Bleak House


As is well known, many Irish country houses would have been lost forever in the last century had they not been purchased and maintained by members of Roman Catholic religious orders. Often these buildings had to be converted or adapted for their new use and, as a rule, the work was sensitively done, or at least carried out in such a way that any alterations were reversible. Occasionally, however, a more aggressive and unsympathetic approach was taken, as can be seen Loughglynn, County Roscommon. The land on which the house stands had been acquired in somewhat questionable circumstances by a branch of the old Anglo-Norman Dillon family, which had hitherto been based in County Westmeath. In 1622 Theobald Dillon was created first Viscount Dillon of Costello-Gallen and following his death two years later a younger son, Lucas Dillon appears to have settled in Loughglynn with his wife, occupying an old castle that stood on the site. Eventually his descendant, another Theobald, became seventh Viscount Dillon, after the senior branch failed. The Dillons remained owners, although not always occupiers, of the property until the end of the 19th century.





Loughglynn has undergone a number of changes since first built. It has been proposed that Richard Castle was the house’s architect; after all, he did receive other commissions in County Roscommon, including Strokestown, Frenchpark and, possibly, Mount Talbot (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/08/03/mount-talbot/). On the other hand, the date of 1715 is sometimes given for Loughglynn’s construction; if this were the case, it cannot have been designed by Castle as he only came to Ireland in the late 1720s. Stylistically, the house is not dissimilar to other work by the same architect such as Hazelwood, County Sligo (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/12/03/hazelwood/) so he may well have been responsible, but at a somewhat later date. Dressed in limestone ashlar, the centre block was larger than what can be seen today, of two storeys over basement with a dormered attic storey on the high-pitched roof. The ten-bay entrance front had the three centre bays and those at either end breaking forward while on the garden side, there were canted bows on either side of the three-bay centre. On the east side, a single storey quadrant leads to a two-storey wing which forms part of the stable courtyard beyond (curiously, there is no equivalent wing on the other side of the house). So the building stood for a century until 1838 when Dublin architect James Bolger was requested to add another storey to the top of the building, sitting above the original cornice. A fire in 1896 left Loughglynn seriously damaged, and soon afterwards the Dillons sold house and estate. In 1904 the new owners, an order of nuns called the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, embarked on an extensive programme of repairs to the damaged property. This involved taking off the top storey of the building, and making the outer bays on either side single-storey. It may also have been at this time that the west wing, if it existed, was demolished, thereby explaining the lop-sided appearance of the house today.





During the 19th century the Dillons had little direct association with Loughglynn, preferring to live in England on their estate, Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. Therefore a succession of land agents occupied the house in Ireland and looked after the Dillons’ estates. One of them, Charles Strickland (whose nephew Walter Strickland would serve as Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland and publish the two-volume Dictionary of Irish Artists in 1913) is remembered for his generous support of the local people during the years of the Great Famine. On his employer’s land in County Mayo, he also established Charlestown, which is named after Strickland. It was during his successor’s time as agent that Loughglynn suffered its catastrophic fire, and that the Dillons decided to sell house and surrounding land. In 1899 the former, along with 100 acres of surrounding demesne land, was bought by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Elphin; in 1903 he handed over the property to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and it was soon afterwards that restoration work was undertaken on the house. The nuns here ran a school teaching various skills such as lace-making and domestic science, as well as establishing a dairy farm from which cheese was made on the premises. In 1960, during a time when admission to religious orders was at its height, the Franciscan Missionaries needed more space and so constructed a large block between the main house and the east wing. It cannot be claimed that this addition is a thing of beauty, or is in harmony with the older buildings. On the contrary, the 1960s development is ill-conceived and inconsiderate. Perhaps wisely the name of the architect responsible is unknown. The entrance front is now dominated by a pitched roofed former chapel, the centre part of which holds what remains of a window. Meanwhile, to the rear, the impression is given that some old-fashioned vision of a space craft has been ignominiously dumped on the site. Within a few decades, like many other religious orders the Franciscan Missionaries found their numbers in decline and before the end of the last century they were using the buildings as a nursing home, not least for their own elderly residents. Finally, in 2003 the place was sold to a development company which, it seems, had ambitious plans for an hotel, golf resort and so forth. By the time the economic recession had begun towards the end of the decade, little had happened and some years later Loughglynn changed hands again. Meanwhile the house suffered extensive vandalism, with the removal or destruction of almost everything it contained, including lead from the roof. As these photographs show, easy access is no longer possible, but other than the exterior walls there’s little left of the building to preserve. Another of Ireland’s historic houses left to fall into ruin.

Mount Massey, The Flower of Macroom


How I long to remember those bright days of yore
Which sweetly with joy I beguiled
The friends that frequented my old cabin floor
And the comrades I loved as a child
How I longed for to roam, by Mount Massey’s green groves
Or poach by the light of the moon
That spot of my birth, there’s no place on earth
Like Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom





In the sweet summer time, when the season was fine
What fun would be there at the gate
The colleens would smile as they sat on the stile
While the sweethearts their love tales relate
When dancing was over, we’d stroll thru the park
Each lad with his lassie in bloom
That spot of my birth, there’s no place on earth
Like Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom




For now I must roam, from my own native home
And cross o’er the wild raging sea
To leave friends behind both loving and kind
And the colleens who dearly loved me
Though fortune may smile far away from our isle
I’ll pray that the day will come soon
When I’ll stray once again, by the lovely domain
Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom

So friends come with me and ’tis there you will see
The apples and cherries in bloom
And ’tis you I’ll invite, where I first saw the light
In Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom

Mount Massey, The Flower of Macroom is an old Irish ballad.
Mount Massy, County Cork appears to have been built in the 1780s on land which at the time belonged to the Hutchinson family, but following the marriage of Mary Hutchinson to Captain Hugh Massy it was subsequently inherited by their son, Massy Hutchinson Massy whose descendants owned the house and surrounding estate until the building was burnt in December 1920 during the War of Independence. 

Going Nowhere



The east or Raheenroe gate lodge that formerly provided entrance to Castle Oliver, County Limerick. Both this and the west (Ballyorgan) lodges and gates were designed in the mid-1840s for the Misses Oliver Gascoigne by Yorkshire-based architect George Fowler Jones: his clients’ intention was to provide work to local tenants during the Great Famine. As with the main house, Jones chose a high Gothic style but while the east lodge looks like a miniature medieval French castle (the corner turret once had a tall conical roof), that at the west gate was meant to evoke the Scottish manorial style, the architect having been born in Inverness. Both alas are now derelict but being sturdily constructed could easily be restored and made habitable again.


Awaiting Restoration


In need of repair: the conservatory attributed to Richard Turner which is attached to the west side of Marlfield, County Tipperary. This house was built for the Bagwell family in c.1785-90. The conservatory here is a later addition, thought to have been added around 1835, which is two years later than that at Colebrooke. Although Marlfield was burnt by Anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War (it was subsequently rebuilt), the conservatory survived intact and is therefore an important example of Turner’s early work.


Another Melancholy Anniversary


From The Tuam Herald of Saturday, September 4th 1920: ‘A correspondent gives some interesting but sad details of the malicious burning of Tyrone House [County Galway]. It was in the late Georgian style and the finest house in Ireland. The ceilings were all painted by Italian masters and were regular works of art. The mantle pieces were all of rare Italian marble and very costly. In the hall was a fine full sized marble statue of Baron St George the founder of that once great family. It was the work of an Italian artist. The head was broken off the night of the raid deliberately it must be said. All the ceilings are now ruined and the mantle pieces also, and the entire structure an empty shell and ruin. There was no grounds for the report that the military or police intended or were to occupy the house, and agrarian motives are believed to have inspired and instigated this most foul and reprehensible act of purely wanton destruction. Of late years the place was freely allowed to be used by pleasure parties who came out from Loughrea and other places to have a dance which cost them nothing and to enjoy themselves, and who were never prevented from having their pleasure and a dance on the spacious floor of the dining room, and they can now no longer do so, and where in olden days the finest balls in the Co. Galway took place.’
This month marks the sad centenary of the burning of Tyrone House. For further information on the building and its former owners, the St George family, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/18/tyrone-house/ or watch on the Irish Aesthete’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=irish+aesthete

A Less Austere Residence


Rathcoffey Castle, County Kildare has a complex history, involving multiple changes of ownership. The first to be recorded dates from the late 12th century when lands in this part of the country were granted by the Anglo-Norman knight Adam de Hereford (responsible for building Leixlip Castle elsewhere in the same county) to his brother John. When that line of the family failed, the land reverted to the crown and in the early 14th century Edward II granted it to John de Wogan, Justiciar of Ireland. The Wogans, thought to be originally from Wales, retained the property (albeit with a certain amount of the inevitable internecine feuding) until the mid-18th century, despite remaining Roman Catholic, and rising against the Crown in 1581 and again in 1642. They also supported James II, the last of the line and so went into exile. The last of the male line, Charles Wogan, led a rather romantic existence, escaping from London’s Newgate Prison in 1716 on the eve of his trial for high treason. He managed to reach France where he joined a regiment under the authority of another Irish exile, Colonel Arthur Dillon. Next, he became involved in securing a bride for the Old Pretender: this included securing her release after she had been captured by the Austrians, for which he was made a Roman Senator by Pope Clement XI. The Old Pretender (James III to loyal Jacobites) made him a baronet, while in France he was known as the Chevalier Wogan. Next he joined the Spanish army where he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and made Governor of La Mancha. While living there he corresponded with Jonathan Swift in Dublin, sending the latter more than one cask of wine and some writings which he hoped Swift would help to get published. This never happened, although Swift described Wogan as ‘a Scholar, a Man of Genius and of Honour. As late as 1746 he was still trying to help the Jacobite cause, travelling to France in the hope of joining the Young Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in England, an aspiration never realized. He died, it appears back in La Mancha in 1752.






With the death of the Chevalier Wogan and then his younger brother Nicholas, what remained of the family’s Kildare estate was divided between the latter’s two daughters, one of whom Frances married John Talbot of Malahide. In the 1780s their grandson, Richard Wogan Talbot, second Baron Talbot of Malahide, sold Rathcoffey to another fascinating character, Archibald Hamilton Rowan who just a few years later would be a founding member of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen. In 1792 he was first arrested for seditious libel and two years later was jailed in Dublin. However, just like Charles Wogan, he managed to escape and to flee to France. Finding the Revolutionary climate too unstable, in July 1795 he moved to the United States, settling first in Philadelhia and then Wilmington, Delaware, borrowing money to operate a calico mill in the area. Finally in 1799, following persistent appeals from his wife Sarah to the British government, he was allowed to return to Europe, being reunited with his family in Hamburg. Then in 1803 he was permitted to live in England and finally, following the death of his father in 1805, back in Ireland. Thereafter he divided his time between the family’s original home, Killyleagh Castle, County Down and Rathcoffey where his loyal wife, then his eldest son and finally he all died in the same year, 1834. After which the contents of the building were auctioned and the estate leased, then sub-leased before being taken back by the Hamilton Rowan family. However, as early as 1902 the house was described as being a ruin, in which state it has remained ever since.






The site at Rathcoffey contains a number of substantial ruins, the oldest being an L-plan late-medieval gate house, possibly dating from the 15th century. This would have provided access to the main castle enclosed within a bawn wall, which has since gone. The gate house has undergone changes since first constructed and, it is speculated by Andrew Tierney, may have been converted into a coachhouse in the 18th century. That is certainly when the old castle, which stood a short distance to the east, was radically altered and given the form it still retains. The work is thought to have occurred after the estate was acquired by Archibald Hamilton Rowan in the 1780s: in his Beauties of Ireland (1826) James Norris Brewer noted that Hamilton Rowan had ‘commenced a less austere residence’ at Rathcoffey. Its design has been attributed to amateur architect and neighbour Thomas Wogan Browne, a relation of the previous owners. It will be remembered that the Wogan property was inherited by two sisters, one of whom married a Talbot. The other married a Browne, who lived not far away on an estate called Clongowes Wood (since 1814 a school run by the Jesuit order)*. Thomas Wogan Browne was responsible for giving his family home its Gothick appearance, but Rathcoffey on the other hand, although already a castle, was now thoroughly classicized. The older building to the rear and occupying the north-east corner of the site, was incorporated into the new and the greater part of the ground floor is groin-vaulted, even the handsome ashlar, three-bay loggia that sits between the three-storey façade’s projecting wings, each once finished with pedimented gables. Since it has stood empty for so long, little of the interior survives; one of the small reception rooms to the south-east has an internal bow-end and its equivalent in the south-west retains a number of niches. Otherwise it is impossible to determine what the house looked like when occupied by the Hamilton Rowans.


*There was another, and later link between Rathcoffey Castle and Clongowes Wood, since for much of the last century the Jesuits resident in the latter owned the land on which the former stands.

An Early Instance of Recyling



And so, another former church falling into ruin: this one in Aghinagh, County Cork where the congregation can never have been very substantial. The building dates from 1791 when £500 was provided by the Board of First Fruits but the east wall of the chancel (added in the mid-19th century) incorporates a late-medieval window, now completely smothered in ivy and other creepers, which suggests that, as so often, there was an earlier church on the site. One curious feature on the exterior of the three-stage tower at the west end may also have been recycled from a previous building: the head of a bishop carved in sandstone and resting on top of a Solomonic column.


Another Unhappy Fate



Following Monday’s piece on Mount Talbot, County Roscommon, here is the church where the Talbot family used to worship, and in the grounds of which they were buried. The building dates from 1766 and like the nearby house must originally have been classical in form, as indicated by the great three-stage tower at the west end which has a large niche on the lowest level. It would appear that at some date in the 19th century, perhaps when work was being undertaken at the main house, the church was similarly Gothicised, since the east end was given a tripartite window with pointed arches and the three windows along the south wall were similarly altered. Having closed for services in the 1960s, the building fell into ruin but a number of years ago restoration work began on the site, including the installation of a new roof. This job now seems to have stalled and soon church and house may look much like each other.


An Unhappy Tale


It was the late Nuala O’Faolain who, almost 25 years ago, told me the unhappy story of Marianne Talbot, a story Nuala later incorporated into her 2001 novel, My Dream of You. The tale can be summarized as follows: in January 1845 John Talbot-Crosbie, a younger son of the Rev John Talbot-Crosbie of Ardfert Abbey, County Kerry, married Marianne McCausland. A year later the couple’s only child, a daughter also called Marianne, was born. In May 1851 John Talbot-Crosbie’s uncle William Talbot died, and left his nephew an estate in County Roscommon called Mount Talbot. However, the will stated that John was only to enjoy lifetime occupancy and full ownership rested on his having a male heir. A year later, John, who by royal licence had now dropped Crosbie from his surname, claimed to have discovered his wife Marianne with a groom called Mullen in the latter’s room, the door to which was locked; curiously the couple’s little daughter was also in the room. However, immediately separated from her child, the following day Marianne Talbot was brought by the local rector to Dublin and there kept in confinement. It is said that Mullen followed Marianne to the city and tried to see her there, but was not allowed to do so. Some time later she was declared insane, taken to England and placed in a lunatic asylum where she is believed to have spent the rest of her life. Meanwhile, her husband initiated divorce proceedings against Marianne on the grounds of adultery and although his application was granted, it was repeatedly challenged by Marianne’s family, the case going all the way to the House of Lords where the couple’s divorce was confirmed in July 1856. As can be imagined, the matter attracted considerable public attention, and it was widely believed that John Talbot, knowing his wife was unlikely to have any further children and certainly not a boy, had fabricated her adultery with the groom so as to allow a divorce. Having succeeded in this ambition, he was able to marry again – in October 1858 – and a year later his second wife, Gertrude Caroline Bayley, had a son. Divine justice then intervened: John Talbot died a fortnight after the birth.






The Talbots were a family long settled in Ireland, the first of them being Richard de Talbot who around 1185 was granted land in Malahide where his descendants lived in a castle until 1973. Another branch was based in Templeogue, County Dublin until, in the aftermath of the Cromwellian Wars, Sir Henry Talbot had his lands seized and was transplanted to County Roscommon. Restored to his original lands in the aftermath of the Restoration, all seemed well until Sir Henry’s son James took up the cause of James II and was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Once again, the family lost its property in the Dublin region, but somehow managed to hold onto the Roscommon estate, which eventually passed to James Talbot’s nephew Henry. In the 1730s he embarked on building the core of what remains today of the house at Mount Talbot. The design of this has been attributed to that prolific architect of the period, Richard Castle. Certainly, the building as originally constructed conformed to the Castle’s Palladian model, the main block being flanked by wings set at an angle of 45 degrees and linked to them by curved open arcades with a series of urns along the parapets. So far, so standard but then around 1820 the era’s Tudor Gothic craze hit Mount Talbot’s then owner, the aforementioned William Talbot (the terms of whose will would later be the cause of so much unhappiness). The consequences were startling.






The architect chosen to oversee Mount Talbot’s transformation was a local man, Richard Richards, of whom relatively little is known although he did design a number of churches. This was certainly his most important commission and he clearly wanted to make an impression. What presumably had been a symmetrical classical house was given a great square keep at one end of the façade and a smaller polygonal turret at the other; between them the entrance to the building was now flanked by similar turrets. The centre of the garden front received a three-storey projecting block with arched Gothic windows and pinnacles at the corners of the roofline, all of which was castellated. One more turret rose above all the others in the middle of the building. Further work undertaken in the early 1880s when a new entrance front approached by a grand stone staircase was added in the north-east corner of the house. Yet while the main block was dressed up to look like a castle, the arcades and wings retained their original classical appearance, an altogether bizarre juxtaposition of styles. It was not to last long. William John Talbot, the heir born to John Talbot just two weeks before his death, in due course came of age and into his inheritance when he embarked on the additional work mentioned above. Known as Johnnie, in 1897 he married a wealthy heiress, Julia Molyneux, only child of Sir Capel Molyneux of Castle Dillon, County Armagh, meaning the couple were exceedingly wealthy. All was well until the onset of the War of Independence and its aftermath, the Civil War. During the first of these, British troops were garrisoned in the house and grounds of Mount Talbot, the Talbots seemingly living during this period at Castle Dillon. Following the signing of the Treaty, they returned to Mount Talbot but in early April 1922, a group of armed Republicans arrived at the house and assaulted the now-elderly Johnnie Talbot, giving the couple 24 hours to leave the place or face worse. The next day the Talbots departed, never to return, he to go into a nursing home in Dublin, his wife to the Shelbourne Hotel, where she died that night, supposedly from shock brought on by the attack at Mount Talbot. Johnnie Talbot died the following year in London. Meanwhile, as the Civil War continued, Free State troops occupied Mount Talbot which in July 1922 was attacked by Anti-Treaty forces who placed a mine under the main entrance and other bombs around the building, causing considerable damage. The Talbots had no children, and following his death, the estate was broken up by the Land Commission and the house, along with its contents, sold. All that remains today is a stump of the central block and one of the wings. No trace survives of the other wing, nor of either linking arcade. After all that John Talbot had done to ensure Mount Talbot remained in his family, and all the suffering he had caused to his first wife Marianne, this was the end result.

A Celtic Tiger Souvenir


In 2005 two doctors bought a former orthopedic hospital in the small County Westmeath village of Coole, with the intention of turning it into a substantial medical facility, borrowing substantial sums of money from Ulster Bank to do so. As sometimes happens, the two partners disagreed over the development of the site, as plans came to include provision not only of a medical centre and ancillary facilities, but also a number of residential units (the entire country was then entering peak-Celtic Tiger era when housing schemes were ubiquitous). One of the pair accordingly exited the scheme, and the other remained involved. Then, as so often happened, in the aftermath of the economic crash, the entire project foundered and in 2012 the property went into receivership. Two years later the original Ulster Bank loan was transferred to a large investment company called Promontoria (Aran) Limited (a subsidiary of the American private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management). In 2017 Promontoria sought to recover some of its money by offering the place for sale. A medical centre still operates from the site.





The core of what became St Joseph’s Orthopaedic hospital dates from 1897 and was developed by Teresa Dease whose family lived close by in a house called Turbotstown (see https://theirishaesthete.com/tag/turbotstown/). The Deases were resolutely Roman Catholic, never wavering from the faith of their forebears even during the years of Penal legislation, yet managing to hold onto their ancestral lands. It was here, on a site adjacent to the church built by her grandfather, that Teresa Dease established what was initially intended to be a school to train young girls for a life in domestic service by teaching them such skills as housekeeping, cookery, needlework and laundry work. However, after a number of years, she closed the school and in 1916 passed responsibility for the building to an order of nuns, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who ran the place as an orthopaedic hospital for boys. It continued in operation until 1981, and thereafter the buildings sat empty and deteriorating until acquired in 2005 by the aforementioned pair of doctors. In the aftermath of its closure, and the revelation of widespread abuse in institutions run by religious orders, a great deal of disturbing information emerged about practices in St Joseph’s Hospital although here – as elsewhere – the relevant documentation disappeared, making it difficult for those who deservedly sought recognition and compensation for what they experienced to pursue their claims.





As mentioned, a medical centre operates on part of the site formerly occupied by St Joseph’s Hospital, from a range constructed for this purpose. But the ambition of the intended development is visible in other buildings left incomplete, roads leading nowhere, and in particular the condition of the original property erected in 1897 and, it appears, used as the nuns’ residence. Old photographs show this was formerly linked to other parts of the hospital, in particular a chapel in Hiberno-Romanesque style built in the mid-1930s. This still stands but many of the other extensions were taken down, seemingly at the onset of the redevelopment. The interior of the convent building was completely gutted, with only the old staircase surviving in a partially mangled state. And then the enterprise stalled, and the place was abandoned. And so it has remained ever since; a reminder more than a decade later of how not all Celtic Tiger ambitions were realized.