While the two lodges designed by George Fowler Jones for Castle Oliver, County Limerick are today derelict, the main house itself is in fine condition, having been extensively restored in recent years. Jones was not yet aged 30 when he received this commission, the reason being that his clients – the Misses Mary Isabella and Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne – had already employed him to design some almshouses near their Yorkshire estate, Parlington Hall. When therefore in the mid-1840s the sisters decided to build a new house at Castle Oliver, the old one having fallen into disrepair, Jones was the obvious candidate for the job. Constructed of local pink sandstone, the house’s Scottish baronial character may be due to Jones having been born in Inverness. The resolutely asymmetrical exterior is notable for its many stepped gables and corbelled oriels.
The east or Raheenroe gate lodge that formerly provided entrance to Castle Oliver, County Limerick. Both this and the west (Ballyorgan) lodges and gates were designed in the mid-1840s for the Misses Oliver Gascoigne by Yorkshire-based architect George Fowler Jones: his clients’ intention was to provide work to local tenants during the Great Famine. As with the main house, Jones chose a high Gothic style but while the east lodge looks like a miniature medieval French castle (the corner turret once had a tall conical roof), that at the west gate was meant to evoke the Scottish manorial style, the architect having been born in Inverness. Both alas are now derelict but being sturdily constructed could easily be restored and made habitable again.
‘There is not a baronet in the United Kingdom who (with the very essence of good-humour) has afforded a greater opportunity for notes and anecdotes than Sir John Burke of Glinsk Castle and tilt-yard;—and no person ever will, or ever can, relate them so well as himself. Sir John Burke is married to the sister of Mr. Ball, the present proprietor of Oatlands, commonly called the Golden Ball. I witnessed the court ship; negotiated with the brother; read over the skeleton of the marriage settlement, and was present at the departure of the baronet and his new lady for Rome, to kiss the pope’s toe. I also had the pleasure of hailing them on their return, as le Marquis and la Marquise de Bourke of the Holy Roman Empire. Sir John had the promise of a principality from the papal see when he should be prepared to pay his holiness the regulation price for it. At all events, he came back highly freight ed with a papal bull, a nobleman’s patent, holy relics, mock cameos, real lava, wax tapers, Roman paving-stones, &c. &c.; and after having been overset into the Po, and making the fortune of his courier, he returned in a few months to Paris, to ascertain what fortune his wife had ;-a circumstance which his anxiety to be married and kiss the pope’s toe had not given him sufficient time to investigate before. He found it very large, and calculated to bear a good deal of cutting and hacking ere it should quit his service—with no great probability of his ever coaxing it back again. Sir John’s good temper, however, settles that matter with great facility by quoting Dean Swift’s admirable eulogium upon poverty:—“Money’s the devil, and God keeps it from us,” said the dean. If this be orthodox, there will be more gentlemen’s souls saved in Ireland than in any other part of his Britannic Majesty’s dominions.’
‘Previous to Sir John’s marriage, Miss Ball understood, or rather had formed a conception, that Glinsk Castle was placed in one of the most cultivated, beautiful, and romantic districts of romantic Ireland, in which happy island she had never been, and I dare say never will be. Burke, who seldom says any thing without laughing heartily at his own remark, was questioned by her pretty closely as to the beauty of the demesne, and the architecture of the castle. “Now, Sir John,” said she, “have you much dressed grounds upon the demesne of Glinsk?” “Dressed, my love?” repeated Sir John, “why, my whole estate has been nearly dressed up these seven years past.”
“That’s very uncommon,” said Miss Ball; “there must have been a great expenditure on it.”
“Oh, very great,” replied the baronet, “very great.”
“The castle,” said her future ladyship, “is, I suppose, in good order?”
“It ought to be,” answered Sir John; “for (searching his pockets) I got a bill from my brother Joe of, I think, two hundred pounds, only for nails, iron cramps, and holdfasts—for a single winter.”’
‘The queries of Miss Ball innocently proceeded, and, I think, the replies were among the pleasantest and most adroit I ever heard. The lady seemed quite delighted, and nearly ex pressed a wish to go down to the castle as soon as possible. “As Sir John’s rents may not come in instantly,” said she, “I have, I fancy, a few thousand pounds in the bank just now, and that may take us down and new-furnish, at least, a wing of the castle !”
This took poor Sir John dreadfully aback. Glinsk was, he told me, actually in a tumbling state. Not a gravel walk within twenty miles of it: and as to timber, “How the devil,” said he, “could I support both my trees and my establishment at the same time? —Now,” he pursued, “Barrington, my good friend, do just tell her what I told you about my aunt Margaret’s ghost, that looks out of the castle window on every anniversary of her own death and birth-day, and on other periodical occasions. She’ll be so frightened (for, thank God! she’s afraid of ghosts), that she’ll no more think of going to Glinsk than to America.” – “Tell her yourself, Sir John,” said I:—“no body understands a romance better; and I’m sure, if this be not a meritorious, it is certainly an innocent one.” In fine, he got his groom to tell her maid all. about the ghost: the maid told the mistress, with frightful exaggerations: Sir John, when appealed to, spoke mysteriously of the matter; and the purchase of Glinsk Castle could not have induced Miss Ball to put her foot in it afterwards. She is a particularly mild and gentlewomanly lady, and, I fancy, would scarcely have survived, a visit to Glinsk, even if the ghost of Madam Margaret had not prevented her making the experiment.’
From Sir Jonah Barrington’s Personal Sketches of his Own Times (3 vols. 1827–32). Until offered for sale through the Encumbered Estates Court in the early 1850s, the land on which Glinsk Castle, County Galway stands had belonged for many centuries to a branch of the Burke family. In 1628 one of them, Ulick Burke, was created first baronet and it was probably around this time, or soon afterwards, that work commenced on the construction of the castle, built as a semi-fortified house. However, it does not seem to have survived very long, being perhaps gutted during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s. Certainly by the time Sir John Burke, tenth baronet, married the wealthy Sydney Ball in October 1816 the building had long been a ruin, hence his desire that she never visit the place.
St Mary’s church in Mansfieldstown, County Louth was a medieval church badly damaged in the Confederate Wars of the 1640s and then, owing to an insufficient number of parishioners, left to fall into ruin. An Episcopal Visitation of 1690 noted ‘Church not in repair since the warrs, and the reason given why it is not built is because the parish is very poore, and there are no Protestants in it except Mr. Tisdall (who lives in Dublin), and the parish clerk, who lives in the parish…No bells, no Common Prayer Book, nor Church Bible. A stone font lying on ye ground, no chest for poore, no Register Book’. However the church was shortly afterwards rebuilt (the estimated costs for this were £140) as a second visitation two years later commented ‘Three parts of the walls and roof in good repair ; windows to be glazed. The whole chancel and part of the body of church built at equal charge of the Minister and parishioners. Remaining part of the body unbuilt since ’41, on account of the poverty of the parishioners. The charge for building that part will be £30. The church slated and painted ; no bells ; Service 10 o’clock on Sunday morning…A decent pulpit, good Communion Table, a decent carpet, and also a Font of stone.’ When the building underwent this overhaul, the original late-medieval traceried east window was salvaged and reinstalled, note the corbel heads, and a third at the top of the label moulding. Smaller traceried windows were inserted on the north and south walls in the 19th century and there are similar corbel heads (thought also to be from the 17th century) found on these.
Partying putti in the gardens of Headfort, County Meath: they have evidently heard the news that the building is to reopen its doors as a school next month. Its design attributed to George Semple (a Dublin-based builder and self-taught architect), the house dates from the mid-1760s when constructed for the first Earl of Bective. In the following decade, the latter commissioned Robert Adam to produce decorative schemes for a suite of rooms in the newly completed Headfort. Adam, who never visited this country, duly came up with designs for the entrance and staircase halls, as well for as a series of three adjacent spaces on the garden front culminating in a double-height saloon that was known as the ‘Eating Parlor.’ Even if not all his proposals were fully implemented, the interiors are of immense importance as the only extant examples of Adam’s work in Ireland. In 1949 the property was opened as a school which remained in operation until last March, when the institution’s then-board took the decision to close down. However, since then a group of supporters, many of them past-pupils, have come together to raise funds and re-open the establishment, thereby ensuring the future of this very important house.
As many readers will be aware, Desmond Guinness, the pioneer of architectural conservation in Ireland. died last Thursday, at the age of 88. Led by Ireland’s President, Michael D Higgins, many tributes have quite correctly been paid to Desmond and his decades-long defence of the country’s architectural heritage. So, it is easy to forget that for much of that time, he and his supporters received not encomiums but abuse, not praise but criticism, not support but hostility. And yet he continued on his crusade, one which has left this country and its citizens considerably richer than would otherwise be the case.
Although a member of the Irish Guinness family, Desmond spent the greater part of his life in England until, following his marriage to Hermione Marie-Gabrielle von Urach – universally known as Mariga – he moved with her to Ireland and they began looking for somewhere to make their home. It was while engaged in this quest and travelling about the country that the couple became aware of how many old buildings of note in Ireland were being either neglected or demolished. The 1950s were an especially lean era here and, understandably, the losses to her architectural heritage provoked little, if any, protest or regret among the greater part of the Ireland’s impoverished population. Most of them had other, more immediate, concerns than what happened to properties with which they felt no great affinity; in the popular mind, historic houses were associated with the old regime. Inspecting many sites over a couple of years had the effect of refining Desmond and Mariga’s already intuitive aesthetic sensibilities, and it made them acutely aware of just how many 18th and 19th century buildings around the country were at risk of being lost forever. However, it was the demolition of Georgian buildings in Dublin rather than the disappearance of another country house that inspired the couple to establish the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. On their visits to the capital from 1956 onwards, the Guinnesses had seen Dublin Corporation workers clear away magnificent mansions on Lower Dominick Street and Hardwicke Place and replacing them with blocks of local authority flats. Most of these old properties had long ago deteriorated into squalid tenements; their loss, though unwelcome, was comprehensible. But in July 1957 the government authorised the demolition of two 18th century houses on Kildare Place, only a matter of yards from the Dail in Leinster House. No. 2 Kildare Place had been designed by Richard Castle and executed after his death in 1751 by John Ensor; its neighbour was of a slightly later date. Both houses were in excellent condition and there was no reason for their destruction other than an unwillingness on the part of the State to maintain the buildings. This barbarous act on the part of government spurred Desmond and Mariga into direct action, and the Irish Georgian Society was born.
Prior to the establishment of the Irish Georgian Society there had been no organization, or individuals, taking up the cudgels on behalf of the country’s historic properties. Building up credibility was a long and arduous process: during the first decades of its existence the Society – and its founders – had to fight many battles. Some of these were won, others lost. But the biggest battle was against ignorance and indifference: these twin demons had to be faced down over and over again. Desmond experienced much personal hostility, often from those in positions of power who did not like their decisions being called into question. However, he remained resolute in his enterprise, and never wavered in his determination to conserve the architectural legacy left by earlier generations and to encourage wider appreciation of this legacy. The most important example of his industry and imagination can be seen at Castletown, County Kildare. This important building, the first great Palladian house in Ireland dating from the early 18th century, was at risk of being lost forever when Desmond stepped in and found the necessary funds to save the property. Today Castletown is owned by the Irish State and is rightly lauded as a splendid example of Irish design and craftsmanship. But if it had not been for Desmond’s brave initiative, and then the restoration work that he and Mariga oversaw on the house – helped by the many volunteers they inspired – Castletown would now be nothing more than a handful of old black and white photographs. There are many, many other instances of bold decisions being taken by Desmond leading to the survival of important properties throughout the country. It is worth noting that from the mid-1960s onwards, he regularly visited the United States where his mission, and that of the Irish Georgian Society, was better received and supported than was the case back home. The IGS, like many of the buildings it championed, would not be here still were it not for American friends.
A brief personal note. I first met Desmond Guinness when an undergraduate, but only in passing. In the early 1980s and by then living in the Damer House in County Tipperary (an early 18th century house which the Irish Georgian Society had saved from demolition), I met him again and over the next 35 years had the opportunity to come to know him well. Desmond was a man blessed with many advantages; he was exceptionally handsome (those famous pale blue eyes) and possessed an abundance of personal charm, well able to captivate whoever was in his company. He had a deliciously mellifluous voice and engaging manner, which he put to excellent effect on his fund-raising visits to the United States; even today there are elderly American women who shyly blush when they recall being in his presence over half a century ago. In his heyday, he was a tireless advocate, running the society from a room in his County Kildare home, Leixlip Castle where – when not working elsewhere for the society – he was an unfailingly generous host with flawless manners. Leixlip Castle was always the most hospitable of houses, where Desmond was at his easiest and most charming, ensuring it was always a delight to be in his company. There are a great many people, myself included, who are grateful to have benefited from his unflagging kindness and support.
Unlike most countries, Ireland has no official honours system. During his lifetime, Desmond never received the acknowledgement that he deserved for his pioneering work in the area of architectural conservation. Now that he is dead, the best way the Irish state could honour his legacy is by giving more attention to our country’s historic buildings. Otherwise, like Desmond, it will be too late to give them the attention they merit.
In need of repair: the conservatory attributed to Richard Turner which is attached to the west side of Marlfield, County Tipperary. This house was built for the Bagwell family in c.1785-90. The conservatory here is a later addition, thought to have been added around 1835, which is two years later than that at Colebrooke. Although Marlfield was burnt by Anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War (it was subsequently rebuilt), the conservatory survived intact and is therefore an important example of Turner’s early work.
The conservatory at Kilshane, County Tipperary. The house dates from the 1820s when designed for the Lowe family by John Hargrave, a son of the successful Cork-based architect Abraham Hargrave. The curvilinear conservatory, thought to be the most ambitious of its kind to survive in Ireland, was added around 1860; while very much in the style of Richard Turner, it cannot with certainty be ascribed to him. Along with the house, it was restored by the present owners at the start of the present century.
In 1961, the April-June issue of the Irish Georgian Society’s Bulletin advised readers that a house in County Carlow called Browne’s Hill ‘is to be demolished if a buyer does not come forward within the next month. Situated in a large park with fine timber, Browne’s Hill is in first-rate structural repair and would make a lovely, easily run family home. Although it is on top of a hill with panoramic views, it is not remote, the town of Carlow being only 1 ½ miles away, and Dublin 50 miles.
The house was built in 1763 by an architect named Peters for Robert Browne, in whose family it remained until recently. The three reception rooms have rich plaster ceilings and the original mantlepieces, the front hall is paved with black and white squares, and the kitchen (with Aga) is on the ground floor. The grand staircase leads up to ten bedrooms of various sizes, he principal one being octagonal with windows facing in three directions. There are two bathrooms, three lavatories, oil fired central heating and E.S.B. main electricity.
The courtyard comprises 15 stables, garages, loose boxes, dairy and groom’s house with excellent living accommodation, approximately 5,000 square feet of lofting, all in good condition. For permission to view, apply to – William Mulhall, Auctioneer and Valuer, 60 Dublin St., Carlow.
Price £2,500 with five acres.
A further 68 acres is available, if required, £7,000.’
Browne’s Hill was occupied by successive generations of the same family until 1951 when William Browne-Clayton offered the house for sale with 700 acres. Two years later an English syndicate purchased the estate, along with another nearby, the 1,500 acre Oak Park. These purchases were not well-received locally, farmers in the area believing the land ought to have been divided up among them by the Land Commission. Eventually in 1961 the syndicate, faced with growing hostility, negotiated a deal with the commission, whereby the estate underwent division and the house with its immediate five acres were put on the market with an asking price of £2,500. It was at this point that the Irish Georgian Society placed a notice in its bulletin warning supporters that unless a sympathetic buyer could be found – and soon – the house would be demolished. This news understandably caused alarm among those who were fighting to ensure the survival of the country’s steadily diminishing architectural heritage. Among them was author Anita Leslie, then dividing her time between her own family home, Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, and Oranmore Castle, County Galway, a property she had bought with her husband Bill King. Anita Leslie was also battling to save Dalyston, an important mid-18th century house that had just been sold to a County Longford firm that specialized in stripping old buildings of all saleable assets. Seeing Dalyston unroofed and gradually picked bare, she was determined the same fate should not befall Browne’s Hill and embarked on a campaign to save the property. For a time, she thought it might perhaps be bought by one of her friends, such as the wealthy Simone, Baronne de Bastard who had just spent huge sums restoring the 17th century château de Hautefort in the Dordogne, but it seems Mme de Bastard did not care to purchase a house in the Irish countryside.
As June 1961 drew to a close, the fate of Browne’s Hill seemed sealed: it was destined to be demolished since the best purchase offer had come from the same company that had stripped and unroofed Dalyston. But then the Land Commission, in a rare gesture of sympathy, advised the Irish Georgian Society that it would allow a further six months’ grace before a decision over the house’s future was made. Anita Leslie battled on, helped by another stalwart of the society, Eoin ‘The Pope’ O’Mahony (he had been nicknamed ‘The Pope’ while still a schoolboy after declaring his ambition in life was to hold this title). A wonderfully eccentric character, one-time barrister, orator, genealogist and supporter of many lost causes, in this instance O’Mahony announced that he had persuaded a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge to back a scheme whereby Browne’s Hill would be bought for 2,000 guineas, to be used as a student hostel. Extensive correspondence survives between Anita Leslie, Eoin O’Mahony, and Desmond and Mariga Guinness of the Irish Georgian Society as all of them – sometimes at cross-purposes – sought the best means of securing Browne’s Hill’s long-term future, each of them, and others besides, hounding the local auctioneer William Mulhall for information about possible rival bids for the place. On July 10th, Anita Leslie wrote somewhat histrionically to the Guinnesses, ‘I feel like Atlas holding up the last Georgian houses in Ireland on drooping shoulders & slender purse.’ If necessary, and as a last resort, she was prepared to pay the £2,500 required for Browne’s Hill, thinking it could either be let to a tenant or else run as a guesthouse. Finally, despairing that demolition awaited without her intercession and without telling her husband of the decision, she sent the auctioneer a cheque for the deposit. The cheque was promptly returned: it transpired that another offer for the property had been made – and not by any firm with demolition in mind. Instead, Browne’s Hill was bought by a local travel agent Frank Tully and his wife Patty. They subsequently moved into Browne’s Hill, which remained a family home until Mr Tully died in November 2018. Last month Browne’s Hill came on the market for only the second time since it was built more than 250 years ago.
The original entrance gates to the Browne’s Hill estate, which took the form of a splendid triumphal arch, were sold during this period and bought by University College Dublin, which in 1962 purchased the Lyons estate in County Kildare to run as a research farm. The gates can still be seen there at the entrance to the now-private house at Lyons.
The clock tower which stands in the centre of Ardagh, County Longford. The village was part of the estate belonging to Sir Thomas John Fetherston who in the early 1860s employed James Rawson Carroll to design new houses and amenities for its residents. Built in 1863 by the architect’s brother, Thomas Henry Carroll, the clock tower stands in the centre of Ardagh’s picturesque Green and was erected in memory of Sir Thomas’ uncle, Sir George Ralph Fetherston. His widow paid for the monument which, according to an inscription at the base, commemorates her late-husband’s ‘life-long devotion to the moral and social improvement of his tenantry.’