Today the word ‘mall’ is usually applied to shopping centres with pretensions to grandeur, but historically malls were outdoor urban spaces in which the local population would stroll and socialise. No doubt originally The Mall in Wicklow town was intended to perform just such a function. Situated on ground steeply rising above the point where the Vartry river flows into the Irish Sea ,and therefore overlooking the harbour, The Mall is separated from Main Street immediately below by a retaining wall built of local granite and dating from c.1875. A double flight of steps links the two areas and to go from one to the other pedestrians pass under a wrought-iron arch centred on a glazed lantern. There ends whatever charm The Mall has today, since much of it is now a muddle of traffic congestion and neglected buildings, not least the former Bayview Hotel which occupies a particularly prominent spot. Originally constructed as a private residence around 1810 and called Bellevue, the property became a library in 1925 and later an hotel. Before the economic recession, there had been plans that it form part of a shopping centre complex but this never happened and it has been in decline since then. A year ago, the building, along with its neighbours, was sold for €903,000. One must hope the new owners have plans to improve the prospects not just of this site but the entire area. A stroll along The Mall ought to be a pleasure.
In the centre of Slane, County Meath stands the Square, which is actually an octagon and was laid out by the Conyngham family in the mid-18th century. Four of the sides are occupied by almost identical houses dating from c.1760, all being of three bays and three storeys over basement and fronted in the same limestone, with brick chimneystacks at either gable and hipped roof. Only the doorcases display modest differences in design, that above (on the north-east corner) featuring engaged columns while that below (south-east) corner has pilasters. The latter house is currently for sale.
Thanks to the presence of the Trench family at Garbally on the edge of the town, the historic centre of Ballinasloe, County Galway has handsomestreets lined with fine stone buildings dating from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Alas, many of them have fallen into poor condition, such as this dwelling on the corner of Duggan Avenue and Church Hill (and therefore at a crucial space facing the St Joseph’s Church of Ireland). Dating from c.1810, more than a decade ago it was cruelly, and crudely, stripped of the original render during an apparent renovation scheme long since abandoned. The building is notable for its carved limestone doorcase and remains of a leaded fanlight. Alas its immediate neighbour is in little better condition and the house directly opposite retains only its ground floor walls. Disappointing to see what could be an enchanting spot in the town allowed to remain in such neglect.
For many centuries Kells, County Meath – like Kells, County Kilkenny – was the location of a substantial religious establishment, but in the aftermath of the Reformation, the Meath town came under the control of the Taylour family, who lived close by at Headfort (and eventually became Marquesses of Headfort). Not surprisingly therefore, the focal point here, a wide thoroughfare has the name of Headfort Place and is lined with a sequence of handsome and substantial houses, evidence of the area’s prosperity in the late 18th/early 19th century. A short terrace of three-bay properties, constructed c.1780 and given identical pedimented limestone doorcases, occupies a stretch of the north side of Headfort Place. These buildings are all in excellent condition, and offer a contrast to what can be seen on the other side of the street. Here a detached house of slightly later date (note its starkly plain limestone doorcase) stands empty and in poor condition.
Kilbeggan, County Westmeath is barely five miles west of Tyrellspass, but the two places couldn’t be more different in character. Both have a crescent but that in Kilbeggan occupies one portion of a bleak traffic roundabout and has suffered badly from neglect and mistreatment. The building dates from c.1830 when constructed in the then-popular Tudor-Gothic style as an hotel, indicating the prosperity of the period and the amount of traffic then passing through the village. The gables on the left-hand portion have been removed, as have the cut-limestone hooded doorcases, replaced by a brutish cement-rendered opening that makes nonsense of the composition. Alas, elsewhere things don’t get much better, with many buildings standing empty and neglected. Typical in this respect is the former Bank of Ireland, dating from c.1890, which closed early in the present century and presents a forlorn face on Market Square.
In Tyrrellspass, County Westmeath the Crescent looks as though it could provide the setting for a novel by the likes of Mrs Gaskell. This part of the village was mostly laid out during the second decade of the 19th century, thanks to the endeavours of Jane, second Countess of Belvedere, whose elderly husband died in 1814, and to whom she erected a monument inside the church of St Sinian (although just a year later she married again). Around the open green are a number of domestic residences as well as a former single storey schoolhouse and a two-storey former courthouse. All are well maintained, although some of the fenestration shows evidence of the insidious uPVC virus (when will local authorities take steps to halt the spread of this blight across our architectural heritage?). On the outskirts of the village is a cluster of buildings constructed in the early 1840s as a girl’s orphanage thanks to a bequest left by the countess on her death the previous decade. In the Tudor-Gothic style, these were restored by the county council some years ago and now serve as housing scheme.
The doorcase of a house standing on the north side of The Square in Durrow, County Laois. It is one of a number of properties developed here in the late 18th century by the Flower family, Viscounts Ashbrook, the entrance to whose estate lies to the immediate west of the terrace, adjacent to the Church of Ireland church. This house, of five bays and three storeys, has the finest doorcase, with carved limestone pilasters and entablature below the fanlight. Another in the same group can be seen below with its contrasting Gibbsian doorcase approached via charming wrought iron railings.
The Village at Lyons, County Kildare is often described as a restoration but to be frank it is more a recreation. By the time the late Tony Ryan bought the estate in 1996, the buildings beside the Grand Canal, which had once included a forge, mill and dwelling houses, were in a state of almost total ruin. Therefore the work undertaken here in the years prior to his death in 2007 involved a great deal of architectural salvage, much of it brought from France, although some Irish elements were incorporated such as a mid-19th century conservatory designed by Richard Turner, originally constructed for Ballynegall, County Westmeath. Today the place primarily operates as a wedding venue, providing an alluring stage set for photographs but bearing little resemblance to what originally stood here.
As anyone who has watched Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls will be aware, the city above the river Foyle has had a tumultuous history in recent decades. However, as the television series demonstrated, despite multiple and often appalling tragedies, both Derry and her people have survived with their distinctive character intact. The core of the city is defined by her walls, built 1613-19 by the Honorable The Irish Society, a consortium of London livery companies given responsibility for this part of the country by the English government in the aftermath of the Nine Years War; hence the name Londonderry. Although besieged on a number of occasions, most notably in 1689, Derry’s walls were never breached nor were they demolished, as tended to be the case throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries when such defences were deemed no longer necessary. As a result, Derry is the only intact walled urban settlement in Ireland. The walls run approximately one mile in circumference and, depending on the terrain beyond, vary between 12 and 26 feet in height. Today in state care, a walkway runs along the walls which project out at eight points for bastions, platforms on which cannons were placed: that shown immediately above is one of a pair made in 1642, this one provided by London’s Fishmongers’ Company and nicknamed Roaring Meg.
Derry enjoyed great prosperity during the 18th and 19th centuries. The port flourished, and the city also became one of the centres for industry, particularly shirt making; at its height some 18,000 people – predominantly women – were employed in this sector. Evidence of the city’s wealth throughout the period can be seen in the many houses then built, many of which survive. The two above are 19 and 20 Magazine Street, so named because the former stands on the site of what was once a gunpowder store, or magazine. The house dates from c.1840 and is of five bays and three storeys, although the ground floor breaks with the upper levels by being of only four bays, with the doorcase off-centre. Since the street slopes, the latter is approached by a short flight of stone steps, and is set inside a shallow arch, the door flanked by Ionic columns and pilasters and below a wide fanlight, its glazing bars taking the form of arrows. The house’s immediate neighbour, No.20, although smaller (just two bays) was evidently built at the same time.
The houses on Magazine Street look to be in good condition, but the same cannot be said for a number of properties on Pump Street, which runs just below St Columb’s Cathedral; the street’s name derives from the town water pump once located here. A substantial stretch of the side, Nos. 10-14 is taken up by a three-storey, seven bay building of red brick. It dates from 1780 when opened as the King’s Arms, or County, Hotel but in 184o the building was purchased on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishop and eight years later became the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, remaining in this order’s hands until some 15 years ago when sold. Along with its immediate neighbour No.16 (also once part of the convent complex) it now stands empty and looks to be in poor condition. The doorcase is similar to that at 19 Magazine Street, approached by a flight of steps, with the space usually reserved for side lights filled with wood panelling, although in this case the order used for the door is Doric rather than Ionic. A second, plainer door to the right marks what would have been the hotel’s carriage entrance. Other buildings along Pump Street look similarly vulnerable to dilapidation, not least 26-28 which greet all visitors leaving the grounds of St Columb’s Cathedral.
‘The Belfast Bank of 1853 is one of Charles Lanyon’s most confident Renaissance Designs, high and massy like a Genoese palazzo, only three windows wide and three storeys high but big in scale with a rusticated central archway surmounted by a Corinthian aedicule so large that it erupts into the attic window of the floor above, like Gibbs’s pediment at King’s College, Cambridge.’ (from The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster by Alistair Rowan, 1979). Shipquay Street is one of Derry’s most important thoroughfares, providing access into the walled city from the banks of the Foyle. The former Belfast Bank stands immediately inside the gates and is likely to be one of the first buildings seen by anyone entering Derry. The Foyle Civic Trust’s Living City Project reported it vacant in 2005 and 15 years later nothing seems to have changed.
Derry is a city with an enviably rich architectural heritage, but one which of late appears to have been badly neglected. In the Diamond, for example, which stands at the centre of the city, is the now-shuttered Austin’s, which until its sudden closure in March 2016 could claim to be the world’s oldest department store. The building on the site, an example of Edwardian baroque at its most exuberant, now looks in poor repair, and despite a restoration application being lodged in April 2017, nothing seems to have happened here. A similar tale can be told across the historic core with many buildings standing empty and in poor condition. But Derry Girls has shown the resilience of the city, and at the start of a new decade one must hope that the years ahead will bring fresh opportunities for improvement to conditions here. Below are photographs of either side of Bishop’s Gate, a triumphal arch erected in 1789 to commemorate the centenary of the city’s siege. Designed by Dublin-based architect Henry Aaron Baker and faced with ashlar Dungiven sandstone, it features panels containing martial trophies and, in the keystones, faces of river gods: that facing outwards represents the Foyle, the inwards the Boyne. Anyone familiar with the Custom House in Dublin will recognise these, as in both instances they were carved by Edward Smyth.
The bungalow-strewn village of Stratford on Slaney, County Wicklow looks as though it could be a modern suburb almost anywhere. However a handful of houses indicate the place has an older pedigree. The name derives from founder Edward Stratford, second Earl of Aldborough whose architectural ambitions have been discussed here before (see Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013, A Thundering Disgrace, January 13th 2014 and A Thundering Disgrace No More?, February 27th 2017). He developed the village during the last quarter of the 18th century, intending it to be a centre for the textile industry, specifically cotton and printing works. At its height in the 1830s, Stratford on Slaney contained 104 houses (and thirteen public houses) with a population of 2,833 people, 1,00o of them employed in the fabric factory. Lord Aldborough built places of worship for Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, a dispensary and several shops. The famine and its attendant woes in the following decade put an end to the business, and so to Stratford where the factory closed and people moved away: in the census of 2016, the village had a population of just 241 persons. These few houses, dating from c.1840 are all that remain of Lord Aldborough’s ambitions.