After the rather sad spectacle of the O’Callaghan Mausoleum shown here last week (see Shabby Treatment « The Irish Aesthete) here is another building associated with the same family: a former shooting lodge at Glengarra, County Tipperary. It was constructed for Cornelius O’Callaghan, first Viscount Lismore, who also commissioned the now-demolished Shanbally Castle, completed in 1819. Since the latter was designed by John Nash, it is often proposed that this architect was also responsible for the Tudoresque lodge, which presumably dates from around the same period: in 1837 Samuel Lewis noted that ‘his Lordship has lately erected a lodge, a structure of much beauty in the glen of the Galtees.’ In the late 1930s, the building was leased to the Irish Youth Hostel Association An Óige who used it as accommodation for visitors until 2012. It then sat empty for several years and suffered the inevitable vandalism but in 2015 a local group, the Burncourt Community Council, undertook to rescue the lodge and restore it as an amenity for the area. It now serves as location for a variety of activities.
Lisburn, County Antrim was originally called Lisnagarvy (from the Irish Lios na gCearrbhach, meaning Ringfort of the Gamesters) and until the early 17th century was under the control of the O’Neill family. However, the Ulster Plantations meant this part of the country, a territory called Killultagh, passed into the hands of an English adventurer, Sir Fulke Conway, younger son of Sir John Conway of Warwickshire. As early as 1611, Lord Carew who was then passing through the area could write, ‘In our travel from Dromore towards Knockfargus, we saw in Kellultagh upon Sir Fulke Conway’s lands a house of cagework in hand and almost finished, where he intends to erect a bawn of brick in a place called Lisnagarvagh. He has built a fair timber bridge over the river of Lagan near the house.’ Sir Fulke died childless in 1624 and left the lands he had acquired to his older brother, Sir Edward Conway, a soldier and politician who three years later was created Viscount Conway in the English peerage, and Viscount Killultagh in the Irish peerage; a member of the Privy Council and a Secretary of State, in the years prior to his death in 1631 he served as Lord President of the Council. His heir, also called Edward, the second viscount was also a soldier and politician but also an ardent bibliophile: his library in Ireland contained between 8,000 and 9,000 books. On his death in 1655, the estates and titles passed to the third Edward who in 1679 was created first Earl of Conway. He was also the last because, having no heir despite being married three times, on his death the titles became extinct. His property, on the other hand, passed to an eight-year old first-cousin once removed, with the stipulation that he take the surname of the deceased; accordingly, Lisburn and the surrounding lands were inherited by the wonderfully-named Popham Seymour-Conway. Alas, while not yet 25, he was mortally wounded in a drunken duel, and so once more the estates were passed on, this time to his younger brother, Francis Seymour-Conway, who in due course became Baron Conway of Ragley and Baron Conway of Killultagh in the respective national peerages. In turn, his son was created Marquess of Hertford, and when his descendant, the fourth marquess, died in 1870, he left the greater part of his estate (anything not entailed) to his secretary and illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace whose widow, in turn, bequeathed the family’s extraordinary art collection to the English nation, hence the Wallace Collection in London.
Meanwhile, back in the early 17th century, as has been noted, Sir Fulke Conway began to build a substantial house, known as Lisburn Castle, on his Irish lands. This was in Lisburn, on a site above the river Lagan beside which he laid out the town, arranging for the construction of a market house and square, as well as a new church and several residential streets: settlers from England and Wales were then encouraged to move there. Inevitably, in the early 1640s the town was attacked during the Confederate Wars but survived and continued to flourish; in the aftermath of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) large numbers of Huguenots moved here and helped to develop the linen trade, of which Lisburn became the most important centre in Ireland. A terrible fire ravaged the centre of the town in 1707 but it was soon rebuilt and returned to prosperity. The only building of importance not reconstructed in the aftermath of the conflagration was the Conway residence above the Lagan. By this time, the property had passed into the hands of the Seymour-Conways, who were absentee landlords and therefore there was no need for them to have a residence in Ireland.
Because it was destroyed by fire in 1707, the character and appearance of the Conway residence in Lisburn is unknown. However, what do survive are some of the outer walls of the site and a series of terraced gardens that led down to the banks of the Lagan. These gardens were laid out by Edward Conway, third viscount (and first earl) who appears to have been particularly interested in his Irish property. In 1656, a year after the death of his father, he brought over a Dutch gardener to create four terraces on the south-east facing slope that led from the building to the river. These terraces had retaining walls constructed of stone fronted with red brick, and the top of them would likely have been lined with pots containing colourful flowers: in 1667, Lord Conway imported twelve dozen such pots from Ostend. Each terrace was laid out with beds for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers, with a lower one planted as an orchard growing a variety of different apples. The terraces also held a broad gravel path, at the end of one of them being a ‘Dutch tent’, presumably some kind of summerhouse. Again in 1667, Conway ordered some 7,000 painted tiles from Holland for its interior, but only 3,000 of them survived the journey unbroken; his agent advised, ‘a very dear commodity they prove and in these scarce times I think your Lordship may better lay out or keep your money.’ The topmost terrace featured a double-flight stone perron beneath which was a grotto of some kind, with an arched entrance. In the aftermath of the 1707 fire and the failure to reconstruct Lisburn Castle – the site of which eventually became, and remains, a public park, with a late 19th century monument to Sir Richard Wallace at its centre – these terraced gardens were neglected and fell into dilapidation. However, in 2006-09, the area was excavated and restored, so that now it looks not unlike what Lord Conway intended when he undertook the work in the mid-17th century. Today, they provide a rare insight into horticultural design and practice in Stuart Ireland.
The O’Callaghan Mausoleum, located in the Shanrahan graveyard outside Clogheen, County Tipperary. This was erected in 1742 to commemorate Cornelius O’Callaghan, member of an ancient Irish family who had converted to the Established church and thereafter enjoyed a successful career as a lawyer and Member of Parliament for the Borough of Fethard in the same county. The barrel-vaulted interior of this rather plain gable-ended building contains a fine monument to O’Callaghan, ancestor of the Viscount Lismore who in 1810 would commission John Nash to design Shanbally Castle nearby. (Alas, the castle was shamefully demolished in the late 1950s, the remains being blown up in 1960 so that the cut stone could be used for road building). Occupying much of the end wall, this monument was carved by the Dublin sculptor David Sheehan and depicts the deceased above a Latin inscription and beneath a pediment that supports reclining putti on either side of an urn. Unfortunately the mausoleum now acts as little more than a garden shed for lawn mowers and the other equipment: hardly the most respectful way to treat this historic building, or the man it commemorates.
Avondale, County Wicklow is now irrevocably associated with its late-19th century owner, Charles Stewart Parnell – and anyone who visits the place cannot escape seeing his image across the house and grounds. Less well-known, however, and certainly not as well remembered, is the man who was responsible both for building the house and developing the estate that Parnell was eventually to inherit: Samuel Hayes. The latter was one of those extraordinary polymaths produced in the 18th century, acting among other roles as a lawyer, politician, amateur architect and antiquarian, and ardent dendrologist. In addition, during a relatively short life (he was only 52 when he died), Hayes served as sheriff and joint governor of County Wicklow, was a colonel in the Wicklow Foresters and subsequently lieutenant-colonel in the Wicklow militia in addition to being a governor of the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse and a commissioner of stamps. And, it is worth mentioning, he was a member of the Royal Irish Academy’s committee of antiquities and in 1792 became a member of the Dublin Society committee responsible for choosing a suitable spot on which to establish a Botanic Garden (eventually, the site in Glasnevin on the outskirts of Dublin was selected).
Samuel Hayes was born in 1743, the son of John Hayes who lived on a 4,500 acre estate in Wicklow called Hayesville: after inheriting the place following his father’s death, he changed the name to Avondale, since the river Avonmore runs through the grounds. As well as its associations with Parnell, Avondale is renowned for the outstanding collection of trees found throughout the grounds, the origin of which is due to Hayes. In 1768 he was awarded a gold medal by the (Royal) Dublin Society – of which he would be an active member over several decades, sitting on its committee of agriculture – for the planting of 2,550 beech trees on his estate. Thereafter, he continued to cultivate a wide variety of trees and in 1794, the year before his death, he published A practical treatise on planting and the management of woods and coppices. Based on a lifetime’s experience – Hayes noted that while he drew on the knowledge of other men, the work primarily reflected ‘my own experience, founded on considerable practice’ – this was the first-such work produced in Ireland . As its title indicates, the book was intended to be a practical guide for other landowners who wished to follow his example, and offered advice on how best to plant and manage trees, not least for the production of timber. It included seventeen engravings executed by Dublin artist William Esdall, although the originals may have been drawn by Hayes who, in addition to all his other skills, was a talented draughtsman. Even during his lifetime, the improvements carried out at Avondale had received widespread acknowledgement. Writing in The Post-Chaise Companion or Traveller’s Directory through Ireland (published 1786), William Wilson noted, that the estate ‘may justly claim the traveller’s attention, both from its fine natural situation, and the great pains and cxpense the owner has been at to dress and improve it to the perfection it has now attained. It is proudly situated on the banks of the Avonmore, which name, signifying “The great winding dream,” corresponds most happily with its character; the banks continually forming the finest waving lines, either covered with close coppice wood, or with scattered oak and ash of considerable growth ; the ground, in some places, smooth meadow or pasturc, and, in others, rising into romantic cliffs and craggy precipices. The domain of Avondale enjoys this diversity of scenery in the highest perfection.’
Hayes’s interest in architecture has already been mentioned. An amateur practitioner, he sat on the committee responsible for the extension of the Irish House of Commons, for which drawings were prepared in 1786 by James Gandon: Hayes wrote to the latter, declaring that ‘Except the windows, the building is finished exactly after my first sketch…a design as much as possible in the manner of Sir William Piers[sic] and Mr Burgh, a kinsman of mine and of the Speaker’s, who were both concerned in the façade to College-green, and for which reason among others, I wished to have the western front as much as possible in the same style.’ How much of the eventual design can be attributed to Hayes is open to speculation, but he was certainly responsible for the market house still seen in the centre of Monaghan town and commissioned in 1792 by General Robert Cuninghame, future first Lord Rossmore. Hayes is also thought to have had a hand in the house at Avondale, which dates from 1779 and for which he is believed to have commissioned designs from James Wyatt. Certainly, many elements of the house are in the Wyatt style, not least the insertion of Coade panels into what is otherwise a severe, rendered exterior, the rear of which is similarly relieved by a substantial full-length bow. Inside, the entrance hall, its decoration a whimsical mix of the classical and Gothick, is double-height, with a gallery on the first-floor providing light onto a bedroom passage. Many of the other reception rooms appear to have undergone later alteration but the dining room has elaborate neo-classical plasterwork in the Wyatt style. When Hayes died in 1795 he left no direct heir and therefore bequeathed the Avondale estate to a cousin, Sir John Parnell, with a stipulation that it should subsequently pass to a younger son. In due course Avondale was inherited by the youngest of Sir John’s children, William who changed his surname to Parnell-Hayes; in due course, one of his grandsons, Charles Stewart Parnell, came to own the estate. In 1904, some years after his death, Avondale was purchased by the state and became a forestry school. Today, the place is owned and managed by Coillte, the state-owned commercial forestry company, with the house open to the public.
Now surrounded by suburban development but originally set within an extensive demesne overlooking the city, this is the Stillorgan Obelisk, erected in 1727 for Joshua Allen, second Viscount Allen. The obelisk is believed to have been designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and is sometimes claimed to have been inspired by Bernini’s monument in the Piazza della Minerva, Rome. However, since the latter obelisk rests on the back of an elephant, more likely inspiration came from the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, also designed by Bernini and erected in 1651 in Rome’s Piazza Navona. Constructed from cut granite, the Stillorgan obelisk rises 100 feet above a base of rough granite boulders. This holds a large vaulted chamber with double flights of steps rising up to a viewing platform from which doors provided access to a room at the base of the obelisk. This was, seemingly, intended to be a burial chamber for Lady Allen, but since she outlived her husband by 15 years, only dying in 1758, it has also been proposed that the viscount instead interred his favourite horse here.
After a recent discussion of the colourful Thomas Steele and the fate of his former home (see Honest Tom « The Irish Aesthete), it is now worth turning attention to a significant, but insufficiently recalled, figure in late 18th century Ireland, Dr Thomas Hussey. Born in 1746, owing to restrictions imposed by the era’s Penal legislation, Hussey was sent to study at the Irish College in Salamanca, after which he joined the Trappist order. However, his obvious intelligence led him to become well-known at the court in Madrid and in due course, now ordained a priest, he was appointed chaplain to the Spanish Embassy in London. There he became acquainted with many of the leading political and intellectual figures of the period, not least Edmund Burke who became a close friend. In 1779, his diplomatic skills led him to be sent by George III’s government on a secret diplomatic mission to Madrid in order to break the Franco-Spanish Alliance in the context of the American War of Independence. Although the effort was unsuccessful, Hussey’s reputation did not suffer any ill effects and he continued to be consulted by the English authorities. Meanwhile, in due course his intellectual abilities were also recognised in 1792 when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Subsequently, the government sent him on a further mission, attempting to placate disaffected Irish soldiers and militia in Ireland. However, when he heard what they had to say, Hussey adopted their cause, which was not what had been expected. He then played a role in establishing the Irish seminary at Maynooth and became its first president in 1795. Two years later he was appointed Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, holding that position until his death in 1803.
This is Prospect Lodge (above), the house in which Thomas Hussey lived during his years as Bishop of the diocese. On a prominent site in what would once have been open countryside overlooking the city, the building is believed to date from c.1780. Of five-bays and two-storeys, it has a two-bay two-storey section with half-dormer attic to south-east, and two-bay single-storey wing to south-east. Prospect Lodge is notable for being slate-hung on all elevations and, as part of Waterford’s historic architecture, is worthy of preservation even without its associations with Thomas Hussey. Yet at the present it is being left to fall into decay.
Elsewhere in the south-east of Ireland, this house can be found in Carrick-on-Suir, County Waterford. Dating from c.1760, it is of four-bays and three-storeys over basement, the rear yard dropping down to the quays on the north side of the town. While the building lacks the historical associations of Prospect Lodge, it is similarly slate-hung and therefore represents an important part of Carrick-on-Suir’s heritage. Yet, also like Prospect Lodge, it sits empty and neglected, left to fall into dereliction instead of enhancing the streetscape while realising its potential as a home. Two houses, one fate: and there are thousands more such properties all over Ireland going the same way.
Currently undergoing restoration, this is Cangort Park, County Offaly. Dating from 1807 when designed by Richard Morrison for William Trench (a younger brother of the first Lord Ashtown), the house is more substantial than the initial impression of a three-bay, two-storey villa might suggest. The eastern elevation reveals just how substantial is the building, its centre occupied by a three-bay segmental bow flanked by single bay windows set inside shallow relieving arches. Meanwhile, the ground floor rear is dominated by two equally grandiose tripartite windows. Returning to the facade – which, like the rest of the house is faced in lined-and-ruled plaster – much of this is given over to an impressively over-scaled main entrance, set within a recessed arched porch and approached by a flight of stone steps. Over the door is a rectangular plaster panel depicting putti riding a dolphin, a curious detail for a house located about as far away from the sea as is possible in Ireland.
Last week, the Irish Times carried a feature on how an old mill complex at Kilmainham, Dublin was to be restored and given new life as a ‘major tourist attraction.’ (see The former Dublin mill set to become the city’s next major tourist attraction – The Irish Times). There is always an element of surprise about such articles, as though the existence of such a site would be unknown to readers, and so information about it would come as a revelation. In fact, Kilmainham Mill, which in its present form dates from c.1800 but may have been the site of much older buildings serving the same purpose, has been in and out of the news for many years. The mill ceased to function in 2000 and three years later a development company called Charona Ltd applied for permission to convert the place into 48 one, two and three-bedroom apartments in a mixture of new and refurbished buildings. When Dublin City Council approved the scheme, the decision was appealed by a number of local residents and the director of Kilmainham Gaol to the planning authority, An Bord Pleanála. The latter body gave its assent to the developers’ proposals in February 2005, subject to some modifications, but then nothing happened, the economic recession came and the buildings, subject to the inevitable assaults by vandals, were left to fall into dereliction. Finally and following a long campaign by the aforementioned local residents, in December 2018, the site was purchased by the Dublin City Council, and in March 2021, the Irish Times carried a lengthy article announcing that building work would soon commence on the mill buildings: the authority’s project manager declaring that the restoration would be “a game changer in terms of visitor attractions.’ Presumably in another couple of years, the same newspaper will carry another piece announcing the mill’s imminent refurbishment as a major tourist attraction, especially since last week’s article noted that Dublin City Council did not at present have the funds required to carry out the job and would need to turn to central government for assistance. The price tag for this work? Presently estimated to be between €25 million and €30 million.
An admirable website run by Mills and Millers of Ireland (www.millsofireland.org) lists more than thirty mill sites across the country which are at present open to the public. One of these is Fancroft Mill which literally straddles Counties Tipperary and Offaly since the Little Brosna river, which runs right through the property, marks the dividing line between the two counties. The present complex was constructed over a number of different periods but originally dated back to the late 18th century when owned by the Pims, a Quaker family from Mountmellick, County Laois. The mill was re-equipped and enlarged from 1883 onwards, with further extensions added later. It remained in use well into the second half of the 19th century, but then fell into disrepair until the place was bought by the present owners, Marcus and Irene Sweeney.
Beginning in 2006, the Sweeneys embarked on an extensive and thorough restoration of the Fancroft Mill complex. The stone work was cleaned, conserved and repaired, 90 new sash windows installed, the four-storey bay re-roofed and ogee details over the doors enhanced. Internally, repairs to floors and the installation of new stairs permitted safe access to virtually all areas for visitors on guided tours. The water wheel, still for more than 60 years, revolved once more in 2009 and the following year a set of new mill stones was installed, permitting milling capability to be restored for domestic purposes: more recently, a generator was installed and contributes to the household heating system. A tea room and lecture/performance space have also been created inside the complex, a section of the space set aside to house the archives of Mills and Millers of Ireland. Acknowledgement of the work undertaken here was made in 2017 when the Irish Georgian Society awarded the Sweeneys with a Conservation Awards; two years later, Fancroft Mill won the Norman Campion Award Best Museum/Industrial Heritage Site presented by the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland. Dublin City Council should have a word with the plucky owners of this property. They have shown what can be achieved without a series of headlines in the Irish Times – and for considerably less than €25-€30 million.
Fancroft Mill is open at certain times to the public. For information, please see: Fancroft Mill
As seen today, Fermoy, County Cork owes its existence to John Anderson, an ambitious Scotsman who settled in Ireland as a merchant in the early 1780s. Before the end of the decade, he had established a national mail-coach service and Fermoy, with its bridge over the river Blackwater, became a stop on the route between Cork and Dublin. Then in 1791 he bought the town from the Boyle family and began to develop it with such success that in less than 20 years Fermoy’s population had grown from a few hundred to 4,300. One of the reasons for this is that in 1797 the British government decided to establish a major military base here, with Anderson providing the sites for two large barracks on the north side of the river. The first of these, the east, was constructed 1801-6, its western equivalent begun in 1809; the buildings, dominated by large central squares, accommodated thousands of troops and were designed by local architect Abraham Hargrave. Following the departure of British troops in 1922, the barracks were burnt and all the buildings demolished. Today only parts of the outer walls and the arched gateways survive: the grounds to the east are now used by the GAA and that to the west by the local rugby club.
Text here…On the banks of the river Fergus in Ennis, County Clare stands a stone known as Steele’s Rock. On this, supposedly, in the early 19th century sat a man called Thomas Steele who used it as a vantage point from which to gaze on a nearby house called Abbeyfield (today a garda station, see: In need of TLC « The Irish Aesthete). Therein lived a young lady, Miss Crowe, with whom Steele was much in love but his passion was not reciprocated and, it seems, she never even troubled to notice her putative suitor. This tale is only one of many told about Thomas Steele, certainly one of the more colourful characters living in Ireland at the time. Born in 1788 to a gentry family, he had been raised by his uncle and namesake at Cullane, a house built just a few years before his birth and beautifully sited on the western shore of Lough Cullaunyheeda: following his uncle’s death in 1821 he inherited the property. Most country gentlemen would have settled down to enjoy their estate, but Thomas Steele was never wont to behave like most country gentlemen. A classical scholar of note, throughout his life he was inclined to become involved in a variety of different projects. In 1825, for example, having undertaken experiments with underwater diving apparatus, he patented ‘Steele’s improved diving-bell.’ and around the same time became a partner in the Vigo Bay Co., which was trying to recover gold and silver bullion from Spanish ships sunk in Vigo Bay in 1702. A complete failure, the company was wound up somewhat acrimoniously in 1826, but this didn’t deter him: an associate of the English diving siblings John and Charles Deane, in 1836 Steele used their new diving helmet to explore the wreck of the Intrinsic soon after he had sunk off the County Clare coast. Interested in developing equipment to provide underwater illumination, four years later he dived with the Deanes to look at the wreck of Henry VIII’s great ship, the Mary Rose, off Portsmouth. But prior to these enterprises, in 1823, he had decided to go to Spain and join rebels fighting against the absolutist monarch Ferdinand VII. Accordingly, he mortgaged the house and land at Cullane for some £10,000, using the funds raised to buy arms and shipping these to Spain. Once there, he joined the Legion Estrenjera of the rebel army, distinguishing himself in the battle of the Trocadero and the defence of Cadiz. Following the liberals’ defeat, he returned to Ireland and published an account of what he had witnessed,, Notes on the war in Spain (1824).
A couple of years after returning from Spain, Thomas Steele found another cause with which to become involved: Catholic Emancipation. Which is not to suggest he planned to become a Roman Catholic: he had previously written a letter to the elderly Pope Pius VII urging him to convert to Protestantism. But after meeting Daniel O’Connell, Steele had become an ardent supporter of the latter’s Catholic Association and was soon appointed its Vice-President of the Association. Although he never converted from the Established church, on his land at Cullane he erected an outdoor altar, so that mass could be said there any time O’Connell visited: the ‘altar’ was actually a dolmen cap stone that had previously stood at what was believed to be the dead centre of Ireland near Birr, County Offaly: it has since been returned to its original site). In 1828 Steele seconded O’Connell’s nomination for election in County Clare and was with him with the Catholic Relief Bill of 1829 passed. Strongly supportive of his hero’s repudiation of physical violence and despite being called the ‘Head Pacificator’, Steele was a noted duellist who that same year fought an inconclusive duel with William Smith O’Brien over what he believed to be a personal slight from the latter. More importantly, his total belief in O’Connell, and his personal disregard for money, led him to be popularly known as ‘Honest Tom’. Once Catholic Emancipation had been achieved, he continued to give his support to the next great cause: the repeal of the 1800 Act of Union. Following the government’s prohibition of the Clontarf monster meeting in October 1843, Steele was tried on conspiracy charges and imprisoned with O’Connell in Richmond jail. So closely was he allied with O’Connell that he never recovered from the latter’s death in May 1847 and the following April, suffering from depression and facing financial ruin, he jumped off Waterloo Bridge in London. Although rescued from the water, he never received and died in June 1848. His body returned to Ireland, he was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, beside O’Connell’s tomb.
A date stone at Cullane is market 1799, but the house is thought to date from the early 1780s. Of two storeys over basement, the three-bay facade has a central breakfront with fan-lit doorcase on the ground floor and tripartite window above; between the two there used to be a carved stone bearing the Steele coat of arms, but this has been removed. On the eastern side, and overlooking the lake, the house is of three storeys, with a great central bow and tripartite windows to left and right of the ground floor. No interior decoration survives. Since Miss Crowe of Ennis refused to acknowledge or return his ardour, Thomas Steele had never married, and after his death the Cullane estate was inherited by a niece, Maria Wogan, married to Charles FitzGerald Studdert of Newmarket House. Their descendants continued to live there until 1954 when the place was sold to the Land Commission and the house left to fall into its present state of ruin, a sad end for what had once been the home of one of Daniel O’Connell’s most ardent supporters.