A Significant Anniversary


Limerick City’s oldest building still in continuous daily use, St Mary’s Cathedral this year celebrates its 850th anniversary. Standing on raised ground on King’s Island, the location had even earlier been used as a ‘Thingmote’ or meeting place by the Vikings who first established a settlement in Limerick. The cathedral was founded in 1168, reputedly on the site of a palace belonging to Donal Mór O’Brien, descendant of Brian Boru and last claimant to the title of King of Munster. Legend has it that the Romanesque west door was originally the entrance to O’Brien’s residence. His tomb – of which more anon – is in the Lady Chapel. Unusually the cathedral tower is located not in the centre of the building but above the west door: added in the 14th century, it rises 120 feet. The belfry holds a peal of eight bells, six presented in 1673 by William Yorke and cast by William Perdue who died before the job was complete and is buried in the graveyard. Especially during the 17th century when Limerick was besieged four times, the building experienced considerable upheaval. In 1651 Henry Ireton, General in the Parliamentary army then in Ireland, surrounded Limerick which held out for almost six months before surrendering (Ireton would die just weeks later). The victorious troops reputedly used the cathedral as stables for their horses (legend would have it the same behaviour occurred in almost every place through which they passed) and also removed the Pre-Reformation high altar. Some thirteen feet long and carved from a single block of limestone, the altar – the largest of its kind in Ireland and Britain – was only reinstated in the cathedral in the 1960s. Meanwhile during the Williamite Wars of 1689-91 Limerick was again besieged – twice. On the second occasion in 1691 as had happened exactly forty years earlier, the city resisted for several months before surrendering to William III’s general Godert de Ginkell, later first Earl of Athlone: he then concluded the Treaty of Limerick with Jacobite leader Patrick Sarsfield. However, during the course of the siege St Mary’s Cathedral had suffered so severely from bombardment that King William provided £1,000 towards the building’s repair. A number of cannonballs from the 1691 siege can be seen in the cathedral.





St Mary’s is so full of items of interest that much more space than available here would be required to detail them all. On this occasion just a couple will be discussed, the first of which is a 17th century funerary monument on the north side of the chancel. This commemorates Donogh O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond. The latter title had been created in 1543 when an earlier member of the family, Murrough O’Brien submitted to English authority and surrendered his position as the last King of Thomond. Raised in England at the court of Elizabeth I, Donogh O’Brien only settled in Ireland in 1582 following the death of his father. A member of the Established church and keen supporter of the government, he spent much of the next twenty years fighting his rebellious fellow countrymen on behalf of the crown. Ultimately Lord President of Munster, on his death in 1624 he was buried in St Mary’s Cathedral where construction of his tomb had already begun. A fascinating article by Dr Clodagh Tait published in the North Munster Antiquarian Journal in 2002 discusses this monument’s origins and history. In his will, drawn up some seven years prior to death, O’Brien mentions the tomb and requests that his heir Henry O’Brien finish the monument to his specifications. Dr Tait notes the similarities in design with the tomb of the earl’s friend Richard Boyle (the Great Earl of Cork) in St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal, County Cork: both employed the sculptor Alexander Hills of Holborn. But that of O’Brien is less elaborate and uses cheaper materials than he first intended and, it seems, this is why he removed from the immediate area an earlier, and more sumptuous monument celebrating Cornelius O’Dea, Bishop of Limerick who had died in 1426. What survived of O’Dea’s tomb later disappeared as the poor of the city, believing it to have miraculous healing powers against the ‘bloody flux’ (what would now be called gastro-intestinal dysentery) gradually chipped away fragments until nothing was left. The O’Brien monument is often said to have been damaged by Ireton’s troops in 1651 but Dr Tait proposes that in fact it was subject to attack when the cathedral temporarily reverted to Catholic use in the 1640s: O’Brien’s vigorous espousal of Protestantism would have been well remembered, hence the particular damage to his recumbent figure (on the lower shelf) and that of his second wife Elizabeth FitzGerald. What we see today is the tomb as reconstructed by the seventh Earl of Thomond in 1678. It features three tiers of different coloured marble, surrounded and supported by columns of the Ionic, Corinthian and Composite orders, and decorated with O’Brien arms and trophies. Beneath and in front of all of this has been inserted the coffin lid of Donal Mór O’Brien’s tomb.





The other item in St Mary’s worth examining, and indeed for which the building is best known, are the stall misericords now lining the walls of the north transept. The misericord is a clever mediaeval device to get around the proscription against sitting during religious services: when the seat is raised, a small protruding ledge allows the participant to lean back at rest while still standing, arms settled on the sides of the stall. These devices were commonplace in the Middle Ages but the set in Limerick are the only extant Irish examples. Dating from 1480-1500 they were carved in oak taken from the woods at Cratloe, County Clare less than six miles away: the same wood was also used for the barrel-vaulted roof of the cathedral. Each of the surviving 23 misericords has a different carving on the seat underside. Some of these are of human beings or actual animals, others are of mythical beasts, such as a Wyvern (a two-legged dragon with a barbed tail) or a Griffin (its front half being that of an eagle while the rear was that of a lion). At some date, believed to have been in the 19th century, the misericords were removed from the main body of the cathedral and stored in the crypt before being brought up and placed in their present position. Over six hundred years old, they are a remarkable survival but, as already mentioned, only one of the many gems to be found in St Mary’s, an historic building that merits repeated visits.


As part of its 850 anniversary, the cathedral has organized an extensive programme of celebratory events. Information about these can be found at: http://saintmarys.bookeventsireland.com/saintmarys

Well Red


It is now half a century since Castletown, County Kildare opened to the public. Constructed during the 1720s as one of our earliest and still greatest extant country houses, the building might have been lost had it not been for the plucky vision of the Hon Desmond Guinness in purchasing Castletown, and then the sterling work of the Irish Georgian Society in undertaking restoration work so that it could welcome visitors. Since 1994 Castletown has been in state ownership and the Office of Public Works, together with the Castletown Foundation, supports an ongoing programme of further improvements to house and contents.



One of the latest projects undertaken inside Castletown has been the conservation of the Red Drawing Room, part of an enfilade on the northside of the ground floor. The design of this space dates from the second half of the 1760s when much work was being undertaken in the house by Tom and Lady Louisa Conolly but the walls were hung in crimson hand-woven damask probably in the late 1860s/early 1870s. An early decision was made not to replace this much-weathered material but to preserve it in situ, carrying out necessary repairs while leaving evidence of age and wear-and-tear. This work is now complete and the room returned to inspection by visitors who will be able to admire a rehang of pictures and other additions to the decorative scheme, not least new curtains of damask woven to match that on the walls. An essay on the Red Drawing Room’s conservation by Christopher Moore is included in Volume XX of the Irish Georgian Society’s Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies journal which has just been published.

A Master Carver


The glorious interiors of Glasnevin House, Dublin have been shown here before (see Misjudging a Book by its Cover, December 22nd 2014) with the focus o the building’s plasterwork. Since then the former entrance hall has been restored and now looks as splendid as the other ground floor rooms. Among the space’s outstanding features now properly revealed is a substantial chimneypiece. Dating from c.1760 it looks to be of stained pine and since the overdoors in other areas of the house are attributed to Dublin master carver John Kelly (in Irish Furniture, the Knight of Glin and James Peill, 2007), it seems reasonable to assume this work also came from his hand.

The Glory of the House


In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837), Samuel Lewis wrote that the ‘noble mansion’ at Newbridge, County Dublin was said to hold ‘several valuable paintings by the old masters, which were collected on the continent by the Rev M. Pilkington, author of the Dictionary of Painters, who was vicar of this parish; the drawing room contains several of the paintings described by him.’ The cleric mentioned here was Matthew Pilkington, born in King’s County (now Offaly) in 1701 and ordained a deacon in the Church of Ireland twenty-two years later. His was likely not a very profound vocation, but a position in the established church offered career advantages of which he intended to take advantage. Initially all went well. In 1725 he married the well-connected Laetitia van Lewen, as diminutive – but also as witty – as her husband, and the couple became friends with the likes of Jonathan Swift and Patrick Delany. Through the former Pilkington secured the position of Chaplain to the London Mayor of London and so moved to the other side of the Irish Sea. However in London he antagonized potential supporters and was imprisoned two years later. On returning to Dublin, he then became estranged from his wife and the couple was eventually and scandalously divorced in 1737: just over a decade later Laetitia Pilkington published her entertaining memoirs, from which her former husband emerges in a poor light. Ultimately he recovered his social position thanks to the patronage of Charles Cobbe, Archbishop of Dublin who offered Pilkington the living of Donabate and Portraine next to Cobbe’s newly completed seat at Newbridge. As mentioned by Lewis, it is believed that Pilkington travelled to mainland Europe to buy paintings for the house and that this in turn would have informed the work by which he is remembered: The Gentleman’s and Connoisseur’s Dictionary of Painters, the first such book published in English. It appeared in 1770, four years before the author’s death.




The greater part of Newbridge was built between 1747 and 1752 to the designs of Scottish-born architect James Gibbs, his only known work in Ireland. The following decade a large drawing room was added to the rear of the house. In 1755 Archbishop Cobbe’s son and heir Thomas married Lady Elizabeth Beresford, youngest daughter of the first Earl of Tyrone, and sister of the first Marquess of Waterford, and space was needed for the young couple and the art collection being assembled for the family by Matthew Pilkington. The architect on this occasion was a local man, George Semple who had already overseen the erection of Newbridge. Semple initially proposed adding a pair of wings to the south-facing façade but in the end the decision was taken to construct a single large drawing room/picture gallery to the rear of the house, taking the space previously occupied by a pair of small offices. As has been noted by Julius Bryant, to preserve homogeneity of style within the building Semple used Gibbs’ 1728 Book of Architecture as a source for the design of doorcases and chimney pieces, the former immediately apparent at the entrance to the room from the adjacent antechamber. Running some 45 feet in length, the space has a ceiling featuring ‘a sea of scrolling leaves and floral garlands encircled by dragons and birds fighting over baskets of fruit.’ This work is believed to have been undertaken by stuccodore Richard Williams, a pupil of Robert West: the Newbridge accounts for this period include seven payments to ‘Williams ye stucco man.’




A drawing of the Newbridge drawing room dated c.1840 and attributed to Frances Cobbe shows the room as it looked following a refurbishment of the space two decades earlier. In 1821 payments for furniture were made to Woods & Son, and to Mack, Williams & Gibton of Dublin, who were also paid for curtains in 1828. The carpet, by Beck & Co. of Bath was supplied in March 1823 for £64 and 18 shillings, while the crimson flock wallpaper and matching border came from the Dublin firm of Patrick Boylan. The present arrangement of paintings, the greater part of them collected during the previous century by Archbishop Cobbe and his son and daughter-in-law, dates from the same period. Towards the end of the 19th century, Frances Cobbe called the drawing room ‘the glory of the house. In it the happiest hours of my life were passed.’ She remembered the room as assembled by her parents. Some of the collection had been sold in Dublin in 1812, and in 1839 two key paintings, by Hobbema and Dughet, were sold to pay to fund the construction of some 80 estate workers’ cottages. In November of that year, then owner Charles Cobbe (father of Frances) wrote in his diary, ‘I have filled up the vacancies on my walls occasioned by the loss of the two pictures which have been sold, and I felt some satisfaction in thinking that my room (by the new arrangement) looks even more furnished than before.’ Such is still the case today. In 1985 Newbridge passed into the hands of the local authority, now Fingal County Council, which has been responsible for house and estate ever since. However, Alec Cobbe artist, designer and musical instrument collector, who grew up in the house continues to be devoted to the building. He has valiantly undertaken successive projects to preserve and conserve the interiors, not least the drawing room. As a result today, as noted by Bryant, this gorgeous space today ‘provides a rate opportunity to study an Irish collection in its historic context.’

A Ruined House


‘Those who lived here are gone
Or dead or desolate with grief;





Of all their life here
Nothing remains
Except their trampled, dirty clothes





Among the dusty bricks,
Their marriage bed, dusty and bent,
Thrown down aside as useless;
And a broken toy left by their child…’


A Ruined House by Richard Aldington
Photographs of Lakeview House, County Cork.

 

On the Tiles


Tiles on the entrance hall floor of Temple House, County Sligo. The original early 19th century house here was greatly enlarged and embellished c.1860 for Alexander Perceval who employed the firm of Johnstone & Jeanes. Based at 67 New Bond Street, London the company was better known for its furniture (of which many examples remain in the house) than as an architectural practice: this appears to be the only instance of its work in Ireland.

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.

Laudate Pueri Dominum


The County Kildare institution long known as Maynooth Seminary was established by act of the Irish Parliament in June 1795 as The Royal College of St Patrick to provide ‘for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion.’ Curiously it would be eighty years before building work began on the college’s present chapel. In the early 1850s the English champion of the Gothic Revival and convert to Catholicism Augustus Welby Pugin had produced designs for the quadrangle called St Mary’s Square. His plans included a chapel but owing to Pugin’s death in 1852 and a shortage of funds, this part of the project was not initiated. Only in October 1875 was the foundation stone laid, the architect now being J.J. McCarthy, often popularly described as ‘the Irish Pugin.’ By 1880 expenditure on the work had reached £26,242 and when McCarthy died two years later just the basic structure had been completed: a report issued in the middle of the 1880s appealed for financial aid so that the ‘useless empty shell’ could be finished as ‘a splendid, fully furnished collegiate chapel’. In 1887 seven Catholic architects were invited to tender for the job of designing the interior, William Hague being selected. The building was consecrated and opened for worship by Cardinal Michael Logue in June 1891 but still the work went on. Hague designed the tower and spire in 1895 but, as with his predecessors, he did not live to see the work here reach conclusion; rising 273 feet, it is the tallest such built structure in Leinster. Inside, the Lady Chapel at the east end was decorated and furnished by architect G.C. Ashlin in 1908–11; Ashlin was also responsible for the alabaster high altar and reredos.




At 222 feet, Maynooth is the longest church choir in the world and certainly the most elaborately decorated in Ireland. Every surface carries ornament, all sharing the same theme of ‘Laus Deo’ (Praise God). The marble mosaic floor, for example, carries lines inspired by Psalms 112 and 46 opening with the line ‘Laudate pueri Dominum’ (Praise the Lord, young men). The use of the fleur-de-lis on the floor is intended to evoke not just the Trinity (in the same way that the shamrock is supposed to do) but also the links between Ireland and France during the worst times of the Penal era. Meanwhile the ceiling is covered in canvas featuring a vast heavenly procession of figures leading up to the main altar, predominantly angels and saints, many of the latter being associated with Ireland and the early Christian church here. Each figure is enclosed within a medallion again bearing lines from sacred texts. The design was by the English religious artist and decorator Nathaniel Westlake but the work executed by a little-known artist based in Dublin called Robert Mannix. The walls above the choir stalls are life-size representations of the Stations of the Cross: like the ceiling they are in oil on canvas, and were designed and supplied by Westlake.




More colour is provided in the interior by stained glass installed in the 1890s and for which three companies were responsible: that owned by the aforementioned Westlake; Cox, Buckley & Sons; and the Munich-based firm of Mayer & Co, which was then much patronized by Catholic and Anglican churches alike throughout Ireland. The glass in the chapel nave is devoted to representing scenes from the life of Christ while at the west end of the building a large rose window inspired by that in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Reims is devoted to celebrating Christ the King surrounded by sundry saints, apostles and evangelists. In the main body of the chapel, the space between the top of the choir stalls and the bottom of the windows is filled with a string course of Caen stone carved with animals and birds to demonstrate that even members of the animal kingdom sing the praises of their creator. The corbels at this level represent angels presenting various instruments used in church services by clerics, the two closest to the high altar holding a mitre and crozier (as used by bishops). Finally there are the stalls, all 454 of them carved in oak by a Dublin firm, Connollys of Dominick Street. The finial in the back row of each section supports the figure of a saint while those on the lower levels represent a different plant or tree, again to demonstrate the variety of divine creation. Whatever one’s faith, or even if one has none, the decorative scheme of Maynooth College Chapel cannot fail to impress. It has a rigour and entirety of both vision and execution rarely found in Irish Catholic churches. Furthermore the interior has escaped despoliation by either unnecessary post-Vatican II reordering or by the imposition of some later cleric’s ill-judged aesthetic notions (cf. the so-called ‘renovations’ of the cathedrals in both Killarney and Monaghan). As a result it remains not just the largest chapel in Ireland but also one of the country’s finest Roman Catholic buildings.

 

Fit for Purpose?


Buildings frequently appear on this site with the information that they are ‘listed for protection.’ This is a fine phrase, but what does it mean in practice? The Citizens Information Board provides a helpful guide, as follows:
‘A protected structure is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view. If you are the owner or occupier of a protected structure, you are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered, whether through damage or neglect. This document describes the protection given to these structures under Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
A structure must be listed on the planning authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS) to qualify for protected status under the Act. Each planning authority is obliged to keep a RPS as part of its development plan. The RPS must include every structure in the planning authority’s area which it considers to be of special interest. Inclusion of these structures in the RPS means that their importance is recognised, they are legally protected from harm and all future changes to the structure are controlled and managed through the development control process (for example, planning permission) or by issuing a declaration under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
If a structure is included in the RPS, the protection extends to the interior of the structure; to the land in its curtilage; and to any other structures on that land and their interiors. Curtilage means the land and outbuildings immediately surrounding a structure which is (or was) used for the purposes of the structure. This obligation also applies to all fixtures and features forming part of the interior and exterior of the protected structure or any structure on the grounds attached to it. If there is an urgent need for repairs to a protected structure, a grant may be available under the Structures at Risk Fund.’





‘Owners or occupiers of protected structures are legally required to make sure that the structure does not become endangered through neglect, decay, damage or harm. Generally, if a structure is kept in habitable condition and regular maintenance is carried out (such as cleaning out gutters, repairing missing slates, repainting external timberwork) it should not become endangered.
If a protected structure is endangered, the planning authority can serve a notice on the owner or occupier, requiring them to carry out any work that it considers necessary to protect the structure. The work must be done within 8 weeks of the date of the notice. The planning authority can also service a notice to require the ‘restoration of character’ of the protected structure. This could include removing, changing or replacing any parts of the structure specified in the notice.
Owners or occupiers can make written representations to the planning authority about the terms of the notice. They may request more time or financial help to comply with the notice. In many cases, they may be eligible for a conservation grant. The planning authority will take these representations into account when making their final decision. Owners and occupiers can appeal against the notice to the District Court within 2 weeks of their last response from the planning authority, if they are still not satisfied.
If a notice to prevent a structure from becoming endangered has been ignored, the planning authority can take enforcement action. In the case of endangerment or restoration of character notices, the planning authority can carry out the work itself and recover the costs of the work from the owner or the occupier. In exceptional cases, the planning authority may buy the protected structure from the owner, either by compulsory purchase or by agreement. This would only be done if the planning authority considered it the only way to save a protected structure.
Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, there are penalties for owners or occupiers of protected structures who endanger the structure or who fail to carry out work that has been ordered by the planning authority. If they are found guilty, they could be liable for fines of up to €12.7 million and/or a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years.’




The present legislation concerning protection of listed structures reads well on paper, but how does it perform in practice? The question is pertinent when considering the case of the building shown here today. This is the so-called Penn Castle in Shanagarry, County Cork. The core of the building may be a 15th century tower house built by a branch of the Power family. However in the mid-17th century it passed into the possession of Admiral Sir William Penn whose son, also called William, spent time here in the late 1660s prior to moving to North America where he established what would eventually become the State of Pennsylvania. Penn Castle underwent modifications over the following centuries before in more recent times being acquired by the potter Stephen Pearce. He embarked on an ambitious programme intended to extend the building and create a visitor centre adjacent to his business. Unfortunately in 2008 that business went into receivership and it appears the building has ever since stood empty, incomplete and falling into dereliction.
Penn Castle is listed as a protected structure by Cork County Council, yet it is difficult to see what the authority has done to ensure its protection. To some extent one can sympathise with the council’s predicament. Like equivalents across the state, it has many – often more pressing – claims on time, staff and financial resources to intervene in such situations, of which there are many (the case of Vernon Mount, gutted last year by arsonists, springs to mind). Since 2011 the government has provided assistance through a Structures at Risk Fund (although even this was temporarily suspended in 2014). In theory the fund ought to help. However, in the present year the total amount available – to cover the entire country – is €824,000. Grants may not exceed 80 per cent of project costs and the maximum amount available to any one project is €30,000 (a surprising number of these grants in 2017 have been made to churches). In so far as it is possible to understand, it is up to the owner of a building to apply to the relevant local authority for financial assistance. But what about instances – of which there are a large number – where no assistance is sought? Or where – as was frequently the case during the recent recession – a building falls into limbo owing to the owner’s business failing? Or where, as has also sometimes been seen to happen, the owner would rather the property fell into ruin than be maintained? On those occasions, the relevant local authority is supposed to intervene, but rarely does so. The costs involved in intervention are too high to make it feasible, and there are insufficient trained staff to take charge of such an endeavour. An impression is given that the current legislation on ‘protected structures’ is laudable but unenforceable. On the one hand local authorities are expected to take care of buildings listed for preservation in their area of responsibility, while on the other they possess neither adequate funds nor manpower to do so. Accordingly it must be asked, is the Planning and Development Act 2000 with regard to Protected Structures fit for purpose? And if not, ought it to be revisited and revised so as to ensure better safeguards are put in place for the country’s built heritage? Otherwise it looks like the disparity between theory and practice will continue to grow and properties such as Penn Castle, despite their ‘protected status’, will remain at risk from irreparable neglect.

 

Saintly Connections


The last Roman Catholic to be executed in England for his faith (although officially it was for high treason), Oliver Plunkett was also the first Irishman to be canonised for some seven centuries when declared a saint in 1975. Born 350 years earlier in Loughcrew, County Meath, Plunkett was member of a family which traced its origins back to Sir Hugh de Plunkett, a Norman knight who had come to Ireland during the reign of Henry II. His descendants established themselves primarily in Meath and Louth and soon acquired large land holdings in both. During the Reformation period, the Plunketts remained loyal to the Catholic religion of their forebears. Oliver Plunkett’s education was accordingly assigned to a cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of St Mary’s, Dublin (and brother of the first Earl of Fingall). He then travelled to Rome where he entered the Irish College and became a priest, remaining in Italy until 1669 when appointed Archbishop of Armagh: the following year he returned to this country where he established a Jesuit College in Drogheda. However, changes in legislation and government attitudes towards Catholicism following the so-called Popish Plot of 1678 obliged him to go into hiding. Finally arrested in Dublin in December 1679 he was initially tried in Ireland but when the authorities here realised it would be impossible to secure a conviction he was taken to London where found guilty of high treason ‘for promoting the Roman faith’ and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in July 1681: since 1921 his head has been displayed in a reliquary in St Peter’s, Drogheda.





One of the houses associated with Oliver Plunkett is Louth Hall, County Louth. It was here he came to stay on his return to Ireland in 1670, provided with lodgings by his namesake and kinsman Oliver Plunkett, sixth Baron Louth. The original building on the site was a late-mediaeval tower house set on a hill above the river Glyde. This branch of the family had been based at Beaulieu, immediately north of Drogheda but in the early 16th century another Oliver Plunkett moved to the site of Louth Hall and in 1541 was created the first Lord Louth by Henry VIII. He may have improved the property to befit his status but given the travails that befell his successors as they remained Catholic during the upheavals of the next 150 years it is unlikely much more work was done to the building: on a couple of occasions their lands were seized from them or they were outlawed. The ninth Lord Louth, a minor when he succeeded to the estate in 1707, was raised in England in the Anglican faith and so his successors remained until the second half of the 19th century when the 13th Baron Louth was received into the Catholic church. Meanwhile considerable changes were wrought to their house, to which c.1760 a long three-storey, one-room deep extension was added. Further alterations were made in 1805 when Richard Johnston, elder brother of the more famous Francis, created several large spaces including a ballroom with bow window to the rear of the building. He was also responsible for inserting arched gothic windows to the original tower house and providing a crenellated parapet to conceal the pitched roof behind.





The Plunketts remained at Louth Hall until almost the middle of the last century. Most of the surrounding estate, which in the 1870s ran to more than 3,500 acres, was sold following the 1903 Wyndham Land Act but the house stayed in the family’s ownership and was occupied by the 14th Lord Louth who died in 1941. Louth Hall was then disposed of and seems to have stood empty thereafter. When Mark Bence-Jones wrote of the house in 1978 (Burke’s Guide to Country Houses: Ireland), he included a photograph of the dining room being used to store sacks of grain. Fifteen years later Christine Casey and Alistair Rowan (Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster) wrote of ‘delicate rococo plasterwork’ in two niches of the same room, and of crisp neo-classical plasterwork in the stairwell, as well as the first-floor drawing room featuring ‘delicate plasterwork of oak garlands and acorns.’ Almost none of this remains today, as vandals set fire to the already-damaged house in 2000 and left it an almost complete ruin. Somehow traces of the original interior decoration remain here and there, tantalising hints of how it must once have looked, but even the Plunkett coat of arms that until recently rested above the pedimented entrance doorcase has either been stolen or destroyed. As so often in this country, the only remaining occupants are cattle. Oliver Plunkett is a much–venerated saint in Ireland but not even his documented links with Louth Hall has been sufficient to protect it from a sad end.