Lackin’ a Roof


In December 1661 Roger Palmer was created Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine by Charles II. Palmer’s elevation to the peerage was thanks to his wife – from whom he was by this date already estranged – Barbara Villiers, the king’s maîtresse-en-titre. She had already given birth to one child and over the next dozen years would go on to have another six, none of them by her husband (an indication of their paternity is that they were all given the surname FitzRoy, although the last of them – also called Barbara – is widely thought to have been the result of an affair between her mother and John Churchill, future Duke of Marlborough). Palmer was quiet and studious, devoted to both the Stuart cause and to his Roman Catholic faith; as a result of the latter, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on several occasions. Beautiful, wilful, promiscuous, Barbara Villiers was temperamentally unsuited to be his wife: before the marriage, Palmer’s father had warned the groom that she would make him one of the most miserable men in the world. The prediction proved correct. Her infidelity – and not just with the king – was widely known and being granted an earldom only had the effect of making Palmer the most famous cuckold of the era; it is notable that he never took his seat in the Irish House of Lords (although he was happy to use the title). Barbara Villiers would go on to be created Duchess of Cleveland in her own right, and to receive many presents from the crown, not least the great Tudor palace of Nonsuch, which she arranged to have pulled down, so that the materials could be sold to pay her gambling debts. She also persuaded Charles II to grant her Dublin’s Phoenix Park, but the Lord Lieutenant of the time, James Butler, Duke of Ormond – with whom she had a long-standing feud – successfully ensured that the land did not pass into her hands. 





Why was Roger Palmer given Irish, rather than English, titles? Both his family and that of Barbara Villiers had links with this country. On the latter’s side, the connection began with Sir Edward Villiers, born in Leicestershire and the elder half-brother of the early 17th century’s best-known royal favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. In 1625, James I appointed Edward Villiers as Lord President of Munster: this may have come about because Villiers’ wife Barbara St John was a niece of the Tudor adventurer Oliver St John, who had previously held the same office (he also became Lord Deputy of Ireland), and who in 1620 was created Viscount Grandison of Limerick. Since he had no male heir, it was arranged that William Villiers, eldest son of his niece Barbara (wife of Edward Villiers), should inherit the title.  The notorious Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, was William Villiers’ daughter. In due course, a member of the Villiers family inter-married with the FitzGeralds of County Waterford: their descendants live still at Dromana, County Waterford.
The origin of the Palmers’ association with Ireland is less clear. It would appear that around the middle of the 17th century, one Thomas Palmer, son of a Norfolk landowner, came to this country and when he died without issue, his brother Roger inherited the deceased sibling’s property here. A grant of land in County Mayo to this Roger Palmer was confirmed by the crown in 1684 (two years earlier, his name had been included in an address of loyalty to Charles II from the nobility and gentry of the same county). Successive generations, usually with the same name of Roger, followed and in 1777 one of these was granted a baronetcy. Sir Roger, as he now became, had some 25 years earlier married Eleanore Ambrose, daughter of a wealthy Dublin brewer. Miss Ambrose was a Roman Catholic whose good looks and ready wit had previously caught the attention of Lord Chesterfield while he was serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On one occasion, he informed George II that he had found only one ‘dangerous papist’ in the country – Eleanor Ambrose – since ‘the brightness of her eyes and the charms of her conversations are indeed perilous.’ At a ball in Dublin Castle to mark the birthday of William III, Miss Ambrose appeared wearing orange lilies on her bodice. Lord Chesterfield wrote her the following lines:
‘Tell me Ambrose, where’s the jest
Of wearing orange on thy breast,
When underneath that bosom shows
The whiteness of the rebel rose?’
The Palmer baronetcy continued until the death without heirs of Sir Roger Palmer, fifth baronet, in 1910. By that date, through a series of judicious marriages, the family owned some 115,000 acres in Ireland, Wales and England. 





When Roger Palmer was created a baronet in 1777, it was as Sir Roger Palmer of Castle Lackin. This was an estate in County Mayo, some miles north of Killala, the same land the grant of 1684 had confirmed as belonging to his ancestor. It would appear that around the same time Sir Roger received his baronetcy, he embarked on building a fine residence, looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean and known as Castle Lackin. This was a long, two-storey house, its rather plain exterior distinguished by with a wide curved bow at one end and a sequence of yards, some of them surrounded with battlemented walls and accessed through a pair of castellated gate piers. It is difficult to know how much time the Palmers ever spent in this beautiful but remote spot, since they also had a number of properties in which to live, not least Kenure Park on the outskirts of Dublin, Cefn Park in North Wales and Glen Island in Berkshire. Early in the 19th century, the house was occupied by James Cuffe, first Lord Tyrawley, and subsequently by his daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Charles Knox. In 1841, it was leased to Edward Knox and valued at £58. However, by 1911 – a year after the last baronet’s death – the house was listed as vacant, and in 1916 the former Palmer estate in Mayo was sold to the Congested Districts’ Board. Within a couple of decades, the house here had become derelict, and that remains the case. 

For more information on the Palmer estates in County Mayo, readers are encouraged to see The Impact of the Great Famine on Sir William Palmer’s estates in Mayo, 1840-49 by David Byrne (2021). 

 

A Bastard Child



Known locally as the Lacken Gazebo, this wonderful folly sits on high ground above the north coast of County Mayo, offering spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean. Looking like a bastard child of the Conolly Folly, County Kildare, the building similarly features a series of arches and is crowned by a number of obelisks. Constructed of rubble stone, the building is thought to date from the closing decade of the 18th century when it would have been one of the demesne improvements carried out by Sir John Roger Palmer whose residence, Castle Lacken – now a ruin – stood on ground immediately below.


A Mellow Charm


The mellow charm of Newport House, County Mayo, a property dating from several periods of the 18th century. Overlooking the Newport river, the house was built in the late 18th century by the O’Donnells, descendants of Hugh O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell. In 1780, Neale O’Donnell, having conformed to the Established Church, was created a baronet and soon afterwards acquired property that had previously belonged to the Medlicott family. Here he constructed the present residence, possibly incorporating an earlier building; it was extended to the west (left-hand side), likely by the second baronet, in the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1889 Sir George O’Donnell died without male heirs and the property was then inherited by his niece Millicent. However, her only son, also called George, was killed at Ypres in 1915. Newport House then passed through a couple of hands before becoming a successful hotel. although that business currently appears closed.

Not So Imperial


A fine carved limestone doorcase, formerly one of the entrances to the now-shut Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo. Occupying one side of the town’s Mall and tracing its origins as a hostelry back to 1795, the Imperial (formerly Daly’s) Hotel was also the site where the National Land League was founded almost 143 years ago, on August 16th 1879. The building closed for business in 2009 and two years later was bought by Mayo County Council, which has since produced various ‘masterplans’ for the premises but not embarked on any of them, instead leaving this important building to deteriorate. It should be noted that in the same area of Castlebar, the council also owns the former post office and the former barracks, both of which have similarly suffered years of neglect as a consequence of a failure to implement a much-heralded programme of urban renewal. Once again, it is hard to see why any private owner of an historic property in Ireland should embark on restoration when such a poor example is provided by the relevant local authority.

A Typical Example


This handsome early 19th century residence stands at one end of Barrack Street in Killala, County Mayo. Of three bays and two storeys, for a period during the pre-Independence period it provided accommodation for members of the Royal Irish Constabulary but of late has stood empty and falling into dereliction, like so many other historic houses in Irish regional towns (further down the same street, there is the shell of what must once have been an equally fine property).

Cloistered



The remains of the cloister garth at Ballintubber Abbey, County Mayo. This house was founded in 1216 by Cathal Crobhdearg Ua Conchobair (Cathal O’Conor) King of Connaught, and given to the Canons Regular of St Augustine. The church was almost destroyed by fire half a century later, but rebuilt and, along with the ancillary buildings, survived until the 17th century when badly damaged by Cromwellian forces. The church and some other structures on the site have been restored over the past 50 years, but the cloister, in its present form dating from the 15th century, remains as shown here.

A Big Deel


Castle Deel, County Mayo derives its name from the adjacent Deel river beside which a branch of the Bourke family built a great four-storey tower house, probably in the 16th century. This eventually passed to Colonel Thomas Bourke who, after he had supported James II during the Williamite Wars, saw his property forfeited by the English government and subsequently granted to the Gores, future Earls of Arran. They remained living there until the late 18th century when a new house – now also in ruins – was built close by, after which Deel Castle was occupied by the land agent. At some date, perhaps in the 17th century while still owned by the Bourkes, a residential wing was added to one side of the tower house, this section distinguished by a handsome rusticated doorway. Along another side runs a long service wing. In 1732 when Mary Delany (then still the widowed Mrs Pendarves) visited Mayo, she called on the place, afterwards writing to her sister that it was ‘an old castle patched up and very irregular, but well fitted up and good handsome rooms within. The master of the house, Arthur Gore, a jolly red-faced widower, has one daughter, a quiet thing that lives in the house with him; his dogs and horses are as dear to him as his children, his laugh is hearty, though his jests are coarse’. Deel Castle was still intact during the earlier part of the last century but has since been left to fall into its present sad condition.


Devoted to the Offices of Religion and Piety


‘The abbey is still almost perfect, except the roof and some buildings on the North side, which were taken down about 1750 by the then proprietor, Knox, to furnish materials for a dwelling house which was erected nearby…The church is 125’ long by 20’ broad towards the East; from the West door to the tower the breadth varies from 40’ to 50’; on the broadest space is a gable with a pointed window of stone and of fine workmanship. To the Eastern wall of this portion of the building were two altars, having a piscine to each; between the altars there is an arched recess, which would seem to have been a place of safety for the sacred utensils of the altars…On the right side of the aisle is a range of arches corresponding with the height of that tower, done in hewn stone; the arches, which are hexagonal and turned on consoles, support the tower, which is nearly in the centre of the church, and about 100’ in height. The ascent to the summit of the tower is by a helix of 101 steps.’
(From Ecclesiastical History of Ireland, Thomas Walsh, 1885)





‘The Abbey itself is almost perfect, except the roof and some buildings on the north side, which were taken down about forty or fifty years ago, by the proprietor, to furnish materials for a dwelling house which was erected nearly on the site of the old walls and joined the church…The sacrilegious had that had done this, I was told by the country people, never came to any good after, nor any of those who had been concerned with it. Certain it is the house was but a short time inhabited and is now completely in ruins. One might suppose that time, while, with an unrelenting hand, he committed so many ravages on the house that was thus so sacrilegiously reared, had in pity spared the remains of the adjoining edifice that had once, with its peaceful and inoffensive inhabitants, been devoted to the offices of religion and piety.’
(From Anthologia Hibernica: or Monthly Collections of Science, Belles Lettres and History, by ‘J.C.’, January 1794)





‘The Abbey of Moyne, situated on the estuary of the River Moy, is certainly one of the noblest of the Franciscan Abbeys in Ireland. It is two miles from Killala, six miles from Ballina on the old road by the river.  It is barely one-eighth of a mile from the public road, yet on entering its precincts its loneliness, its solitary air and surrounding, is the first impression produced. The Still ‘Pool,’ as the arm of the Moy beneath is called, the solemn tower, casting its long shadow over the countless graves and tombs, the stillness of the luxurious fields around, where the silent cattle graze, but where man is not seen, the rising or ebbing flow of the Moy scarcely making a ripple on the sweet strand, all without a sound, give the first impression as utter loneliness. One is at once forced to feel that here was a fit place for a Community to live away from noise, from care, from the tramp and traffic of the world’s ways, to have thoughts fixed on the quiet and “rest that remaineth for the people of God”.’
(From The Windings of the Moy, Rev, James Greer, 1924)


Moyne Abbey, a 15th century former Franciscan friary in County Mayo. 

 

Monumental



Visited on a particularly soggy afternoon, this is the Knox-Gore Memorial, erected in 1872 in the grounds of Belleek Manor, County Mayo. Its architect was the ubiquitous James Franklin Fuller whose inspiration appears to have been the steeple of St Giles‘ Cathedral in Edinburgh but while the latter sits atop a very large structure, the memorial’s base is just an earthen mound, sometimes thought to be a prehistoric tumulus. In any case, the monument was commissioned by Sir Charles Knox-Gore to commemorate his father Francis, first baronet who is buried on the site, together with his wife Sarah and, seemingly, his favourite horse. Sir Charles, meanwhile, when his time came, was interred elsewhere on the estate, along with his favourite dog called Phizzie.


RIC (Ruins in Connaught)



The remains of an RIC Barracks at Islandeady, County Mayo. The building dates from the first half of the 19th century when constructed on a plot provided for the purpose by local landlord Sir William Palmer who lived at Castle Lacken, today also a ruin. Of two storeys and three bays, the barracks is a handsome structure, with the focus on its cut-limestone doorcase. There is a small yard to the rear with holding cell. It remained in operation until early 1920 when, like many other remote buildings held by the force, it was abandoned owing to the War of Independence. In June of that year, the barracks was gutted by fire, again a common circumstance, and has remained a ruin ever since.