Charmingly Quirky


In The Beauties of Ireland (1826), James Norris Brewer explains the name of Busherstown, County Offaly as follows: ‘Busherstown, the seat of the Minchin family, was originally called Bouchardstown, and formerly belonged to the de Mariscos. Bouchard de Marisco, from whom the name of this place is derived, left a daughter and heir, who married O’Carroll, of Clonlisk and Couloge…’ The accuracy of this tale might be open to question, since it seems hard to find any de Marisco with the first name Bouchard. There certainly were members of the family prominent in this part of the country, not least Geoffrey de Marisco, an ally of King John who in the first half of the 13th century was Justiciar of Ireland on several occasions: through his wife, Eva de Bermingham, he came to hold large swathes of land in this part of the country. 





Whatever the origins of its name, Busherstown appears to have originated as a tower house perhaps in the 16th century when it was held by the O’Carrolls: the space now serving as a dining room in the centre of the western side of the building was probably the tower house. For their part in the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the O’Carrolls forfeited the property and in 1669 it was granted by the English government to Charles Minchin, a soldier who had risen to the rank of Colonel in the Parliamentary army. Shortly before his death in 1681, Colonel Minchin bought a second property not far away, Ballinakill Castle, County Tipperary which had also begun as a tower house, this time built by the Butlers. The Minchins sold Ballinakill in 1760 and it is now a ruin, but they remained at Busherstown until 1973. 





As mentioned, Busherstown appears to have originated as a tower house and at some date in the 18th century, perhaps following a fire in 1764, a new residence was added to the south end of the older building. This plain, three-bay, two-storey extension is clearly visible, the centre breakfront presumably once serving as an entrance; the room behind is much smaller than those on either side, indicating it was a hallway giving access to reception rooms. In the early 19th century, when the property was owned by George Minchin, further alterations to the property were made, not least the addition of a castellated entrance front, which was now moved to the west side. This features a round tower with hood mouldings at one end, and a bow-ended square tower at the other, the latter containing a porch through which one enters the building. Internally, little effort was made to continue the facade’s pseudo-Gothic decoration. What had probably been a dining room in the 18th century house was turned into a large hall, with the room behind it (formerly the entrance hall) becoming an ante chamber for the drawing room beyond. Behind this space is a curious wedge, thinner at the west than the east end, into which was inserted a staircase leading to bedrooms upstairs; a further extension beyond to the west leads gives access to a splendid stableyard. The quirky, provincial character of Busherstown means the house possesses an exceptional charm, helped by the mature and well-planted parkland in which it sits. After being sold by Richard Minchin in 1973, the property was owned by the Rudd family until they in turn disposed of Busherstown in 2011 after which it sat empty for some years until being bought more recently by the present owner who is gradually, and sympathetically, restoring the house.

A Familiar Sight



A familiar sight across the country: an abandoned and roofless Church of Ireland church. This one is in the parish of Kilfree, County Sligo and, according to the reliable Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland of 1837, was ‘erected in 1826, for which the late Board of First Fruits granted a loan of £600.’ It appears to have closed for services in the 1950s, but as so often the surrounding graveyard remains in use.


Awaiting New Purpose



Dating from c.1800, here is an exceptionally handsome stableyard at Ballykilcavan, County Laois. The land here was bought by Oliver Walsh in 1639 and through 13 generations has belonged to his descendants, in various incarnations, ever since. Some years ago, the present owner cleverly converted the adjacent farmyard into a  brewery, using barley grown on the land and water from the estate’s well, to make a number of fine beers. No doubt in due course a new purpose will be similarly found for the stableyard buildings.


The Fairest Building I Have Seen


‘Castle-Caulfield owes its erection to Sir Toby Caulfield, afterwards Lord Charlemont – a distinguished English soldier who had fought in Spain and the Low Countries in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and commanded a company of one hundred and fifty men in Ireland in the war with O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, at the close of her reign. For these services he was rewarded by the Queen with a grant of part of Tyrone’s estate, and other lands in the province of Ulster; and on King James’s accession to the British crown, was honoured with knighthood and made governor of the fort of Charlemont, and of the counties of Tyrone and Armagh. At the plantation of Ulster he received further grants of lands, and among them a thousand acres called Ballydonnelly, or O’Donnelly’s town, in the barony of Dungannon, on which, in 1614, he commenced the erection of the mansion subsequently called Castle-Caulfield. This mansion is described by Pynnar in his Survey of Ulster in 1618-19, in the following words…’





‘…“Sir Toby Caulfield hath one thousand acres called Ballydonnell (recte Ballydonnelly), whereunto is added beside what was certified by Sir Josias Bodley, a fair house or castle, the front whereof is eighty feet in length and twenty-eight feet in breadth from outside to outside, two cross ends fifty feet in length and twenty-eight feet in breadth; the walls are five feet thick at the bottom, and four at the top, very good cellars under ground and all the windows are of hewn stone. Between the two cross ends there goeth a wall, which is eighteen feet high and maketh a small court within the building. This work at this time is but thirteen feet high, and a number of men at work for the sudden finishing of it. There is also a stone bridge over the river, which is of lime and stone, with strong buttresses for the supporting of it. And to this is joined a good water-mill for corn, all built of lime and stone. This is at this time the fairest building I have seen. Near unto this Bawne is built a town, in which there is fifteen English families, who are able to make twenty men with arms.”
The ruins of this celebrated mansion seem to justify the the opinion expressed by Pynnar, that it was the fairest building he had seen, that is, in the counties of the Plantation, for there are no existing remains of any house erected by the English or Scottish undertakers equal to it in architectural style. It received, however, from the second Lord Charlemont, the addition of a large gate-house with towers, and also of a strong keep or donjon…’





‘…That Ballydonnelly was truly, as we have stated, the ancient name of the place, and that it was the patrimonial residence of the chief of that ancient family, previously to the plantation of Ulster, must be sufficiently indicated by the authorities we have already adduced; but if any doubt on this fact could exist, it would be removed by the following passage in an unpublished Irish MS. Journal of the Rebellion of 1641 in our own possession, from which it appears that, as usual with the representatives of the dispossessed Irish families on the breaking out of that unhappy conflict, the chief of the O’Donnellys seized upon the Castle-Caufield mansion as of right his own:-
“October 1641. Lord Caulfield’s castle in Ballydonnelly (Baile I Donghoile) was taken by Patrick Moder (the gloomy) O’Donnelly.”
The Lord Charlemont, with his family, was at that time absent from his home in command of the garrison of Charlemont, and it was not his fate ever to see it afterwards; he was treacherously captured in his fortress about the same period by the cruel Sir Phelim O’Neill, and was barbarously murdered while under his protection, if not, as seems the fact, by his direction, on the 1st of March following. Nor was this costly and fairest house of its kind in “the north” ever after inhabited by any of his family: it was burned in those unhappy “troubles” and left the melancholy, though picturesque memorial of sad events which we now see it.’  

Extracts from The Irish Penny Journal, Saturday, January 9, 1841, Number 28, Volume 1

 

Well Schooled


The former Erasmus Smith schoolhouse in Cahir, County Tipperary. Erasmus Smith was a 17th century English merchant who acquired large amounts of property in Ireland running to over 46,000 acres. He then decided to use some of the income from this property to establish a trust, granted a royal charter in 1669, the purpose of which was to further children’s education in this country, not least by the establishment of a number of schools here. But over time the organisation also provided financial assistance for the creation of other schools, including that in Cahir, which was completed in 1818 at a cost of £1,034: the Erasmus Smith Trust providing £600 and local landlord Richard Butler, first Earl of Glengall paying the balance. Thought to have been designed by John Nash (who was also responsible for the adjacent Church of St Paul, see Figures of Mystery « The Irish Aesthete), the neo-Gothic building is constructed of cut limestone with a three-storey teachers’ residence in the central section and a classroom on either side. Open to children of all denominations, from the start the school was very successful, in 1824 having 131 pupils, of which 90 were Roman Catholic and the rest members of the Established Church. Due to the need for additional classrooms, the building was subsequently extended to the rear. It continued to operate as a school until 1963 after which it became a sawmill and steelworks, railway museum and warehouse before falling into disrepair. More recently, the former school has been restored by the local authority for use as an area office. 

Palmed Off



The Palm House at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Sixty-five feet high, 80 feet wide and 100 feet long, and originally costing £800, the building dates from 1884 when prefabricated from wood and wrought-iron in Paisley, Scotland by the firm of James Boyd & Son. Shipped to Ireland in pieces, the palm house was then assembled on site to replace an earlier structure which had been almost universally condemned for its ugliness. The new version met with a more positive response from the public and lasted until the mid-1990s when a high wind blew in large sections of glass: it was then discovered that much of the building was in a dangerous condition. Following extensive restoration, the Palm House reopened to the public in 2004.


Worth Emulating


Eighteen years ago this week, the contents of Lissadell, County Sligo were sold at auction by Christie’s. The house was once family home to Constance Gore-Booth (otherwise known as Countess Markievicz), a key participants in the Easter Rising, the first woman to be elected to the Westminster Parliament (although she declined to take her seat there), and subsequently the first woman in the world to hold a cabinet position, an intimate of W.B. Yeats and many other notable figures in Ireland’s cultural revolution at the start of the last century. Understandably, therefore, news that both the building and its contents were to be sold met with widespread dismay, and hopes were expressed that the state might intervene to save this part of the national heritage. However, as so often before and since, no such intervention occurred and the sale took place. Thankfully, the new owners of the Lissadell estate succeeded in buying back at least some of the items offered at auction, and they remain in the house, but much was lost, unlikely ever to return. 







Lissadell is a large and somewhat austere building, designed by the architect Francis Goodwin in 1831 for Sir Robert Gore-Booth, whose family had lived in the area since the early 17th century. There had been an earlier residence closer to the Atlantic shoreline, but this was demolished when the new house was built. Lissadell’s pared-back Greek-Revival style reflects not just its owner’s taste, but also his budget: he may well have preferred something more opulent but lacked the necessary funds. When Goodwin published Domestic Architecture (1833-4) he featured Lissadell and noted that the house ‘has been erected for less than the estimate, by a considerable sum.’ In a footnote to the text, he observed how, ‘in altering the original designs, with a view of reducing the expense to a comparatively moderate sum, considering the extent and accommodation of the building, the author has been much indebted to the judicious hints of Sir R. G. Booth himself.’ In other words, the client told his architect to cut back on costs. Of two storeys over basement, Lissadell’s exterior is constructed in crisp Ballysadare limestone, with each side of the house different, although both those facing east and west have projecting bays at either end. What might be described as the garden front has a three-bay full-height bow, topped with a parapet that rises above those on either side, while the entrance front is notable for a towering three bay projection that serves as a porte-cochère. The interior of the building is decorated in what might be described as an early example of minimalism, beginning with the double-height entrance hall with Doric columns on the ground floor and Ionic columns above, accessed via an Imperial staircase in Kilkenny marble. A similarly substantial, apse-ended and top-lit gallery likewise exudes a sense of severe grandiosity,  with Doric pilasters on one side and Ionic columns on the other. Sir Robert’s desire to save money where possible led him to introduce what was then something of a technological innovation: gas lighting. A local report from the 1830s recorded that this saved the house’s owner £60 or £70 annually. Seven of these lacquered brass gasoliers made for Lissadell were almost lost when the 2003 sale took place, but thanks to legal action taken by An Taisce (which argued the items were furniture and fittings integral to the building) they remain in situ, together with the gallery’s George III chamber organ which was also originally due to be auctioned. 







One of the key losses from Lissadell at the time of the November 2003 sale was the collection of furniture specifically commissioned by Sir Robert for his new residence. Dating from the 1830s, these pieces were representative of taste in Ireland at the time and were believed to have been made by the successful Dublin firm of Williams & Gibton. Until the auction, Lissadell was the only house in Ireland to retain its original furniture by this company, so their dispersal was much to be regretted. Their importance can be gauged by the fact that most of the lots exceeded their estimates: a rosewood writing table, for example, which was expected to make €8,000-€10,000, fetched €19,000. In the dining room, a set of 17 mahogany chairs (€12,000-€18,000) fetched €22,000 and the dining table itself (€30,000-€50,000) went for €65,000. Bidding against other potential purchasers, Lissadell’s new owners managed to buy some pieces, such as a pair of handsome mahogany Grecian-style bookcases clearly inspired by the work of Thomas Hope and, again in the dining room, a sturdy mahogany sideboard. But many of the contents, first installed some 170 years earlier, now left for good and not just the Williams & Gibton furniture. There were, for example, a number of fine 17th century Italian baroque paintings, many in spectacular gilt frames, which had been acquired for the rooms by Sir Robert Gore-Booth. And then there were all the miscellaneous objects that build up in any house over generations, from sets of copper jelly moulds to discarded furnishings such as old curtains. These, as much as the more valuable pieces, are what tell the history of a building, and when they are gone, part of that history disappears forever. Thankfully, since acquiring Lissadell, the present owners have undertaken a huge amount of work, not only to restore the house but also to reinstate its distinctive character. They have done so using their own financial resources, and despite setbacks that might have deterred anyone else. In 2008, for example, Sligo County Council embarked on a court case over public rights of way across the estate, a case which the local authority ultimately lost but only after spending millions of euro from the public purse. There is, of course, more to be done but Lissadell today is a model of private enterprise in the field of Ireland’s cultural heritage, one that one must hope some of the country’s more wealthy citizens might care to emulate. 

An Act of Folly



Situated to the immediate north-west of Dundalk, the Dún Dealgan Motte is associated with a number of myths, one of them being that this was the birthplace of the Irish legendary hero, Cúchulainn. Around 1180, the Normans were responsible for creating the present substantial earthwork which consists of a flat-topped mound some ten metres above the surrounding countryside, encircled by a deep fosse with a diameter of around 97 metres. It is likely that a wooden fortification was then erected on the top of the site, but this has long since vanished. Towards the end of the 18th century, a local merchant called Patrick Byrne (sometimes described as a ‘pirate’ since he may have been involved in smuggling) erected the castellated tower that can be seen today. Although damaged in the 1798 rebellion, it remained standing and around the mid-19th century was further enlarged and embellished by Colonel Thomas Vesey Dawson as a country retreat. However, the building subsequently fell into disrepair before being burnt out in the 1920s, leaving just a ruin of the tower, commonly known as Byrne’s Folly. 


An Unfortunate State of Affairs



What remains of Sweetman’s Castle, standing on the western side of the river Nore in Thomastown, County Kilkenny. The building is often described as a tower house, but given that it is listed as dating from c.1350 this surely cannot be correct, as tower houses were only constructed from the early 1400s onwards. It clearly was some kind of fortified structure, with a name derived from the Sweetmans who were a dominant family in this part of the country at the time. A number of ancillary agricultural structures were added to it around the middle of the 18th century and these also survive. Sadly, the castle is in poor condition and has been left to deteriorate even further in recent years: an regrettable, but not uncommon, phenomenon in Ireland. What makes the state of the building particularly unfortunate in this instance is that its location means shabby, run-down Sweetman’s Castle, adjacent to a bridge over the Nore, is highly visible to anyone entering or leaving the town. 


Visiting the Shrine



Readers from outside Ireland may not be familiar with Patrick Pearse, one of the key figures in the Easter Rising of 1916, the aftermath of which led to the War of Independence. Born in Dublin in 1879, from an early age Pearse was an ardent advocate for Irish freedom, and arising from this he became what might be described as a cultural nationalist, believing that the Irish language, its preservation and promulgation, were an integral part of ensuring this country’s identity. Although he qualified as a barrister, he soon found a more natural outlet for his beliefs in education, recognising – as had the Jesuit order before him – that the best way to spread his ideas was in the classroom. He also thought the existing education system, imported from England, extremely damaging for the development of the young, calling it ‘the murder machine.’ So, in 1908 he bought an 18th century property called Cullenswood House for £370. Located in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh, Pearse wrote of the property, ‘It is a pleasant thing to be houses in one of the noble old Georgian mansions of Dublin, with an old garden full of fruit-trees under out windows and a hedgerow of old elms, sycamores and beeches as the distant boundary of our playing field.’ Here he now opened a bi-lingual secondary school for boys, St Enda’s (Scoil Éanna) which, despite his lack of business and managerial acumen, flourished. So much so that after two years, he decided the time had come to move to larger premises and to this end in 1910 he bought another Georgian building further removed from the city and surrounded by more land. This was the Hermitage in Rathfarnham. 





The Hermitage dates from the last quarter of the 18th century when it was built as a country retreat by Dublin dentist Edward Hudson. Dr Hudson has featured here before, since he was also responsible for developing the core of what is now Glenville Park, County Cork (see A Life’s Work in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). Evidently, although his profession was then in its infancy, dentistry paid well because this particular practitioner had a house in the centre of Dublin as well. In April 1786 he bought from Thomas Conolly of Castletown, County Kildare a piece of land in Rathfarnham hitherto known as the Fields of Odin. Dr Hudson’s romantically-tinged antiquarian interests, fashionable at the time, are reflected in a number of follies he erected in the landscaped grounds of the house, including a rusticated Druid’s Cave and a Gothic watchtower. There is, however, nothing romantic about the house itself, which was designed – by an unknown architect – in the severest neo-classical style and all encased in crisp granite. Of three storeys over basement, the facade is dominated by four giant tetrastyle Doric columns supporting a portico, and approached by a flight of steps. There is absolutely no extraneous detailing permitted, everything is kept to a minimum. Inside the house, none of the main block’s reception rooms is especially large, and once again the decoration is austere with little surface ornament anywhere other than a pair of plaster pilasters topped by urns in what was formerly the study. The varying style of chimneypieces throughout the house reflect the fact that it changed hands on a number of occasions in the 19th century. There are larger spaces to the rear of the building, including a dormitory which appears to have been added soon after the Hermitage was acquired by Pearse and may have been designed by part-time architect Joseph Holloway. A corridor to one side of this room, via a flight of steps, to the biggest space in the house, used while it was a school as a study hall. When this was constructed is unclear: a single-storey extension to one side of the house, it looks as though originally serving as a ballroom, but surprisingly – given the significance of the property in Irish history – information on the architectural  evolution of the Hermitage appears relatively scant. 





As previously mentioned, in 1910 Pearse moved to the Hermitage, now renamed, like its predecessor, St Enda’s. Here he lived with members of his family, not least his younger brother William, a rather under-appreciated sculptor. Unfortunately, the new St Enda’s did not emulate the success of the earlier school, being too far from the city centre for many day pupils, while not enough boys were registered as boarders. In addition, Pearse decided to turn Cullenswood House, his previous premises, into an equivalent girls’ school, called St Ita’s; this only lasted a couple of years before closing in 1912. As a result of its founder’s idealism outstripping his practical skills, St Enda’s thereafter constantly teetered on the brink of financial disaster. It did not help that during this period, Pearse became increasingly involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, leaving him less time with managing the school. Somehow, it continued until the Easter Rising – in which a large number of former pupils participated – after which, and following the execution of both Patrick and William Pearse, St Enda’s closed. However, later that year it reopened back in Cullenswood House and then, thanks to financial support particularly from the United States, returned to Rathfarnham in 1919, with the building subsequently bought on behalf of the Pearse brothers’ mother, Margaret. After her death in 1932, the school continued to operate for another three years but then closed for good, although Mrs Pearse’s daughter, also called Margaret, remained living on the site until her death in 1968 when the building and grounds were bequeathed to the state. Open to the public, today St Enda’s is a shrine to the memory of Patrick Pearse.