Currently for sale, this miniature Tudorbethan house stands a short distance north-east from the site of Kiltanon, County Clare. A substantial property, the latter was built in the 1830s for the Molonys, an ancient Irish family, one of whom – John O’Molony, Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick – followed James II to Paris where he helped to found the Irish College, in which he was buried following his death in 1702. In Ireland, the Molonys subsequently converted to the Established Church but they kept a souvenir of their Catholic forebear: a grey marble table inlaid with two hands of old French cards and a knave of diamonds torn in half as if they had just been thrown down. Seemingly, this piece of furniture had been presented by Louis XIV to the bishop in restitution for the king’s fit of pique over a game of cards in which the cleric was a participant. The table was supposedly lost, along with the rest of Kiltanon’s contents, when the building was burnt by the IRA in September 1920. Given its (somewhat weathered) appearance, it would appear that this little house was once part of the Molony estate and constructed around the same time as the main residence itself.
Category Archives: Heritage at Risk
A Monument to the Past
Few people today will be familiar with the name of William Delany, Jesuit priest and one of the great educationalists of the late 19th century. Born the son of a baker in County Carlow, in 1860 at the age of 25 he was sent to teach at St Stanislaus’s College, then a Jesuit secondary school in County Offaly. Ten years later, Delany became the college’s Rector and embarked on an expansionist policy which led to rebukes from his superiors (the school ran up substantial debts due to his building programme). What they, and everyone else, could not deny, was the quality of education received by students at St Stanislaus’s College, which led them to seek further academic qualifications. At the time, the Catholic University of Ireland, founded in 1851, could not legally confer degrees, and Cardinal Cullen had forbidden Roman Catholics from attending other third-level institutions because they were non-denominational, denouncing them as ‘godless colleges.’ From 1876 Delany overcame this problem by entering his students for the London University examinations, where they achieved one hundred percent success: in 1881 a First Place and First Exhibition were secured by boys at St Stanislaus’s College, competing against thousands of English entrants. Delany would soon leave the school, and was instead appointed the first president of the new University College Dublin (the successor to the Catholic University) where he achieved equal success. However, despite its academic achievements, in 1886 St Stanislaus’s College closed as a boys’ school. The debts caused by Delany’s building programmes, along with the shortage of Jesuit priests in Ireland, forced the order to make certain decisions, one of which was to focus attention Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, despite the fact that the latter’s record was not as good as that of the County Offaly school.
St Stanislaus’s College, popularly known as Tullabeg, dates back to 1818. The land on which it stands had been provided a few years earlier by a local woman, Maria O’Brien, whose father, a wealthy Roman Catholic merchant from Dublin, had bought an estate in the area: Rahan Lodge, originally built c.1740 as a hunting lodge. Initially it was intended that the new college would act as a novitiate for training Jesuit priests. However, before long it began to serve as a preparatory school for boys who would then go on to Clongowes Wood College. After several decades the school began to offer second level education to students and, as already mentioned, continued to do so until 1886. Two years later, a new purpose was found for the property, when it became the novitiate for the Irish province of the Jesuits; every young man who entered the order thereafter would spend a period of time at Tullabeg. This continued to be the case until 1930 when the novitiate was transferred to Emo Court, County Laois. Next the place became a faculty of philosophy for Jesuits who had already finished their studies at university. A further change of direction occurred in 1962 when the order decided to make Tullabeg a retreat centre; this finally closed in 1991. Thereafter the property seems to have had a chequered history, at one stage being used as a nursing home while a nine-hole golf course was installed in the grounds.
St Stanislaus’s College is a building of diverse parts and periods, the whole adding up to a very substantial complex. The earliest part dates back to the second decade of the 19th century, when a south-facing block of three storeys over basement was constructed, its architectural style very much aping that of country houses of the period, with a flight of stone steps leading up to the main entrance, the door flanked by Ionic columns and topped by a generous fanlight. Over the following years, projecting wings were added on either side of this block, and then a church built to the immediate west. Once St Stanislaus’s College began to take in secondary school students, additional space was required, so in the early 1860s a large block to the east was added. Known as the Seaver Wing (after the rector of the period), the building, which is centred on a large three-bay breakfront featuring substantial tripartite fenestration, incorporated classrooms, dormitories and a refectory. Later in the same decade, a further wing was added parallel to and north of the original house; this held a college chapel and study hall, along with further accommodation. The work of this period was designed by successful Dublin architect Charles Geoghegan. During his time as rector, William Delany commissioned further work on the premises, rebuilding the students’ chapel, converting another chapel into a study hall and remodelling the east wing; he also had part of the local river deepened and enclosed to provide decent swimming facilities. Little of substance appears to have changed thereafter until the mid-1940s when Fr Donal O’Sullivan, then rector of St Stanislaus’s, commissioned the modernist architect Michael Scott to design a new chapel in the building; this had stained glass windows by Evie Hone, a timber altar and statues by sculptor Laurence Campbell and terracotta Stations of the Cross by French sculptor Robert Villiers. When the Jesuits left Tullabeg in 1991, they removed all these fittings and installed them in some of the order’s other properties. So those items were at least saved from the vandalism and decay that awaited the rest of the place and has led to its present decay. What can be done with such a vast range of buildings? Tullabeg is in a relatively remote part of the Irish midlands, in a rural area with few facilities. No doubt this isolation was beneficial when St Stanislaus’s operated as a religious house, but is now a distinct drawback. It would appear a few commercial ventures were attempted or considered here, but not found viable. So it sits, neglected and falling into further dereliction, a monument to another, now passed, era in the country’s history.
Not Very Gay
In the mid-1780s, Ralph Smyth purchased the Gaybrook estate in County Westmeath from one John Gay (reputedly related to the earlier John Gay, whose 1728 ballad drama The Beggar’s Opera, produced by John Rich, was famously said to have made ‘Rich gay and Gay rich’). Advised by amateur architect, the Rev Daniel Beaufort, Smyth embarked on building a new residence for himself on the property, but the gates and lodges are of a later date, constructed by his younger son Robert who inherited the place in 1827. At the eastern end of the estate, the front elevation of this one, with a canted central bay, suggests the house was only on one level. However, examination of the rear indicates it was actually two storeys high. Dean, in his gazeteer of Leinster lodges, speaks of the octagonal entrance hall having ‘a delicately vaulted plaster ceiling’ but alas, no evidence of this now survives, in consequence of the lodge being long neglected. The house itself, having survived until the early 1970s, was subsequently demolished.
Not Long for This World
Unlikely to last much longer: a ruined tower house in County Tipperary known as Knigh Castle. The north-west portion of this four-storey building survives best, but much of the other walls has tumbled down, exposing the interior with its barrel-vaulted roof on the first floor. Despite occupying a prominent position on high ground beside a crossroads, little is known of Knigh Castle, and soon it threatens to become no more than a memory.
A Death on Main Street
Portarlington, County Laois has featured here on a couple of previous occasions (see A Boarded Up Boarding School « The Irish Aesthete and On the Market « The Irish Aesthete). In both instances, astonishment was expressed that so many historic buildings in what could be a jewel of a town – and a magnet for tourism in Ireland’s Midlands – were being left to fall into ruin. In Andrew Tierney’s 2019 guide to Central Leinster, Portarlington is politely described as ‘once elegant’, thereby only gently suggesting the place’s chronic decay and shabbiness. As mentioned previously, the town takes its name from Sir Henry Bennett, Baron Arlington, who was granted land here in 1667 by Charles II and created a settlement on his property. However, it was only at the end of the 17th century, after Portarlington had passed into the hands of Henri de Massue, second Marquis de Ruvigny (subsequently Baron Portarlington and Earl of Galway) that the town really began to prosper. The marquis was a Huguenot and, like many other members of his faith, had fled France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Spending much time in this country, he encouraged his co-religious to move to Portarlington, which soon became an important centre, not just for trade, but also for education; a considerable number of schools were established in houses around the town. However, the schools have long-since gone, and so too has all evidence of the town’s prosperity.
Today’s pictures show the former Rectory on Portarlington’s Main Street. Although a considerable part of the town’s population in the 18th century was Huguenot, the Church of Ireland also had a presence here, as evidenced by this building, constructed around 1780, although somewhat altered a century later. Of five bays and two storeys over basement, its significance is indicated by the fact that the house has been slightly set back from the road, the door approached by a flight of stone steps. At some date, either late 19th or early 20th century, a small pavilion or kios, was erected in front of and linked to the southern part of the building. In due course, the rectory was used as offices while the kiosk served as a local branch of Allied Irish Bank, until it was closed down in October 2012. Since then, it would seem that the entire site has sat empty and left to fall into its present state of appalling dereliction; part of the rear of the old rectory has collapsed, its condition not helped by the demolition of the adjacent building to the immediate north. Last year, the former rectory was placed on the derelict sites list and this may have been responsible for the owners, a County Monaghan-based development company, to apply for conversion of the property into a series of flats, with the additional construction of a three-storey block to the rear. On the other hand, the same company was previously granted permission for almost the same conversion in June 2019, and since then things have only grown worse. A death of Main Street: this is a sad state of affairs, but one now typical of Irish cities and towns in the 21st century.
A Pocket Castle
The former gate lodge to Flesk Castle, County Kerry, both now in ruinous condition. Of two storeys over basement, the brick-and rubble rendered lodge takes the form of an octagonal tower with castellated roofline and Tudoresque hood mouldings over the door and windows, the former having quatrefoil-decorated spandrels. It would appear there was only one room per floor, and with no signs of an internal staircase, J.A.K Dean (in his gazeteer of Munster gate lodges) suggests access between different levels must have been via an external staircase. Flesk Castle was designed by and built for owner John Coltsman in the second decade of the 19th century, so presumably he was also responsible for this building.
In Urgent Need of Treatment
In February 2021, The Anglo-Celt carried an article stating that the owners of the former St Felim’s Hospital were concerned about the safety of vandals who had broken into the property and caused damage there. Built in 1841-42, St Felim’s was one of the first workhouses constructed in Ireland by George Wilkinson, and the largest such institution in Ulster, its Tudor-Gothic design typical of the architect. Following the establishment of the Irish Free State, the property was designated as Cavan County Hospital, renamed St Felim’s in 1954. It ceased to operate as a hospital in 2003 and then sat empty and deteriorating for the next 16 years, until put up for auction by the HSE in 2019. In November of that year, the present owners, Pepino Place, a company owned by Paul Elliott from Cavan-based firm Elliott Properties Ltd Construction, bought the buildings on an 11.32 acre site: it had been listed on the market for a sum in excess of €200,000. Since then, aside from assault by the aforementioned vandals, not a lot appears to have happened here and the old hospital, despite being listed for protection, has fallen into further disrepair; yet another instance of our architectural heritage being at critical risk of disappearing forever.
The towering remains of Belgooly Mill, County Cork. A smaller operation was built here in the early 1820s by one Thomas Jennings and served as a starch mill and vinegar distillery. In 1832, a flour miller called Peter Downing constructed g a new six-storey boulting mill, capable of producing 15,000 bags of flour annually, at a cost of £7,000: this is what can be seen here. In 1872, the recently-established South of Ireland and County Cork Distillery Company took a lease on the premises and converted them into a whiskey distillery, but just a decade later this business went into liquidation. The distillery’s copper fittings were all stripped out and the mill left empty, although parts of it were used by the local residents for various community purposes. But during the first decades of the last century, the buildings gradually declined and in 1941 they were stripped of all saleable materials – slates, flooring, beams and the like – and left a shell. The Irish Army was then invited to demolish the six-storey grain store using explosives, but despite several attempts to do so, it remained standing, as it still does today.
In the Summer Time
Summerhill, County Meath has featured here before (see My Name is Ozymandias « The Irish Aesthete) and is well-known as one of Ireland’s great lost country houses. But its namesake in County Mayo is probably less familiar to readers, although its striking remains are hard to miss when travelling through that part of the island. This second Summerhill was built and occupied by a branch of the Palmer family, which has also featured here (see Lackin’ a Roof « The Irish Aesthete). According to Burke’s Landed Gentry of 1846, ‘This family, long settled in Co Mayo, derives from a common ancestor with the Palmers of Palmerstown and Rush House, and is presumed to have been originally from Kent.’ By the second half of the 18th century, the Palmers owned a number of estates in north Mayo, Summerhill being one of them.
Summerhill may have been built by Thomas Palmer, who died in 1757, or perhaps by his son, also called Thomas (as were successive generations of this branch of the family), meaning it was likely constructed around the mid-18th century. In 1798 the property was let to one John Bourke who, in August, following the landing nearby of a French force under General Humbert, organised to have the house secured. This proved a wise precaution as a number of other such properties in the area, including Castlereagh, seat of Arthur Knox, and Castle Lacken, owned by Sir John Palmer, were attacked and pillaged by a mob. Bourke’s home found itself under siege by the same band until a French officer based in Killala, Col Armand Charost, despatched a number of his troops, as was later reported, ‘to Summerhill to appease the mob, and another party of men to Castlereagh to save what remained of the provisions and liquors. The appearance of the emissaries ended the siege at Mr. Bourke’s house; but the Castlereagh party, which consisted entirely of natives, could think of no better expedient for preserving the spirits from the thirsty bandits that coveted them than by concealing as much as they could in their own stomachs. The consequence was that they returned to Killala uproariously drunk. As for Castle Lacken, it was completely gutted, and the occupant and his large family were driven out to seek shelter as best they could find it.’ Within a few years of these events, the Palmers were back in residence at Summerhill, and recorded as living there by Samuel Lewis in 1837 and also by Burke in his 1846 guide to landed gentry. However, in the second half of the 19th century, the property was sold to the McCormack family, who remained there until c.1929 when what remained of the estate, running to some 296 acres, was broken up by the Land Commission and the house subsequently abandoned.
In his 1978 Guide to Irish Country Houses, Mark Bence-Jones noted certain stylistic similarities between Summerhill and Summergrove, County Laois (see A Gem « The Irish Aesthete). Both houses are of five bays and two storeys over raised basement, with the central pedimented breakfront single bay featuring a doorcase reached by a flight of steps and flanked by sidelights below a first-floor Venetian window. Summerhill’s facade has an oculus within the pediment, whereas Summergrove has a Diocletian window, but certainly the two buildings share many features. However, whereas the latter still stands and is in good condition, the latter is now a roofless shell: photographs from just a few decades ago show the majority of slates still in place, but the house is now open to the elements. When Bence-Jones visited, the interiors were still reasonably intact: he included a photograph of ceiling stuccowork, describing it as ‘in a simple and somewhat primitive rococo, complete with the odd rather amateurishly-moulded bird.’ All now gone, as can be seen, and inside the house nothing left but bits of timber and plaster.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
The scant remains of Lixnaw Court, County Kerry. From the mid-13th to the late 18th century, this was a seat of the FitzMaurices, Barons Kerry. In 1723 the 21st Baron, Thomas FitzMaurice, was created first Earl of Kerry: 30 years earlier, he had married Anne Petty, only daughter of Sir William Petty. The earl was a proud and arrogant man: according to his grandson, the first Earl of Shelburne, he ‘did not want the manners of the country nor the habits of his family to make him a tyrant. He was so by nature. He was the most severe character which can be imagined, obstinate and inflexible…His children did not love him, but dreaded him; his servants the same.’ This provincial plutocrat transformed Lixnaw where, wrote his younger son John FitzMaurice, he spent ‘great sums building and furnishing a very large mansion-house’ along with making many other improvements in the gardens and demesne. However, all his work had started to fall into decay even before the end of the century thanks to the disinterest and extravagance of the third Earl of Kerry. Following the latter’s death in 1818, what remained of the estate was inherited by a cousin, Henry Petty-FitzMaurice, third Marquess of Lansdowne, whose Kerry base was in the south of the county. In consequence, the once splendid house and gardens at Lixnaw were left to moulder, as can be seen in Cornelius Varley’s painting of 1842. Today, a few outer walls survive and, in the surrounding countryside, evidence of the first earl’s great landscaping enterprises, not least a long canal which would once have been a feature of the formal Baroque garden.