And the remains of a third medieval church in County Kilkenny, this one about four miles to the south of Newtown Jerpoint in Knocktopher. St David’s was founded by Griffin FitzWilliam (mentioned earlier this week for having established the settlement of Newtown Jerpoint) and occupied by Augustinian Canons Regular. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, at least some of the building survived as a place of worship for members of the Established Church but in the late 1820s they moved to another site and most of this older church either fell or was pulled down. What survives is a section of the north wall incorporating a 15th century window and an altar tomb beneath, and the former entrance tower to the west: this has a square trunk but the upper section is octagonal and castellated, so might have been added in the 18th century to give the church a more whimsical character. Inside the tower is a double funeral effigy of a man and a woman, also believed to date from the 15th century. The rest of the site is given over to graves
Still in County Kilkenny, and around seven miles west of Newtown Jerpoint (see last Monday) is another Newtown: when it came to naming places in this part of the country, someone wasn’t feeling terribly imaginative. In this instance, the remains include a tower house, officially dating from the 1620s but by general consent probably constructed at least 100 years earlier, perhaps for the Sweetmans who were a dominant family in this part of the country. Rising four storeys, the building is fairly plain (hence the suggestion that it dates from well before the 17th century) and as usual is accessed by a single arched doorcase with a murder hole immediately inside. Not far away lie the ruins of a late-mediaeval church, the surrounding graveyard still in use as is so often the case in Ireland. Dedicated to All Saints, the building’s only surviving feature is a window on the east gable. Internally, much of the ground is covered with the remains of old tombstones.
Jerpoint, County Kilkenny is home to the remains of one of the country’s best-known medieval Cistercian abbeys (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/12/12/majestic-in-its-ruins). But less than a mile to the west lies another fascinating site, today called Jerpoint Park. Here, at the time when the monastery flourished, was a small busy urban centre, called Newtown Jerpoint, which has since all but disappeared, its remains only cleared of vegetation in recent years. The settlement here is thought to have been founded towards the end of the 12th century, either by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke (also responsible for building the core of what is today Kilkenny Castle) or by another Norman knight, Griffin FitzWilliam, a brother of Raymond le Gros.
Newtown Jerpoint seems to have reached its peak in the mid-15th century when it contained some 27 residential dwellings, a courthouse, woollen mill, tannery and brewery. One suspects that the town’s fortunes were closely connected with those of the nearby abbey (that woollen mill probably used raw material provided by the Cistercians, who were renowned for their sheep farms). So with the advent of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-16th century, Newtown Jerpoint likely went into decline and never recovered. It would appear that even by the 17th century it had ceased to function (the larger urban centre of Thomastown, less than two miles to the north-east, would have absorbed much of its business). And so it largely disappeared and today scant traces survive except for the remains of a parish church, dedicated to St Nicholas.
By the late 18th century, the lands on which Newtown Jerpoint had stood were owned by the Lowry-Corrys, who became Earls of Belmore. At some date, seemingly around 1775, a range of outbuildings were erected here, incorporating stables and service quarters. Then in 1817 the second earl built the Grand Yard at his main residence, Castle Coole, County Fermanagh; this was designed by architect Richard Morrison. It may have been around the same time that the second earl also commissioned Morrison to produce designs for the lodge at Jerpoint, as drawings exist of a three-bay, two-storey building of this character. However, it appears the lodge was never constructed and instead the existing property adapted as a residence; this stands on high ground above the ruins of St Nicholas’ church. When the present owners bought the place, the medieval site was completely overgrown, but since 2012 they have undertaken huge amounts of work to clear the old buildings of ivy and make it accessible to interested visitors. Just outside the church, a large early 14th century tomb slab with low relief carving of a bishop is supposed to mark the burial place of St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra who died in the year 343. According to local legend, the saint is buried here in Jerpoint, his bones having been brought to Ireland by crusaders. This story is likely to be disputed by the burghers of Bari in southern Italy, where the the aforementioned Nicholas’ relics have been preserved in the Basilica di San Nicola since 1087. But that shouldn’t deter anyone from making a pilgrimage to County Kilkenny and experiencing first-hand the delights of Jerpoint Park.
For more information, see: https://jerpointpark.com
A week ago, this site explored the old house at Clonalis, County Roscommon and explained why in the last quarter of the 19th century it was abandoned for another residence elsewhere on the property. The branch of the ancient O’Conor family who still live here moved to Clonalis exactly 200 years ago, in 1820; prior to that they had been living elsewhere in the county. As mentioned, by the early 1700s the great O’Conors had been brought low, a consequence of their support over previous decades for the Roman Catholic and Jacobite causes, and the harsh penalties duly imposed on them. The head of this branch, Denis O’Conor, was known as ‘The Heir to Nothing’ as all his ancestral lands had been taken from him; supposedly he advised his own children never to be impudent to the poor because, ‘I was the son of a gentleman but you are the sons of a ploughman.’ In 1720, aided by his uncle, Counsellor Terence McDonagh he won a case in the Dublin courts that restored him a portion – 500 acres – of his patrimony. According to family tradition, he was so poor that he had to walk to the capital barefoot. On this parcel of land at Ballinagare, he built a new house for himself; until then, he had been living in a mud hut in County Sligo. This house became a home for Denis O’Conor’s extended family, including his mother-in-law, Countess Isabella O’Rorke who had been a Maid of Honour at the court of the exiled James II in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and his maternal uncle, Thadeus O’Rorke, former Chaplain to Prince Eugene of Savoy but by then the fugitive Catholic Bishop of Killala. The house also became a centre for anyone who espoused the old Gaelic culture, not least the period’s most famous bard and harpist Turlough Carolan who composed airs in honour of Denis O’Conor, his wife Maire, and their son Charles. A harp used by Carolan is still kept at Clonalis, along with the chalice of Bishop Thadeus O’Rorke his pectoral cross, liturgical vestments and an Episcopal ring presented to him by Prince Eugene.
Charles O’Conor was born in 1710, ten years before his father Denis won the court case and was able to move the family to Ballinagare. Having already been educated by a Franciscan friar through the medium of Irish and Latin, in adolescence he was taught by his uncle, Thadeus O’Rorke, before spending time in Dublin where he was taught mathematics, science and French by another Catholic clergyman. In 1731, he married Catherine O’Fagan who brought sufficient fortune with her to allow the couple establish their own household and here he devoted his time to the study of Ireland’s ancient history and culture, paying particular attention to all available original sources, aided by his fluency in both Irish and Latin. He also read all the leading contemporary writers in English and French. Throughout his life he collected, and annotated, Irish manuscripts and in 1753 published the work for which he remains best-remembered, Dissertations on the Antient History of Ireland which, thanks to its rigorous scholarship brought him widespread acclaim, not least from Samuel Johnson who after reading the book wrote to its author, ‘I have long wished that the Irish literature were cultivated. Ireland is known by tradition to have been once the seat of piety and learning; and surely it would be very acceptable to all those who are curious either in the original of nations, or the affinities of languages, to be further informed of the revolution of a people so ancient, and once so illustrious.’
Like his forebears, he remained a devout Roman Catholic, which at the time had its drawbacks. Conscious of the disadvantages suffered at the time by fellow-members of the same faith, along with historian John Curry, in 1757 he was one of the founders of the Catholic Committee, an organization campaigning for the repeal of the Penal Laws. He experienced the hazards of this legislation in 1777 when one of his younger brothers, Hugh O’Conor, conformed to the Established Church and filed a bill in chancery ‘for obtaining possession of the lands of Belanagare as its first protestant discoverer.’ Long litigation followed, ending only after the threat was seen off by the payment of a large financial settlement.
Following the death of his father Denis in 1749, Charles O’Conor moved to the house at Ballinagare and lived there until 1760 when he handed over the property to his eldest son (another Denis). Then he, moved to a smaller residence which he built and called the Hermitage. The latter still stands, albeit in somewhat precarious condition, but the former has fallen into ruin; this likely occurred after 1820 when Charles O’Conor’s grandson, Owen, moved to Clonalis. What remains are the façade and portions of the walls behind; these are believed to incorporate masonry taken from a late-medieval tower house constructed by an earlier generation of O’Conors. Faced in cut limestone, the entrance front is relatively modest, of three bays and one storey over raised basement, with a single storey extension to one side; a pediment incorporating a single arched window rises above the entablature. Dating from the 1720s, the house was intentionally given this diminutive appearance so as not to draw too much attention to its owners but it must have extended in both depth and possibly width to the rear since the number of occupants – members of the O’Conor family and their servants – is known to have been substantial. The entire interior has gone, as has the back wall, making it impossible to judge how the building looked when still occupied. The same is not true of Charles O’Conor’s second residence, the Hermitage which, as mentioned, still stands This modest house, just one room deep, is of two storeys and three bays, with an extension to the rear accommodating the staircase return. An adjacent yard would have held stables and coach house as well as rooms for the servants. Inside, it is still possible to see some of the decoration in both dining and drawing rooms, and entrance hall but the stairs are now too precarious to risk ascent to the first floor. The house was occupied until at least the middle of the last century, but a bungalow was subsequently constructed immediately in front, since when the older building has been used as a storage space, the ground floor windows enlarged to allow vehicular access. Its future must be considered precarious. Charles O’Conor was one of Ireland’s foremost scholars in the 18th century, and through his writings did much to preserve and disseminate evidence of this country’s ancient, and then-imperiled, culture. Almost thirty years ago, Seamus Deane described O’Conor as ‘one of the disregarded but very important figures of Irish history.’ The neglect of the buildings associated with him demonstrates little has changed in the interim.
Clonalis, County Roscommon must be one of the best-known country houses in Ireland, thanks to its long links with the O’Conors, and specifically with the head of that family, known as the O’Conor Don. In the posthumously published The O’Conors of Connaught: An Historical Memoir (1891), the antiquarian John O’Donovan declared ‘No family in Ireland claims greater antiquity, and no family in Europe, royal or noble, can trace its descent through so many generations of legitimate ancestors.’ The line of their forebears can be followed back to pre-Christian Ireland, and from the 5th century onwards they frequently acted as King of Connacht. Such was the case with Conchobar mac Tadg who ruled during the third quarter of the 10th century and from whom the name O’Conor derives. His descendant Toirdhealbhach Mór Ua Conchobhair (anglicized as Turlough Mór O’Conor) became High King of Ireland around 1120, as did his son Ruaidrí mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Conor) who was the last man to hold this title before the Anglo-Norman invasion. Following his abdication, he retired to Cong Abbey, County Mayo and remained there until his death. Incidentally, his father Tairrdelbach was responsible for commissioning what is today known as the Cross of Cong, which was originally held in Tuam Cathedral. Members of the O’Conor family continued to act as Kings of Connacht until the late 15th century. Following the 16th century Reformation, the they remained Roman Catholic and, in due course, were loyal to the Stuart cause, with the result that by 1700 they had been stripped of almost all their former land holdings and left near-penniless. In the mid-17th century Daniel O’Conor Don and his wife Anne succeeded in retaining some 440 acres at Clonalis on the western side of the river Suck and their direct descendants remained there until 1820 when the last of them, Alexander O’Conor Don, died unmarried; it appears he spent much of his time at Clonalis living in a modest cottage since his brother, from whom he inherited the place, had left life-use of the house to his widow. Highly – and expensively – litigious, Alexander O’Conor’s various forays into the courts seem to have depleted what funds and lands were then held. Finally in 1820 a distant kinsman, Owen O’Conor was able to secure the estate and the title of O’Conor Don. It is from him that the present owners of Clonalis are descended.
We know little of what the original house at Clonalis looked like: a photograph (see below) shows the appearance of its façade. From this it is apparent the building’s central block was of two storeys over raised basement, and seven bays. There were three-bay wings on either side, each of one storey over basement. Thereafter much becomes a matter of conjecture, but looking inside what remains, the impression is that the first part of the house to be constructed was probably the front portion which stood just one room deep. Such gable-ended ‘long houses’ appear to have been common among old families who wanted to live in reasonable comfort but had limited financial means: the oldest part of Glin Castle, County Limerick is very similar. At some date, perhaps in the second half of the 18th century, an additional series of rooms was added behind the original block and this now backed onto the adjacent yard (which still stands). A central corridor runs like a spine down the centre of the building, separating old and new sections. The wings were added either then or later and presumably in part or whole acted as servants’ quarters. All this work may have been undertaken around the time that Dominick O’Conor Don (elder brother of the litigious Alexander) married Catherine Kelly, co-heiress with her sister to their father’s estate. The money she brought to the union could have paid for the additions to the house, and help to explain why, following her husband’s death, she was left use of it for the rest of her life (she died 19 years after him in 1814).
There were, it appears, always problems with the old building, not least its proximity to the river Suck, which meant that it suffered from damp, especially in winter months when this part of the land was prone to flooding. In 1847, following the death of his father Charles Owen O’Conor inherited the estate at the age of nine; he had been barely two when his mother died. His own health seems to have been delicate, and he spent a number of periods abroad until his marriage in 1868. Four years later, after having four sons, his wife Georgiana Perry died. This series of deaths appear to have been associated with the location of the old house, unhealthily close to the river, and this encouraged Charles Owen O’Conor to think of building an alternative residence on his land. In 1878, a year before his second marriage, he commissioned a design from English architect Frederick Pepys Cockerell and work soon began on a second house, located on a site on higher ground and some further distance away from the Suck. This high-Victorian Italianate building is notable for being one of the first concrete houses constructed in Ireland. Upon its completion, the O’Conors moved from their old home to the new, with the inevitable consequence that the former gradually slid into disuse and disrepair. Fortunately the present O’Conor house, with its many important archives and items telling the story not just of one family but of Ireland, is today wonderfully well-maintained and well-worth a visit.
‘The Church of St. Nicholas. This massive and interesting building is situated in the demesne of Dunsany, a short distance north-east of the castle. It is probably on the site of the church which existed so early as 1302-1306, and seems to have been rebuilt about the middle of the 15th century by Nicholas Plunkett, first Baron of Dunsany and Killeen. In his will, dated on the feast of St Peter ad Vincula, 1461, although desiring to be “Y beret in ye chaunsell of Killeene before our Lady,” he heaped valuables on “St Nichols Church of Dunsany” – arras and scarlet hangings, crosiers and chalices of silver and gold, the latter being then in course of preparation by a goldsmith of Trim; missals, graduals, hymnals and psalters; a chaplet of pearls for the statue of the Blessed Virgin; copes of gold and red satin; chasubles; 100 shillings off the mill of Alomny (Athlumney); and money off Thomastown; and to find priests to pray for his soul and the souls of his wives Anne Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Preston; “and which of my children that breaketh my will, I leave him Christ’s curse and mine”.’
‘The building is 129 ft. long; the chancel, 21 ft. 3 in. wide and about 51 ft. long; the nave, 21 ft. 5 in. wide and about 55 ft. 6 in. long, the gable being “off the square”; the gable between is 5 ft. 7 in. thick, and the arch about 10 ft. wide. The chancel has a very rich east window inserted by the late Dowager Lady Dunsany to decorate the building, the older window having been destroyed long before, except the ancient sill, still apparent on the outside, and an elegant carving of an ivy spray. There are three windows to the south, and one to the north; the tracery and shafts have nearly disappeared, having been of fine yellow sandstone, like most of the details. The south wall has also a handsome sedile of three cinquefoil arches, the heads crocketed, and a heavy hood moulding, ending in a leaf to the left and a face to the right…North of the chancel is a residence three stories high, the lowest used as a vault by the Lords of Dunsany; fourteen steps lead to the second floor, which has a “squint” looking into the chancel; ten more steps lead to the upper storey. A passage and steps lead over the east gable to its roof. The tower-like S.E. buttress is of unusual dimensions. The nave has two doors (evidently rebuilt in recent times), one at each side. An ambry; a large perpendicular window and a recess occur in each wall. The north recess is two stories high; the upper reached by a staircase in the north pier of the chancel arch, which is round and rudely built, with clumsy projecting jambs, perhaps intended to support a rood beam or loft. The west gable has a large window; its tracery is gone, and its shafts are modern. It is flanked on the north by a lofty battlemented tower with curiously-corbelled roof and large double windows. It has entrances from the nave and from the north and west battlements. Another lofty tower at the south-west angle has a barrel stair of some sixty six steps.’
‘The altar-tomb has been horribly broken since Archdall’s day, and it was with difficulty the fragments of the sides could be found and pieced together…The effigies represent – to the right, a knight in full armour and conical helmet, a long sword on his left thigh, and his hands raised and clasped in prayer, his feet on a dog; to the left rests his wife in peaked head-dress, with traces of rich carving on it, a full-sleeved, long-pleated gown to the feet, which rest on a cushion carved with two birds and a cat’s head. The east slab had three niches, the left now broken away, the central one has a long-robed figure, and the right one a Bishop in pontificals. The west slab is now in the sedile; it has three floriated niches, with the flagellation of our Lord in the centre, and angels with censers on each side. The sides had similar niches, with shields between; the north side is in fragments in the nave, and has the arms of Plunkett (a bend and castle); Flemyng (checquy), 3 (probably Castlemartin), three castles; 4 Plunkett and FitzGerald. The south slab lies against the east gable and has shields of- 1, Plunkett; 2, FitzGerald (a saltire); 3, the heart pierced by two swords; 4, the instruments of the Passion.’
From an account of St Nicholas’ church, Dunsany, County Meath written by Thomas J Westropp and published in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 4, No. 3 (September 1894). Since that time, the altar tomb he describes above has been reconstructed and moved to a small space on the north side of the nave.
For more than 150 years, one of the most prominent landmarks in Dublin was Nelson’s Pillar. Erected in 1809 and rising 134 feet, the fluted limestone column was crowned by a statue of Horatio, Admiral Nelson; visitors could ascent an internal staircase to a viewing platform just below the figure of the Battle of Trafalgar hero. In March 1966 Irish Republicans decided to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising by attempting to blow up the pillar, a botched job but one that did so much damage to the monument that government forces had to finish the job. Various parts of the pillar have turned up over the year, but one interesting portion – 16 granite blocks each measuring two feet square which once formed part of the base carved with the names of Nelson’s most notable victories – can now be seen surrounding a circular pool in the garden behind Butler House in Kilkenny city. Various explanations have been given for how the stones ended in this location, one being that in the 1960s William Walsh, head of Córas Tráchtála Teoranta (the Irish Export Board) and the man responsible for establishing the Kilkenny Design Workshops, saw the pieces, admired their fine lettering and brought them to the city to provide inspiration for graphic designers. Alas, the government short-sightedly closed down the Kilkenny Design Workshops in 1988, but the stones still remain.*
How I long to remember those bright days of yore
Which sweetly with joy I beguiled
The friends that frequented my old cabin floor
And the comrades I loved as a child
How I longed for to roam, by Mount Massey’s green groves
Or poach by the light of the moon
That spot of my birth, there’s no place on earth
Like Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom
In the sweet summer time, when the season was fine
What fun would be there at the gate
The colleens would smile as they sat on the stile
While the sweethearts their love tales relate
When dancing was over, we’d stroll thru the park
Each lad with his lassie in bloom
That spot of my birth, there’s no place on earth
Like Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom
For now I must roam, from my own native home
And cross o’er the wild raging sea
To leave friends behind both loving and kind
And the colleens who dearly loved me
Though fortune may smile far away from our isle
I’ll pray that the day will come soon
When I’ll stray once again, by the lovely domain
Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom
So friends come with me and ’tis there you will see
The apples and cherries in bloom
And ’tis you I’ll invite, where I first saw the light
In Mount Massey, the flower of Macroom
Mount Massey, The Flower of Macroom is an old Irish ballad.
Mount Massy, County Cork appears to have been built in the 1780s on land which at the time belonged to the Hutchinson family, but following the marriage of Mary Hutchinson to Captain Hugh Massy it was subsequently inherited by their son, Massy Hutchinson Massy whose descendants owned the house and surrounding estate until the building was burnt in December 1920 during the War of Independence.
St Mary’s church in Mansfieldstown, County Louth was a medieval church badly damaged in the Confederate Wars of the 1640s and then, owing to an insufficient number of parishioners, left to fall into ruin. An Episcopal Visitation of 1690 noted ‘Church not in repair since the warrs, and the reason given why it is not built is because the parish is very poore, and there are no Protestants in it except Mr. Tisdall (who lives in Dublin), and the parish clerk, who lives in the parish…No bells, no Common Prayer Book, nor Church Bible. A stone font lying on ye ground, no chest for poore, no Register Book’. However the church was shortly afterwards rebuilt (the estimated costs for this were £140) as a second visitation two years later commented ‘Three parts of the walls and roof in good repair ; windows to be glazed. The whole chancel and part of the body of church built at equal charge of the Minister and parishioners. Remaining part of the body unbuilt since ’41, on account of the poverty of the parishioners. The charge for building that part will be £30. The church slated and painted ; no bells ; Service 10 o’clock on Sunday morning…A decent pulpit, good Communion Table, a decent carpet, and also a Font of stone.’ When the building underwent this overhaul, the original late-medieval traceried east window was salvaged and reinstalled, note the corbel heads, and a third at the top of the label moulding. Smaller traceried windows were inserted on the north and south walls in the 19th century and there are similar corbel heads (thought also to be from the 17th century) found on these.
From The Tuam Herald of Saturday, September 4th 1920: ‘A correspondent gives some interesting but sad details of the malicious burning of Tyrone House [County Galway]. It was in the late Georgian style and the finest house in Ireland. The ceilings were all painted by Italian masters and were regular works of art. The mantle pieces were all of rare Italian marble and very costly. In the hall was a fine full sized marble statue of Baron St George the founder of that once great family. It was the work of an Italian artist. The head was broken off the night of the raid deliberately it must be said. All the ceilings are now ruined and the mantle pieces also, and the entire structure an empty shell and ruin. There was no grounds for the report that the military or police intended or were to occupy the house, and agrarian motives are believed to have inspired and instigated this most foul and reprehensible act of purely wanton destruction. Of late years the place was freely allowed to be used by pleasure parties who came out from Loughrea and other places to have a dance which cost them nothing and to enjoy themselves, and who were never prevented from having their pleasure and a dance on the spacious floor of the dining room, and they can now no longer do so, and where in olden days the finest balls in the Co. Galway took place.’
This month marks the sad centenary of the burning of Tyrone House. For further information on the building and its former owners, the St George family, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/18/tyrone-house/ or watch on the Irish Aesthete’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=irish+aesthete