A Gardener’s Legacy

This week marks the first anniversary of the death of architect and garden designer Angela Jupe at her home at Bellefield, County Offaly, where the Irish Aesthete had paid a visit just a few weeks before that unhappy event. After graduating from university, she worked for a number of architectural firms before heading up a design team at the Industrial Development Agency (IDA). But by the mid-1980s she had established her own practice and begun to follow her personal passion for gardening. She created two businesses, the Traditional Gardening Company which specialised in garden design and construction, and the Garden Furnishing Company, a retail outlet. 

As the name of her garden design business indicates, Angela Jupe loved old-fashioned gardens: an obituary in the Irish Times quoted her observation that ‘Some modern landscape architecture feeds only the eyes and forgets that we have noses for scent and hands for touch…Not only is there too much hard landscaping but it leads to plants that grow into a little circle requiring no pruning, care or attention.’ The first country garden she created for herself was at Fancroft Millhouse, County Tipperary which had stood empty and neglected for 12 years before she bought it in 1997 and embarked on a thorough restoration, not just of the grounds but also the house and outbuildings. Then in  2004 she took on a fresh challenge, moving to Bellefield, where the stables and walled garden had stood unused for the previous three decades.

Bellefield is a charming small gentleman’s residence dating from the first years of the 19th century. A keen believer in conservation and architectural salvage, Angela Jupe filled the house with decorative items brought from other buildings, as she also did when restoring the stableyard to the rear. And in the two-acre walled garden, which again benefitted from her attention and experience, she constructed both a charming little onion-domed folly and a large glasshouse from various pieces of salvage. The garden itself, formerly completely overgrown, displays her various passions, not least for snowdrops, of which there are more than 300 different varieties, one of the largest such collections in Ireland. In addition, there is an abundance of old French roses, rare daffodils, Chinese peonies and old fruit trees. Following her unexpected death, it emerged that she had left the Bellefield, the house and its garden, to the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (RHSI) of which she had been a long-standing supporter and board member. The process of transfer of ownership is still ongoing, but the RHSI is currently maintaining the site and hopes to open it to the public next year.

A Cause for Worry

Like so many Irish towns, Ennis, County Clare sometimes seems determined not to take best advantage, or best care, of its architectural heritage. Nothing better exemplifies this unfortunate state of affairs than Bindon Street, a short stretch of road comprising two terraces facing each other, both holding six properties. A mixture of two and three bays wide, the houses are of three or four storeys over basement, with handsome limestone doorcases and, in most cases, mellow brick facades. Dating from the early 1830s, Bindon Street has the potential to be a splendid, albeit rather truncated, thoroughfare, a celebration of Ennis’s thriving mercantile and architectural past. Alas, while some of the buildings have been decently maintained, others suggest all is not well. No. 1, for example, is distinguished from the others by a bay window added to the ground floor around the middle of the 19th century. At this level all seems fine, but raise your eyes and note the insertion of unsuitable uPVC windows, at least in some openings – others on the top floors are boarded up. A cause for worry. 

P.S. And would someone please do something about all those ugly exposed electric cables snaking across every building. 

Successive Ruins

Another abandoned Church of Ireland church, this one in Dungarvan, County Kilkenny. It dates from 1812 when constructed with help from the Board of First Fruits. As earlier gravestones around the building attest, his was not the first such place of worship on the site. A drawing made in 1799 by amateur artist Austin Cooper, after an original by landscape painter James George Oben, shows the church’s predecessor: what would appear to be a late-medieval structure with a bellcote on the west end and a door on the north wall. The main body of the building was roofless but the east end featured a four-storey tower with crenellations, which presumably provided accommodation for the cleric who conducted services. Today the church which replaced it is in no better condition.

The Bells, The Bells

Earlier this month, one of Cork city’s best-known landmarks celebrated the tercentenary of its construction. Located high above the river Lee and immediately west of Skiddy’s Almshouses (see Alms and the Man « The Irish Aesthete) St Anne’s church dates from 1722 when it was constructed close to the site of an earlier place of worship, St Mary’s, which had been severely damaged in 1690 when Cork was besieged by Williamite forces under the authority of John Churchill, future first Duke of Marlborough. The exterior of the building is rather plain, using a mixture of red sandstone rubble that seemingly came from the mediaeval Shandon Castle which stood nearby, and cut limestone for quoins and the round-arched window surrounds taken from a former Franciscan friary elsewhere in the city. The most notable external feature is the substantial entrance doorcase, approached via two flights of stone steps and comprising a round-arched doorway flanked by Tuscan pilasters supporting a very substantial entablature. 

The interior of St Anne’s underwent an extensive refurbishment in the last decade of the 19th century when the pine barrel-vaulted ceiling was installed and much of the chancel panelled in the same dark-stained wood. Either then or at some other date, the customary box pews were also removed from the nave although a version of them survives in the short north transept which also holds a monument incorporating a mosaic panel depicting St George and dedicated to members of the parish who had died during the First World War. Supported on Ionic columns, a gallery at the west end remains from the original design, as do the barley-twist balusters of the communion rail, but the stained glass is predominantly late-Victorian, as are the pulpit and desk, both carved from Devonshire stone. 

As mentioned, St Anne’s best-known feature is its bell tower, a sturdy piece of work rising 120 feet with walls seven feet thick: energetic visitors can climb 132 steps to reach this point, which offers spectacular views across the city and surrounding suburbs. In 1749-50, the tower was raised a further 50 feet by the addition of three diminishing stages, clad in limestone and with clasping pilasters in Tuscan, Doric and Ionic orders successively, the whole crowned with a lead dome with a gilded weathervane in the form of a salmon: in Cork parlance, this is known as ‘the goldie fish.’ The city corporation was responsible in 1847 for adding a clock face to each side of the tower. Again, locals have called this the ‘four-faced liar’ since the time on each clock does not always correspond with that of its immediate neighbours. The eight bells within the tower are much loved by Corkonians; they were cast in Gloucester in 1750 and installed two years later, ringing for the first time on 7th December 1752 to mark the marriage of Henry Harding to Catherine Dornan. Each bell carries a different graceful inscription, such as ‘When us you ring we’ll  sweetly sing’ and ‘Prosperity to the city and trade thereof’. Shandon’s Bells are synonymous with the city, but a decision not to ring them was taken two years ago at the start of the Covid pandemic, and they have not been heard since. The people of Cork will know normality has returned when the bells of St Anne’s ring out once more.

Pocket Gothick

A pocket Gothick house on Castle Road, forming the upper portion of O’Mahoney Avenue in Bandon, County Cork. This is one of a six such properties located immediately outside the demesne wall of Castle Bernard, former home of the Earls of Bandon, which was burnt out in June 1921 (see A-Bandon « The Irish Aesthete). Originally a classical house, around 1815 Castle Bernard was given a gothic makeover by an unknown architect, and these two-storey cottages. of rough cast stone with ornamental brick surrounds on the door and windows, were presumably built at some date thereafter to reflect that style; the architect responsible is unknown, and it seems impossible to find any further information about them. While some are still occupied, others have sadly been allowed to fall into ruin.

Nine for Nine

2012 Rush Hill, County Roscommon

2013 Beaulieu, County Louth

2014 New Hall, County Clare

This week, rather to one’s own surprise, the Irish Aesthete celebrates a ninth birthday, the first, somewhat tentative, post having been made in late September 2012. Anybody who has embarked on such a venture, will testify to a want of certainty about how long it will last, and indeed many such enterprises fall by the wayside after a few months. When this site made its debut, blogs were highly popular whereas now they are less frequently encountered, not least because there are now many more alternative online options. Instagram, for example, had already existed for two years, but had yet to reach anything like the audience it now enjoys (incidentally, the Irish Aesthete can also be found on Instagram, see @theirishaesthete). But as a rule those alternatives are only good for quick soundbites, and do not allow for substantial communication or investigation. And that is why this site continues to appear thrice-weekly: because often something more than a picture and a couple of explanatory lines of text is required. 

2015 Ballynagall, County Westmeath

2016 Lackeen Castle, County Tipperary

2017 Aldborough House, Dublin

A year or so after the Irish Aesthete first appeared, regular enquiries were made about whether there might be enough material to sustain it for much longer. Well, it appears that there has been – and still is – more than enough. Even during the past 18 months when the country was intermittently in lockdown, enough could be found to ensure not a post was missed. Of course, maintaining a site such as this can sometimes be a chore, but the task has always been fascinating, not least because over nine years many places that might otherwise have remained unvisited have instead been explored, investigated, studied, sometimes celebrated, ofttimes  mourned. And this period of time and the visits undertaken therein have always been enjoyed in the company – metaphorical if not literal – of the friends and followers who have been so good as to stay loyal to the Irish Aesthete. To all of you, many thanks and here’s to 2022 when we will be able to mark a tenth anniversary together. Meanwhile, stay safe everyone. 

2018 Castletown, County Kildare

2019 Doneraile Court, County Cork

2020 Dunmain, County Wexford