Making the Most of Our Own


Two centuries ago large parts of Ireland enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, and thanks to this affluence there was something of a rural building boom in the post-1800 period with many new houses constructed by both landowners and their more affluent tenants. This Tipperary property would appear to be just such a house. Standing on land that was once part of a large estate, it was probably erected by and for a lessee at the start of the 19th century; the wide overhanging eaves are a feature of that period and in this instance they project almost a foot from the walls, supported on slabs of cantilevered slate. The same slate, which comes from a local quarry extensively mined in earlier centuries but long since abandoned, also covers the roof which is hipped rather than gable-ended. The latter style, easier and less expensive to create, is the norm across much of Ireland and hipped roofs tend to be found in those parts of the countryside where farmers enjoyed the largest incomes. In this instance, the roof was so well constructed that when the present owner bought the house in 1995 he found it required no restoration, other than replacement of old guttering.






While the exterior was sound, a lot of work had to be done to the interior because although uninterruptedly occupied from the time of its construction until the late 1980s, the house had no plumbing of any kind and the only evidence of electricity was a single light bulb hanging from the ceilings of the kitchen, parlour and principle bedroom. Throughout the premises are indications the original builders had aspirations to raise themselves in the social hierarchy of pre-famine Ireland. The most primitive aspect of the house’s design is found in its treatment of the staircase which, in spite of its elegant joinery, is awkwardly sited to cut across the frame of a door leading into a former pantry (now the kitchen). Likewise its wide treads interrupt the lines of the window immediately beyond – on the other hand this feature can be in many large country houses also. Unsatisfactorily resolved design elements indicates the house’s first owners wanted to build themselves a home that aped aspects of bigger properties but obviously were not sufficiently wealthy or important enough to employ an architect or able to work out certain technical difficulties for themselves.
On the other hand, they were in a position to borrow certain decorative details from elsewhere and to impose these on the structure. The space above the main bedroom’s windows, for example, is filled with curved plaster decoration that makes the room look far grander than would otherwise be the case. And in the parlour immediately below, a handsome, glass-fronted cabinet was inserted into the wall to the immediate left of the fireplace, presumably for the display of cherished pieces of china and other heirlooms. All the windows have the same fine shutters but on the groundfloor metal bars protect the windows from possible intruders – another sign of the early tenant farmers’ relative prosperity. Aspirations towards gentility can also be found in the different ceiling treatments: those in the parlour and main bedroom are plastered and corniced (and had centre plaster roses – although no light ever hung from either), whereas that in the central room – which would once have been the kitchen – has exposed beams and, in contrast to the parlour’s elegant fitted cabinet, contained a traditional dresser, the impression of which could still be seen on one wall when the present owner bought the house. Likewise, instead of plaster the substantial upper landing ceiling was originally open to the rafters but for a long time has been covered in painted timber sheeting. This first floor landing is one of the house’s most distinctive attributes. Located directly above the kitchen which had an open fireplace, it would most likely have been warmer than the bedrooms to either side and so perhaps this was where the house’s children would have slept. here…





Houses such as this can be found in abundance throughout the Irish countryside, but – unlike this one – they are almost invariably in poor condition or have been abandoned. Our traditional vernacular architecture has been insufficiently appreciated, with the result that much of it has been irretrievably lost. Yet as this building demonstrates, such houses – once occupied by tenant farmers – possess many sterling qualities and can with relative ease be made into comfortable homes (and probably at less expense than undertaking a new-build). Additions, like the conservatory here on the garden front of the house, help to ease the span of centuries and make the place suitable for contemporary living. These properties are as much part of our national heritage as any other historic house. Accordingly they ought to be better cherished than is presently the case.
This month marks the fifth anniversary of the Irish Aesthete: hard to imagine when the site made its debut in September 2012 that it would continue for as long – and that there would still remain so much to show and discuss. Yet the fact is that the country’s architectural heritage requires constant observation and comment. Whether large or small, grand or humble, our historic buildings deserve to be better understood and better protected. Without wishing to sound grandiose or self-important, such is the purpose of the Irish Aesthete: to bring Ireland’s architectural heritage to as broad an audience as possible because the more people know and appreciate what we have, the higher the likelihood it will survive into the future. Very many thanks to all friends and supporters over the past five years, your ongoing interest has proven invaluable. Please spread the word. As today’s building shows, we need to learn how to make the most of our own. here…

The Holy Well


Hooded moulding above the west gable doorway giving access to what remains of a late mediaeval chapel adjacent to St Patrick’s Well a few miles outside Clonmel, County Tipperary. The building and well were once part of the estates attached to the nearby Cistercian abbey of  Inishlounaght founded in the 12th century. A notable feature of the building’s interior is the altar tomb of Nicholas White who died in 1622. Originally this was erected in a chantry chapel attached to St Mary’s, Clonmel. However when the latter was demolished in 1805 the tomb was moved to its present location.



Close to the chapel is a small pool fed by an underground spring. The abundant water this produces in turn fills a substantial nearby basin at the centre of which rises a small stone cross, much weathered and said to date from the early Christian period. The site assumed much of its present appearance in the mid-1960s when a group of American supporters restored the chapel and landscaped the surrounding grounds.

A Hive of Industry


It is often forgotten that the Penal Laws affected not just Roman Catholics but non-conformist sects such as Presbyterians and Quakers. Members of the Society of Friends (to give the latter their correct name) were unable to attend university, refused to join either the army or the Established Church, were excluded from any active role in politics and barred from many other areas of public life. As a result of these exclusions, many Quakers went into business, where they became known and respected for their probity. Certain industries attracted them, among these brewing, cotton manufacture and, in particular, milling. Driving across Ireland, one often sights large, now-abandoned mill buildings, many of which were developed by Quakers. Today’s pictures illustrate the interior of one such complex outside Clogheen, County Tipperary.




In his still-invaluable Topographical Dictionary of Ireland published in 1837, Samuel Lewis notes ‘An extensive flour-mill, employing from 30 to 40 persons, the erection of which is supposed to have cost £6000, has lately been built at Castle-Grace by Sam. Grubb, Esq., of Clogheen.’ There were already a number of similar ventures in the vicinity, one of which Samuel Grubb had acquired in 1798. The family, like many others, arrived in this country in the middle of the 17th century and settled in the south-east region. Samuel Grubb was originally a merchant in Clonmel before he started to buy and develop mills around Clogheen some fifteen miles away. The late 18th/early 19th century was an especially prosperous time for Ireland, especially prior to the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Grain was in great demand throughout these islands and in consequence a large number of grain mills were constructed. That erected by Samuel Grubb on this site is no less than five storeys tall and runs to twenty bays.




The Parliamentary Gazeteer of Ireland published in 1846 reports that in Clogheen ‘a large trade in agricultural produce is carried on, chiefly for exportation, and more than 80,000 barrels of wheat are annually purchased in its market and in the neighbourhood. which is made into flour of very superior quality and sent by land to Clonmel, whence it is conveyed down the [river] Suir: For this purpose there are seven flour mills in the town and neighbourhood, which are worked by fourteen water-wheels. There is also an extensive brewery.’ Slater’s Commercial Directory of Ireland, which appeared in the same year, also observes, ‘The corn-mills of Messrs. Grubb are very extensive, employing great power and a considerable number of hands.’ Nevertheless circumstances were about to change: the Corn Laws first introduced in 1815 to stimulate domestic production by imposing tariffs on grain imported into the United Kingdom were repealed in 1846, in large part due to famine in Ireland and the urgent need for more and cheaper foodstuffs. With the abolition of tariffs, the way was open for cheaper grain from the central plains of the United States to enter the market, with inevitable consequences. By 1880 all but one of the seven mills seen by Samuel Lewis less than half a century earlier had closed down and before the 19th century closed grain milling had ceased altogether in the Clogheen area.



This particular mill had a second life when in 1939 a later generation of the Grubb family used it as operation centre for the newly-established Tipperary Products Ltd. A huge variety of foodstuffs were processed and prepared in the old mill, not just diverse sorts of fowl but also rabbits (formerly widespread in the Irish countryside and much in demand especially during the years of the Second World War). A similarly wide range of fruit passed through the building, both wild (blackberries, sloes and so forth) and orchard grown, all to be used in the manufacture of jams and juices. This operation continued until only a few decades ago but eventually it too ceased and since then the building has sat empty. Today its interior contains ample evidence of former activity, successive floors heaped with bottles and jars, wooden boxes and woven baskets. Currently only occupied by pigeons, even after almost two hundred years the premises remains remarkably well-preserved and serves as testament both to Ireland’s manufacturing history and to the industry of the Quakers. Given that the mill has already enjoyed one resurrection, perhaps another could yet lie ahead?

Back in Business


After being closed for several years, the Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary reopened to the public last weekend. The building is notable for being the best-preserved unfortified 16th century house in the country, although it benefitted from the protection of a twin-towered 15th century castle to the immediate rear. The later section dates from the 1560s when it was built for Thomas, tenth Earl of Ormond who had been raised in the English court and was related to Elizabeth I through her mother, Anne Boleyn. On his return to Ireland, Lord Ormond imported the manor house style with which he had become familiar during his youth. The most immediately striking feature of the latest renovation programme is that the exterior of the Tudor building has been rendered, as was originally the case.

A Result of Rationalisation


Ballyglunin, County Galway is a small village some six and a half miles south of Tuam. It would probably be unknown outside the immediate locale but for the fact that the little railway station here featured in John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man. The station first opened with a single track in 1860 before being enlarged and improved in 1903 by the Great Southern and Western Railway which added a single storey residence, waiting room, office and lavatories, and a lamp room. As part of a rationalization of the national rail network, Ballyglunin station closed in 1967. There had been talk of it reopening as a stop on the proposed Western Railway Corridor. However, this project appears to have stalled and in the meantime the building has been falling into disrepair. Five years ago residents in the area established the Ballyglunin Community Development Charity, with the intention of restoring the old station in order to preserve this part of Ireland’s heritage. Last week, the same group launched a crowd funding scheme to raise sufficient funds for the building’s roof which is now in danger of collapse.





Ireland’s railway history dates back to 1834 when a line opened between Dublin and Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire). The driving force behind this venture was William Dargan, who would ultimately be responsible for constructing more than 800 miles of railway around the country, not least the Great Southern and Western Railway which linked Dublin to Cork. Other lines gradually followed, as did the creation of companies intended to serve them. At its peak the railway network in Ireland ran to some 3,500 miles: today it is less than half that figure. As in Britain, during the 1950s increasing private motor car ownership and greater use of lorries as a means of transporting goods led to a drop of both passenger and freight business on the railways. The different companies had been merged in the mid-1920s to form Great Southern Railways and twenty years later this in turn amalgamated with the Dublin United Transport Company to create Córas Iompair Éireann. A report published in 1957 recommended there be greater co-ordination between road and rail services and that more than half the latter’s system, and three-quarters of its stations and halts be closed. Much of this came to pass over the course of the next decade.




Today’s photographs are not of Ballyglunin station but of another stop once serviced by the Great Southern & Western Railway, at Laffansbridge, County Tipperary. Like Ballyglunin, it dates back to the 1860s and remained in use for a century before being closed as part of the rationalization programme. More recently the adjacent site has been used as a quarry. Since then the group of buildings, incorporating ticket hall and reception rooms together with station master’s residence and separate goods shed, has fallen into its present pathetic condition: the structures are, of course, listed for preservation. Outside the world of railway enthusiasts (otherwise humorously known as ferroequinologists), there appears to be little interest in or concern for the safeguarding of this aspect of our collective heritage. The campaigners in Ballyglunin, County Galway deserve to be applauded for their efforts. As once was William Dargan, in their own field they may yet come to be seen as trailblazers.

For more information on the campaign to save Ballyglunin Railway Station and to offer your support, see: http://ballyglunin.com/

Closed for Business


A rare survivor in an Irish country town: an 18th century shopfront in Fethard, County Tipperary. Dating from c.1770, it features handsome fluted columns with Corinthian capitals on either side of the main windows at the centre of which is the shop entrance with double doors. A separate entrance to the right provides access to the upper storeys. Sadly the building is now disused and being permitted to fall into irreparable disrepair, a great loss to the architectural heritage of the town, and indeed the country.

A Tale of Two Towers


Lining the northern banks of the river Suir in County Tipperary are a series of tower houses built in the 15th and 16th centuries. That above is Dove Hill (or Duff Hill), originally built on land under the control of the O’Mores. In 1542 it was garrisoned by Sir Thomas Butler of Cahir, but a century later was noted in the Civil Survey as being ‘a small castle wanting repaire’. The description remains apposite. A few miles to the west stands Poulakerry, another building once associated with the Butlers. Unlike Dove Hill, it has been restored and is now occupied.