A Great House that had Lost its Pride


Half a century ago, in 1968, the big house at Kilballyowen, County Limerick was demolished. As its then-owner Lt.-Col. Gerald Vigors de Courcy O’Grady – whose family have been based there for hundreds of years – recalled some time later, ‘The huge rooms were too big to live in; it was impossible to live in a house of that nature. If you could live there in warm conditions – yes. It was just a necessity. No I didn’t just want to leave it empty, so there are no remains. I do not like living near ruins; there are too many around here.’ His wife commented that by the late 1960s the house ‘was in a terrifying state of repair and we did not have the money to fix it. We had thought of selling just the house, but then we were afraid we might lose the land as well. It was a great house that had lost its pride.’ There was no support for the owners and no state interest in the preservation of such properties. And so, like very many others, Kilballyowen came down.




The surname O’Grady derives from the Irish Ó Grádaigh or Ó Gráda, meaning ‘noble’. The O’Grady family originally lived in East County Clare where they were based in the area around Tuamgraney (where they built a tower house adjacent to what is now the oldest centre of continuous religious worship in Ireland, St Cronan’s which dates from the 10th century). During the Middle Ages various O’Gradys frequently held high positions in the Roman Catholic Church. It helped that clerical celibacy was then not much enforced. Thus in 1332 Eoin (or John) O’Grady became Archbishop of Cashel and, in 1366 his son, also called John, became Archbishop of Tuam. In turn, the latter’s son, another John O’Grady, was made Bishop of Elphin in 1405. At the same time they were frequently at war with other families in the area, not least their distant cousins and former allies, the O’Briens who eventually drove the O’Gradys out of Clare. One of the family, a younger son called Hugh O’Grady had in the early 14th century married a daughter of the head of the O Ciarmhaic family in Knockainy in east Limerick and this would lead their descendants to settle at Kilballyowen. There successive male heirs became the head of the family and were known as The O’Grady.





The core of the now-demolished Kilballyowen was a tower house dating from c.1500, around which a house had been built in the first half of the 18th century, and then further extended by a new wing in 1810: in 1837 Samuel Lewis described the property as ‘a handsome modern building in a richly planted demesne.’ The building had a five-bay façade with a two-bay projecting extension to one side: the garden front featured a three-bay breakfront. Nothing of the house remains but the stableyard to the immediate north-west remains. Set around an open court, the four blocks are of almost equal dimensions and contain carriage houses, stalls and accommodation for the employees who would formerly have worked here. Although in poor repair, the buildings still bear testimony to the character of the old house. Had times been different, had it survived even a decade or two longer, might Kilballyowen be standing yet? What happened here also happened right across the country during the 1950s and ‘60s. While better support mechanisms are now in place to provide some assistance, they are relatively modest, thereby leaving much of our stock of historic houses at risk. The story of Kilballyowen, a great house that had lost its pride, is a too-frequent story in Ireland.

Only a Matter of Time


Without question the most significant domestic dwelling in the village of Killeagh, County Cork – and accordingly, the most neglected. This five-bay, two-storey house dates from c.1770 and, at least on the exterior, still retains many of its original features. But for how much longer? Planting trees and adding street furniture cannot disguise the fact that this is a building at risk of being permanently lost in the near future.

Fit for a New Bride


In Ireland today the name John B Keane is usually associated with a Kerry author of popular stage dramas. In the 19th century however, it would be more likely taken to refer to a successful architect. The date of John Benjamin Keane’s birth is unknown but by 1819-20 he was working as an assistant to Richard Morrison. In 1823 he was listed in Wilson’s Dublin Directory as practising under his own name and for the next two decades enjoyed a busy career. Among his most notable commissions was the design of St Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, recently restored after a disastrous fire in 2009, and Queen’s College in Galway (now NUI Galway) in 1845. Keane’s winning design for the latter was described at the time as being ‘ a magnificent edifice in the style of Henry the Eight’s time.’ In addition to such public properties, he also designed a number of private residences, including Magheramenagh Castle, County Fermanagh.





Magheramenagh belonged to a branch of the Johnston family, large numbers of whom had moved from Scotland to this part of the country in the early 17th century. Successive generations lived in the same area of Fermanagh, the estate being inherited in 1833 by James Johnston who five years later married Cecilia, daughter of Thomas Newcomen Edgeworth of County Longford. It would appear that around this time he commissioned from Keane the design of a home for his new bride. The building was much in the style then fashionable, a loose interpretation of Tudor Gothic indicated by the presence of blind gables, polygonal turrets, castellations and finials. Of two storeys other (than a three-floor square tower in the north-east corner) and all faced in crisp limestone, the main entrance was to the north, the southern front looking down on the river Erne. A large conservatory occupied much of the eastern end of the building while the service wing stood to the west, an enfilade of four reception rooms occupying the space between.





Ultimately neither Magheramenagh nor its architect had a happy ending. Keane’s career was wrecked by alcoholism, he fell into debt and was imprisoned in the Marshalsea Gaol (a debtor’s prison off Dublin’s south quays: it was demolished in 1975) before dying in 1859. Meanwhile James Johnston had died in 1873 and Magheramenagh passed to his son Robert. He in turn died just nine years later, leaving the estate to his son James Cecil Johnston, then aged less than two. James Cecil would be killed at Gallipoli in August 1915, Magheramenagh then occupied by his widow and two young daughters. Unable to manage, they left the property in 1921 and it was bought as a residence for the local Roman Catholic priest: the following May the house was briefly taken over by the members of the British armed forces. Reverting back to the parish, thereafter it remained in use as a presbytery until the 1950s when abandoned and unroofed. Afterwards a large part of the house was demolished: it can be seen what now remains on the site.

Making a Connection


Some time ago the European Commission designated 2018 as European Year of Cultural Heritage. According to the commission’s website, ‘Heritage is our cultural identity, values and traditions that we have inherited from previous generations, live with today, and pass on to future generations. It includes buildings, monuments, historical and archaeological sites, museum objects, our customs, sports, language, music, dance, folklore, crafts and skills, and natural heritage, such as landscapes, wildlife habitats and biodiversity.’
In this country, the Heritage Council has been charged with coordinating and promoting the year’s programme. The council has chosen as a theme for Ireland ‘Make a Connection’ intended ‘to deepen the connection between people and heritage, and build a legacy of increased public engagement.’ Engagement is critical, particularly with regard to our historic buildings. Since 2016 the Heritage Council has run an ‘Adopt a Monument’ scheme but the take-up has been relatively small: just seven projects were added last year. All over Ireland there are many sites which have fallen into neglect and dereliction. Frequently they can be found in the centre of towns such as the two shown today, both of which are in County Galway and have featured here before. Above is St John’s, the former Church of Ireland church in Ballymoe: dating from 1832 it has been remorselessly vandalised. The same is true of the building below, St Brigid’s, the original Roman Catholic church in Portumna, built in 1825. When a new church was constructed in the 1950s, this property served for a time as a sports hall but has now been abandoned and suffered accordingly.
There are many buildings such as these standing empty and forlorn. If the European Year of Cultural Heritage is to have any long-term impact, a concerted effort must be made to engage local people’s interest in and concern for the architectural legacy of their own area. The coming twelve months offer an opportunity which may not occur again. Making a Connection can make a difference.


The Irish Aesthete wishes friends and followers a Happy New Year. Thank you all for your continued interest and support in 2017 and may you prosper in 2018.

Decidedly Odd


Today’s building is decidedly odd. Heathfield, County Cork dates from c.1780 and as far as the interior is concerned, follows the period’s standard design and layout. Its exterior, on the other hand, is distinctly non-conformist. The entrance front, although facing east, is a blank rubble wall except for one small door placed off-centre. A wing, now ruinous, stands on the north-east corner: might there once have been another on the other side of the façade, thereby creating a miniature Palladian house? Meanwhile the weather-slated rear elevation likewise has just a single point of entry – at basement level – and only two windows (one now blocked) placed on the upper floor. Of the two other sides, that facing north likewise features a basement door as well as a large arched window to light the return on the staircase, while that looking south has pairs of substantial six-over-six sash windows on all three floors. What can be the explanation for such an odd arrangement which must have made the rooms inside rather dark? Did the original builder fear civil disturbance, and therefore minimise points of access to the building? At a time when increased fenestration was becoming the norm, it is hard to explain why, other than for reasons of defence, such limited access to natural light would have been deemed acceptable.




Heathfield is thought to have been built by a branch of the Lane family who lived not far away in a house called Arlinstown. It has also been proposed that the property’s name derives from George Augustus Eliott, created Baron Heathfield in 1787, a career soldier who briefly served as Commander-in-Chief in Ireland in 1774-5 but this seems rather unlikely. A more probable explanation is that Heathfield is a variant of Heathview, the name of a house near Kanturk owned by the Bastable family. By 1818 Heathfield was occupied by one Henry Bastable who appears to have lived there with his family for at least the next twenty years during which time he served as a magistrate in Kinsale and on the Cork Grand Jury, as well as being a member of the local Board of Guardians.




Heathfield’s defensive character would serve it well in the mid-1830s when County Cork experienced considerable disturbance during the Tithe Wars. The campaign against paying money to the Church of Ireland led to the re-emergence of rural secret societies, members of which roved through the countryside at night, attacking houses and demanding the surrender of food, arms and money. In March 1834 Henry Bastable was woken by a large group of men surrounding Heathfield and calling on him to hand over any weapons he might have. From his bedroom window he advised there was only one gun in the house, which they insisted he hand over. Going downstairs to a lower window he duly proffered the gun, but muzzle first: the men outside, fearing he might fire on them as they approached to take the weapon, obliged him to pass over the gun handle first. Next they wanted money, initially seeking a sum of £5. After some negotiation, 50 shillings was agreed upon and given to them. The group then departed, but returned a short time later to give back the gun: Henry Bastable believed this was because it was a new kind of device, the operating mechanism unfamiliar – and therefore of no use – to his nocturnal visitors.




From the mid-19th century onwards, Heathfield was occupied by a succession of different tenants and owners. In 1850 the house was briefly let to a Michael Buck who in turn sublet it to one William Dixon. Subsequently the property was taken by the English-born William Sillifant, who undertook improvements on the land, having bought Heathfield from the Bastables in 1878 for £1,350. In 1890 it was reported that significant malicious damage had been done to the pillars and gates at the entrance to Heathfield. While the Cork Constitution, a staunchly Unionist newspaper, proposed this was because Sillifant was English, a more likely explanation is that he had incurred the wrath of many neighbours by taking them to court for minor offences such as lifestock straying onto his land. As a result, he was unpopular locally.
Heathfield was sold by William Sillifant’s widow in 1905 and changed hands a further three times in the last century before being bought by the family of the present owners. The house was occupied until the 1970s but has since fallen into a poor condition. The dining room floor has completely collapsed and other parts of the building are vulnerable but enough survives to show it was evidently built for a gentleman farmer who wished to emulate the style of living enjoyed by wealthier members of society. In its design, however, Heathfield is decidedly odd.


Many thanks to Fergal Browne for his kind help with the history of Heathfield.

A Familiar Sight


The concept of ‘rural Ireland’ and its preservation are much touted, especially by those who live in the countryside and believe their traditional way of life should be given more attention. In practice however little has been done to ensure the traditional appearance of rural Ireland is preserved. Across the country old houses are abandoned, their replacements – often built on sites immediately adjacent to an abandoned property – looking no different from those found in Britain or the United States. This cottage in County Meath, although habitable until recently, has now been left to fall into ruin. 

Brief Lives


Once prominent in the East Muskerry region of County Cork, the Long family is believed to be descended from a branch of the Ui Eachach. By the late Mediaeval period, their base was at Canovee, otherwise called Cannaway, and often referred to as an island since so much of the area is surrounded by water, with the river Lee to the immediate north, north-east and north-west, the river Kame and one of its tributaries to the east and another stream to the west. The Civil Survey of the Barony of Muskerry conducted in 1656 lists a great deal of the land around here as having belonged to ‘John Long of Mount Long, Irish Papist (deceased).’ This John Long was the son of Dr Thomas Long, a doctor of civil and canon law who had evidently prospered since he was able to acquire land elsewhere in County Cork, specifically to the south overlooking Oysterhaven Creek. Here in 1631 John Long embarked on building himself a new residence, named Mount Long. 





At the time of its construction Mount Long’s design would have embodied contemporary architectural trends. By this date, Irish domestic dwellings were no longer being built as tower houses but, in misplaced expectation of future peace, as fortified manors. As Stephen Byrne writes, the building ‘exemplifies the new style. Its proportions and detailing, including large mullioned windows, mark the transition from dimly-lit towerhouses with an overt defensive capability to properties boasting comfortable well-lit rooms and a modicum of fortification.’ Of three storeys and three bays on every side, Mount Long features a near-square flanker tower at each of its four corners, a feature borrowed from English architecture and intended to increase both the amount of accommodation and the quantity of light, aided by those aforementioned abundant mullioned windows. Obviously these left the building more vulnerable to attack and the presence of gun loops on the exterior walls indicates this was still deemed a threat. The elevations are notable for their then-fashionable gables: originally twenty in number, today just twelve survive. The present state of the building makes it difficult to understand how the interior looked, or the layout of rooms, not even a chimneypiece remaining. As late as 1907 architect James Franklin Fuller could write that cornices survived ‘with figures representing scriptural subjects and fieldsports’ but these can no longer be seen. 





John Long only enjoyed his smart new residence for a very short time. 1641 saw the start of what would become known as the Confederate Wars, in which Long and his two sons took the side of the Roman Catholic forces. They established a camp not far away near Belgooly but the following spring were defeated close to Bandon. Taken prisoner, Long was convicted of treason and hanged. It is said that, knowing his fate, he sent a message to his daughter at Mount Long in 1643 telling her to burn the house in order to stop it falling into enemy hands. Whether true or not, the building was certainly consumed by fire at some date: extant lintels over doors and windows still show evidence of scorch marks. Despite post-Restoration efforts by John Long’s heirs to regain their property, Mount Long was granted to the Busteed family who built another house on higher ground close by. Mount Long fell into dereliction and is now a ruin. The west wall has entirely collapsed, along with most of the towers on either end, but the other three sides still stand, albeit in a somewhat precarious state. With just twelve years between its construction and destruction Mount Long reminds us that owing to changed circumstances buildings can sometimes have very brief lives. 

Mount Long is the October Building of the Month on http://www.buildingsofireland with an accompanying text written by Stephen Byrne.