Outstanding in its Field



Kilcoltrim, County Carlow: a substantial, five-bay, three storey over basement house that dates from the mid-18th century, it is listed by Samuel Lewis (1837) as being the residence of Edmund Hegarty but has long fallen into ruin. The most notable feature of the building, a cantilevered stone staircase located at the centre of the building, is documented as still intact when David Griffin compiled his list of vanishing or lost Irish country houses in 1988. This feature has since gone and little beyond a disintegrating shell now remains.


Look to the Stars



Internationally acclaimed for his work, the astronomer William Edward Wilson was born in 1851 in Belfast, where his grandfather, also called William, had made a fortune in the shipping business. As a result, William senior bought each of his four sons an estate, that given to William junior’s father, John Wilson, being Daramona, County Westmeath. The younger William, not enjoying good health as a child, was educated at home but when he was 19 the opportunity arose to join an expedition travelling to Algeria to witness a total solar eclipse. This inspired his interest in astronomy and in due course he acquired his first telescope. When aged thirty, he constructed his own observatory at Daramona, on a site immediately adjacent to the house. Here he worked for the rest of his life, until his early death in 1908. Among the scientific breakthroughs with which he is credited are the production of the first photo-electric measurements of the brightness of stars and the first accurate determination of the temperature of the solar photosphere. He was also responsible for making a series of outstanding celestial photographs. As a result of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896 and awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Trinity College Dublin in 1901.





Daramona is a mid-19th century, three-bay, two-storey Italianate villa probably built by John Wilson soon after the birth of his son, the future astronomer. There was an older house immediately behind the present one, but it has long since been demolished; it is suggested that the somewhat over-scaled limestone Doric entrance porch was recycled from the previous building. The doorcase behind has a particularly wide fanlight and sidelights. The interior is typical of the period, the most interesting space being the very substantial library, the largest room on the ground floor, which has timber panelled walls and, above the chimneypiece, a panel bearing the family coat of arms. Immediately behind the house, on the site of the earlier house, are two long service wings. Wilson’s two-storey observatory, completed around 1892 and originally domed, stands left of the rear of the house. Beyond it is a curtain wall topped with a balustrade and incorporating a pedimented doorcase leading providing access to the rear avenue.





Not long after Edward Wilson’s death in 1908, his widow and children moved first to County Cavan and then, following the outbreak of troubles in the 1920s, to England. His telescope was offered to the University of London where it remained until 1974; it is now in Liverpool’s Merseyside County Museum. Much of his original instrumentation when to Trinity College Dublin. Meanwhile, Daramona was sold to another family who lived in and maintained the property until it was put on the market in 2000. House and land were then bought by a local building firm which applied to construct 38 houses on the site. Thanks to a campaign by scientists in Ireland and around the world, this application was refused by the county council which in due course conferred protected structure status on the main building, ancillary outhouses, demesne wall and gates. Since then it would appear nothing has been done, so that today Daramona is fast falling into decay and – once more – taking with it part of the national history. Looking for a solution to this problem? One might as well follow William Wilson’s example, and look to the stars.


In the Round


The 17th century historian Geoffrey Keating (in Irish Seathrún Céitinn) was mentioned here earlier this year, since he is believed to be buried in the graveyard at Tubrid, County Tipperary (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/01/13/tubrid-church). Likewise, although it cannot be verified, the proposal has been made that he was born some 12 miles away at Moorstown Castle, since he is believed to have been the third son of James FitzEdmund Keating who then owned the property. The Keatings were of Welsh origin, and one of the families who settled in Ireland at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. Originally they held land further south at Shanrahan, but by the 16th century they had acquired more in this part of Tipperary and had become supporters of the dominant Butler family, Earls of Ormond. Dating buildings such as this is extremely difficult, as they often follow a standard model that persisted from the 15th to early 17th centuries. In this instance, James FitzEdmund Keating may have been responsible for Moorstown’s construction since he is described in 1652 as being of Ballynamona (the place’s name in Irish).





Moorstown belongs to a small group of cylindrical tower houses, the great majority of them found in County Tipperary. It is likely the surrounding bawn wall was built first, so as to offer protection to the Keatings and their supporters, and to provide space for lifestock (as remains the case here). Access to the bawn’s interior is through a gabled gateway on the east side of the bawn, a substantial building in its own right, which may be later than the main tower house. The arched entrance leads to a narrow passageway, with an doorcase to the upper floors on one side, at the end of which another arch opens into the bawn courtyard, the tower house directly in front. On the south-west and north-east corners of the bawn wall are smaller defensive towers, which allowed the occupants to see anyone approaching the site. Single storey ranges run along some of the interior walls. The tower house is of four storeys, at the top of which are graceful curved gables on the west and east sides; to the left and below each is a garderobe. The lower two floors have small windows, but they are then larger, indicating these were the main living quarters. There are spiral steps inside but the upper portion of these is missing; it appears that during the War of Independence, a local unit of the IRA flew a tricolour flag from the parapet and in order to ensure it could not be removed, they took out the steps.





The Keatings only remained at Moorstown until the mid-17th century. Having borrowed money from Robert Cox of County Limerick, after being unable to repay the debt they were obliged to hand over the property. Robert Cox’s daughter Frances married Captain Godfrey Greene in 1645 and through her came into possession of Moorstown. Son of an English-born planter and a Captain in the what was called the King’s Irish Protestant Army, Greene had remained loyal to the crown during the Cromwellian interregnum and thus benefitted from the return of the monarchy in 1660. His ownership of the Moorstown was confirmed by government in 1678, as was that of another castle elsewhere in Tipperary, Kilmanahan, which has been discussed here before (see https://theirishaesthete.com/tag/kilmanahan-castle). In both instances, his descendants remained in occupation until after the Great Famine, when Moorstown and Kilmanahan were sold to pay debts through the Encumbered Estates Court. But whereas the latter remained in use as a residence until relatively recently, Moorstown seems not to have served this purpose thereafter, hence its present condition.

Time to Move?


What remains of one of Ireland’s last surviving market crosses stands in the centre of Athenry, County Galway. Believed to date from c.1475, originally it would have been part of a much larger, and taller, monument; it was placed on the present plinth at the start of the 19th century. The south face carries a depiction of the Crucifixion, while on the other side can be seen (just about) a crowned Madonna and Child. The cross is badly weathered, its condition not helped by being in the middle of a busy traffic junction. Although this is now the only market cross in Ireland still in situ, perhaps the time has come to move it to another, less environmentally damaging location?


*New post on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2cvPCjwXwU&t=11s

Haunted Houses


All houses wherein men have lived and died
Are haunted houses. Through the open doors
The harmless phantoms on their errands glide,
With feet that make no sound upon the floors.

We meet them at the doorway, on the stair,
Along the passages they come and go,
Impalpable impressions on the air,
A sense of something moving to and fro.

There are more guests at table, than the hosts
Invited; the illuminated hall
Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts,
As silent as the pictures on the wall.




The stranger at my fireside cannot see
The forms I see, nor hear the sounds I hear;
He but perceives what is; while unto me
All that has been is visible and clear.

We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates.

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Our little lives are kept in equipoise
By opposite attractions and desires;
The struggle of the instinct that enjoys,
And the more noble instinct that aspires.




These perturbations, this perpetual jar
Of earthly wants and aspirations high,
Come from the influence of an unseen star,
An undiscovered planet in our sky.

And as the moon from some dark gate of cloud
Throws o’er the sea a floating bridge of light,
Across whose trembling planks our fancies crowd
Into the realm of mystery and night,–

So from the world of spirits there descends
A bridge of light, connecting it with this,
O’er whose unsteady floor, that sways and bends,
Wander our thoughts above the dark abyss.



Remembering all those lost during the present pandemic in Ireland and around the world: “We meet them at the doorway, on the stair, along the passages…” Haunted Houses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
(Derelict Farmhouse in County Meath) 

Whim in All His Improvements


On August 25th 1732, the future Mrs Delany (then the merrily widowed Mrs Pendarves) embarked on a journey from Navan, County Meath to Cootehill, County Cavan. She wrote in her journal, ‘travelled through bad roads and a dull, uninhabited country, till we came to Cabaragh, Mr Prat’s house, an old castle modernized, and made very pretty: the master of it is a virtuoso, and discovers whim in all his improvements. The house stands on the side of a high hill; has some tall old trees about it; the gardens are small but neat; there are two little terrace walks, and down in a hollow is a little commodious lodge where Mr Prat lived whilst his house was repairing. But the thing that most pleased me, was a rivulet that tumbles down from rocks in a little glen, full of shrub-wood and trees; here a fine spring joisns the river, of the sweetest water in the world.’





The ‘Mr Prat’ to whom Mrs Pendarves refers was Mervyn Pratt, a sometime Member of the Irish Parliament representing County Cavan. His father, Joseph Pratt, had been one of two brothers who moved from Leicestershire to Ireland in the mid-17th century, both of them settling in County Meath. However, Joseph made an advantageous marriage to Elizabeth, only daughter and heiress of Col. Thomas Cooch (or Couch) who owned estates in Counties Donegal and Cavan. When he died in 1699, he left his property in the latter county to his grandson Mervyn Pratt, then aged 12. The heir duly settled on his inheritance and married Elizabeth, daughter of a neighbour, the Hon. Thomas Coote of Bellamont, County Cavan. At Cabra (spelled ‘Cabaragh’ by Mrs Pendarves), the couple’s home was an old castle, built at the start of the 17th century by Gerald Fleming (who had in turn been granted territory previously held by a branch of the O’Reilly family). This was the building which was ‘modernized and made very pretty.’





Today the castle at Cabra is just one of a number of buildings constructed or improved by Mervyn Pratt. A walk through the site today leads first to his former stable block (see first set of pictures), popularly known as the Barracks. A long, two-storey gabled block the east side features a series of lunettes resting on a string-course; most of these have been blocked up but two are open as part of doorcases into the building. Nothing remains of the interior. To the west and on higher ground are the remains of the extended old castle, primarily consisting of two four-storey towers, that to the south likely the original Fleming residence. Again, almost nothing survives of the interior, but somehow in the newer block there remains intact one plastered niche, as well as evidence of an adjacent cantilevered staircase. From this high spot, the land begins to drop and, past a typical domed and recessed icehouse, the path leads down to a lake beside which stands what’s left of the ‘little commodious lodge’ where Mervyn Pratt lived while the castle was being restored and enlarged. It has been proposed by Kevin Mulligan that this building (as well as the stables) were designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and originally featured a broad pedimented façade inspired, via the work of Lord Burlington, by Palladio’s Villa Valmarana at Vigardolo. As elsewhere, not a lot remains and indeed at least half of the building no longer stands; the central portion has lost its pediment and, given a flat, utilitarian roof, is now used as a store shed. But at least here, enough does survive for the original concept to be apparent.





The Pratts remained in possession, but perhaps not in residence at Cabra for the rest of the 18th century; in his Statistical Survey of the County of Cavan (1802) Sir Charles Coote while enthusiastic about the improvements undertaken by Mervyn Pratt and his successors in the local town of Kingscourt, was much less engaged with the demesne and buildings at Cabra. ‘The ruins of the old castle,’ he wrote, ‘which was the family mansion, are contiguous to the house, but quite too near to have any pleasing effect, which such pieces of antiquity afford in the landscape.’ Sir Charles was far more enthusiastic about the landscape and house at nearby Cormy (‘very beautiful, and formed with great judgement and true economy’) owned by Henry Foster who was then undertaking to transform a standard Georgian house into a romantic Gothic castle. However, before this work was finished, Cormy was sold to Colonel Joseph Pratt who abandoned the old family old home and renamed the new one Cabra Castle. This remained in the ownership of his descendants until 1964 and has since been used as an hotel. Meanwhile the older Cabra estate fell into neglect until acquired by the national Forest and Wildlife Service in 1959. Today it is run by Coillte (the state forestry body) and open to the public as Dún a Rí forest park.

Last Rites



In its present incarnation, St Kieran’s, Modreeny, County Tipperary dates from 1828 when erected with assistance from the Board of First Fruits. However, immediately to the west, and beyond the church tower, are the remains of an older, probably medieval church, which is the large, ivy-covered wall seen in the first photograph above (the east end of the 19th century church is shown in the second picture). The building remained in use for services until 1987, when closed although, as so often in Ireland, the surrounding graveyard remains, so to speak, ‘active.’ Unlike elsewhere, St Kieran’s was not dismantled, and many of the old wall memorials remain in situ, but it is gradually falling into desuetude (the broken windows don’t help).


Heritage Cherished


Hard to believe but this is one of the most historic corners of Dublin, where St Mary’s Abbey links with Meetinghouse Lane. As the first of name indicates, it was the site of the medieval Cistercian Abbey of St Mary, the richest religious house in Ireland until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Meetinghouse Lane derives from the fact that an early Presbyterian place of worship later stood here; it can be seen on Rocque’s 1756 Map of the city. Having been restored, the Chapter House of St Mary’s, the only substantial part of the old abbey to survive, was open to the public for a period, but then closed five years ago and has remained shut ever since. Meanwhile what remains of the old Presbyterian foundation has been incorporated into other buildings and put to other ignominious uses. The condition of the Victorian ground floor façade shown here is indicative of how the area looks.

End of the Line


The platform and what remains of the former station alongside the railway line that once passed through Nobber, County Meath. Operated by the Midland and Great Western Railway Company, the line opened in 1872 and ran between Navan and Kingscourt, County Cavan. Like a great many other branch lines, it was never particularly successful commercially but at a time when other forms of transport were limited, provided a valuable means of travel in this part of the country. The line was closed to passenger traffic in 1947 but continued to be used for movement of freight although this station closed altogether in 1963. The station has since fallen into its present dereliction but an adjacent warehouse is used for storing machinery.