ardent supporter of the Anglican faith (in 1716 he published a treatise called A truly Catholick and Old Religion, shewing that the Established Church in Ireland is more truly a member of the Catholick Church than the Church of Rome), he participated in the Battle of the Boyne, and the Sieges of both Limerick and Cork before returning to his pastoral duties. In 1707 he became Precentor of Cork and three years later Dean of the same diocese. He died in 1721. Rowland Davies may have been responsible for the purchase of Donnybrook’s land. On the other hand, he is known to have been a tenant of the Blarney estate, where two of his sons were born, until it was sold in 1702 to Lord Chief Justice Sir Richard Pyne for £3,000. It is said that the winged cherub heads seen above the arched ground floor windows of Donnybrook’s wings came from Blarney. Furthermore Rowland Davies built himself a house called Dawstown on part of what had formerly been McCarthy land north of Blarney. Here he died and here one branch of his descendants continued in occupation until the early 19th century. One wonders therefore whether the Donnybrook estate might have been bought by the Dean for his son, or whether Boyle Davies himself bought it. Curiously a year after the latter’s death his widow Mary, whose maiden name was Travers, leased the place to one Boyle Travers, who was a cousin of both her and her late husband (the reason for their shared first name is that they were both descendants of Elizabeth Boyle whose father Richard Boyle had become Archbishop of Tuam in 1638).

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The Davies/Travers/Boyle family synopsis above helps to explain why it is not easy to work out the origins of Donnybrook House. Douglas emerged as an urban settlement from the early 18th century onwards thanks to the development here of mills associated with the textile and weaving industries which produced linen sailcloth. Tellingly the first such to open was Donnybrook Mills in 1726 (it was also one of the very last to close in the 20th century). A large pond which stood in front of the house (it can be seen in the watercolour above which dates from the first half of the 19th century) is now dried out. However formerly it served as catchment for a millrace that twenty feet below drove the millwheel. The site on which Donnybrook House stands is therefore at the top of a slope, the ground dropping sharply to the immediate north of the building. A substantial basement beneath the main rooms could be the earliest part of the fabric, dating back to before the arrival of the Davieses; in other words, as was so often the case, a newer residence was created incorporating parts of an older one. It has been proposed that a McCarthy castle stood here, thereby establishing another link with Blarney.
As one sees it today, the central block of the house, facing east, is of five bays and features a fine carved limestone doorcase with pretty fanlight above. The building initially looks single storey but this is not the case: a mid-18th century staircase directly beyond the front door leads to a first floor, the only evidence of which on the outside of the building is a solitary dormer window likely dating from the late 19th century and lighting the upper landing. The two slightly projecting tower ‘wings’ are believed to have been added in the early 1800s. They served both to increase accommodation and to give the house a more ancient, picturesque appearance (hence the gothic arched windows). As can be seen in that early watercolour, like the rest of the exterior the towers were originally rendered but subsequently covered in weather slates. Various additions were also made to the rear of the building over the course of two centuries, including a rather fine Edwardian bathroom that opens off the staircase return.

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Donnybrook House’s original setting has long since gone: the surrounding gardens no longer exist, nor do any mills that once operated in the vicinity. Likewise most of the other historic houses and villas once dotting the landscape in this part of the country are gone: today almost the entire area is given over to housing estates. As is apparent, the building at present needs some attention. The roof of the south tower (that to the left of the entrance) has collapsed, bringing down the floors inside and making this part of the building unsafe. Meanwhile the north tower is suffering from water ingress and risks becoming similarly hazardous. This damage is not visible from the exterior because blind gothic windows on the upper level were designed to conceal the pitched roofs. On the other hand, the central section of the property appears to be in relatively good condition although rather damp, and has continued to be used and occupied. Internally some of the original 18th and early 19th century wooden joinery, including wainscot panelling, has survived, as have a number of the old sash windows. The spirit of the house invoked by Lennox Robinson and his siblings can still be felt.
Here is a building waiting to be rescued from what too often has been the fate of such properties in Ireland: ruin and disappearance. Wonderfully the present owner is keen to restore Donnybrook House and bring it back to residential use. Rescue and refurbishment is still feasible and must be encouraged. Donnybrook House is an important and rare testament to Cork’s architectural and industrial history. Its preservation merits everyone’s support.

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With special thanks to Ciara O’Flynn, Built Heritage Conservation Consultant/Buildings Archaeologist, for generously sharing her research into Donnybrook House.

 

Opportunity Knocks

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Opportunism and those who practise it are not, as a rule, judged very favorably. Yet there are times when our verdict on opportunists can be inaccurate or imperceptive. Much of Georgian Dublin is a manifestation of opportunism at work: the result of a handful of perspicacious developers – another now-detested term – recognising an opportunity and responding to it. This was certainly the case with the first Luke Gardiner who piecemeal built up landholdings on the northside of the city and there created new streets and terraces to meet growing demand for residential property. Gardiner’s first venture in this arena, and the basis of his future success, was the development from the late 1720s onward of Henrietta Street.

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Luke Gardiner was a man of modest origins, far removed at the start of his professional life from the wealth he would come to enjoy. Much the same could be said of his protégé Nathaniel Clements who, although enjoying somewhat less humble beginnings, was the youngest of five sons and very much expected to make his own way. This he did, like Gardiner, by building houses and then selling them on: the parallels between the past and the present can sometimes be discomfiting. Henrietta Street was also Clements’ first venture into property development, as he took on several sites from Gardiner. One of these was number 4 (originally 5) Henrietta Street which he completed around 1740-41 and sold to George Stone, then Bishop of Ferns. Stone occupied the building but did not finish paying for it, until 1747 when he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and, in turn, opportunistically moved into a still-grander residence on the street before selling No.4. Its second owner was John Maxwell, MP for County Cavan who nine years later would be created first Lord Farnham. Of Scottish ancestry, Maxwell was the descendant of three generations of clerical opportunists: the Farnham estate in County Cavan had originally been purchased by his grandfather, the Anglican Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. When John Maxwell acquired No.4 Henrietta Street, it came with a plot of land to the immediate east, perhaps serving as a garden. In 1754 Maxwell’s only daughter married another MP, Owen Wynne of Sligo, likewise the descendant of opportunists, although in this instance they had been army men. Around the time of his marriage the plot next to No.4 passed into Wynne’s hands and a house was built here. Today it is No.3 Henrietta Street.

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There are unanswered questions remaining about the history of 3 Henrietta Street, not least who was responsible for its design. The house is sometimes attributed to Nathaniel Clements because like its neighbour – which he almost certainly did build – there is a semi-circular bow at the back of the building. On the other hand, by the time of No.3’s construction, Clements had moved on to other projects and, more critically, he and Maxwell were political opponents, so it seems unlikely his assistance would have been sought here. Perhaps when Wynne embarked on the enterprise he decided to copy some features of his father-in-law’s adjacent residence. The interior shows alterations believed to date from 1830. Originally the entrance hall – like other houses on this side of the street – would have been of two storeys with the stairs visibly rising to the first floor. In the 19th century this staircase was taken out and a smaller one inserted, divided by a wall from the front of the house with the new entrance hall made just one storey high. But the first floor reception rooms retain much of their original decoration, the pair to the front of the room having a deep frieze with strapwork and festoons, while below the walls are sectioned by plaster panelling. To the rear at this level is a wonderful room with rococo stuccowork in the coved ceiling which extends into the bow, and gives the space a more intimate character than any of the others possess.

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As already mentioned, in the 19th century 3 Henrietta Street, like almost all other houses in the vicinity, underwent changes both of design and usage. The advent of the King’s Inns at the top of the street, and the gradual departure of private owners in the aftermath of the 1800 Act of Union meant many of the buildings came to be used as solicitors’ offices: in the decades leading up to his death in 1885 some three-quarters of the street were bought by the lawyer Tristram Kennedy and let to other members of his profession. However, his property portfolio was subsequently acquired by another – altogether less attractive – opportunist, former Dublin Lord Mayor Joseph Meade. Seeing a chance to get a good return on his investment, notoriously he converted most of the houses into tenements. The original interior spaces were divided to fit in more rooms for entire families to occupy and valuable items such as chimney pieces were stripped out and sold off. This was the fate of 3 Henrietta Street for a large portion of the last century, and evidence of its decline, as much as of its glory, can still be seen in the building. But the house is now on the market, and awaits a new owner who can offer it a viable future. What will happen next? As has been the case here over the past two and a half centuries, opportunity knocks – and 3 Henrietta Street once more awaits the advent of an opportunist.

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Lost and Found

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Like many words in the English language, ‘lost’ is open to diverse use. It can, for example, mean missing or misplaced but just as often is employed to denote something that has vanished, perished or been destroyed. Such is the case with an engrossing – albeit chastening – book recently published, Lost Ireland: 1860-1960. Author William Derham has trawled through thousands of photographs to select 500 images of buildings throughout the island, the majority of which have entirely disappeared or else been so altered/mutilated that they no longer bear any semblance to their original state.

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In a thoughtful introductory essay, Derham provides an historical context for why so many older buildings in Ireland should come to have been lost and laments the disappearance of certain building types such as the early unfortified house represented by Eyrecourt, County Galway: dating from the second half of the 17th century and still intact less than 100 years ago, it is now a roofless shell. Likewise Ireland has no examples of the ‘cagework’ urban house in which the frame would be of wood and the spaces between filled with wattle and daub. The last of these to survive, in Dublin on the corner of Castle and Werburgh Streets, was demolished as long ago as 1812. Likewise the once-widespread brick gabled townhouses known as Dutch Billies are now almost extinct, or else subsumed into later buildings.

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Some losses – notably among the ranks of the Irish country house – are already well-known, but even here Derham finds examples likely to be unfamiliar to most readers, and explains the shameful role played in the erosion of their number by that state body the Land Commission. However he covers many other areas of depletion and, frankly, dissipation, such as the damage inflicted on Roman Catholic churches and cathedrals in the aftermath of the second Vatican Council. Using the excuse of a new liturgy, members of the Irish clergy stripped interiors of the buildings for which they were responsible: one of the most egregious examples being the gutting of Pugin’s Killarney Cathedral at the instigation of then-bishop Eamon Casey. Tellingly their clerical equivalents in other countries did not feel impelled to engage in similar acts of vandalism. But valuable secular buildings were also squandered for no good reason, such as the demolition in 1964 of a fine mid-18th century market house in Mountrath, County Laois – supposedly because a public lavatory was needed (although this was never built). As much as an exhortation to protect what remains as a requiem to what has gone, this is a beautifully produced book and allows us to find again, if only in photographic form, what has been lost. Do acquire a copy while you can as it is certain to sell out.

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Lost Ireland: 1860-1960 by William Derham is published by Hyde Park Editions, price £39.95/€49.95. The photographs above were taken at a recent exhibition in Dublin Castle to coincide with the launch of the book. They show (from top), Roxborough Castle, County Tyrone (burnt 1922), Longford Castle, Longford (demolished 1972), Woodstock, County Kilkenny (burnt 1922) and Ballynastragh, County Wexford (burnt 1923). The exhibition has now ended but deserves to travel to other venues around the country in coming months; why not encourage your local arts centre/library to borrow it?