Restoration Drama

The entrance hall of Moyglare, County Kildare. The estate of which it was originally part was bought in 1737 by John Arabin, a Huguenot from Dublin City: he paid £10,729 8s 8d for the property. It is believed that his son Henry Arabin built the core of the present house around 1764 but some changes were made in the early 1820s. In more recent times Moyglare underwent further modifications when it served as an hotel but a few years ago the house passed into new ownership and has since undergone a programme of sensitive restoration, returning it to use as a family home. I shall be speaking of this building, along with a number of others, next Friday, September 23rd at 1pm in a free talk called ‘Restoration Drama: Bringing Irish Houses Back to Life’ at the Royal Dublin Society, Dublin as part of this year’s Irish Antique Dealers’ Fair. For more information, see


The Speaker and His Wife


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.


Outstanding in its Field

Located in the middle of a field, the now-disused church at Ballynafagh, County Kildare. Built beside the remains of a mediaeval religious site, the building dates from 1831 when constructed with the support of £900 from the Board of First Fruits. It remained in use until 1959 when the last services were held there but retained its roof until as recently as 1985. The windows and doors have since been blocked up to stop access to the interior but the structure remains in good shape, with west and east ends marked by distinctively tall finials (although as can be seen below the top of that on the north-east corner has broken off).


In Limbo


Tyrrell is a common Irish surname but as with so many others, its origin is Anglo-Norman. At a date around the 1170s Hugh Tyrel (or Tirrell) came to this country and acquired the Barony of Fertullagh, County Westmeath running to some 39,000 acres, as well as land in Castleknock closer to Dublin. The Tyrrells thereafter flourished, in part because like so many others of their ilk they gradually became integrated with the indigenous population. The best-remembered member of the family is Captain Richard Tyrrell who in July 1597 defeated a superior force of English soldiers at a place in Westmeath thereafter known as Tyrrellspass. The Berminghams likewise were a Norman family, the first of whom Richard de Bermingham came to Ireland in the 1170s. Initially they settled in County Galway but also became established further east. Thomas Bermingham, the last Baron of Athenry and Earl of Louth died without a male heir in 1799 and with his death the main branch came to an end. More than half a century earlier, the Tyrrells and the Berminghams had coincided when in 1735 Walter Bermingham sold Grange Castle, County Kildare to Thomas Tyrrell.

Today set in the midst of a series of stone enclosures Grange Castle is most likely a 15th century tower house, one of a number of defensive properties built by the Berminghams in this part of the country, not least nearby Carrick Castle, which is earlier in date but now in poorer condition. Grange has survived better no doubt because it remained in use as a domestic residence. In addition, at some date in the late 16th/early 17th century it was modernised, as can be seen by the larger window openings, the tall chimney stacks (indicating an increased number of hearths) and the ornamental crenellations around the roofline. Further improvements appear to have occurred not long after the castle was acquired by the Tyrrells when a single storey house was added to the immediate west. Linked to the castle at the rear, this evidently contained the main reception rooms, with the older section presumably being utilised as sleeping quarters. The main point of access was through the house, via a fine carved limestone doorcase, its pediment containing the Tyrrell coat of arms and their motto Veritas Via Vitae (a variant of Christ’s words in St John’s Gospel, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’).

Grange Castle remained in the ownership of the Tyrrells until 1988 when responsibility for the mediaeval structure was handed over to the state. However the later house, and surrounding outbuildings remain in the ownership of the family. In the mid-1990s a charitable trust was established to restore the property with the intention that it be opened to the public. Over the course of several years a considerable amount of work was undertaken to improve both house and grounds. However in 2003 this enterprise came to a close and it appears that ever since the place has sat empty, and a prey to vandals. The castle itself is secure, the only access being via a locked door to the rear of the house. The latter however is easily accessed and accordingly has suffered some despoliation. At the same time the damage is not so grave to render the project beyond re-activation, and perhaps this will occur. For the moment Grange Castle appears to be in limbo.


Crowning Glory

One of the doors on the north façade of the Market House in Athy, County Kildare. This building is often said to date from the 1730s or early 1740s but may be slightly later since it seems to have been one of the improvements to the town undertaken by its then-owner James FitzGerald, 20th Earl of Kildare (and created first Duke of Leinster in 1766) who only succeeded to his title and family estates, in 1744. Moreover the Market House occupies one end of Emily Square, named after his wife, Lady Emily Lennox, who he married in 1747. As was so often the case, the building had more than one purpose since it also served as courthouse, hence the carved plaque above the door which shows the British crown occupying a position between the scales of justice and resting on a base containing a pike and a sword. Its pair above another door on the same side of the building features a similar design but this time the centre is filled with the harp of Ireland and without any weaponry. Sold by the FitzGeralds to Kildare County Council in 1975 for £9,000, the old Market House is now Athy’s Heritage Centre and Museum.


A Classic of the Middle Size


Seen across a field from its former entrance gates, the south front of Ballinderry, County Kildare. Seemingly built around the core of an old tower house, the present property is believed to date from the 1740s when it was constructed for the Tyrell family. Still occupied by their descendants, the building’s relatively plain rendered façade is relieved by a handsome Doric limestone pedimented doorcase approached via a short flight of steps and flanked by sidelights.


From the Same Hand

Two County Kildare mid-18th century houses, located less than four miles apart and linked by marriage not long after both were constructed. It is therefore no wonder that they share certain characteristics, not least in the matter of decoration. The elaborate cornice above is found in the drawing room of one house, that below in the dining room of the other. But they clearly come from the same hand and show the inspiration, if not necessarily the involvement, of Robert West who was producing work of this kind during the 1750s/60s.