Today surrounded by architecturally inconsequential housing estates, this is Ballsgrove, built on raised ground overlooking Drogheda, County Louth. It was built as a country villa by George Ball, member of a family which had been prominent merchants and citizens of the town since the 14th century, although they also owned an estate called Ballygall near Glasnevin, Dublin. This was sold by George Ball in 1725, the proceeds seemingly being used to pay for the construction of Ballsgrove. Facing west, the house is of five bays and two storeys over raised basement. At some date in the 19th century the rear was given single-storey canted bays. These have castellations, as does the the little octagonal pavilion built on the south-east corner seen below.
Now marooned on a bend in the riverside Ring Road of Drogheda, County Louth, this was formerly the entrance to the Ballsgrove estate. Dating from 1804 and taking the form of a triumphal arch, the limestone carriage arch is flanked by narrow pedestrian gates separated from above oval niches above by a Greek key impost course. In the tympanum of the pediment is the Ball family coat of arms. George Ball was responsible for erecting this entrance but it was his grandfather, also called George Ball, who built Ballsgrove, sometimes also called The Grove (altho’ a plaque in the wall here calls it The Ball). The latter was also responsible for laying out fine terraced gardens, which were sometimes open to the public. In 1752 Mrs Delany visited the site and reported in a letter, ‘You wind up a very steep hill (which otherwise would be insurmountable) planted with trees – some in walks, others in groves, so that part of it looks like a thick wood – on the top is a long level walk with old trees on each side of it, and at the end a pretty, clean house and spruce garden full of flowers, which belongs to Mr Ball, who is so obliging to the town as to permit that fine walk to be a public one, and it is the Mall of Drogheda. The view from it is surprisingly beautiful. At the foot of this fine hill winds the River Boyne.’ All a far cry from present circumstances here.
As has been discussed here before, Townley Hall, County Louth is one of Ireland’s most perfect neo-classical buildings (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/06/10/la-tout-nest-quordre-et-beaute). The house was designed in the mid-1790s by Francis Johnston, who until then had been employed primarily by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, often to complete commissions left unfinished following the early death of Thomas Cooley in 1784. Townley Hall is his first independent piece of work although here again the client’s involvement was critical since it is known that Blayney Townley Balfour, who owned the property, and his sister Anna Maria were intimately involved in every stage of the design.
Johnston was invited to design not just Townley Hall itself but also a number of ancillary buildings, including a new stableyard. His plans for this survive and are dated between 1799 (work being initiated on the site in May of that year) and 1804. The intention was to build around a rectangular courtyard with coach house and grainstore topped by a cupola on the north side, and stables coming forward to its immediate east and west. The south side was to be taken up by screen wall with arched entrance. Sadly this scheme was never realized, possibly for financial reasons (like many other house builders before and since, Blayney Townley Balfour discovered the initial budget was insufficient). Instead, while the northern range was constructed, it lacked the proposed cupola, and only the western range of stables were finished; a terrace of single-storey cottages runs along the eastern side of the site. Likewise the south wall with entrance arch was left unbuilt, and even a modified plan for railings with piers went unrealized. A drawing of the plan survives a penciled note reading ‘not built yet – 1837 FTB’, those initials standing for Lady Florence Townley Balfour (daughter of the first Earl of Enniskillen) who had married Blayney Townley Balfour in 1797.
As is well known, Townley Hall was sold by the heirs of the Townley Balfour family in the 1950s and, having been owned for a short period of time by Trinity College Dublin, was sold again with the Land Commission taking the greater part of the surrounding estate. Many of the ancillary buildings are no longer part of Townley Hall, including the former stableyard. Almost every other part of the former estate has been restored and brought into use, but sadly this element, which is, it seems, independently owned, has languished in neglect for a number of years, and is now in poor repair. Even if not as originally intended by Johnston, the yard remains associated with what is widely judged to be his masterpiece, and accordingly deserves a better fate.
The name Athclare derives from the Irish Áth Cláir, meaning Ford on level land, and here in County Louth stands a mid-16th century tower house originally built for the Barnewell family, who were then prominent landowners in this part of the country. The building is of four storeys and, as was usual for such structures, has just an arched entrance on the ground floor, the sole point of access. A stone spiral staircase in the south-east corner leads to the upper levels, with a large hall on the first floor. Here can be found an enormous limestone chimneypiece, the border of which is decorated with fantastical animals amid trailing floral garlands.
Athclare Castle subsequently passed into the possession of the Taafe family who may have added the substantial wing to the east of the original building. The house was then acquired by London merchant Erasmus Smith who supplied provisions to Oliver Cromwell’s army and used the funds received to buy various parcels of land until eventually he owned over 46,000 acres. On his death, he left a trust arising from ‘the great and ardent desire which he hath that the children inhabiting upon any part of his lands in Ireland should be brought up in the fear of God and good literature and to speak the English tongue.’ The Erasmus Smith Trust went on to establish five grammar schools in Dublin, Tipperary, Ennis, Galway and Drogheda.
With superlative views across Dundalk Harbour towards the Cooley and Mourne Mountains, this is Moonveigh Tower, a 19th century folly erected by Sir Patrick Bellew. Member of an Angl0-Norman family which despite the Penal Laws managed to retain both the Roman Catholic faith and lands of its forbears, Sir Patrick was among the first Catholics elected to Parliament after Emancipation in 1829. In 1832 he stood aside to let his younger brother Richard Montesquieu Bellew take the seat but was returned in 1835 and again two years later. It was to mark the latter occasion that the tower, on the site of an old windmill, was constructed, a spiral staircase inside climbing up to offer a wonderful outlook from the top. A plaque above the now-cemented doorcase declares ‘This tower was erected to commemorate the election to parliament in January 1837 of Sir Patrick Bellew Bart and Richard M. Bellew Esq. As members for this County. It was commenced in the year of the Coronation of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria whom God long preserve.’
In the 1830s, William Drummond Delap of Monasterboice House, County Louth was paid £1,933 by the British government. The reason: he was being compensated for the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean colonies. Mr Delap, it transpires, had owned 96 slaves on two plantations in Jamaica. Slavery there, and on the other islands in the area, had been abolished in 1833, but such was the level of complaint about loss of revenue from former owners, not least those like Mr Delap who lived on the opposite side of the Atlantic, that four years later parliament passed the Slave Compensation Act, resulting in some £20 million being paid out.
Little work has been done in Ireland on the benefits enjoyed during the 17th and 18th centuries by some country house estate owners who were involved in plantations, although twelve years ago History Ireland published a highly informative article by Nini Rodgers on the subject of Irish links to the slave trade (see: https://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/the-irish-and-the-atlantic-slave-trade). In England, and indeed in France too, much more research has been undertaken on the matter, not least at University College London’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, where archival examination has discovered who were the beneficiaries: it has, for example, documented which country houses owe their existence, in part or whole, to money that came through slavery in the Caribbean. In 2013, the centre created a database of the individuals who were paid compensation when slavery was finally abolished, and it includes some 170 names of people in Ireland, not least William Dunlop Delap. His brother Colonel James Bogle Delap, a friend of George IV, received £4,960. Among the others, some are well-known, such as two members of the banking La Touche family (£6,865 between them) and Howe Peter Browne, second Marquess of Sligo (£5,425). However, by far the largest beneficiary was one Charles McGarel of Larne, County Antrim whose claim for 2,777 slaves on twelve different plantations led to his receiving no less than £135,076. (To explore the documentation relating to Ireland, see: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/search).
William Drummond Delap was a descendant of Hugh Dunlop who around 1600 moved from Ayrshire in Scotland to Sligo where he was involved in the wine trade. His son Robert moved to County Donegal, which is where successive generations of the family lived, their surname becoming corrupted to Delap. Robert Delap, born in 1754, graduated from Trinity College Dublin and was admitted to the Middle Temple before being called to the Irish bar in 1778. Two years before he had married Mary Ann Bogle, daughter of James Bogle of Castlefin, County Donegal. It was Mary Ann’s family, likewise of Scottish origin, which had plantation interests in Jamaica: the UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership site lists 21 persons of that name. Evidently she acquired a substantial stake in these properties following her marriage: Robert Delap died at sea while returning from the Caribbean in 1782, leaving a widow with several young children including William Drummond who was then barely two years old. In 1805 he married Catherine, eldest daughter of William Foster, Bishop of Clogher and brother of John Foster, last Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. In 1811 John Foster described his niece’s husband as ‘a good man of business resident in London where he acted as a merchant and has a West India property of his own to look after.’ Around 1830 he decided to move to Co Louth, where many of his wife’s family owned land, and there he bought various parcels to create an estate of more than 1,200 acres on which he either built, or more likely enlarged, Monasterboice House. He also laid out elaborate terraced gardens and planted many specimen trees. On a rise south-west of the house he erected a folly, called Drummond Tower after his maternal grandmother who had helped to raise him after his father’s early death. In 1861 he resumed by licence the family’s original surname of Dunlop.
Not much appears to be known about the history of Monasterboice House, now a ruinous building. At its core looks to be a typical late-mediaeval tower house, which as was so often the case has been subject to various structural alterations but is still clearly distinct rising on the northern section of the site. To the south is what appears to be a late 18th/early 19th century residence, of two storeys over basement, three bays with the centre one in the form of a substantial bow. The ground floor of this has glazed doors that once opened onto the terraced gardens and is flanked by Wyatt windows typical of the period. The house’s principal entrance lies on the west side, and was formerly approached by a long avenue. Perhaps to harmonise with the old tower house, this section was gothicised in the Tudoresque manner with arched windows and a large porte-cochere in front of a castellated porch. The back of the house opens to two large yards beyond which was the walled garden. It looks as though the building was developed in three sections, first the tower house, then the villa and finally a Tudor-Gothic expansion. In Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, he writes of Monasterboice House that ‘a spacious mansion is now being erected by the proprietor.’ Lewis’ work came out in 1837, just as compensation was being paid to former plantation owners, such as William Drummond Delap/Dunlop. A suspicion forms that the money he then received was used to improve his country residence. Future generations did not enjoy it for long: his son and heir Robert Foster Dunlop married a cousin, the Hon Anna Skeffington but the couple had no son and their daughters do not seem to have occupied the place. At the start of the last century, the estate built up by William Drummond Delap was divided up and while the Louth Archaeological and History Society Journal reported in 1945 that the house was ‘in a fair state of preservation’ that is certainly no longer the case.
Rising some twenty-one feet, the tallest high cross in Ireland can be found, along with a couple of others, at Monasterboice, County Louth. The place name derives from Mainistir Bhuithe meaning ‘Monastery of Buithe’: the latter was an early Christian saint said to have founded a religious settlement here in the late 5th century. Three high crosses survive here, this one which dates from the 9th century, standing closest to the round tower. Panels on one side feature, among others scenes of the Sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the Lion’s Denand David with the head of Goliath. The opposite side is devoted to scenes from the Life of Christ, such as his baptism, the Kiss of Judas, his arrest and crucifixion.
The east window of the old church in Dromiskin, County Louth. This was the site of a monastery founded in the late 5th/early 6th century by Lughaidh, son of the first Christian King of Munster and a disciple of St Patrick. In the mid-7th century it came under the authority of St Ronan who died of the plague in 664: in 801 his relics were placed in a richly decorated shrine. But inevitably the monastery’s wealth made it vulnerable to attack, and during the 10th and 11th centuries Dromiskin was plundered by both Irish and Viking forces. Eventually the monastery was abandoned and fell into ruin, although the church continued to be used for services (this window is 15th century) until replaced by another in the early 19th century (now also no longer in use). Looking west through the window, one can see the stump of a 9th century Round Tower (the cap on it was added in 1879).
One of the groundfloor windows in a building known as the Mint in Carlingford, County Louth. A three-storey tower house dating from the 15th/16th centuries, the property is believed to have derived its name from a charter granted to the town in 1467 to mint its own coinage. The house may have been used for this purpose, or may simply stand on what was the site of a mint. It was perhaps built as a defensive residence for a local family, although the absence of chimneypieces argue against this proposal. In any case, what now distinguishes the Mint are its limestone ogee windows, five on two floors, which beneath substantial hoods feature a variety of carved figures including a horse and a man, as well as abstract interlace decoration which indicates a revival of interest in more ancient Celtic art.
‘The Abbey of Mellifont, in the County of Louth, situate about five miles from Drogheda, in the Barony of Ferrard, was originally one of the most important and magnificent monastic edifices ever erected in Ireland. It was founded, or endowed, by Donough M’Corvoill, or O’Carroll, prince of Oirgiallach, the present Oriel, A.D. 1142, at the solicitation of St. Malachy, the pious and learned archbishop of Armagh, and was the first Cistercian Abbey erected in Ireland.
The monks by whom it was first inhabited were sent over from the parent Monastery of Clairvaux in Normandy, by St. Bernard, and four of them were Irishmen, who had been educated there for the purpose. On the occasion of the consecration of the Church of Mellifont in 1157, a remarkable Synod was held here, which was attended by the primate Gelasius, Christian bishop of Lismore and apostolic legate, seventeen other bishops, and innumerable clergymen of inferior ranks. There were present also Murchertach, or Murtogh O’Loghlin, King of Ireland, O’Eochadha, prince of Ulidia, Tiernan O’Ruaire, prince of Breiffny, and O’Kerbhaill, or O’Carroll, prince of Ergall, or Oriel. On this occasion the King (Murtogh O’Loghlin) gave as an offering for his soul to God, and the Monks of Mellifont, 140 oxen or cows, 60 ounces of gold, and a townland, called Finnavair-na-ningen, near Drogheda. O’Kerbhaill gave also 60 ounces of gold, and as many more were presented by the wife of Tiernan O’Ruaric, who was a daughter of the prince of Meath, that is a former prince Murchad. She likewise gave a golden chalice for the high altar, and sacred vestments. &c., for each of the nine other altars that were in the church. This was the unfortunate Dearbhfhorguill, or Dervorgal, whose abduction by the profligate Dermod Mac Murrogh, King of Leinster, was the first link in the chain of events which led to the introduction into Ireland of the British arms, under the celebrated Strongbow. Her pious donations to the abbey of Mellifont appear to have been in some measure intended as an expiation of her crime; and hither she retired towards the end of her life, which she closed in religious exercises about the year 1193…’
‘On the establishment of the English power in the district called the Pale, in which Mellifont is situated, it was taken under the especial protection of the settlers. In 1177 a confirmation of their house and possessions was granted by King Henry II. as appears by the Charter of his son John, who renewed and confirmed the same; and in 1203 a new charter was granted to the abbey by King John, confirming to it several additional possessions which it had acquired after the arrival of the English. Many other grants and confirmations were made by succeeding Princes.
For a considerable period the abbey of Mellifont, as well as the other Cistercian monasteries in Ireland, continued to be connected with the parent establishment at Clairvaux, to which monastery, considerable sums of money were continually remitted. To correct this abuse, an act was passed in the reign of Edward III. enjoining all ecclesiastics not to depart the kingdom on any account whatsoever, nor to raise or transmit any sums of money privately or openly from hence, contrary to the form of the statute. In consequence of this enactment, Reginald, the abbot of Mellifont, was by a jury in 1351, found guilty of raising from the abbots of Boyle, Knockmoy, Bective and Cashel, the sum of 664 florins, one half of which he had remitted to the abbot and convent of Clairvaux; and again, in the year 1370, the abbot, John Terrour, was similarly indicted for remitting to the same abbey the sum of forty marcs. This abbot was, in the year 1378, indicted for killing one of his monks, named John White, in the year 1367; but the jury acquitted him. In 1380, it was enacted by parliament that no mere Irishman should be permitted to make his profession in this abbey…’
‘In 1540, Richard Conter, the last abbot, surrendered his abbacy, and had an annual pension of £40. granted to him for life. He had 16 fishing corraghs or skin-boats at Oldbridge, on the Boyne, which produced him annually £13. 13s. 4d., which, with various other possessions, amounting in the whole to £315. 19s. were granted to Sir Edward Moore, (ancestor to the present noble family of that name,) who made it his principal seat, converting the abbey into a magnificent residence, and, at the same time, a place of defence. In the memorable rebellion of 1641, a considerable body of the Irish sat down before it, and the garrison, which consisted of only 15 horse, and 22 foot, made a vigorous defence; but, on the failure of their ammunition, the foot surrendered, and the horse, charging vigorously through the enemy, arrived safe at Drogheda.
Such are the chief incidents in the history of this important monastic foundation, of which but trifling remains are now to be found, but these are sufficient evidence of its ancient beauty and splendour. They consist of the ruins of a beautiful little chapel, dedicated to St. Bernard, which in its perfect state was an exquisite specimen of the Gothic, or pointed architecture of the thirteenth century.
This chapel had a noble eastern window, and three smaller ones on each side, nearly all of which are now destroyed, together with the entrance doorway…This doorway was ornamented with a profusion of gilding, and painting in variegated colours, and was justly considered as one of the most beautiful specimens of the kind to be found in Ireland. It is said to have been sold to make a chimney piece!
Not inferior in architectural elegance to this chapel, are the ruins of an octagonal building, supposed a baptistery, on the top of which was a large cistern, from which water was conveyed by means of pipes, to the different offices of the abbey. The style of this building, which is Roman, indicates an earlier age, and it is probably coeval with the foundation of the monastery.
To these is to be added, the lofty abbey gateway; it is now appropriated to the humble purpose of a mill-dam.’
Extracts from The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 22, November 24, 1832. The little chapel described here as being dedicated to Saint Bernard was actually the abbey’s Chapter House and likewise the ‘Baptistry’ was the monks’ Lavabo.