The ceiling of a first-floor reception room in a house on the north side of Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin. Many of these properties were among the first to be developed on the site and the building appears to date from the second decade of the 19th century. The plasterwork on the ceiling is free-hand and not taken from moulds, which soon after became the norm. At the moment, it is covered in layers of paint but a ceiling in the adjacent room has recently been cleaned and restored, revealing just how fine is the workmanship here.
Beginning in the early 1970s, every summer social geographer Kevin Corrigan Kearns visited Ireland for research purposes, spending considerable amounts of time in Dublin. In 1983 he published a book Georgian Dublin: Ireland’s Imperilled Architectural Heritage in which he wrote that with each trip to the city, ‘I could not help but witness the insidious forces which seemed to conspire against the vulnerable Georgian streetscapes. Every year there was grim new testimony to neglect, decay and destruction. Once-intact Georgian vistas of unsurpassed beauty were savaged by demolition and unsympathetic architectural infill. Inexplicably, there existed no effective opposition to this wilful and wanton assault on Dublin’s unique urban core. Indeed, I sensed that Dubliners somehow accepting this alarming degenerative process as a sort of natural occurrence – ostensibly, all in the name of progress and prosperity. Were Dubliners insensitive to this loss or merely impotent to exert any control over the destiny of their elegant city? Was there no philosophy of stewardship on the part of officialdom and citizenry to preserve this imperilled treasure for future generations?… While much destruction has incontestably resulted from deliberate unabashed rape of the cityscape, a wealth of Georgiana has conspicuously been despoiled and lost from simple benign neglect on the part of owners and occupiers, both public and private. The fragile state of Georgian Dublin today cannot be attributed to the actions of any single group. A myriad of forces has for generations militated against the welfare and survival of the Georgian city.’
Although he had suggested a ‘myriad of forces’ was responsible for the havoc wreaked on Ireland’s historic capital during the 1870s and ‘80s, Kevin Corrigan Kearns had no doubt who were the principal villains: ‘It would not be an exaggeration to state that the redevelopment of Dublin has essentially been left to the whims and dictates of private developers and speculators. For the past twenty years, amid an unconstrained environment for development, they have been allowed to use the inner city, in the words of one irate writer to the Irish Times, as a “gambling ground for their own ambitions of wealth and power”. During this free-wheeling period of urban growth, the government assumed a modest role in redevelopment. Indeed, while the Civil Service and other public bodies taken up almost three-quarters of Dublin’s total office space, the vast bulk of this accommodation is rented from private development companies.
By the late ‘sixties, the appellation “developer” had become synonymous with “despoiler” in the public psyche. The tide of destruction that scarred the central city evoked accusations of “rape”, “pillage” and “prostitution” of the urban environment. The developers’ appetite for reconstruction and profit seemed rapacious as they increasingly cast hungry eyes towards the Georgian terraces. Motivated by hard economics which demanded maximum floor space for minimal investment, no Georgian house, regardless of its historic or artistic merit, was sacrosanct.’
Kevin Corrigan Kearns was by no means the only person watching the destruction of Dublin’s historic core with dismay; artist and author Peter Pearson was likewise appalled by what was taking place in his native city. Rather than observe, he began to intervene by rescuing items from buildings that were being demo
lished or cleared out, and gradually built up a huge collection of architectural salvage. Today that collection acts as a record of decades’ long barbarianism. Pearson’s accumulated items include everything from fragments of 18th century plasterwork to 19th century decorative iron railings, from carved Portland stone capitals to ornamental door knockers. Among the features they share is that all came from properties in the capital, and all were deemed expendable and of no value: nobody operating in an official capacity thought it worthwhile to preserve a record of what was being torn down. Instead, this work was left to a passionate individual who recognised what neither the state nor Dublin County Council did: that the rampant and ill-conceived razing of the city centre would lead to a collective loss of memory unless something was saved. Without Pearson’s diligent enterprise, it would all have disappeared, a handful of old black and white photographs being the only souvenir.
Today it is less likely that buildings constructed in earlier centuries will be knocked down – although this can still occur, not least because of an inadequate listing of properties that merit protection (such as those which are currently at risk on the corner of Nassau and Kildare Streets. Dating from c.1820, astonishingly they are unlisted by Dublin City Council, thereby allowing the owner to apply for their demolition and replacement with an office development). And even buildings which are listed for preservation frequently suffer from unauthorised work on the site, as anyone who has ventured onto Capel Street and its neighbours in recent years can testify: large skips are heaped with the remains of gutted interiors. Across the capital, developers continue to be permitted set the pace for what is and isn’t built or preserved. Both central and local authorities continue to adopt a largely laissez-faire, hands-off approach to what is kept within the historic core. There is no national collection of the kind created over several decades by Peter Pearson. To see what he saved is both wonderful and tragic. Anyone involved in planning and urban development should be under an obligation to spend ample time looking through what was rescued in order that the same mistakes are not repeated. Otherwise the record of losses will continue to grow.
Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection is on show in the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2 until March 22nd, and includes a selling exhibition of paintings and collages of the city by Peter Pearson.
As David Skinner explains in his 2014 monograph on Wallpaper in Ireland, in the early 19th century some French manufacturers began to produce narrative papers, each one different and intended to be hung in sequence so as to tell a story. These ‘papiers-peints paysages’ as they were called, became popular throughour Europe and North America, and a number of them were hung in Irish houses. One particular monochrome set, telling the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche was first created in 1816 by Joseph Dufour of Paris, based on a series of pictures specially produced by two neo-classical artists of the time, Louis Lafitte and Merry-Joseph Blondel. At least three Cupid and Psyche sets could once be found here but two of the houses where they were installed, Kinlough, County Leitrim and Piltown, County Louth, are now ruins (for the latter, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/03/13/pourquoi-me-reveiller). The third set remains in situ in the library/ballroom of Stradbally Hall, County Laois where in the 1860s it was placed not on the walls but rather unusually in sequence around the outer perimeter of the ceiling.
The Taylour family has appeared here before, in connection with Headfort, County Meath (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/02/22/a-unique-legacy). Dating from the 1760s, that house was built for Thomas Taylor, first Earl of Bective (incidentally, it was his son, the first Marquess of Headfort who assumed the new surname of Taylour). One of Lord Bective’s younger sons was the Hon Robert Taylor (b.1760) who in 1783 entered the British army as a cornet in the 5th Dragoons. Thereafter his rise through the ranks was steady and by 1796, having spent time in Flanders and Germany during the French Revolutionary Wars, he was a Colonel. He was here during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and serving as second-in-command to General Lake at the Battle of Ballinamuck in September of that year when the French General and his forces were defeated, thus marking the end of the rising. Taylor continued his career in the army for two more decades, finally being brevetted a full general in 1819. Around this time, or soon after, he acquired a small estate in his native Meath called Dowdstown.
Situated not far from the Hill of Tara, the name Dowdstown presumably derives from the Dowdall family which came to own this property in the 16th century; previously it had been a grange for the Cistercian St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin. At the end of the 17th century it came to be owned by the Rochforts. When General Taylor bought the place, there may have been some kind of dwelling there already, but surviving drawings in the Irish Architectural Archive by James Shiel dated 1820 and 1834 show that improvements were carried out on the site during this period for its new owner (the archive also holds unexecuted drawings for Dowdstown by Birmingham architect Joseph Bateman from 1831). Parts of this building probably survive in the two-storey block to the north of the present main house at Dowdstown, but the residence was likely to have been quite modest. In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) Samuel Lewis notes that ‘the Hon. Gen. Taylor has a seat in the cottage style in a demesne of about 590 acres, of which about 240 are plantations.’ These extensive plantations of trees, long since cut down, gave rise to a notion that General Taylor had been a participant at the Battle of Waterloo and then laid out his grounds to imitate how different regiments were placed on that occasion, with taller trees represented officers. In fact, the roll call of participants at Waterloo does not include Taylor’s name, and as a general he would have been a prominent figure on that occasion. Nor is it mentioned in any of his obituary notices, an extraordinary omission had he been present.
A bachelor, General Taylor died in April 1839, leaving Dowdstown to a nephew, Thomas Edward Taylour whose branch of the family lived at Ardgillan Castle (originally called Prospect House) in County Dublin. It appears that when his mother died twenty years later, Thomas and his younger brother Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor who had inherited Ardgillan swapped properties. Accordingly the Dowdstown estate now passed into the possession of Richard Taylor who, like his uncle before him, was a professional soldier, having entered the British army in 1835 at the age of 16. He subsequently saw service in India on a couple of occasions (being there during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and involved in the Capture of Lucknow), and took part in the Crimean War. Like his uncle he eventually rose to the rank of General and was knighted two years before his death in 1904.
In 1863 he married Lady Jane Hay, a daughter of the eighth Marquess of Tweeddale, and it was no doubt as a result of this union that the ‘cottage style’ property he had inherited at Dowdstown was deemed insufficient. One of the period’s most popular architectural practices, Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, was requested to enlarge the place, possibly with the assistance of another Ulster architect Samuel Patrick Close who worked with the firm on many occasions. As today’s pictures show, Dowdstown might be described as offering something for everyone, since it displays a fantastical array of styles both inside and out. The south-facing façade, for example, is somewhat French in flavour, thanks to a turreted corner with conical slate roof and a large central bow projection. The west-facing entrance front on the other hand, looks more Jacobethan in inspiration, with a four-storey belvedere-topped tower to the immediate left of the main door which has a heavily ornamented porch. The interiors are equally eclectic but the most heavily decorated areas are the drawing room and adjacent staircase hall, each visible to the other thanks to a screen of coloured glass between them, the whole divided into sections by heavy banded pilasters with richly carved capitals; they imitate those in stone on the porch.
It’s open to question how much time the Taylors ever spent living at Dowdstown. For a number of years in the 1880s the General was Governor of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and seems to have settled in England following his retirement, dying in Surrey in 1904. Dowdstown seems to have been rented out for long periods before finally being sold in 1926 to a religious order, the Columban Fathers who initially used it as their own residence before finding other purposes for the building. Since such is no longer the case, the order is now offering Dowdstown for sale.
The text below originally appeared here in 2015. Tomorrow at Sotheby’s in London many of the items in the accompanying photographs will be offered for sale; thankfully not all, since some key pieces such as the 1770s sofas, the Axminster carpet from c.1820-30 and 19th century beds with their original hangings have been offered on loan to the state for public display. Nevertheless, the contents of another historic Irish house are being broken up because there is little or no official support for owners of such properties struggling to survive and eventually they are left with no option but to sell.
It is worth pointing out – again – that legislation has existed on the Irish statute books for many decades which is supposed to ensure that valuable paintings, furniture and so forth remain in this country. The Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export) Act dates from 1945 and was, in theory at least, supplemented by the National Cultural Institutions Act of 1997. The idea behind these pieces of legislation is that before any item over a certain fairly low value can leave the country, the parties responsible are required to seek permission from government-appointed authorities (until July 2015 usually one of the main national cultural institutions.*) However, there is no known instance where such an export licence has been refused; auction houses have long understood that this is a mere paper-filling formality. Tomorrow’s sale, for example, also includes a mahogany dining table attributed to Mack, Williams and Gibton and dated c.1815. It was listed in an inventory made of the contents of Carton, County Kildare in 1818 and has remained in the house until now when, after 200 years, it will be offered for sale tomorrow.
Vendors vend, buyers buy, auctioneers auction. Across millennia collections have been assembled and dispersed. There are no villains here, no one deserves to be castigated for acting in an untoward fashion. But there is, as has been the case for too long, evidence of clear neglect on the part of the Irish state towards what becomes of our patrimony, and an obvious want of concern over how this has been steadily whittled down, year by year, house by house. One must ask what is the function of legislation observed in name only? Surely the purpose of enacting the laws mentioned above was to ensure that a reasonable effort would be made to retain valuable works of art and collections in Ireland? That is currently not the case. A general election takes place here in a few weeks’ time: readers might like to ask any candidates they encounter for an opinion on the national heritage and what might be done to retain whatever is still here. Otherwise expect more sales.
Despite the many advances made in Irish architectural history over recent decades, some areas remain in need of further investigation. Among the most obvious of these is the question of attribution. There are significant houses across the country yet to be assigned to any architect, and others which need to have their accreditations reassessed. In the latter category are those properties given accreditations by the late Knight of Glin in the early 1960s when he was engaged on his uncompleted thesis on the subject of Irish Palladianism. At the time there was far less information available on or interest in architectural history than is now the case, and therefore the Knight was to a large extent dependent on instinct when allocating various houses to different architects, about whom little or nothing was known. Often he had to rely on his eye rather than on documentation, and as he admitted towards the end of his life, mistakes were made. To date insufficient effort has been made to correct these and as a result attributions made half a century ago still stand. An obvious opportunity for correction occurred with the appearance of the relevant volume in the Royal Irish Academy’s Art and Architecture of Ireland series published earlier this year, but the editors failed to avail of this opportunity. A reassessment of the Knight’s attributions still awaits requiring someone able to combine scholarship with connoisseurship. Until such time, in particular the output of gentlemen architects like Francis Bindon (whose name has appeared here on more than one occasion) will remain unclear. On the other hand, thanks to another book published in 2015 we are now in a much better position to assess the oeuvre of another talented 18th century amateur, Nathaniel Clements.
In 1754 John Carteret Pilkington published the third and final volume of his late mother Letitia’s celebrated memoirs in which he described Nathaniel Clements as being ‘a certain great man in Ireland, whose place of abode is not remote from Phoenix Park…whose acquirements have justly raised him from obscurity to opulence [and] whose extensive plans in building have excited an universal admiration of his taste in architecture.’ As Clements’ new biographer Anthony Malcomson noted, it was perhaps something of an exaggeration to claim he had raised himself from ‘obscurity’ but as a fifth son he would have been expected to make his own way in the world, especially since his father died when he was only seventeen. That father, Robert Clements had inherited an estate in County Cavan but in 1707 had secured the important, and lucrative, post of Teller to the Irish Exchequer. This job passed to his eldest son Theophilus who badly bungled his own financial affairs as was discovered when he died in 1728. Nevertheless, both the family and Nathaniel Clements were by this time sufficiently well connected for the Tellership of the Exchequer to pass to him, a job he held for the next twenty-seven years during which time, as Pilkington commented, he made himself exceedingly rich. His substantial income was boosted by money received from non-residents in receipt of an Irish pension for whom he acted as agent for decades (Malcolmson estimates that by the mid-1740s his annual income from this job alone was £1,500). He also held numerous other offices, all of which brought in additional funds. Much of this was used to acquire land, the most reliable form of investment in a period when banks failed regularly (as did that established by Clements and a couple of partners in 1759). By the end of his life he had bought up some 85,000 acres spread across three counties and producing an income of around £6,000 each year.
Another area of investment in which Clements engaged was housing, beginning with his participation in the development of Dublin’s Henrietta Street. The man behind this project, and others on the northern banks of the Liffey, was Luke Gardiner to whom Clements was related by marriage. Named after Henrietta, Duchess of Bolton, an old friend of Gardiner, whose husband acted as Ireland’s Lord Lieutenant in 1717-20, the street was from the start intended to be the capital’s premier address, its two sides lined with houses of princely splendor. As so often the case throughout 18th century Dublin, the exterior of the buildings, mostly standard red-brick and occupying sites of varying proportions, gave – and continue to give – insufficient notice of what lay behind the facades. Clements was responsible for constructing a number of houses on the street, beginning with Number 8 which was finished around 1733 and let to Colonel (later General) Richard St George. Three or four others then followed before he moved to Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, the initial development of which was likewise overseen by Gardiner. Here Clements built several more properties including a family residence that came to be known as Leitrim House. But having become ranger of the Phoenix Park in 1750 (having previously acted as deputy-ranger) he embarked on building himself a smart and substantial new villa. The Ranger’s Lodge was a five-bay, two-storey over full-height basement house on either side of which quadrants connected to L-shaped single-storey wings. Clements and his socially-ambitious wife hosted opulent parties on the premises intended to impress their contemporaries and to cement the couple’s place in Ireland’s hierarchy. In June 1760 for example, it was reported that the Clementses ‘gave an elegant entertainment to several of the nobility and gentry at his lodge in the Phoenix Park, which was illuminated in the most brilliant manner.’ Five years after Nathaniel Clements’ death in 1777, his son Robert sold the lodge to the government which then converted – and subsequently – enlarged the building for use as a Viceregal residence. Today the same property is known as Áras an Uachtaráin and occupied by the President of Ireland.
Nathaniel Clements’ engagement in speculative building, together with his reputation as an arbiter of taste, led to several buildings being attributed to him by the Knight of Glin. These included Brookelawn and Colganstown, County Dublin; Williamstown and Newberry Hall, County Kildare; and Beauparc and Belview, County Meath. All can be dated to c.1750-65, and all share certain stylistic similarities, not least reliance on Palladianism which by that date was fast falling from fashion. While respecting the Knight’s notion of Clements as an architect, and one responsible for the houses listed above, Maurice Craig in Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976) proposes that he was ‘eclectic’ not least because ‘he picked and chose his elements from pattern-books and combined them so that they compose well enough together: but they do not interact on one another.’ However, given his many other professional and financial interests, it must now be accepted that Clements was not an architect as we would understand the term. Rather he was an influence, or as Malcomson proposes, ‘a role model’, someone to turn to for advice. Furthermore, the design of his Ranger’s Lodge provided the prototype for a new generation of villa-farms that were not grand country houses but residences at the centre of working estates. All this is applicable to a house which has long been ascribed to Nathaniel Clements because it was built for his eldest son and heir Robert who in 1795 was created first Earl of Leitrim. Killadoon, County Kildare, shown in the pictures here today, surely ought to have been designed by Nathaniel Clements but even Mark Bence-Jones in his 1978 Guide to Irish Country Houses argued that ‘apart from having the “pattern-book” tripartite doorway with a fanlight, a baseless pediment and engaged columns which he seems to have favoured, it lacks the characteristics of the houses known to be by him or convincingly attributed to him.’ In fact, as Malcomson shows, Nathaniel and Robert Clements had a troubled relationship and he proposes that the older man’s input into the house’s design ‘must have been limited.’ The need for a thorough re-examination of 18th century architectural attribution remains.
*In July 2015 An Taisce took a successful case in the High Court against the state delegating responsibility for the granting of export licenses to cultural institutions such as the National Gallery of Ireland. However, this does not appear to have made any difference to such licenses being granted.
Dublin’s Ormond Quay derives its name from James Butler, first Duke of Ormond who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the late 1670s when this area of the city was undergoing extensive redevelopment, driven by Sir Humphrey Jervis. Ormond Quay is divided into Upper and Lower, the latter being to the west, the former to the east. 18 Upper Ormond Quay lies in the middle of this area, a part of Dublin that, until the 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries, had for hundreds of years belonged to the Cistercians of St Mary’s Abbey. The house first built on the new quay is likely to have been quite modest, probably of two storeys, its pitched roof having dormer windows looking onto the river Liffey to the immediate south. The earliest reference to this property, which dates from a lease agreement of February 1725, makes mention to ‘stables and warehouse lying behind it.’
Less that twenty years later, another legal document indicates that the original building was replaced by a taller house, with ‘Dutch Billy’ gable façade. Then at some date around the 1760s, what had earlier been described as a ‘warehouse’ to the rear (fronting onto adjacent Arran Street East) was also reconstructed, probably with commercial premises on the ground floor and a handsome reception room lit by three windows above; portions of the latter’s elegant rococo cornice survive. Further alterations occurred in the late 1780s when the front of the building overlooking the quays was given a granite-arcaded façade, similar to those introduced elsewhere in the city by the Wide Street Commissioners and familiar to anyone who has studied the design of retail premises in the Georgian and retail period when the retailers began to understand merits of good shop front design.
18 Upper Ormond Quay does not seem to have flourished over the next few decades, and when a new lessee took on the premises in 1821, it was with the intention that the building serve as a tavern. The decline was not arrested, and in July 1842 the property was deemed to be ‘in a very decayed and ruinous state and in danger of falling.’ No wonder it took a mere ten shillings for the then-lease holder to surrender any interest in the house. However, despite its shabby condition, the building did not fall, nor was it pulled down. Instead, substantial new work was undertaken on the site.
In 1842 the freehold owner of 18 Ormond Quay, George Robert Dawson (a former MP and incidentally great-grandson of Joshua Dawson who built Dublin’s Mansion House in 1710) conveyed a new lease for the building to James Hamilton for 61years at an annual rent of £36 18s.6d, but on the condition that Hamilton spend ‘the full sum of eight hundred pounds sterling in lasting material and valuable improvements.’ As a result, over the next few years the premises were extensively renovated and assumed much of the appearance still seen today, the modifications including exterior upper walls of yellow brick (subsequently pebbledashed) and a reordering of the late 18th century shopfront. James Hamilton in turn leased the property to various tea, wine and spirit merchants as well as grocers, the storeys above ground floor usually being occupied by solicitors. In 1902 the latest grocer in residence, Edward Corcoran was required to carry out a number of improvements, not least installation of proper sewers and water closets. Ten years later the building became an hotel and restaurant, just the latter operating on the ground floor from the late 1940s with the area above serving as an informal boarding house. The next change came in 1970 when Watts Bros, an established firm of gun & rifle makers and fishing tackle manufacturers bought the property for £8,000. They remained here for thirty years but closed down in 2000, and once again the building was sold. It served as an alternative art space run by Farcry Productions, which painted on the old shopfront fascia the name ‘Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether’, before coming into the hands of Dublin Civic Trust in 2017.
Established in 1992, Dublin Civic Trust is an independent body intended to promote greater recognition and appreciation of traditional buildings and streetscapes. The organisation’s main objectives include the preservation and enhancement of the historic core of the capital, reuse of historic buildings in a manner that encourages active residential renewal, and the development of complementary uses that revitalise Dublin’s social and cultural life. What gives the trust its distinctive character is that it leads by example: through the acquisition and refurbishment of properties that are of historical, architectural, archaeological and environmental interest for the public benefit. This has been successfully demonstrated thanks to a revolving rund mechanism which involves training and education in traditional skills, development of best practice conservation techniques and streetscape enhancement.
18 Ormond Quay is the latest instance of Dublin Civic Trust recognising an historic building’s architectural merits and undertaking to bring these once again to the fore. When the organisation some years ago sold its previous property (4 Castle Street, which prior to the trust’s intervention had been scheduled for demolition), it embarked on a fresh challenge with the quayside property. The most immediate problem was a severe lean of the exterior wall towards Arran Street East; this had been caused by the removal of various internal walls during the previous century, and rotted bonding timbers owing to water ingress. Ultimately a four-storey steelwork grid had to be applied on the inside face of the wall to ensure it would remain in place. Other internal timberwork had to be replaced for the same reason, as did much plasterwork, all damage primarily due to water ingress. On the outside, cement pebbledash applied to the upper levels, probably in the 1950s, has been removed, exposing the original yellow brick beneath (and in addition avoiding harmful moisture retention), and the granite arcaded shopfront has been restored to its original appearance. Inside, plasterwork, joinery, floors and ceilings, as well as mechanical and electrical services have all received necessary attention, and many of the rooms have been decorated and sympathetically furnished, all the while retaining the character of the place. But a great deal remains to be done, both in this section of the building, and in the older portion to the rear, that is the Arran Street East site which dates from the 1760s. As mentioned, this contains extensive portions of rococo decorative plasterwork and even rare surviving fragments of 18th century wallpaper: all of this material deserves preservation.
At the moment, Dublin’s historic fabric is under ferocious attack in a way that has not been seen since the 1970s, and both central and local authorities appear to be untroubled by, if not actively supportive of, this assault. Work by small voluntary organizations such as Dublin Civic Trust, which receives minimal support, and must rely on modest annual grants and private donations, ensures that at least some of the capital’s architectural heritage is preserved. Its work deserves to be applauded and supported by anyone who wants to make sure more of what makes Dublin distinctive is not lost. The work undertaken at 18 Ormond Quay represents all that is best about this splendid organisation.
To learn more about Dublin Civic Trust and its work, see: http://www.dublincivictrust.ie/
The life of Flemish artist Peter de Gree appears to have been short and not especially happy. Born in Antwerp, he originally studied for holy orders but abandoned this for painting, specializing in grisaille work which led to his being noticed by banker David La Touche, as well as Sir Joshua Reynolds. When de Gree came to London in 1785 the latter provided him with fifty guineas and a letter of introduction to the fourth Duke of Rutland, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He arrived in Dublin the same year and soon began to receive commissions. However, as Strickland noted in his 1913 Dictionary of Irish Artists, ‘De Gree, although he worked hard and charged low prices for his pictures, was not very successful. He lived in two small rooms, stinting himself in order to send to his parents in Antwerp all that he could spare of his earnings. The privations he endured broke down his health, and in January 1789, he died in his house in Dame Street.’
De Gree’s first commission in Dublin was to decorate the first floor Music Room of David La Touche’s residence at 52 St Stephen’s Green with a number of panels inspired by musical themes; these remain in situ. The series of large grisaille panels shown here, featuring a number of classical gods and goddesses, as well as playful putti, were originally painted for the house next door, 51 St Stephen’s Green, built around 1760 for the M.P. George Paul Monck, but they were subsequently removed and installed in another house in County Wicklow. More recently the panels were acquired by the Office of Public Works which has its headquarters in 51 St Stephen’s Green. However, that building has undergone many changes since first constructed and so de Gree’s series of grisaille pictures have now been hung in a first floor room on the western side of Dublin Castle’s Upper Yard, one of suite recently redecorated and opened to the public.
Until recently, Doneraile Court, County Cork had an unhappy recent past and what threatened to be an equally unhappy future. One of the earliest non-fortified houses in Ireland, the core of the present building was constructed in the 1720s to the design of Isaac Rothery for Arthur St Leger, first Viscount Doneraile. His great-grandfather Sir Anthony St Leger, who came from Kent, had been sent to Ireland in 1537 by Henry VIII and in 1540 was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. The family gradually acquired land in this country, and in 1636 Sir William St. L:eger, Knight, Lord President of Munster bought what is now Doneraile from its previous owners the Synans for ‘the sum of Three hundred pounds sterling current money of and in England in hand payed to us.’ Until Doneraile Court was built, they lived in an old castle on the opposite side of the river Awbeg. The house has a seven-bay, three-storey facade of cut stone with curved end bows added at a later date in the 18th century. Further additions were made in the following century, including a three-bay porch to the front and a vast dining room of 1869 (demolished during restoration work just over a century later). The interior contains an early 18th century panelled room and an oval late-18th century staircase hall with Adamesque plasterwork on its ceiling.
The last Lord Doneraile to live in the house was the seventh Viscount who had been born and lived in New Zealand before inheriting the title and estate in 1941. He and his wife had no children and following his death in 1957 she remained alone in Doneraile Court. Then in 1968 a 47-year old Californian truck driver called Richard St John St Leger arrived in Ireland with his family and claimed to be the Doneraile heir. An application was lodged with the British House of Lords for his claim to be recognised. While this process was underway and despite objections from the estate’s Trustees, the family moved into the house, initially living with the widowed Lady Doneraile although she later settled in a cottage on the estate. Around the same time the Trustees had reached agreement with the Land Commission for the purchase of Doneraile Court and its lands for £56,800. Richard St Leger meanwhile began refurbishment work on the house with the intention of opening it to the public. The Irish Georgian Society offered support and sent a large number of volunteers to help prior to an opening ceremony planned for July 1969 when the American Ambassador to Ireland would officially open the house. However, just a matter of days beforehand, the Trustees gained an injunction in the High Court against the public opening of Doneraile Court on the grounds that the house’s floors were unsafe. They then proceeded to sell its entire contents to a consortium of antique dealers. Soon afterwards the Land Commission completed the purchase of the estate. His claim to the title never proven, Richard St Leger moved out of the house and later returned to the United States.
The Doneraile estate now passed into State ownership as part of the Office of Public Works’ Department of Forestry and Fisheries. But while care was lavished on the parkland in preparation of being opened to the public, the same was not true for the house which rapidly started to show evidence of neglect and deterioration. Windows were broken by vandals, plasterwork in the hall began to fall off the walls and the 19th century conservatory collapsed. In May 1976 it was announced that Doneraile Court was to be leased to the Irish Georgian Society rent-free on condition that the organisation undertook to restore the building. Gradually the house’s dereliction was brought under control. By the end of 1978 the Irish Georgian Society had spent £25,000 on structural repairs and that figure would climb steadily higher; in 1983 the organization estimated it had spent some £40,000 on the house. The amount would have been much higher but for the fact that much of the work had been undertaken by volunteers. In June 1984 the park at Doneraile was opened to the public but a lot more still needed to be accomplished before the house could follow the demesne’s lead and admit visitors. In 1990 a tearoom began operating in the house’s old kitchen, and in April 1992 the ground floor of Doneraile Court opened with a variety of exhibitions on show, including photographs of restoration work from the very start. Two years later, with the greater part of the restoration work completed at a cost of £500,000, the Irish Georgian Society was at last able to hand the house back to the Office of Public Works. For the next 25 years, the building remained closed and shuttered. Finally, last month it re-opened to the public and for once the wait has been worthwhile. As today’s pictures show, Doneraile Court now looks better than it has for more than half a century, the ground floor rooms impeccably refurbished and decorated. Here is a triumphant demonstration that an historic building, no matter how long neglected, can be brought back to peak condition. What has occurred here can, with sufficient ambition and imagination, also happen elsewhere. Congratulations are merited to all involved in this enterprise, which is ongoing as there are plans to open the first floor in due course. Doneraile Court’s unhappy past has been expunged, and the house can now look forward to an optimistic future.
Next Sunday at 3pm I shall be giving a talk at Doneraile Court on a number of houses elsewhere in County Cork which have not enjoyed its good fortune. For further information, please see: http://doneraileestate.ie/event/robert-obyrne-the-irish-aesthete-in-county-cork/
Glenmaroon, to the immediate west of Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was discussed here a couple of months ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/05/27/glenmaroon). Or at least, part of Glenmaroon was discussed since this is a property in two parts, separated by a public road, and linked by a bridge across the latter. Around 1903 Ernest Guinness bought the original house, built some forty years before by retailer Gilbert Burns. The building’s new owner was the second son of Edward Guinness, created first Earl of Iveagh in 1919. Born in 1876, Ernest Guinness attended Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, leaving university with a degree in engineering. While his two brothers participated in the Boer War, he was sent to Dublin where he trained as a brewer before becoming assistant managing director at Guinness’s in 1902 and vice-chairman in 1913. His professional life was spent at the brewery in St James’s Gate where he always wore around his waist an enormous bunch of keys to the company’s safes. According to his great-nephew, the Hon Desmond Guinness, Ernest ‘was the only one of the family in his generation who really knew the brewery well. He understood and cared about every valve and every pipe, much more so than any of his brothers.’ Ernest Guinness loved machinery. One of the first men of his generation to acquire a motor car, he was later one of the oldest to be issued a British pilot’s licence and came to own four aeroplanes, the only person in Ireland to do so. When the autogyro, a precursor of the helicopter, was manufactured in 1923, he bought one and kept it in his garage. In his fifties he bought a three-engine biplane flying boat to carry family and friends between England and the west of Ireland. There was widespread press coverage of the first occasion on which he made the trip, in September 1928, since it was broken by an overnight stay in Kingston (now Dún Laoghaire) Harbour. Two years earlier at the Vickers’ Supermarine Aviation Works Ernest had supervised the construction of a three-engined monoplane with a wing span of 92 feet. Described as ‘an air yacht’ in addition to the cockpits, this had accommodation for six passengers including a saloon and several cabins equipped with electric lighting and a ventilation system. He was also a passionate sailor, owning a number of superlative vessels, the best known being the Fântome II on which he travelled around the world with his family in 1923-24. Even with boats, his interest was most often of a mechanical bent. On one occasion he ordered a yacht from the firm of Camper and Nicholsons but then requested that the vessel be cut in half to insert a 12-foot section in the middle with a diesel engine. When it was pointed out that this procedure would be more expensive than the simple purchase of an intact new boat, he retorted, ‘Never mind the money. That is how I want it done.’
In 1903 Ernest Guinness married Cloe (Marie Clothilde) Russell, only daughter of Sir Charles Russell, 4th Bt. Her mother was the granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond, making Cloe a direct descendant of Charles II and his French mistress Louise de Kérouaille. The couple had three daughters, Aileen Sibell (b.1904), Maureen Constance (1907) and Oonagh (1910) who would later be known collectively as the Golden Guinness Girls. The had a large house in central London at 17 Grosvenor Place (now occupied by the Irish Embassy) and also a house outside the capital, Holmbury in Surrey (chosen for its proximity to an airfield) in which a system of concealed loudspeakers piped music into every room. But owing to his involvement with the family brewery, Ernest was perceived as being domiciled in Ireland, which explains his purchase of Glenmaroon, from where he daily walked to his office in the Guinness brewery. Initially he lived in the house built for Gilbert Burns, but following his marriage he decided to build a new residence, on the other side of the road. The architect chosen for this task was Dubliner Laurence Aloysius McDonnell. Born around 1858, McDonnell trained with John Joseph O’Callaghan, a devotee of the Gothic revival, before spending time in the offices of Thomas Newenham Deane and John Franklin Fuller and then setting up his own practice in 1886. One of his earliest and most advantageous commissions came from Lady Aberdeen, wife of the former (and future) Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. She and her committee chose McDonnell to design an ‘Irish Industrial Village’ for the Chicago World Fair in 1892. Among his other better-known works are Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway and the Iveagh Play Centre building on Dublin’s Bull Alley Street, the second of these in partnership with Alexander Reid. Glenmaroon was earlier than either of these buildings and seems to have been built in the style of an English Home Counties mansion to please Mrs Guinness, homesick for her own country.
Ernest Guinness’s granddaughter Neelia Plunket later described Glenmaroon as ‘A fascinating but hideous house. Fascinating, because each time we go there, there is some new electrical device or mechanical gadget that makes an organ play, panels in the wall open or something unusual happens.’ This is a reference to one of her grandfather’s odder installations: in one of the main reception rooms stood a coal scuttle with a small button which, when pushed, caused an automatic pipe organ to rise up and begin playing Cherry Ripe, a popular song of the period. As mentioned, in order to link the two buildings, he also organised to have a bridge built above the public road, so that members of the family could cross without having to step outdoors (the present bridge is a later replacement). Seemingly his three daughters watched the drama of the Easter Rising unfold while looking down to Dublin from this bridge. Stylistically, McDonnell’s building is quite different from the earlier house, the loosely neo-Tudor exterior being clad in ashlar limestone on the ground floor, and then brick and wood above. Passing under the porte cochère, internally the most striking room is the entrance hall, panelled in oak and plaster with an elaborate chimneypiece at either end and, facing the doorway, a double-storey oak flying staircase, lit by a vast window filled with art nouveau glass. The main reception rooms off this area are less striking and decorated in an Adam-revival style. Glenmaroon remained in the possession of the Guinness family until Ernest’s death in 1949, after which the entire property passed to the Irish state as part-payment of death duties. The entire complex was later acquired by a religious order, the Daughters of Charity and adapted as a centre for the care of people with intellectual disability. Four years ago, it was placed on the market and since then some essential conservation work has been undertaken on the building. Its long-term future remains to be seen.
Drumcondra House, County Dublin was discussed here a month ago (see An Italian in Ireland, February 11th 2019). That property was built for the early 18th century lawyer and politician Marmaduke Coghill who had inherited land in the area from his father. Prior to having a new residence constructed, Coghill lived in an existing house close by called Belvedere (sometimes spelled Belvidere). The Civil Survey of 1654-56 notes ‘There is upon the premises a faire brick house, slated…’ That building was extensively altered in the following decade by another lawyer, Sir Robert Booth and it was after his death in 1681 that Marmaduke Coghill’s father moved there. Once Drumcondra House was built, Belvedere was let to Henry Singleton, who in 1740 became Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and fourteen years later Master of the Rolls. Mrs Delany records that in 1750 he was making extensive alterations to Belvedere, including the addition of a large drawing room to the rear of the building. This room has a wonderful ceiling with elaborate plasterwork. The stuccodore responsible is unknown, but stylistically the ceiling bears similarities to those a few miles away in Glasnevin House (see Misjudging a Book by its Cover, December 22nd 2014) which is attributed to the St Peter’s Stuccodore. Might this be another example of his craftsmanship?