Partying putti in the gardens of Headfort, County Meath: they have evidently heard the news that the building is to reopen its doors as a school next month. Its design attributed to George Semple (a Dublin-based builder and self-taught architect), the house dates from the mid-1760s when constructed for the first Earl of Bective. In the following decade, the latter commissioned Robert Adam to produce decorative schemes for a suite of rooms in the newly completed Headfort. Adam, who never visited this country, duly came up with designs for the entrance and staircase halls, as well for as a series of three adjacent spaces on the garden front culminating in a double-height saloon that was known as the ‘Eating Parlor.’ Even if not all his proposals were fully implemented, the interiors are of immense importance as the only extant examples of Adam’s work in Ireland. In 1949 the property was opened as a school which remained in operation until last March, when the institution’s then-board took the decision to close down. However, since then a group of supporters, many of them past-pupils, have come together to raise funds and re-open the establishment, thereby ensuring the future of this very important house.
Two country houses, both in County Meath and both now hotels. Today, Dunboyne Castle which dates from the mid-1760s and in its present form was designed by Drogheda architect George Darley for the widowed Sarah Hamilton. Although only 15 or so years later than Bellinter (see the previous post), Dunboyne Castle’s interiors are quite different, rococo having usurped baroque as the preferred style of decoration. The plasterwork of the ground floor saloon’s ceiling is reminiscent of work from the same period at Dowth Hall which was also designed by Darley (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2012/12/24/netterville-netterville-where-have-you-been) and which has been attributed to Robert West.
Two country houses, both in County Meath and both now hotels. Today, Bellinter which dates from c.1750 and was designed by Richard Castle for brewer and M.P. John Preston, whose son would become first (and last) Baron Tara. Since Castle died in 1751, he is unlikely to have overseen the work, which is vigorous but somewhat unsophisticated in execution, as demonstrated by the ceiling of the ground floor saloon. Its exuberant baroque plasterwork looks indebted to the Lafranchini brothers but probably executed by lesser hands.
In 2005 two doctors bought a former orthopedic hospital in the small County Westmeath village of Coole, with the intention of turning it into a substantial medical facility, borrowing substantial sums of money from Ulster Bank to do so. As sometimes happens, the two partners disagreed over the development of the site, as plans came to include provision not only of a medical centre and ancillary facilities, but also a number of residential units (the entire country was then entering peak-Celtic Tiger era when housing schemes were ubiquitous). One of the pair accordingly exited the scheme, and the other remained involved. Then, as so often happened, in the aftermath of the economic crash, the entire project foundered and in 2012 the property went into receivership. Two years later the original Ulster Bank loan was transferred to a large investment company called Promontoria (Aran) Limited (a subsidiary of the American private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management). In 2017 Promontoria sought to recover some of its money by offering the place for sale. A medical centre still operates from the site.
The core of what became St Joseph’s Orthopaedic hospital dates from 1897 and was developed by Teresa Dease whose family lived close by in a house called Turbotstown (see https://theirishaesthete.com/tag/turbotstown/). The Deases were resolutely Roman Catholic, never wavering from the faith of their forebears even during the years of Penal legislation, yet managing to hold onto their ancestral lands. It was here, on a site adjacent to the church built by her grandfather, that Teresa Dease established what was initially intended to be a school to train young girls for a life in domestic service by teaching them such skills as housekeeping, cookery, needlework and laundry work. However, after a number of years, she closed the school and in 1916 passed responsibility for the building to an order of nuns, the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who ran the place as an orthopaedic hospital for boys. It continued in operation until 1981, and thereafter the buildings sat empty and deteriorating until acquired in 2005 by the aforementioned pair of doctors. In the aftermath of its closure, and the revelation of widespread abuse in institutions run by religious orders, a great deal of disturbing information emerged about practices in St Joseph’s Hospital although here – as elsewhere – the relevant documentation disappeared, making it difficult for those who deservedly sought recognition and compensation for what they experienced to pursue their claims.
As mentioned, a medical centre operates on part of the site formerly occupied by St Joseph’s Hospital, from a range constructed for this purpose. But the ambition of the intended development is visible in other buildings left incomplete, roads leading nowhere, and in particular the condition of the original property erected in 1897 and, it appears, used as the nuns’ residence. Old photographs show this was formerly linked to other parts of the hospital, in particular a chapel in Hiberno-Romanesque style built in the mid-1930s. This still stands but many of the other extensions were taken down, seemingly at the onset of the redevelopment. The interior of the convent building was completely gutted, with only the old staircase surviving in a partially mangled state. And then the enterprise stalled, and the place was abandoned. And so it has remained ever since; a reminder more than a decade later of how not all Celtic Tiger ambitions were realized.
In the centre of Navan, County Meath and on the banks of the river Blackwater, the unsalubrious remains of a mid-19th century mill that once helped bring prosperity to the town. The building dates back to 1851 when erected by William Morgan to provide flour for his bakery elsewhere in Navan. It continued to serve this purpose until early in the last century when converted into a sawmill, remaining in operation until 1999 when the enterprise closed down. Since then the property has stood empty, being seriously damaged by arsonists in July 2007. Two years ago the local authority turned down the planning application from a local developer to demolish the mill, and erect on the five-acre site a 186-bedroom nursing home and 40 apartments.
The main house at Loughcrew, County Meath – or at least its re-erected portico – was shown here last week (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/06/17/loughcrew) . The Naper family estate was once ringed with a number of lodges, one of which also featured on this site some time ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/09/05/cursed). Formerly in a poor state of repair, that building is now undergoing restoration and should yet be occupied once again. Not far away stands another lodge, alas in a poor state of repair, and while not plain it is now rather bald. Perhaps someone might like to undertaken a similar rescue of what, even in its present state, remains a very handsome and sturdy little building?
As has been mentioned on this site more than once, Ireland is a country replete with ruins; indeed, scarcely a week or month seems to pass without additions to their number. It is perhaps the sheer quantity of decay and dereliction that has made us, if not indifferent then certainly unsurprised to the fact that so many buildings across the country are in various stages of decline. Nevertheless, it is still possible to be startled by an example of neglect, such as that found in Liscarton, County Meath, where a range of structures are seemingly of interest today only to the livestock grazing on the adjacent land.
It appears there was a church at Liscarton at least by the beginning of the 14th century, since in 1305 there is a reference to the building in the ecclesiastical taxation register of Pope Nicholas IV. Seemingly dedicated to St Nicholas, the church may then have been reconstructed in the following century but little is heard of it until 1622 when James Ussher, created Bishop of Meath the previous year, described it as being in reasonable repair. A further report some 60 years later confirms that it was still standing and evidently in the 18th century alterations were undertaken, since large, round-headed windows were then inserted on both the north and south sides. When it fell out of use and into disrepair is unclear, but this was evidently the case by the time Sir William Wilde came to write The Beauties of the Boyne, and its tributary, the Blackwater (1849) in which he notes ‘the church is remarkable for the extreme beauty of its eastern and western windows, each of which consists of one great light, divided by a shaft branching off on a level with the spring of the arch into two members, which join the arch-head about the centre of the curve. An exquisite variety of tracery, in the decorated style of gothic architecture, fills the head of both windows, and the mouldings are deep and well executed. Upon the exterior face may be observed well carved human heads projecting from the dripstone.’ The carved heads, of a king, a queen and a bishop, can still be seen decorating the hood of the western window, but its equivalent at the east end is threatened by ivy and other vegetation, and the entire site risks falling ever-further into ruin.
A short distance to the east of the church stand what remains of a pair of adjacent towers; just 40-odd feet apart, at one time they were linked by a great hall. Believed to date from the 15th century, the property is recorded in 1633 as having been held by Sir William Talbot (owner of what is now the Carton estate in County Kildare) and, in the following decade by his elder son Robert: Sir William’s youngest son Richard Talbot, was one of the most ardent supporters of James II, who created him Lord Deputy of Ireland and Duke of Tyrconnell. In the second half of the 17th century, the lands and castle of Liscarton passed into the possession of the Cadogan family: it is supposed to have been the birthplace of General William Cadogan, first Earl Cadogan, second only to the Duke of Marlborough during the War of the Spanish Succession. The Cadogans appear to have remained at Liscarton until at least the middle of the 18th century (Richard Pococke refers to it being in their hands in 1752) but at some date thereafter it was occupied by the Gerrard family, whose main estate was not far away at Gibbstown, of which more in the coming weeks. In 1841 the Gerrards gave a lease for the lands of Liscarton, including a ‘dwelling house, corn mill, kilns, water courses and stores’ to three brothers, James, Michael and Thomas Cullen. Incidentally, another of the siblings was Paul Cullen, Archbishop of Armagh and the first Irish cardinal, a key figure in the country during the mid-19th century. It is known that he spent time at Liscarton Castle, since its address appears on a number of his letters. By this time the larger of the two towers, rising three storeys, had fallen into picturesque ruin but the smaller, two-storey building and adjacent hall remained sound and, as can be seen in an old postcard, were attractively thatched. A large collection of yard buildings and stables were built, probably in the 18th century, behind the larger tower and some of these remain in various states of repair. However, like so many other old buildings, the castle site was abandoned in the last century and left to decay. It seems extraordinary that there should be so little interest in or concern for a site connected with successive aspects of Irish history, whether the Duke of Tyrconnell or Cardinal Cullen. But seemingly not. This looks like another part of the country’s collective heritage – and memory – destined to be lost forever.
The limestone portico of Loughcrew, County Meath re-erected, at least in part. This singularly unlucky house was thrice burnt within a century and twice re-constructed. But after the third fire the building was demolished and Greek Ionic portico lay in pieces on the surrounding ground until partially reassembled a few years ago. Loughcrew was a neo-classical house designed by Charles Robert Cockerell in the early 1820s for the Naper family. It was always an exceptionally severe looking building, and as has been noted, recalled a courthouse rather than a residence. Even its architect judged the finished work ‘very plain, too bald’, whereas what remains of the portico is wonderfully evocative and might almost serve as a symbol for all the other ruined country houses in Ireland.
A church at Cannistown, County Meath is thought to have been founded by St Finian of Clonard in the sixth century. However, the present structure, dedicated to St Bridget, was erected some 600 years later, probably by the Nangle family, granted land in this part of the country by the Anglo-Norman knight Hugh de Lacy. Much of it was rebuilt in the 15th/16th centuries but thereafter it quickly fell into a poor condition: in 1612 George Montgomery, then-Bishop of Meath, wrote of Cannistown church ‘the chancel was repaired, but the church in ruins.’ So it has remained ever since.
The building’s most notable feature is its substantial chancel arch, which has decorative carvings at its base (above the pilasters on either side). Both well-worn and somewhat damaged, that on the north depicts three dogs attacking another animal, while the one to the south show three men and is thought to represent the Taking of Christ. There are also carved corbel stones above the, which would originally have supported the roof.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Photographed at Coolcarrigan, County Kildare