And today’s example of wasted public resources comes courtesy of Longford County Council. Dating from 1815, the former cavalry barracks in Longford town are believed to have been designed by John Behan, a measurer and architect (and timber merchant) employed by the Board of Works on such military properties. Historically, this is the most important area in the town, since it is where the dominant family, the O’Farrells built a castle (the last parts of which were demolished in the early 1970s: a shopping centre can now be found there instead). In the 17th century, Francis Aungier converted at least part of the site into a manor house with surrounding gardens, building a market house and square immediately adjacent. In 1774 his descendant sold the property to the British authorities for development as a military barracks. Post-Independence, these were occupied by the Irish army until 2009. Three years later, the buildings on some 5.1 hectares were bought by the county council for €450,000, since when the cavalry barracks has sat empty. A number of smaller ancillary blocks to the rear are used by local groups and there’s a large open field running down to the river Camlin. The same questions arise: why do local authorities purchase these places and then leave them unused for so long, meaning that whenever an eventual use is found, the relevant costs are higher? And what sort of example does this set to other owners of historic properties when the county council fails to take adequate care of an important building it owns? Only question always has the same answer. Who’ll eventually have to foot the bill? Answer: the Irish taxpayer.
The clock tower which stands in the centre of Ardagh, County Longford. The village was part of the estate belonging to Sir Thomas John Fetherston who in the early 1860s employed James Rawson Carroll to design new houses and amenities for its residents. Built in 1863 by the architect’s brother, Thomas Henry Carroll, the clock tower stands in the centre of Ardagh’s picturesque Green and was erected in memory of Sir Thomas’ uncle, Sir George Ralph Fetherston. His widow paid for the monument which, according to an inscription at the base, commemorates her late-husband’s ‘life-long devotion to the moral and social improvement of his tenantry.’
Situated at a strategic crossing point of the river Shannon, Lanesborough (originally called Béal Átha Liag) derives its present name from the Lane family, and specifically Sir George Lane who in the second half of the 17th century did much to improve the place. The son of Sir Richard Lane of Tulsk, County Roscommon, Sir George was a faithful royalist and had followed Charles II into exile. So when the king returned to the throne in 1660, he duly rewarded Sir Richard with additional grants of land in Ireland, as well as a number of high offices; in 1664 he was appointed to the Irish Privy Council, and the following year was made Secretary of State for Ireland, a position he held until his death in 1683. In 1676 he was created first Viscount Lanesborough.
Sir Richard’s primary residence in Ireland stood just a few miles south of Lanesborough, at Rathcline Castle, today a spectacular ruin. The lands here originally belonged to the Quinn or O’Quinn family who may have been responsible for constructing the original tower house here in the 15th or early 16th century. During the latter period, it had passed into the possession of the O’Farrells, but by 1620 Rathcline belonged to Sir Thomas Dutton, an English soldier granted some 2,000 acres by the crown as part of the plantation of Ireland. At least some of what remains here was due to Dutton but after he died, his son also called Thomas, sold Rathcline and the surrounding lands to Sir George Lane. In 1724 following the death of his son, the second Viscount Lanesborough without a son, the place was inherited by the latter’s nephew George Fox, who duly changed his surname to Fox-Lane. His heirs in due course sold the Longford estate to Luke White, who amongst other properties also owned Luttrellstown Castle on the outskirts of Dublin.
The remains of Rathcline Castle date from several different periods, beginning with the original three-storey tower house with battered base which stands on the south-east corner of the site. At the north-east corner is another tower, of also of three-storeys but rectangular and projecting eastwards; this looks to be of a slightly later date. At some point, perhaps in the 17th century, a long range was built linking the two towers, and forming one wall of an enclosed courtyard behind. It had a sequence of large window openings, long since blocked up. Sir George Lane apparently intended to carry out extensive improvements on the property, perhaps inspired by his links with the Duke of Ormonde who did undertake major work on his residence, Kilkenny Castle. In 1664 plans for Rathcline were secured from John Westley, a Dublin-based lawyer and amateur architect married to the daughter of John Webb (Inigo Jones’ pupil); incidentally, Westley also devised plans for Phoenix House, the royal lodge near Dublin, and proposed himself to undertake the construction of new buildings in Dublin Castle. Whether his scheme for Rathcline Castle was carried out even in part is unknown, but in a description of this part of the country written in 1682, Nicholas Dowdall called the building ‘A very noble and spacious house’ which was ‘very pleasant and well Improved with Orchards, Gardens, Fishponds and a Deer Park.’
Whatever it once looked like, as can be seen from within the courtyard, Rathcline Castle was never very deep, perhaps going back no further than a single, admittedly substantial, room: what survives of a great moulded limestone chimneypiece can be found on the first floor of the north wall. Elsewhere in the courtyard the ruins of a range of farm buildings, perhaps erected in the 19th century, occupy one section of the west wall. Otherwise the space stands empty, and evidently much pillaged for stone over 100s of years: it appears that Rathcline Castle suffered badly during the Williamite Wars and may never have been occupied thereafter. The most arresting feature of the site is a limestone classical archway inserted into the south wall, although it too is incomplete, since there were evidently free-standing columns on either side. A second carved limestone archway also survives on the west side. The design of this looks earlier than the classical arch and, given that it occupies the base of a gable wall, suggests this was the public entrance to a chapel on the site. Given its long-term neglect, trying to understand much more about the layout of the castle is a challenge.
The three-storey, octagonal dovecote at Mosstown, County Longford. Believed to date from the mid-18th century, it once stood inside the walled garden of Mosstown, an estate that for a long period belonged to the Newcomen baronets. At some date in the 17th century they built Mosstown, a long house of at least 11 bays and two-storeys with dormered attics and double gables. It passed into other hands in the 19th century but was still occupied until the 1930s, after which the property stood empty until regrettably demolished in 1962. Now sharing a field with a number of horses, this dovecote is one of the few remaining buildings to recall the estate’s existence. The two upper levels, with blind round-headed openings on the first floor and blind oculi on the second, had an interior housing pigeons but the ground floor is a single open space with handsome domed brick ceiling.
The Fox family of County Longford were of ancient origin, their name being Ó Sionnaigh before it was anglicized. In the 11th century Tadhg O Catharnaigh (Kearney) was Chief of Teffia in Co. Meath and as a result of his wiliness came to be known as ‘An Sionnach’ – The Fox. His descendants kept the title, and eventually gained control of the Barony of Kilcoursey, County Offaly, the head of the family continuing to be known as The Fox. Among these descendants was one Patrick Fox, who appears to have been based in Dublin in the late 16th century when he worked closely with English government forces and as a result managed to secure lands in what is now County Longford which had hitherto belonged to the O’Farrells. On his death in 1618 he passed the estate to his eldest son Nathaniel, then aged 30, who built a house there, seemingly incorporating parts of the old O’Farrell castle of Rathreagh. This residence was called Foxhall.
Close to the house at Foxhall, Sir Nathaniel Fox erected a small church, now roofless and in poor condition, the south wall of which is dominated by his tomb (he died in 1634). This wonderful monument takes the form of a limestone altar tomb on which can be seen the reclining figure of Sir Nathaniel, garbed as a knight in full armour lying on his side: the head, right hand and left leg of the effigy are long gone, so that just the truncated torso and thigh remain. An orb and skull can be seen at his feet while what remains of his right arm rests on a tasselled cushion. On either side of the effigy are paired Ionic pilasters supporting an arch on which rest sphinxes. Winged putti can be seen within the arch above which is an entablature with obelisks and elaborate scrollwork. A panel above Sir Nathaniel contains the Fox coat of arms, and below two shields is a Latin inscription which translates as follows: ‘Here lies Nathaniel Fox, of Rathreagh, founder of this church, eldest son and heir of Patrick Fox of Moyvore in Co. Westmeath, who had as wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Walter Hussey of Moyhussey Knight. By whom he had 8 sons and 5 daughters, of whom 8 sons and 3 daughters survived. Patrick, son of the aforesaid Nath., sole heir, had as wife, Barbara, daughter of Lord Patrick Plunkett, Baron of Dunsany. The same Nath. and Elizabeth, lived for 25 years as man and wife, and he died at Rathreagh,2nd of Feb. A.D. 1634, aged 46.’ The entrance to the church at the west end is through a fine cut-limestone classical doorcase with a plaque noting that the building was enlarged and restored in 1772. Presumably this work was undertaken by Francis Fox of Foxhall who in 1759 married Mary Edgeworth of Edgeworthstown, linking the two families. This connection was further strengthened in 1824 when their grandson, Major Barry Fox married Mary Edgeworth’s great-niece Sophia, half-sister of writer Maris Edgeworth.
Writing of Foxhall in July 1797, Maria Edgeworth noted that ‘The house is partly an old castle, and the place quite out of order, run to ruin during [Mr Fox’s] two year absence with his regiment of Militia, besides it rained the whole time we were there and the prospect is bounded by black bogs.’ The Mr Fox to whom she here refers was the aforementioned Francis Fox, Colonel of the Longford Militia. One must presume that the condition of the house improved as three years later Maria Edgeworth again wrote to one of her siblings, ‘We – that is my father, Mrs E, Charlotte and Maria are just returned from Foxhall where we have been dining and making merry with excellent raisin wine and walking and seeing the monument and statue recumbent of that valiant knight Sir Nat Fox who has a one foot upon a globe and the other upon a skull.’ Her host Francis Fox had in 1787 married Lady Anne Maxwell, daughter of the first Earl of Farnham. This may be of relevance when one looks at the photograph of Foxhall (the last below), as there are strong similarities between the house and Farnham, the latter remodelled and enlarged from 1802 onwards for the second Lord Farnham (Lady Anne’s brother) to the designs of Francis Johnston (this is even allowing for major alterations made to Farnham in 1961). Both buildings are were of three-storeys and with a three-bay breakfront, the respective owner’s coat of arms being featured in the pediment above. Farnham was certainly larger, suggesting that Francis Fox having found his house, in Maria Edgeworth’s words, ‘run to ruin’ decided to undertake a major refurbishment and to emulate his brother-in-law’s residence. We shall likely never know because the house no longer stands. The last of the male Foxes to live here, Richard Maxwell Fox, died in 1885 and having no living sons the estate was inherited by his eldest daughter Adeline. It would appear neither she nor her two sisters married, and that they preferred to live in England. The greater part of the Fox land having already been sold, the house and demesne went the same way in the 1920s, and the former was eventually demolished by the Land Commission in 1946. The yard buildings, which stood directly behind the house, still survive to give some idea of what the place must once have been like.
Please note: In Ireland, as in so much of the world, a great many buildings are closed to the public at present. On the other hand, locations that are in decay or ruin, and open to the elements are often accessible. As a result, this site is likely to feature many such properties over the coming weeks. The Irish Aesthete apologises, but promises to keep the tone as upbeat and cheerful as possible.
The stable block on the former estate of Doory Hall, County Longford. The lands here were granted by Charles II to the Jessop family, said to have moved to this country from Derbyshire. The long-forgotten 19th century writer and novelist George H Jessop (who wrote the libretto for Charles Villiers Stanford’s 1896 comic opera Shamus O’Brien) was born here, together with his sister, poet and story writer Mary Kathleen Jessop Another branch of the same family owned an estate in the same county, Mount Jessop but like Doory Hall this long ago went to ruin.
The main house at Doory Hall, now just a shell, is thought to have been designed in the 1820s by John Hargrave, a son of the successful Cork architect Abraham Hargrave; the younger man was responsible for designing a number of buildings, including churches and glebe houses, in County Longford. The stable block is also attributed to him, but could be earlier; the 1820s house replaced an earlier one on the site, so perhaps this is a residue of the previous development? Whatever the past history, at the moment its future does not look promising.
Castle Farm, County Longford, a handsome early 19th century residence that is believed to have been built on the site of, and may incorporate elements of, a late-medieval tower house originally belonging to the O’Farrell family. The Journal of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland 1862-64 noted that ‘the old castle of Ardanragh has been partially converted into a house, and is tenanted by Mr. Shaw, an educated and intelligent man, who farms the adjacent ground.’ A fine building in need of some attention.
Lough Ree has been mentioned here on a couple of occasions (see With Advantageous Views, September 19th 2018 and Well Lodged, October 15th 2018). The second-largest lake over the course of the river Shannon (and the third-largest lake in Ireland) Lough Ree is some 28 kilometres long and borders on three counties: Westmeath, Longford and Roscommon. Across its length can be found many islands of differing sizes: until the 1950s many of these were inhabited by farmers: the last man to live on a Lough Ree island only died in February 2018. Lough Ree appears on the map derived from Ptolomy’s second century Geographia where it is called Rheba, indicating awareness of its existence beyond the shores of Ireland. Most likely Rheda is a corruption of Rí, the Irish word for King, whence derives Lough Ree. However, while this might be designated the Lake of Kings, for a long time it was better known for the monastic settlements that were once widespread on the islands here.
Inchcleraun derives its name from Clothru, according to ancient legend the sister of Queen Mebh of Connacht: the latter is said to have retired to the island where while bathing she was killed, seemingly by her nephew (the story is exceedingly complicated). A monastery was founded here around the year 530 by St Diarmaid: a little church, the oldest on the site, is known as Templedermot. By the eighth century Inchcleraun was home to a number of religious settlements, but over the course of the next 500-odd years these were subject to repeated attack and plunder. Today there are the remains of some seven churches, the largest of which is called Templemurry: according to old lore, any woman entering this building would die within a year.
Running to just over 132 acres, Inchmore is the largest of the islands on Lough Ree and lies inside the borders of County Westmeath. The first religious settlement here is said to have been made in the fifth century by one St Liberius. However, in the second half of the 12th century, a priory of the Canons Regular of St Augustin was established here: it is the remains of this establishment – perhaps with later embellishments – which can be found on the island today. Like all such houses, the Augustinian priory was closed down in the 16th century, in 1567 Inchmore being granted by the crown authorities to Christopher Nugent, Baron Delvin.
Like Inchcleraun, Saints Island lies inside the boundaries of County Longford but is not strictly an island since a narrow causeway connects it to the mainland. A monastery was established here in the mid-sixth century by St Ciarán who would later go on to found a more famous house at Clonmacnoise. In 1089 Saints Island was attacked and plundered by Murkertach O’Brien and a large number of Danes. However around 1244 Sir Henry Dillon caused the settlement of Augustinian canons in a Priory of All Saints to be settled on the site of St Ciarán’s earlier foundation. As with all other such establishments, it was closed down in the 16th century but the main part of the church with its fine east window, clearly subject to alterations 100-odd years earlier, survives as do a few portions of the priory buildings.
St Catherine’s, Killoe, County Longford, one of the many C of I churches built in the first decades of the 19th century thanks to assistance from the Board of First Fruits: here, as elsewhere, the present building may have replaced an earlier one on the site. On occasion in use for services (although the graveyard remains active, so to speak) St Catherine’s dates from 1824 and benefitted from a board grant of £900 together with an additional £200 from Willoughby Bond of nearby Farragh. That house had been greatly enlarged for Bond ten years earlier, the architect being Cork-born Abraham Hargrave. Accordingly his son John Hargrave was given the job of designing St Catherine’s. Alas, Farragh is no more (demolished c.1960) and nine years after working in the area poor John Hargrave drowned, along with his entire family, while sailing off the Welsh coast.
‘We have had a most happy – and narrow escape [from] having the whole house burned – Most fortunately the fire broke out by day – if it had been in the night, nothing could have saved us – and nothing would have saved us either by day or night but the extraordinary courage, zeal, activity, steadiness & obedience of the people who came to our assistance – 30 men & boys who went on unremittingly for above 3 hours from 7 o’clock in the morning till half after 10 carrying water up, up, up ladders & staircase & pouring continually, continually down the chimney till at last the fire was got under and extinguished – the total extinction & complete safety was not effected till half after seven in the evening…
Lovell & I first met in the study, he carrying the tin box with the title deeds – I undertook the carrying out of all the papers with 2 men he left me – Mrs Smith’s son and Dargan – most steady they were – in less than an hour’s time they had carried out all the presses of leases, etc, boxes of surveys & every rent book – The top of Mr Hind’s [the land agent] in which were his accounts & I know not what & it was impossible to open the locks –
First I tried to get the things out of the study window – impossible opening from top – too high up – weight of presses – breadth of table – imposs – The men actually carried the who alcove mentioned through the hall – down the stairs – while every instant bucket men were ascending – how it was done Heaven knows – Honora and I carried out all my papers & Lovell’s – and my mother’s – letters – (pigeon holes) money accounts, books all laid on the grass before library window –my father’s picture on the veranda – all the library side of the hall pictures, Mr Dat etc.
The quiet at front of house seemed most extraordinary! – as if it knew nothing & nature knew nothing of what was going on – But what is still more extraordinary, my dear Fanny, believe me if you can – I whom you have seen such an egregious coward in small or no danger in a carriage felt all the this time without fear – absolutely as if the magnitude of the danger swallowed up fear – I was absolutely bereft of feeling & could think & did think as coolly as I do now – and more clearly – I cannot understand it but it is a fact…’
Extract from a letter of May 14th 1828 written by Maria Edgeworth to her half-sister Fanny and describing a fire that damaged but did not destroy the family home at Edgeworthstown, County Longford. Dating from 1791 and painted by Mrs Mary Powys the upper picture shows the house as it was after improvements carried out by Richard Lovell Edgeworth. The lower picture shows the same building in the late 1850s, some ten years after Maria Edgeworth’s death. The little bow window to the left gave light to her equally modest bedroom – but it fell off the wall some years later. Thankfully the greater part of the house still stands, although altered to serve as a nursing home. Both images and the letter are included in Maria Edgeworth’s Letters from Ireland most skilfully selected and edited by Valerie Pakenham, and just published by Lilliput Press.