Locked



Undoubtedly one of the quirkiest residences in Ireland, this is Boland’s Lock-Keeper’s House. Situated on the 26th lock of the Grand Canal outside Tullamore, County Offaly, the building dates from c.1800 and is thought to have been designed for himself by Michael Hayes, a contractor working on the project. The house has bowed side elevations with semi-conical roofs, and, facing the canal, a bowed and castellated central bay: although it looks to be only two storeys’ high, the land to the rear drops away, allowing for a third floor. Well restored in recent years, the building is now for sale (in case anyone felt like moving home in 2023…)


A Gem


Writing about Summergrove, County Laois almost half a century ago (Irish Georgian Society Bulletin XVI, October 1973), the late Maurice Craig declared, ‘Of all the houses which are neither ‘big houses’ nor farmhouses, Summer Grove has always seemed to me one of the most attractive, nor has a wider acquaintance with its rivals caused me to modify that opinion.’  While he admitted that ‘the elements of the facade: gibbsian doorway with side lights, venetian window, diocletian window, platband, stone cornice, hipped roof and symmetrical chimneys, are common to a great many mid-eighteenth century houses of about this size, as is the pediment over the breakfront in the centre,’ nevertheless, Maurice was seduced by the building’s irresistible charm. In part, he explained, this derives from ‘the mildly archaic flavour of its rather steep roof with its barely perceptible sprocketing, the interior decoration suggests a date some time around 1760 or even a little later. The Venetian and Diocletian windows go on so long in the provinces that they provide no reliable indication of dates. From the massive triple keystone of the front door projects an elaborate and splendid wrought-iron lamp-bracket, such as would be noteworthy even in Dublin, but in the country is of the very highest rarity. Before leaving the facade we should note the unusually small stones of which it is built, which from a distance seem hardly larger than bricks, and very nearly as regular.’ Thereafter, Maurice noted in his Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976), ‘the main interest in Summer Grove lies in the ingenuity of the planning. In the back half of the house three storeys are fitted into the same height as two on the entrance-front. It is surprising that this method of ‘mezzanine’ planning was not more widely used in country houses, since it results in a small number of high-ceilinged rooms and a rather larger number of low-ceilinged ones, a most desirable result not so easily achieved by conventional planning.’ Among the rere elevation’s most distinctive features are the pair of Venetian windows, one at either end of the top floor.







A date stone discovered some 20 years ago suggests that Summergrove was finished in 1766 but work on the house probably started much earlier. The original owner was one Thomas Sabatier whose Huguenot forebear – likely grandfather – François Sabatier had fled France in the aftermath of the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In 1707, he was listed as living in Mountmellick, a prosperous town just a couple of miles east of Summergrove. Like many other Huguenot families who settled here, the Sabatiers must have flourished, since in 1736, within one or two generations of arrival in this country, they were able to acquire tracts of land in the neighbourhood and embark on building a fine country house. The architect responsible is unknown: the Knight of Glin proposed Henry Pentland, but there is little evidence to support this name, or any other. Regardless, it would appear the costs involved in the building’s construction were greater than had been anticipated because in February 1774 Summergrove was advertised to let for such Term of Years as may be agreed’, the building described as ‘large and commodious, and fit for the immediate Reception of a Gentleman of Fortune,’ the interior being ‘well finished and stucco’d, with every other Necessary, such as Italian, Kilkenny and other Marble Chimney Pieces, Grates, etc.’ Nevertheless, the family remained in possession, if not always in residence, of Summergrove. Thomas Sabatier died in 1784 and was succeeded by his son John who, in turn, died in 1792, followed by two further generations likewise called John. Following the death of the last of these in 1859, the house changed hands for the first time, being acquired by Jonathan Pim, whose Quaker ancestors had settled in Mountmellick at the end of the 17th century. By the beginning of the 19th century the Pims were involved in brewing and other business enterprises, while Jonathan Pim was acting as agent for the Summergrove estate. Having taken over the property, he had little time to enjoy possession, since he died in 1864, being succeeded by his son William, who lived in the house until 1902. Having no children, he left Summergrove to his sister who in turn passed it to her son, William Anthony Robinson who, with his wife lived there until the 1950s when, once more, the house was offered for sale. Thereafter it passed through different owners, not all of whom occupied the building, before being bought 30 years ago by the present owner.







The interiors of Summergrove are quite as engaging as the house’s external appearance. To cite Maurice Craig again, ‘The small square entrance-hall has a Doric entablature over the door and window cases, a flowing rococo centrepiece to the ceiling and, on the inner wall, three elegant arches under a single wide arch, the three doors separated by fluted corinthian pilasters. The right-hand door gives directly on to the staircase, while the middle one is dummy, a device which recalls the entrance to the centre of the Long Gallery at Castletown. On the staircase side the same three doors are under a pediment with ornament a good deal less fruity than that on the hall side, but in the same free-flowing rococo vein. The right-hand room on the ground floor has a coved cornice and ceiling decorated in the Robert West manner with sprays, roses, bunches of grapes and pheasants.’ (Loath as one is to correct Maurice, the inner wall’s middle door is not a dummy, but now serves to provide access to the staircase beyond. Furthermore, the ground floor room with ceiling decorated in the style of Robert West is to the left – not the right – of the entrance.) The rococo plasterwork in Summergrove’s reception rooms varies in quality, that in the entrance hall being charming but somewhat perfunctory, while that in the dining room is of altogether finer quality and clearly by a superior hand. On the other side of the entrance hall, what is now a drawing room has a plain ceiling. The original drawing room – now a bedroom – can be found on the first floor, directly above the dining room has another fine rococo ceiling although this one lacks the latter’s coved frame. And, as the advertisement of 1774 noted, there are some fine chimneypieces, although a couple of these were taken out of the house prior to it being acquired by the present owner, who deserves credit for having found satisfactory replacements. Indeed, he merits praise for having undertaken such a meticulous restoration of Summergrove over the past three decades, so that today this glorious building glows, a burnished gem in Ireland’s Midlands and an example of what can be achieved with sufficient dedication and patience. 

 

A Preposterous State of Affairs



Founded in 1890 as part of a larger philanthropic initiative by Edward Guinness (head of the family brewery and future first Earl of Iveagh), the Iveagh Trust is one of this country’s most effective, but relatively little-known charities. As the trust’s website explains, Guinness regularly passed through Dublin’s Liberties area on his way to work and ‘was appalled at the conditions that prevailed in this corner of Dublin. A warren of foul-smelling laneways lined with crumbling and overcrowded houses that were no longer fit for habitation.’  Having floated two-thirds of the company in 1886, he became the richest man in the country and so began to think about establishing a charity to address the terrible living conditions experienced by so many people in both Dublin and London, and donated £250,000 ‘for the amelioration of the condition of the poor labouring classes’ in the two cities. Among the trust’s first undertakings was the construction between 1894-1901 on a two acre site at the corner of New Bride Street and Kevin Street of three five-storey blocks originally containing 336 separate flats. But perhaps the best-known work of what in 1903 officially became the Iveagh Trust, was an enormous scheme undertaken at the start of the last century on the area north of St Patrick’s Cathedral and south of Christchurch Cathedral, and running from Bull Alley Street and Bride Street; requiring several acts of parliament to ensure its successful conclusion, the project’s cost exceeded £220,000, with further monies spent on the creation of St Patrick’s Park and other associated works which were directly funded by Edward Guinness. 
A superlative example of Edwardian architecture constructed 1901-05, the Bull Alley Estate, designed by the architectural partnership of Joseph & Smithem, comprises eight five-storey blocks today holding 213 apartments (a comprehensive, six-year refurbishment of the entire site was completed in 2012). But of course, the clearance of large areas of the old city for improved housing meant many of the residents lost the place in which they had hitherto earned their meagre livelihoods. In the Liberties, this was especially the case for street traders, who found their former pitches cleared and needed to find an alternative site in which to conduct business. It was for this reason that, according to a report carried in the Irish Times in July 1906, when work commenced on the Bull Alley site, Edward Guinness, by then Viscount Iveagh, undertook ‘to provide suitable accommodation for the vendors within five years.’ He was as good as his word and personally paid for the provision of an alternative venue, the aforementioned Irish Times report which celebrated the official opening of the Iveagh Markets.





Designed by Dublin architect Frederick George Hicks, the Iveagh Markets sits on a parcel of land much of which was formerly occupied by a brewery: the initial cost for the project was some £45,000 but in the end the sum was closer to £60,000 all personally funded by Lord Iveagh. The site includes two covered markets, the larger one, measuring 100 x 150 feet, intended for selling clothes. Roofed in iron and glass, and with a first floor gallery 15 feet wide carried on cast-iron columns around the perimeter of the building, this market also provided the main entrance to the property from Francis Street, the seven-bay facade has an advanced and pedimented breakfront, the granite-fronted ground floor taking the form of an arcade, with quoined arches of Portland stone, each keystone representing various trading nations of the world: the upper parts of the building are of red brick. Behind the clothes market is a second, smaller space measuring 130 x 80 feet where stallholders sold fish, fruit and vegetables. Within the complex and to the immediate north was an area for the disinfection of clothes before they could be offered for sale, with space for 40 washers, four centrifugal wringing machines and 40 hot air drying horses: these facilities represented an enormous improvement in what had previously been available to residents in the area, and reflect Lord Iveagh’s understanding of the importance of good hygiene. A number of other buildings were constructed here for administration and a resident manager. 





The Irish Times article of July 26th 1906 noted that although Lord Iveagh had paid for the new markets to be built, on the occasion of their official opening a deed of conveyance and keys to the property were handed over to Dublin’s then-Lord Mayor. ‘The Corporation of the City of Dublin,’ the report added, ‘has undertaken to take over and control the markets as in other parts of the city, and though a further responsibility is thrown on the shoulders of the city fathers, still, everyone will admit it is a worthy one.’ The corporation – now Dublin City Council – continued to exercise that responsibility until the early 1990s, although even before that date inadequate maintenance of the markets meant they were in poor condition. A report commissioned by the local authority and produced in 1992 observed that the ‘restoration of the building to its original splendour and its refurbishment as a modern indoor market would be of considerable economic and social benefit to the surrounding area.’ The following year, the council offered each of the market’s stall holders £20,000 to vacate their stands and give up their licenses, before announcing plans for a £1.25 million refurbishment. However, nothing happened – other than a steady rise in the cost of the proposed refurbishment, and in 1996 the council decided to invite a private developer to take on the job. The following year the council granted Dublin publican Martin Keane a licence to redevelop the site, and all appeared well until questions were asked about whether the council had the authority to issue such a document under the terms of the Dublin Corporation Markets Act, passed in 1901 to allow the construction of the Iveagh Markets. The dispute was only resolved in 2004, it then took a further three years for Mr Keane to obtain planning permission for a scheme that would have included restaurants, a 97-bed hotel, a music venue and an apartment hotel, as well as the refurbishment of the old buildings. This work was never begun and a long, sorry saga over the building then ensued: anyone who wishes to understand what befell the Iveagh Markets over the past 15 years is encouraged to read an article on the subject published in the Irish Times on November 19th (The Iveagh Markets: Can a former Dublin glory be saved? – The Irish Times). At the moment the matter is subject to ongoing mediation but there can be no doubt that Dublin City Council must accept a substantial amount of responsibility for the unhappy situation here. For several decades the local authority has shown scant regard for historic properties in its care. On the other side of the river Liffey, for example, the old Fruit and Vegetable Market, opened in 1892, was closed in August 2019 by the council which said it was about to undertaken a two-year restoration of the site. This was after 17 years of successive announcements of diverse schemes for the building (for a chronology, see Dublin’s Victorian fruit market to close for two years for revamp – The Irish Times). Last August, three years after the Fruit and Vegetable Market was closed (supposedly for just two years), Dublin City Council said that it had ‘initiated a tender process for a design team “to detail the conservation works needed” for the property. Initiating a tender process suggests a great deal more time will pass before anything actually happens and this is just one of a substantial number of projects in which Dublin City Council’s intervention has proven catastrophic. Recently, for example, the council announced that the Parnell Square Cultural Quarter, initiated in 2013 (and supposed to have been completed in 2017) would not see even the ‘first phase’ be delivered until at least 2027. Then there is the long-anticipated development of a new public plaza in College Green where successive design schemes have been launched to much fanfare and then quietly abandoned.
As for the Iveagh Markets, it cannot be denied that what ought to be a thriving and valuable public resource which would do much good for not just the local community but all of Dublin, has been allowed to deteriorate over some 30 years to the point where it is now at risk of being lost forever. The gift of a generous man to an impoverished city has been needlessly squandered as a consequence of poor decision-making and lack of action. Who would ever want to gift anything to Ireland’s capital, seeing what its governing body has allowed to become of the Iveagh Markets? Meanwhile, the original benefactor’s other great philanthropic gesture – the many blocks of flats constructed in the greater Liberties area – continue to be managed by a private charity, the Iveagh Trust, and continue to benefit large numbers of people. The contrast between these thriving buildings and the Iveagh Markets could not be more stark.   


A Chequered History



Few country houses in Ireland have had such a chequered history in recent decades – and yet somehow survived – as Middleton Park, County Westmeath. The present building dates from the mid-19th century, replacing an earlier residence which had previously belonged to the Berry family. When in 1846 James Middleton Berry inherited from his uncle James Gibbons another estate in the same county, Ballynegall (see Ballynegall « The Irish Aesthete) he sold his original property to George Augustus Boyd. Born in 1817, he was the only son of Abraham Boyd and Jane Mackay, both of whom been married before, she to George Rochfort, second Earl of Belvedere. Since he inherited a considerable portion of the former Belvedere estates through his mother,  in 1867 George Augustus Boyd legally changed his surname to Rochfort-Boyd. With his wife Sarah Jane Woods, he had at least seven children, their eldest daughter Edith in due course marrying Sir Thomas Chapman, who lived at South Hill, County Westmeath (see What Might Have Been « The Irish Aesthete). In due course, that marriage ended badly owing to Sir Thomas embarking on an affair with his own children’s governess: he and she went on to have a family of their own, one of whom was T.E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia.
To go back to George Augustus Rochfort-Boyd, just to complicate matters further, a year after he died in 1877, his heir legally reversed the two surname order, being called Rochfort Hamilton Boyd-Rochfort. All three of his sons had distinguished careers in the British army, the eldest Captain George Boyd-Rochfort being awarded the Victoria Cross in 1915 and the youngest, Captain Sir Cecil Charles Boyd-Rochfort being one of the most successful horse trainers of the mid-20th century. Following the death of the eldest brother in 1940 Middleton Park had been inherited by the middle sibling, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Boyd-Rochfort, who in 1957 decided to sell the property – and so began its decades-long woes.





In 1957 Middleton Park was bought by a German family who, a few years later, in turn sold the place on. In the mid-1970s the house and some 380 acres were acquired by the Fermanagh-born trainer and gambler Barney Curley who, in 1984 decided to dispose of Middleton Park not by the usual means of either auction or private sale, but instead through running a lottery: at the time, Ireland’s property market was extremely depressed and it seemed unlikely Curley would realise much for the place. Tickets were offered at £200 each and, according to a television report of the time, almost 9,000 of these were sold, meaning the vendor would have made around £1.8 million since his expenses were minimal, especially as the event garnered international attention. However, in the aftermath, Curley was prosecuted for promoting an illegal lottery, and sentenced to three months in prison: on appeal, he was given the benefit of the Probation Act, with no conviction recorded provided he contributed £5,000 to a local charity. In July 1992 Middleton Park was on the market once more, this time realising just £300,000 at auction, although at least in part that price was due to the fact that the amount of land around the building was now much less than had previously been the case. In 1999 it was sold to a couple for something less than £500,000 but less than two years later was once more available to purchase, along with just 12 acres, this time for £1.7 million. After a period of neglect, restoration work was undertaken on the building which opened as an hotel, specialising in weddings, in 2007; seven years later, this was sold as a going concern to a UK based private equity firm for around €1m. In 2016, that business closed and soon enough Middleton Park was being offered for sale – yet again. It then sat empty for three years before being bought by the most recent owners who once again had to embark on substantial renovations due to the building’s neglect. 





Middleton Park was designed by the London-born architect George Papworth who had moved to Ireland in 1806 when aged 25. His talent soon attracted aristocratic clients such as Jenico Preston, 12th Viscount Gormanston, for whom he supervised the renovations of Gormanston Castle, County Meath, and Ulick de Burgh, 14th Earl (and future first Marquis) of Clanricarde for whom he undertook similar work at Portumna Castle, County Galway. But he also designed a number of Roman Catholic churches, such as that for the Carmelite order on Whitefriars Street, Dublin, as well as being involved in work on the city’s Pro-Cathedral; another one of his projects was King’s, not Heuston, Bridge over the river Liffey. Middleton Park, dating from c.1850, was a relatively late work, since he died in 1855, and – at least on the exterior – a somewhat anachronistic one, since the design clearly owes much to Francis Johnston’s Ballynegall, which dates from 1808 and to which the Middleton Park estate’s previous owner had moved. In both cases, the building is of six bays and two storeys over basement, the two centre bays delineated by a single-storey Greek Ionic portico. And, as also once at Ballynegall, one side of the block concludes in a substantial conservatory designed by Richard Turner; at Middleton Park, the other side continues in a long, single-storey office range. However, the interiors of the two houses are quite different, not least because the entire centre portion of Middleton Park is given over to a vast, full-height staircase hall, the double-return stairs with scrolling cast-iron balustrade leading up to an impressive first-floor gallery, the whole lit by a vast lantern. Nothing else in the building could hope to match this tour-de-force, and the main reception rooms accordingly are of more modest – and comfortable – proportions, although during its various times as an hotel, a number of substantial function spaces were added to the office range side of the building. That Middleton Park has survived, given such a chequered history, is very fortunate and one must hope that the house’s future is more stable than has been its past. 


A Place of Strength


‘The present town of Cahir owes its rise to the late Earl of Glengall, and has been enlarged and greatly improved by the present earl. Cahir, however, is of remote antiquity, and it appears that a castle was built here prior to the year 1142 by Connor, King of Thomond; and in the reign of John, Geoffry de Camoell founded an abbey of which there are still some remains. The manor was one of those belonging to the Butler family, and in the reign of Elizabeth the castle was besieged by the Earl of Essex, with the whole of his army, when the garrison, encouraged by the hostilities then waged by the Earl of Desmond, held out for ten days, but was compelled to surrender. In 1647, this fortress was invested by Lord Inchiquin, and, notwithstanding its great strength, surrendered in a few hours after some of its outworks had been gained by the assailants.
Cahir Castle, the extensive old seat of the Butlers, is in the town. It is in good preservation and occupying the summit of an isolated rock, which rises over the left bank of the Suir, is a highly interesting and picturesque object.’
From A Handbook for Travellers in Ireland by James Fraser, 1844. 





‘The chief historical events connected with the castle were the sieges of it by the Earl of Essex, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and by Lord Inchiquin, in that of Charles I. The readers of English history are familiar with the unhappy expedition of Essex to Ireland, which was greatly promoted by his powerful enemies at court, as certain to end unfortunately, and thus as certainly to break his influence with the queen. Former viceroys and commanders in Ireland had suffered disaster upon disaster; and by the Battle of the Blackwater, in 1598, the English forces were reduced to the lowest ebb. Essex landed with an army of more than 20,000 men, the largest force, according to the Four Masters, sent to Ireland by the English since the invasion of Strongbow. But Essex was no more successful than his predecessors. His orders were, in the first place, to reduce the rebels in Ulster, and to put strong garrisons into their forts; but, instead of this, he marched into Munster and laid siege to Cahir Castle. He invested it with 7,000 foot and 1,200 horse; but the Earl of Desmond and Redmond Burk came to its relief, and Essex found himself unable to reduce it till he had sent to Waterford for heavy ordnance. On the tenth day of the siege, being the 20th of May, 1599, the castle was surrendered to the Earl of Essex and the Queen. But the surrender of the castle was of no real advantage. He made, indeed, capture of the rebels’ cattle in those parts, and drove the rebels themselves into the woods and mountains; but, as fast as he retired again towards Dublin, these rebels came out from their retreats and followed on his track, harassing his rear, so that his return was rather like a rout than the march of a conqueror. The disasters which befell him on this journey completed his ruin.’
From Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain and Ireland by William Howitt, 1864. 





‘During the troubles which followed on the rebellion of 1641, Cahir Castle was taken for the Parliament, by surrender, in the beginning of August 1647 by Lord Inchiquin; and it was again taken in February 1650 by Cromwell himself, the garrison receiving honourable conditions. The reputation which the castle had at this period as a place of strength will appear from the account of its surrender as given in the manuscripts of Mr Cliffe, secretary to General Ireton, published by Borlase. After observing that Cromwell did not deem it prudent to attempt the taking of Clonmel till towards summer, he adds that he “drew his army before a very considerable castle called Cahir Castle, not very far from Clonmel, a place then possessed by one Captain Mathews, who was but a little before married to the Lady Cahir, and had in it a considerable number of men to defend it; the general drew his men before it, and for the better terror in the business brought some cannon with him likewise, there being a great report of the strength of the place, and a story told the general, that the Earl of Essex in Queen Elizabeth’s time, lay seven or eight weeks before it and could not take it. He was notwithstanding then resolved to attempt the taking of it, and in order thereunto, sent them this thundering summons:-
“Sir – Having brought my army and my cannon near this place, according to my usual manner in summoning places, I thought fit to offer you terms honourable for soldiers, that you may march away with your baggage, arms and colours, free from injuries or violence; but if I be, notwithstanding, necessitated to bend my cannon upon you, you must expect what is usual in such cases. To avoid blood, this is offered to you by,
Your Servant,
O. Cromwell”
Notwithstanding the strength of the place, and the unseasonableness of the time of the year, this summons struck such a terror in the garrison, that the same day the governor, Captain Mathews, immediately came to the general and agreed to the surrender.’
From The Irish Penny Journal, Volume 1, No.33, February 1841. 

A Tale in Three Parts


Ballinafad, County Mayo is a house in three parts, each with its own story. The first of these concerns the Blake family, one of the Tribes of Galway. In 1618/19 Marcus Blake, a younger son of a branch settled at Ballyglunin, County Galway, received grants of land in this part of the country. During the upheavals of the mid-17th century, possession of this property appeared uncertain, but in 1681 Marcus Blake’s grandson was re-granted the land by patent by Charles II, and it would thereafter remain with his descendants for more than 200 years. As attested by a date plaque on the rear of the building, the core of the present house was only constructed in 1827, but there may have been an earlier residence here. The same plaque carries the initials of both Maurice Blake and his wife Anne, an heiress whose money no doubt helped cover the costs of construction. The property was of two storeys over raised and rusticated basement, with five bays and, above the roof parapet, all the chimneys grouped into one stack, thought to be the longest of any such house in Ireland. The most striking feature of the facade is the entrance porch, flanked by flights of steps. Maurice Blake’s grandson, Colonel Maurice Moore (brother of the writer George Moore), whose mother had grown up at Ballinafad, wrote that the porch owed its inspiration to ‘an imperfect memory of one he had seen in Italy.’ Like the Moores, the Blakes were Roman Catholic, and this helps to explain why, in 1908, the youngest son of Maurice and Anne Blake, Llewellyn Blake – who had been made a Papal Count two years earlier – presented the house and estate to the Society of African Missions: seemingly, he believed that such a gesture would ensure the atonement of earlier generations of his family for whatever sins they may have committed. Of course, in the eyes of some Blake relations – not least his nephew George Moore – handing over such a valuable property to a religious order (instead of bequeathing it to them) was a kind of sin. 






When Llewellyn Blake died in 1916, he left £1,500 to have services held in churches for the salvation of the souls of his late wife, mother, father, brothers and sisters. £500 was bequeathed to the Sisters of Charity to assist in their foreign missions for the propagation of the Roman Catholic faith, after which the rest of his estate – valued at some £61,500 – was divided into no less than 15 partes, six of which were to go to the College of the Sacred Heart, as Ballinafad was now known: the rest was split between sundry other religious houses and organisations. Members of the extended family, including the Moore brothers, made efforts to have their claims to the estate recognised but with little success. At Ballinafad, the house served as a seminary for the Society of African Missions but then also became a secondary boarding school for boys. This meant the building had to be enlarged, with a new three-bay wing added to one side of the house in 1931, and another on the other side in 1948. On the exterior, both these are of similar style to the original residence and therefore do not disrupt but merely extend the facade (the interiors, on the other hand, reflect the era of their construction, not least because they were intended for uses such as refectory and dormitory). Further expansion to the rear in the mid-1950s and early 1960s was more overtly utilitarian and reflects the expectations of the mid-20th century that the Roman Catholic church would remain a dominant force in Ireland. However, such notions soon proved illusory and in 1975 the African Missionaries announced their intention to close the school and offer the place for sale. Ballinafad, along with 470 acres, was then bought by a livestock business called Balla Mart which ran an agricultural college here until 1989. The house then sat empty until 2000 when offered for sale with 400 acres for £2.5 million, or £500,000 for the buildings alone. A couple of years later, when Ireland appeared awash with money and development schemes rampant, it was announced that Ballinafad was to be turned into a five-star hotel, but the economic crash occurred before such a scheme was realised. Accordingly, in 2010 the buildings at Ballinafad were once more offered for sale, with a price tag of €499,000, but there were no takers and the property continued to deteriorate. 






Eight years ago, in 2014 a young Australian called Bede Tannock bought Ballinafad, standing on eight acres for  €80,000. Compared with earlier prices sought, the sum seems small but the task faced by the property’s new owner was enormous. By this time, Ballinafad ran to 70,000 square feet of floor space with 110 rooms and 340 windows, all of which was in perilous condition, with widespread water ingress and evidence of considerable vandalism. The interiors were largely uninhabitable and even today, parts of the house await attention but the quantity – and quality – of restoration work undertaken since 2014 is remarkable, especially given the owner’s limited funds. Parts of the building have been used for weddings and corporate events, and for providing guest accommodation. Work continues even though a couple of years ago, Ballinafad was placed on the market. It can only be a matter of time before the fourth chapter in its story begins to be written with, one hopes, the same spirit of optimism and courage that has pervaded the place for the past eight years.

A Last Hurrah




This week marks the 150 Anniversary of the consecration of Holy Trinity in Westport, County Mayo, thought to be the last church to be built prior to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, and therefore acting as a last hurrah of the old ecclesiastical order in this country. Designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and constructed on a site provided by the third Marquess of Sligo, the building replaced a late 18th century church (now ruinous) elsewhere on the estate. The work is thought to have cost more than £80,000, this high price explained by the exceptional craftsmanship evident throughout, not least the elaborate carvings around all doors and windows on the exterior; these were the work of one William Ridge, about whom it appears little else is known. The interior is just as generously decorated with stained glass provided by Alexander Gibbs and Company of London, the windows frames in mosaic supplied by another London firm, Clayton and Bell. But the most notable feature of the interior are the inlaid murals covering large areas of the walls. Mostly representing scenes from the Gospels (including a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper over the west door), these are made from white marble with traced designs outlined in dark cement; the backgrounds are of gold leaf. These murals were made for the church by Samuel Poole of M.T. Bayne and Company of Westminster.



A Resting Place for Kings



The chapel which forms a centrepiece of Mitchelstown College, County Cork. Despite its name, this was never an educational establishment, but a group of almshouses occupying the north side of King’s Square and built between 1771-87 under the terms of the will of James King, fourth Baron Kingston, who died ten years before work began on the site. Designed and built by John Morrison, there were originally 24 houses but some of these were later sub-divided so that today there are 31. The chapel originally had a cupola, but this was soon replaced by the tower which can still be seen today: the original 18th century interior was entirely replaced in 1876. Directly beneath is the crypt of the King family where the remains of the 11th Earl of Kingston were recently placed.


Making a Comeback



Sometimes confused with Coolamber Manor in adjacent County Longford, this is Coolamber House, County Westmeath, a building which has undergone various additions and subtractions over the centuries. There may have been an old castle on the site originally, incorporated into the present late-Georgian house constructed in the early 19th century for Robert Blackall, a major in the East India Company. It may have been his son, Samuel Blackall, who carried out alterations to the interior, installing the staircase seen here. He died without heirs and Coolamber subsequently became owned by a branch of the O’Reilly family, one of whom Captain Percy O’Reilly, was member of the Irish polo team that won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics. In 1947 Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony (a son of the last King of Saxony) and his second wife, former actress Virginia Dulon, bought the house and surrounding land and lived there until their respective deaths in 1971 and 2002. The present owners bought the place eight years ago and have gradually been restoring Coolamber as a family home, a wonderful but too-rare instance of such a property making a comeback to its original use.


Pretty as a Picture


The thatched lodge at Derrymore, County Armagh featured here some time ago (see The Most Elegant Summer Lodge « The Irish Aesthete). That building dates from the mid-1770s, making it at least 30 years older than another fanciful cottage orné, this one in County Tipperary. Popularly known as the Swiss Cottage, the later example was constructed c.1810 for Richard Butler, 10th Baron Caher (created Earl of Glengall 1816). Member of a branch of the Butler family which had been dominant in this part of the country for hundreds of years, his own forebears had been settled at Cahir Castle since the 14th century. They remained there until c.1770 when a new residence, Cahir House (now an hotel) was built. Richard Butler was never expected to inherit the title and associated estate. However, following the death in June 1788 of the 8th baron, a distant relative, without heirs – and then the death of Richard Butler’s own father a month later – at the age of just 12 he came into considerable wealth. At the time, he was living in poverty in France, but then returned to Ireland, where he was accommodated by the eccentric widow Arabella Jeffereyes of Blarney Castle. There was method behind Mrs Jeffereyes kindness: within a few years, she had arranged the marriage of her daughter Emilia (then aged just 16) to the wealthy Lord Caher. Soon afterwards the couple returned to live at Cahir House where, according to Dorothea Herbert, they threw ‘a most flaming Fête Champêtre’ during which the young Lady Caher ‘danced an Irish jig in her stockings to the music of an old piper. We had a superb supper in the three largest rooms, all crowded as full as they could hold and we did not get home till eight o’clock next morning and so slept all the next day.’ 





The tone set by the party they had thrown after their return to Cahir House, the Butlers appear to have led an exceedingly merry life, dividing their time between County Tipperary and London where, following the implementation of the Act of Union, Lord Caher served as an Irish representative peer in the Westminster House of Lords. It may have been there that he made the acquaintance of architect John Nash, who would be responsible for designing a number of buildings in Cahir, including St Paul’s church (Figures of Mystery « The Irish Aesthete) and the adjacent Erasmus Smith School (Well Schooled « The Irish Aesthete) as well as the sadly-demolished Shanbally Castle just a few miles away. Accordingly, the Swiss Cottage is attributed to Nash, not least because of its resemblance to similar picturesque buildings he designed during the same period at Blaise Hamlet on the outskirts of Bristol. The cottage was sketched in 1814, indicating its completion by that date, and two years later was mentioned in an account of local races: ‘the tout ensemble of the Cottage affording a display of rural decoration not easy to be equalled in this country for chasteness of character and richness of fancy.’ Perched above the river Suir and just two kilometres south of Cahir, the cottage was never intended to be a permanent residence, but rather somewhere to visit, perhaps for a meal, perhaps an overnight stay in good weather. Built to a T-plan and of two storeys over basement, the cottage has rustic timber verandas around most of its exterior and a thatched roof. French windows open onto the surrounding grounds and there are a number of balconies on the first floor: much of the exterior is covered in wooden lattice trellising. The overall effect is exceedingly charming. 





Three years after becoming an earl, Richard Butler died and was succeeded by his only son, also called Richard. Despite marrying an heiress, he would find expenditure exceeded income, particularly after 1839 when he embarked on the restoration of Cahir Castle, and the rebuilding of much of the town of Cahir. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, it transpired that Lord Glengall’s debts amounted to a prodigious £300,000, the situation not helped by a lawsuit over their inheritance between Lady Glengall and her sister. The earl was duly declared bankrupt in 1849 and everything offered for sale, although some of the estate was subsequently recovered by his elder daughter, Lady Margaret Charteris. Somehow, the Swiss Cottage survived, although by the mid-1980s it was in poor condition, sitting empty and a prey to vandals. Before the building became a complete ruin, the local community bought it in 1985 with the aid of a £10,000 grant from the Irish Georgian Society. Work then began on salvaging the Swiss Cottage and the greater part of the funds for this project came, via the IGS, from the American Port Royal Foundation and its President Mrs Christian Aall (the foundation had already donated money towards the cottage’s purchase). Restoration work took three years to complete, overseen by architect Austin Dunphy assisted by John Redmill, with much of the labour provided under a government youth training scheme. New tree trunk posts were put up to support the shingled roof that surrounds the cottage at first floor level, later internal partitions removed and new wiring and plumbing installed. The building was re-thatched, and early 19th century wallpapers, not least a set in the salon by Joseph Dufour of Paris depicting Les Rives du Bosphore, scrupulously restored by David Skinner. Irish couturier Sybil Connolly was given responsibility for overseeing the interior decoration and arranged for a set of grotto chairs to be made for the ground floor rooms. Work on the Swiss Cottage was completed in September 1989 and the building has since been open to the public under the management of the Office of Public Works.