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.


Seeking Asylum



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.


Further Philanthropy



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. 


Farmed Out



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. 

Little Known

Does any reader know more about this little Tudorbethan house located on a prominent junction in Callan, County Kilkenny. It appears to date from the third quarter of the 19th century and is stoutly built of limestone ashlar with a charming arched window inserted into the upper floor of the pedimented centre breakfront. When recorded for http://www.buildingsofireland.ie in 2004 it was still inhabited but has since been allowed to fall into the present dilapidated condition. To the immediate rear stand the shells of an abandoned Celtic Tiger-era housing development: a planning application for the completion of work here is dated August 2018 but nothing appears to have happened. Meanwhile, this building is at risk, despite being included on the local authority’s current list of protected structures.


From One Kells…



The shell of St Kieran’s church in Kells, County Kilkenny. Standing adjacent to the ruins of the better-known former priory (see The Secret of Kells « The Irish Aesthete), this little single-cell building is thought to have been established long before the arrival here of the Augustinians at the end of the 12th century. In the aftermath of the Reformation, it was adapted for use by the local Church of Ireland community, services being held on the site until 1844 when a new church opened for worship not far away. Since then it has stood empty, although the surrounding graveyard appears still to be in use.


Get It Fresh

Tucked down a minor rural road, the Stroan Fountain, County Kilkenny was for a long time thought to date from the third quarter of the 18th century: a damaged inscription carries the numerals 66, leading to speculation that these were preceded by 17. However, the rest of the legible text notes that the fountain had been ‘erected by subscription by permission of the Landlord Gervase Bushe. Designed and arranged by Thomas Seigne.’ Bushe was resident at the nearby Kilfane estate, where Seigne acted as land agent from c.1830 to c.1870. The structure comprises a limestone basin covered with a dome on top of which sits an obelisk; by means of a buried pipe, the fountain is fed from a cistern approximately 40 metres to the north-west. The cistern is in turn fed by a natural spring. Three stone steps provide access to the fountain and its two outlets, one for filling barrels placed on a donkey and cart and the other for buckets placed on a pair of stones. By the start of the present century, the fountain and its surroundings had fallen into disrepair but thanks to a number of organisations including a local heritage society, the county council and the Follies Trust, it was underwent restoration in 2010.