Not far from Ballyadams Castle, County Laois (see Monday’s post, Saved by Two Daughters) can be found what remains of the parish’s old church, surrounded by old tombstones. Inside the ruined buildings are two interesting monuments, both badly worn. On the ground in the south-east corner is the recumbent figure of Walter Hartpole, Dean of Leighlin who died in 1597. On the opposite wall is a tablet erected in 1631 to Robert Bowen who had died a decade earlier, having inherited Ballyadams Castle from his father John Thomas Bowen: Robert had been married to Alice Hartpole, a daughter of Walter. The upper portion of this monument features a crest and coat of arms, and text proclaiming as following:
‘An epitaph on the death of Robert Bowen Esquire.
If tears prevent not every readers eye may well perceive that in this tomb doth lie
Friends hope foes dread whose thrice victorious hand gained love, wrought peace within this joyful land
Whose worth doth mount itself on angels wings
Whose great descent was first from Royal Kings
Whose never dying virtues live for why
Whose fame’s eterniz’d he can never dy’
Formerly the upper section of the chest tomb was decorated with the figure of the deceased in full armour, with his wife by his side, but these were destroyed in the 19th century. All that remains are the figures below of the couple’s four children.
Like so many other similar buildings in Ireland, the history of Ballyadams Castle, County Laois is often unclear, although its name appears to derive from one Adam O’More who lived here in the late 15th century. At least part of the castle, however, may be some 200 years older, since – as Andrew Tierney has pointed out in his admirable guide to Central Leinster (part of the Buildings of Ireland series) – the two upper storeys of the central B-plan block are a later addition to what was already there, and the earlier section looks not dissimilar to the Norman gatehouses of Welsh castles from the late 13th/early 14th centuries. Tierney therefore speculates that this section of the building may be the remnants of the castle of ‘Kilmokedy’ recorded as being in the possession of the de la Poers in 1346.
Whatever about its earlier history, certainly by the start of the 16th century Ballyadams Castle was in the possession of the O’Mores, then the dominant family in this part of the country. During the upheavals which then followed, in 1551 it was granted by the Earl of Desmond to the Welsh-born John Thomas Bowen, known as ‘John of the Pike’ since he always carried one of these weapons (and, according to legend, did not hesitate to use it). The Bowens remained in occupation thereafter, although this was threatened in 1643 during the Confederate Wars, as the third Earl of Castlehaven would record in his memoirs: ‘While this place was putting in order, I went with a party of horse to Ballyadams, a Castle about a mile distant belonging to Sir John Bowen, Provost Marshal an old soldier, and my long acquaintance. I went to speak with him and after some kind expressions, told him I must put a garrison into his Castle. He flatly denied me and calling for his wife and two very fair daughters, he had desired only one favour, that in case I was resolved to use violence, I would show him where I intended to plant my guns and make my breach. I satisfied his curiosity and asked him what he meant by this question. Because saith he swearing with some warmth, I will cover that, or any other your Lordship shoots at, by hanging out both my daughters in chairs. ’tis true the place was not of much importance, however this conceit saved it.’ So, thanks to this act of bravado, Ballyadams continued to be home to further generations of the same family, and it may have been Sir John’s son William who added a large, two-storey house to the rear and one side of the house, indicating that the Bowen’s now felt secure in their property. At the start of the 18th century Katherine Bowen, William Bowen’s only surviving child and heiress to the place, married Pierce Butler from County Tipperary. In 1759 their grandson sold Ballyadams to Garret Fitz David Butler. Members of the same family own the place still.
In 1837 Samuel Lewis recorded the castle as being ‘the residence of Capt. Butler.’ However, back in August 1782 the antiquary Austin Cooper had visited Ballyadams and came away with quite a different impression of the building. He noted that ‘the front consists of two large round towers between which is an entrance, and over it a wall is carried in a line with the exterior limits of these towers, so as to form a machicolation over the door. Adjoining these towers on each side are two large modem wings, one of which is kept in repair as a lodge by Mr Butler, the present propriotor; the other was never finished. The inside of the castle exhibits a scene sufficient to excite compassion from every lover of ancient grandeur – the boarded floors all torn up, the plastered wall and ceilings threatening the observer with destruction and to complete this grand scene of desolation, the great state room still remains hung with elegant tapestrys now left to rot away.’ Similarly, in 1826 James Norris Brewer described how ‘the ruins of the embattled walls, projecting towers, and elevated keep of this antient edifice, produce an interesting and highly picturesque effect.’ Therefore it would seem that the castle had already begun to fall into disrepair before the end of the 18th century and has been a ruin for more than 200 years, still highly picturesque. Unfortunately, it has been prey to more recent assault than that threatened by Lord Castlehaven in 1643: until three years ago, a pair of iron-studded wooden doors that formerly hung at the entrance to the old castle were stolen. Believed to date from the 17th century, and so perhaps installed when the house to the rear was being erected, the doors were each about eight feet high, three feet wide and over three inches thick. Alas, they have not been seen since.
This week’s ruined church can be found at Skirk, County Laois on a high site with wonderful views across the surrounding countryside. There seems to be some uncertainty about when it was constructed, since some writers propose a mid-18th century date. However, the usually reliable Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) says it was built in 1831 thanks to a loan of £500 from the Board of First Fruits. The latter option makes more sense since to the immediate south are the remains of an older, late medieval church, a section of which seemingly collapsed in the 1830s so that now only the east gable and a portion of one wall survive: it appears that this was used as a mausoleum, the blocked entrance to which can still be seen.
In the last quarter of the 16th century a number of members of the Cuffe family, all from Somerset, arrived in Ireland seeking opportunities to enrich themselves. Henry Cuffe, for example, came to this country as secretary to Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex when the latter was appointed Lord Lieutenant here in 1599. But when Essex fell from favour two years later and was executed, Cuffe suffered the same fate. Meanwhile, one of his relatives, perhaps a brother (it seems unclear) called Hugh Cuffe had also settled in Ireland where he was granted some of the Earl of Desmond’s lands in Munster, following the earl’s own death in 1583. Initially Hugh Cuffe seems to have been based in County Clare, but within a few years he was recorded as receiving land in County Cork, close to property which had been given to Edmund Spenser. However, before much longer had passed Cuffee had to surrender at least some of what he had been granted, after his right to it was challenged by members of an Old English family related to the FitzGeralds . Nevertheless, he must have held onto something because a marriage settlement drawn up in 1604 between his daughter Dorothea, and Charles Coote, describes Hugh Cuffe as being ‘of Cuffe’s Wood (or Kilmore), County Cork.’
Like Hugh Cuffe, Charles Coote was an English settler, arriving here in 1600 as captain of a foot regiment in the army of Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy who had succeeded the Earl of Essex as Lord Deputy of Ireland: Coote was therefore a member of the force that a year later defeated the Irish and Spanish forces at the Battle of Kinsale. He soon began to reap the benefits of being on the winning side. In 1605 he was appointed Provost Marshal of Connaught and then in 1613 was given the office of General Collector and Receiver of the King’s Composition Money for Connaught, also for life, before being further promoted to Vice-President of Connaught. As a result of holding these positions, his main base was in Roscommon where he built a residence, Castle Coote. He also founded the towns of Jamestown and Carrick-on-Shannon, both in County Leitrim, as well as Mountrath, County Laois. Knighted in 1616, five years later Coote was appointed a Privy Councilor by James I, who also made him the first Baronet of Ireland, ‘in consideration of his good and faithful services in the province of Ulster.’ All seemed to be going well for him until the outbreak of the Confederate Wars in 1641. Although by then aged 60, he was instructed by the English government to raise a regiment and suppress insurrection, which he did with considerable force in County Wicklow before moving north. In May 1642 he was shot dead while leading a cavalry charge against a Confederate army in Trim, County Meath.
As already mentioned, in 1604 Hugh Cuffe’s daughter Dorothea married Charles Coote. Although the couple spent much of their time in Connaught, Coote owned land in what is now Laois but was then called Queen’s County. Here at some unknown date, perhaps around 1621 when he became a baronet, perhaps later, he embarked on building a substantial new house, which in honour of his wife he named Castle Cuffe. Was the place ever finished and occupied? We shall probably never know because soon after the onset of the Confederate Wars it was threatened with attack by the O’Dunnes who had formerly owned the land on which the castle stood. A cunning strategy was adopted to capture the place: Captain Daniel Dunne placed a tree trunk, coloured to look like a large cannon, on a hill some distance from the building and threatened to fire on it unless the occupants surrendered, which they duly did – fleeing to the town of Birr some miles away. Meanwhile, Dunne’s troops, having taken everything they wanted from Castle Cuffe, set fire to the place. It appears to have remained a ruin ever since and only scant remains survive, although their height gives an idea of how impressive a house must once have stood here, constructed on a H-plan, rising three storeys high and with a facade 100 feet long. What mostly survive are a number of gable ends topped with high, squared chimneys, their striking appearance – as is so often the case in Ireland – a matter of indifference to the cattle which now call Castle Cuffe home.
A further example of urban decay in Ireland: the Market House in Portarlington, County Laois. Standing in the centre of a square from which radiate four roads, the building dates from the early years of the 18th century and reflects the town’s prosperity at the time. Readers outside Ireland may be startled to know that for several decades this significant monument to Portarlington’s past operated as a garage where cars were serviced and repaired; for Irish readers, the information will come as no surprise, since it is typical of how we are inclined to treat our architectural heritage. Last July the local authority came to an arrangement with the owners of the market house, taking it over on a long lease. The intention, presumably, is to restore the building and put it to more sympathetic use. But much more needs to be done if such a project is to realise its full potential. At the moment, there are several substantial properties around the surrounding square in various stages of neglect and decay, most critically Arlington House, a five-bay, three storey 18th century house currently vacant (and with a long-time empty lot beside it), also the former Church of Ireland church, and adjacent to that a former cinema dating from the 1940s. Much of the square’s space is given over to car parking, and near-constant traffic discourages pedestrians from exploring the site. If this square and market house were elsewhere in Europe, their full potential would be exploited as a centrepiece for urban renewal and as a means of encouraging visitors to Portarlington. Let’s wait to see what the county council now does with the building and what is for now a bleak and desolate setting…
Incidentally, the Irish branch of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) is now running a Maintenance Week with plenty of advice and help for owners of historic properties. Find out more through the organisation’s twitter account (@SPABIreland) or Instagram page (@spabireland).
‘The lodge was built all over and each side of the gate, in two two-storey octagonal turrets joined by a Gothic arch. Four octagonal rooms in the turrets and an up and down room in the arch housed the Conarchy family, who were all, however, quite ordinary shapes.’
The above passage describes the gatelodge entrance to the fictional Kilskour Castle in Sheila Pim’s A Brush with Death, published in 1950. An ardent gardener who wrote extensively on the subject, Pim (1909-1995) also produced four detective novels (often with a strong horticultural theme) from the mid-1940s onwards, although A Brush with Death is more concerned with art and provides an amusing portrait of Dublin’s cultural world in the middle of the last century.
As for the lodge shown here, it was the original entrance to Heywood, County Laois and is thought to have been designed around 1810 by the estate’s then-owner Michael Frederick Trench, who was also responsible for erecting a number of Gothic follies in the grounds (for more on these, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/08/27/heywood/)
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.
As David Skinner explains in his 2014 monograph on Wallpaper in Ireland, in the early 19th century some French manufacturers began to produce narrative papers, each one different and intended to be hung in sequence so as to tell a story. These ‘papiers-peints paysages’ as they were called, became popular throughour Europe and North America, and a number of them were hung in Irish houses. One particular monochrome set, telling the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche was first created in 1816 by Joseph Dufour of Paris, based on a series of pictures specially produced by two neo-classical artists of the time, Louis Lafitte and Merry-Joseph Blondel. At least three Cupid and Psyche sets could once be found here but two of the houses where they were installed, Kinlough, County Leitrim and Piltown, County Louth, are now ruins (for the latter, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/03/13/pourquoi-me-reveiller). The third set remains in situ in the library/ballroom of Stradbally Hall, County Laois where in the 1860s it was placed not on the walls but rather unusually in sequence around the outer perimeter of the ceiling.
A reminder of a family that once had a powerful presence in County Laois: the early 19th century, five-arched stone bridge across the river Nore at Watercastle. As the inscription advises, it was built (or more correctly rebuilt) in 1808 by Sir Robert Staples who lived not far away in a house called Dunmore. Sir Robert married three times, his third wife being the Hon Jane Vesey, sister of the first Viscount de Vesci who lived not far away at Abbey Leix: the Staples’ and de Vescis are regularly mentioned in the correspondence of Caroline, Countess of Portarlington. Both her former home, Emo Court and that of the de Vescis still stand, but Dunmore is gone. Built in the early 18th century and of three storeys with projecting two storey wings, it was unroofed in the last century and allowed to fall into ruin before being eventually demolished.
‘The house is one of the most extensive in the kingdom, the front exceeding upwards of two hundred feet and one of the most beautiful, being built of the quarries on this estate, and mostly hewn, which gives the whole a magnificent appearance’. So wrote William Wilson in 1803 of the recently built Capard, County Laois. This neo-classical house, situated on high ground with panoramic views across the surrounding countryside, has enjoyed mixed fortunes over the past two centuries with its future uncertain on more than one occasion. However since 2015 its current owners have undertaken a meticulous restoration of both building and demesne so that it is now without doubt one of Ireland’s finest country houses. This week saw the publication of a book chronicling Capard’s history, written by Ciarán Reilly and placing the estate within the context of time and place, allowing readers better to understand the evolution of the midlands region. As handsome as the place itself, Capard: An Irish Country House and Estate is a welcome addition to the field of Irish country house studies
Capard: An Irish Country House and Estate is now available from the Irish Georgian Society, for more information see: https://shop.igs.ie/products/capard-an-irish-country-house-estate