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
Rathcoffey Castle, County Kildare has a complex history, involving multiple changes of ownership. The first to be recorded dates from the late 12th century when lands in this part of the country were granted by the Anglo-Norman knight Adam de Hereford (responsible for building Leixlip Castle elsewhere in the same county) to his brother John. When that line of the family failed, the land reverted to the crown and in the early 14th century Edward II granted it to John de Wogan, Justiciar of Ireland. The Wogans, thought to be originally from Wales, retained the property (albeit with a certain amount of the inevitable internecine feuding) until the mid-18th century, despite remaining Roman Catholic, and rising against the Crown in 1581 and again in 1642. They also supported James II, the last of the line and so went into exile. The last of the male line, Charles Wogan, led a rather romantic existence, escaping from London’s Newgate Prison in 1716 on the eve of his trial for high treason. He managed to reach France where he joined a regiment under the authority of another Irish exile, Colonel Arthur Dillon. Next, he became involved in securing a bride for the Old Pretender: this included securing her release after she had been captured by the Austrians, for which he was made a Roman Senator by Pope Clement XI. The Old Pretender (James III to loyal Jacobites) made him a baronet, while in France he was known as the Chevalier Wogan. Next he joined the Spanish army where he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and made Governor of La Mancha. While living there he corresponded with Jonathan Swift in Dublin, sending the latter more than one cask of wine and some writings which he hoped Swift would help to get published. This never happened, although Swift described Wogan as ‘a Scholar, a Man of Genius and of Honour. As late as 1746 he was still trying to help the Jacobite cause, travelling to France in the hope of joining the Young Pretender (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in England, an aspiration never realized. He died, it appears back in La Mancha in 1752.
With the death of the Chevalier Wogan and then his younger brother Nicholas, what remained of the family’s Kildare estate was divided between the latter’s two daughters, one of whom Frances married John Talbot of Malahide. In the 1780s their grandson, Richard Wogan Talbot, second Baron Talbot of Malahide, sold Rathcoffey to another fascinating character, Archibald Hamilton Rowan who just a few years later would be a founding member of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen. In 1792 he was first arrested for seditious libel and two years later was jailed in Dublin. However, just like Charles Wogan, he managed to escape and to flee to France. Finding the Revolutionary climate too unstable, in July 1795 he moved to the United States, settling first in Philadelhia and then Wilmington, Delaware, borrowing money to operate a calico mill in the area. Finally in 1799, following persistent appeals from his wife Sarah to the British government, he was allowed to return to Europe, being reunited with his family in Hamburg. Then in 1803 he was permitted to live in England and finally, following the death of his father in 1805, back in Ireland. Thereafter he divided his time between the family’s original home, Killyleagh Castle, County Down and Rathcoffey where his loyal wife, then his eldest son and finally he all died in the same year, 1834. After which the contents of the building were auctioned and the estate leased, then sub-leased before being taken back by the Hamilton Rowan family. However, as early as 1902 the house was described as being a ruin, in which state it has remained ever since.
The site at Rathcoffey contains a number of substantial ruins, the oldest being an L-plan late-medieval gate house, possibly dating from the 15th century. This would have provided access to the main castle enclosed within a bawn wall, which has since gone. The gate house has undergone changes since first constructed and, it is speculated by Andrew Tierney, may have been converted into a coachhouse in the 18th century. That is certainly when the old castle, which stood a short distance to the east, was radically altered and given the form it still retains. The work is thought to have occurred after the estate was acquired by Archibald Hamilton Rowan in the 1780s: in his Beauties of Ireland (1826) James Norris Brewer noted that Hamilton Rowan had ‘commenced a less austere residence’ at Rathcoffey. Its design has been attributed to amateur architect and neighbour Thomas Wogan Browne, a relation of the previous owners. It will be remembered that the Wogan property was inherited by two sisters, one of whom married a Talbot. The other married a Browne, who lived not far away on an estate called Clongowes Wood (since 1814 a school run by the Jesuit order)*. Thomas Wogan Browne was responsible for giving his family home its Gothick appearance, but Rathcoffey on the other hand, although already a castle, was now thoroughly classicized. The older building to the rear and occupying the north-east corner of the site, was incorporated into the new and the greater part of the ground floor is groin-vaulted, even the handsome ashlar, three-bay loggia that sits between the three-storey façade’s projecting wings, each once finished with pedimented gables. Since it has stood empty for so long, little of the interior survives; one of the small reception rooms to the south-east has an internal bow-end and its equivalent in the south-west retains a number of niches. Otherwise it is impossible to determine what the house looked like when occupied by the Hamilton Rowans.
*There was another, and later link between Rathcoffey Castle and Clongowes Wood, since for much of the last century the Jesuits resident in the latter owned the land on which the former stands.
And so, another former church falling into ruin: this one in Aghinagh, County Cork where the congregation can never have been very substantial. The building dates from 1791 when £500 was provided by the Board of First Fruits but the east wall of the chancel (added in the mid-19th century) incorporates a late-medieval window, now completely smothered in ivy and other creepers, which suggests that, as so often, there was an earlier church on the site. One curious feature on the exterior of the three-stage tower at the west end may also have been recycled from a previous building: the head of a bishop carved in sandstone and resting on top of a Solomonic column.
It was the late Nuala O’Faolain who, almost 25 years ago, told me the unhappy story of Marianne Talbot, a story Nuala later incorporated into her 2001 novel, My Dream of You. The tale can be summarized as follows: in January 1845 John Talbot-Crosbie, a younger son of the Rev John Talbot-Crosbie of Ardfert Abbey, County Kerry, married Marianne McCausland. A year later the couple’s only child, a daughter also called Marianne, was born. In May 1851 John Talbot-Crosbie’s uncle William Talbot died, and left his nephew an estate in County Roscommon called Mount Talbot. However, the will stated that John was only to enjoy lifetime occupancy and full ownership rested on his having a male heir. A year later, John, who by royal licence had now dropped Crosbie from his surname, claimed to have discovered his wife Marianne with a groom called Mullen in the latter’s room, the door to which was locked; curiously the couple’s little daughter was also in the room. However, immediately separated from her child, the following day Marianne Talbot was brought by the local rector to Dublin and there kept in confinement. It is said that Mullen followed Marianne to the city and tried to see her there, but was not allowed to do so. Some time later she was declared insane, taken to England and placed in a lunatic asylum where she is believed to have spent the rest of her life. Meanwhile, her husband initiated divorce proceedings against Marianne on the grounds of adultery and although his application was granted, it was repeatedly challenged by Marianne’s family, the case going all the way to the House of Lords where the couple’s divorce was confirmed in July 1856. As can be imagined, the matter attracted considerable public attention, and it was widely believed that John Talbot, knowing his wife was unlikely to have any further children and certainly not a boy, had fabricated her adultery with the groom so as to allow a divorce. Having succeeded in this ambition, he was able to marry again – in October 1858 – and a year later his second wife, Gertrude Caroline Bayley, had a son. Divine justice then intervened: John Talbot died a fortnight after the birth.
The Talbots were a family long settled in Ireland, the first of them being Richard de Talbot who around 1185 was granted land in Malahide where his descendants lived in a castle until 1973. Another branch was based in Templeogue, County Dublin until, in the aftermath of the Cromwellian Wars, Sir Henry Talbot had his lands seized and was transplanted to County Roscommon. Restored to his original lands in the aftermath of the Restoration, all seemed well until Sir Henry’s son James took up the cause of James II and was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Once again, the family lost its property in the Dublin region, but somehow managed to hold onto the Roscommon estate, which eventually passed to James Talbot’s nephew Henry. In the 1730s he embarked on building the core of what remains today of the house at Mount Talbot. The design of this has been attributed to that prolific architect of the period, Richard Castle. Certainly, the building as originally constructed conformed to the Castle’s Palladian model, the main block being flanked by wings set at an angle of 45 degrees and linked to them by curved open arcades with a series of urns along the parapets. So far, so standard but then around 1820 the era’s Tudor Gothic craze hit Mount Talbot’s then owner, the aforementioned William Talbot (the terms of whose will would later be the cause of so much unhappiness). The consequences were startling.
The architect chosen to oversee Mount Talbot’s transformation was a local man, Richard Richards, of whom relatively little is known although he did design a number of churches. This was certainly his most important commission and he clearly wanted to make an impression. What presumably had been a symmetrical classical house was given a great square keep at one end of the façade and a smaller polygonal turret at the other; between them the entrance to the building was now flanked by similar turrets. The centre of the garden front received a three-storey projecting block with arched Gothic windows and pinnacles at the corners of the roofline, all of which was castellated. One more turret rose above all the others in the middle of the building. Further work undertaken in the early 1880s when a new entrance front approached by a grand stone staircase was added in the north-east corner of the house. Yet while the main block was dressed up to look like a castle, the arcades and wings retained their original classical appearance, an altogether bizarre juxtaposition of styles. It was not to last long. William John Talbot, the heir born to John Talbot just two weeks before his death, in due course came of age and into his inheritance when he embarked on the additional work mentioned above. Known as Johnnie, in 1897 he married a wealthy heiress, Julia Molyneux, only child of Sir Capel Molyneux of Castle Dillon, County Armagh, meaning the couple were exceedingly wealthy. All was well until the onset of the War of Independence and its aftermath, the Civil War. During the first of these, British troops were garrisoned in the house and grounds of Mount Talbot, the Talbots seemingly living during this period at Castle Dillon. Following the signing of the Treaty, they returned to Mount Talbot but in early April 1922, a group of armed Republicans arrived at the house and assaulted the now-elderly Johnnie Talbot, giving the couple 24 hours to leave the place or face worse. The next day the Talbots departed, never to return, he to go into a nursing home in Dublin, his wife to the Shelbourne Hotel, where she died that night, supposedly from shock brought on by the attack at Mount Talbot. Johnnie Talbot died the following year in London. Meanwhile, as the Civil War continued, Free State troops occupied Mount Talbot which in July 1922 was attacked by Anti-Treaty forces who placed a mine under the main entrance and other bombs around the building, causing considerable damage. The Talbots had no children, and following his death, the estate was broken up by the Land Commission and the house, along with its contents, sold. All that remains today is a stump of the central block and one of the wings. No trace survives of the other wing, nor of either linking arcade. After all that John Talbot had done to ensure Mount Talbot remained in his family, and all the suffering he had caused to his first wife Marianne, this was the end result.
Clontuskert Priory, County Galway is a little-known religious site which yields ample pleasures for the traveller who troubles to find it. The present ruins date from the 15th century, but it is claimed that originally a monastic settlement was founded here around 800AD by Saint Baedán. If this were the case, no trace of that establishment survives. Later, probably towards the close of the 12th century, the prominent Ó Ceallaigh (O’Kelly) family invited members of the Arrouasian order – a particularly austere division of the Augustinian canons – to found a house here, the Priory of St Mary. The Ó Ceallaighs remained closely associated with this establishment, which became one of the richest in this part of the country. Members of the family were consistently appointed to the position of Prior, even though, on a number of occasions, they were illegitimate (in the medieval church, illegitimacy was a barrier to holy orders or the holding of a benefice, so papal dispensation had to be sought). In 1444 Eoghan O’Kelly, then-Prior of Clontuskert was slain in a battle with a rival family, the McCoughlans. There were several instances when corruption seems to have been rampant: in 1463, for example, Thady O’Kelly, a canon in the priory, reported to Rome that the Prior, John O’Kelly was guilty of immorality, perjury and simony. Thady O’Kelly then in turn became Prior, after which another canon, Donatus O’Kelly accused him of killing a layman. Donatus next became Prior, after which he was accused by another canon Donald O’Kelly, of scattering the priory’s goods, keeping a concubine and committing homicide. And so it went on.
In 1404 Clontuskert Priory was struck by lightning and set alight, destroying the buildings and their contents. A Papal order was subsequently issued offering ten-year indulgences for those who contributed to the cost of its rebuilding. So what we see on the site today are the remains of a 15th century priory. The O’Kellys seem to have continued to be associated with the Priory up to the time of the Reformation in the 1540s, a number of them holding benefices under the control of the house. In the mid-16th century the lands hitherto owned by Clontuskert passed into the hands of the de Burgos, Earls of Clanricarde, in 1570 the second earl receiving a grant from the government of the priory. However, the family remained Catholic and the Augustinian canons remained on site, even though they had lost their possessions. A keystone inserted into the doorway leading from nave to choir is dated 1633 indicates they were still there then. But by the end of the 17th century the de Burgos had converted to the Established Church and it would appear that thereafter Clontuskert Priory was abandoned and left to fall into ruin.
While portions of Clontuskert Priory’s cloister survive, the main interest of the site lies in the church. Here the east wall, with its beautiful traceried window, collapsed in 1918 but the pieces were saved, allowing for reconstruction in the early 1970s. Much further restoration work was undertaken on the site in the previous decade. The north and south walls of the choir feature a number of fine tombs. The choir itself is accessed via a substantial arcaded stone rood screen, one of the features reconstructed some decades ago. Originally there would have been no end wall, so that the arches would have offered a view through to the choir where services were taking place. However, a wall was built at the east end of the rood screen (when the aforementioned door with the date 1633 was inserted) thereby fundamentally changing the appearance of the space. But the most attractive aspect of Clontuskert Priory is its west doorway, which carries the following inscription: ‘Matheu : Dei: gra : eps : Clonfertens : et : Patre’ oneacdavayn : canonie’ esti : domine : fi’ fecert : Ano : do : mcccclxxi’ (Matthew by the grace of God, Bishop of Clonfert and Patrick O’Naughton, canon of this house, caused me to be made. Anno Domini 1471). The exterior of the doorway is covered with carvings, including the figures of the Archangel Michael carrying a sword and scales (for weighing souls), Saints John the Baptist, Catherine of Alexandria and, it is thought, Augustine of Hippo; they are flanked by smiling angels each holding a shield. Stones on either side are carved with the likes of a pelican feeding her young, a pair of mythical beasts, two ibexes with intertwined necks, and a mermaid holding a comb and mirror. Just inside the door is a water stoup, again bearing two figures believed to be, again, Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo. Largely bereft of visitors, Clontuskert Priory is something of a hidden gem, but one definitely worth discovering.
In the centre of Navan, County Meath and on the banks of the river Blackwater, the unsalubrious remains of a mid-19th century mill that once helped bring prosperity to the town. The building dates back to 1851 when erected by William Morgan to provide flour for his bakery elsewhere in Navan. It continued to serve this purpose until early in the last century when converted into a sawmill, remaining in operation until 1999 when the enterprise closed down. Since then the property has stood empty, being seriously damaged by arsonists in July 2007. Two years ago the local authority turned down the planning application from a local developer to demolish the mill, and erect on the five-acre site a 186-bedroom nursing home and 40 apartments.
Johnstown, County Kildare derives its name from a now-ruined church dedicated to St John and believed to have been built in late-Medieval period by the Knights Hospitallers (now otherwise known as the Knights of Malta). The centre of the building is now dominated by a large High Cross commemorating Richard Bourke, sixth Earl of Mayo who was assassinated in 1872 while serving as Viceroy of India; his home was at nearby Palmerstown. An earlier owner of this property was the Flatesbury family, and set into the north wall of the church is a grave slab featuring their coat of arms and those of the Wogans, below an eight-armed cross. This carries the date 1289 although the slab is thought to date from the 15th century.