The entrance gateway to the now-demolished Lissadorn, County Roscommon. Extant photographs show this to have been a fine house of three bays and three storeys over raised basement, possibly late 18th or early 19th century in construction. The design of this neoclassical triple archway, thought to date from c.1825, has been attributed to the Roscommon architect Richard Richards, not least because at that time he was working at Mount Talbot, some 25 miles to the south. The unfortunate history of that house has already been told (See An Unhappy Tale « The Irish Aesthete), and, as if to confirm that Richards designed the Lissadorn entrance, it is almost identical to that at Mount Talbot, the only difference being that the former lacks the keystones seen in the latter’s arches.
Twenty years ago this week, the contents of Lissadell, County Sligo were offered for sale at auction. The importance of accumulated house contents is insufficiently appreciated in this country. Often spanning hundreds of years of occupation by the same family, they represent changes in taste, and in affluence, not just of a particular property’s owners, but of the entire country. They inform our knowledge of Ireland’s history through both good times and bad, and provide enlightenment about how our forebears, of whatever status, lived. Accordingly, their dispersal represents the dissipation of knowledge, leaving us all less well-informed and thereby poorer. In the case of Lissadell, the house, and its predecessor, had been home to generations of the same family, among whom was the revolutionary politician Constance Markievicz. Her association with the building, along with that of many other distinguished figures in Irish history, led to a widespread public campaign for the property and surrounding estate to be bought by the state. As has been so often the case, before and since, this did not happen, and accordingly Lissadell’s contents were auctioned. One of the key losses from this event was a collection of furniture specifically commissioned by an earlier owner, Sir Robert Gore-Booth, for the house. Dating from the 1830s, these pieces were representative of taste in Ireland at the time and were believed to have been made by the Dublin firm of Williams & Gibton. Until the auction, Lissadell was the only house in Ireland to retain its original furniture by this company, so the dispersal was much to be regretted. The items’ importance can be gauged by the fact that most of the lots exceeded their estimates: a rosewood writing table, for example, which was expected to make €8,000-€10,000, fetched €19,000. In the dining room, a set of 17 mahogany chairs (€12,000-€18,000) fetched €22,000 and the dining table itself (€30,000-€50,000) went for €65,000. Forced to bid against other potential purchasers, Lissadell’s new private owners managed to acquire some pieces, such as a pair of handsome mahogany Grecian-style bookcases clearly inspired by the work of Thomas Hope and, again in the dining room, a sturdy mahogany sideboard. But many of the contents, first installed some 170 years earlier, now left for good and not just the Williams & Gibton furniture. There were, for example, a number of fine 17th century Italian baroque paintings, many in spectacular gilt frames, which had been acquired for the rooms by Sir Robert Gore-Booth. And then there were all the miscellaneous objects that build up in any house over generations, from sets of copper jelly moulds to discarded furnishings such as old curtains. These, as much as the more valuable pieces, are what inform the history of a building, and when they are gone, part of that history disappears forever.
In Ireland, it has long been apparent that if the remaining number of historic houses and contents are to survive, then a coherent strategy to secure their future needs to be considered. The first attempt to devise such a strategy occurred back in 1985 when a body called the Irish Historic Properties Commission, established three years earlier, produced a report written by the late Kevin B Nolan and Lewis Clohessy and called Safeguarding Historic Houses. This clearly stated that ‘our heritage historic properties cannot be preserved without the active and consistent support of the Irish Government.’ Eight years later, in 1993 the Irish Georgian Society and another body since gone, Irish Heritage Properties, held a conference on the future of the Irish country house, subsequently publishing a report on its proceedings. This makes for melancholy reading, since so many of the problems then highlighted remain to the present day, not least the want of sufficient support from central and local government. Ten years later again, Professor Terence Dooley of Maynooth University, at the request of the Irish Georgian Society and the Dept of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, produced a report, A Future for Irish Historic Houses? A Study of Fifty Houses. A year later, the same government department invited Indecon International Consultants to produce an Examination of the Issue of Trust-type Organisations to Manage Heritage Properties in Ireland. Most recently, in 2015 the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in collaboration with Irish Historic Houses Association after extensive consultation with a wide variety of interested parties and stakeholders, issued an Action Plan for the Sustainable Future of the Irish Historic House in Private Ownership, a document which was duly approved by the Irish cabinet and appeared in 2016. In other words, no one can complain that the challenges facing the Irish country house and the retention of its contents have been insufficiently examined and analysed. Produced over a period of almost 40 years, these and other documents have constantly made the same point: that houses in private ownership, if they are to have a viable future and hold onto their original furnishings, need assistance from central and local government, the kind of assistance that is available in other European countries but has consistently failed to materialise to any adequate extent in Ireland.
Outside observers often note with surprise that in Ireland there is no equivalent of the National Trust which operates on the other side of the Irish Sea and in Northern Ireland. An attempt was made to create such an equivalent with the establishment of the Irish Heritage Trust in 2006. The IHT was largely the brainchild of the Irish Georgian Society’s current president Sir David Davies. The original purpose of this organisation was that it would, like the National Trust, acquire for public access significant heritage properties deemed to be at risk and for which the State did not want to assume direct responsibility. This would ensure that the houses and their contents would remain intact and preserved for future generations. At the time of its establishment and in recognition of the potential significance of IHT’s work, the government of the time earmarked €35 million for the organisation over the duration of the National Development Plan 2007-2013. Accordingly the IHT entered into discussions with the owners of a number of properties judged to be most suitable for such an arrangement. At all times the relevant government department – for Environment, Heritage and Local Government as well as the Department of Finance – was briefed on developments at Anne’s Grove and in 2008 all relevant parties agreed the IHT would assume responsibility for its first estate thanks to an endowment fund of €5 million (drawn from its National Development Plan funding) and associated tax credits. Then in December 2008, the department’s minister wrote to the IHT advising that due to changing circumstances it would not be possible to provide the necessary support. The IHT has since successfully reinvented itself, but the fact remains that there is still no equivalent of the National Trust in Ireland, and historic properties, along with their contents, continue to be lost because of want of state support for their survival. Today’s photographs show the empty interiors of Howth Castle, sold in 2019 after being occupied for more than 800 years by the same family. The house’s remaining contents were dispersed at public auction two years ago in September 2021. Unless there is a change in state policy towards these properties, and towards the histories they contain, more such sales will occur in the years ahead. And we will continue to be the poorer.
‘. . . A wise man will perceive how mysterious will be the time when the wealth of all this age will lie waste, just as now in diverse places throughout the earth walls are standing beaten by the wind and covered with rime. The bulwarks are dismantled, the banqueting halls are ruinous…’
‘…He then who in a spirit of meditation has pondered over this ruin, and who with an understanding heart probes the mystery of our life down to its depth, will call to mind many slaughters of long ago, and give voice to such words as these: What has become of the steed, of the squire?…’
‘…What has become of the banqueting houses? Where are the joys of the hall? O shining goblet! O mailed warriorl O glory of the prince! How has that time passed away, grown shadowy under the canopy of night as though it had never been! There remains now of the beloved knights no trace save the wall wondrously high, decorated with serpent forms…’
Text from an early medieval Saxon poem The Wanderer
Images of an abandoned house in County Meath
The former flour mills at Shrule, County Longford. Rising adjacent to the river Inny and thought to date from the start of the 19th century, it appears to be a rare example of an early industrial premises in this part of the country. Samuel Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), wrote that it annually produced around 4,000 barrels of flour. The business must have been successful because around 1850 a five-storey extension was added to the existing L-shaped building. However, the mills appear to have closed down at the start of the last century and the entire complex is now roofless and empty.
The skeleton of the former Roman Catholic chapel in Hugginstown, County Kilkenny. This building was constructed c.1800, in other words almost three decades before Catholic Emancipation, and had an interior that preserved its original decoration, a rare survivor from that period. However, as so often is the case, this was judged to be outdated and forty years ago the church was put out of service, with a singularly unimpressive replacement erected elsewhere in the village. The interior was subsequently dismantled and the roof removed, so that today only the shell seen here remains.
Anyone who travels about Ireland cannot fail to notice the sheer number of vacant buildings which have been left to fall into dereliction and which are intermittently the subject of attention on this site. Sadly, such is the case with today’s property, Kilheffernan Cottage, County Tipperary.
This is a curious building in three parts and the challenge for anyone looking at the place is working out dates of construction for each member of the trio. To the left (westerly) is a two storey, three bay house with two deep windows, six over six panes, on the ground floor and a blank wall between them; marks on the exterior render suggest that there was once a door here providing access to the house. The building to the right (east) now has a steeply pitched corrugated iron roof but, it is proposed in buildingsofireland.ie, was originally thatched. Four pretty glazed doors with decorative overlights open to a large single room which, in turn, leads into the little link building, an entrance hall with coved ceiling and glazed porch to the front. As for the largest of the buildings, the ground floor contains two reception rooms as well as a kitchen and ancillary rooms to the rear. The most notable feature is the wooden spiral staircase that snakes up to the first floor bedrooms and bathrooms. Unfortunately, having been neglected for a long period, slates have been lost from the roof and the interior has suffered severe damage from water ingress; regrettably, all the chimneypieces have also been removed. There is a range of outbuildings to the rear of the property.
Tracing the history of Kilheffernan Cottage is something of a challenge. At least some of it must date from the 18th century. According to landedestates.ie, a Thomas Ryan, whose family had been resident in the area since the early 1700s, was proprietor of the place in 1814. Samuel Lewis likewise lists T. Ryan as being there in 1837 and by the time of Griffith’s Valuation a couple of decades later, Patrick Fennelly held the house – valued at £10 and 13 shillings – from Thomas Ryan. In 1922 the historian Maurice O’Connell, a descendant of Daniel O’Connell, was born at Kilheffernan Cottage where his parents were then living. In 2005, the year of Maurice O’Connell’s death, the place was offered for sale with 15 acres. Since then, it would appear to have sat empty and allowed to fall into its present condition. Inevitably, the house is included on the local authority’s list of protected structures.
Last July, the government published an All-Island Rail Review proposing a transformation of the current train system through electrification, faster speeds, improved frequency, and new routes for people and freight. It might also have included the preservation and restoration of many old buildings associated with that mode of travel, such as this one, the Mountrath and Castletown railway station in County Laois. It was designed by Sancton Wood, an English-born architect who in 1845 was responsible for Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station in Dublin, built for the Great Southern & Western Railway Co., which then commissioned him to design smaller stations along the company’s route to Limerick Junction. Most of these buildings were in the Gothic style seen here and some are still in use but not this one which closed in 1976 and has since fallen into its present state of dereliction.
In the early 17th century, an English merchant, Gregory Hickman, settled in County Clare and acquired land in an area south of Ennis called Barntick. All seemed well until the outbreak of the Confederate Wars in the early 1640s when he found himself displaced. A deposition made by Hickman in 1642 states that he ‘was robbed of property worth £3,672. It consisted of cattle, sheep, horses, wool, furniture, and of the following farms held under leases for terms of years. Barntick, Cragforna, Drumcaran, Cragnanelly, Termon of Killinaboy, and Inchiquin.’ Hickman also lost the tithes of the parish of Dromcliff, and of debts owed to him by a large number of individuals. He went on to complain that goods belonging to him were ‘carried off by Conor O’Brien of Ballymacooda and by Richard and Mannagh O’Grady. Eighteen packs of his wool were taken away by Laurence Rice, and by another merchant, both of Ennis. Poultry, a side saddle, and furniture, were swept off by Boetius Clancy, by Shevane ny Hehir, wife of Loughlin Reagh O’Hehir of Cahermacon, by James McEncroe of Skagh-vic-Encro; Conor O’Brien of Leamaneh, aided by Mauria Roe his wife, by Melaghlan Oge O’Cashey, and by Conor O’Flanagan possessed themselves of fourteen English hogs and four hundred sheep his property. He states that his servant, Thomas Bacon, was murdered, and that another of his servants, named Joe Preston, was murdered at Clare, by Teige Lynch.’ Poor Mr Hickman then found himself directed hither and thither about the county, at one stage being directed by Murrough O’Brien, Baron Inchiquin ‘to proceed on board the ship “Dragon” to Kinsale, and to bring thence a quantity of tobacco, there lying useless, which he was to sell in the Shannon, and pay over the proceeds to the Baron to help to sustain his army.’ That expedition ended badly and he subsequently found himself stuck in Clonderalaw Castle while it was under siege. Eventually he managed to reach safety and to regain control of the lands at Barntick, passing these on to his eldest son Thomas who in 1661 built a new house for the family, commemorating this event with a date stone carrying the year and his initials, T.H. This date stone can now be seen – upside-down – acting as the door lintel for a building in the yard behind the main house.
Thomas Moland’s Survey of County Clare (1703) states that Barntick had on it ‘a good house, stable, barn and other out houses’. By that date, Thomas Hickman had been succeeded by his own eldest son, also called Thomas, and when the latter died in 1719, Barntick passed to the last of the family to live there, Colonel Robert Hickman, who represented Clare in the Irish House of Commons from 1745 until his death. The colonel’s estate ran to almost 3,000 acres, and he also held other property elsewhere in the county. All of this, however, was heavily mortgaged, so that when he died without an immediate heir in 1757, the entire Hickman lands were sold, Barntick being bought by George Peacocke, who already owned another substantial property, Grange, County Limerick. On his death in 1773, he was succeeded by his son Joseph, a Justice of the Peace and one time High Sheriff of Clare. In 1802, having supported the Act of Union, he was created a baronet and when he died ten years later, the estate was divided between his two sons Sir Nathaniel Peacocke, and the Reverend William Peacocke. But evidently this division was not successful, as by the 1820s the estate was put up for sale by the Court of Chancery. Barntick next belonged to Sir David Roche, an M.P. for Limerick, 1832-1844, who was created a Baronet in 1838. However, in 1855 the house, along with 238 acres, was recorded as being leased to John Lyons and later his family bought the property: his descendants live there still.
Barntick is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in County Clare. The building is a deep square, the east-facing rendered facade of three storeys and three bays, its carved limestone entrance doorcase approached by a shallow flight of six stone steps. Inside, the front half of the house is divided into three almost equal spaces, comprising a hall with drawing room and dining room on either side. To the rear, a handsome staircase, lit by a single tall window on the return, leads to the bedroom floor. Here the space is divided by a thick central wall running north to south and with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, indicating the house’s early date of construction. The stairs then climb to the top of the building where the entire front is given over to a single room, at present in poor condition. Fortunately, the present generation of the family to own this house appreciates its importance and has begun to carry out essential structural repairs as funds become available. His work is to be thoroughly commended and it has to be hoped that all possible support will be provided by the relevant authorities, both local and national. Barntick is such a special place, and such a rare surviving example of domestic architecture from the post-Restoration period in Ireland, that its preservation ought to be regarded as a matter of considerable importance.
The O’Callaghan Mausoleum, located in the Shanrahan graveyard outside Clogheen, County Tipperary. This was erected in 1742 to commemorate Cornelius O’Callaghan, member of an ancient Irish family who had converted to the Established church and thereafter enjoyed a successful career as a lawyer and Member of Parliament for the Borough of Fethard in the same county. The barrel-vaulted interior of this rather plain gable-ended building contains a fine monument to O’Callaghan, ancestor of the Viscount Lismore who in 1810 would commission John Nash to design Shanbally Castle nearby. (Alas, the castle was shamefully demolished in the late 1950s, the remains being blown up in 1960 so that the cut stone could be used for road building). Occupying much of the end wall, this monument was carved by the Dublin sculptor David Sheehan and depicts the deceased above a Latin inscription and beneath a pediment that supports reclining putti on either side of an urn. Unfortunately the mausoleum now acts as little more than a garden shed for lawn mowers and the other equipment: hardly the most respectful way to treat this historic building, or the man it commemorates.
After a recent discussion of the colourful Thomas Steele and the fate of his former home (see Honest Tom « The Irish Aesthete), it is now worth turning attention to a significant, but insufficiently recalled, figure in late 18th century Ireland, Dr Thomas Hussey. Born in 1746, owing to restrictions imposed by the era’s Penal legislation, Hussey was sent to study at the Irish College in Salamanca, after which he joined the Trappist order. However, his obvious intelligence led him to become well-known at the court in Madrid and in due course, now ordained a priest, he was appointed chaplain to the Spanish Embassy in London. There he became acquainted with many of the leading political and intellectual figures of the period, not least Edmund Burke who became a close friend. In 1779, his diplomatic skills led him to be sent by George III’s government on a secret diplomatic mission to Madrid in order to break the Franco-Spanish Alliance in the context of the American War of Independence. Although the effort was unsuccessful, Hussey’s reputation did not suffer any ill effects and he continued to be consulted by the English authorities. Meanwhile, in due course his intellectual abilities were also recognised in 1792 when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Subsequently, the government sent him on a further mission, attempting to placate disaffected Irish soldiers and militia in Ireland. However, when he heard what they had to say, Hussey adopted their cause, which was not what had been expected. He then played a role in establishing the Irish seminary at Maynooth and became its first president in 1795. Two years later he was appointed Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, holding that position until his death in 1803.
This is Prospect Lodge (above), the house in which Thomas Hussey lived during his years as Bishop of the diocese. On a prominent site in what would once have been open countryside overlooking the city, the building is believed to date from c.1780. Of five-bays and two-storeys, it has a two-bay two-storey section with half-dormer attic to south-east, and two-bay single-storey wing to south-east. Prospect Lodge is notable for being slate-hung on all elevations and, as part of Waterford’s historic architecture, is worthy of preservation even without its associations with Thomas Hussey. Yet at the present it is being left to fall into decay.
Elsewhere in the south-east of Ireland, this house can be found in Carrick-on-Suir, County Waterford. Dating from c.1760, it is of four-bays and three-storeys over basement, the rear yard dropping down to the quays on the north side of the town. While the building lacks the historical associations of Prospect Lodge, it is similarly slate-hung and therefore represents an important part of Carrick-on-Suir’s heritage. Yet, also like Prospect Lodge, it sits empty and neglected, left to fall into dereliction instead of enhancing the streetscape while realising its potential as a home. Two houses, one fate: and there are thousands more such properties all over Ireland going the same way.