Unrealised Potential


In the mid-1830s, Charles Denham Jephson, who a few years later would be made a baronet and assume the additional surname of Norreys, decided to improve the family seat of Mallow Castle, County Cork. In fact, the original castle – a fortified mansion dating from the 1590s – had been abandoned by the end of the 17
th century when the Jephsons converted a stable block to the immediate north into a residence. It was to this building that Jephson turned his attention, with some help from the English architect Edward Blore who during the same period was designing Crom Castle, County Fermanagh: certainly in 1837 Blore proposed the addition of a tower to the house at Mallow. However, it seems likely that despite looking for advice elsewhere Jephson mostly acted as his own architect, using the opportunity to evoke the era when his forebear Sir Thomas Norreys had first settled in the area. Described by Mark Bence-Jones as ‘a remarkably convincing reproduction of vernacular late C16 or early C17 architecture; with none of the pretentious “Baronial” or “Elizabethan” features which most early-Victorians could not resist,’ Mallow Castle’s garden front is a long, two-storied block relieved by a succession of projecting gable bays and mullioned windows, above which rises the tower proposed by Blore. In the mid-1950s, a later Jephson added an entrance front to the immediate right of this building, the stone for which had been cut in the 1830s but not used, thereby completing the scheme. 





The Jephsons remained at Mallow until 1984 when the property was sold to an American couple who after twenty years’ ownership put the place on the market. In late 2010 it was announced that Cork County Council had bought the castle and surrounding thirty acres for
€1.7 million. This was rightly regarded as something of a coup, since when the property had first been offered for sale in 2005, the asking price had been €7.5 million. So the local authority had done well to secure this important part of its architectural heritage, located in the centre of the town. Since then a further sum in the region of €400,000 has been spent on repair of existing landscaping, the installation of new external lighting, and repair of garden structures.  At the time of the initial purchase, one local councillor declared that ‘if properly developed and managed, the castle would be more than capable of paying for itself – and the potential spin-off benefits could transform Mallow.’ Note the use of the conditional ‘if’. here…





Cork County Council has declared that the work carried out in grounds of Mallow Castle is the first part of a three-phase development programme for the site and in February it was announced that a
masterplan tender brief for the property is currently being prepared. In the meantime, that conditional ‘if’ must remain in place. On a recent weekend visit to Mallow Castle, a group of French tourists looked somewhat stunned as they entered the site to discover it heavily littered and the house firmly shut. In fact it is somewhat surprising that they managed to find their way to the place, since what is supposed to be a major tourist attraction appears un-signposted, with access located up a minor lane. But evidently local carousers know the spot well, and have no problem entering it even when the gates are closed: hence the abundant litter.
As the owner of any historic property could advise Cork County Council, looking after such a house is perforce a time-consuming and expensive business – but not looking after it will ultimately prove to be even more time-consuming and expensive. The installation of better security around the site would help deter unwanted visitors, and their litter (sundry notices advise the presence of CCTV, but there is precious little evidence of it). A few bins would not go amiss either. Furthermore it seems that the house has sat empty and unoccupied since being purchased by the council. An obvious way to discourage nocturnal trespassers would be to have people living onsite: get a tenant, or better yet several, into the house. This would be beneficial for the building which at present is visibly suffering from neglect (thereby increasing the cost of its eventual refurbishment, a cost to be borne – as ever – by the nation’s tax payers). Shutters are closed and curtains drawn across windows, the frames of which are rotting (leaving them more vulnerable to being broken and illegal access being gained to the building). Doors are likewise in poor condition and in at least one place roof tiles have slipped. What, one wonders, must be the state of the interior? What sort of example is Cork County Council setting to other owners of historic buildings by displaying so little interest in the welfare of one under its care? Can it really expect anybody else to act as guardian of our heritage when it manifestly fails to do so? Houses need to be occupied and used, otherwise they risk falling into decline. Such is the case here: what’s required now is more of the flair and imagination displayed by the authority when it made the decision to acquire the property. Reports and action plans can wait: a house cannot.
At the time of that purchase, another local politician announced, ‘This is a very significant development in unlocking the future potential of Mallow Castle as a tourism and heritage resource for all the people of Cork.’ For the moment that potential remains unrealised.

Open to All


When Laurence Gilson died in London in February 1810 he left a will drawn up the previous year leaving all his property to be vested in a trust for the establishment of a school in his native town of Oldcastle, County Meath. In addition, Gilson ‘declared his desire that all the children of the said parish, being natives thereof, should be admitted thereto, to whatever denomination they might belong, and he further expressed his desire that Protestants as well as Roman Catholics should be equally eligible to be appointed masters of the said School, according to their respective merits.’ The Gilson Endowed School opened thirteen years later, its design attributed to C.R. Cockerell who was then working on plans for Loughcrew House outside the town. A neo-classical variant on the Palladian model, the central house of two storeys over raised basement and five bays provided accommodation for the staff (as well as boardroom and hall), while classrooms for boys and girls were in the wings. Although the buildings now look in need of a little attention, the Gilson Endowed School continues to operate according to its founder’s wishes.

At the Close of Day


Evening at Ballymaloe, County Cork. The oldest part of the building is a mid-fifteenth century tower house constructed by the FitzGeralds of Imokilly: this was enlarged in 1602 by Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald. The property was later briefly occupied by William Penn when he was sent to manage his father’s estates in the area, after which it was owned by the first Earl of Orrery. The house was much enlarged on two occasions in the 18th century to assume its present appearance. It also regularly changed hands over several hundred years until being bought by the Allen family who since 1964 have run the place as a restaurant and country house hotel.

Crisis and Decline


Robin Bury’s recently-published Buried Lives: The Protestants of Southern Ireland is, appropriately enough, something of a curate’s egg. However, the book provides a valuable account of the decline in Protestantism within this country, as testified by the numbers of people identifying themselves as such here. According to the 1911 census, there were some 327,000 Protestants living in the 26 counties, accounting for approximately ten per cent of the population: this figure excluded members of the British army stationed in Irish garrisons. A century later, the 2011 census indicated there were 137,000 Irish Protestants, accounting for three per cent of the population. Then as now the spread was uneven. The late R.B. McDowell’s Crisis and Decline: The Fate of the Southern Unionists (1997) reveals that at the start of the last century about a third of the total Protestant population in the 26 counties lived in Dublin and the adjacent counties of Wicklow and Kildare. In the prosperous south Dublin suburbs running from Rathmines/Rathgar out to Dalkey, over sixty per cent of the residents were Protestant. On the other hand, the further south and west one travelled, the fewer Protestants were to be found: in Munster they totalled six per cent of the population, in Connacht under four per cent. Inevitably as numbers started to drop from 1920s onwards, it was in these areas that church attendance, and subsequent closure, was most immediate and widespread.





St John’s in Ballymoe, County Galway is a typical example of the churches being constructed during the opening decades of the 19
th century with support from the Board of First Fruits which in this instance provided a donation of £900. It dates from 1832 when already that organisation’s funds were in decline, not least thanks to the onset of the ‘Tithe War’ two years before which led to the majority of the Roman Catholic citizenry refusing to provide support for a minority faith, the Church of Ireland. 
Built of cut limestone, St John’s has a four-bay nave and at the west end a three-stage bell tower which also accommodates the main entrance. The style is a customary loose interpretation of Gothic with pointed arch windows in some of which remain the original metal lattice work. The interior looks always to have been plain, an open hall leading to the altar table at the east end beyond which is a modest vestry. Although capable of accommodating around 200 people, the typical attendance was only one fifth that number.
Ballymoe features in a curious publication which appeared five years before the present church was built: the three-volume Dialogues on Prophecy written by a wealthy English evangelical Henry Drummond. Concerned at imminent legislation repealing the last hindrances to Roman Catholics playing a full role in public life, Drummond cited the tale of one Mary Anne Burke, a niece of the Catholic Bishop of Elphin who in 1827, having heard talks given in Ballymoe by the local rector sought to join the Church of Ireland only to find herself locked into a room with shuttered windows by relatives anxious she not convert. There she was held for four weeks, some of the time without food, in the expectation that she would recant. Instead she fled, first to Castlerea and then to Boyle, County Roscommon where, claiming the Catholic priest in Ballymoe had beaten her, she sought the protection of the local magistrates, ‘that she may be allowed to exercise the rights of conscience, and become a member of the Protestant Communion, which she believes to be alone agreeable to the Word of God.’ What became of Mary Anne Burke thereafter Mr Drummond does not relate.




The number of converts such as Mary Anne Burke being insufficient, a general decline in Protestant attendance led to St John’s being closed for worship over half a century ago, and as can be seen the church is now in a semi-ruinous condition. One curious feature to the rear of the surrounding graveyard is a table tomb with recumbent figure on top in full mediaeval armour. This is not, however, a remnant from the Middle Ages but an example of 19th century romanticism. The tomb celebrates a member of the Bagot family, whose name is recalled in Dublin by Baggot Street (where their property, Bagotrath Castle once stood). Settled in Ireland since the 13th century, the Bagots came to hold land in the Midland counties of Laois and Offaly. In 1775 one of their number, Captain John Lloyd Bagot (who had been A.D.C. to Lord Cornwallis during the American War of Independence) married the heiress Catherine Anne Cuffe and the couple’s descendants thereafter owned an estate in the Ballymoe area. There seems to be some confusion whether the table tomb commemorates Captain Bagot’s son, Thomas Neville Bagot (died 1863) or his grandson John Lloyd Neville Bagot (died 1890) and to complicate matters further the local Record of Protected Structures proposes a date of c.1830 for its erection. Whatever the truth, it appears the intention was to note the ancient pedigree of the Bagots. Despite their efforts, they have since departed the area, and the church in which they once worshipped, like so many others of its kind, has fallen into desuetude. An outcome Henry Drummond’s Dialogues on Prophecy did not predict.

Last Vestiges


The granite portico of Oaklands, County Wexford. This late Georgian house is associated with the Tyndall family, the last of whom died in 1957: soon afterwards Oaklands was gutted by fire and pulled down. This is all that remains to indicate its appearance, although large blocks of cut stone litter the surrounding area. A bungalow has been built on the site.

Almost Ready


Looking down an enfilade of rooms on the ground floor of the 1903 Milltown Wing at the National Gallery, Dublin. This portion of the building was designed by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (following his death in 1899, its completion was overseen by his son Sir Thomas Manly Deane). A notable decorative feature is the doorcases carved in walnut by the Italian woodworker Carlo Cambi. The picture below shows the equivalent sequence of rooms on the first floor which, like much of the rest of the gallery, have been closed to the public for the past six years: once fully re-hung with pictures from the collection, they are due to reopen in mid-June.

Recording the Past


In 1989 American photographer Andrew Bush published a book of images he had taken at the start of the decade. Bonnettstown: A House in Ireland caused something of a stir at the time and has since become a collector’s item, as it chronicles the last days of a now-disappeared world. The visual equivalent of a Chekhov play, the pictures exude a melancholic dignity. Many of them had previously been exhibited in the United States, and in The New Yorker critic Janet Malcolm wrote that what gave the photographs a special lustre was ‘the frank avowal that they make of their voyeurism. Bush’s images have a kind of tentativeness, almost a furtiveness, like that of a child who is somewhere he shouldn’t be, seeing things he shouldn’t be seeing, touching objects he shouldn’t be touching and struggling with the conflict between his impulse to beat it out of there and his desire to stay and see and touch.’  Anyone who looked at the pictures became willingly complicit in that voyeurism.




As is so often the case, we know relatively little about the history of Bonnettstown, County Kilkenny although conveniently a date stone advises the house was built in 1737 for Samuel Mathews, a mayor of Kilkenny. In other words, this was a merchant prince’s residence, conveniently close to his place of work and yet set in open countryside so that he could play at being a member of the gentry. The house was designed to emulate those occupied by landed families, albeit on a more modest scale. Flanked by short quadrants and of two storeys over a raised basement, it has six bays centred on a tripartite doorcase accessed via a flight of steps. The rear of the building is curious since here the middle section is occupied by a pair of long windows below which is another doorcase approached by a pair of curving steps with wrought-iron balustrades.
  While much of Bonnettstown remains as first designed, some alterations have been made since the house was first built: the fenestration was updated, although a single instance of the original glazing survives on the first floor. And on the façade, the upper level window surrounds on consoles look to be a 19th century addition. Nevertheless, one feels that were Mayor Mathews to return, he would recognise his property.




Inside, Bonnettstown has a typical arrangement of medium-sized houses from this period. It is of tripartite design, with a considerable amount of space devoted to the entrance hall, to the rear of which rises the main staircase with Corinthian newels and acanthus carving on the ends of each tread. The rooms on either side show how difficult it can sometimes be for aspiration to achieve realisation. As mentioned, Bonnettstown was meant to be a modest-proportioned version of a grand country house, and as a result the requisite number of reception rooms had to be accommodated. To make this happen, some of them are perforce very small, as is the case with what would have been a study/office to the immediate left of the entrance hall. Here a chimneypiece has been incorporated which is out of proportion with the room, although the reason for this could be that it came from Kilcreene, a since-demolished property in the same county. That is certainly the case with the chimneypiece in the dining room, which is wonderfully ample in its scale. The chimney piece in the drawing room looks to be from later in the 18th century, as does another intervention on the first floor, a rococo ceiling in a room above the entrance. The well-worn back stairs lead both to the largely untouched attic storey and to the basement with their series of service rooms.



While hitch hiking around Ireland as a young man in the late 1970s Andrew Bush was offered a lift by an elderly gentleman called Commander Geoffrey Marescaux de Saubruit who invited the American to visit his house, Bonnettstown. Bush took up the offer and over the next few years regularly stayed with the Commander and his octogenarian relations. During this time, the property was sold and so Bush’s photographs, and subsequent book, became a record of what had once been. ‘I guess I was responding to my desperation,’ he later explained, ‘to the anxiety that I was feeling that this place was disappearing. I guess I wanted to soak up as much as I could before it was gone.’ Inevitably it did go, as the new owners put their own stamp on the place and cleared away the atmosphere of shabby gentility which had pertained when Bush saw Bonnettstown. A few weeks ago the house was sold again, and now another generation will take possession. What mark will it leave on the house, and is it likely that another Andrew Bush will wish to make a record of Bonnettstown before the next change occurs? We must wait and see.