The old market house in Ballybay, County Monaghan. It was built in 1848 to replace an earlier building serving the same purpose which stood on another site but found to be in poor condition and demolished. Markets were held on the ground floor under the arches, while the space upstairs was used for a variety of purposes: a schoolhouse, a courthouse, a library and an assembly room for dances and concerts. Designed by William Walker, last year the building was offered for sale: now the old market house stands sadly neglected with the threat that it could yet go the same way as its predecessor.
The glebe house at Killeevan, County Monaghan: the church where its occupant would have taken services stands close by. The core of clerical residence is believed to date from c.1800and the handsome bow certainly suggests an early 19th century date. It was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as a ‘neat building’ but sadly that is no longer the case, despite the structure being listed for protection.
The former Wallace’s Mills at Kilcran, County Monaghan. Dating from c.1790 this substantial range of stone buildings offers evidence of the country’s industrial past. The long range to the left operated as a corn mill while that to the right was a scutch mill, driven by water and used in the manufacture of linen to remove impurities from flax fibre through by means of rotating wooden blades. Seemingly it was customary to have the two manufacturing processes – for food and fabric – operating from adjacent premises. Located down a quiet side road, what use now for these substantial properties?
Handsome doorcases such as this testify to the prosperity of Clones, County Monaghan in the 18th century when it became a market town benefitting from the growth of the linen industry. A series of large properties were built around The Diamond, a triangular open area to the immediate south of the monastery said to have been founded here in the early sixth century by St Tigernach and while some have been refaced, and others demolished, enough survive to give an idea of how Clones might have looked prior to suffering the same, more recent decline as so many other regional urban centres in Ireland.
As the picture above shows, until the late 1860s Bessmount, County Monaghan was a fairly standard, medium-sized country house, of two storeys over basement and with a five-bay façade onto which the box-like porch had been added. With a Wyatt window on the first floor being the only feature of interest, it looks to be of indeterminate date, both 1722 and 1807 having been proposed as when originally constructed. Either or indeed any time in between are possible, since the building gives the appearance of being solid but unimaginative in its design. In the 18th century the land on which it stands belonged to a branch of the Montgomery family and in 1758 an eldest daughter, Mary Montgomery married Alexander Nixon of the now-demolished Nixon Hall, County Fermanagh. The couple’s second son, Alexander Nixon Montgomery, inherited Bessmount where he lived until his death in 1837.
Although Alexander Nixon Montgomery and his wife Eliza (nee Stanley) had no less than nine children, Bessmount was sold a few years after his death. The purchaser was John Hatchell, a wealthy Monaghan brewer who a few years later married Elizabeth Anne Speer from nearby Glaslough. Their daughter Frances Maria in turn married William Henderson whose own family were associated with the linen industry and it would seem that the couple, having sufficient funds from their forebears’ respective businesses, decided to recast Bessmount, transforming what had been a rather staid residence into something completely different.
Despite its extraordinary appearance, and relatively late date, we do not know who was the architect responsible for Bessmount’s makeover. Two names have been suggested, one being the Newry-born William Barre who worked mostly in the Ulster region and whose Danesfort House in Belfast has a very similar entrance tower. But Barre died in 1867 (that is, before work began at Bessmount) so the other architect proposed is John McCurdy, then working nearby on Monaghan’s District Lunatic Asylum (now St Davnet’s Hospital), the largest such institution in the country. Whether one of these gentlemen or another party, whoever received the commission clearly had a field day with the project, no doubt encouraged by his clients whose carved portraits can be seen in medallions on either side of the entrance porch (Mrs Henderson being tricked out to look like Queen Elizabeth I: perhaps a play on the house’s name?). Bessmount metamorphosed from a dull Georgian block into an extravagance of Ruskinian Gothic, thanks to the use of certain devices such as bands of yellow and red brick especially in the aforementioned tower (which originally served the practical purpose of holding the house’s water tanks). Asymmetry rules across the intentionally stepped façade, so that the eye is constantly moving from one feature to the next, whether the large gable featuring crests of the Hatchell and Henderson families, the trefoil-headed canted bay window that lights the drawing room or the first-floor oriel turret on the opposite side of the house. Meanwhile the south-facing garden front is enlivened by a Gothic conservatory raised on arcades, while to the immediate north a short link leads to the only major extension to the property, a large ‘music room’ that both inside and out resembles a Victorian village hall.
The interiors of Bessmount are not as remarkable as the exterior, perhaps because funds – and imagination – ran low. To a considerable extent they retain their pre-refurbishment appearance, albeit here and there tricked out in gothic finery. The majority of chimney pieces, for example, were in the original house, but their interiors now lined with pretty Minton tiles. Really the fun is on the outside, not least the porch where whoever received the commission to carve the capitals (the late Jeremy Williams proposed the Fitzpatrick brothers of Belfast) didn’t hold back. The ornamentation is lavish in the extreme, a bestiary of animal life ranging from bats and monkeys to frogs and rabbits, many of them peeking out of the undergrowth to pull a face as though determined to ruin a staid animal kingdom portrait. It is all rather droll, conveying the impression that the earnest intentions behind Ruskin’s advocacy of the Gothic mode are here being guyed. Fortunately the opportunity to relish this architectural humour remains since Bessmount still stands intact and in good order. The property changed hands in the last century when it once more became a Montgomery house, as is the case to the present. The owners are well aware of the building’s importance and have undertaken repair work where feasible. A cheering note with which to approach the year’s end.
Bowelk, County Monaghan is one of a number of houses built by the Jackson family, members of which developed the linen industry in this part of the country from the last quarter of the 18th century onwards. The business’s prosperity allowed them to buy land and construct residences such as this one which according to surviving evidence in the house dates from the 1850s. Bowelk has been carefully restored in recent years by new owners keen to preserve features such as the main doorcase with its elliptical fanlight and side lights filled with ornamental leadwork. Not yet restored but still intact is a thunderbox tucked into one corner of the adjacent walled garden, the door of which retains its decorative fretwork.
Given their association with the terrible years of famine in the 1840s, workhouses in Ireland have few admirers. Yet it is often not realised that they followed a model already introduced in Wales and England where 350 such premises were constructed in the mid-1830s. George Wilkinson was responsible for the design of some of these buildings and following the introduction of legislation in 1838 Ireland’s Poor Law Commissioners appointed him their architect, requesting he devise plans for 130 workhouses here. There is a certain generic quality to Wilkinson’s work, reliant on an interpretation of the Tudor domestic idiom which gives the resultant properties a gentle appearance at odds with their purpose. But they are often handsome, sturdily-constructed buildings and, where still standing, have proven capable of adaption for alternative use. Such is the case in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan where the main block of the old workhouse – completed in 1842 at a cost of £5,000 (plus £977 for fittings) – was restored in 2002 and now provides premises for a variety of local social and educational groups.
How fitting that this week’s funeral of Captain Sir John Leslie, otherwise universally known as Jack, should have taken place in glorious sunshine, the same kind he shed on so many peoples’ lives. Jack died last Monday just eight months shy of reaching his centenary, having been born in December 1916. Over the course of ten decades he witnessed many changes in the world but somehow still behaved as though it was much the same as that into which he had emerged: I remember on the first occasion we met our conversation turned to the Romanian author Princess Marthe Bibesco, and he produced a book she had given and signed to him. His own memoirs, Never a Dull Moment, written ten years ago are full of entertaining reminiscences and suggest a personal history untouched by setbacks or misfortune. Of course this was not the case, as evidenced by Jack’s experience during the Second World War. Commissioned in the Irish Guards, he and his platoon crossed to France in May 1940 where they were almost immediately captured by the German army: Jack spent the next five years in a Bavarian Prisoner of War camp with all its attendant privations.
Although he returned to Ireland on his release and was expected to assume responsibility for Castle Leslie, within a few years Jack left again, eventually settling in Rome where he occupied a small palazzo in the Trastevere district, as well as embarking on the restoration of an ancient monastery outside the city, the Badia di San Sebastiano di Alatri. Some twenty years ago he finally came back to Castle Leslie, by this time in the care of his niece Sammy Leslie, and settled down as resident guide and anecdotalist, always delighted to engage with visitors and explain the history of his family and their property.
In later years Jack also became well-known for his fondness for nightclubs where he would energetically dance to what he liked to call ‘boom boom’ music. I accompanied him on these expeditions more than once, initially in the self-appointed role of chaperone. However, like everyone else I discovered he was invariably received with wild enthusiasm, and would soon be surrounded by a coterie of solicitous admirers, on average only a quarter of his age. But there were other instances, notably a tea held in his honour some years ago at Bellamont Forest, where Jack demonstrated older forms of dancing: supported by a sixteen-piece band, that afternoon he gave a lively demonstration of the Black Bottom. So one likes to remember him, light of heart and light of foot. Wherever you may now be Jack: on with the dance.
The ferociously-protected entrance of Freame Mount, County Monaghan. This charming red-brick house dates from 1772 when built by Charles Mayne, agent for the nearby Dawson estate at Dartrey: its name derives from Philadelphia Freame, granddaughter of William Penn and second wife of Thomas Dawson, first Lord Dartrey. A flight of steps leads to the cut limestone tripartite door, the latter’s proportions somewhat too short so that more space than is customary has been given to the gothick fanlight.
A thesis waits to be written on the links between country house construction in Ireland and the history of the national economy.* There have been waves of building here and these were often aligned with agricultural prices: the better the annual return, the more likely houses would be erected, reconstructed or enlarged. Contrarily in lean times the amount of such work tailed off. In its present incarnation Hilton Park, County Monaghan exemplifies this phenomenon, since the house was last overhauled in the early 1870s, sufficiently after the Great Famine for the country’s agriculture to have recovered and not long before the onset of the following decade’s Land Wars which, coupled with the arrival of cheap grain and meat from the other side of the Atlantic, saw land values, and therefore estate owners’ incomes, precipitously decline towards the end of the 19th century. The land on which the house stands was purchased in 1734 by the Rev. Samuel Madden, the origins of whose family appear to lie in descent from a branch of the ancient O Madaidhin or O’Madden clan. A forebear is believed to have fled the tribal lands and become based in Oxfordshire in the 15th century where the phonetics of his name suggested O’Mudgeoin, which to English ears sounded like Mudwyn. The first proven ancestor is John Mudwyn, one of whose sons Thomas Mudwyn settled in this country and changed his name to Madden (as did his brother Robert in England) Thomas served as Comptroller of the Household to Sir Thomas Wentworth, later first Earl of Strafford during his time as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Rev Samuel Madden was his great-grandson. This gentleman was commonly known as ‘Premium’ Madden, derived both from a provision in his will providing for premiums for Irish-made goods to the Dublin Society and from having been the founder of the ‘Madden Premium’ in Trinity College, Dublin (first given in 1718). Author of a play Themistocles, the Lover of his Country: a Tragedy (1729), he also wrote a work of speculative, and satiric, fiction called Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733). Dedicated to Frederick, Prince of Wales, to whom Madden had been tutor, the book was suppressed Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole a fortnight after its publication. More influential was Madden’s Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland which appeared in 1731 and embodied many of the aspirations behind the formation of the Dublin (later the Royal Dublin) Society which his brother, the Rev John Madden, co-founded the same year. No wonder Dr Johnson declared ‘His was a name which Ireland ought to honour.’
As mentioned above, in 1734 Samuel Madden bought some 4,000 acres of what subsequently became the Hilton estate. This had been land originally owned by the MacMahons but acquired through purchase in the 17th century first by Sir William Temple, Provost of Trinity College Dublin and then after his death by the Forth family. It was sold by them to Samuel Madden who bought it for his third son, John Madden. He married Anne Cope of Loughgall in 1752 and planted the oak wood on the estate which is called Cope’s Wood, which indicates they were then living a house dating from early 17th century, almost certainly built by either Sir William Temple or the Forths. The townland on which the property stands was called Killshanless but the estate was now named Maddenton and here a house was erected in the 1770s or 1780s, perhaps incorporating elements of the earlier building, of seven bays and two storeys with tall brick chimney stacks. It survived until 1803 when the greater part of it was accidentally destroyed by fire; tradition has it that the conflagration began after a servant set down a bucket of hot coals on the floor but it may be that during those troubled times the house was attacked and ransacked before being set alight. Whatever the cause, the disaster was compounded by the fact that then-owner Colonel Samuel Madden of the Monaghan Militia was a ne’er-do-well gambler who ran through the family money and had to face his creditors two years before he died in 1814. The estate itself was only preserved thanks to the prudence of the Colonel’s father-in-law, the Rev Charles Dudley Ryder who kept the greater part of his own fortune to pass on to his grandson. But in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the family moved into what had been the servants’ quarters in the upper stableyard. Rebuilding may have begun around 1815 when Ryder died, or not until the early 1830s, with the focus being on the rooms at the south side of the house which looked down to the lake: the dining room and a bedroom immediately above retain their decoration from this period. The finished house, the design of which is assigned to James Jones of Dundalk and the appearance of which can still be seen in old family photographs, had a long eastern facade of two storeys over basement and eleven bays. The centre five of these projected slightly, a flight of stone steps leading to the rather meanly proportioned entrance door. All this work and more (a new nursery wing to the north) was undertaken by Colonel John Madden of the Monaghan Militia who was able to benefit from his wise maternal grandfather’s inheritance and was as industrious as some of his forebears: he became a noted breeder of Shorthorn cattle and hackney horses, and built the Ride, a colonnade for exercising horses on wet days under his study window. A keen sailor and member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, he won a race around Ireland and sailed to the Mediterranean, bringing back from Naples a chimney piece now found in the drawing room. He also built a villa at Sandycove, Dublin and it was there he died in 1844. (He is also shown in third place in his yacht Ganymede in the inaugural races held in 1828 at Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, in a well-known print of the event held in honour of then-Lord Lieutenant Henry Paget, first Marquess of Anglesey.)
Colonel Madden’s heir, another John, was not yet eight when his father died and was duly made a Ward of Court. Throughout his life John Madden held strong views not always shared by others of his class and background. As a young man he joined Isaac Butt’s Home Rule Party but failed to get elected in any of the elections he fought. In addition, in 1869 he was dismissed as a Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for County Monaghan owing to letters he had written to the Secretary of State and for using ‘language of studied insult to the government of the Queen’. (The Countess of Dartrey who lived elsewhere in the county described him at the time as ‘a semi-madman, who stood as a Tory Home Ruler for Monaghan in 1868, and wrote such outrageous letters that he was struck off the list of JPs.’)
More interestingly from our perspective, this John Madden carried out a sequence of improvements and allterations on his estate, beginning at age 19 with the sinking of a 135-foot well ‘under my own engineering superintendence as I had studied mining’ from which Hilton still draws its water: two years later he erected a bell tower of some 70 feet. In the aftermath of his abortive political ambitions, he engaged the gardener and landscape architect Ninian Niven, former curator of the National Botanic Gardens, to remodel Hilton’s parkland and lay out the Parterre formed by excavating the ground around the house’s basement. Soon afterwards Madden embarked on a transformation of the house, initially consulting Sir Charles Lanyon but eventually settling for William Hague who today is primarily known for his work on public buildings, in particular Roman Catholic churches (he designed or altered between forty and fifty across the country). Cost may have been a factor in his selection, but also the fact that Hague was more likely to take direction from his client than would the established Lanyon. Hague’s intervention is immediately apparent on the exterior of the building, around which the ground was excavated some eight feet to create a new ground floor in what had hitherto been the basement. Access to the house was no longer gained at the top of a flight of steps, so to ensure protection against the era’s growing agrarian unrest a steel front door and shutters were installed. Meanwhile the facade, now fronted in sandstone and with a rusticated ground floor, was given a vast porte cochêre with a line of Italianate Ionic columns and pilasters beneath a pediment carrying the Madden coat of arms carved in Portland stone. The first floor pedimented windows have the long proportions of the late Georgian period but plate glass of the Victorian, while those above retain their sashes. Around the corner on the south side plans were drawn up for a central pavilion with an octagonal drawing room and matching wings but these were not carried out, a blessing according to the late Jeremy Williams since the outcome ‘would have given the house the semblance of a vast hotel to overwhelm the lake below.’
Internally, Hilton Park looks much as it did when Madden and Hague had finished their work on the building around 1878. The front door gives access to a hall with encaustic tiles and barrel vaulted ceiling: on either side a former coachman’s and housekeeper’s room became a study and smoking room respectively. Double doors open to the stair hall in carved oak which climbs to the first floor reception rooms (the oak was worked by John Armstrong, estate carpenter at Parkanaur, County Tyrone, seat of John Madden’s kin the Burges family, who was loaned for the purpose). On the upper section of the west wall are a pair of heraldic stained glass windows made by Mayer & Co of London: between them is a niche holding a bust of ‘Premium’ Madden. At the top of the stairs a door to the immediate left opens into what had been a vast double drawing room: for reasons of practicality (and heat conservation) this was divided in two in the last century when the central timber archway was filled in. The northern section has a heavily carved Victorian chimney piece, the southern contains that brought back from Naples by the earlier John Madden. A boudoir to the north completes this run of reception rooms, ample enough to host a ball. Meanwhile at the centre of the south side of the house is the dining room which did not undergo refurbishment in the 1870s and therefore remains as designed by Jones forty years earlier; vaguely gothic in intent, it has sprung vaulting featuring oaks and ropes initiated from foliate corbels in each corner, but a classical black marble chimney piece (the rope motif was said to be in honour of Horatio Nelson with whom Colonel John Madden’s father-in-law Admiral William Wolseley was friendly and had sailed). Also still retaining their original décor are the bedrooms above, the walls of one still covered in a pretty blue floral paper hung in the 1830s. Although much has changed in the intervening period, Hilton Park still remains in the hands of the Madden, the ninth generation now responsible for its future. Open to the public for weddings, weekend guests and houseparties (see hiltonpark.ie) it wonderfully exudes much of its original atmosphere, although one suspects that were earlier occupants to return they would be amazed by how much warmer and more comfortable is the house than used to be the case (and how much better the cooking today than it traditionally was in such places). All being well, the Maddens will continue to reside there offering Hilton hospitality for at least another nine generations.