A Very Sumptuous Establishment


A PhD thesis presented by Michael Ahern in 2003 (and subsequently published) explores the history of the Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, in County Tipperary from the mid-17th to early 20th centuries. In the text, Dr Ahern notes how, ‘One of the most remarkable achievements of this persecuted minority, consisting of farmers, tradesmen and small business people, was the manner in which they triumphed over adversity and, in the course of time, became successful and prosperous members of the middle class. Participation in the affairs of their own Society provided a sound training which enabled members to cope with the business procedures of the secular world. Although the administrative meetings of the Society generally related to religious concerns, a large proportion of their activities was strictly practical in content and created an environment which cultivated business and administrative expertise.’ During the second half of the 18th century, one of the businesses in which they came to have a powerful presence was milling. Certain urban centres likewise became centres for this activity, among them Clonmel, County Tipperary.’ Legislation passed by the Irish parliament in 1757 offered financial incentives for the land carriage of corn to Dublin; for every five hundred-weight of flour brought to market, a premium of three pence per mile (excluding the first 10 miles) was paid. The result was an explosion in both the production of wheat and corn, and the establishment of mills, especially in areas like Clonmel, which benefitted from fast-moving water (in this case, the river Suir). Anner Mill, the first such Quaker operation, was opened here in 1771 by John Grubb, whose family would become synonymous with the industry. Many more followed, so that in 1797 when legislation was proposed to abolish financial incentives, the business was sufficiently well-established as to be in no need of subsidy: ‘The principal millers in the neighbourhood of Clonmell,’ declared John FitzGibbon, Lord Clare, ‘a part of the kingdom from which there is a considerable influx of corn to the city, do not complain of the bill; on the contrary many have declared that they will not suffer any loss from it.’






Of English origin, the Sparrow family had settled in Ireland in the mid-17th century and soon converted to the Quaker faith. They were based in the Wexford region where one of them, Samuel Sparrow, participated in the 1798 Rebellion and then fled to the United States, were he remained for the rest of his life. Long before then, at some date during the first decades of the 18th century, Richard Sparrow moved from Wexford to Clonmel where he established himself as a baker. His son, Simmons Sparrow, was more ambitious and, like many other members of his church, became involved in the area’s burgeoning milling industry. In 1778 he opened a large mill on the north side of Suir Island, which looked across to Clonmel’s quays and which could take advantage of the river’s fast-moving water. This building continued in operation until 1801 when it was destroyed by fire; eight years later the site was sold by the Sparrows to another Quaker, Thomas Hughes. In the meantime, Simmons Sparrow opened another mill to the immediate west of the town at Toberaheena while for a period in the mid-1790s his son Richard leased another two mills still further west along the Suir. Following Simmons Sparrow’s death the business was continued by Richard but he seems to have lived beyond his means and eventually lost everything, dying in Clapham, outside London in 1814 after which his estate in Tipperary was auctioned to pay the deceased’s debts.





In 1798, the American Quaker preacher and abolitionist William Savery visited this country and noted with dismay that ‘Friends in Ireland seemed to live like princes of the earth, more than in any country I have seen – their gardens, horses, carriages, and various conveniences, with the abundance of their tables, appeared to me to call for much more gratitude and humility, than in some instances, it is feared is the case’. While in Clonmel, where he stayed with the successful miller (and Quaker) Sarah Grubb, Savery visited the home of Richard Sparrow, judging it to be ‘a very sumptuous establishment indeed, which I did not omit to tell him was quite too much so’, his stables being fit for a nobleman. The house in question was Oaklands, seen in today’s photographs. Little information exists about the building, the fine entrance to which was shown here last Saturday. Of three storeys over basement, it has four bays, with a central breakfront accommodating two and a plain limestone portico supported by paired Doric columns, behind which was a doorcase with fan- and substantial sidelights. The garden front featured a substantial canted bow and a flight of cast-iron steps giving access to one of the reception rooms. This was one of four such spaces on the ground floor of the ‘sumptuous’ interior, of which little now remains. Following Richard Sparrow’s financial collapse, Oaklands passed to the Rialls, another Quaker family involved in banking. However, within a few years their own fortunes suffered a setback when the bank, like many other such private establishments in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, failed and was forced to close in 1820 (its premises, for a long time part of the Clonmel Arms Hotel, have stood vacant and awaiting redevelopment for some time). In due course they were followed by Colonel Pownoll Phipps, a fascinating character who – for reasons too complicated to explain here – had as a teenage boy found himself stranded with is siblings, but without their parents, in Revolutionary France, and had then gone on to serve in the British army in India under the future Duke of Wellington; he died at Oaklands in 1858 and the estate was, at least for a while, owned by his eldest son. It then passed through a succession of different hands, and was still occupied, but in poor condition, fifteen years ago, later standing empty. The inevitable consequence of this was that the house attracted the attention of vandals and finally was gutted by fire in October 2017, leaving it in the state seen today.

Leading to Ruin



The main entrance to Oaklands, County Tipperary, a house built in the late 18th century. Centred on fine rusticated limestone gateposts, the walls curve outward to a pair of lodges. That on the right retains what is likely to have been the original form of both, single storey with a pedimented façade featuring windows on either side of a doorcase slightly recessed inside an arch. At some date the lodge on the left was enlarged, and given a hodge-podge of decorative details including Doric pilasters and Tudoresque mouldings above the windows. All now derelict, like the house to which these gates once gave access.



More on Oaklands next Monday.

Saviour Sought



Fruit Hill, Co Wexford recently featured here (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/03/07/a-labour-of-love), a sensitively restored house believed to date from the second quarter of the 18th century and notable for being U-shaped with two wings projecting behind the one-room-deep residence with only a narrow passage between them. A similar house stands, just about, in neighbouring County Carlow and is called Mount Pleasant. Mark Bence-Jones’ Guide to Irish Country Houses includes four properties of the same name, but this is none of them. Indeed, little documentation exists about the Carlow house and some of it is erroneous.





Mount Pleasant was built and occupied by the Garrett family. The first of them, James Garrett was the son of a Captain John Garrett, one of five brothers who came to Ireland in the 17th century around the time of the Cromwellian Wars and, like many others, was rewarded for his efforts with a grant of land in County Laois. James Garrett on the other hand settled in Carlow around 1700 when in his mid-20s. He may have been responsible for building a house called Janeville, or it could have been his son whose tomb in the local church refers to ‘the charitable Thomas Garrett of Janeville deceased, Aug.31st, 1759, aged 48 years.’ The same church also contains a monument to another Garrett, the inscription of which runs as follows: ‘Here lie deposited in humble hope of a joyful resurrection the mortal remains of James Garrett, late of Mountpleasant, Esq. – Vain would prove an attempt at panegyric; since no eulogy could do justice to his merits. Reader, wouldst thou be had in everlasting remembrance? Endeavour to emulate his virtues. He departed this life July the 17th, 1818. Aged 72 years.’ Because James Garrett might have been the son of Thomas Garrett, it has often been assumed that the latter’s house, Janeville, was renamed Mount Pleasant by the former, and that they lived in the same property. In fact, this is not the case as Janeville and Mount Pleasant – which is seen in today’s pictures – are different houses, albeit in the same part of the county.





Some four miles apart, Janeville and Mount Pleasant were both once Garrett houses and dated from the early years of the 18th century, but while the first of these is still intact, the second, as can be seen, has fallen into ruin. Stylistically they share similarities, both having five bay facades centred on a granite doorcase with sidelights. Both are also of three storeys, although only two are visible from the front of Janeville which as a delightful Venetian window on the first floor above the entrance. The attic windows can be seen on the double-gabled side elevations. Mount Pleasant, on the other hand, features attic windows on its façade, with a tiny Diocletian window in the centre. And the rear of the building is like that of Fruit Hill, County Wexford, with wings creating a U-shaped house. At Mount Pleasant, the centre of the back evidently had a Gothic arched window, now blocked and the entire west wing was, at some unknown date, allowed to fall into dereliction, the owners only occupying the eastern side of the building. It was sold a couple of years ago, but no work has been done on the property and so the decline continues. However, as Fruit Hill shows, no house is ever beyond redemption; perhaps this one may yet find a saviour.


Future Uncertain



The stable block on the former estate of Doory Hall, County Longford. The lands here were granted by Charles II to the Jessop family, said to have moved to this country from Derbyshire. The long-forgotten 19th century writer and novelist George H Jessop (who wrote the libretto for Charles Villiers Stanford’s 1896 comic opera Shamus O’Brien) was born here, together with his sister, poet and story writer Mary Kathleen Jessop Another branch of the same family owned an estate in the same county, Mount Jessop but like Doory Hall this long ago went to ruin.



The main house at Doory Hall, now just a shell, is thought to have been designed in the 1820s by John Hargrave, a son of the successful Cork architect Abraham Hargrave; the younger man was responsible for designing a number of buildings, including churches and glebe houses, in County Longford. The stable block is also attributed to him, but could be earlier; the 1820s house replaced an earlier one on the site, so perhaps this is a residue of the previous development? Whatever the past history, at the moment its future does not look promising.


Fragmentary Evidence


Beginning in the early 1970s, every summer social geographer Kevin Corrigan Kearns visited Ireland for research purposes, spending considerable amounts of time in Dublin. In 1983 he published a book Georgian Dublin: Ireland’s Imperilled Architectural Heritage in which he wrote that with each trip to the city, ‘I could not help but witness the insidious forces which seemed to conspire against the vulnerable Georgian streetscapes. Every year there was grim new testimony to neglect, decay and destruction. Once-intact Georgian vistas of unsurpassed beauty were savaged by demolition and unsympathetic architectural infill. Inexplicably, there existed no effective opposition to this wilful and wanton assault on Dublin’s unique urban core. Indeed, I sensed that Dubliners somehow accepting this alarming degenerative process as a sort of natural occurrence – ostensibly, all in the name of progress and prosperity. Were Dubliners insensitive to this loss or merely impotent to exert any control over the destiny of their elegant city? Was there no philosophy of stewardship on the part of officialdom and citizenry to preserve this imperilled treasure for future generations?… While much destruction has incontestably resulted from deliberate unabashed rape of the cityscape, a wealth of Georgiana has conspicuously been despoiled and lost from simple benign neglect on the part of owners and occupiers, both public and private. The fragile state of Georgian Dublin today cannot be attributed to the actions of any single group. A myriad of forces has for generations militated against the welfare and survival of the Georgian city.’






Although he had suggested a ‘myriad of forces’ was responsible for the havoc wreaked on Ireland’s historic capital during the 1870s and ‘80s, Kevin Corrigan Kearns had no doubt who were the principal villains: ‘It would not be an exaggeration to state that the redevelopment of Dublin has essentially been left to the whims and dictates of private developers and speculators. For the past twenty years, amid an unconstrained environment for development, they have been allowed to use the inner city, in the words of one irate writer to the Irish Times, as a “gambling ground for their own ambitions of wealth and power”. During this free-wheeling period of urban growth, the government assumed a modest role in redevelopment. Indeed, while the Civil Service and other public bodies taken up almost three-quarters of Dublin’s total office space, the vast bulk of this accommodation is rented from private development companies.
By the late ‘sixties, the appellation “developer” had become synonymous with “despoiler” in the public psyche. The tide of destruction that scarred the central city evoked accusations of “rape”, “pillage” and “prostitution” of the urban environment. The developers’ appetite for reconstruction and profit seemed rapacious as they increasingly cast hungry eyes towards the Georgian terraces. Motivated by hard economics which demanded maximum floor space for minimal investment, no Georgian house, regardless of its historic or artistic merit, was sacrosanct.’






Kevin Corrigan Kearns was by no means the only person watching the destruction of Dublin’s historic core with dismay; artist and author Peter Pearson was likewise appalled by what was taking place in his native city. Rather than observe, he began to intervene by rescuing items from buildings that were being demo
lished or cleared out, and gradually built up a huge collection of architectural salvage. Today that collection acts as a record of decades’ long barbarianism. Pearson’s accumulated items include everything from fragments of 18th century plasterwork to 19th century decorative iron railings, from carved Portland stone capitals to ornamental door knockers. Among the features they share is that all came from properties in the capital, and all were deemed expendable and of no value: nobody operating in an official capacity thought it worthwhile to preserve a record of what was being torn down. Instead, this work was left to a passionate individual who recognised what neither the state nor Dublin County Council did: that the rampant and ill-conceived razing of the city centre would lead to a collective loss of memory unless something was saved. Without Pearson’s diligent enterprise, it would all have disappeared, a handful of old black and white photographs being the only souvenir.
Today it is less likely that buildings constructed in earlier centuries will be knocked down – although this can still occur, not least because of an inadequate listing of properties that merit protection (such as those which are currently at risk on the corner of Nassau and Kildare Streets. Dating from c.1820, astonishingly they are unlisted by Dublin City Council, thereby allowing the owner to apply for their demolition and replacement with an office development). And even buildings which are listed for preservation frequently suffer from unauthorised work on the site, as anyone who has ventured onto Capel Street and its neighbours in recent years can testify: large skips are heaped with the remains of gutted interiors. Across the capital, developers continue to be permitted set the pace for what is and isn’t built or preserved. Both central and local authorities continue to adopt a largely laissez-faire, hands-off approach to what is kept within the historic core. There is no national collection of the kind created over several decades by Peter Pearson. To see what he saved is both wonderful and tragic. Anyone involved in planning and urban development should be under an obligation to spend ample time looking through what was rescued in order that the same mistakes are not repeated. Otherwise the record of losses will continue to grow.


Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection is on show in the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2 until March 22nd, and includes a selling exhibition of paintings and collages of the city by Peter Pearson.

School’s Out (Again)



The former National School in Ardlow, County Cavan. A single-storey, three-bay building, it carries a plaque on the exterior advising date of construction was 1897. As is usually the case, the interior features two large rooms, one for boys, the other for girls, and the remains of a wall to the rear indicate the yard behind was likewise divided. Now empty and losing slates from the roof, so liable to fall into ruin before too long.


A Call to Arms



In November 2011, former Labour TD Willie Penrose announced his intention to resign as a Minister of State as a result of the then-government’s decision to close Columb Barracks in Mullingar, County Westmeath the following year. At the time, the buildings were occupied by some 170 troops who were subsequently moved to the barracks in Athlone. Eight years have since passed without proper use being found for the premises.





Standing in the centre of Mullingar town and occupying some 26 acres of land, the main complex in Columb Barracks are over 200 years old, having been constructed in 1814, and first occupied in 1819, when it was called Wellington Barracks (the name was changed in 1922 in memory of Patrick Columb, a member of the National Army who had been killed in the town not long before). Designed to accommodate 1,000 soldiers, the barracks is U-shaped with a large parade ground at its centre. The three-storey blocks with roughcast rendered walls and cut limestone door- and window cases in each section of the building. The ranges are largely unaltered other than the unfortunate and universal insertion of uPVC windows at some relatively recent date and, on the southern range, openings being widened, apparently in 1980 when someone in authority decided to give them the all the flair of a provincial hotel, complete with porticos supported by spindly Corinthian columns. Even more unfortunate is a serious loss on the west side of the complex. Old photographs show that the centre of this featured a three-bay breakfront, its rusticated ground floor incorporating an arch above which was a tripartite window and, on the top level, a Diocletian window below a pediment. The entire section was swept away in 1966 to create a miserable-looking, single-storey concrete brick gateway marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising. Incidentally, the early photographs (from the French collection in the National Library of Ireland) also show how much better maintained the entire site used to be. Outside the main complex lie a range of other buildings, some in stone (including a chapel dating from 1855), others in brick, constructed over the course of the 19th century to provide facilities for the troops then in residence.






A year ago, thejournal.ie reported that during the previous three years the state had spent over €113,000 paying a private security firm responsible for looking after Columb Barracks in Mullingar. As today’s photographs show, there has been considerable damage to the site, some of the buildings have been badly vandalised while others are suffering from neglect, ultimately adding to the cost of their refurbishment. Almost 20 voluntary organisations – the likes of the local boxing and cycling clubs, a youth café, a men’s shed group and so forth – occupy portions of various premises, presumably on short-term leases and, it would seem, with little security of tenure. But even with their presence, the greater part of the barracks has been allowed to remain in limbo for the past eight years. When the state first embarked on closing down military bases around the country more than two decades ago, it sold a number of them to developers and private organisations. Indeed, some years ago Columb Barracks was placed on the market for sale, but then withdrawn following the establishment by government in September 2018 of a new organization called the Land Development Agency (LDA), the purpose of which is supposed to be the provision of affordable housing. Responsibility for the barracks lay with the Department of Defence, but this now appears to have been transferred to the LDA. A year ago the Department of Housing advised (in finest bureaucratic language) that the LDA was ‘carrying out a technical due diligence process on the Columb Barracks site to determine the development constraints and opportunities, which will take a number of months. Once this process is complete the LDA will determine a delivery strategy for the site.’ The following May then-Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy wrote in response to an enquiry from another TD that the LDA was in the process of advancing agreements with various state bodies in relation to a number of sites including Columb Barracks and furthermore ‘it should be noted that the LDA has commenced preparatory Professional work on each of the eight sites listed above and that the transfer process will not impact the ultimate delivery on those lands. The LDA performs a due diligence process on all sites, which includes an assessment of alternative use potential and development capacity and constraints.’ At the moment on its website (https://lda.ie) the LDA lists the current status of Columb Barracks as ‘Development feasibility study underway.’




Understandably, given its size and location, there has been considerable disquiet in Mullingar about the continuing neglect of Columb Barracks. A local body has been set up, Columb Barracks Restoration & Regeneration Committee (https://columbbarracks.ie) to champion the restoration and refurbishment of the site. It proposes that the former barracks could be transformed into a ‘vibrant community-owned and operated centre, providing education and other community services, based on renewable energy, zero waste and other environmentally sustainable and economically viable activities and practices; and capable of being an agent for the spreading of these practices and ideas, and for the transformation of Mullingar into a twenty-first century transition town.’ As well as the existing voluntary bodies using parts of the place, the committee suggests there could also be both short- and long-term accommodation, a museum, more sports facilities, a concert/theatre space, artists’ workshops, food markets and so forth. Not all of these ideas will necessarily come to fruition, but there are enough of them to give the barracks a real and viable future. Eventually something will be made of the site, but in the meantime eight years have passed during which these buildings, part of the country’s architectural heritage, have been allowed to deteriorate, with the inevitable result that whatever decisions are eventually made about intended purpose, these will cost more to implement because the site will require greater work. In Ireland the wheels of officialdom in Ireland can turn so slowly that they appear not to be moving at all. But surely, before the buildings here fall into further disrepair and suffer further vandalism, the time has come for the relevant state authorities to call a halt to ‘due diligence process’ and ‘assessment of alternative use potential and development capacity and constraints’. After eight years, there can be little left to discuss and analyse and consider and assess. Surely now is the moment instead to initiate action and bring Columb Barracks back into purposeful use?


New Owner Wanted


Kilcormac is a village in County Offaly which at the last census (2016) had a population of 935 persons (the figure was 973 in 1991). The most prominent building on its main, indeed only really significant, street is that shown here: an eight-bay convent built in 1885, probably to the design of William Henry Byrne who specialized in such commissions, for the Sisters of Mercy. Members of the order remained in residence here until two years ago, when the last nuns left and the premises, together with an acre of land to the rear, were put on the market. This is a story that can be told in almost every town and village across the country, where the decline in clerical numbers has made the maintenance of what is almost invariably the most substantial property in the vicinity unsustainable. Often the buildings then sit neglected for years, the only attention they receive from vandals and arsonists. Let’s hope this one, a handsome solid structure with nice brick detailing around the windows and attractive use of the quatrefoil motif, finds a new owner soon.

In Need of Attention



Castle Farm, County Longford, a handsome early 19th century residence that is believed to have been built on the site of, and may incorporate elements of, a late-medieval tower house originally belonging to the O’Farrell family. The Journal of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland 1862-64 noted that ‘the old castle of Ardanragh has been partially converted into a house, and is tenanted by Mr. Shaw, an educated and intelligent man, who farms the adjacent ground.’ A fine building in need of some attention.


Suffering Neglect


As has been discussed here before, Townley Hall, County Louth is one of Ireland’s most perfect neo-classical buildings (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/06/10/la-tout-nest-quordre-et-beaute). The house was designed in the mid-1790s by Francis Johnston, who until then had been employed primarily by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, often to complete commissions left unfinished following the early death of Thomas Cooley in 1784. Townley Hall is his first independent piece of work although here again the client’s involvement was critical since it is known that Blayney Townley Balfour, who owned the property, and his sister Anna Maria were intimately involved in every stage of the design.






Johnston was invited to design not just Townley Hall itself but also a number of ancillary buildings, including a new stableyard. His plans for this survive and are dated between 1799 (work being initiated on the site in May of that year) and 1804. The intention was to build around a rectangular courtyard with coach house and grainstore topped by a cupola on the north side, and stables coming forward to its immediate east and west. The south side was to be taken up by screen wall with arched entrance. Sadly this scheme was never realized, possibly for financial reasons (like many other house builders before and since, Blayney Townley Balfour discovered the initial budget was insufficient). Instead, while the northern range was constructed, it lacked the proposed cupola, and only the western range of stables were finished; a terrace of single-storey cottages runs along the eastern side of the site. Likewise the south wall with entrance arch was left unbuilt, and even a modified plan for railings with piers went unrealized. A drawing of the plan survives a penciled note reading ‘not built yet – 1837 FTB’, those initials standing for Lady Florence Townley Balfour (daughter of the first Earl of Enniskillen) who had married Blayney Townley Balfour in 1797.






As is well known, Townley Hall was sold by the heirs of the Townley Balfour family in the 1950s and, having been owned for a short period of time by Trinity College Dublin, was sold again with the Land Commission taking the greater part of the surrounding estate. Many of the ancillary buildings are no longer part of Townley Hall, including the former stableyard. Almost every other part of the former estate has been restored and brought into use, but sadly this element, which is, it seems, independently owned, has languished in neglect for a number of years, and is now in poor repair. Even if not as originally intended by Johnston, the yard remains associated with what is widely judged to be his masterpiece, and accordingly deserves a better fate.