Ripe for Improvement



As anyone who has watched Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls will be aware, the city above the river Foyle has had a tumultuous history in recent decades. However, as the television series demonstrated, despite multiple and often appalling tragedies, both Derry and her people have survived with their distinctive character intact. The core of the city is defined by her walls, built 1613-19 by the Honorable The Irish Society, a consortium of London livery companies given responsibility for this part of the country by the English government in the aftermath of the Nine Years War; hence the name Londonderry. Although besieged on a number of occasions, most notably in 1689, Derry’s walls were never breached nor were they demolished, as tended to be the case throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries when such defences were deemed no longer necessary. As a result, Derry is the only intact walled urban settlement in Ireland. The walls run approximately one mile in circumference and, depending on the terrain beyond, vary between 12 and 26 feet in height. Today in state care, a walkway runs along the walls which project out at eight points for bastions, platforms on which cannons were placed: that shown immediately above is one of a pair made in 1642, this one provided by London’s Fishmongers’ Company and nicknamed Roaring Meg.



Derry enjoyed great prosperity during the 18th and 19th centuries. The port flourished, and the city also became one of the centres for industry, particularly shirt making; at its height some 18,000 people – predominantly women – were employed in this sector. Evidence of the city’s wealth throughout the period can be seen in the many houses then built, many of which survive. The two above are 19 and 20 Magazine Street, so named because the former stands on the site of what was once a gunpowder store, or magazine. The house dates from c.1840 and is of five bays and three storeys, although the ground floor breaks with the upper levels by being of only four bays, with the doorcase off-centre. Since the street slopes, the latter is approached by a short flight of stone steps, and is set inside a shallow arch, the door flanked by Ionic columns and pilasters and below a wide fanlight, its glazing bars taking the form of arrows. The house’s immediate neighbour, No.20, although smaller (just two bays) was evidently built at the same time.


The houses on Magazine Street look to be in good condition, but the same cannot be said for a number of properties on Pump Street, which runs just below St Columb’s Cathedral; the street’s name derives from the town water pump once located here. A substantial stretch of the side, Nos. 10-14 is taken up by a three-storey, seven bay building of red brick. It dates from 1780 when opened as the King’s Arms, or County, Hotel but in 184o the building was purchased on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishop and eight years later became the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, remaining in this order’s hands until some 15 years ago when sold. Along with its immediate neighbour No.16 (also once part of the convent complex) it now stands empty and looks to be in poor condition. The doorcase is similar to that at 19 Magazine Street, approached by a flight of steps, with the space usually reserved for side lights filled with wood panelling, although in this case the order used for the door is Doric rather than Ionic. A second, plainer door to the right marks what would have been the hotel’s carriage entrance. Other buildings along Pump Street look similarly vulnerable to dilapidation, not least 26-28 which greet all visitors leaving the grounds of St Columb’s Cathedral.



‘The Belfast Bank of 1853 is one of Charles Lanyon’s most confident Renaissance Designs, high and massy like a Genoese palazzo, only three windows wide and three storeys high but big in scale with a rusticated central archway surmounted by a Corinthian aedicule so large that it erupts into the attic window of the floor above, like Gibbs’s pediment at King’s College, Cambridge.’ (from The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster by Alistair Rowan, 1979). Shipquay Street is one of Derry’s most important thoroughfares, providing access into the walled city from the banks of the Foyle. The former Belfast Bank stands immediately inside the gates and is likely to be one of the first buildings seen by anyone entering Derry. The Foyle Civic Trust’s Living City Project reported it vacant in 2005 and 15 years later nothing seems to have changed.
Derry is a city with an enviably rich architectural heritage, but one which of late appears to have been badly neglected. In the Diamond, for example, which stands at the centre of the city, is the now-shuttered Austin’s, which until its sudden closure in March 2016 could claim to be the world’s oldest department store. The building on the site, an example of Edwardian baroque at its most exuberant, now looks in poor repair, and despite a restoration application being lodged in April 2017, nothing seems to have happened here. A similar tale can be told across the historic core with many buildings standing empty and in poor condition. But Derry Girls has shown the resilience of the city, and at the start of a new decade one must hope that the years ahead will bring fresh opportunities for improvement to conditions here. Below are photographs of either side of Bishop’s Gate, a triumphal arch erected in 1789 to commemorate the centenary of the city’s siege. Designed by Dublin-based architect Henry Aaron Baker and faced with ashlar Dungiven sandstone, it features panels containing martial trophies and, in the keystones, faces of river gods: that facing outwards represents the Foyle, the inwards the Boyne. Anyone familiar with the Custom House in Dublin will recognise these, as in both instances they were carved by Edward Smyth.


Summer in Winter


Seen from the bridge across Upper Lough Erne to Inisherk Island, this is the hexagonal summer house at Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. According to an 1830s Ordnance Survey map, it stands on the site of an older schoolhouse, but that in turn may have been adapted from an 18th century building, the two-storey hexagonal building designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce ‘For Mr Creighton to be built on a Sunk Island in Lough Hern’, of which an undated drawing survives. In its present incarnation, the summer house dates from the second half of the 19th century.

In My End is My Beginning

‘In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.’
So opens East Coker, the second of T.S.Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’. Apposite lines as more of our architectural heritage has been lost or is imperiled. But this, the first day of a new year, is an occasion for optimism, to feel that 2020 will be better than its predecessor, and that circumstances can be improved. Disappointed in the past, now is a moment to embrace the future, and to remember the lines with which Eliot closes the same quartet:
‘Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.’

The Irish Aesthete sends every good wish for 2020 to all friends and followers.


Photographs of Colbinstown Graveyard, County Kildare. 

There is Good Limestone



From Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
‘BEAGH or ST. ANNE’S, a parish, in the barony of KILTARTAN, county of GALWAY, and province of CONNAUGHT, containing, with part of the post-town of Gort, 5343 inhabitants. This parish is situated on the confines of the county of Clare, and on the road from Galway and Loughrea to Ennis. A monastery of the third order of Franciscans was founded here about the year 1441, but by whom is unknown: in an inquisition of the 28th of Elizabeth it is denominated a cell or chapel, and its possessions appear to have consisted of half a quarter of land, with its appurtenances and tithes, which had been long under concealment. The parish comprises 12,331 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, and there is some bog; agriculture is improved, and there is good limestone.’






From Fahey, J., D.D., V.G. The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (1893)
‘On the island of Lough Cutra lake there are also some interesting ruins- a church and castle amongst others, on the history of which no light has yet been cast. We find, from an “Inquisition” taken before John Crofton, Esq., at Athenry, on the 1st of October 1584, that Richard, second Earl of Clanricarde, was then seized of “Beagh and 4 qrts of land, and the ruined castle of Lough Cutra, with an island in the Loug aforesaid.” It may be desirable to add that the Beagh referred to is the old ruined church on the Gort river, about two miles east of town, which had been long previously the parish church of Beagh. There can be little doubt that the lands referred to were its confiscated property.’


Off with His Head


A stained glass window in the chancel of St John the Baptist, Duhill, County Tipperary. It is one of two designed and made by Harry Clarke for this little parish church. That to the left of the altar depicts a rather insipid Bernadette receiving a vision of the Virgin at Lourdes. In contrast that on the right-hand side is altogether more earthy (and more gorgeously coloured) and, inspired by the saint to whom the building is dedicated, shows the moment after his death when Salome beholds the newly-executed John’s head on a salver, observed by Herod and Herodias. Dating from 1925, the window commemorates local woman Margaret Byrne and her two brothers, both of whom had been priests..

Pressed by the Moon


Pressed by the Moon, mute arbitress of tides,
While the loud equinox its power combines,
The sea no more its swelling surge confines,
But o’er the shrinking land sublimely rides.





The wild blast, rising from the western cave,
Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed;
Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead,
And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave!





With shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore,
Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
But vain to them the winds and waters rave;
They hear the warring elements no more:
While I am doomed, by life’s long storm oppressed,
To gaze with envy on their gloomy rest.


Sonnet Written in the Churchyard at Middleton (1789) by Charlotte Smith
Photographs of Rathfran Friary, County Mayo.
Remembering all those no longer with us to celebrate Christmas

Shimmering in the Light


Previous posts here have touched upon the marriage of Cecil Baring to Maude Lorillard in 1902 and their purchase of Lambay Island, Dublin two years later. Here they commissioned Edwin Lutyens to restore and extend existing structures as well as design several new ones, leading to the creation of one of the most spectacular architectural mise-en-scènes in Ireland. In 1916 Maude Baring was painted by then-fashionable but now insufficiently appreciated portraitist Ambrose McEvoy, and this picture, now owned by Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, is currently included in an exhibition devoted to the artist at Philip Mould & Company in London. Later the sitter’s daughter Daphne recalled how ‘My mother stood in the small studio in a shimmering embroidered dress, lit partly by the skylight and partly by an electric light bulb placed somewhere near the floor…’ Happily the metallic gauze and silk bodice worn by Maude Baring for her portrait survives, and is also on display in the same show.


For more information on the Ambrose McEvoy exhibition (running until January 24th 2020), see https://philipmould.com

With Panoramic Views


Looking rather like a lighthouse after the tide has (considerably) receded, this is the Tower (or Pillar, or Spire) of Lloyd, County Meath. A plaque on the building reads ‘This pillar was designed by Henry Aaron Baker Esq. architect, was executed by Mr. Joseph Beck stone cutter, Mr. Owen Mc Cabe head mason, Mr. Bartle Reilly overseer Anno 1791’. One hundred feet high and with 164 steps to its summit, the cut limestone tower was commissioned by Thomas Taylour, first Earl of Bective, perhaps in memory of his father. But the octagonal lantern at the top served as a signalling station during times of unrest and a viewing platform from which could be seen much of the surrounding landscape. The name of the site incidentally derives from a Colonel Thomas Lloyd who during the Williamite Wars encamped on the hill here with a number of soldiers.

In Poor Health


Captain Nicholas Pollard was one of the many adventurous Englishmen who came to Ireland in the latter part of the 16th century and was rewarded by the government with a grant of land. Originally from Devon, Pollard arrived here as part of the Earl of Essex’s ill-fated expedition in 1599, but whereas his commander returned home in ignominy, Pollard remained and received land and the castle at Mayne in County Westmeath. His heir, also called Nicholas, settled slightly further to the east where he built a new castle and founded a town, which he duly named Castlepollard. His son Walter carried out further improvements in the area, having received from Charles II a patent for holding fairs and a weekly market in the new town. Walter’s son, another Walter, although he had served in Charles II’s army and was attached to the Stuart cause, nevertheless supported William III and in the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne became a Member of Parliament, as well as being charged to raise supplies for the crown in Westmeath for a number of years. He died in 1718 and having been predeceased by his only son, the estate passed to his daughter Letitia who in 1696 had married Major Charles Hampson; the latter duly took his wife’s family name, Successive generations of Pollards then followed, none of whom made much of an impression outside the immediate locale, although in the 19th century some of them enjoyed respectable army careers. The family remained in residence until after the death of the last male heir, Francis Edward Romulus Pollard-Urquhart in 1915: two decades later the house and 110 acres were sold to a Roman Catholic religious order, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.





Standing on the outskirts of Castlepollard, the Pollards’ former residence is called Kinturk House. The core of the building is believed to date from c.1760 when it would have replaced an older castle either here or on an adjacent site. This work was undertaken because in 1763 the estate’s then-owner William Pollard married Isabella, daughter and heiress of John Morres. However, one must assume her inheritance was not enormous since Kinturk was only room deep. This changed in the 1820s when the house was enlarged and remodeled for its next resident, William Dutton Pollard by architect Charles Robert Cockerell, who had come to Ireland to work on another commission for the Naper family at Loughcrew. Cockerell doubled the depth of Kinturk and gave the garden front of the building a more imposing presence by increasing the number of bays (from five to seven) with a central breakfront. He also added a single-storey Ionic porch to the façade, and single storey extensions at either end. Inside, the most notable feature is the cantilevered Portland stone staircase with brass banisters but at least one of the ground floor reception rooms retains pretty rococo plasterwork from the 1760s.





Within a few years of buying Kinturk House, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart embarked on a substantial building programme in the grounds, where they erected, among other structures, a chapel linked to the old residence by a corridor and a free-standing three-storey block intended to serve as a 120-bed Mother and Baby Home. All the new buildings, constructed between 1938-41 was designed in a starkly brutalist style by Dublin architect Thomas Joseph Cullen, who throughout a long career worked extensively for the Catholic church. The cost of this project was some £76,000, much of the money coming from the Hospital Sweepstakes Fund. Called St Peter’s, the home operated for 35 years and like other similar establishments elsewhere in the country – some of them also operated by the same religious order – has in recent years rightly been subjected to public scrutiny, not least because of the horrific conditions in which many young women and their new-born infants were required to live. Following the closure of the home, in 1971 the site was sold to the Midland Health Board, and then, like so many other buildings across the country, became the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE). Kinturk/St Peter’s thereafter provided residential care for the disabled until its closure was announced in 2014, shortly before a highly condemnatory inspection report on the facility was issued by the Health Information and Quality Authority. Today, two detached bungalows provide accommodation for ten residents. The rest of the site sits empty and neglected, the various properties visibly falling into disrepair. The original Kinturk House, of evident architectural merit, is closed up and increasingly dilapidated. This is, unfortunately, yet another instance of a state authority failing to look after the buildings supposed to be in its care and leaving it in poor health. As always, ultimately the citizens of Ireland (who own the place) will be the losers.