In the little village of Newmarket, County Kilkenny stands this rather substantial building, of nine bays and one storey with half-attic. Designed in a loosely Tudoresque style with arched limestone ashlar recesses at ground level, the centre of the facade is occupied by a single-bay breakfront featuring a large carriage arch, now blocked, above which a framed plaque is carved with the date 1839. Now seemingly disused, it was presumably constructed an agricultural outbuilding for the Castle Morres estate which lay immediately to the south. While Castle Morres itself is gone (unroofed in the 1930s and demolished in 1978), this survives as a reminder of a now-vanished estate.
Category Archives: Kilkenny
Back to Front
The somewhat unsatisfactory entrance front of Mount Juliet, County Kilkenny is explained by the fact that until the start of the last century, this was actually the rear of the house: the original facade, with main door approached via double steps above a raised basement, is on the other side where the land drops steeply down to the river Nore. Mount Juliet dates from the third quarter of the 18th century when built for Somerset Hamilton Butler, first Earl of Carrick. His descendants continued to own the estate until 1914 when it was sold by the sixth earl to Major Dermot McCalmont who had inherited a fortune from his second cousin, Hugh McCalmont; it was then that the house underwent considerable modifications. The interior, much of its decoration commissioned by the second Earl of Carrick in the 1780s, contains plasterwork in the style of Michael Stapleton, including these medallions with classical figures. The McCalmont family sold the property in 1988 and it has since served as an hotel.
A Spouse’s Savings
In October 1981 Christie’s held an auction on its premises in London, offering the studio contents of an Irish artist who had died 40 years earlier and, until this sale, had been largely forgotten. The artist in question was Mildred Anne Butler, born into a gentry family in County Kilkenny in 1858. Following her father’s death in 1881, she trained in London and then travelled elsewhere in Europe to improve her technique, specialising in watercolour. By 1892 she was exhibiting with the Watercolour Society of Ireland and she also showed work at both the Royal Academy in London and the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin. Throughout her life, the same subjects recurred: primarily birds, animals such as cattle and garden scenes, usually recorded from the immediate surroundings of Kilmurry, her family home in County Kilkenny. Here she lived until her death in October 1941 at the age of 83: although one of six children, she survived all her siblings, none of whom had offspring, and so she inherited the property. She bequeathed Kilmurry and its contents to a distant cousin, Doreen Archer Houblon and it was only a few years after the latter’s death that the contents of Butler’s studio were offered for sale. It was an opportune moment, since this style of work had begun to come back into fashion: Edith Holden’s Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, which came out in 1977, had been a publishing sensation, selling over one million copies in its first year. And the work of another Irish watercolourist and contemporary of Mildred Anne Butler, Rose Barton, was also experiencing a revival in popularity. Ever since then, Kilmurry has been associated with Butler but the story of an earlier owner is just as interesting, if not more so.
Kilmurry is a house that has been enlarged and altered on many occasions but the core of it, perhaps the section that forms the inner hall, is thought to date back to the 17th century, perhaps around the time that the lands here were granted to Colonel John Bushe. Originally an entrance hall with flanking reception rooms, what is today the main drawing room appears to have been added around the mid-18th century by the colonel’s grandson, Reverend Thomas Bushe, Rector of Gowran, Prebendary of Inniscarra, and Chaplain of King’s College, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. According to Richard Lalor Sheil, the Rev. Bushe ‘was in the enjoyment of a lucrative living, and being of an ancient family, which had established itself in Ireland in the reign of Charles the Second, he thought it incumbent upon him to live upon a scale of expenditure more consistent with Irish notions of dignity than English maxims of economy and good sense.’ In other words, he was inclined to allow expenditure to exceed income and in consequence fell badly into debt. In 1767 the Rev. Bushe and his wife Catherine had a son, Charles Kendal Bushe, whose middle name arose from the following circumstances. One night an elderly man called Kendal, who lived not far away on what is now the Mount Juliet estate, sought refuge at Kilmurry, having been attacked and robbed by highwaymen. So grateful was Mr Kendal for the assistance provided by the Bushes that, when he died, he left all his property to the family, on condition that the eldest son should bear his name. It will not come as a surprise that the Rev Bushe, owing to his impecunious state, subsequently sold this unexpected inheritance. Meanwhile his son Charles Kendal, became an extremely successful lawyer: in due course he would act as Solicitor-General for Ireland (1805-1822) and then Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench for Ireland (1822-1841). Unfortunately, as a young man he had signed some papers presented to him by his father without knowing what they contained: at the age of 21, he discovered that he was saddled with some £30,000 worth of parental debts. Kilmurry, which he adored, had to be sold and he left Ireland to avoid creditors. Meanwhile, the feckless Rev Bushe retired to his living in Mitchelstown.
In December 1793 Charles Kendal Bushe married Anne Crampton and thanks to her dowry – and a loan from a friend – he was able to pay off his most pressing creditors and return to Ireland where his career flourished. Nevertheless, he was never rich and so, in 1814 when Kilmurry was once more offered for sale, he lacked the necessary funds to repurchase his old family home. That is, until his wife told him that she had saved all the money he had given her over the years to buy jewellery and other items: the sum was sufficient to cover the purchase price, and the Bushes now moved back to Kilmurry. It is likely that soon after this further alterations were made to the property. The west-facing, five-bay building, its limestone parapet lined with urns, which had been added by the Rev Bushe was now flanked by single-storey wings with tripartite windows and dies surmounted by sphinxes. A new, severely neo-classical entrance was created on the north front with Doric pilasters and half-columns. Immediately inside is the hall, with the library to the right and the dining room to the right. Continuing through the house, the next space is a substantial inner hall (as mentioned, likely to be the oldest part of the building) with the drawing room to the right and staircase hall to the left, the latter leading to what were formerly service quarters. To the rear lies an orangery (once Mildred Anne Butler’s studio) which looks over the two-acre walled garden. Despite his passion for the place, after Charles Kendal Bushe died in 1843 his children sold Kilmurry, the new owner being Captain Henry Butler, father of Mildred Anne Butler and himself a talented artist. Creativity ran in the family, because the dining room in Kilmurry contains an extraordinary chimneypiece, elaborately carved by another of the captain’s daughters, Isabel Butler, together with a local carpenter. Unfortunately, following the death of Doreen Archer Houblon, all the contents of the house were sold, not just Mildred Anne Butler’s studio, but the furniture and some 5,000 books in the library. Kilmurry then went into a period of serious decline before being bought and wonderfully restored by the present owners. More recently they have placed the property on the market: perhaps the house awaits another Anne Kendal Bushe with her secret stash of funds…
Up in Alms
The former Ormonde Hospital in Kilkenny city. Originally established by Walter Butler, 11th Earl of Ormonde in 1632, the Hospital of Our Most Holy Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was actually an almshouse built at 4 High Street (the site today occupied by a bank building) where it remained for the next 200 years, being repaired in 1783 when it provided accommodation for eight widows and their families. In 1839 John Butler, second Marquess of Ormonde moved the hospital to this site on Barrack Street, into a property constructed in the then-fashionable Tudor-revival style, and the old premises on High Street were demolished two years later. Today the building shown here is occupied by various social services.
After Monday’s post about Skiddy’s Almshouses in Cork, here is a similar institution in Kilkenny city: St James’s Asylum. This dates from 1803 when established by James Switzer (then spelled Switsir), a Quaker builder responsible for constructing the nearby military barracks on land provided by the Earl of Ormond; seemingly, when he had completed this job, there was sufficient material left over to erect the almshouse. A charity was accordingly established by Act of Parliament, and the relevant deeds stated that there were to be 20 beneficiaries, all female, twelve Protestant and eight Roman Catholic. Furthermore, the residents were to be ‘decent and respectable persons, the widows or daughters of respectable persons resident in the county or city of Kilkenny or county of Carlow for ten years or more.’ To ensure decent respectability, none of the women who secured placed could ever have been a servant, ‘or the widow or daughter or niece of a servant.’ Today run by a charity, the building is of fifteen bays and two storeys with a central pedimented three-bay breakfront. Unfortunately, during a renovation of the premises, uPVC windows were installed to replace the six-over-six timber sash older models. Two other features are notable, the first being a large statue of the asylum’s founder looming over the garden from his recessed stone niche; the figure here was carved by Benjamin Schrowder, otherwise known for having assisted Edward Smyth in carving the emblematic keystones on the Custom House, Dublin. And then there is the splendid stone gateway which would not be out of place at the entrance to a country house, not least because the pedimented outer sections suggest a pair of identical lodges.
After the last post about Talbot’s Inch, County Kilkenny, here is another instance of the philanthropy displayed by Ellen, Dowager Countess of Desart: Aut Even Hospital. It dates from 1915 when built as a private hospital (today one of the oldest in Ireland) and follows the style of such facilities typical at the time, having a central two-storey administrative block from which radiate four single storey wings. The architect on this occasion was Albert Murray, then in his mid-60s and more conventional than William Alphonsus Scott who had designed the houses at Talbot’s Inch (it has been suggested that Scott’s drinking habits – W.B. Yeats referred to him as a ‘drunken genius’ – may explain why he did not receive this commission). However, there are some handsome touches, not least the exaggeratedly large entrance arch, within which are a pair of doors, the elaborately carved lower panels coming from the Kilkenny Woodworkers’ Company which had been founded by Lady Desart’s brother-in-law, Captain the Hon Otway Cuffe: a plaque in the entrance hall dedicates the building to his memory. Today, the cottage hospital, now owned by a private group, is engulfed by extensions dating from the 1980s and showing no sympathy for the original block. On the contrary, this looks poorly maintained and, as so often with our architectural heritage, one must fear for its preservation.
An Act of Philanthropy
The model village of Talbot’s Inch stands above the river Nore to the immediate north of Kilkenny city. The extraordinary development was devised and created by Ellen, dowager Countess of Desart (née Bischoffsheim) who, having failed in efforts to retain possession of her late husband’s home (the now-demolished Desart Court) in 1907 built a new house for herself here called Aut Even (from the Irish áit aoibhinn meaning ‘beautiful place’). The architect responsible was William Alphonsus Scott, his work much inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, and one suspects especially that of Voysey. Lady Desart had already employed him to design the 26 houses that comprise Talbot’s Inch, intended to house workers from the Greenvale Woollen Mills and the Kilkenny Woodworkers’ Company, both located across the Nore; in this, she was inspired by her brother-in-law, the Hon Captain Otway Cuffe, President of the local branch of the Gaelic League. Occupying two sides of a communal green and comprising either semi-detached pairs or short terraces, none of the buildings is identical but they share many characteristics, such as dormer attic windows set in steeply pitched sprocketed roofs, the use of decorative brickwork panels and chevron-detailed chimneystacks. Not far away – see below – is Tigh-na-Cairde (now called Oak Lodge) also by Scott and completed in 1907 for the Woollen Mills manager. Although there have been a few interventions on the site (and there is currently a planning application for more houses to be constructed at one end of the green), Talbot’s Inch survives reasonably intact, a monument to Ellen Desart’s philanthropy: she would later go on to become a Senator in the first Seanad Éireann, (the first Jewish person to do so) and would also succeed Captain Cuffe as president of the Kilkenny branch of the Gaelic League.
An Unfortunate State of Affairs
What remains of Sweetman’s Castle, standing on the western side of the river Nore in Thomastown, County Kilkenny. The building is often described as a tower house, but given that it is listed as dating from c.1350 this surely cannot be correct, as tower houses were only constructed from the early 1400s onwards. It clearly was some kind of fortified structure, with a name derived from the Sweetmans who were a dominant family in this part of the country at the time. A number of ancillary agricultural structures were added to it around the middle of the 18th century and these also survive. Sadly, the castle is in poor condition and has been left to deteriorate even further in recent years: an regrettable, but not uncommon, phenomenon in Ireland. What makes the state of the building particularly unfortunate in this instance is that its location means shabby, run-down Sweetman’s Castle, adjacent to a bridge over the Nore, is highly visible to anyone entering or leaving the town.
Now in the middle of a busy farmyard but presumably once standing on its own, this is Clara Castle, a five-storey late 15th/early 16th century tower house in County Kilkenny. It was originally constructed for the Shortall family but in the second half of the 17th century passed into the possession of the Byrnes, successive generations occupying the building until 1905. Alas, the building does not seem to be open to visitors at present, as seemingly it has well-preserved interiors on the upper floors, including original oak beams and floorboards, no doubt due to the fact that it remained a residence into the last century.
A Handsome Gothic Structure
‘Callan; a market town of mean appearance in the barony of Kells, and a corporation, sending two representatives to parliament; it is situated on the King’s river, and was formerly a walled town and of great note.
Augustinian Friary. A friary for Augustinian Eremites was founded here, as some writers affirm, by Huge de Mapilton, who was Bishop of Ossory from 1251 to the year 1256; but the real founder was James, father to Peter, Earl of Ormond; James died 16th April 1487, and was interred here.’*
*There is some uncertainty regarding the first foundation of the Augustinian Monastery in Callan…One fact, however, is admitted by all who have written on the subject, that a convent of the Hermits of St Augustine was established in Callan by one of the Butlers, some time before the end of the fifteenth century. It is a matter of very little importance whether the convent established at that time was a new foundation or only a reparation of the old. Before the Act for the suppression of monasteries it was richly endowed by the Ormonds, and was noted for its learned community, its library rich in manuscripts, holding a duplicate of all the rare works in the library of the celebrated Abbey of Jerpoint; also for the richness of its church utensils &c; but above all for its care of the poor…The church was a handsome Gothic structure, but it was destroyed with the rest of the town, at its capture by Cromwell. There are, however, some vestiges of the choir and tower, with the walls of the church itself, still remaining; which denote the former beauty of its style of architecture.’
‘William O’Fogharty was the last prior, and at the time of his surrender was seized of a church and belfrey, a dormitory, hall, three chambers, &c., with three gardens and some closes, containing three acres, the whole in a ruinous state, and of no value, besides reprises; he was also seized of three messuages, a bake-house, two gardens, and one acre of meadow of the yearly value of 20s. 8d. Irish money, besides the reprises. He was also seized of a water-mill, then in ruins and called the New Mill, and a small parcel of pasture ground adjacent, called the Inch, being half an acre of land of small measure, of the annual value of 2s. 6d. Irish money (these were concealed by Sir Thomas Butler, Knight of the Garter); also a parcel of land within the liberties of Callan, called Gortnemragher, containing one stang, or the fourth of an acre of land, which was also concealed by the same, and valued at 4d. Irish money.
This friary, with three gardens containing three acres and three perches, with an acre of meadow in Callan, was granted 15th April 1557, together with the Abbey of Athassel, to Thomas Earl of Thomond.’
Extracts from Monasticon Hibernicum, or A History of the Abbeys, Priories and Other Religious Houses in Ireland, by Mervyn Archdall, edited by the Rev. Patrick F. Moran, 1876.