Close to Death


Immediately above the village of Ballyvourney, County Cork is a shrine to St Gobnait: a shrine and well here still attract many visitors. On a site immediately below the old church and graveyard – and adjacent to a holy well – stand the remains of a once-fine residence, its buttressed south-facing entrance porch incorporating a substantial gothic window. Samuel Lewis’s 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland mentions that the Church of Ireland church above ‘is a very neat edifice, in the early English style, erected in 1824 by aid of a gift of £600 from the late Board of First Fruits. The glebe-house was built at the same time, partly by gift and partly by a loan from the same Board.’ This house was the latter building but sadly the roof has now collapsed and, their immediate surroundings currently occupied by a herd of calves, the walls look set to follow before too long. 

A Premonition


A fortnight ago the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kerry was widely reported as warning that a decline in numbers of clergy meant it would soon no longer be possible to provide services in all parishes. Here, as elsewhere in the country, there are now more churches than priests, with the consequence that many of the former will begin closing their doors. Some have long since done so, such as this building in Cahersiveen, County Kerry. Dating from the mid-18th century, it is a rare survival of a penal chapel, one of the backstreet centres of worship permitted to exist before legislation against Catholics was gradually abolished. When the naval surgeon Thomas Reid visited Cahersiveen in 1822 he reported that such was the throng attending mass here only about a third of the congregation could be accommodated inside the walls.
Much of the credit for the abolition of the old Penal Laws belongs to Daniel O’Connell, who was baptised in this building in 1775 (his parents are buried in a graveyard immediately opposite). One might therefore imagine that given that pedigree the chapel would be cherished and well-maintained. Such is not the case: it appears that only thanks to the strenuous efforts of a local man, chemist Geoffrey O’Connor who died three years ago does the chapel still stand at all. Its present condition is a premonition of what could yet become of many Catholic churches both in Kerry and elsewhere across Ireland. 

New Owner Needed


In January 1854 Zachary Mudge paid the Encumbered Estates Commission £2,490 for an estate of  3, 635 acres in County Mayo. Mudge, whose father had been an admiral in the British navy, subsequently built a lodge at Glenlossera using local sandstone with yellow brick for the door- and windowcases. Gradually the estate was sold, much of it to the Land Commission, and finally the house itself passed into other hands in the late 1920s. In recent years Glenlossera Lodge was offered for sale but without a new owner the place has been allowed to fall into serious disrepair.

A Shell


The shell of a former school and hall in Portlaw, County Waterford. Dating from 1854, these and many other buildings in the village were designed by one of the most prolific architects of the era, John Skipton Mulvany. He was much patronised by the Quaker Malcolmson family, responsible for various industrial businesses spread across south-east Ireland including in Portlaw.



Once part of a cotton factory complex the present building is listed in http://www.buildingsofireland.com as being a courthouse, so presumably at some point it also served this purpose. The quality of finish on exterior walls testifies to the building’s high standards but unfortunately nothing of the interior remains. Although disused and derelict, the property is listed for preservation by Waterford County Council.

Surrendering to the Elements


Buried in the midst of woodland in north-west County Cork, Lohort Castle has had a turbulent past and, by the look of the place today, is experiencing a none-too secure present. As so often in Ireland, the building’s origins are uncertain. It has been proposed that a castle was constructed here in the late 12th centuries on the instructions of Prince (future King) John, but more likely it was one of the innumerable tower houses that appeared on the Irish landscape in the 15th and 16th centuries. As such it would have been built for the MacCarthys who were then the dominant family in the region. At the time, the castle would have been at the centre of a larger site with other buildings surrounded by an enclosing wall. In plan and form it is typical of the Irish tower house, being rectangular and rising five storeys to a machiolated parapet, with only one small point of access on the ground floor. The building’s most striking feature is its curved external walls, which while unusual are not unique. An engraving from the early 1740s shows it looking much as is still the case today, albeit surrounded by a moat (drained in 1876) and protected by star-shaped Vaubanesque outerworks. The only obvious differences are the stepped gable on the east side of the roof and the chimney stacks: these were added towards the end of the 19th century. 





In the late 1630s Lohort Castle passed out of the hands of the MacCarthys and came into the possession of Sir Philip Perceval, an English adventurer who acquired an extensive estate in Ireland. With the onset of rebellion in 1641 Perceval garrisoned the castle with 150 soldiers but it still fell to the native Irish who remained in occupation until 1650 when besieged by Sir Hardress Waller and his troops. It was written that Waller ‘by the Help of Cannon reduced it in four days’ but there is no evidence of such damage on the exterior walls (which are ten feet thick at the base) so perhaps the threat of cannon fire was enough to encourage surrender. Lohort was duly returned to the Percevals and remained in their hands for several centuries. It was Sir Philip’s grandson, John Perceval, created first Earl of Egmont in 1733, who paid most attention to the building. Formal classical gardens with long straight vistas were laid out in the surrounding grounds while alterations were made inside the main building including the provision of a library and an armoury holding sufficient weapons to equip men. In 1740 the builder John Hickey was hired by Lord Egmont to carry out this work but he miscalculated the costs and the following year was imprisoned for debt. Following the first earl’s death, his son seems to have lost interest in Lohort which was thereafter occupied by an agent.





In the late 19th century, Lohort again changed ownership, being bought by the O’Briens: Sir Timothy O’Brien was a cricketer famous for his short-temper. It was presumably during their tenure that further alterations were made to the original building in the mid-1870s. The need for additional guest accommodation was resolved by an unknown architect designing a large twin-towered gate house at the end of an avenue directly in front of the castle. As well as providing more bedrooms, this building added further drama to the site. The O’Briens were still in ownership when the gatehouse and castle were burnt by the IRA in July 1921 during the War of Independence. However, both were sufficiently sturdy to survive and, after some restoration work, to be habitable once more. This no longer looks to be the case. About a decade ago Lohort was offered for sale, and finally found a buyer at the end of 2011. Either before or after that date some rather aggressive work appears to have been undertaken on the buildings (and to an adjacent stableyard) but then halted. As a result, they are now suffering badly, the gatehouse especially being in pitiful condition. What an English army could not achieve four centuries ago, neglect in our own time may yet accomplish. 

Heavy Industry


The former Wallace’s Mills at Kilcran, County Monaghan. Dating from c.1790 this substantial range of stone buildings offers evidence of the country’s industrial past. The long range to the left operated as a corn mill while that to the right was a scutch mill, driven by water and used in the manufacture of linen to remove impurities from flax fibre through by means of rotating wooden blades. Seemingly it was customary to have the two manufacturing processes – for food and fabric – operating from adjacent premises. Located down a quiet side road, what use now for these substantial properties?

A Fine Moral System


From Vol. III of Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc. by Mr and Mrs Samuel Hall (1843):
‘In the county Tyrone, and within a distance of little more than three miles from Strabane, is to be found one of the most interesting establishments it has ever been our good fortune to visit in any country. We have inspected manufactories of much greater extent than the “Sion Mills” but have never witnessed with greater gratification the practical and efficient working of a fine moral system…’





‘The mills are situated on the river Mourne, which rushes along with a rapid and continued current, and is about one of the best water powers in Great Britain, the supply being not only large but constant. About eighty-horse power is now employed to drive eight thousand spindles; yet but a small portion of the water is necessary for the purpose. Instead of the hot furnace, long chimneys, and dense smoke, rendering still more unhealthy the necessarily close atmosphere of manufactories devoted exclusively to the spinning of flax and tow into linen yarn, there is a clean, handsome, well-ventilated building, where nearly seven hundred of a peasantry, which, before the establishment of this manufactory, were starving and idle—not from choice but necessity—are now constantly employed; and the air is as pure and as fresh as on the borders of the wildest prairie, or the boldest coast…’





‘The bare fact of such a population being taught industrious habits, and receiving full remuneration for their time and labour, is a blessing; but not the only one enjoyed by this favoured peasantry: agricultural labour is not neglected, because five out of the seven hundred are women and girls—creatures who, but for the spirit and enterprise of the Messrs. Herdman, (to whom, and the Mulhollands of Belfast, Tyrone is indebted for this establishment) would be found cowering over the embers of their turf fires, or begging along the waysides for morsels of food. But this system of social order and social industry is not, as we have said, the only advantage enjoyed at Sion Mills. Cottages, of simple construction, but sound and comfortable, have been built for the workmen and their families; a school is established, and to the Sunday-school the Messrs. Herdman themselves attend, taking the greatest interest in educational progress of their workpeople, and distributing motives to improvement, lavishly and judiciously. Nor are they behind London in the idea, that “the people” may derive benefit from the introduction of more refined tastes into the business of every-day life. The traveller’s ear is refreshed, if he pass along during the long evenings of winter, or the bright cheerful ones of summer, by the music of a full band; and instead of the saddened hearts and saddened features he has been led to suppose inseparable from the crowded factory, he hears a chorus of cheerful voices, or the echoes of dancing feet.’


Herdmans Flax Spinning Mill, Sion Mills, County Tyrone. Opened 1835, closed 2004, gutted by arsonists 2016.