The entrance gateway to the now-demolished Lissadorn, County Roscommon. Extant photographs show this to have been a fine house of three bays and three storeys over raised basement, possibly late 18th or early 19th century in construction. The design of this neoclassical triple archway, thought to date from c.1825, has been attributed to the Roscommon architect Richard Richards, not least because at that time he was working at Mount Talbot, some 25 miles to the south. The unfortunate history of that house has already been told (See An Unhappy Tale « The Irish Aesthete), and, as if to confirm that Richards designed the Lissadorn entrance, it is almost identical to that at Mount Talbot, the only difference being that the former lacks the keystones seen in the latter’s arches.
In his Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters, Ellis Waterhouse describes Thomas Frye (1710-62) as ‘one of the most original and least standardised portrait painters of his generation.’ Frye was born in Edenderry, County Offaly, a younger son of one John Fry whose father, born in Holland of English parents, appears to have settled in Ireland in the 17th century. Little is known of Frye’s training, although in their book on Ireland’s Painters, Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin note that his earliest signed work, dated 1732, ‘seems to have silvery echoes of James Latham’ so perhaps he spent time in the latter’s studio. Around this time, or even earlier, Frye left Ireland and by 1736 had settled in London where he was sufficiently well-known to be commissioned to paint the portrait of Frederick, Prince of Wales for the Company of Saddlers. While Frye specialised in portraiture, from the mid-1740s onwards, he became involved in the manufacture of fine porcelain and from around 1747 onwards he managed a factory producing this ware which he had co-founded in Bow on the outskirts of London. Due to ill-health, he had to retire from the business in 1759 but then concentrated on creating mezzotints, in which medium he again displayed both imagination and innovation. Today Frye is best-remembered for two series of mezzotints issued in the years immediately prior to his death; these show a fondness for dramatic chiaroscuro and what has been called a ‘Gothic intensity.’ As is widely known, these pictures would have a considerable influence on Joseph Wright of Derby and other later artists. Published in 1760 and 1761, the two series are all of heads, almost life-size, and although the sitters were unnamed, they are believed to have been taken from life: Strickland, in his Dictionary of Irish Artists (1913) reports that Frye had difficulty persuading ladies to sit for these pictures, as they were uncertain of the company in which their portraits would appear. Strickland also recorded that having been very corpulent and prone to gout, Frye adopted a spare diet, in consequence of which he ‘fell into consumption’ and died in April 1762.
For a long time, two of Thomas Frye’s portraits hung in a house called Frybrook, in Boyle, County Roscommon. This property dates from some time after 1742 when the Edenderry merchant Henry Fry (older brother of the aforementioned Thomas Frye) was invited to move to Boyle by James King, fourth Baron Kingston whose family owned the town and, when there, lived in King House. As with many other large landowners of the time, King was keen to improve the economic circumstances of his estate, and thereby increase his own income, so Fry was expected not just to settle in Boyle but also to establish a weaving business there. The Frys appear to have prospered; in 1835, Henry Fry of Frybrook and his relative, also called Henry Fry, of another house in the vicinity, Fairyhill, were founding members of the Boyle branch of the Agricultural and Commercial Bank (although this venture failed nationally after only a couple of years). Successive generations of Frys continued to live in the family home until the 1980s when, for the first time, it was offered for sale. Thereafter the house somehow survived but slowly fell into decline and appeared at risk of being lost forever until purchased by the present owners five years ago.
Frybrook is located in the centre of Boyle, on land immediately north of the river (also called Boyle) with its gate lodge – now a cafe – standing immediately beside the town’s main bridge. Found at the end of a short drive, the house is of five bays and three storeys, the absence of a basement explained by the proximity of the river, with its threat of flooding. Frybrook is rather more grand than the usual urban residence, its facade suggesting a country house, with a pedimented limestone doorcase with sidelights below a Venetian window above which is an oculus window. Inside, the ground floor has an entrance hall with main staircase to the rear, and reception rooms to the right and left; behind these, and down a few steps are the former servants’ quarters. The stairs climb to the first floor where additional large reception rooms, with fine cornices and handsome architraves above the windows, can be found; originally the main bedrooms were on the floor above. On the way up to this level, unusually the return is semi-elliptical with a door in its centre giving access to the service areas to the rear of the house. As mentioned, Frybrook was at risk of being lost before being bought by the present owners five years ago. Since acquiring the building, they have undertaken extensive restoration and plan to open Frybrook as a guest house in 2024.
After last week’s tale of improvements at Brandondale, County Kilkenny (see A Good News Story « The Irish Aesthete), here is another cheering story of a young couple taking on a historic country property. As seen here, Edmondstown, County Roscommon is a large Victorian house dating from the 1860s. It was built to replace an earlier residence of the same name which lay a short distance away to the north-east. What the earlier Edmondstown looked like is unknown: William Wilson’s The Post-Chaise Companion or Travellers Directory through Ireland, published in 1786, simply refers to it as ‘the fine seat of Mr. Costello’. The earliest Ordnance Survey Map, produced just over half a century later, shows the house, range of outbuildings and adjacent walled garden: some ruinous sections of these still remain. Of Cambro-Norman origin and originally called de Angulo or Nangle, the Costello family had been living in this part of the country since at least the 16th century, but their main residence was at Castlemore, some five miles south-west of Edmondstown. However, by the late 18th century they had moved to the latter property and in the mid-19th century it was occupied by Thomas Strickland, agent to Viscount Dillon of Loughglynn (see Bleak House « The Irish Aesthete). After passing through successive hands, Castlemore was demolished in the 1960s and only some of the farm buildings still remain.
In the early 19th century, Edmondstown belonged to one Charles Edmund Costello who married as his second wife Dorcas Maria Daniell. Six months before Charles Costello’s death in June 1832, the couple had a son, Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, who would become a captain in the 7th Dragoon Guards and serve as a Justice of the Peace. In 1862 he offered for sale through the Landed Estates’ Court about 1,100 acres in the baronies of Gallen and Costello, County Mayo as well as some 1,050 acres in the parish of St Johns, Barony of Athlone, County Roscommon. It is worth pointing out that even after these sales he still owned 7,513 acres in County Mayo and 1,038 acres in County Roscommon. It may be that the sales of some of his estate provided the funds for Captain Costello to embark on building the new Edmondstown in 1864. Local legend has it that he undertook this project to impress his wife (or prospective wife) but she failed to be charmed and left him. A charming story, but in fact he never married and died in January 1891 at the age of 59. He was buried in the grounds of the former Dominican Priory of Urlaur, founded by his forbears in the 15th century, where the tombstone was inscribed ‘Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, last Dynast and Baron De Angulo.’ It appears that in the years prior to his death, Captain Costello had sold much of the estate to his tenants, the house, having been expected to cost £4,000-£5,000, having eventually required more than twice that sum to finish. And the year after he died, the building with surrounding demesne was bought by the Roman Catholic diocese of Achonry in 1892 for use as a diocesan college. However, a few years later, that institution moved into the nearby town of Ballaghaderreen and for a period Edmondstown sat empty. Then in 1911 the then-Bishop of Achonry Patrick Morrisroe occupied the building, as did his successors for the next century. In 2011 Edmondstown and surrounding 29 acres were offered for sale, the explanation being that the place ‘does not meet contemporary day-to-day living needs, does not provide suitable office space for the administration of the diocese and is isolated.’ Six years later it found new owners, a young couple who with their children live there now.
Edmondstown was designed by Dublin architect John McCurdy who had a distinguished career, one of his earliest works being the plan and internal arrangements of the Museum building at Trinity College Dublin (where he was official architect for some thirty years until his death in 1855), although he tends to be best-remembered for designing the Shelbourne Hotel on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green. Constructed just a couple of years after Edmondstown, that building is altogether more restrained than Captain Costello’s new residence, a High Victorian interpretation of 15th century Italian Gothic. Of four bays and three storeys, despite appearances to the contrary, Edmondstown conforms to the standard country house model, this fact disguised by the multiplicity of towers and turrets, pinnacles and finials that adorn an exterior of snecked rubble limestone banded with red brick. Inset on the facade are a series of stone plaques, one of them above the entrance porch, attesting to the pedigree of the Costellos. Inside, the conformity is more apparent in the arrangement of reception rooms to left and right of the hall, which is separated from the staircase by a pine and glass screen, this inserted after the building had come into the hands of the Catholic church. According to the late Jeremy Williams, this intervention was the work of church decorator Joshua Clarke (father of the more famous stained glass designer Harry Clarke), who was presumably also responsible not just for the screen with its art nouveau glass, but also for the wall and ceiling decoration of the entrance hall and the more elaborate scheme of the coved ceiling above the staircase which features frescoes of the four evangelists. All this might have been lost, as was the case with so many other such properties, were it not for the energy and enthusiasm of the present owners who relish the opportunity to live at Edmondstown and share the place with visitors. We are all the beneficiaries of their commitment to the house. Would that there were still more of their kind throughout the country today.
In the closing days of Elizabeth I’s reign, Sir John King – a soldier originally from Yorkshire – was granted by the queen a lease on the former Cistercian abbey in Boyle, County Roscommon (see Brought to Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). As an exceptionally able, and loyal, servant of the crown, in 1617 this grant was confirmed by James I, along with surrounding land running to some 4,000 acres; by the time of his death in 1636, King owned land in 21 different counties. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Robert King, also a soldier and statesman who acted as Muster Master-General for Ireland, thereby consolidating the family’s position in this country. In turn his younger son, also called Robert, became a politician and in 1682 received a baronetcy (it was thanks to the marriage of the younger Robert’s elder brother, John King, first Baron Kingston, that lands in Mitchelstown, County Cork now also passed into the family’s possession). Successive generations continued to prosper, and in 1768 Edward King was created first Earl of Kingston.
When the Kings first settled in Ireland, like other such arrivals, they converted the abbey buildings at Boyle into a domestic residence. This appears to have been their home until they built a new house in the centre of the town and moved there. That building was badly damaged by fire around 1720 and in the following years Sir Henry King commissioned a new house in Boyle, which still stands (see Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). That too suffered a fire in 1788 but by then the notion of a landed family having their principal residence in the centre of a provincial town had fallen out of favour and some years earlier, during the 1770s, Edward King, the first Earl of Kingson, had constructed an alternative house on land a few miles outside Boyle and adjacent to Lough Key; when completed, it was given the name Kingston Hall. Here he died in 1797. However, in the early 19th century this property would in turn be superseded by another house, Rockingham, commissioned by General Robert Edward King, first Viscount Lorton and designed by John Nash. King houses seemed doomed to suffer from fire, one of which gutted Rockingham in 1863, after which it was rebuilt. The final conflagration occurred in 1957 when, once more, the house was severely damaged: the shell was entirely cleared from the site in 1971: a spectacularly hideous concrete viewing tower now indicates where it once stood.
Following the construction of Rockingham, Kingston Hall remained in use and became known as the Steward’s House. A long, narrow building of nine bays and two storey-over-basement, it had a one-bay breakfront, although the main entrance was to the immediate left of this. Immediately to the south of the main house is a tall circular dovecote, now missing its capped roof; the base is of cut-stone, but the upper portions of brick. Beyond the west-facing rear is a very substantial courtyard (measuring some 174 by 82 feet) with a second one almost as large beyond this; the north face of these features a succession of large arches, some open, others filled with rubble stone. The scale of these yards indicate Kingston Hall was once an important establishment, but no more. Although the house was still occupied and in good condition well into the last century, it has since fallen into a state of total dereliction, and now stands a roofless shell. Running to approximately five acres, the site has just been sold: it will be interesting to see what the new owners intend to do with this historic property.
This weekend, it is announced that the latest recipient of the Historic Houses of Ireland/O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize is Clonalis, County Roscommon. Today home to the 27th generation of the O’Conor family since their forebear was the last High King of Ireland in the 12th century, the present house at Clonalis dates from the late 1870s but occupies a site associated with the O’Conors for hundreds of years, and is filled with historic material linking them with significant events in this country. The library, for example, contains over 7,000 volumes and is one of the finest such collections in Ireland.
The Historic Houses of Ireland/O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize is an initiative devised by the Irish Aesthete to acknowledge the importance of our privately-owned heritage properties and to recognise the invaluable work by their owners. For this reason, the prize is being presented in association with Historic Houses of Ireland, a charity established in 2008 to promote the immediate and long-term future of the country’s privately owned historic properties. All HHI members are owners of such buildings and they understand better than anyone the sector’s particular problems, especially over the past year. Worth €5,000 and adjudicated by a small group of assessors, the prize is generously sponsored by the O’Flynn Group has already shown itself keenly aware of the importance of providing a viable future for historic buildings, as can be seen in the company’s own redevelopment of the early 19th century former barracks site in Ballincollig, County Cork. The Irish Aesthete congratulates Clonalis and its owners on being very worthy recipients of the prize.
Yes, it is painted a rather lurid yellow (and the cut limestone quoins also given a coat of paint). Yes, uPVC windows have replaced the originals. Yes, the extension to one side is rather unfortunate. But at least it is still standing and occupied. This is the octagonal Errironagh Lodge, County Roscommon, originally standing by one of the entrances to the Rockingham estate. The building may have been designed by John Nash (responsible for the main house) or by Humphrey Repton, to whom other such ancillary buildings at Rockingham are attributed. Regardless of who was the architect, the lodge’s unusual shape distinguishes it from anything else in the vicinity.
In the second decade of the 19th century, a new Church of Ireland church dedicated to the Holy Trinity was built in Castlerea, County Roscommon with the aid of a grant from the Board of First Fruits. Replacing an older building which had hitherto been used for services, the second Holy Trinity opened for services in 1819 when the local doctor, Thomas Wills Wilde (grandfather of Oscar Wilde) acted as the Church Warden. Later Douglas Hyde, whose father was a clergyman, would be baptised here. The building is of standard design for the period, of cruciform shape with a two-bay nave and a three-storey entrance tower at the west end. It closed for worship in late December 1997 and then stood empty for many years before being rescued by a local voluntary group who restored the premises for use as a multi-purpose arts and community centre: the group is currently running a gofundme page to ensure the property can continue to serve this purpose. It might also like to consider raising money to landscape the immediate surrounds, because at the moment this rather already somewhat bleak, cement-rendered building sits in an unappetising ocean of tarmacadam and gravel.
The remains of the early 18th church of the Holy Trinity in Castlerea, County Roscommon. This building, and surrounding graveyard, stand in what had been part of the demesne owned by the Sandfords, who owned much of the land in this part of the country. The church ruins are notable for an exceptionally fine limestone Venetian window set into the building’s east gable. The graveyard is the burial place of Oscar Wilde’s grandfather Dr Thomas Wills Wilde, who practised medicine in the town and whose father, Ralph Wilde, acted as land agent for Lord Mount Sandford. The church was abandoned in the early 19th century when a new one was built on higher ground in the town.
The Rathdiveen or ‘Tiara’ gate lodge stands at what was once another of the entrances to Rockingham, County Roscommon. Dating from c.1810 like many other buildings on the estate, this one is believed to have been designed by John Nash, the architect of the main house, but it has also been attributed to Humphrey Repton with whom Nash had earlier worked. However, since the two men had famously fallen out and ended their partnership in 1800, a link with Repton seems highly unlikely. The lodge’s most distinctive feature is a highly-distinctive bowed pediment reminiscent of a tiara which rises above a Doric colonnaded portico: the facade’s frieze echoes that found on the adjacent gate posts. Unfortunately, some years ago the latter were moved during road-widening works and not correctly realigned, thereby disrupting the symmetry of the entrance. Nevertheless, the lodge itself has been well-maintained by private owners, a contrast with the poor condition of the lodge shown here a few days ago which is in public ownership.
The two-storey gatehouse which formerly provided the main entrance to the Rockingham estate in County Roscommon; this building, like most of the others here, was commissioned by Robert King, first Viscount Lorton from architect John Nash. The gatehouse, however, is not in the classical idiom employed elsewhere at Rockingham but instead is an exercise in Tudorbethan Gothic with a crenellated parapet and pointed-arch windows, sandstone used for the main body of the building and limestone for the dressings. For the past half century this part of the former estate has been in public ownership, jointly managed by the local authority and Coillte. It might therefore have been thought that the historic buildings under their care would be decently maintained, but instead the gatelodge, under which many visitors pass as they arrive at the site, has been allowed to fall into neglect; hardly an impressive introduction to the place. Instead of being left in its present condition, the building ought to be restored, and could repay investment by being offered for holiday lets.