After Monday’s post about the Damer House, here is the medieval castle inside the walls of which that building stands. Roscrea Castle, County Tipperary originally dates from 1213 when King John ordered that a defensive structure be erected here as part of the Norman conquest of the Irish midlands. Work did not begin on the site for a few more decades, until the reign of Henry III, perhaps because the land had been owned by the Bishop of Killaloe who threatened to excommunicate those responsible for the castle (the bishop was duly pacified with the offer of other land). While first made of wood, the stone castle, with motte and bailey, was of stone. In 1315 the building was granted to the powerful Butler family who held it until the early 18th century when the property was sold by the Duke of Ormonde to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham; that institution in turn sold it on to John Damer, responsible for commissioning the house that still stands in the middle of the grounds. As for the castle itself, once moated with the river Bunnow running along one side, it comprises a 40-metre wide courtyard with three-quarter round towers on the south-east and south-west sides and, to the north, the main building, a gatehouse 27 metres high which was built by the Butlers in the 15th century. When the Irish Aesthete lived here 40 years ago, the property, although a dominant presence in the town, was largely in ruins and certainly not accessible without risk to life and limb: it has since been extensively restored and is now open to visitors who can marvel at the groin vaulted ceiling of the former great hall.
This month marks two anniversaries, one of which is that the Irish Aesthete now turns eleven, having made his first appearance on the internet in September 2012. But the month also commemorates an older anniversary: the fortieth anniversary of the Irish Aesthete’s first job, as resident curator of the Damer House in Roscrea, County Tipperary.* The house has a complex history, made more so by the fact that it was constructed within the walls of a 13th century castle around which grew the town of Roscrea. As its name indicates, the building was commissioned by a member of the Damer family, the first of whom Joseph Damer, moved from Dorset to Ireland and here grew wealthy as a banker and moneylender. Having no heirs, he left his money to a nephew, John Damer, who in 1722 bought Roscrea from the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham (that institution had, in turn, bought the town from the Butler family in 1703).
There may have been an older residence on or near the site of the present Damer House which, despite often being called ‘Queen Anne’ in style, likely dates from the 1730s (in other words, during the reign of George II). Of three storeys over basement and with unusually tall narrow windows spread across nine bays, the pre-Palladian house’s finest internal feature is a carved pine staircase, in style not dissimilar to that of the slightly later Cashel Palace. Of course, provincial architecture was often out of step with the latest fashion, which would help to explain the building’s somewhat outdated style. In addition, by the time it was built, wealthy families had largely given up living in regional towns, preferring to reside on their country estates. That would appear to have been the case with the Damers who around the same time as the Damer House was being built, also embarked on the construction of another residence, Damer Court, which stood on land they owned to the west of Tipperary town; although nothing remains of this building – by the mid-19th century it was described as ‘a shell of a building’ – but a townland in the area is called Damerville. As for the Damer House, it does not appear to have served as a residence for the family but was rented out to a succession of tenants for much of the 18th century. In 1798 the house was leased as a barracks and then the whole site sold to the British military in 1858. At the start of the last century the Damer House became ‘Mr. French’s Academy’, a school for boys, reverting to a barracks for the National Army during the Civil War, then being used as a sanatorium, before once again in 1932 serving as a school until 1956, then a library. By 1970 it was empty and unused, and the local authority, Tipperary County Council, announced plans to demolish the house and replace it with an amenity centre comprising a swimming pool, car park, playground and civic centre (it had been nurturing this scheme since as far back as 1957). The council’s chairman wanted the demolition to go ahead, declaring that ‘as long as it stands it reminds the Irish people of their enslavement to British rule,’ and dismissing objectors to the scheme as ‘a crowd of local cranks.’ In fact, most of the so-called ‘crowd’ were members of the Old Roscrea Society and in December 1970 this organisation was offered help by the Irish Georgian Society in the campaign to save the Damer House.
In 1971 the local council agreed not to demolish the Damer House. On the other hand, it did nothing to preserve the building and in November 1973, on learning that restoration would cost in the region of £40,000, the authority decided to go ahead with demolition after all. The Irish Georgian Society once more intervened, this time proposing it take on a lease for the building and assume responsibility for its restoration, now budgeted at £80,000 over five years. In February 1974 the council agreed to this arrangement and the Society took on the house for a period of 99 years at an annual rent of one shilling. The restoration of the Damer House was to be its contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. Work on the project began in mid-August 1974 and was overseen by the late Brian Molloy. The place was in terrible condition, debris and rubbish throughout, the basement full of water, every window broken, the staircase shrouded and boxed in. While professionals worked on repairing the roof, the workforce included a dozen architectural students from Dublin and members of the Old Roscrea Society. Volunteers were advised to turn up at the site ‘in old clothes, bringing brushes, buckets and handy tools.’ Work proceeded slowly and was dependent on enough funds being raised for the purpose, some £5,400 being spent on repairs in 1974 and at least the same again the following year. In 1976 £8,000 was required to repair the staircase, including the replacement of missing balustrades and the removal of sixteen pounds in weight of paint from the carved frieze. By June 1977 £22,000 had been spent on the Damer House which was now deemed ready to admit visitors and host exhibitions. Thereafter, while refurbishment continued on both the Damer House and its slightly later annexe, the venue was regularly used for events such as touring exhibitions organised by the Arts Council. In 1980 some of the most influential members of the Old Roscrea Society, notably local teacher George Cunningham, decided to form a new organisation, the Roscrea Heritage Society which later that year organised a large show in the Damer House. Exhibits relevant to the town’s history were lent by both the National Museum and the National Gallery. With aid from a number of public bodies, the house’s annexe was next restored for use as a heritage centre; the first of its kind in Ireland, this opened to the public in 1983 and shortly afterwards won a special award from the adjudicators of European Museum of the Year. In the autumn of 1983, control of the Damer House was handed over to the Roscrea Heritage Society (and that was when the Irish Aesthete arrived to take up residence in the place). Now under the authority of the Office of Public Works, the Damer House – which was recently subject to further restoration of the exterior stonework and windows – is open to the public, along with the surrounding castle and adjacent gardens. Once scheduled for demolition, the Damer House is today regarded as a major architectural and tourist asset for the midlands region of Ireland.
It is likely that most visitors to the Francis Bacon Studio in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery are so busy looking at what can be seen on the walls and behind glass screens that they rarely, if ever, glance upwards. Yet in one of the spaces there survives a rococo ceiling installed when this was part of the Earl of Charlemont’s library wing in his townhouse, designed by William Chambers and constructed in the 1760s. The greater part of that section of the original building was lost in 1931-33 when then-City Architect Horace O’Rourke converted the house into an art gallery but somehow this one ceiling, featuring interwoven garlands of leaves tied with trailing ribbon and a testament to the skill of an unknown stuccodore, has survived.
In a graveyard high above Swinford, County Mayo is this mausoleum where members of the Brabazon family were formerly interred. The Brabazons had come to the area in the first half of the 17th century and were later responsible for developing the town, close to which they built a fine house, Brabazon House, which survived until 1980 when pulled down by the local Health Board. Also gone is St Mary’s, the Church of Ireland where they once worshipped, so this mausoleum, seemingly ‘repaired’ in 1828 by Sir William Brabazon, who was then MP for the area (and who died 12 years later after choking on a chicken bone), is the last remaining evidence of the family’s presence in the area. However, the Brabazons do not have the place to themselves: on top of the mausoleum is a large marble column topped with a cross, which commemorates one Patrick Corley who died in 1875 at the age of 60, while on another side of the mausoleum is a plaque dedicated to successive generations of the O’Donnel family who lived some five miles south at Fahyness (now Faheens).
After last week’s tale of improvements at Brandondale, County Kilkenny (see A Good News Story « The Irish Aesthete), here is another cheering story of a young couple taking on a historic country property. As seen here, Edmondstown, County Roscommon is a large Victorian house dating from the 1860s. It was built to replace an earlier residence of the same name which lay a short distance away to the north-east. What the earlier Edmondstown looked like is unknown: William Wilson’s The Post-Chaise Companion or Travellers Directory through Ireland, published in 1786, simply refers to it as ‘the fine seat of Mr. Costello’. The earliest Ordnance Survey Map, produced just over half a century later, shows the house, range of outbuildings and adjacent walled garden: some ruinous sections of these still remain. Of Cambro-Norman origin and originally called de Angulo or Nangle, the Costello family had been living in this part of the country since at least the 16th century, but their main residence was at Castlemore, some five miles south-west of Edmondstown. However, by the late 18th century they had moved to the latter property and in the mid-19th century it was occupied by Thomas Strickland, agent to Viscount Dillon of Loughglynn (see Bleak House « The Irish Aesthete). After passing through successive hands, Castlemore was demolished in the 1960s and only some of the farm buildings still remain.
In the early 19th century, Edmondstown belonged to one Charles Edmund Costello who married as his second wife Dorcas Maria Daniell. Six months before Charles Costello’s death in June 1832, the couple had a son, Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, who would become a captain in the 7th Dragoon Guards and serve as a Justice of the Peace. In 1862 he offered for sale through the Landed Estates’ Court about 1,100 acres in the baronies of Gallen and Costello, County Mayo as well as some 1,050 acres in the parish of St Johns, Barony of Athlone, County Roscommon. It is worth pointing out that even after these sales he still owned 7,513 acres in County Mayo and 1,038 acres in County Roscommon. It may be that the sales of some of his estate provided the funds for Captain Costello to embark on building the new Edmondstown in 1864. Local legend has it that he undertook this project to impress his wife (or prospective wife) but she failed to be charmed and left him. A charming story, but in fact he never married and died in January 1891 at the age of 59. He was buried in the grounds of the former Dominican Priory of Urlaur, founded by his forbears in the 15th century, where the tombstone was inscribed ‘Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, last Dynast and Baron De Angulo.’ It appears that in the years prior to his death, Captain Costello had sold much of the estate to his tenants, the house, having been expected to cost £4,000-£5,000, having eventually required more than twice that sum to finish. And the year after he died, the building with surrounding demesne was bought by the Roman Catholic diocese of Achonry in 1892 for use as a diocesan college. However, a few years later, that institution moved into the nearby town of Ballaghaderreen and for a period Edmondstown sat empty. Then in 1911 the then-Bishop of Achonry Patrick Morrisroe occupied the building, as did his successors for the next century. In 2011 Edmondstown and surrounding 29 acres were offered for sale, the explanation being that the place ‘does not meet contemporary day-to-day living needs, does not provide suitable office space for the administration of the diocese and is isolated.’ Six years later it found new owners, a young couple who with their children live there now.
Edmondstown was designed by Dublin architect John McCurdy who had a distinguished career, one of his earliest works being the plan and internal arrangements of the Museum building at Trinity College Dublin (where he was official architect for some thirty years until his death in 1855), although he tends to be best-remembered for designing the Shelbourne Hotel on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green. Constructed just a couple of years after Edmondstown, that building is altogether more restrained than Captain Costello’s new residence, a High Victorian interpretation of 15th century Italian Gothic. Of four bays and three storeys, despite appearances to the contrary, Edmondstown conforms to the standard country house model, this fact disguised by the multiplicity of towers and turrets, pinnacles and finials that adorn an exterior of snecked rubble limestone banded with red brick. Inset on the facade are a series of stone plaques, one of them above the entrance porch, attesting to the pedigree of the Costellos. Inside, the conformity is more apparent in the arrangement of reception rooms to left and right of the hall, which is separated from the staircase by a pine and glass screen, this inserted after the building had come into the hands of the Catholic church. According to the late Jeremy Williams, this intervention was the work of church decorator Joshua Clarke (father of the more famous stained glass designer Harry Clarke), who was presumably also responsible not just for the screen with its art nouveau glass, but also for the wall and ceiling decoration of the entrance hall and the more elaborate scheme of the coved ceiling above the staircase which features frescoes of the four evangelists. All this might have been lost, as was the case with so many other such properties, were it not for the energy and enthusiasm of the present owners who relish the opportunity to live at Edmondstown and share the place with visitors. We are all the beneficiaries of their commitment to the house. Would that there were still more of their kind throughout the country today.
Last July, the government published an All-Island Rail Review proposing a transformation of the current train system through electrification, faster speeds, improved frequency, and new routes for people and freight. It might also have included the preservation and restoration of many old buildings associated with that mode of travel, such as this one, the Mountrath and Castletown railway station in County Laois. It was designed by Sancton Wood, an English-born architect who in 1845 was responsible for Kingsbridge (now Heuston) Station in Dublin, built for the Great Southern & Western Railway Co., which then commissioned him to design smaller stations along the company’s route to Limerick Junction. Most of these buildings were in the Gothic style seen here and some are still in use but not this one which closed in 1976 and has since fallen into its present state of dereliction.
Back in January 2017, the Irish Aesthete wrote about an abandoned property called Brandondale in County Kilkenny as follows: ‘The house dates from c.1800 when it was built by Peter Burtchaell whose family had come to Ireland in the middle of the 17th century. The Burchaells were involved in the linen industry which then thrived in this part of Ireland, and also seem to have acted as agents for the Agars, Lords Clifden, large landowners whose seat was Gowran Castle in the same county. Peter Burchaell married the heiress Catherine Rothe and her fortune duly passed into the family which would have provided the necessary money for building a house like Brandondale. In his Handbook for Ireland (1844) James Fraser wrote that the property, ‘occupying a fine site on the northern acclivities of Brandon hill, commands the town, the prolonged and lovely windings of the Barrow, the picturesque country on either side of its banks, and the whole of the Mount Leinster and Black Stairs range of mountains.’ The architecture of the house was that of a two-storey Regency villa, old photographs showing it distinguished by a covered veranda wrapping around the canted bow at the south-eastern end of the building which had views down to the river.’
‘The last of the Burtchaell line to live at Brandondale was Richard, who occupied the place until his death in 1903. He and his wife Sarah had no children and she remained on the property for the next twenty-nine years, struggling to make ends meet by taking in paying guests. After her death the house and remaining fifty acres were sold to the Belgian Baron Kervyn de Lettenhove who first resided there and then rented out the place before he in turn sold it. In the 1980s Brandondale was bought by an Englishman Walter Dominy who moved in with his family and established a printing business. After this failed, in 1993 Mr Dominy left a suicide note in his car while travelling on the Rosslare to Fishguard ferry: fifteen years later an English tabloid newspaper found him living in France. But meanwhile Brandondale changed hands yet again and at some point was subject to a spectacularly poor refurbishment which saw the Regency veranda removed and all the old fenestration replaced with uPVC. In recent years it was taken into receivership and offered for sale on 25 acres for just €150,000, an indication of the building’s atrocious condition (and also of a Compulsory Purchase Order from the local council on part of the land). The place has apparently been sold once more but still sits empty and deteriorating: it can only be a matter of time before Brandondale’s condition is judged so bad that, despite being listed for preservation, demolition is ordered. After which, no doubt, an application will be lodged for houses to be built on the land. A fait accompli.’ (A Fait Accompli « The Irish Aesthete)
That was then, this is now. Happily, the Irish Aesthete’s gloomy predictions of what would happen to Brandondale have proven incorrect. In fact, far from being demolished, the house was subsequently bought by a young couple who are gradually restoring the place as their time and funds allow, and who intend to live in the building as soon as possible. The salvation of Brandondale, rather like that of Cangort Park, County Offaly (see A Work in Progress « The Irish Aesthete) indicates that none of our architectural heritage is beyond salvation and that there are citizens here willing to take on the challenge of bringing such properties back to life. A good news story and one that deserves applause and support.
‘This lofty and massive building, which rears its high head in solemn grandeur, and seems to look down with fostering protection and watchful guardianship on the town beneath it, was built by Hugh de Lacy, about the year 1140, in the reign of John. Though some difference of opinion exists on this point – some referring it as the work of Eva, daughter of Dermot McMurrough, and others attributing it to Isabel, daughter of Strongbow, and others, to King John, &; but concurrent, circumstantial and historical evidence, fix on de Lacy as the founder. The walls of the tower are of the amazing thickness of seven feet, two inches; the inner diameter of the same ten feet, and the exterior circumference is seventy seven feet. The whole building was amply provided with loop-holes, and with arched and mullioned windows, &, from which to pour, if necessary, on their assailants the sweeping shot of artillery and musketry, or the less destructive missile.’
From the Dublin Penny Journal, Volume III, July 26th 1834
‘The only ancient relic in Carlow is “the Castle.” It is situated on a gentle eminence, overlooking the river; and is said to have been erected by Hugh De Lacy, who was appointed lord-deputy of Ireland in the year 1179. It was built after the Anglo-Norman style of architecture; a square area, surrounded by thick walls, fortified and strengthened at each corner by a large round tower. Until the year 1814, it had bravely withstood the attacks of time and war; but its ruin was effected by the carelessness of a medical doctor, into whose hands it came, and who designed to put it “in order” for the “accommodation” of insane patients. In the progress of his work he applied gunpowder, with some unexplained object, to the foundations, and in a moment completed its destruction, leaving but two of its towers, and the wall between them. Their present height is sixty-five feet, and the length from one tower to the other is one hundred and five feet; as the ruin is but one side of a square, it affords a correct idea of the large space the castle formerly occupied.’
From Ireland: its scenery, character etc. by Mr and Mrs Hall, 1840.
In the early 17th century, an English merchant, Gregory Hickman, settled in County Clare and acquired land in an area south of Ennis called Barntick. All seemed well until the outbreak of the Confederate Wars in the early 1640s when he found himself displaced. A deposition made by Hickman in 1642 states that he ‘was robbed of property worth £3,672. It consisted of cattle, sheep, horses, wool, furniture, and of the following farms held under leases for terms of years. Barntick, Cragforna, Drumcaran, Cragnanelly, Termon of Killinaboy, and Inchiquin.’ Hickman also lost the tithes of the parish of Dromcliff, and of debts owed to him by a large number of individuals. He went on to complain that goods belonging to him were ‘carried off by Conor O’Brien of Ballymacooda and by Richard and Mannagh O’Grady. Eighteen packs of his wool were taken away by Laurence Rice, and by another merchant, both of Ennis. Poultry, a side saddle, and furniture, were swept off by Boetius Clancy, by Shevane ny Hehir, wife of Loughlin Reagh O’Hehir of Cahermacon, by James McEncroe of Skagh-vic-Encro; Conor O’Brien of Leamaneh, aided by Mauria Roe his wife, by Melaghlan Oge O’Cashey, and by Conor O’Flanagan possessed themselves of fourteen English hogs and four hundred sheep his property. He states that his servant, Thomas Bacon, was murdered, and that another of his servants, named Joe Preston, was murdered at Clare, by Teige Lynch.’ Poor Mr Hickman then found himself directed hither and thither about the county, at one stage being directed by Murrough O’Brien, Baron Inchiquin ‘to proceed on board the ship “Dragon” to Kinsale, and to bring thence a quantity of tobacco, there lying useless, which he was to sell in the Shannon, and pay over the proceeds to the Baron to help to sustain his army.’ That expedition ended badly and he subsequently found himself stuck in Clonderalaw Castle while it was under siege. Eventually he managed to reach safety and to regain control of the lands at Barntick, passing these on to his eldest son Thomas who in 1661 built a new house for the family, commemorating this event with a date stone carrying the year and his initials, T.H. This date stone can now be seen – upside-down – acting as the door lintel for a building in the yard behind the main house.
Thomas Moland’s Survey of County Clare (1703) states that Barntick had on it ‘a good house, stable, barn and other out houses’. By that date, Thomas Hickman had been succeeded by his own eldest son, also called Thomas, and when the latter died in 1719, Barntick passed to the last of the family to live there, Colonel Robert Hickman, who represented Clare in the Irish House of Commons from 1745 until his death. The colonel’s estate ran to almost 3,000 acres, and he also held other property elsewhere in the county. All of this, however, was heavily mortgaged, so that when he died without an immediate heir in 1757, the entire Hickman lands were sold, Barntick being bought by George Peacocke, who already owned another substantial property, Grange, County Limerick. On his death in 1773, he was succeeded by his son Joseph, a Justice of the Peace and one time High Sheriff of Clare. In 1802, having supported the Act of Union, he was created a baronet and when he died ten years later, the estate was divided between his two sons Sir Nathaniel Peacocke, and the Reverend William Peacocke. But evidently this division was not successful, as by the 1820s the estate was put up for sale by the Court of Chancery. Barntick next belonged to Sir David Roche, an M.P. for Limerick, 1832-1844, who was created a Baronet in 1838. However, in 1855 the house, along with 238 acres, was recorded as being leased to John Lyons and later his family bought the property: his descendants live there still.
Barntick is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in County Clare. The building is a deep square, the east-facing rendered facade of three storeys and three bays, its carved limestone entrance doorcase approached by a shallow flight of six stone steps. Inside, the front half of the house is divided into three almost equal spaces, comprising a hall with drawing room and dining room on either side. To the rear, a handsome staircase, lit by a single tall window on the return, leads to the bedroom floor. Here the space is divided by a thick central wall running north to south and with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, indicating the house’s early date of construction. The stairs then climb to the top of the building where the entire front is given over to a single room, at present in poor condition. Fortunately, the present generation of the family to own this house appreciates its importance and has begun to carry out essential structural repairs as funds become available. His work is to be thoroughly commended and it has to be hoped that all possible support will be provided by the relevant authorities, both local and national. Barntick is such a special place, and such a rare surviving example of domestic architecture from the post-Restoration period in Ireland, that its preservation ought to be regarded as a matter of considerable importance.
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.