Not Such a BelView


Writing of agriculture and manufacturing in County Offaly in 1801, Sir Charles Coote noted that the linen industry then thrived, with several local landowners ‘who keep looms employed, but do not bleach. Mr Holmes of Prospect and Mr Armstrong of Belview are the most extensive manufacturers, and both have large greens, but they only bleach their own linen, their [sic] being bleach yards for public accommodation.’ Almost twenty years later Peter Besnard, Inspector-General for Trade and Manufacture of Linen and Hemp in Ireland, produced a report in which he commented on Offaly: ‘The Manufacturing and Bleaching branches of the Linen Business are carried on in this county as usual, particularly in the neighbourhood of Clara and Charlestown; in the latter place, a new Linen Hall has been built by Andrew Armstong Esq. of Belview, whose family have long been supporters and encouragers of the Linen Trade. Mr Armstrong has built this Hall at his own expense, and likewise gives a premium for the best Web sold in it; and I cannot avoid remarking, that wherever premiums have been established, and judiciously applied, they have been productive of much benefit.’





The Armstrong family appears to have settled in this part of the country in the 18th century, one John Armstrong (born 1748) marrying Jane Holmes, whose family lived nearby in a house called Prospect (still standing). He married a second time and had a son Andrew Armstrong, the man mentioned by both Sir Charles Coote and Peter Besnard as being active in the linen industry. A large range of now-derelict buildings on ground below Belview testify to the one-time importance of this business, in the 18th and early 19th centuries by far the most commercially viable in Ireland. From the early 1700s onwards Irish linen was imported duty free to England and to the American colonies, so that eventually this one product accounted for around fifty per cent of Ireland’s total exports. It is understandable that so many entrepreneurial spirits became involved in the business and, if they managed their concern sufficiently well, grew rich, as did the Armstrongs. As was so often the case, they gradually climbed the social scale, moving away from the commercial class to become landed gentry. John Herbert Armstrong, for example, who inherited Belview in the mid-19th century , joined the army and served as a major in the Royal Tyrone Fusiliers. He further cemented his gentry status by marrying Eliza Catherine Lowry whose family, related to the Earls of Belmore, lived at Pomeroy House, County Tyrone. Their son in turn married Emily Theodosia Blacker-Douglas whose family were large landowners (with over 8,000 acres in County Kerry) and lived in Elm Park, outside Armagh. However, after selling their estate in 1912 under the Irish Land Act, the Armstrongs left Belview, which was subsequently leased to a variety of tenants.





Located on the border of Counties Offaly and Westmeath, Belview is a substantial house, the front portion of which dates from the second half of the 18th century. To the rear is an older L-shaped building which looks to have been adapted into a service wing when the newer section was added. The latter featured the usual layout of the period, with a drawing room, dining room and morning room/office opening off a central entrance hall on the ground floor: traces of neo-classical plasterwork survive in some of these spaces. Outside the east-facing façade is of five bays, with a Venetian window on the first floor. Below a short flight of stone steps led to a tripartite limestone doorcase with engaged Doric columns and an open pediment. The house testifies to the Armstrongs’ wish to identify themselves with the local gentry, as well as to the wealth that could be accumulated through the linen trade. A folly built in the form of a monastic round tower by Andrew Armstrong in 1817 and now buried in the nearby woodland, likewise provides evidence of the family’s social ambitions. The house was abandoned some decades ago and is now a roofless ruin.

Important Remains

In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976) Kiltullagh, County Galway was described by the late Maurice Craig as having formerly been very handsome, thanks to its ‘gigantic paneled chimney-stacks and (as can still be traced) a very steep roof…To judge by the provision of pistol-loops it must have been built early in the 18th century or even earlier…Even in its present state it can be seen to be a building of quality. The pistol-loops commanding the entrance are conspicuous.’ Likewise, the reference to Kiltullagh in Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland (1988) noted that it was an ‘important, late seventeenth-century or early eighteenth-century, two-storey house. The very high chimney-stacks have sunk panels, and there are pistol-loops in the basement which is most unusual for a house of this period. The house which is now a ruin is a most impressive example of an early virtually undefended house and should be preserved from further depredation.’




Kiltullagh belonged to a branch of the d’Arcy family, one of the Tribes of Galway, the mercantile clans that ran the city during the Middle Ages. Like other members of the same milieu, from the early 16th century onwards they gradually acquired parcels of land in the countryside and gradually metamorphosed into gentry, although this process was not without setbacks. The lawyer Patrick d’Arcy was a key figure on the Roman Catholic side during the Confederate Wars of 1641-52, in the former year writing his Argument which insisted that ‘no parliament but an Irish one can properly legislate for Ireland’ and later helping to draw up a Constitution for the Confederacy. In the aftermath of that side’s defeat, he lost his lands but the greater part of these were restored to his heir James d’Arcy: the family owned over 18,750 acres – divided between Kiltullagh and an estate to the west around Clifden – but all this was lost in the aftermath of the Great Famine when the property was sold by the Encumbered Estates Court. (The last of the family to own the property, Hyacinth d’Arcy, subsequently became a Church of Ireland clergyman). In the meantime, one of the more interesting members was another Patrick d’Arcy, born in 1725 and at the age of fourteen sent to Paris to be raised by an uncle who was a banker there. An eminent soldier and scientist, he was created a French count and a member of the Académie Royale des Sciences, dying of cholera in 1779, two years after marrying his niece Jane d’Arcy.




As so often, we know almost nothing about Kiltullagh’s history. It was clearly a substantial house and stood at the centre of a large estate, but the architect responsible for the building’s design is a mystery. Kiltullagh appears to have been occupied by the d’Arcys until the second decade of the 19th century when the then-head of the family, John d’Arcy, following the death of his first wife, moved west where he founded the town of Clifden and outside it built a new residence, Clifden Castle (now also a ruin). Thereafter the house was rented to tenants and at some date gutted by fire. As with Clifden, the entire property was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court in 1850, being bought for £6,000 by Pierce Joyce. Kiltullagh was never rebuilt and stood a ruin. The former stable yard has been converted into a residence and some years ago work was undertaken on the main building to secure what remained. However, this enterprise appears to have halted and since then the interior has remained filled with scaffolding.

Standing Proud


All that survives of the former Church of Ireland church in Rathconrath, County Westmeath. According to Samuel Lewis writing in 1837 the building had been erected eighteen years earlier ‘almost on the site of the ancient church’ at the cost of £738, the entire sum being provided by the Board of First Fruits. At that time the living was in the patronage of Brinsley Butler, fourth Earl of Lanesborough who had inherited large estates in this part of the country through his grandmother Jane Rochfort, a daughter of the first Earl of Belvedere, notorious for having locked up his wife for over thirty years after he suspected she was having an affair with his younger brother (who he sued for criminal conversation).

A Man Famous for Wickedness


‘As it is right that these holy and glorious men who attained by their merits the highest praise on earth and eternal happiness in heaven should be celebrated in books and records, so on the other hand the wicked and abandoned men should not be passed over in silence, in order that not only might the living justly condemn them, but also that posterity might execrate their name. And so Miler [Magrath], a man not as exalted in birth as famous for wickedness, entered into religion in which he conducted himself in a very irregular way and with very little of the manner of a religious. Consecrated a priest and endowed by the Pope with no little power and authority, he set out from Rome to Ireland as if he were going to denounce the new dogmatic errors of the English, but, perhaps, thinking otherwise in his mind; for from the time he reached England, I am informed, he used to carry the apostolic letters in a large and beautiful pyx or locket which hung openly from his neck and was obvious to everyone, for no other purpose but that he might betray himself and his calling. Being arrested by the ministers of justice, he was brought, together with the apostolic letters, before Queen Elizabeth or her council, and deserted with little unwillingness the Catholic religion, readily embracing the Queens’ sect and bribes before he performed the least duty. Then made pseudo-bishop of Cashel, he right away in unholy union wedded Anna (Amy) Ni-Meare. She upon a Friday would not eat meat. “Why is it wife,” said Miler, “that you will not eat meat with me?” “It is,” said she, “because I do not wish to commit sin with you.” “Surely,” said he, “you committed a far greater sin in coming to the bed of me a friar.” The same woman asked by Miler why she wept: “Because, “said she “Eugene who was with me to-day assured me by strong proof and many holy testimonies that I would be condemned to hell if I should die in this state of being your wife, and I am frightened and cannot help crying lest this be true.” “Indeed,” said Miler, “if you hope otherwise your hope will lead you much astray, and not for the possibility but for the reality should you fret.” Not long after Anna (Amy) died consumed with grief. This Eugene who then, as at many other times, had endeavoured to bring her back to a good life was (O’Duffy), a Franciscan friar, some of whose rather incisive poems, written in Irish against Miler and other heretics, are extant. Well, the wicked Miler married a second wife, and now lives sinning, not in ignorance but willingly. He does not hunt priests nor endeavour to detach Catholics from the true religion. He is now nearly worn out with age.’
From Philip O’Sullivan Beare’s Catholic History of Ireland, originally written in Latin in 1621 but portions of it published in English in 1903.




‘The foundation of this castle, according to popular tradition, is ascribed to the celebrated Malmurry, or, as he was usually called, Myler Magrath, the first Protestant Bishop of Clogher; and there is every reason to believe this tradition correct. The lands on which the castle is situated anciently constituted the Termon of St. Daveog of Lough Derg, of which the Magraths were hereditarily the termoners or churchwardens; and of this family Myler Magrath was the head; so that these lands properly belonged to him anteriorly to any grant of them derived through his bishopric. He was originally a Franciscan friar, and being a man of distinguished abilities, was advanced by Pope Pius V to the see of Down; but having afterwards having embraced Protestantism, he was placed in the see of Clogher by letter of Queen Elizabeth, dated 18th May 1570, and by grant dated the 18th September, in the same year. He remained, however, but a short time in this see, in which he received but little or nothing of the revenue and in which he was probably surrounded by enemies even among his own kindred, and was translated to the archbishopric of Cashel on the 3d February the year following. He died at Cashel at the age of 100, and was interred in the choir of that ancient cathedral, where a splendid monument to his memory still exists, with a Latin inscription penned by himself.’
From the Irish Penny Journal, December 26th, 1840.





‘The castle of Termon Magrath, or Termon as it is more usually called, is situated at the northern extremity of Lough Erne, about half a mile to the west of the pleasant little town of Pettigoe, county of Donegal. Like most of the edifices of the kind erected in the sixteenth century, it consisted of a massive keep, of great strength, with circular towers at two of its angles, and encompassed by outworks. During the Parliamentary Wars it was besieged by Ireton, who planted his batteries on the neighbouring hill, and did it considerable damage. According to popular tradition, its foundation is ascribed to the celebrated Malmurry, or, as he is usually called, Myler Magrath, and Dr. Petrie says there is every reason to believe this tradition correct. The lands on which the castle is situated anciently belonged to the Termon of St. Daveog of Lough Derg, of which the Magraths were the hereditary termoners, or custodians of the church lands. Of this family Myler Magrath was the head. He was a churchman of distinguished abilities, and according to a tradition among the peasantry, was the handsomest man in Ireland of his day. He died at Cashel, of which see he was archbishop, in the year 1622, at the age of 100, and was interred in the choir of that ancient cathedral, where the monument to his memory still exists, with a Latin inscription penned by himself. The scenery in the immediate vicinity of the Castle is very beautiful, the shores of the lake being fringed with the plantations of the glebe of Templecarn, and those of Waterfoot.’
From the Illustrated Dublin Journal, November 9th, 1861.

Ruins of a Great House


Stones only, the disjecta membra of this Great House,
Whose moth-like girls are mixed with candledust,
Remain to file the lizard’s dragonish claws.
The mouths of those gate cherubs shriek with stain;
Axle and coach wheel silted under the muck
Of cattle droppings.
Three crows flap for the trees
And settle, creaking the eucalyptus boughs.
A smell of dead limes quickens in the nose
The leprosy of empire.
“Farewell, green fields,
Farewell, ye happy groves!”
Marble like Greece, like Faulkner’s South in stone,
Deciduous beauty prospered and is gone,
But where the lawn breaks in a rash of trees
A spade below dead leaves will ring the bone
Of some dead animal or human thing
Fallen from evil days, from evil times.





It seems that the original crops were limes
Grown in that silt that clogs the river’s skirt;
The imperious rakes are gone, their bright girls gone,
The river flows, obliterating hurt.
I climbed a wall with the grille ironwork
Of exiled craftsmen protecting that great house
From guilt, perhaps, but not from the worm’s rent
Nor from the padded calvary of the mouse.
And when a wind shook in the limes I heard
What Kipling heard, the death of a great empire, the abuse
Of ignorance by Bible and by sword.
A green lawn, broken by low walls of stone,
Dipped to the rivulet, and pacing, I thought next
Of men like Hawkins, Walter Raleigh, Drake,
Ancestral murderers and poets, more perplexed
In memory now by every ulcerous crime.
The world’s green age then was rotting lime
Whose stench became the charnel galleon’s text.
The rot remains with us, the men are gone.
But, as dead ash is lifted in a wind
That fans the blackening ember of the mind,
My eyes burned from the ashen prose of Donne.





Ablaze with rage I thought,
Some slave is rotting in this manorial lake,
But still the coal of my compassion fought
That Albion too was once
A colony like ours, “part of the continent, piece of the main”,
Nook-shotten, rook o’erblown, deranged
By foaming channels and the vain expense
Of bitter faction.
All in compassion ends
So differently from what the heart arranged:
“as well as if a manor of thy friend’s. . .”


“Ruins Of A Great House” by Derek Walcott

To What Purpose?


Located on a rise in the woods at Meares Court, County Westmeath stands the remains of – what? Most of the buildings on the estate date from c.1760, although the core of the main residence incorporates a much older tower house. This structure is presumably later, its interior accessed via an arched door leading into a space lit by a pair of similarly substantial arched windows that offer views over the landscape. The remains of a summer house perhaps?