An Irish Emigrant

Taking advantage in a respite of hostilities between Britain and France thanks to the Peace of Amiens, in September 1802 a Cork Quaker merchant called Cooper Penrose travelled to Paris where he sat for Jacques-Louis David. The artist had written beforehand, ‘Mr Penrose can have complete trust in me, I will paint his portrait for him for two hundred gold louis. I will represent him in a manner worthy of both of us. This picture will be a monument that will testify to Ireland the virtues of a good father and the talents of the painter who will have rendered them…’ Penrose subsequently brought the picture back to his native city where until around 1947 it hung in the family house, Woodhill (since demolished). Turning up with Wildenstein & Co. in New York in 1953, it was acquired by the Putnam Foundation and is now one of the glories of the Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, California. Another emigrant destined never to return to these shores…

Pious Liberality


The funerary monument of John Evans-Freke, sixth Baron Carbery, located inside the cathedral church of St Fachtna, Rosscarbery, Co. Cork . The monument is in two parts, one being this life-size marble statue of the deceased dressed in doublet and hose. Carved by Belgian sculptor Guillaume Geefs, the figure is complemented by a wall monument featuring an angel ready with his trumpet to summon the peer (whose coat of arms can also be seen) at Last Judgement. Below a long encomium assures readers that Lord Carbery’s ‘active usefulness and pious liberality are attested by this church which was built through his exertions.’ The church in question is that at Rathbarry, formerly part of the Castlefreke estate. Now a ruin, it closed in 1927, at which date the monument was moved to its present site.

A Most Happy – and Narrow – Escape


‘We have had a most happy – and narrow escape [from] having the whole house burned – Most fortunately the fire broke out by day – if it had been in the night, nothing could have saved us – and nothing would have saved us either by day or night but the extraordinary courage, zeal, activity, steadiness & obedience of the people who came to our assistance – 30 men & boys who went on unremittingly for above 3 hours from 7 o’clock in the morning till half after 10 carrying water up, up, up ladders & staircase & pouring continually, continually down the chimney till at last the fire was got under and extinguished – the total extinction & complete safety was not effected till half after seven in the evening…
Lovell & I first met in the study, he carrying the tin box with the title deeds – I undertook the carrying out of all the papers with 2 men he left me – Mrs Smith’s son and Dargan – most steady they were – in less than an hour’s time they had carried out all the presses of leases, etc, boxes of surveys & every rent book – The top of Mr Hind’s [the land agent] in which were his accounts & I know not what & it was impossible to open the locks –
First I tried to get the things out of the study window – impossible opening from top – too high up – weight of presses – breadth of table – imposs – The men actually carried the who alcove mentioned through the hall – down the stairs – while every instant bucket men were ascending – how it was done Heaven knows – Honora and I carried out all my papers & Lovell’s – and my mother’s – letters – (pigeon holes) money accounts, books all laid on the grass before library window –my father’s picture on the veranda – all the library side of the hall pictures, Mr Dat etc.
The quiet at front of house seemed most extraordinary! – as if it knew nothing & nature knew nothing of what was going on – But what is still more extraordinary, my dear Fanny, believe me if you can – I whom you have seen such an egregious coward in small or no danger in a carriage felt all the this time without fear – absolutely as if the magnitude of the danger swallowed up fear – I was absolutely bereft of feeling & could think & did think as coolly as I do now – and more clearly – I cannot understand it but it is a fact…’


Extract from a letter of May 14th 1828 written by Maria Edgeworth to her half-sister Fanny and describing a fire that damaged but did not destroy the family home at Edgeworthstown, County Longford. Dating from 1791 and painted by Mrs Mary Powys the upper picture shows the house as it was after improvements carried out by Richard Lovell Edgeworth. The lower picture shows the same building in the late 1850s, some ten years after Maria Edgeworth’s death. The little bow window to the left gave light to her equally modest bedroom – but it fell off the wall some years later. Thankfully the greater part of the house still stands, although altered to serve as a nursing home. Both images and the letter are included in Maria Edgeworth’s Letters from Ireland most skilfully selected and edited by Valerie Pakenham, and just published by Lilliput Press.

The Passing of a Pioneer


A view of the south front of St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, County Waterford drawn by Jonas Blaymire and engraved by J Haydon in 1739. At that date the building still assumed the appearance given after an extensive programme of restoration work undertaken by Sir William Robinson from 1769 onward. Robinson rightly features prominently in A Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Ireland 1600-1720 published in 1981. Sadly its author, Rolf Loeber, who thanks to the Hon Desmond Guinness was able to live in Castletown, County Kildare during the book’s preparation, died in Pittsburgh earlier this week. Although a distinguished professor of psychiatry and psychology, Loeber had a life-long passion for Ireland’s architectural history, first inspired when as a student in Amsterdam in the 1960s he had read a copy of Maurice Craig’s Dublin 1660-1860. Beginning with an article on Irish Country Houses and Castles of the Late Caroline Period: An Unremembered Past Recaptured (Bulletin of the Irish Georgian Society XVI, 1973), he published extensively on the subject, often breaking fresh ground and often in collaboration with his wife Magda (together they produced A Guide to Irish Fiction, 1650-1900 which appeared in 2006). His knowledge and passion will be much missed by everyone interested in Ireland’s built heritage.

A Sick Building

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Last Monday, the Irish Times published a feature on the threatened demolition of a former Church of Ireland primary school in Glasthule, County Dublin: an application has been lodged with the local authority for the present building to be replaced by four so-called ‘townhouses.’ Objections have been raised to this plan on the grounds that humanitarian and Irish nationalist Sir Roger Casement may have attended the school, thereby linking it to the 1916 Easter Rising, the centenary of which is being commemorated this year. However on Wednesday the same newspaper carried a letter from one of Casement’s biographers outlining the peripatetic nature of his upbringing and thus confuting the notion that he had ever been educated in the Glasthule establishment.
Above is an image of the former County Meath Infirmary on Bridge Street, Navan. A decade younger than the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, it dates from the mid-18th century, at which time, according to a subsequent account, ‘The gentlemen in the neighbourhood of Navan, from their observation of the various calamities and miseries the poor undergo,for want of proper and timely assistance in their several maladies and disorders, did propose to found a County Hospital. Accordingly a subscription was opened at an Assembly at Navan, the first of October 1753; and soon after the Foundation of a County Hospital was laid on a convenient and healthy situation, on an eminence at the entrance into the town.’ A plaque above the main entrance carries the date 1754 and a quotation from St Mark’s Gospel: ‘I was sick and you visited me.’
A supposedly protected structure the seven-bay, three storey County Infirmary (its premises extended in the 19th century) continued to serve the locality until finally closed in September 2010. The building stood vacant before finally being sold three years later. It has remained empty and visibly deteriorating ever since. As can be seen, several of the windows are now broken, there are slates missing from the roof and the fabric is clearly suffering. Designed to tend the sick, now the building itself is in need of care. Unlike the former school premises in Glasthule, the County Infirmary can claim no connection with someone famous (although a plaque linking it with the 1916 Rising has recently been placed on the outside wall). Perhaps for this reason there appears to be little public concern over its present state and future survival. Yet in a town which retains precious few historic buildings of any merit, this is an important link to the past and to the generous philanthropists who funded its construction and medical endeavours. Is it enough to believe we should only preserve our architectural heritage provided there is a link, however putative or fanciful, to dead patriots (and even that has too often proven an insufficient safeguard)? Should we not value a building on its own merits, whether as a tangible part of our history, as an important legacy to pass on to the next generation or even – heretical thought – due to inherent aesthetic excellence? Both the Glasthule schoolhouse and the County Infirmary in Navan, together with thousands of other properties across the country, need to be considered on all these terms and not just because someone now held in esteem may or may not once have crossed their thresholds.

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The Speaker and His Wife

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In August 1736 the Dublin Gazette reported, ‘On Friday last two curious fine monuments, lately finished by Mr Carter near Hyde Park Corner, were put on board a ship in the river in order to be carried to Ireland, to be erected in the church of Castletown near Dublin, to the memory of the Rt. Hon. William Conolly Esq., Late Speaker to the House of Commons, and his lady.’ The two life-sized figures of William and Katherine Conolly were commissioned by the latter after her husband’s death in 1729 from London-sculptor Thomas Carter (although it has been proposed that Mrs Conolly’s likeness may be from the hand of his son, Thomas Carter Junior). Originally they formed part of a larger monument in a mausoleum attached to the church in nearby Celbridge but in recent decades this fell into disrepair and in 1993 the figures were removed to Castletown where they can be found facing each other in a ground floor passage behind the main staircase.

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On with the Dance

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How fitting that this week’s funeral of Captain Sir John Leslie, otherwise universally known as Jack, should have taken place in glorious sunshine, the same kind he shed on so many peoples’ lives. Jack died last Monday just eight months shy of reaching his centenary, having been born in December 1916. Over the course of ten decades he witnessed many changes in the world but somehow still behaved as though it was much the same as that into which he had emerged: I remember on the first occasion we met our conversation turned to the Romanian author Princess Marthe Bibesco, and he produced a book she had given and signed to him. His own memoirs, Never a Dull Moment, written ten years ago are full of entertaining reminiscences and suggest a personal history untouched by setbacks or misfortune. Of course this was not the case, as evidenced by Jack’s experience during the Second World War. Commissioned in the Irish Guards, he and his platoon crossed to France in May 1940 where they were almost immediately captured by the German army: Jack spent the next five years in a Bavarian Prisoner of War camp with all its attendant privations.
Although he returned to Ireland on his release and was expected to assume responsibility for Castle Leslie, within a few years Jack left again, eventually settling in Rome where he occupied a small palazzo in the Trastevere district, as well as embarking on the restoration of an ancient monastery outside the city, the Badia di San Sebastiano di Alatri. Some twenty years ago he finally came back to Castle Leslie, by this time in the care of his niece Sammy Leslie, and settled down as resident guide and anecdotalist, always delighted to engage with visitors and explain the history of his family and their property.
In later years Jack also became well-known for his fondness for nightclubs where he would energetically dance to what he liked to call ‘boom boom’ music. I accompanied him on these expeditions more than once, initially in the self-appointed role of chaperone. However, like everyone else I discovered he was invariably received with wild enthusiasm, and would soon be surrounded by a coterie of solicitous admirers, on average only a quarter of his age. But there were other instances, notably a tea held in his honour some years ago at Bellamont Forest, where Jack demonstrated older forms of dancing: supported by a sixteen-piece band, that afternoon he gave a lively demonstration of the Black Bottom. So one likes to remember him, light of heart and light of foot. Wherever you may now be Jack: on with the dance.

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