Familiar to anyone approaching Wexford town from points north, this is Ferrycarrig Castle, actually a tower house built by the Roche family in the 15th century. Perched atop an outcrop of rock, it had the specific purpose of guarding a ferry which for many centuries was the only way to cross the river Slaney at this point and thus gain access to the south bank where stood the nearby town; a wooden bridge was only constructed in 1794. Rectangular in shape and of four storeys, it appears to have remained in the possession of the Roches until the aftermath of the Confederate Wars.
The ruins of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales are justifiably famous, but less well known is what remains of her little sister, also called Tintern Abbey, in County Wexford. This foundation was often called Tintern de Voto, owing to the fact that it was established as the result of a vow taken by William Marshal, first Earl of Pembroke. Seemingly while sailing to Ireland in 1200, his ship was caught in a violent storm and he promised to establish a monastery close to the spot where he landed. The vessel came into Bannow Bay and here the abbey was duly built, and endowed with 3,500 hectares of land. Marshal was already patron of the Cistercian Tintern Abbey in Wales (which was duly known as Tintern Major), and so monks from that house were brought to this country to set up the new monastery, which soon grew into one of Ireland’s most important religious settlements, successive abbots sitting as peers in the Irish parliament until the mid-15th century and enjoying considerable prestige.
Cistercian monks remained in residence at Tintern Abbey until 1539 when, on instructions from the English government, the entire property, valued at over £93, was seized and granted first to Sir James Croft, future Lord Deputy of Ireland, and then in 1557 leased to the Staffordshire-born soldier Sir Anthony Colclough; 18 years later he received ownership of the former abbey, which he had already converted into a domestic residence (although it had been attacked and burnt by the Irish in 1562). Although the building was subject to attack during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, Colclough’s descendants remained on the site, albeit often through complicated lines of inheritance, until 1959 when the last member of the family to live there, Lucy Biddulph-Colclough, handed over what remained of the property to the Irish state.
Placed in the care of the Office of Public Works in 1963, it was almost twenty years later before restoration began on Tintern Abbey, an enterprise that involved returning the site to its monastic origins. One must lament that this approach was taken, since the place had been a rare surviving example in Ireland of a religious building converted to secular, domestic use; had a different approach been taken during the restoration, today it would offer a fascinating opportunity to explore that aspect of post-Reformation history. Little evidence now remains of the Colcloughs’ centuries’ long occupation of the property, although of course it can be detected in the layout of the surrounding landscape. But the building itself is almost clinically clean and largely devoid of personal character. A short walk away from the main complex is a little late-mediaeval single cell chapel, known as a Capella-ante-portas, built to serve the needs of the local lay population who were not permitted within the precincts of the abbey. It contains a number of Colclough funerary monuments, including a large stone plaque mounted on the south wall commemorating the original Sir Anthony. Here, rather than within the monastery, can be found a better sense of the former secular ownership of Tintern Abbey.
The main farmyard at Ballinkeele, County Wexford. The classical house here, notable for its massive porte cochère, was designed by Daniel Robertson in 1840 for John Maher; originally from County Tipperary, he had bought the estate 15 years earlier from the previous owner. There had already been a house on the site, and therefore one assumes that this yard also dates from the previous period in Ballinkeele’s history. It is a particularly fine example of country house agricultural architecture, a well-considered melange of stone and brick, with cut granite used for key features such as the entrance arch and window lintels, the whole forming a courtyard around the central well.
In October 1962 Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, summoned in order to initiate aggiornamento (or modernisation) within the Roman Catholic Church. One of the council’s decisions concerned the manner in which religious services were held. During mass, for example, the clergy were to use the local vernacular instead of Latin and the celebrant was to face members of the congregation, rather than have his back to them, the overall intention being to encourage greater engagement by laity with what was taking place. In Ireland, many bishops and priests saw these changes as an opportunity to ‘re-order’ their own churches, mainly by stripping out the old features to leave bare interiors. These acts of philistine desecration were supposedly undertaken in order to comply with new liturgical procedures instigated in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, although strangely enough the same brutal approach was not undertaken in other countries, where churches were allowed to retain their historical interiors. One of the worst examples of this iconoclastic treatment occurred in 1973 in St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney Cathedral, where the then-bishop, Eamonn Casey, tore out almost all the building’s decorative features, leaving just bare stone walls. (see An Act of Desecration « The Irish Aesthete) Killarney Cathedral had originally been designed by Augustua Welby Pugin, as was St Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, County Wexford.
Augustus Welby Pugin was born in London in 1812, the son of a French father and an English mother. In 1834 he converted to Roman Catholicism, a reflection not just of his religious faith but also of his passionate interest in the mediaeval Gothic style. While Gothic architecture had come back into fashion in certain quarters during the previous century, it was very much in a bastardised form: Pugin’s lifelong crusade was to encourage a revival of Gothic in its original form, uninfluenced by later architectural movements. While most famous for his work on the Houses of Parliament in London, inevitably much of his work involved building churches, some of them in this country. Pugin’s most important patron was John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, for whom he worked at Alton Towers in Staffordshire. Lord Shrewsbury, an ardent Roman Catholic, numbered among his other titles that of Earl of Waterford, and his father-in-law, William Talbot, lived at Castle Talbot, County Wexford, meaning he had many connections in Ireland; these proved advantageous to Pugin, many of whose commissions in this country were for churches in the Wexford area, not least St Aidan’s, Enniscorthy. Unlike a number of architects who received commissions here during the 18th century, Pugin did not design from afar but visited Ireland on several occasions, although he never stayed very long: among other things, he found the link between Roman Catholicism and national identity difficult to appreciate, since such an association did not exist in England. But he was impressed by the fervour of Irish believers, and the preparedness of even those who had least to contribute to the construction of new churches in the post-Penal Law era. St Aidan’s was one of those churches. It replaced an older and smaller thatched building and, located on a site high above the river Slaney and overlooking the town (including the Church of Ireland place of worship) was intended to celebrate the Catholicism triumphant. Construction began in 1843 and three years later the first mass was said in the completed chancel and transepts; in 1849 the nave was finished, allowing the older cathedral to be demolished. Aged only 40, Pugin died in 1852 and never saw the work completed, having come into conflict with the local bishop who, he wrote ‘has blocked up the choir, stuck the altars under the tower!! and the whole building is in the most painful state of filth; the sacrarium is full of rubbish, and it could hardly have been worse if it had fallen into the hands of the Hottentots.’
St Aidan’s was left incomplete for some years after Pugin’s death but eventually another architect, J.J. McCarthy finished the work, presumably in 1860 when the cathedral was officially dedicated. Built of granite blocks (including some which came from an old Franciscan friary), the building was modelled on the ruins of Tintern Abbey in Wales: St Aidan’s is a three-quarter size version of the church there, and is similarly long and narrow, not least owing to the nature of the site in Enniscorthy, with the land dropping steeply to the river on one side. The cramped site also dictated that St Aidan’s runs north-south, rather than the customary east-west, its chancel is one bay shorter than that at Tintern, and there are no chapels on the transept. The other significant difference is that the mediaeval abbey’s tower had long since collapsed, so Pugin had to imagine what it might have looked like when he designed St Aidan’s.The tower was built in 1850 and then a spire added in 1871-72, but the weight of the latter was too great and, lest it bring the whole thing down, both tower and spire were dismantled and rebuilt. Problems with damp meant there was a programme of restoration over the years 1936-45 and it was only in 1946, 100 years after the first service had been held on the site and with the final clearance of all debt, that St Aidan’s was solemnly consecrated as a cathedral in . Then came the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council which in 1970 led to a ‘re-ordering’ of St Aidan’s, with many of the interior furnishings removed and the walls covered in white paint. Fortunately, in 1994 a programme of necessary repairs led to the building’s interior being brought back as close as possible to how it was originally imagined by Pugin. The old reredos, nine Caen-stone panels showing scenes of sacrifice from the Old Testament, was reinstated, as was the tabernacle and its spired canopy, along with the elaborately carved oak pulpit and bishop’s throne. As much of the original patterned tile floor as possible was put back and on the walls, the former stencilled decoration was recreated, using paint scrapings and earlier photographs. In his book The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), Pugin stated that ‘all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building.’ Today that is thankfully true of St Aidan’s, Enniscorthy.
For a long time they merely left it there.
They were too full of pity and distress
To breathe again that choked and choking air.
The rusty gate closed on a wilderness.
The walled garden, an old dying princess
From a lost country, had grown very strange.
A snow of petals fell on the rich loam,
Caroline Testout, Star of Holland, Night,
Ladies in waiting in a spacious room,
Those roses dressed in small clouds of light.
All, all destroyed, invaded, overthrown,
The formal beauty gone, formal delight,
And none to reclaim now, to heal, save
Order and beauty buried here alive.
‘Where are the roses gone?’ they whispered, shaken,
On those rare, sad occasions when they stood
Remembering the safe land of childhood
And saw this feverish ruin, overtaken
By squitch and groundsel and the woody nightshade.
‘Where are the goldfish, where the pond?’ And fled,
As children do, this world grown out of range.
‘The times have changed. We cannot help the change.’
The Walled Garden at Clondalkin by May Sarton (1955). Pictures show a walled garden in County Wexford
A County Wexford property formerly known as Grange, but now called Bannow House is thought to date from the mid-1830s when built for Thomas Boyce, although it work may have been initiated a couple of decades earlier by his father Samuel: the Boyce family had settled in the area in the 17th century. Of two storeys, the south-facing facade is of eight bays, the two centre ones breaking forward, with the entrance marked by a fine portico approached by four granite steps and featuring four Ionic columns. Curiously, the rear of the house is lopsided: while the west side runs back six bays, that to the east is more shallow, and partially hidden behind a high screen wall, suggesting a section of the building here was at some date demolished. In any case, an opening in that wall leads to a large and handsome yard constructed, like so many buildings in this part of the country, of local granite.
Even before the year draws to a welcome close, all language used to describe 2020 has become hopelessly cliched, so let us merely say that its passing will not be much mourned. A lot of what has appeared on this site over the past twelve months has also not been especially cheering, since so much of Ireland’s architectural heritage remains imperilled, vulnerable to the twin risks of neglect and abuse. However, there have been a few happy stories to tell, so today here are some of them again, as a reminder that the past year has not been entirely a period of darkness and gloom: occasional shafts of sunlight were to be seen. Fingers crossed, and glasses raised later this week, that there will be many more such shafts during 2021.
The Irish Aesthete will be taking a break for the rest of the week, returning here refreshed and ready for 2021 next Monday, January 4th. In the meantime, Happy New Year to all friends and followers. Stay safe, stay well.
The idiosyncratic façade of Dunmain, County Wexford. The house can be dated to the 1690s when the land on which it stands were bought by Arron Lambert. It subsequently passed through a number of different owners including the owners but has been occupied by the present family since being bought at auction in February 1917. At either end of the five-bay, two-storey over basement building rise conical roofed octagonal towers, weather-slated like the rest of the building; that on the right houses a tiny 19th century chapel on the ground floor. It is unclear whether they are original to the building, or a later insertion. The granite pillared portico approached by a flight of steps looks to have been added in the 19th century.
The Etchingham family can be traced back at least as far as the mid-12th century when Simon de Etchingham was recorded as living in Etchingham, Sussex. Some two hundred years later, a descendant inherited Barsham Hall in Suffolk and from this branch would come Osborne Etchingham who served as Marshal of Ireland in the 1540s. He was the son of Sir Edward Etchingham, an English naval commander who 20 years before had been appointed by Henry VIII as Constable of Limerick Cathedral. A tradition of service to the crown ran in the family, which helps to explain Osborne Etchingham’s presence in Ireland in the aftermath of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. As a reward for his efforts, and in return for exchange with property he held in England, in 1545 he requested and received the lands of Dunbrody Abbey, County Wexford which had been suppressed nine years before. Dunbrody, of which considerable ruins remain, was a Cistercian foundation dating from the 1180s.
Osborne Etchingham died a year after receiving Dunbrody Abbey, so it is unlikely he ever spent much time there. He was succeeded by his son Edward, reported to be ‘of dissolute character’. He may have been responsible for converting Dunbrody Abbey into a residence, but it is unclear how much time he spent there since he was arrested by government forces for being involved with pirates, and is said to have died in the Tower of London in 1582. Dunbrody passed to his brother John, and then in turn to the latter’s son and grandson, both also called John. When the last of these died in 1650 leaving no sons but a daughter Jane, to whom the Dunbrody estate was specifically left by the terms of his will, thereby overriding an earlier entail. Her uncle Arthur Etchingham disputed the will’s terms, and even at one stage forcibly seized Dunbrody. However, in 1660 Jane Etchingham married Sir Arthur Chichester, future second Earl of Donegall and together the couple succeeded in securing their ownership of the property. The Chichester family, now Marquesses of Donegall, remain living in the area to the present time.
The remains of Dunbrody Castle lie some short distance from the old abbey. The building’s origins remain unclear, as it has been suggested that at least in part it is a medieval castle. However, more likely it dates from the first half of the 17th century and was constructed as a modern alternative to the converted abbey buildings. This suggests that either the penultimate or last John Etchingham commissioned the work, but that it was left uncompleted following the outbreak of widespread civil unrest from 1641 onwards. The castle consists of a rectangular bawn, with a substantial cylindrical tower on the east side and three similar but smaller towers on the west. Linking them are the bare bones of a long, two-storey house that appears to date from the 18th century, the frontage bearing the remains of weather slating while its roofline is castellated in brick (which may be a still later addition). Occupied at one point by the Chichesters’ land agent, the building was never a permanent home, which accounts for its odd appearance. Today the ruins provide the backdrop for a craftshop and yew maze.
The south lodge at Berkeley Forest, County Wexford. Dating from c.1800 it is in Georgian Gothic form and once featured a doorcase (now blocked up) between the two lancet windows with granite surrounds. The other side of the house, which just has two windows, gives an idea of this building’s diminutive proportions.