Commodious Offices

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The upper yard of Crocknacrieve, County Fermanagh, described in 1833 as being ‘the seat and fee farm of John Johnston, Esq., and comprehends a nice new built house on the summit of a noble elevation, standing above a demesne of about 100 Irish plantation acres, beautifully dressed and planted.’ The following year, an ordinance survey report called Crocknacrieve ‘a neat and handsome building of modern architecture…It was built and the demesne laid out in 1817…The offices, which are attached to the house are very commodious.’ As they remain to the present day.

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Light and Shade

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After political events of the past week, many people across the globe are understandably overwhelmed with feelings of melancholia and premonitions of catastrophe. However the study of history teaches us that our forebears went through worse afflictions – and somehow survived. They faced infinitely more terrible examples of hatred and low conduct, and found the strength to carry on. They did so because, for all its failings and foibles, the human spirit is resilient. So too is the urge, the need to create beauty, even in the midst of turmoil and disorder. The determination of previous generations to overcome adversity, and to find the beautiful in the midst of ugliness can serve as our own inspiration.

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The gardens at Huntington Castle, County Carlow demonstrate how beauty is able to survive across centuries of war and upheaval. The origins of settlement here go back to the Middle Ages when a Franciscan friary was established on the site: a souvenir of that period is the Yew Walk, comprising 120 English yews planted along a stretch of ground 130 yards long and believed to be at least six centuries old. In the 17th century the property passed into the ownership of the Esmondes who in the 1680s laid out much of the rest of what can be seen today, including the parterre and a French lime avenue. Other elements from this period include the stew ponds (for the cultivation of fish that could be eaten) and an ornamental lake, while later work further enhanced the gardens thanks to various specimen trees that continue to thrive. More recent additions include the creation of a rose garden and the planting of thousands of snowdrops.

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The gardens at Huntington remain an ongoing project, tended by the latest generation of the family that first came here almost 400 years ago. Over that period, and well before, this country experienced many instances of upheaval, war, famine and other dreadful afflictions. And yet somehow the gardens at Huntington not only endured but were regularly augmented and improved by their owners. Those owners and the outcome of their labour offer us an example of how, even under the worst circumstances, the human spirit continues to crave beauty. Taken one afternoon in early autumn, today’s photographs show that light and shade naturally co-exist, without the latter ever being able to crush the former. In these dark days, we should remember that. The light still shines through.

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More on Huntington Castle in the coming weeks…

A Man of Taste and Literature

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Described by Maria Edgeworth as ‘An excellent clergyman, of a liberal spirit and conciliating manners, a man of taste and literature,’ the Rev. Daniel Beaufort was also a talented amateur architect. Here is his design for a new church at Ardbraccan, County Meath dating from the 1770s. At the west end it was proposed the building incorporate a still-extant 15th century tower which rises 100 feet: accordingly Beaufort proposed the church run to the same length. The tower was also to be given single-storey gothick wings on either side. In the event, a simpler version of Beaufort’s drawing was constructed, of four bays rather than six (thereby making the nave shorter) and leaving the tower unattached. This can be seen below, in a photograph taken inside Ardbraccan’s demesne wall. I shall be giving a talk on the life and work of Daniel Beaufort next Thursday, November 17th at 7.30pm in St Mary’s Church of Ireland, Church Hill, Navan (a building for which he was also responsible). For further information, see: http://mahs.freesite.host/index.php/2016-programme

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Vastly More Beautifull Than I Expected

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Writing to his daughter Alicia in May 1747, Edward Synge, Bishop of Elphin, County Roscommon described the new residence he was then building: ‘The Scaffolding is all down, and the House almost pointed, and It’s figure is vastly more beautifull than I expected it would be. Conceited people may censure its plainess. But I don’t wish it any further ornament than it has. As far as I can yet judge, the inside will be very commodious and comfortable.’ He had to wait a further two years to find out whether or not this was the case, but finally in early June 1749 was finally able to advise Alicia, ‘The House is as dry as you could wish. I lay last night as well and as Warm as ever I did in my life, and quite free from the only nuisance I fear’d, the smell of paint and am, I bless God, as well to day, as I was, when I wrote from Palmer’s…’ The design of the Bishop’s Palace at Elphin is attributed to Dublin architect Michael Wills, not least because a ‘Mr Wills’ is frequently mentioned in Synge’s correspondence in relation to the house’s construction. Very much in the Irish Palladian mode, it consisted of a three-storey, east-facing central block, its first-floor Venetian window of the same style and proportions as the main entrance below: quadrants linked this building to wings on either side. Unfortunately the main block was destroyed by an accidental fire in 1911 and subsequently demolished, leaving the quadrants and wings on either side looking rather lost. In recent years, the south wing as been restored as a family residence. However, its match to the north is a ruin with a bungalow built immediately in front, making the site look even more lop-sided.

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Turbulent Past, Tranquil Present

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On two adjacent hills in the north-west corner of County Meath can be found the remains of what was seemingly once a prominent settlement for both clerics and laity. This is Moylagh, its fragmentary ruins testifying to the harsh passage of time, and the inevitability of change and decay. Consensus holds that the nature of the site, with its undulating mounds and deep ditches, indicates early human habitation: the prehistoric passage tombs of Loughcrew are not far away. And there is said to have been a monastic house established here not long after Christianity arrived in Ireland. However, the modern history of Moylagh really begins with the appearance of the Normans in the 12th century. Around that time a motte and bailey was constructed, together with a wooden fort, on the highest point of the taller mound which offers superlative views across many miles of surrounding land.

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At some date in the 15th century the wooden fort was replaced with one of stone: in 1470 Roger Rockford was granted assistance to build a tower ‘near Moylagh Castle’ (perhaps a continuation of the statute issued by the Henry VI in 1429 which offered landowners a grant of £10 towards the construction of such defensive residences). This castle is associated with the Barnwells (often spelled Barnewell), an Anglo-Norman family originally settled in County Dublin, members of which arrived in Meath in the mid-14th century and gradually built up a considerable land holding. One branch became Barons Trimlestown, a title still extant after more than 550 years, while another based elsewhere in the county at Crickstown were created baronets in the 17th century. It was this line which owned Moylagh: according to the Down Survey of 1654-56, Sir Richard Barnwall of Crickstown had held 182 acres at Moylagh in 1640, including ‘a ruinous castle with a bawn, a church with a steeple (tower) and 20 cabins.’ From which one deduces that the castle fell into ruin, or was destroyed, relatively early. Today only the buttressed stump of an east gable survives.

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On the neighbouring mound can be found the more substantial portions of another fortified tower, this one originally attached to a church built around 1470 and supposedly once linked to the nearby Benedictine abbey at Fore (see Fore and After, January 5th 2015). The construction of a fortified tower is explained by the general lawlessness of the period in which religious establishments were often attacked and ransacked by rival, warring families. In any case, the church at Moylagh did not last much longer than the castle and little survives to indicate its presence. The tower, on the other hand, remains in reasonable condition, its religious connections still indicated by a graveyard which was heavily used for the burial of occupants of Oldcastle Workhouse during the years of the Great Famine. Little evidence of that turbulent period, or other earlier ones, can be seen today in what is now a little-visited spot tucked down a remote country road.

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Towering over the Town

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Once the tallest building in Wexford town, here is the tower that stands at the centre of the collegiate range of St Peter’s, former seminary for the diocese of Ferns. With corner turrests and mullioned windows, the five-storey block was designed c.1832 by a local architect, Richard Pierce, today better remembered for the town’s ‘twin churches’ of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception which have identical spires. Pierce was clerk of works in Ireland for Augustus Welby Pugin (responsible for the chapel built immediately adjacent to the range) and his own work shows the influence of the latter. The tower of St Peter’s is particularly notable for its splendid Perpendicular tracery window which lights the internal staircase.

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‘Out of Repaire’

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The remains of Cullahill Castle, County Laois as seen through the east window of its adjacent former chapel. The castle, really an exceptionally large tower house within its own bawn wall, was constructed on an outcrop of rock around 1425 and served as a stronghold for the MacGillapatricks of Upper Ossory. Rising five storeys and ninety feet, its impressive scale made the castle a target for attack from rivals even in the years after construction but it was eventually destroyed after being bombarded by cannon during the Cromwellian Wars. Recorded in the Down Survey in 1657 as being ‘out of repaire’ it has remained in this condition ever since. There is a Sheela na Gig high on the east wall of the building but sadly this proved impossible to photograph.

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